Tag Archives: budget friendly

Summer Broccoli Tabouli with Ham & Pine Nuts

31 Aug

It’s been really toasty here in Southern California the past few days, with coastal temperatures soaring well above 90F… I hate to think what the hinterland must feel like, but then again, I think I know if I take a look at our crowded beaches.

I’m blessed to live less than a mile away from the beautiful Redondo Beach pier. These days, a boardwalk stroll reveals an ocean of tanning oil-covered people, shimmering in the sun and trying to get some reprieve from the brutality of the sweltering Summer heat that oppresses the East counties. Every time temps soar, they arrive in droves. Complete with family-size coolers, boom boxes and colorful beach umbrellas, they are masters at weaving an elaborate tapestry of beach towels and Serape blankets… I can’t blame them, their concrete jungle buckles under the oppressing thumb of the inner-city heat wave. At least over here, we have a faint ocean breeze.

The recipe below is exactly the kind of dish you want to eat on a blistering hot day like today. The mint makes it refreshing and the addition of crisp cucumbers gives it a cool bite. Throw some shrimp or chicken on the barbecue, and you have a healthy, satisfying meal that will please the whole family.

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SUMMER BROCCOLI TABOULI WITH HAM & PINE NUTS
(Adapted from a recipe for regular Tabouli)
– 2 medium size heads of broccoli
– 4 scallions
– 1/3 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted
– 1/2 large English cucumber, seeded, peeled & diced
– 2 thick slices of smoked ham or Canadian bacon, cubed
– 8 oz of herbed feta cheese, cubed
– 1/2 bunch of basil, finely chopped
– a few sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped
– 3-5 Tbsp of olive oil
– 2 Tbsp of pesto
– 1/2 lemon, juiced & zested
– salt & pepper to taste

Wash broccoli and pat dry. With a sharp knife or box grater, starting at the top of the floret, grate or slice broccoli into a couscous-like mass.

Remove outer leaves of scallions and slice into thin strips.

In large bowl, combine broccoli ‘couscous’ with sliced scallions, cucumber dice, cubed feta cheese, cubed ham and toasted pine nuts. Fold in chopped basil & mint.

In a smaller bowl, combine lemon juice with olive oil, pesto and lemon zest. Pour over broccoli Tabouli and fold until well combined.

Serve cold.

Greek Stuffed Eggplant

26 Aug

Don’t these look pretty?

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Eggplant always look appealing to me. They’re so visually stunning in their gorgeous deep purple jackets, and whenever I see them flirting with me like that, I instantly want to buy a dozen. But then I find myself stumped for ideas of what to do with these beauties, since I haven’t gotten much farther than Baba Ganoush or ratatouille, and the stuffed eggplant recipes I’ve tried before all sort of came up kinda ‘blah’… like Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s last night.Right?! Good Lord!

Until recently, stuffed eggplant weren’t our thing. That is, until I saw a recipe for moussaka I had clipped back in the day when people still clipped recipes out of magazines using scissors. The horror! Either way, I made a note to my foodie self that I should make moussaka again soon, but since I have to cut back on carbs and starch, what with Satan playing tricks with my blood sugar lately, I was trying to think of a way to do this sans potatoes… and then BINGO!, it totally dawned on me I could simply make the meaty deliciousness and stuff that directly into an eggplant. It was a stroke of genius that I completely credit to the glass of Pinot Grigio I enjoyed in my other hand. So much for the blood sugar thing, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in one day either.

These turned out really good and I think we’ll have them in regular rotation. And if you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could totally replace the meats with a whole grain like quinoa, or whatever it is you fancy instead of meat.

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GREEK STUFFED EGGPLANT
(Adapted from a recipe for moussaka)
– 4 medium eggplant
– 2 onions, diced
– 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
– 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded & diced
– 8 oz of ground pork
– 1 lbs lean ground lamb (or beef)
– 1.5 Tbsp of ground cinnamon
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped finely
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts
– salt & pepper, to taste
– olive oil
– Parmesan cheese, for garnish
– freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut eggplant in half, and with a spoon, scoop out flesh. Set ‘shells’ aside on a lined baking sheet.

In a heavy bottom pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped eggplant, garlic and onions, and sauté for 5 min until beginning to soften. Add diced bell pepper and cook for a few min longer.

Add meats and crumble whilst cooking in the vegetables. Add cinnamon, oregano and salt & pepper to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne for more heat, if desired. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until meat is browned.

Fold toasted pine nuts and diced tomatoes into meat, and scoop mixture into hollowed eggplant to form a little dome in each one.

