Tag Archives: braised

Picadillo Cubano

22 Aug

I’ll come right out and say that I knew very little about ethnic food whilst growing up in my small, rural neck of the woods. My mom would sometimes experiment with ethnic food, such as that time she prepared ‘babotee’. OMG!. Babotee!. I think my brother & I are still mentally scarred from that one. Funny enough, I have no memory whatsoever of having eaten anything exotic after the babotee disaster, so I’m thinking that that African devil even struck a nerve with mom. We didn’t have much money and food was never wasted, and that was both a promise as well as curse since you knew that when something didn’t turn out quite well, we’d still be eating it! Babotee was right up there with canned bananas.

Anyway, my first ‘real’ exposure to exotic cuisine was when I went to the ‘Polé Polé Festival’ in Gent (Belgium) with a few friends and enjoyed my first Mojito and roast pork. One of the things I probably miss most from Belgium, are the sultry Summer music festivals and their colorful posters that were haphazardly tacked on wooden telephone poles & announcement boards across town. The featured bands usually hailed from Northern Africa, Central & Latin America and flamenco heartbeats like Spain & Portugal. The band names alone were enough to lure us out of our rural shell: Radio Tarifa, Youssou n’Dour, Ojos de Brujo, Cesaria Evora… The sound of African drums and the exotic smells that wafted over the concert meadow, took us far away from the sugar beet fields & farms surrounding our houses. And when the heat became too much for the atmosphere and the torrential downpour of a typical Belgian thunderstorm came rolling in, we’d all huddle in the festival tents and it felt like a tropical vacation. It’s precisely there, in that oppressive hot tent, that my love for global music and world cuisine was born. My friend also found love for Ntibanoboka from Burundi there… but we shall say no more.

African, Caribbean & Latin cuisines are the type of culinary exploration that I haven’t really ventured into yet. I can follow a recipe, of course, but it’s not like I can add a little bit of this & a little bit of that and come up trumps. I have little to no understanding of flavor combinations in exotic cooking, yet I love mostly all ethnic food that I’ve eaten at small family-owned hole-in-the-wall type eateries as well as fancy restaurants. Now that our finances are seriously strapped and firmly rooted in the chicken & ground beef realm of things, I miss going to our favorite restaurants. Havana Mania in Inglewood, CA is no exception. I love that Cuban place. Not only do they serve the meanest mojito’s there, but the owner usually welcomes us with a broad smile and open arms, as though we’re his long lost relatives finally returning home. And it doesn’t matter if we haven’t been there for months, he still greets us like we were there just yesterday. I like that kind of gregariousness.

Yesterday, I figured I’d try my own hand at Cuban cuisine. I still had 2 lbs of ground beef in the fridge, and I remembered eating a beef dish at one time called ‘Picadillo Cubano’. It’s a delectable concoction of ground beef that is slowly braised in white wine, with capers, olives & raisins. It’s usually served over white rice, with black beans and fried plantains on the side, but it turns out it’s also often used as a filling for empanadas. Some add potatoes to it, other don’t and it seems to be the topic of many debates about authenticity. Personally, I think it’s one of those dishes that has local flair and varies depending on whom you ask… Either way, it’s seriously delicious and we cleaned off our plates in record time. As an added bonus to the fantastic flavor, it’s very budget-friendly and a breeze to make. Gloria Estefan’s nana was right on the money with this one.

IMG_2378.JPG

PICADILLO CUBANO
(as per Gloria Estefan’s nana)
– Approx. 2lbs of ground beef, the fatty kind (any ground beef with at least 15% fat)
– 1 medium-large onion, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, finely diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of ground dry oregano
1 8oz can of tomato sauce
1 ½ cups of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp of capers (optional)
½ cup of ketchup
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of green pimiento-stuffed olives
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for browning

In a large heavy pan with lid, brown the beef over medium-high heat until crumbled, stirring occasionally. Remove beef from pan and set aside, and drain all but 2Tbsp of the grease.

Add diced onions, bell pepper and minced garlic to the pan. Sauté over medium heat until onions turn translucent, stirring frequently. Sprinkle oregano & cumin over the vegetables, and give it a quick stir for another minute or so. Then add reserved beef and all of the remaining ingredients to the pan.

