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Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

Mediterranean Chicken with Garlicky Yogurt Sauce

3 Aug

Raise your hand if you loathe moving?

Yeah
. Moving is no pool party. Last 18th June 2015, my elusive landlord of 6 years decided to not renew our apartment lease. Our 2-bedroom/1.5 bathroom sits in a prime beach location and our abode is in high demand, what with rental prices sky-rocketing in Los Angeles. He’s long been wanting to gut & remodel the place, so he can double the rent. I saw it happening to multiple neighbors, heard their stories about how awful he is, but being the longest-standing tenant in the complex with a stellar reputation in paying rent and no unpleasantness with him, I guess I was incredulous that he’d get rid of us as well… Boy, was I wrong. You would think that after having been a conscientious tenant for 6 years, the old fart would pick up the phone and call me to break the news, but instead Dr. Parviz Parsa chose the Ayurvedic non-confrontational approach and taped a 60-day move-out notice to our front door. I suppose that actually speaking with us, would have upset his 87-year old chakras?!

Because I’m Belgian, and because I’m a professional event planner extraordinaire, we were packed and moved by 01st July, precisely 13 days post beachside apocalypse. Sans dope, Lance Armstrong! Truthfully, given the timeline between the quaint “let’s tape this to the door and surprise them” move-out notice and our actually physical move, we emotionally crashed & burned upon arrival in our new home. Oh, and did I mention we continued working full-time during those 13 days of packing and moving? Gives it a whole new dimension, doesn’t it? DOESN’T IT? 

We’ve mostly been living off of pizza, pasta, hamburgers and ‘mystery meals’ at the various Vietnamese and Korean eateries in our new hood. With most of our boxes unpacked, we’re finally starting to feel less… well… shall we say feral? The cats, too, are slowly adjusting to “life beyond the closet”, and it seems the dust is finally settling. Literally

With the kitchen fully unpacked, I no longer have any excuse to not cook a decent meal. So yesterday, I reverted back to our loyal friend: the boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast. Who doesn’t love a juicy thigh?

The chicken recipe below is very much a take on Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern cuisine. You can grill the chicken thighs, or skewer them and then grill them, but since apartment living doesn’t allow for open flame BBQ’s, I simply roasted them in the oven in a heavy cast iron pan. I’m lucky to own a variety of Lodge pans, and my 15-inch one is never far out of reach…

  

MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN WITH GARLICKY YOGURT SAUCE

(a delicious Hungry Belgian medley of various Pinterest recipes)

For the chicken:

– 12-15 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry (or 5-6 breasts, halved)

– 5 Tbsp of sweet Hungarian paprika

– 5 Tbsp of ground cumin

– 2 Tbsp of cinnamon

– 4-5 large garlic cloves, crushed or grated

– 1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley

– juice of 1 fresh lime (or 1/2 lemon)

– salt & pepper

– olive oil, for searing

Toss all the spices together and blend with the pressed garlic & lime juice. Coat the raw, rinsed chicken in the spice paste, toss with the chopped parsley and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Take out of the fridge, and let rest for another 10-15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a heavy oven-proof pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and let the pan get hot. The oil will shimmer, and it will be hot enough when it starts smoking lightly. Quickly sear thighs on all sides, then place the pan in the pre-heated oven and roast the chicken until tender… Approx. 20-30 min depending on how large the thighs are. Your house will smell delicious.

For the garlic sauce:

– 1/2 cup of yogurt cheese (eg. Karoun-brand Labne) or thick, full fat Greek yogurt

– 1/2 cup of sour cream

– 3 large garlic cloves, crushed or grated

– 1/4 cup of finely minced chives

– 1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley

– juice of 1 lime or half a lemon.

– salt & pepper

Stir everything together and let sit in the fridge for a few hours so the flavors can blend. Spoon cold over your hot roasted chicken. Yum!

I served the above with plain sautéed zucchini, but you can certainly roast a blend of veggies or grill them on the BBQ too. The possibilities are endless here…

PS: this dish got snarfled down in record time, so forgive the poor picture quality of the raw chicken cooking in the pan! 