Cook eggplant in hot oven for approx. 20-30 min until crisp browned and heated through.

Before serving, sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and parsley over the top.

Smakelijk!

Zucchini & Fennel Dauphinoise

23 Aug

The other day, a Belgian friend of mine hit me up over Facebook chat and asked if I had any tasty zucchini recipes I could share because her urban garden had produced a monster load of them and she exasperatedly told me she was at her wits end of what to do with all that squash… I was just about to send her the link to my recipe for curried zucchini fritters, which were recently featured in Boston Magazine, when she quickly chimed in with “…but NOT zucchini fritters!!!”. Well, okay then.

I’ve always loved savory one-pot meals and oven dishes. There’s something really cozy and homey about them, not to mention that they’re usually prepared in beautifully colored Dutch ovens or cast iron skillets. I’m a sucker for rustic, visual appeal. It’s because of people like me that the cooking stuff industry is thriving. Unless an item is ridiculously over-priced or I see it as blatant a fail, I naturally gravitate towards the prettiness of products and labels. I’m fairly level-headed with a good head on my shoulders, but put me in a store like ‘Sur La Table’ and all of that sharp wit goes straight out the door amidst… so much happy!!!. It’s a blessed thing I have a small apartment kitchen, as otherwise my house would be filled with brightly colored Dutch ovens, stacks of vintage tableware and gorgeous linens.

Greatness is, is that my innate love for pretty things also causes me to adore fruits & vegetables. All those bright colors of the produce aisle play out like a true Van Gogh before my eyes. It’s almost like taking a stroll through the Louvre in my mind. Okay. Maybe not entirely, but seeing all the vibrant colors and different shapes of all this produce makes me so happy. It’s an affliction my men don’t seem to share, unless I also happen to pick up potatoes, cheese, beer and/or hot dogs. We live in separate worlds, those men & I, but luckily we find common ground in gratins.

In my post about blue cheese potato & rutabaga gratin, I already proclaimed my love for the spud, but the dish below is a tasty twist on a classic French potato gratin. There’s truly nothing that can go wrong when heavy cream is involved, in my opinion. Just like butter, it has the magical power of turning anything it comes in contact with into a sumptuous dish you can’t get enough of. It’s gorgeous made with zucchini, but you could get creative and also cook it with carrots, parsnips or any other root vegetable. 
 

ZUCCHINI DAUPHINOISE
(Created after a French classic)
– approx. 2 medium sized zucchinis
– 2 large fennel bulbs
– 3 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes (or another ‘firm-cooking’ variety, approx. 5-6 large potatoes)
– olive oil, to grease the oven dish
– approx. 1.5 to 2 cups of heavy cream
– 3 large cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– ground nutmeg, as needed
– 1/2 bunch of fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
– salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a pie dish or a 10-inch cast iron skillet.

With a mandolin (or by hand), slice the zucchini into 1/8 inch slices. Do the same with the potatoes & fennel. In a small sauce pan, heat cream with garlic and half of the thyme leaves, reserve the other half for sprinkling over each layer and a bit for decoration. Don’t boil, just heat until it’s nice & hot and the flavors have had a chance to develop a bit.

On the bottom of the pan or skillet, arrange a layer of potato slices so that they overlap slightly. Dust lightly with a bit of nutmeg, salt, pepper & sprinkle a few thyme leaves over the top. On top of the potatoes, arrange a layer of zucchini slices, also overlapping slightly and sprinkle with nutmeg, salt, pepper & thyme as well. Gently press down to compact the 2 layers. Repeat potato layer, then layer fennel and season with nutmeg, salt, pepper & thyme leaves. Press down and repeat this process, alternating fennel & zucchini in between potato, until you reach you run out of potato & vegetables.

Pour hot cream mixture all over the dish, so much so until it appears that roughly about half of the dish is submerged in cream. Bake the gratin uncovered in the oven for approx. 2 hours., but cover about half way through to prevent the top from browning too much. If you like, you can also sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the top to create a gooey cheesy crust over the top.

Take out of the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle reserved thyme leaves over the top and serve warm.

Warm Lemony Dill Potato Bake

19 Aug

There is no doubt in my mind that I inherited my love for potatoes from my grandpa. He single-handedly ensured the success of many local potato farmers with his consumption of mashed potatoes alone.

Spuds are undeniably woven into Belgium’s patriotic fabric of life. No national or regional dish is truly complete without a side of potato being served alongside it. As such, you can find potato farms all over our western countryside, right alongside cabbage fields, pig farmers and dairy farms.

The first Spring after we moved into our new ranch-style house in the Flemish boonies, our yard and patio were overrun by Leptinotarsa Decemlineata, or striped Colorado potato beetles. It was a brand new housing development, and I bet those beetles were probably just as confused and challenged adapting to this new environment as I was.

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Aren’t they pretty?

As a little girl, I’d catch them and would create little artificial beetle colonies, complete with tiny dirt pathways and dandelion petal patches and all. It was like 5-star luxury resort-style living, at least in my mind. In hindsight, I was probably feared in Leptinotarsa circles, but my young soul had nothing but the best intentions at heart. The upside is, is that every evening at dusk, I was forced to release the inhabitants of ‘Beetleville’, and watched them scurry off in mass exodus. I wasn’t allowed to keep them as pets and mom demanded I set them free after a long day of forced communal living in an old, scraggly cardboard box.

Potatoes have always harbored happy memories for me. I truly love potatoes any which way, but the buttery oven-baked Yukon Golds are by far my favorite.

The genius of the recipe below is something I accidentally discovered when I knocked over a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice I had set aside to make lemonade, and it went everywhere in my tiny apartment kitchen. I will not repeat the choice dialogue that escaped my otherwise proper mouth in that very moment, but will instead thank the cosmic forces for introducing me to ‘lemon potatoes‘. Since that divine intervention, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, but let me tell you, the tartness of fresh lemon juice pairs beautifully with the buttery creaminess of these Yukons. I urge you not to lose another minute. Go make these now.

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WARM LEMONY DILL POTATO BAKE
(Created by divine intervention and/or cosmic force)
– 1.5 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into large pieces.
– zest & juice of 2 small fresh lemons
– 1 cup of water
– 3 Tbsp of olive oil
– 3 Tbsp of melted butter + more for buttering an oven dish
– a handful of fresh basil, finely shredded or chopped
– 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– a handful of fresh dill, finely chopped
– a few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
– salt & pepper, to taste
– a sparse drizzle of honey

Preheat oven to 425F. Butter a large oven dish.

In a large bowl, add cubed potatoes with olive oil, water, chopped basil and salt & pepper, and mix with your hands to coat well. Pour into oven dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in the hot oven for approx. 15-20 min, until almost tender.

In the meantime, combine lemon juice, zest, garlic, melted butter, honey and chopped dill/parsley in small bowl.

Take potatoes out of the oven, uncover and pour lemon/butter mixture all over the potatoes. Place back in the hot oven and bake uncovered for an additional 20 min until water has evaporated and potatoes are tender.

These are so good when served lukewarm, but you could eat them cold or hot as well.

Spaghetti Bolognese

18 Aug

Yesterday was one of those rare days on which I didn’t really feel like cooking. We’d been mostly in our ‘weekend lazy‘ mode, and I didn’t get out of my purple penguin pajamas until well into the afternoon. Up until that moment in which I actually traded my cozy pj’s for cozy jeans & a tee, my most strenuous activity was whipping up grilled cheese sandwiches & a tomato salad for the beau & I… It took 20 minutes of thumbing through the newest edition of ‘Food & Wine’ whilst slouched in the couch, to recover from this sudden burst of activity. I know I will pay dearly for this laziness in the upcoming week, but it was nice for once to actually not be running up & down the stairs with laundry baskets and hauling 20 bags of groceries inside, as though I’m in some wacky episode of ‘Survivor-Special Homestead Edition‘.

The result of this pointless Saturday lull, was that after hours of watching my stepson play ‘Portal 2’ on his Xbox and browsing Pinterest and the likes on my phone, I actually started enjoying the nothingness of my Saturday and I morphed into the mother of all laziness. The longer it went on, the more ‘nothing’ I felt like doing… and then dinner time hit me. Like the hand of God himself striking me down for my indolence.

A quick peek in the fridge brought ground beef, onions & basil to the forefront, so spaghetti it was! I realize that I’m not adding an earth-shattering culinary oeuvre with posting a recipe for ‘spaghetti bolognese‘, but I thought I’d share my version of this classic nonetheless…

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SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE
(Adapted from a recipe by Anne Burrell)
– 3 shallots, finely diced
– 2 large carrots, finely diced
– 3 ribs celery, finely diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
– 3 lbs of lean ground beef
– 2 6oz cans of tomato paste
– 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
– 3 cups full-bodied red wine
– salt & pepper
– olive oil
– a pinch of cayenne pepper
– 3 bay leaves
– 1 bunch of thyme, tied in a bundle
– 1.5 lbs of dry spaghetti
– 1/2 cup grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

In food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, & garlic into a coarse paste (or blend with a hand mixer).

In large pan heat olive oil and sauté veggie paste with a generous helping of salt, until most water has evaporated and they start to brown, approx 15 min.

Add ground beef & season generously with salt as well. Allow the beef to brown slowly, 15-20 mins.

Add tomato paste & cook til brown, 4 to 5 mins. Add red wine. Cook til wine reduces by half, another 4-5 mins.

Add crushed tomatoes and toss in bay leaves & bundle of thyme. Stir to combine all. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and -ideally- simmer 3 1/2-4 hours to develop all the flavors. If the sauce gets to thick, add water. Finish sauce with salt & pepper to taste, and add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

During last 30 mins, bring a large pot of water to boil. Pasta water should always be well salted, so don’t skimp on this. When water comes to a rolling boil, add pasta & cook for 1 minute less than package says. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile remove 1/2 of the sauce from pot & reserve in a separate bowl.

Drain the pasta & add to the pot with 1/2 the sauce. Toss pasta to coat. Add some reserved sauce to achieve an even ratio between pasta & sauce.

Add reserved pasta water and cook pasta & sauce together over med heat until the water reduces. Turn off heat.

Give a big sprinkle of freshly grated or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a generous drizzle of good quality olive oil.

Buon Appetito!

Honey & Lime Roasted Carrots

17 Aug

I roasted these lovely carrots in combination with my deliciously crispy curried chicken drumsticks the other night. The sweetness & tanginess of these carrots pairs perfectly with the earthiness of the curry flavored drumlets. It was a budget-friendly marriage made in heaven, if you ask me.

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HONEY & LIME ROASTED CARROTS
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 6-7 large carrots, peeled whole, or 10-12 mini carrots
– 2 shallots, roughly chopped
– 1 lime, zested & juiced
– 1/4 cup of olive oil
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.

Halve carrots lengthwise, and if using large ones, halve each half lengthwise again. Cut each quarter crosswise, so you end up with long carrot fries, so to speak.

In a large bowl, pour lemon zest, juice, olive oil & honey, and stir until well combined. Pour over the carrots & shallots, and toss to coat well.

Pour carrots, shallots and oil mixture onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with cumin, salt & pepper.

Roast for approx. 30-45 min, until caramelized and charred around the edges. Bon Appetit!

Crispy Curried Chicken Drumlets

17 Aug

The other day, whilst thumbing through a glossy magazine, I came across an article on curry leaves and the history of the spice. Things like that completely stop me in my tracks, and I forgot I was actually standing in line in the store until a testy elderly lady in hot pink rhinestone embellished sweatpants angrily harped that it was my turn! She wore a matching jacket with the likeness of some Las Vegas idol sprawled across her chest, smiling broadly & winking as if though to say he scored himself a lucrative senior sweatshirt deal and was now kicking it with ‘Betty Boo’ here. With a twinge of mild irritation in her crackling, nicotine-damaged voice, she motioned towards the rapidly emptying conveyer belt and proceeded with giving me the stink eye for slowing her & Mr. Vegas down by 5 extra minutes. I snapped out of my curry leaves dream and apologetically resumed proper grocery store etiquette.

Because of the drama surrounding ‘the incident with the blue-haired coiffure’, I couldn’t tell you what I read anymore, other than that curry is way old and super versatile. Curry has got to be one of my favorite spices. It’s so warm and earthy, you can find it in a variety of heat levels and it colors your food a pleasing, happy yellow.

With our family’s poor man’s budget encouraging creative thinking, I picked up a 12-pack of chicken drumsticks and a few random items, and inadvertently came up with the deliciousness below… I hope you enjoy these too.

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CRISPY CURRIED CHICKEN DRUMLETS
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 12 or more chicken drumsticks or thighs
– 1 14oz can of coconut milk
– 1 lime, zested
– 1.5 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce (or Harissa, Sambal Oelek or hot curry paste)
– 2-3 Tbsp of sweet curry powder (I use Penzey’s Spices, you can adjust as to how much curry flavor you want)
– 1.5 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled & grated
– salt & pepper, to taste
– fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large container, pour all ingredients together other than the chicken & cilantro, and stir until well combined.

Rinse and pat chicken dry, and let marinate in the curried coconut milk mixture for at least 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F. Take drumsticks out of the marinade and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for approx. 30-45 minutes, until chicken is crispy and cooked through.

Serve with these lovely honey & lime roasted carrots, and rice.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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!

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