Cover the pan and allow beef mixture to simmer for 30-40 min, removing the lid for the last 5-10 min.

Serve beef stew over rice, alongside black beans and fried plantains for a true Cuban experience.
This dish goes great with a mojito, or two…

Drunken Chicken

17 Apr

Good heavens. I’ve been working like a Peruvian mountain mule lately. Between my two jobs, the regular domestic wizardry household tasks and random chores, It’s surprising I even find time to use the loo. Let alone, cook a meal. As a matter of public confession, the Farklepants’ have pretty much been living off of pasta easy, one-pot meals lately.

A week ago, during a haggard grocery-store run on my way home, I had the brilliant idea to turn a 2-hour beer-braised beef stew into a 45-min hearty chicken stew. Wait. Before you pull that slow-cooker card, I confess that I have one. A very fancy one, as a matter of fact, courtesy of Cecilia… mother and personal whip hand extraordinaire. The thing is, even with a crockpot, you need to plan ahead and in order to plan ahead, you need time. Time to think about what to make. And there we have it: time + thinking about what to cook 24-hours prior to dinner, are a luxury commodity in my world lately. As a matter of fact, with rising at 05:00A and working a full day, I generally stop thinking after 08:00P altogether. On that note, am I alone in thinking that pajamas are perfectly acceptable attire at 04:30P? Anyone?

But we digress… As I was wandering aimlessly in my local ‘Vons’, I smelled beef stew. It was kind of a dreary, uninspiring evening and when that beefy aroma hit my nostrils, I wanted it. Like a blood hound, I sniffed my way through aisle 5, 6 and 7, before halting at the header of aisle 8, where the lovely Bernice with her Southern Texas drawl was stirring a pot of beef chili. Her well-manicured hands resting casually on a neatly stacked pyramid of cans, she beckoned me with her bright Fixodent smile and said “Try some, sweetie”. I’ll admit that it was hard to resist the call of her rhinestone embellished sweater-vest, but canned chili wasn’t going to cut it. Not even in my stupor of post-workday tiredness. Sorry Bernice.

Still obsessing over the idea of a hearty meal, I finally grabbed the usual beef stew stuff and figured chicken takes way less time than beef, and I ran with it. I thought to myself ‘how bad can it be?’, and clutched a six-pack of Newcastle ale on my way to the cash register. It was going on 07:00P and I just didn’t care anymore. Really. I tell you, this stew turned out to be rib-sticking delicious and very quick to make… It has all the traditional flavors of a regular beef stew, but takes 1/3 of the time. And with chicken being more budget-friendly, you have yourself a hearty dish of deliciousness for pennies on the dollar.

20140417-151817.jpg

DRUNKEN CHICKEN
(a Hungry Belgian creation)
– 10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
– 1 large yellow onion, diced
– 2-3 large carrots, sliced
– 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
– 1 6oz can of tomato paste
– 6-8 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced in strips
– 16oz of button mushrooms, halved (if small enough, you can leave them whole)
– 2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed in 1-inch thick pieces
– 2-3 cups of chicken stock
– 12-16 oz of brown ale/beer (I used 1.5 bottles Newcastle… and drank the other half)
– 4 Tbsp of fresh thyme, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
– 3 bay leaves
– salt & pepper to taste
– flour, to coat & brown the chicken
– olive oil, to sauté vegetables and chicken

Dice onion & celery in a approx. equal size dice, slice carrots in discs. Chop fresh herbs and set aside. Crush garlic and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, without added oil or butter, sauté bacon over medium-high heat until crisp but not blackened. Set aside and drain all but 2 Tbsp of bacon fat from the pot.

Rinse & pat chicken dry. Season with salt & pepper on all sides. Coat dry chicken thighs in flour and brown over medium-high heat on all sides in the reserved bacon fat. Set aside.

In same pot, add a bit of olive oil to the crusty bacon grease and sauté garlic, carrots, celery & onions over medium-high heat until beginning to soften. Add in tomato paste and cook for another 1-2 min over medium heat. The bottom of the pot will be quite crusty by now. Add a hefty splash of beer to the pan, and scrape all the flavorful bits off of the bottom. Adding more beer, if needed.

Add reserved chicken & potatoes into pot, stir and cover with remaining beer and chicken stock. Add half of the fresh herbs and all bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for approx. 30 minutes. If liquid gets low, add a bit more chicken stock or water. After 30 min, add in reserved bacon and mushrooms, and cook another 15-20 min until mushrooms are cooked thru and chicken is fork-tender. Season with more salt & pepper, if needed.

Discard bay leaves, sprinkle remaining herbs over the top and serve with crusty country bread.

Cider Braised Chicken

12 Nov

“What on God’s great Earth is Jidori chicken breast?!”, I asked myself slightly puzzled, whilst typing up a fancy restaurant menu for a client of mine. My first thought was that it was probably a specific type of chicken. You know, like when you’re driving on a road trip in the Montana wilderness and spontaneously burst out in amazement: “OMG!!!! LOOK HONEY!! A flock of free roaming wild Jidori chickens!”. Okay, maybe not like that, but either way, I wasn’t that far off…

When I spoke with the Chef in question, he explained to me in a thick French accent that ‘jidori’ chicken is like the ‘Kobe’ beef in the poultry world. The term is Japanese, and roughly translated, it means ‘from the ground up’. “Um… Is there any other kind except for the GROUND-roaming kind ?”, I asked? “Do I need to start watching out for free-FLYING, sky-roaming pooping wild chickens?!”. Laurent laughed a hearty belly-laugh. “Ze term revers do ze virst class freshzness and robuste flaveur”, he explains. Story has it that at some point in Japanese history, underneath a blossoming pink cherry tree in my imagination, a precious pure bred ‘Hinaidori’ chicken made wild love to a handsome ‘Rhode Island Red’, et voila, the ‘Akita-Hinai’ chicken was born. The young chick was raised in traditional Japanese ‘Jidori’ style, and there you have it: the Akita-Hinai Jidori chicken. Jidori farmed chickens are cage-free birds that are free roaming and fed an all-vegetarian diet, including clover, juicy tomatoes & crisp apples. These organic birds are free of any hormones and/or other meat by-products, and are delivered for consumption on the same day they went to poultry heaven, to ensure the utmost freshness. Jidori chickens are never frozen, which means they retain less water and have a firmer, plumper & pinker breast and a deep, robust chicken flavor… The term ‘Jidori’ is trademarked in the same way ‘Champagne’ is trademarked. Only chickens that are bred and raised in this manner, are allowed to be name ‘Jidori’ chickens, but the term doesn’t per se refer to the animal’s origin, like Kobe beef does to beef. Freely speaking, any chicken can be a jidori-chicken for as long as it is bred in the traditional jidori-way. Technically, this means that ‘Catharina The Great’ from your own backyard coop can also be a jidori-style chicken, provided you love her, tell her bedtime stories and feed her organic fodder that contains plenty of whole foods and no meat by-products… If you think about it, jidori chickens are like the Pamela Andersons of the poultry world. (hashtags: spoiled, vegetarian, plump breast)

In the late 1990’s, Dennis Mao from Mao Foods brought jidori chicken to America, and mainly to the Los Angeles based restaurant scene. Since then, like any true Hollywood Starlet with plump pink breasts, Jidori chicken’s rise to fame cannot be stopped and nationwide demand far exceeds Mao Foods’ supply… As a matter of fact, unless you are a fancy chef with a Michelin-star restaurant, it’s nearly impossible to buy jidori-style chicken as a regular consumer. So are we cheated from the ultimate deliciousness in poultry? Not entirely. In a fairly recent newspaper interview, Dennis Mao admits that a sustainably raised chicken that is treated humanely in a stress-free environment, fed quality feed and bought directly from a small organic farm, probably tastes as good as his own ‘jidori’-style chicken… and that’s good news for us plain folks. I’m all for eating happy chickens, as horrible as that sounds to some of you.

The menu I was typing for my client featured a cider braised Jidori chicken breast. When I hear cider, I think ‘Normandy’ in France. I think warm Camembert ‘en croûte’, green pastures, bovines and delicious apple cider… The recipe below is my own take on authentic Normandy chicken. Give it it a try, oh… and buy happy chicken, y’all!

20131112-185449.jpg

CIDER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH ROSEMARY, APPLES & MUSHROOMS
(Adapted from “Knack Weekend”)
– 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or 6-8 thighs.
– 2 apples, peeled & cut into wedges or dice (I use Jonagold or Golden Delicious)
– 1-2 large shallot, minced
– 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, whole + a bit more finely chopped, for garnish
– 16oz of white button mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered, if large
– 1/3 cup of Calvados or white wine
– 3 cups of hard cider
– a splash of cream
– 2 Tbsp of all purpose flour, to thicken the sauce
– salt & pepper to taste

Rinse and pat chicken dry. Season on all sides with salt & pepper. Melt 3 Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat, and brown chicken, approx. 3-4 min per side.

Sprinkle chicken with flour and allow the flour to melt with the butter so it forms a “roux”.

Add Calvados, and ignite to allow alcohol to evaporate quickly. Stand back and be careful! Then add apple cider and rosemary, scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pan and braise chicken without the lid of the pot for approx. 25-30 min.

In the meantime, in a separate pan, melt another 2 Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat and brown shallots, mushrooms & apples. When all are browned and caramelized, approx. 10-15 min or so, add all of it (incl. their liquid) to the pot with the chicken, and allow to braise without the lid for another 10-15 min until chicken is tender and cooked all the way through.

Finish the sauce with a splash of cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh rosemary, if desired, and serve with crusty French bread or roasted potatoes.

Mustard Braised Chicken with Tarragon

22 Oct

When mom was here a week or so ago, I asked her – in a moment of temporary insanity – if she would mind helping me clean out my pantry. Oye Vey! That’s all I’m going to say about that. Why on earth I thought this would go off without a hinge with my ultra-organized mother is beyond me, but I think there was wine involved when I posed the question. Perched from a stepping stool, I handed her things to throw away that dated back from the time in which Walkman cassette players were all the rage, some of which had a distinct Belgian label and clearly came from another era one of her past visits, so naturally, that yielded my mother’s trademark disapproving eye… and I completely deserve it, really. The thing is, I’m so Scrooge-like with my goods from Belgium that I sometimes forget I even have stuff like ‘Royco Asperge Minuutsoep’… or worse yet, save it for a ‘special’ occasion. If you’re from Belgium, try not to laugh. Okay?

And then there are those times in which I find myself dillydallying in the Manhattan Village mall, usually killing some time waiting for a flight to come in at LAX or so, and inevitably end up buying nonsense from places like ‘Harry & David’ or ‘Williams-Sonoma’, because I am famished and bored I saw a need for silly things like powdered Tikka Masala mix (can I plead the Fifth here?) or a box of jalapeno corn bread, both of which get shoved next to the Vidalia Onion Dressing mix that was gifted to me in a company Christmas basket earlier. And all of which live clandestinely underground in my pantry for years, until I can’t take the clutter anymore and I go on a cleaning spree… Please tell me I’m not alone in this madness?

Anyway, amid our frenzied pantry reorganization, lurking behind my basket of ‘usual’ suspects, I did notice a baggy of dried tarragon from Penzey’s Spices and suddenly remembered my impulsive ambition to try and recreate a mustard-braised chicken stew I saw Jacques Pepin make on our local ‘Create’ television network…. last Winter! Well, I’m happy to report that ‘last Winter’ has finally arrived and the recipe is listed below. I made this one in my super-duper slow cooker, but you can easily use a heavy Dutch oven as well. If so, turn the time down to 2 hours or so.

20131022-122515.jpg

MUSTARD BRAISED CHICKEN WITH TARRAGON
(Adapted from a recipe by Jacques Pepin)
– 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
– 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
– 2 packages of button mushrooms, large ones halved
– 1 package (8-11 oz) of frozen artichoke hearts (*)
– 1 lbs of small Cippolini onions, halved (or pearl onions, whole)
– 1.5 cups of chicken broth
– 1/4 cup of Dijon mustard
– 1/3 cup of dry white wine
– 3 Tbsp of dried tarragon + a few sprigs of fresh tarragon for garnish
– 1/3 cup of heavy cream
– salt & pepper, to taste
– olive oil, to brown the chicken
(*) You can use fresh or jarred artichoke hearts as well, but they have a tendency to disintegrate in the cooking process in a slow cooker.

Wash and pat the thighs dry, then season with salt & pepper. In a heavy pan, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken thighs on all sides. When browned, transfer to the insert of your slow cooker.

Without rinsing the pan, add a tablespoon of butter and brown the mushrooms, onions and garlic until all of the liquid has evaporated. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all of the browned bits. Stir in half of the dried tarragon, simmer a minute more and transfer contents to insert of slow cooker. Add frozen artichokes to insert as well.

Combine chicken broth with remaining dried tarragon & mustard, and stir well. Pour over the chicken in your cooker, and braise on ‘low’ for approx.. 4.5 hours until the chicken is fall apart tender.

Add heavy cream to slow cooker, stir and let simmer for another 15-30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened a bit more. Finish off with a few sprigs of chopped fresh tarragon immediately before serving. This dish pairs well with roasted potatoes or rice.

Balsamic Chicken with Figs & Port

15 Oct

How is it, that 10 days flew by so fast? Yesterday, I dropped my mom off at LAX airport from what seemed like a 10-day visit at mach 3 speed. We spent a few days driving through the Angeles and Sequoia National Forests, and onwards through Yosemite NP and Death Valley NP. The parks were ‘officially’ closed due to our infamous Government shutdown, and we received stern warnings from the Park Rangers that stopping or getting out of our car was strictly prohibited, but – given the ridiculousness of this situation – I felt that this policy was open for creative interpretation, so we stopped and took beautiful photographs. Right? The only downfall was that all restrooms were bolted as well, and with a 2.5 hour drive through Yosemite NP, this meant that my unscrupulous desperate 70-year old mother may or may not have ‘wild peed’ behind a tree at Tuolomne Meadows… Please forgive her. If you were in Yosemite around 11:42A last 7th Oct, you needn’t wonder any longer if the national park is habitat to some sort of rare ‘sierra flamingo’. You merely caught a glimpse of my mother, clad in hot pink pants, precariously perched somewhere off-road in between the pines. I’m deeply sorry.

Besides being a colorful character, it also became apparent during this trip that my mother excels in charging stuff to her Belgian visa card, and neatly folding those receipts into her wallet with mathematical precision. “To verify the charges, when the bill comes in”. Among various kitchen gadgets and other pleasantries, she gifted me a really nice 6.5 quart Cuisinart slow cooker and a fantastic Nordic Ware waffler, which happens to be the best frigging waffle iron I have ever owned. While I’m tickled pink with the waffler, it’s the slow cooker that really fills a void in our home. When my old one died in the midst of slow-cooking a satanic 3-lbs Mojo-marinated Cuban pork shoulder, it broke my heart. But now that Cecilia-in-hot-pink-pants flew to the rescue, we have a shiny new 6.5 quart fancy Cuisinart cooker for our Fall & Winter enjoyment. Hurray!

To pay proper respect to my mom’s visa charge, I’m dedicating this recipe to my mother. It’s sweet and tangy, a wee bit odd and chockfull of character… kinda like Cecilia.

20131015-183501.jpg

BALSAMIC CHICKEN WITH FIGS & PORT
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
– olive oil, to brown the chicken
– salt & pepper to taste
– 1/2 cup of good quality balsamic vinegar
– 1/2 cup of Ruby port
– 1/2 cup of chicken broth
– 2-3 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme
– 16 dried figs, roughly chopped
– 2 shallots, finely chopped
– 4 oz of Spanish chorizo, finely chopped

Rinse chicken thighs under cold water & pat dry. Season with salt & pepper, then brown in a skillet in a bit of olive oil.

Place browned chicken thighs in the insert of your slow cooker. Add chorizo & shallots to the pan, and give them a quick flash fry for a few minutes.

Deglaze the pan you used for browning the chicken & chorizo with the balsamic vinegar & port, scraping up any browned bits. When done, add broth and pour liquid & pan drippings over the chicken in your slow cooker, including chorizo & shallots.

Add the thyme & figs, and stir to combine.

Cover the slow cooker & cook on high for 2 hours, until the sauce is thick and somewhat syrupy. Serve with roasted potatoes or over rice.

Hearty Polish Sausage & Beans

11 Sep

I consider myself to be a resourceful person. My ‘creative thinking’ ability was evidenced at a young age, when I once received a homework assignment from my strict Catholic school, with the instruction to listen to the Pope’s Easter mass & speech and fill out a 100 item questionnaire about it. Faced with the horror of having to sit through 4 hours of televised prayer in Latin – on Sunday no less! – I told my teacher that our TV was of a communist brand and that therefore we weren’t able to tune into the channel in question as our airwaves were censored by the Russian Orthodox Government. I think I should have gotten an honorable mentioning for such creativity, but instead I got to copy the “Ten Commandments”… 25 times!

I entirely blame my mother for this kind of quick-witted creative thinking. After all, she was a pro at it herself and she was known to smite the nonsensical ways of the strict Catholic establishment on a routine basis. As an example, when she was hired by the private convent school in question, the bearded dragon head nun made it clear to her that she was expected to wear a long, calf-length skirt & stockings, and to refrain from engaging the girls in any scandalous or improper activity such as, but not limited to: cartwheels, splits, summersaults, exercises that required us to spread our legs, headstands or anything else that could potentially expose the Lord to juvenile indecency. Since it proved futile to reason with the clergy about the scholastic curriculum of a physical education class, my mother creatively taunted the school’s ridiculous policy and showed up for her first day on the job wearing a long skirt… with a snazzy pair of shiny red metallic Adidas sweatpants underneath!

Creativity and independent thinking ranked high on our mother’s list of virtues she deemed necessary in life. She made sure our little brains were exercised daily, and she made it a point to teach us to think outside the box and to never accept nonsense as suitable answer or solution.

I’ve had to be creative with our food budget on many occasions, but when I came home to a virtually empty fridge yesterday, it gave culinary creativity a whole new meaning. With payday still 3 days away, I took a quick gander in our pantry and figured I could manipulate a recipe for Polish sausage & beans I saw on Pinterest a little while ago. The result was a hearty & flavorful stew of tomatoes, peppers and kielbasa, and it received two thumbs up from all of us.

20130911-211427.jpg

Hearty Polish Sausage & Beans
(Adapted from a Pinterest recipe)
– 3 15oz cans of your preferred beans (*)
– 1 Polish sausage or Kielbasa
– 1 large red bell pepper
– 1 large green bell pepper
– 2 medium yellow onions
– 2 Poblano peppers
– 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped finely
– 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
– 1 Tbsp of sweet Hungarian paprika
– 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
– 1/4 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
– salt & pepper to taste
– 2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
(*) You can use any beans you like, but I prefer a combination of white cannellini beans, black beans & pinto beans.

Drain and rinse beans under cold water, set aside.

Chop peppers and onions into large dice. Crush garlic with the back of your knife, and chop into fine pieces. Slice kielbasa into small rounds.

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot, and sauté peppers, onions and garlic until beginning to soften. Add crushed tomatoes, paprika, dill, parsley, salt & pepper, and simmer until vegetables are soft.

Add kielbasa and beans, and allow to simmer until everything is warmed through. Serve over brown rice or with a crusty loaf of bread.

Butter-braised Savoy Cabbage with Speck

16 Aug

Yesterday, my new Facebook friend Linda V. K. asked me if I knew what ‘wirsing’ means in English? While the word ‘wirsing’ is actually German for a lovely dish of butter-braised Savoy cabbage, the dish is decidedly Belgian in nature. Belgium is a land of country cooking & hearty food, and what could possibly be more country than cabbage?!

Whenever I see cabbage, I am instantly reminded of the frosted-over cabbage fields sprawled out over the western Flemish farm belt. The fields stretch for miles on end and are planted in perfectly straight rows, with dirt pathways cutting through the geometrical pattern like goat trails. Lone farmers tend to their crops with their weathered hands clad in woolen fingerless gloves, their rosy cheeks glowing like red beacons of life on the otherwise desolate, bleak fields. I used to cycle alongside these fields on my way to or from school, often pulling my sweater’s sleeves over my hands to give my fingers some relief from the icy morning fog that blankets these lands in Fall & Winter. I’m sure my mother’s ‘Don’t forget your gloves!!’ must have echoed a million times through our hallway.

When kicking off our snow-covered boots and darting over the frigid garage floor in our socks, the warmth of the kitchen and the aroma of butter-braised cabbage and browned sausage felt like the culinary equivalent of sitting by a warm hearth. In my post about braised red cabbage, I already proclaimed my love for the deep purple vegetable, but dark green Savoy cabbage was never all that popular. It’s a universal phenomenon for kids to dislike leafy green vegetables, and Belgian youth is no exception to this. I remember Bert & I used to heap butter and some of the sausage’s pan drippings over the green cabbage, to make it more palatable.

The recipe below is for Linda. As promised, it’s imported directly from a trusted source in small rural Flemish village. Photo courtesy goes entirely to Belgian celebrity chef Jeroen Meus.

20130816-104902.jpg

BUTTER BRAISED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH SPECK
(Adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)
– 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage (or green cabbage)
– a small pinch of sodium bicarbonate, to retain the cabbage’s bright green color during cooking (*)
– 8 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
– ground nutmeg, to taste
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 3 Tbsp of good quality butter
– ¼ cup of heavy cream
(*) This is completely optional but safe and flavorless! Sodium Bicarbonate is similar to Alka-Seltzer, for instance, or other stomach acid drugs. You only need a little bit for a whole pot of water, and it will not affect the flavor of the dish, nor is it unsafe to use. Sodium Bicarbonate ensures that the bright green color of cabbage is preserved in the cooking process, as otherwise the cabbage turns into somewhat of a drab brownish green. Many restaurants use this trick to preserve the bright green color of many green vegetables.

For an authentic flavor, you will need a head of Savoy cabbage (see picture below), and you will also need 2 large pots or Dutch ovens.

Start with filling one of your pots with water and bring to a rolling boil. While the water is heating, clear tough ‘older’ leaves from the outside cabbage and discard (or compost!). Cut cabbage in half, reserving one half for later. For the other half, cut the hard core out of the middle and cut that half in half again, so you end up with 2 quarter cabbage parts. Slice each cabbage quarter in very thin strips.

When the water is boiling, add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate to ensure the cabbage retains its bright green color. Add chopped cabbage, and simmer (blanch) for approx. 3-4 min until cabbage is crisp tender. Pour cabbage into a colander, and drain very well.

In the second pan, add 1 Tbsp of butter and brown bacon pieces until crisp, approx. 10 minutes. Reserve a few bacon bits for garnish. Add well-drained cabbage and sauté for 2-3 minutes more until cabbage is soft and well combined. Fold 2 Tbsp of butter and cream into the braised cabbage, and season with salt, pepper & ground nutmeg to taste. Sprinkle reserved bacon bits over the top and serve with browned sausage or you favorite protein.

Another Belgian classic! Enjoy!

20130816-104828.jpg

Wine Braised Cabbage with Plums & Bacon

14 Aug

The other day, I discovered a smoked turkey sausage in the back of my fridge. With ‘it’ being far removed from my much more popular non-processed food corner, I didn’t even catch its presence until famine set in and I nosied around in the fridge for a quick dinner idea, or shall we say, in a desperate attempt to save myself a trip to the grocery store. And there it was. Sitting proudly in the ‘man corner’ of the fridge, right next to the hot dogs and beer. I’m usually pretty good with keeping a detailed inventory of our fridge’s contents in the back of my mind, you know, in that special lobe that keeps track of all practical things, but that darn sausage snuck up on me. I’m not ‘big’ on things that have an unnatural and/or freakishly long shelf life, but with our finances seriously strapped these days, a sale on $5.00 smoked sausage goes a long way…

Just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for kielbasa in this world as well. However, when I bought that sausage, I must have not been entirely sure where exactly that place was. Come to think of if, this is probably why it ended up on the ‘man shelf’ in our fridge in the first place. Then, as per divine intervention, I remembered: ‘Rookworst met rode kool’! Braised red cabbage and sausage is not only popular in Belgium, but in Holland as well. Although our northern neighbor traditionally opts for braised kale or ‘boerekool’, rather than red cabbage. Either way, braised cabbage is everywhere in the lower lands and many a Flemish child grows up on that stuff.

With my flavor palette a bit more refined these days, I fancified my vocabulary this cabbage a little bit. Rather than braising it traditionally with just bits of apple and vinegar, I opted for a more flavorful combination of red wine, dried plums and bacon.

20130814-120306.jpg

WINE BRAISED CABBAGE WITH PLUMS & BACON
(A “Hungry Belgian” original…)
– 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded thinly or chopped finely (+/- 1.5 lbs shredded)
– 2/3 cup of good quality red wine + more for soaking (*)
– 2-3 shallots, chopped into small dice (or 1 medium size red onion)
– 10-12 dried plums, slivered
– 2 small pears, peeled, cored & diced
– 2 sticks of cinnamon
– 2 cloves
– 1 laurel leaf
– 4-5 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced into small slivers
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) The age-old adage is: if you don’t like the wine for drinking, don’t cook with it either!

Soak plums in a bit of red wine to soften them. Place a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat and brown the bacon until crisp. Remove from pot and set aside.

In the bacon fat, brown shallots until translucent. Then add shredded cabbage with wine, pears, spices and salt & pepper to taste, and fold so everything is well combined. Cover the pot and braise over medium-low heat for approx. 45 min until cabbage is soft. Add plums, and simmer 10-15 min more to allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Remove cinnamon, laurel leaf and cloves, and add bacon bits back in.

Serve braised cabbage alongside your preferred choice of crisp browned sausage links.

Lemon Braised Chicken with Black Olives & Saffron

8 Aug

I have fond memories of our vacations in the South of France. How can you not completely lose yourself amidst the sights & smells of beautiful Provençe? The fragrant purple-glowing lavender fields, knotty olive trees, the distant sound of church bells echoing over the citrus groves, the sweet honey-like smell of juicy figs, freshly baked crusty French bread wafting through the warm air, old cobble stone streets that are host to bustling markets selling anything from creamy local goat cheese to bright colorful Provençal textiles, and the prerequisite dusty bocce ball courts that are strategically placed underneath the shady oaks in the old town square, where the older beret-wearing men mingle and discuss politics over a friendly game of ‘pétanque’ or ‘jeux de boules’, while their wives haggle with the chatty vendors over fresh fish and cured olives…

Provençe is where the good life is at… It seems time has come to a standstill in the sleepy cobblestone towns, with their red clay rooftops spread out against a backdrop of olive groves and lavender fields, and their historic architecture splayed over the hillsides. These are the kind of rural hamlets where senior villagers frequently lounge in comfortable chairs right outside the doorstep of their old stone houses, to catch up on local gossip and to gawk amusedly at the occasional accidental tourist that stumbles into town. I suppose the younger generation flees towards the excitement & lure of the larger cities as soon as they have the chance, and who can blame them? With nothing more than an old mossy church, a few cafés or bistros and a handful of ‘odds & ends’ type stores the size of shoebox, there’s hardly anything present to engage or capture the essence of youth in these old havens of peaceful nothingness.

It’s precisely here, in this type of quiet solitude, that you find that unforgettable meal in your trip that will fondly linger in your memory for years to come. A dish that is sourced from the best quality local ingredients only, purveyed fresh from the field that same hazy morning, and infused with generations of love & passion for authentic regional cuisine. The recipe below hails from such a charming town in Provençe, and as such, its flavor and smell will transport you directly to ‘Banon’, to name just one Provençal pearl…

20130809-064221.jpg

CHICKEN WITH LEMON, BLACK OLIVES & SAFFRON
– 4 whole chicken legs or 6-8 thighs, skin on
– 4 fresh lemons
– 3 large onions, roughly the size of a small orange
– Approx. 20 oil-cured black olives (the Greek kind, with a deep dark black color and slightly wrinkled skin)
– a hefty pinch of saffron
– 1 cup of chicken stock
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– Salt & pepper, to taste

Chop onion in half, and then each half cross-wise in half again, slice each onion quarter in small rings. Juice 2 of the lemons and reserve both juice and peels. Quarter 3 lemons (including the juiced ones), and then slice each lemon wedge cross-wise in half again. Slice 1 lemon in pretty round slices, for visual appeal… Wash chicken legs and pat dry, then salt & pepper them liberally.

In a large Dutch oven, sauté the onions in a splash of olive oil until translucent and slightly browned. Add chicken legs skin side down and brown to a crisp. Add reserved lemon juice, all lemon wedges & slices, garlic, olives, chicken stock & saffron, and braise covered over low heat for approx. 60 min, until chicken is “fall-off-the-bone” tender and flavors have developed.
Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the delicious lemony sauce and a crisp, cold Pinot Gris.

Bon appétit!

%d bloggers like this: