Tag Archives: brunch

Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes

5 Feb

Last Friday, karma struck. So did the guy that was driving behind me. It appears his nicotine levels were dropping dangerously low, and in an act of sheer desperation, he decided to retrieve his pack of cigarettes from the floor of his truck whilst driving in rush hour traffic. I was amusedly gazing at the seagulls out the front window, and never saw him coming. Being the last car at the tail-end of stopped traffic, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marlboro Man when he crashed into the rear of my Honda CR-V at 30 mph, and sent my head flying in directions that defy all human anatomy.

Let me first start by saying that whiplash is poop. No, seriously. It’s poop! I can’t decide if I like the constant nausea better, or if perhaps the pinched nerve & cramping muscles rock my world more. And then there are the meds that are doing a number on my digestive system too, but what really tops the cake, is that all of sudden my brain’s auto-pilot mode seems corrupted. Yesterday, I tried to open our mailbox with our house key, you know, the key that is typically 3x LARGER! in size, until it dawned on me 15 seconds later – with an air of exasperation – that I had the wrong key. I feel like I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed right now, and that bothers me almost as much as Lady Gaga proclaiming she is classically trained and was invited by ‘Juilliard’. I mean, have you ever heard of a classically trained musician brushing an invitation from New York’s finest music school off the table to pursue a career in weird make-up and glittery green bodysuits that produce really awful camel toe look seriously painful to wear in one’s nether-regions?! Not me. But maybe I’m not seeing the possibilities here.

My wee blog has been suffering too. I’m already working 7 days a week and also attempting to run our household, and now I have to hold my head ‘just so’, so as to minimize the pain… Quite frankly, I feel like I should be sainted in a Papal audience and let it be hereforth known that I’m waiting for his invitation. Okay? After all, I do scoop the cats litter box quite frequently, and what comes out of there very much resembles leprosy, if you ask me. And with Father Damian being Belgian, well, we’re practically family. There.

And how does one tie leprosy into a recipe?!, you might ask. Fret not, for I am here to enlighten you with creative writing. When I purchased Trader Joe’s vegetable pancakes a few weeks ago, I decided that whatever Trader Joe’s can do, I can do better too… I’ve always been a BIG fan of Macadamia nuts, and I knew I wanted them to make a grand appearance in my crispy brunch latkes. And there you have it: Macadamia nuts = Hawaii = Molokai = leprosy. Please hold the applause.

20140208-082005.jpg

Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes
(based on a recipe for potato latkes)
– 1 lb of grated carrot
– 6 oz of Macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
– 3.5 oz of aged Gouda, grated (or aged cheddar)
– 3 oz of day-old corn bread crumbs
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 tsp of Sriracha sauce or any hot sauce of your liking
– 2 Tbsp of Italian parsley, finely chopped + more for garnish, if you like.
– 2 Tbsp of fresh thyme, finely chopped
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika powder
– olive oil
– salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. When hot, line baking sheet with foil and toast Macadamia nuts for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Give nuts a rough chop, until crumbled.

Grate carrot, and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Pour into a fine-mesh strainer, drain well and allow to cool.
Combine carrot with grated cheese, corn bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, egg yolks, Sriracha, sweet paprika and salt & pepper. Divide mass into 10-12 equal parts, and form into a small ½ inch thick patties.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, heat olive oil (be generous) until hot and fry patties until crisp & golden, approx. 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.

Advertisements

Chocolate-Dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto

27 Dec

At risk of being a real ‘Debbie Downer’, I must confess that Christmas 2013 probably won’t go down in history as a holiday cheer blockbuster. With our pockets void of any spare cash no presents under our tree and the (step)munsters celebrating the holiday at their mum’s, Christmas sort of resembled an arid desert plain. With the occasional cheerful tumbleweed rolling by. It didn’t help our bleak mood much that Facebook turned into a photo-sharing orgy of glittery family Christmas bliss and cheery gift giving. With the kids slated to remain put at their home with mom, there was no roast beast to prepare or holiday candy to be dumped in sparkly bowls either. In short, there was nothing to keep me from wallowing about in my reindeer pajamas and feeling sorry for Mr. Farklepants & myself. I’m disappointed that I allowed myself to be overshadowed by the commercial circus that swallows Christmas whole, but let me tell you, not having a dime extra to spend on Christmas is not fun either.