Tangy Honey-Mustard Dressing

2 Jan

2nd January 2015: The crossroads of ‘…ooooh, I mustn’t…’ and ‘…aargh, F#@& it!, I’m gonna eat it…’. If you’re here, right in the epicenter of that diet conundrum, divert your eyes and stop reading now.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt all proud and accomplished for having chopped up a wickedly healthy salad… only to then slather it in 500 calories worth of dressing, with buttery croutons to boot. You’re not alone! If it weren’t for the tang of dressing, I probably wouldn’t be all gung-ho about salad either. As a matter of fact, the creamier the dressing, the easier I find it to eat raw leafy greens, after all, I’m not a goat. Frankly, anyone who proclaims to enjoy salad without dressing is a shameless liar; a Spartan… or a farm animal reincarnate. I’m not above Buddhist philosophies, y’all.
In the face of whimsical diets that promote things like ‘light’ raspberry vinaigrette, creamy honey-mustard dressing may very well be the Beowulf of all salad condiments. In our fridge, however, its beguiling golden hue shines like the Holy Grail…

The other day, I bought a Costco-sized tub of sour cream. I don’t even know how many ounces is in that cradle of tangy deliciousness, but at $3.79 it was practically the same price as a much smaller tub you’d buy at the regular grocery store and that’s all the convincing I needed to heave that sucker into my cargo ship cart. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it’s safe to assume that my mind wasn’t on any New Year’s resolutions.

With a tangy sour cream base, the dressing below can be spooned straight out of the jar drizzled over salad, but should you feel rebellious, you can use steamed artichoke leaves as a vessel to bring this deliciousness into your gaping mouth as well.

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TANGY HONEY-MUSTARD DRESSING
(Per various Pinterest finds…)
– 1 ½ cups of sour cream (or Greek yogurt, for a ‘lighter’ version)
– ½ cup of mayo
– juice of 2 fresh lemons
– 1 large garlic clove, crushed
– 4 heaping Tbsp of yellow mustard
– 6 Tbsp of honey (or agave syrup)
– salt & pepper, to taste

Add all the ingredients to a large quart-size canning jar, and give it a good shake…

Classic Bearnaise… the easy way!

30 Mar

Alright. Raise your hand if you love Béarnaise, but dread making it. Also, let’s forget for a few minutes that Béarnaise is nothing more than a velvetty concotion of egg yolks, butter and herbs… As a matter of fact, if you’re a health nut who frowns upon all fatty foods, you might as well stop reading here. This French classic is not for the weak for heart.

Béarnaise is actually the deliciously herbed cousin of Hollandaise. As such, with a bit of imagination, you can substitute this smooth operator any place Hollandaise would go, but keep in mind that its main ingredient, tarragon, is a pretty potent flavor.

A few Summers back, Mr. Farklepants introduced me to the ‘Béarnaise Burger’ at ‘Yard House’, a restaurant chain with several locations in our neck of the woods. It was a hot & balmy late afternoon, and having just finished an 18-hole round of disc golf at one of our nearby disc golf courses, we were both hungry with parched lips yearning for a cold beer. With over 100 beers on draft, the wooden patio at ‘Yard House’ overlooking the Long Beach marina was calling for us.

That Bearnaise hamburger was probably the best burger I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not big on hamburgers to begin with. My French lover consisted out of a griddled buttery brioche bun, topped with crispy fried shoestring onions, a perfectly seasoned grilled patty and… Béarnaise! Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, I tell you, this was to die for.  Béarnaise makes everything better: grilled steak, eggs benedict, fish, vegetables… you name it. 

Thanks to my gratuitous bottle of delicious Vilux tarragon vinegar, we all enjoyed an easy, no fuss Béarnaise! Thank you, Culinary District!

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CLASSIC BEARNAISE… THE EASY WAY!
(in the manner of ‘The Hungry Belgian’)
– 5 farm fresh egg yolks at room temperature
– 6 Tbsp of tarragon vinegar (*)
– 6 oz of good quality clarified butter or ghee
– 1 bunch of fresh tarragon, chopped (approx. 1/2 cup chopped)
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) You can easily order a fairly large $4.05 bottle taragon vinegar from Surfas, if you can’t find it in your local store. It’s also a delicious base for French-inspired salad dressings!

Clarifying butter is not all that hard. Simply melt the butter over very low heat, and scoop the white foam (protein flakes) off of the butter so all that is left is that liquid gold we’re looking for. If this seems too much of  hassle, check if you store has ghee or order ghee from Surfas (see link above).

In a small sause pan, away from the heat, beat the eggs lightly with the taragon vinegar and season with salt & pepper.

Over low heat, heat the egg mixture whilst whisking constantly, until the eggs start to ‘bind’ or thicken slightly. At this point, in an ever so thin steady drizzle, gently incorporate all of your warm clarified butter. Whatever you do, do not stop whisking! If you stop stirring or whisking, your sauce will curdle.

When the sauce has achived your desired thickness, take it off of the heat and add the chopped fresh tarragon. Et voila.. mission accomplished!

PS: if you add a tablespoon of tomato paste, you end up what the French call ‘Choron Sauce’. You’re welcome!

Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip

9 Jan

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Well, almost nothing. I know that the Minnesota Vikings’ uniform colors are purple and GOLD!, not yellow. It looks pretty yellow to me, but who am I to judge?! I also know that you’re not supposed to hold a conversation during the game for longer than, say, 30 seconds. Commercials is when your verbal diarrhea is tolerated. And I know that you’re not supposed to jump up with arms extended and a loud ‘HELL YEAH!!!’ when there’s a flag against your team. A flag is evil… and a tat effeminate, if you ask me, but I’ll hold my vile tongue.

I have no clue what all the conferences mean, let alone how they stack up against each other. I’m truly a lost atom in the football vortex. I understand just about as much from football as I would from any scientific debate in Norwegian, and that notion is aggravated by the fact that I can’t even keep football and baseball straight. I kid you not, 90% of the time, I still think the Red Socks are a football team! Ouch.

The kicker is (ain’t that a nice pun?!), I actually enjoy watching football. Very much like the cats. I don’t per se lounge on the ottoman like a jezebel and elaborately start grooming my nether regions, but – like the resident felines – I’m pleasantly entertained by the movement on the screen. I like seeing all the pretty colors. And then there is Mr. Farklepants too, with his spontaneous loud outbursts of approval and/or animated annoyance about certain referee calls. Watching him watch football, amuses me. I’ll come right out saying that there is no specific team I’m a fan of, and as such, I mostly root for the team wearing the prettiest colors the team that pleases my visual cortex the most. Contrary to what I just stated (I am female after all), the Seahawks will always have my vote because a) I have very dear friends in Seattle and feel a misplaced loyalty to their team, b) Seattle is quite possibly the coolest city in the USA and c) Pike Place Market. Enough said there.

What I like best about the ‘Super Bowl’, though, is that it comes with a widely accepted ‘diet pardon’ that makes it OK to stuff your face with chips dipped in whatever melts into a tasty homogenized blob in the oven. A while ago, I found a recipe for a hot blue cheese & onion dip and, true to my non-conformist nature, I turned that deliciousness into a corn version… with a bit of help from Pinterest. It was love at first bite.

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Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip
(Adapted from several hot dip recipes I found on Pinterest)

– 4 oz of cream cheese, softened
– 3 oz of blue cheese, crumbled (such a Roquefort or Danish Blue)
– 1/2 cup of sour cream
– 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
– 1 1/2 cups of Monterrey Jack cheese, grated + more for topping
– 2.5 cups of fresh or frozen corn
– 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
– 1 green bell pepper, diced finely
– 2 shallots, diced finely
– 2-4 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce, depending on the level of spiciness you desire.
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika
– 2-3 green onions, for garnish.
– salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

If using frozen corn, take out of the freezer and let it defrost in a sieve, allowing the thawing juices to drain. If using fresh corn, cut corn off of the cobs and set aside. I prefer fresh when in season, but either works just fine!

