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Kickin’ Chayote & Melon Salsa

28 Aug

I have a confession to make. Until I set foot in the USA, I had only vaguely heard of salsa. Let alone that I knew what it was supposed to taste like. As a matter of fact, the first time I tried it, was at a grungy roadside diner located across the street from my then office in Rockaway, NJ… Let’s just say that it was an overly sweet, jarred disappointment. It wasn’t until I set foot on California soil that my taste buds were properly courted by the smooth Latin lover that is ‘salsa fresca’.

Mom is an adventurous amateur chef, so it baffles me a wee bit as to why I didn’t really hear about salsa until I came to the USA. Frankly, growing up in Belgium and vacationing frequently in sweet Provence, we were surrounded by juicy tomatoes fresh from the vine every late Spring & Summer. When we moved into our new house in the country, mom even planted a few odd tomato plants against a sunny wall we shared with our neighbor. It so happens to be that those tomato plants set off a royal feud with Mr. Grouch, who never got over the fact that our yard was twice the size of his, and who vehemently claimed that watering our tomato plants caused structural damage to his garage’s wall. He was a royal pain in the you-know-what, and I won’t even go into detail about what happened when my soccer ball went over the fence and landed on his prize-winning dahlias. I don’t think the food blogging world could stomach the horror of such atrocity. But we digress… I think the problem with Flemish salsa may have been that things like limes, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – the latter being imported into Belgium and so by default ‘expensive’ – were either not in our family’s budget or not readily available… or mom didn’t care for them, which is the least likely of all three.

Mom is madly in love with fresh salsa & ‘pico de gallo’. During her weeklong California visits, she single-handedly powers through 2-3 family-size (!) containers of the stuff from the ‘salsa man’ at Torrance farmers market. She even engages in pseudo-English conversation with the man, using partial hand gestures and broken soap opera English. (*) She likes his stuff that much! Yes, the salsa man and my mom share a special bond.
(*) Like the time she walked into a grocery store in Spain, intending to buy cat food for the strays, sans knowledge of any Spanish, and resorted to signaling out “cat food” by pointing into her wide-open gaping mouth and uttering ‘meow meow’ to the unassuming store clerk. Per God’s blessing, I wasn’t present for this linguistic embarrassment.

With a great variety of fresh, flavorful salsas readily available here in Southern California year-round, I’ve never been challenged to come up with my own creation. I also don’t own a food processor, an excuse I’ve used far too many times to justify my salsa laziness. Now that I’m trying to live a little healthier with more ‘whole’ foods and fewer manipulated foods, I’m trying to move away from the jarred stuff which often contains ingredients that sound like they could be Klingon. No offense, Trekkie fans! The fresh tomato kind tends to come in the same boring old flavors, and I wanted to try something new. I can’t wait for my mom to be here in October, so she can then tell me in her dry, ‘matter-of-fact’ teacher voice that the tomato stuff from the salsa man is better. I’m fully prepared to embrace that defeat…!

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KICKIN’ CHAYOTE & MELON SALSA
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 chayote squash, peeled & diced very small (*)
– 1/4 honey dew or Galia melon, diced very small
– 1/2 red onion, diced very small
– 1 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped very fine
– juice & zest of 1 large lime
– 1 tsp of agave syrup
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
– salt, to taste
(*) If you’re not familiar with chayote, see picture below, you should know that they have a crisp, cool flavor similar to cucumber. The flat, almond-shaped pit inside is edible too, but I remove it for this salsa.

Place all ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold together to combine. Let ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for a few hours, so flavors have time to develop and meld beautifully.

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Roasted Pear & Plum Chutney

22 Aug

I don’t know about you, but my mind has been on Fall lately. It may be because my morning commute has been blanketed in coastal fog the past few days, or perhaps I’m excited about my mom’s pending visit from Belgium in October. Either way, I’m over the California Summer heat and I want Fall to get here already.

Tucked in the Northeastern corner of Belgium, is the province of Limburg. With its rich, fertile soil, the region is dotted with fruit growers and groves. Whilst cruising on the rural byways in Spring, you drive in a cloud of pinkish white petals from all the blossoming orchards that produce enough fruit in Fall to stop world hunger for a few months. Sint-Truiden, one of Limburg’s finest cities in the heart of the apple- & pear producing region of ‘Haspengouw’, is truly the Oak Glen of Belgium. There is a lot of friendly mockery when it comes to Limburgers’ heavy local dialect, but if you ask me, the province has so much historical beauty and peaceful homestead allure, that there is little else to mock but the country twang of its inhabitants.

I remember my brother & I being sent off to Scouts Camp for a few weeks every year during our 2 month Summer vacations, and many of these camps took place somewhere in Limburg. We’d pitch our tents in the woods or on the heather-covered hills, and – being giddy tweens – we’d make fun of the local boys during scavenger hunts in which we left our campground and skipped across the rural towns in search of clues. During these outings, for which we were sternly lectured by camp staff as to the do’s and don’ts and the potential consequences we’d face if we broke the rules, we’d often slip into the orchards to celebrate our freedom from camp regulations and share our deepest camp secrets underneath the shady canopy of an apple tree. The utmost privacy of our secrets being sealed by a pinky swear and the solemn promise to always be friends.

Apples & pears are staples in Belgium’s culinary repertoire. From ‘Luikse Stroop’ to ‘beer-braised rabbit with prunes’, Flemish cuisine often marries stewed or roasted fruits into its regional specialties. I love the savory & sweet combination of these flavors, and for that reason, chutney is winner in my book. I’ve played around with chutneys here & there, but it wasn’t until I came across a mango chutney recipe from an old edition of ‘Bon Appetit’, that I knew I had a winner on my hands. Since I love pears, I tweaked that recipe a bit to favor pears and… voilà! Get some cheese & crackers, and you’re all set for a true Belgian Fall favorite!

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ROASTED PEAR & PLUM CHUTNEY
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 ripe pears, peeled & cut in half (preferably Bosc pears or another firm variety)
– juice & zest of 1 lemon
– 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of sugar
– 3/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
– 2 Tbsp of canola oil (or another oil)
– 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
– 2 shallots, halved and cut into slices/strips
– 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
– 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger
– 3 Tbsp of currants (or dried blueberries works great as well!)
– 3 Tbsp of chopped dried figs
– 1/2 cup of champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
– 1 tsp of hot red pepper flakes
– 1 tsp of fresh thyme, chopped finely
– 1 cup of ripe plums, diced small
– 1/4 cup of dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the pears with the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the cinnamon, and cloves. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat the foil with half the oil. Set the pears cut side down on the pan. Brush the pears with the remaining oil, and roast until caramelized and tender, approx. 40 to 50 minutes. Take out of the oven, and set aside to cool.

While the pears are roasting, bring all of the remaining ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan (like a Dutch oven). Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool as well.

Using a small spoon, scoop out the cores of the cooked pears. Cut the pears into 1/2-inch slices. Combine the pears and the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.

Naughty & Nice Hot Pepper Jelly

9 Aug

My burning love for hot peppers, all pun intended, didn’t fully develop until I hit Californian soil and damn near scorched the skin off my upper lip with a habanero chile salsa, because “how hot can it be?!” , she said with an air of disbelief.

Right. Carry on…

Unlike many Southwest natives, I didn’t grow up with chiles. As a matter of national embarrassment, I don’t even recall ever having seen hot peppers in my Flemish grocery store? Then again, cooking with hot peppers was such an oddity in Belgium in the early 1990’s, that I may have unduly ignored peppers altogether. It’s a dark void in my memory, like that time where I lip-synced Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry like the wolf’ in my bathroom and got caught. Don’t ask. It’s too painful.

After all these years, I’m slowly but surely learning to navigate my way around the many varieties of spicy hot peppers. Occasionally, however, my inner-Sacagawea brazenly surfaces during farmer’s market strolls and I inadvertently end up destroying a Flemish taste bud or two, encouraged by this kind of peppery food porn:

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The idea of a hot pepper jam didn’t even occur to me until my colleague Alex channeled her inner-foodie and excitedly told me about ‘the best’ jam she’s ever eaten! She confessed she could smear it on just about everything… well, maybe not everything. Either way, we made a pact that I would try my hand at recreating her fantastic pepper jelly, if she became a follower on my blog. I’m totally cheap that way.

I know how to make jam as Belgians are big on canning and preserving sunshine, what with our 9 months of rain and all, so I accepted the challenge. This jelly turned out beautifully and so flavorful! And yes, I too will boldly smear this on anything that will hold its deliciousness…

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NAUGHTY & NICE HOT PEPPER JELLY
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘River Cottage Preserves’)
– 1.5 lbs of sweet peppers (red, yellow or orange), approx. 3-4 large
– 3 small scotch bonnet peppers or habanero peppers (*)
– 3 red jalapeno peppers (*)
– 1 medium size red onion
– 1 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
– 2.5 cups of white sugar
– 1/2 cup of dry white wine
– a pinch of red pepper flakes
– a small pinch of saffron
– 1.5 oz of fresh grated ginger
– zest of 2 lemons
– 1.5 oz powdered pectin
(*) you can use any combination of peppers you like. For a few pointers, check out my friend Debi’s blog over at Life Currents)

Chop sweet peppers in half, removing bitter white ribs and seeds. Slice into thin ribbons, then into small dice. Chop onion into very small dice as well. Peel and grate (or finely chop) the ginger.

Scratch whatever itch you may have on your face now, because you’re done touching your face for the next few minutes!

Chop hot peppers in half, remove white-ish ribs and seeds, and chop into very fine dice. Try not to breathe through your nose or touch any sensitive areas, as the capsicum in these babies will avenge you get to you.

In a heavy, non-reactive pan, place sweet & hot peppers, grated ginger and onions and pour apple cider vinegar & white wine over them. Sprinkle pepper flakes on top and slowly bring to a simmer.

When simmering, add saffron, lemon zest and sugar, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil, then add pectin. Boil hard for 6 minutes to activate the pectin. Remove pan from heat and set aside for 20 minutes.

Ladle jam into small glass jars, and let cool… Or alternatively, for a longer shelf-life, process in a water bath or canning machine.

This jam will remain fresh in your fridge for approx. 1 month.

Baba Ganoush with Goat Cheese & Olives

29 Jul

In my post about Moroccan Spiced Meatloaf, I mentioned that I was at one time blessed to have lived in the buzzing, ethnic heart of Ghent, Belgium’s third largest city and melting pot of all kinds of Eastern cuisines.

I first discovered ‘Baba Ganoush’ in a small, dimly lit Turkish restaurant, complete with ornate belly-dancers and Kelim-covered poofs that served as seats around the knee-high, mahogany table tops. We had made our reservations a few weeks ahead of time, but when we arrived, somehow our reservation got botched and we had to wait well over an hour for our table. It turns out that this was actually a blessing in disguise, as the incredibly hospitable owner catered to us with gratuitous grilled pita bread and baba ganoush. Farouk, the bartender who made sure we weren’t thinking about the time that passed, kept the wine & conversation flowing with flair, and in the end, we sort of regretted being escorted to our table. To me, baba ganoush represents the warmth & earthy deliciousness of the flavorful ethnic dishes you find in the many small, family-run eateries in Belgium’s urban areas. Just like Mexican cuisine has become a staple in every day living in California, shoarma, doner kebab & things like baba ganoush are part of every day life in Belgium.

If you’ve never heard of baba ganoush, I urge you to keep an open mind as all it really is, is nothing more than a silky smooth & velvety roasted eggplant dip. It’s truly a bit of heaven in a small bowl. It’s perfect on bread or with pita chips, but also as a dip for roasted vegetables or a spread for sandwiches. It’s very versatile, and you’ll understand why the minute your lips meet this Middle-Eastern treasure.

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BABA GANOUSH WITH KALAMATA OLIVES & GOAT CHEESE
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘The Magic Carpet’)
– 2 large eggplant(s), whole
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, grated (use more for garlicky, and less for mild)
– 1 scallion, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup of tahini (*)
– 3 Tbsp of mild soft goat cheese (or thick Greek yogurt)
– juice of 1 small fresh lemon
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of smoked paprika
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped kalamata olives
– salt & pepper to taste
(*) Tahini is a paste that is similar in texture than peanut butter, but made from sesame seed, instead. It can usually be found at local specialty grocery stores.

Heat oven to 375F (200C). Wash eggplant and prick them all over with a fork. Roast in the oven, whole, for approx. 45-60 minutes until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft.

Let cool and peel eggplant. When they are soft and perfectly roasted, this should be very easy.
Slice off the top of each eggplant and place peeled flesh in a large bowl, together with the garlic and spring onion. Purée with a hand mixer until you get a smooth consistency, or mash it all by hand with a fork.

Add the tahini, lemon juice, goat cheese, spices and chopped parsley, and stir together until well combined. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Heap chopped olives on top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle some toasted pine nuts over the top, and serve with wedges of pita bread or grilled toast.

Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

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SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

Swedish Meatballs

22 Jul

The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.

Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.

As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.

20130722-193259.jpg

SWEDISH MEATBALLS
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)

For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them

Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.

Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.

In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.

For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste

In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.

Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.

Animal-style Mayonnaise

18 Jul

My Belgian roots seem to trump any American traits I have adopted over the years when it comes to French fries. For instance, I will not settle anymore for plain old non-flavored coffee, but I still like the creaminess of mayo with my steaming hot & crunchy fries. It’s considered an oddity here in ketchup-loving California, but I bet the epicenter of mayo-based casseroles balmy Southern states share my dipping joy.

So when I was introduced to a California institution named ‘In & Out Burger’ by my American family, and was told with much excitement that this red & gold vinyl circus was the Mecca of all hamburger joints, I was highly disappointed there was not a drop of mayonnaise to be had. At the time, I already had a wee bit of a chip on my shoulder as fast food is not exactly my idea of culinary sophistication, so I may or may not have had a an air of superiority about the whole thing. I plead the fifth. Not being able to drown my fast food sorrow with a vat of mayonnaise, probably put me over the edge. “Try the animal sauce…” , Scott proclaimed, “…you’ll like it”. I’m sure I must have looked at him with an air of complete disbelief, but I aim to please and reluctantly bit the corner of a little plastic pouch of animal sauce, and – with some trepidation – squirted some on a ‘test fry’… I swear, I heard the faint sound of violins and saw rosy-cheeked cherubs blowing kisses in my general direction. Honest to God!

I figured animal sauce can’t be that hard to recreate as my taste buds instantly recognized its delicious mayonnaise base. It was just a matter of adding a few things to it.

I listed a recipe for basic mayonnaise here, as well as my own recipe for In & Out’s animal style hamburger sauce.

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BASIC MAYONNAISE
– 2 eggs, yolks only
– 1tsp of white vinegar
– 2 tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 tsp of dijon mustard (not the grainy kind)
– 1/2 cup of safflower oil (or cannola oil)
– 1/2 cup of olive oil (or safflower/cannola or any other oil you like)
– salt & pepper to taste

Since mayo is an emulsion, it’s an important to use room temperature ingredients. If you keep your egg in the fridge, take them out about 30-45 minutes prior to making this mayo and let them warm a bit. When at room temperature, separate the yolks and discard the whites. In regards to the oils, olive oil has amore pronounced flavor then safflower or cannola oil, so use light olive oil or any other light oil if you don;t care for the flavor of olive oil.

In a stainless steel bowl, whisk yolks, mustard and vinegar together until smooth. Add salt & white pepper to taste (using blackpepper will leave little flecks of black in your creamy mayo).

Now here comes the tricky part… You will need both hands, so make sure the bowl on your countertop is secured. You can do so by placing it on top of a non-skid mat, or by using a cold damp towel that will hold your bowl in place whil you whisk.

Adding the oil to your egg-mustard mixture is where things can go wrong. Gently and in a steady motion trickle oil into the egg & mustard mixture one drop at a time, whilst whisking constantly. When the emulsion is beginning to thicken, you can go from droplets to a thin stream and so forth. You will need pretty much all of the oil, but when you see it is getting harder to incorporate the oil, it means you are reaching the limit. If this is the case, stop adding oil as otherwise you risk your mayonnaise separating again. If your mixture is not thickening, you are liking whisking too vigorously so slow down a bit. The pace of whisking should be steady, but neither too fast nor too slow… it’s a learnt art!

When you have achieved a beautifully creamy sauce, add the lemon juice and some more salt & pepper to your taste. Enjoy your homemade mayo!

(*) You can also add herbs to flavor your mayo, such as finely chopped fresh tarragon for a French twist, minced garlic for a traditional aioli or a few drops of sriracha sauce for a spicy fiery mayo. The possibilities are endless.

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ANIMAL SAUCE
(adapted from In & Out Burger)
– 1/2 cup of mayo
– 3 tsp of ketchup (for the recipe, look here)
– 6 tsp of pickle relish
– 1.5 tsp of distilled white vinegar
– 1.5 tsp of white sugar

Whisk all ingredients together and enjoy on a hamburger bun with your favorite hamburger, cheese, lettuce, tomato & onions! Yum!

Flemish Cocktail Sauce

14 Jul

Yesterday, whilst browsing for dinner ideas at our local market, we happened to walk past the fresh seafood display, when Scott stops dead in his tracks, points at the iced trays of salad shrimp and says: “Should we pick up some of these for shrimp-boy?!”, shrimp boy being one of the selfish opportunists we adopted from the shelter. Ever since we introduced his feline highness to his kitty-cocaine, he’s seriously addicted. And for only about $4.00/lbs, how could we resist?

Seeing those bright pink, plump little salad shrimp, jogged my memory and brought me back to sweltering Belgian summer days and shrimp-filled cold tomatoes with cocktail sauce. “Tomattes Crevettes” they were called, and they tasted delicious in the oppressing 90F degree heat that would occasionally envelope our garden patio during Summer.

I think one of the biggest food-disappointments I’ve experienced when I first moved here, was undoubtedly cocktail sauce. I remember first seeing it on the menu at a seafood joint in New York City and sharing my excitement with a few co-workers at the time. I had only been in the country for a few weeks, and seeing something familiar that reminded me of home somehow made me happy. When the bowl of iced shrimp made it to our table, I was confused about the dipping sauce and thought perhaps the kitchen staff made a mistake. It wasn’t the creamy, salmon-colored deliciousness that hugs your taste buds, but a harsh, slightly acidic bright red tomato sauce. I could discern horseradish, which seemed even stranger to me, but I was assured by my colleagues that this was indeed cocktail sauce. In the thirteen years I’ve been blessed to live here, I never touched American cocktail sauce ever again.

Below is the “Flemish” version of this beloved seafood dipping sauce.

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FLEMISH COCKTAIL SAUCE
– 3.5 oz of heavy cream
– 4 tbsp of mayo
– 1 tbsp of ketchup
– 1 tbsp of whiskey
– a few drops of Tabasco

Whisk cream by hand until slightly fluffy but still runny. Gently fold in ketchup & mayo until well combined. Add whiskey & tabasco sauce, and stir into a smooth sauce. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve with cold seafood or raw vegetables.

Omoe Jozefa’s homemade mustard

5 Jul

Since I posted a recipe for homemade ketchup yesterday, it’s only befitting that I would post one for mustard today. After all, ketchup & mustard belong together like Siegfried & Roy. Seperate them, and – well – things are just not right.

While it’s not a Belgian invention, mustard is another one of those Belgian staples. It’s served alongside everything. If you hail from a small Flemish country town like I do, you surely remember the annual Summer ‘Breugel Feesten’ where you are traditionally presented with a plate of diced gouda & paté of pheasant or wild boar, served alongside a bowl of zesty ‘cornichons & ajuintjes’, tiny little pickled dill gerkins & onions… all to be washed down with a nice dark Leffe ‘van ‘t vat’ (Leffe beer on tap).

Mustard is ridiculously easy to make, albeit a bit time consuming as it requires some planning ahead. You’ll find many mustard recipes online, but the basic recipe below comes from my very own grandma Jozefa, bless her soul. She made sure that I understood the importance of using non-reactive utensils and unsuccesfully taught me the virtue of being patient. Mustard is really nothing more than a combination of ground (or powdered) mustard seed and some sort of liquid, blended together with any flavorings you fancy.

There’s a few tips I can pass along to you:

  • For a spicy and flavorful mustard, always use a combination of yellow, brown and/or black mustard seed. Yellow seed is fairly mild and – when used alone – typically yield a ‘flat’ or very mild mustard. For a bolder flavor, you need to add some black mustard seed.
  • To change the flavor, experiment by swapping liquids (beer, champagne, white wine…) and adding additional flavorings (tarragon leaves, honey…)
  • When adding the liquids to the ground mustard seed, the temperature of the liquid makes a difference too: hot liquids yield a more mild mustard whereas cold liquids give it more kick or bite.
  • The longer mustard ‘sits’, the milder it gets. Don’t be alarmed if your mustard tastes too spicy right after you made it, it’ll definitely ‘calm down’ in a few days to a week.

HOMEMADE MUSTARD – THE BASICS  (yields approx. 5oz of mustard)
– 2oz of mustard seed (I use even quantities of yellow, black & red or brown mustard seed)
– 3.5 fl oz of white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
– 3.5 fl oz of water
– pinch of salt, to your liking
– pinch of sugar or 1 tsp of honey, if you like your mustard a bit sweet

Place the mustard seed in an airtight glass (or non-reactive) jar with the water and vinegar. Shake well and let sit for 24-48 hours.
In a food processor (or with mortar & pestle), pulverize the soaked seeds until you get a nice creamy paste. This takes a bit of time, so be patient. For a more grainy mustard, blend less. For a creamier mustard, keep on blending until you achieve the desired creaminess. Add a bit more water one tbsp at a time if it all turns out a bit too grainy and dry. Also, homemade mustard is not quite as ‘yellow’ in color as store-bought mustard. If you fancy that yellow color, add a dash of kurkuma for color.

BEER-THYME MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above, but replace water & vinegar with 4.5oz of full-bodied red or amber ale (or stout), and 2.5oz of champagne vinegar. Once blended, add 1-2 tsp of finely chopped fresh thyme leaves.

HONEY-DILL MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When the mustard is blended to your desired creaminess, add a 1-2 tbsp of honey and a whopping tbsp of chopped dill.

LEMON-TARRAGON MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon zest and 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

ROSEMARY MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 2 tbsp of very finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Homemade mustard lasts approx. 1 month in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Before using, allow it to sit for approx. 5 days so the ‘fire’ dies down a bit and the flavors have a chance to blend together.

Homemade Curry Ketchup

4 Jul

With grilling season wide open, I can’t thank my foodie friend Debi at Life Currents enough for posting her delicious homemade ketchup recipe. Debi, seriously girlfriend, I bow to your culinary genius.

Now, I wouldn’t be a full-blooded Belgian, if I didn’t turn this saucy deliciousness into an authentic Belgian staple: curry ketchup. It’s one of those things that I was forced to abandon when I came to America… Or so I thought. Nothing screams Belgium more than a good old paper cone baggie of crispy hot fries, accompanied by a zesty curry wurst (frikandel) with freshly diced onions and curry ketchup. It’s how we roll in Belgium.

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HOMEMADE CURRY KETCHUP
(adapted from a recipe by Life Currents)

– 1 6oz can of tomato paste
– 1/4 cup of water
– 1/4 cup of white vinegar
– 1/4 cup of blue agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of brown sugar
– 1 tsp of sweet curry powder
– 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
– 1/4 tsp of onion powder
– 1/8 tsp of garlic powder
– 1/4 tsp of salt

In a medium sauce pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10-15 min. Let cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
For regular ketchup, omit the curry and cayenne pepper, an “up” the brown sugar to 1tsp, instead of 1/2 tsp… or head on over to Life Currents!

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