Even the selfish opportunists the cats recognized that Christmas morning was not the time to be messing with me, so the vicious circle of pine needle chewing & subsequent barfing was temporary halted, in lieu of loudly demanding attention and considering ANY place I wanted to sit down as prime real estate that needed to be occupied… on the double… preferably when my center of gravitational pull my butt is half way down its path of sitting down, so that I would then have to precariously contort my √144+(9×31)-(y=17xa) self from plopping down on a 5-lbs feline, whilst holding a mug of hot coffee in one hand and a buttered & jammed croissant in the other. Of course. Did I tell you I have white fabric furniture?!

The Farklepants men are night owls, and with Thing #1 living with us and not scheduled to go over to his mother’s for Christmas until later in the afternoon, nothing was stirring in the house until 11:47A well into morning. At the crack of dawn, it was just me & the cats listening to the holiday concert of the ‘Salzburger Philharmonic’, with the occasional snores lulling in the back bedrooms. I braved Trader Joe’s in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and splurged on a canister of cinnamon rolls for ‘early’ breakfast, and some festive lox & avocado to serve as “eleventies”… for when the men would emerge from their sarcophagi and for when my stomach is ready for something vaguely resembling lunch.

I won’t go into the horrid detail of running the gauntlet at Trader Joe’s the day before Christmas, but the waffles below totally make up for it. I can’t entirely lay claim to this recipe, but I felt I needed to share the genius of using cinnamon rolls as waffle dough on my blog. And let’s face it, my concoction is more dessert than it is breakfast, unless you suffer from the holiday blues and needed a little pick-me-up. I know I’m not alone to have wandered onto the ‘dessert for breakfast’ path, so I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Well… maybe a little. Full stop.

20131227-100249.jpg

Chocolate-dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto
(Adapted from Pinterest)
For the waffles:
– 2 canisters of cinnamon rolls (for 10 waffles)

For the chocolate coating:
– 5 oz of Belgian milk chocolate
– 5 oz of Belgian dark chocolate
– 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract
– 1 Tbsp of strong espresso coffee
– 2 Tbsp of Amaretto

Heat waffle iron to piping hot. Open canisters and separate all rolls. Discard the icing that came with the box or save for another time…

Over a double-boiler, melt chocolate until liquid and stir in the espresso coffee & Amaretto. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat, and let the chocolate mixture sit in the hot water of the double boiler until you are ready to dip you waffles.

While the chocolate melts, cook the waffles in your iron. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, you can either place 1 roll in the middle of the iron -or- 1 roll in each square to make 4 at a time or so. Close the lid of the waffle iron and press down. Cook waffle(s) for approx. 2-3 min on each side until golden brown. The cooking time also depends on how hot your waffle iron gets, so check after a minute or so to make sure they’re not burning. Allow waffles to cool just a bit so they are not too hot to handle.

Dip one side of each waffle in the chocolate and place chocolate-size up on rack until ready to serve.

Consequently, you can also just dust these babies with some powdered sugar instead of dipping them in chocolate. Or even serve them with a yummy blueberry jam or with the glaze that came with the box. The possibilities are endless. It’s your breakfast-dessert treat, make it your own!

Chocolate Brioche Buns

1 Dec

Truthfully, I am not a baking wonder. I actually don’t really like baking, but I felt compelled to bake these buns out of desperation. With nothing but whole grain bread in our bread basket, the house was completely void of anything that could even remotely satisfy the side effects of my bleeding uterus (oh crap, now I’ve said it!!!), and I already devoured anything that was readily available for eating days ago… So what is a girl to do but bake something, right?! Sigh.

I saw a recipe for chocolate brioche in ‘Bon Appetit’ months ago, and dismissed it almost as instantly as I saw it. However, I’ve been thinking about it for months now and, given the sudden dip in my hormonal landscape, I felt the time was now. A notion that was re-enforced by divine intervention the fact that I actually had all the ingredients in my pantry. Because let’s face it, for baking grinches like yours truly, even a quick trip to the market derails the whole idea of baking something.