In a skillet (I use my 12-inch Lodge Cast Iron skillet), sauté the shallots and bell peppers until beginning to soften. Turn off the heat and add reserved corn, allowing the corn to cool down the skillet just a bit.

In a bowl, mix cream cheese with mayo, sour cream, Sriracha Sauce & Monterey jack cheese. Add salt to taste. Add cumin & corn mixture from skillet and mix until well combined. Either pour mixture back into skillet or pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with a little bit of Monterey jack cheese, and bake uncovered for approx. 30-40 min, until mixture is bubbly.

Slice green onions finely and sprinkle over top of dip. Serve hot, with tortilla chips, crackers or crusty French bread slices.

Stout Beer Vinaigrette with Honey & Garlic

3 Jan

Yes. You read that right. This is a post about beer vinaigrette, because, well, I’m Belgian. Full stop. Beer goes into everything in Belgian cuisine. As matter of national pride, it’s practically a sin not to include beer in your food.

I figured that with the massive volume of salads being eaten nowadays, what with it being nary 3 days into the new year and all, I would contribute a refreshing new take on dressing for those of you who are dead tired of Dijon vinaigrette or plain ole’ ranch. After all, variety is the spice of life, no?!

I really have no specific story attached to this recipe, other than perhaps the incident in which I was caught enjoying a pint whilst cooking and accidentally knocked over my $9.75 bottle dark beer from the Leffe abbey. Besides defiantly dripping from my kitchen counter, it also made in into my bra our salad dressing for the evening, et voila… I firmly believe that this is the fashion in which much culinary greatness is discovered. I mean, how else have we learned to eat stuff like snails? Right?! At some point, someone in medieval times must have looked at those and said: “Yummeth! I shalt grilleth those with alliums!”. Or how did humankind ever figure out which mushrooms were edible and which ones weren’t? And may I remind you that back then, there was no Pepto-Bismol or wet wipes? You’re welcome. No, I think the best recipes come to fruition by simply trying stuff out or, like in this case, purely by accident.

Going against all odds, this earthy vinaigrette is lovely as a dressing for grilled seafood, a potato salad or for more robust salads like a traditional steakhouse salad with spinach, blue cheese and grilled strip loin. It pairs surprisingly well with roasted root vegetables, or more hearty greens like kale. Throw some crumbled bacon in your salad, and this beer vinaigrette is just divine.

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Stout Beer Vinaigrette with Honey & Garlic
(Adapted from unplanned tastiness)
– 1 small bottle (10-11oz) of dark stout beer, preferably a Belgian abbey beer like dark Leffe but Guinness will do as well.
– 1.5 Tbsp of red wine vinegar
– 1.5 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar
– 3/4 cup of walnut oil
– 1-2 Tbsp of honey, to taste
– 2 shallots, minced or very finely chopped
– 1 garlic clove, grated or minced
– salt & pepper to taste
– a pinch of cayenne pepper, if you like things a bit spicy

Open beer, pour in a glass container and allow to de-fizz for an hour or two. Resist urge to drink it.

In a small saucepan, pour flat stout and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer for only a minute or 2-3 to allow alcohol to evaporate a bit, stir honey in beer and cool to room temperature. Alternatively, if you don’t mind having a wee bit of alcohol in your dressing, you can skip “cooking” the beer altogether.

In a small pan, sauté the chopped shallots and minced garlic in a little bit of olive oil or butter until softened. Set aside and let cool.

Combine room temperature beer with shallot mixture and all other ingredients, and whisk well to incorporate everything. Store in a glass or non-reactive container in a cool place, and shake before each use.

Spiced Cranberries with Port

30 Oct

A decade ago, I apparently crafted a legendary cranberry sauce. Who knew?

Certainly not me. I wasn’t aware of its legacy in Harry’s mind, until I met my ex-colleague’s wife Yvette during an industry event several years later.

Harry & I both worked for the same laid-back outdoorsy-type tour operator in 1999-ish. Every year, we’d host an informal pot-luck Christmas luncheon in our warehouse-type office building, and since this was my very first employer in the USA and my first official ‘American’ Christmas party, I was eager to make an impression and volunteered to bring cranberry sauce. Truthfully, having been in the country for only about 6 months at the time, I hadn’t the faintest idea about traditional American holiday dishes. Candied yams, green beans with crispy onions, stuffing… it was all foreign, to me, but I knew cranberry sauce so – pen in hand – I jumped on our pot luck list like a pouncing tiger and victoriously jotted down my name for it.

I don’t recall receiving any compliments for that sauce, but that could easily be because I was too busy being mesmerized by Ken’s unfazed deep-frying of 2 turkeys in our warehouse’s back parking lot. He, Harry and a handful of others had moved some of our tour vans out of the way and were about to drop 2 fat turkeys in what looked like a homemade contraption of a few camping stoves and metal pots, the latter filled with oil that bubbled hotter than lava… This was all too much for Ebenezer Scrooge our British boss Tony, who lividly charged at us, clutching a ‘Safety in the Workplace’ pamphlet in his white-knuckled hand, and yelled a series of unsavory choice words I cannot repeat on here. I will never forget this, because Tony’s anger rattled me so, that I practically saw my work visa shredded before my eyes for even partaking in such unauthorized holiday hooliganism… in the work place, no less! And deep-fried turkeys? Whoa. Shut the front door. That, was entirely a new concept for Flemish old me.

Fast forward 12-13 years, and apparently, Harry is still talking about that cranberry sauce. When I met his wife Yvette again after nearly a decade of hiatus, and we got past the initial ‘hey, where do I know you from?!’ awkwardness, she animatedly explained to me that ‘my’ cranberry sauce has become THE standard by which her husband Harry has measured all other cranberry sauces for the past twelve years… “The sauce from that German girl in my office”, he labeled it.

Well, Harry, you’re forgiven for labeling me German in the first place…. And without further ado, you can now rest assured that your holidays will be properly sauced, provided you make it worth Yvette’s while. You’re welcome.

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SPICED CRANBERRIES WITH PORT
(The way Harry likes it…)
– 2 packages of fresh cranberries (2x 12oz)
– 2 cups of Ruby port
– 1.5 to 2 cups of white sugar (depending on your own personal taste)
– 1 stick of cinnamon
– 2-3 cloves + 1 star anise (in cheese cloth, so you can easily remove them)
– 1 small orange, juiced
– 1/2 whole peel of the orange, not zested!

In a sauce pan, heat port with cinnamon stick, orange juice & peel, cloves & star anise over medium-high heat until bubbly. Immediately add fresh cranberries & sugar, and stir to combine. Simmer until berries spontaneously burst and are beginning to break down, and sauce thickens. Approx. 20-25 min. Take from heat, remove cinnamon stick, orange peel and spice packet. Serve at room temperature or allow sauce to cool in the refrigerator. When cool, this sauce should be the consistency of a thick jam. Makes about 4 cups.

Slow Cooked Cuban Pork

16 Sep

Yesterday started off like any other in crock pot land. I placed it lovingly on top of my kitchen counter in preparation of a 10-hour interlude with a delicious Cuban roast pork, until suddenly, at the 67-min mark… it died! To add insult to injury, it didn’t even beep or give any other sign of distress, it just went into full ‘crockiac arrest’. It was but a little over a year old, so I can only surmise that a three pound pork shoulder with 30 cloves of garlic was just… too.. much! Since I can’t afford to replace it right now, its tragic death leaves a void in my family and it leaves behind a plethora of kitchen cabinet friends, such as a humongous roasting pan capable of roasting a whole farm animal and a dainty row of 8 stoneware ramekins, in crisp white, for the more elegant affair.

Since I was on a Facebook binge fest enjoying a quiet morning with a cup of coffee, I hadn’t even noticed my crock pot’s ill-fated destiny at first. It was the fact that my living room stopped smelling of citrus- & garlic-infused porky deliciousness, that prompted me to go check the kitchen to see what was going on. My first reaction was a slue of un-Christian and/or inappropriate words, but then that quick wit kicked in and I feverishly pushed all of my slow cooker’s buttons in an attempt to revive it. When my frantic appliance-CPR failed, I created a mess of epic proportion poured everything into my largest Dutch oven and finished braising the pork in the oven. As the pork was cooking, I subsequently spent hours obsessing over what went wrong with my machine, and then ate a handful of milk chocolate chips… for baking… to help me cope with the drama of it all. Shut up.

I thought I wasn’t a big fan of pork, but this recipe has me convinced that I am. My beef with pork (see what I did there?) is that it has a tendency to be too dry when roasted, or you have to marinate it overnight and even then it’s like walking a tight-rope with juiciness. I loved that the recipe below doesn’t require elaborate brining or marinating, and it still came out so incredibly tender & moist, that I almost feel like I should apologize for snarfling down a portion that could have fed a small African village for a week. I made my own ‘mojo criollo’ braising marinade, but you could totally use the bottled kind if you find it in your store… and if you want, you can absolute marinate this pork overnight, you just don’t have to.

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SLOW-COOKED CUBAN PORK
For the mojo criollo
– 3 cups of fresh Valencia orange juice, which is a more tart or somewhat bitter orange. If you can’t find Valencia oranges, use regular oranges and ‘up’ the lime juice to 3 limes.
– 1 cup of yellow grapefruit juice (the pink & red varieties are too sweet)
– Juice of 1 lemon
– Juice of 2 limes
– 30 cloves of garlic
– 1/4 cup of good quality dried oregano
– Pinch of cayenne pepper
– Salt & pepper, to taste
(*) instead of a combination of orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon & lime juice, you can also use 4.5 cups of bottled ‘bitter orange’ juice or ‘Naranja Agria’. There’s several brands out there, but my store clerk recommended Goya.

Combine everything together, and give it a quick blend with a handheld mixer, or blend everything together in a food processor.

For the pork
– 3lbs of pork shoulder or pork butt
– Adobo seasoning (or your favorite pork seasoning)
– 6-8 medium sized onions, sliced into rings

Slice onions into rings. Place a layer of onion on the bottom of your slow cooker or Dutch oven. Reserve the rest to place on top of the meat.

Cut the pork so that it fits into your slow cooker or pot, then stab it all over so the juices can penetrate the meat. Season it all over with the adobo or pork seasoning, and give it a quick sear so all sides are browned. Transfer browned pieces to your slow cooker or a Dutch oven.

If you’re cooking this in a slow cooker, turn your machine on ‘low’ and cook for 10 hours. If you’re cooking this in your oven, preheat your oven to 325F and cook the meat in a lidded Dutch oven for approx. 4 hours.

When the meat is fork-tender, take it out of the braising liquid and pull it just a bit into a large bite-size chunks. Reserve some of the braising liquid. You can eat it ‘as is’, but for more Cuban tastiness, add the pulled pork to a buttered baking sheet and pour about 1/2 cup of the reserved braising liquid over it. Roast in a 350F oven for about 30 min… or give it a quick sear in a cast iron skillet!

Bangkok Chicken Satay with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

7 Sep

Football season is here! And with it, so is finger food season.

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Whenever a game comes on, I root for the team wearing the prettiest colors get lost in trying to figure out who actually has possession of the ball and when flags and penalties are dished out, all bets are off. I vaguely grasp the concept of a ‘first down and 8 yards to go’, but I guess football is one of those sports you must have either played yourself or grown up with, in order to fully comprehend the intricate detail of grown men throwing themselves on top of one another for… an oblong-shaped ball?! And why is that ball oblong shaped to begin with?! And who on earth understands what that referee is saying in that echoing microphone?

The first time I was graciously invited to someone’s house for an American cook-out and football BBQ party, I actually managed to silence an entire room by loudly jumping up from my comfy chair and belting out a cheer, complete with arms fully extended and the required high-pitched “WOOHOO!!!!”, when the referee threw a flag… against the team we were all supposed to be rooting for. Whoopsie!

I remember this incident greatly embarrassed my then boyfriend to the point where he felt compelled to formally apologize on my behalf to everybody in the room, and explained that I was from Belgium! I learned three things from that unfortunate moment: a) football is a serious thing over here, b) a man who-we-shall-not-name is an asshole and c) Thai chicken skewers are delicious!

Fast forward 10 years, and my football expertise hasn’t much improved since then. I grew up playing a lot of sports and I love watching sports, but when it comes to American football, I stick with my tried & true routine of picking the team with the snazziest outfit… And I do so from the comfort of my kitchen, where the magic of football parties really happens!

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BANGKOK CHICKEN SATAY WITH COCONUT-PEANUT SAUCE
(Adapted from a recipe by Bobby Flay)
For the chicken satay:
– 3 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
– 1/4 cup of soy sauce
– 3 Tbsp of dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 2 Tbsp of fresh lime juice
– 2 tbsp of peanut oil
– 1 Tbsp of curry powder
– 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
– 1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated
– 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom
– 24 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 20 min

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes or bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients and whisk to make a marinade. Pour marinade over the chicken, cover with plastic foil and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Thread 6-8 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Heat a grill pan or griddle over medium high heat, and cook chicken skewers for 8-10 min, turning once half way through… or cook skewers on the BBQ. Serve warm alongside peanut sauce below.

For the coconut-peanut sauce:
– 1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
– 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter
– 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar, packed
– 1 Tbsp of soy sauce
– 1 1/2 tsp of red curry paste

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Pour sauce in the a small bowl and serve alongside chicken skewers.

Blackberry Balsamic Onion Jam with Bacon

1 Sep

A few years ago, during a random browsing session at Williams-Sonoma, my eye fell on a small jar of balsamic onion spread. With a $10.99 price tag, I decided it was entirely too expensive so I bought it anyway. For a little while I smeared it on anything from bread to crackers and grilled cheese sandwiches, until I could see the glass bottom and went into full-blown panic mode and rationed it as though the end of civilization was nigh.

So when my mom arrived for a visit some weeks later, we picked up a few gorgeous cheeses and a loaf of crusty French bread at the farmers market for lunch one day. As I was setting the table, mom came upon my nearly empty jar of balsamic onion spread, tucked in the back of my fridge, where it was shielded from impulsive midnight snacking. I think she must have seen the frantic expression in my twitching eye, cause she grabbed it and dismissively announced that wherever it came from she was sure they had more. Later that afternoon, one sales rep at Williams-Sonoma in Palos Verdes, CA became employee of the month for a record sale of balsamic onion spread, financed by the ‘Bank of Mom’.

With onions being fairly inexpensive, and fueled by my degree in Business, I figured their profit margin on that drug stuff must be sky-rocketing high, and so I set out on a quest to recreate my precious anything-spread. Only, I’d make it even better. There was some unpalatable trial & error, and a fair amount of spontaneous gagging, but in the end I came up trumps with something that is out-of-this-world delicious. The addition of bacon was real stroke of genius, but you can leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian version.

For your BBQ pleasure, I also smear this deliciousness on a Brioche bun, and top a crusty browned beef patty with some blue cheese, a fried egg and arugula, for a killer-hamburger that has just the right amount of ‘wrong’!

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BLACKBERRY BALSAMIC ONION JAM WITH BACON
(…because bacon makes everything better!)
– 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into very small pieces
– 2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
– 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries
– salt and cracked ground pepper, to taste
– 2/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (*)
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2/3 cup cooking sherry
(*) I used a lovely blackberry balsamic vinegar I found at the Torrance farmers market, and it gave this jam an even sweeter & fruitier touch.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned but not crispy, approx. 5-8 min. Remove the bacon from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Drain off all but 2-3 Tbsp of the bacon grease and then stir in the onions. season with a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions for 2 min. then add a splash of cooking sherry, and scrape the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the blackberries, cover the pot and cook the jam until the onions are soft and brown, and the berries have broken down, approx. 15-20 min.

Stir in a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and remaining sherry, and add in reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens and is almost completely absorbed, approx. 10 min. The jam should be a dark rich brown at this point.

Allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

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