Once I got past having to measure everything out ‘just so’, a major ugh in baking, I actually enjoyed putting this dough together by hand because I don’t own a mixer with dough hook. Dear Santa… These buns turned out delicious, albeit a bit dense and ‘doughy’. Considering my hands don’t have a 3K RPM speed, I think they were a bit dense due to the lack of mechanical kneading, and next time, when my brain is not lame, I might just let my bread machine do the kneading for me. Full stop.

20131201-132139.jpg

Chocolate Brioche Buns
(Adapted from ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 cups of bread flour
– 2 cups of all purpose flour
– 1 Tbsp of baking powder
– 2 oz of butter, melted & slightly cooled
– 1/2 cup of chocolate shavings or sprinkles (or small chips)
– 3/4 cup of lukewarm milk
– 2 tsp of instant dry yeast
– small pinch of salt
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp of granulated sugar
– 1/3 cup of milk, to brush the buns before baking
– 1/4 cup of melted butter, to brush the buns after baking

Preheat oven to 115F, and turn off immediately after temperature is reached. Leave door closed.

Heat milk until it’s lukewarm. Add a pinch of sugar to the milk and let the yeast dissolve into the milk. Allow to sit and culture for 10-15 min.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar & 2oz of melted butter. Knead by hand or with a mixer for approx 5 min. until well combined. Add eggs and knead 5 more min until well combined.

Slowly pour yeast/milk mixture into dough, and knead 5 min to combine well. You should have a smooth dough when this is done. If the dough is still sticky, add a bit more flour.

Turn out onto a flour surfaced, and hand-knead a few more minutes. Oil the inside of the bowl, and let dough rise in the warm oven for 90-120 min.

After the dough has rested and is almost doubled in size, take it out the warm oven and cut dough ball in half.

Crank oven to 375F.

Roll each half of the dough into a broad rectangle until 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle chocolate shavings all over the top and roll dough into a cylinder.

Cut cylinder into 4 equal parts. Slice deep slits into each part across the top, then pinch left & right end together. This will make each slit fan out a bit, which is what we want. Repeat with the other parts.

Place each bun on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

Cover unbaked buns with a clean damp cloth and allow to rise another 30 min. Then lightly brush buns with milk.

Place baking sheet in the oven and bake buns at 375F for 15-18 min until the top is golden brown.

Immediately after taking out of the oven, brush buns with melted butter.

Bon Appetit!

Maple Bacon & Butternut Squash Waffles

18 Sep

When I stumbled upon a recipe for mashed potato cheddar & chive waffles from Joy The Baker the other day, I swear I heard the faint sound of violins. I mean, waffles… with cheeseand mashed potatoes! What could possibly be better than that winning trifecta? And who knew you could put mashed potatoes in waffle batter? But more importantly, who even has leftover mashed potatoes to begin with?!

My inner-Belgian was intrigued, so I baked Joy’s waffles that same night and I thought they were really good. As in ‘I binged on 6 waffles in one sitting’-kinda good, and then impulsively grabbed the last sole survivor this morning for breakfast-on-the-go and ate that one ice cold because I was desperate I was in a hurry. Let me tell you, any waffle that tastes this good after being left overnight on the kitchen counter, should be considered a mortal sin. It made me ponder the question, if this much tastiness can be achieved with cheddar & chives, how wickedly delicious would these waffles be with, let’s say, bacon? And what if we replaced the mashed potatoes with puréed butternut squash for instance? With visions of savory waffle greatness, I took Joy’s recipe and ran with it. Like a thief in the night.

Even malicious recipe-snatchers foodies like me sometimes need a late breakfast-brunch idea, and these Fall-inspired waffles are perfect for those days on which your uterus bleeds uncontrollably you crave something salty & sweet or you need a unique alternative to a dinner roll. The mapled butternut squash mash gives them a subtle sweetness and the bacon adds a salty touch to balance everything out nicely. Now let’s all surf to Joy’s blog, and thank her for the original recipe that sparked this tasty spin off! These waffles are delicious straight out of your hot waffle iron, but they are equally as good the next day, albeit that they lose their crispiness as they cool. Top these babies with a dollop of crème fraiche, and you’ll find yourself in savory waffle heaven.

20130918-142257.jpg

MAPLE, BACON & BUTTERNUT SQUASH WAFFLES
(Inspired by ‘Joy The Baker’)
– 4 Tbsp of unsalted butter
– 1/4 cup of buttermilk
– 2 large eggs
– 2 cups of butternut squash mash (*)
– 4-5 slices of bacon
– 1 large shallot, finely diced
– A pinch of brown sugar
– A pinch of cayenne pepper
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp of baking powder
– 1/4 tsp of baking soda
– 1/2 tsp of salt
– 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper
– crème fraiche, for topping
(*) Butternut squash mash is simple to make and a healthy alternative to regular mashed potatoes, See recipe below.

Plug in your waffle iron and allow it to heat so it’ll be nice & hot when you’re ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place bacon slices on top. Sprinkle bacon lightly with brown sugar and cayenne pepper, and bake at 450F for approx. 10-15 min, until crispy. Set aside on paper towels and allow to cool, then crumble.

In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat and allow it to brown. When it’s all melted, it’ll start popping and cracklin a bit, which is the water evaporating out of the butter and giving the butter a yummy nutty flavor. Keep watching the pan and wait for the edges to brown slightly. Once you see browned edges, pour browned butter directly into your cooled butternut squash mash, and whisk in the eggs & buttermilk to combine into a smooth mass. Keep on an eye on this process, as butter can go from tasty browned nuttiness to a burned mess in a matter of seconds!

Wipe pan with a paper towel, and give diced shallots a quick sauté, until they are translucent. It should only take a minute or 2-3. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and add baking soda, baking powder, salt & pepper. Fold in the butternut squash mixture and combine into a smooth batter. Add crumbled bacon and reserved shallots, and stir to combine.

Place about 1/4 cup of the batter in each section of your waffle iron, and cook waffles according to your taste. I like mine crispy and dark, but that’s just personal preference. Allow waffles to cool on a rack, as placing them on a solid surface will make them soggy and limp.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MASH
– 1/2 small-medium butternut squash, seeded, peeled & cut into in large chunks
– 1 large tan sweet potato (not a red-skinned yam!), peeled & cut into large chunks
– 1.5 Tbsp of maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp of of curry powder
– 2 Tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper, to taste

Boil butternut squash together with potatoes until tender. Give it a quick mash, then and add butter & maple syrup. Mash together, and season with salt & pepper & curry powder.

Lucette’s Calvados Apple Butter

12 Sep

Just last week, my colleague Alex asked me if I could figure out the recipe for Lucille’s famous apple butter. If you’ve had the pleasure of dining at ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that gooey, buttery sweetness you spread entirely too thick over those soft warm biscuits… of which they only give you two! Good Christian women are not greedy!

Until a friend treated me to a BBQ lunch at Lucille’s one time, I had never heard of apple butter. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I had ever tasted freshly baked warm biscuits either. Biscuits were non-existent when I lived in Belgium. The whole idea of serving a semi-sweet pastry with something even sweeter to smear on top… for dinner!…. is an abstract concept that was entirely foreign to me. Baked goods and sweetness belong with breakfast or way after dinner, not during dinner. The preposterous absurdity of eating something sweet with dinner, prompts my mother to give me her best ‘get this away from me!’ face every time she visits. To place this blatant snubbing of a Southern staple into perspective, Cecilia’s idea of a delectable dessert is a smelly plate of French cheeses with crackers… which is entirely an appetizer in my book, but whatever. She usually passes on a ‘real’ dessert altogether. Evidently, she is sweet enough ‘as is’. ZING! POW!

The smooth, tasty apple lover of Lucille’s is a compound butter that is made with real butter, unlike the typical delicious fruit butters you see appearing on grocery shelves around Fall. I figured I did not want a regular compound butter with big chunks of apple in it, I wanted the smooth bluesy James Brown kind the restaurant chain itself offers. I found several recipes online but ‘powdered apple’, really? I don’t know about you, but a dehydrator is not something that collects dust on my kitchen counter. I also do not per se want to plan my apple butter-making adventure 7 days in advance so I can then order my ‘powdered apples’ online some place, nor do I want to spend 8-10 hours tediously watching apples dehydrate in my oven to see if they are dried enough already but not turning brown! I read somewhere online that reportedly Lucille’s blends its butter with the fruity canned apple butters you find jarred in various supermarkets, and an undisclosed amount of Karo corn syrup. I opted for using plain old dried apples. They’re readily available everywhere, and you can also buy them in bulk in farmers market-type stores like ‘Sprouts’ here in Southern California.

In the end, I took the best of what I read online and ran with it… I think this delicious apple butter comes very close to Lucille’s in flavor, but can perfection really be… well… perfected? Let’s just consider my butter to be Lucille’s more sophisticated twin sister, and as such, I’m naming her Lucette. There.

20130912-205706.jpg

LUCETTE’S CALVADOS APPLE BUTTER
– 1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
– 2 Tbsp of light brown sugar
– 3 Tbsp of good quality honey (preferably orange blossom, but any kind will work!)
– 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract
– 6 oz of dried apple slices (not candied!)
– 1/4 cup of Calvados (French apple liquor)
(*) This is a sweet butter. If you want the butter to only be mildly sweet, reduce sugar & honey, to your liking.

In a food processor, soak the dried apples in the Calvados for about 20-30 min, then blend apples until you achieve a fairly smooth paste-like substance. Add in the butter, and blend until well combined. Then add the cinnamon, honey & sugar, and keep blending until you get a gorgeous and fragrant butter-like substance. Place in an airtight glass jar, and store in the fridge for a few weeks… as if this would even last a few weeks!

Citrus Lavender Dutch Baby with Almond

2 Sep

It’s the last day of our three-day Labor Day weekend today. I figured that calls for a celebration, as I rarely get to sit in my lazy chair on a Monday morning.

My family loves crisp ‘Dutch Baby’ pancakes. We usually get them at our local pancake house, but since going out for breakfast is not within our financial constellation lately, I urgently needed to learn how to make these at home. What did I do before the Pinterest-era?!

Seeing all those gorgeous Dutch baby recipes online, made me pause and ponder why they are called Dutch Babies in the first place. I can’t remember enjoying these in Belgium or Holland, so I’m entirely pointing my finger towards the Amish for having something to do with that… Let’s face it, doesn’t anything delicious come from the Amish?! Those folks know how to bake. Not to mention that they have access to farm fresh ingredients that haven’t been tampered with, and that they aren’t swayed by grabbing something off the grocery shelf real quick, because whatever. When I first came to the USA with my 2 suitcases, I lived a mere 2-hr drive away from the Amish country in PA, right by the Delaware Water Gap, in a tiny town called Blairstown, NJ. My then roommate & I would drive down in our weekends, and we’d load up the car with the most amazing jams and baked goods I have ever tasted. While I have to admit that I don’t fully understand their religion and culture, I recognize that the simplicity & ‘purity’ of their lifestyle brings forth amazing products. Apart from the many wonderful things I have learned from traveling all over the world, is to be tolerant and appreciate the best in each culture, and I thank the Amish for their contribution to my culinary journey, even if I’m completely wrong and they had nothing to do with the invention of this tasty pancake.

This Dutch baby was wonderful sweet & tangy at the same time. I confess that I had never baked one before, so I got a bit jittery and skeptical, but it was truly that easy! Who knew?! I gave it my own twist by going Provence on this classic and infusing a citrus-lavender flavor directly into the batter.

20130902-103348.jpg

CITRUS LAVENDER DUTCH BABY WITH ALMOND
(Adapted from recipes for simple Dutch babies I found on Pinterest)
– 3 eggs, room temperature
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup of 2% or whole milk
– 1.5 Tbsp of brown sugar
– 1 tsp of almond extract
– zest of 1 lemon
– zest of 1 small orange
– 1/4 cup of fresh lavender blossoms, rinsed and finely chopped (no stems!)
– 10-inch cast iron skillet

Place 2 Tbsp of butter in your cast iron skillet, and place in the middle of your oven. Then preheat oven to 425F, to get the pan nice & hot and the butter slightly brown and bubbly.

In the meantime, blend eggs with flour, milk & almond extract into a smooth batter. Fold in lemon zest, orange zest, brown sugar and lavender blossoms.

Take skillet out of the hot oven and pour in batter. Don’t stir! It’ll be quite runny, but don’t worry as it’ll puff up nice & golden in the oven. Bake pancake for approx. 15-20 minutes, until the edges are dark and crisped, and the pancake has puffed.

Take out of the oven and let it ‘sink’ a bit. Squeeze half a lemon out over the pancake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot.

Roquefort, Gruyère & Walnut Puffs

24 Aug

For the longest time, puff pastry scared me. I’m not a baker at all. It seems all my culinary talent is condensed into cooking, and the whole idea of working with dough brings forth horrible visions of botched pies and messy fails.

The thing is, is that baking requires you to be precise when measuring ingredients, to the point where I fear I’m playing Russian Roulette with my ticket to baking heaven if I even dare contemplate an extra component. I’m not a precise-kinda lass. I feel that all that preciseness cuts off the creative flow in my ‘chi’, and it prevents me from adding a little bit of this and that. I openly confess that all my baking attempts have resulted in mediocrity at best, and it’s nearly always been so, because I can’t stick to directions.

Puff pastry tops high on my rank of deliciousness. The first time I ever used puff pastry dough was for a lovely fig tart. Given my track record in baking anything, my expectations for success were low, but it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. I was so thrilled with myself that I figured a ribbon from the Pope would certainly be nigh.

Since then, puff pastry & I are BFF’s and it makes a frequent appearance at brunch. The scrumptious savory rolls below are a breeze to make and you could easily swap out the ingredients for things that are on your favorite list! For me, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with blue cheese, so if I want something flavorful & cheesy, that’s usually the route I take…

20130824-104050.jpg

ROQUEFORT, GRUYÈRE & WALNUT PUFFS
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Williams-Sonoma’)
– 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed (11×14)
– 3oz of Roquefort cheese
– 2-4 Tbsp of double cream (like mascarpone)
– 1/2 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or minced
– 3 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese, shaved or grated
– honey, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400F, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a flour-dusted work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick, then cut in half lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, combine cheeses and enough cream to make a spreadable paste.

Spread half the mixture on one half of the prepared puff pastry, spreading to within 1/4 inch of the edges. Sprinkle with walnuts, rosemary and drizzle a wee bit of honey over the top.

Starting from the long side, roll up pastry sheet and pinch the edge to seal. Repeat with other half of the puff pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolls crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick.

Place on your lined baking sheets, spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

20130813-083918.jpg

I love everything about fresh figs, really. The sweet stickiness that lingers on your lips, the earthy smell, the bright red flesh that offsets the crisp green or deep dark purple of the skin, the plump texture with just the right amount of crunch form the tiny seeds… I even like the shape of the bright green leaves and the knottiness of the tree branches. Let it be known that if I were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d like to come back as a fig tree.

Mom must have loved figs too, because I remember us bringing back a few saplings during one of our vacations in the South of France. Mom carefully nursed them on our dining room window sill, where the afternoon sunlight would caress their tiny organic bodies and would cause their little leaves to quiver from the warmth. The next Spring, we planted two of them in the backyard, in a post-winter ritual involving partially decomposed dog doodoo and a rusty shovel (with possibly some canned banana shoved in the hollow handle) (*). We didn’t hold much hope for the saplings’ survival of the first brutal Belgian winter that would be nipping at their fragile roots come November, nor did we expect for them to thrive in our cold, wet climate. Despite all odds being stacked against them, these little knotty fig trees have grown to reach the edge of my mom’s single level’s rooftop over the years. Overwhelmed by the amount of fruit they’d produce every late Summer thru early Fall, we couldn’t keep up with the harvest and… well… let’s just say that the crows & squirrels of the ‘Jasmijnenlaan’ were well fed.
(*) For more intriguing story lines of ‘canned bananas’, please read my banana butter post here.

I realize that figs are expensive outside of Southern California. Lucky for me, however, I happen to live in a dry, sunny climate, similar to the Mediterranean where fig trees thrive. Even better is that ‘fig season’ actually comes in 2 installments… The first crop, named the ‘breba’ crop, grows from branches that sprouted the previous year and is the harvest that begins in late Spring. It’s a fairly short-lived season, usually with the last crops harvested around early Summer. The second & larger harvest, sprouting from this year’s branch growth, begins in mid-August and runs as late as October for some varieties. This means that, with a bit of clever pre-planned farmers market hopping, I can actually enjoy fresh figs with nary a hiccup through fall. Most of the figs around here are ‘Brown Turkey’ figs or ‘Black Mission’ figs, with the deep purple black mission fruit usually having a more intense fig flavor. Later in the summer, you see ‘Kadota’ figs and ‘Calimyrna’ figs. Kadota figs are used mostly for drying, but the bright green Calimyrna’s are excellent for eating raw as well. ‘Adriatic’ figs and striped tropical ‘Panachée’ figs are quite scarce over here, so if you see them, grab them.

If you’ve never eaten fresh figs before, don’t be alarmed. When ripe, there are few fruits that compare to their sweet juiciness and I know you’ll love them too. Simply rinse the whole fruit, trim the stems back a bit and sink your teeth in like you would a strawberry. On the other hand, fresh figs are a treat when roasted in the oven with some goat cheese or chopped in salads, or you can bake them into a sweet or savory tart like I did below.

20130813-084345.jpg

FRESH FIG TARTLETS WITH GOAT CHEESE & HONEY
– 4 pieces of puff pastry, sliced into 6-7 inch rounds (or squares)
– 5-6 oz of soft, mild goat cheese (or if you don’t like goat cheese, use ricotta)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped
– 1 tsp of lemon zest
– 6 fresh figs, sliced fairly thinly (like you would a lemon)
– Honey, for drizzling
– Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place 4 puff pastry rounds on top, spaced approx. 1.5-inch apart. In small bowl, soften goat cheese with some salt & pepper to taste, and the lemon zest. Divide goat cheese mixture evenly over the center of the puff pastry rounds, making sure to leave approx. 1 inch of the edges clear. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over the goat cheese.

Place fresh fig slices over the goat cheese to more or less cover. Fold the edges of the pastry over themselves just a little bit, so you get a bit of a thicker edge on the outside.

Bake the tartlets in the oven for approx. 15 min until the edges are puffed and the center looks caramelized and somewhat gooey. Drizzle some honey over the top and serve warm.

Brussels’ Waffles

26 Jul

A thing that always makes me chuckle a bit inside and silently go pffft!, is when my American friends ask me about ‘Belgian’ waffles… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that question, nor do I mock the inquisitor, it’s just that there’s many different kinds of waffles and for a Belgian, there’s no such thing as a ‘Belgian’ waffle. For starters, there’s the ‘Liege’ sugar waffle with crunchy bits of pearled sugar baked into them and usually served gooey & hot, then there’s the ‘vanilla’ variety which has more of a dry, crumbly tea cake consistency and is frequently sold pre-packaged in the grocery store, or the ‘Stroopwafels’ you find near the border with Holland, which are traditionally filled with a buttery caramel… just to name a few. But for the sake of good cross-cultural understanding, I can tell you that the traditional ‘Belgian’ waffle, adored by so many, is actually a yeast waffle from the city of Brussels.

Airy, fluffy and light on the inside, they’re browned to a buttery crisp on the outside, with just enough sweetness & crunch to please every palette. As a regular pitstop on our way home from the ‘Museum of Natural History’ or the ‘School Museum’, it’s exactly the kind of waffle my grandpa would look forward to when he’d ring the bell & we’d step off the busy tram. He’d eagerly grab it with both hands, skillfully balancing the sugared whipped cream on top, and bite into it with such gusto, that his custom-made pearly whites would cling to the deliciousness the minute he’d pull the waffle out of his mouth, and we’d snort with laughter. Not that that ever happened! Carry on.

‘Brusselse wafels’ rose to fame (pardon the pun) because of one special guest appearance: YEAST! Yeast dough is like the Ella Fitzgerald of all pastry doughs: jazzy, smooth and easy to digest. Think about it. It’s no surprise that doughnuts made with yeast are 10x more delicious than the ones who aren’t… Krispy Kreme? Anyone?

Here’s an homage to a true Belgian classic. (Fixodent not included…)

20130726-212033.jpg

BRUSSELS’ WAFFLES
(from grandma’s handwritten recipe booklet…)
– 3 farm fresh eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 12 oz of warmed milk, preferably whole
– 3/4 oz of fresh yeast (or 1 packet of dry active yeast)
– 12 oz of sparkling water, room temperature
– 16 3/4 oz of self-rising flour (approx. 3.5 cups), sifted
– 5.3 oz of good butter (approx. 10.5 Tbsp)
– a pinch of salt
– 1-2 Tbsp of sugar

Heat waffle iron until it’s piping hot!

Seperate egg whites and yolks in two bowls, and set aside.

Warm milk and combine with yeast and sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 min.

Lightly beat yolks and add warmed milk and yeast. Beat until incorporated, then add sparkling water and stir gently until well-combined. Sift flour directly into the milk mixture, beat with an electric mixer until all lumps are smoothed out.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan and beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Pour melted butter into batter and gently fold in stiffened egg whites by hand, and add a pinch of salt as well. Set batter aside for 20-30 minutes, so yeast can work and batter has time to rise.

When the batter shows bubbles an appears “alive”, you’re ready to start baking!

Make sure to butter all sides of your waffle iron, regardless of whether it is non-sticker not. Pour 1/3 cup of batter per waffle, and allow waffle to brown completely. Every waffle iron is different, so it’s a bit hard for me to say how long this will take with your machine. You want the waffles to be crisp and brown on the outside.

Serve with powdered sugar, brown sugar or whipped cream for an authentic Belgian treat… or go a bit crazy and add crisped bacon, ham or cheese to the batter for a hearty salty & sweet combination!

Banana Butter

24 Jul

It is no secret that there was a lot of banana-love to go around in our humble, ranch-style country home. As a matter of fact, my brother & I loved them so much that – to this day – we both vividly recall a traumatic very unfortunate episode from our youth in which mom decided to stock up on canned bananas, in an effort to meet basic supply & demand on a teacher’s budget. Since our mother was of the ‘no-nonsense’ type breed, she didn’t just buy a single can or two to give them a try. NO! She went ahead and bought a Costco-size pallet of them, to ensure she’d get us through the banana-famine that were our harsh Belgian Winters back in the day. Her heart was in the right place, but seriously mom?! Canned bananas???

If you’ve never heard of ‘canned’ bananas, go hug your mom now and thank her for not crossing over to the dark side. They were, for lack of better wording, nasty! Mom Tootsie Farklepants didn’t help the matter by maintaining a strict zero-tolerance policy in wasting food so… There you have it. I’ll spare you the gory detail, but let’s just say that for several months later, you would find partially-chewed canned bananas stuffed in the most peculiar places. Including our lawnmower.

None of this was enough to kill my banana-love, though. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than a warm, toasted English muffin, schmeared with butter and topped with honey-drizzled sliced bananas. Yum!

I have to include a moment here to thank ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’ for feeding me that delicious apple-butter that comes with their sweet, warm biscuits. The recipe below was totally inspired by that genius, so I owe them at least an honorable mentioning.

20130724-214349.jpg

BANANA BUTTER
(Inspired by ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’)
– 1 stick of room-temperature butter
– 1/2 of a very ripe banana
– 1/3 of a small, sweet apple, grated
– 1/4 cup of agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
– a pinch of grated nutmeg
– a pinch of ground clove

In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, combine all the inredients until well-combined & blended. Scoop mixture onto parchment paper and make a 1-1.5 inch roll out of it. Twist ends of the parchment to press butter roll together. Place roll in the refrigerator and allow to firm up for a few hours.

Coincidentally, this sweet butter goes great with the crepes I posted the other day, or melt a slice of the butter into some warm dark rum for a tasty hot buttered rum beverage!

%d bloggers like this: