Tag Archives: Christmas

Sour Cream Mashed Sweet Potatoes

28 Feb

Wow. It’s been 56 days since my last blog post. 

 

While my mother is probably already muttering under her breath that I’m  not finishing what I have started (is there ever such a thing as finishing a blog, though?!), I think that for once it’s safe to say she has a point. 56 days is entirely too long and I have no excuse for blowing the ‘Blogger of the Year’ award straight out of the water like that, but whatever. I’m not writing this blog to stroke my ego with awards and admiration. Wait! What? Who am I kidding?! I’m totally writing this blog for unconditional admiration from total strangers. Don’t judge.

 

The thing is, I feel like I’m not cooking anything blog-worthy nowadays. All we can really afford is chicken, and all those plump rosy thighs & breasts spiraled me straight down into writer’s block. I betcha that never happens to the writers of Hustler Magazine. It’s an unfair world, y’all?! In typical Teutonic fashion, I think I just set my own blogging bar entirely too high. I’ve always aspired to be an over-achiever, which has once driven me to attempt 78 sit-ups in 60 secs and resulted in a pulled muscle, but we digress…

 

Yesterday, my newfound love for sweet potatoes broke me loose from my self-imposed writing chain. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first since I’ve had a long-standing passive-aggressive relationship with sweet potatoes. I generally hate them. Then I get into a health kick and buy them anyway, only to not cook them out of fear of disappointment and – upon realization that decay is setting in and I’m wasting $5-$10 worth of food – I get angry at their underachievement in freshness and it cultivates my ice-cold disdain for them even more. No wiiiirrre hangers!!!! Shudder.

But yesterday was different. It all started a few months ago when my friend Laura invited me over to her house for a dinner party with an old colleague of ours. We did some wine drinking, and then sum mor wein trink’n, and then we kissed Francis Coppola and then Laura cooked the most amazing ‘Five Spice Tilapia’ and served it alongside a baked sweet potato, loaded with nuts & yogurt and stuff. The tanginess of the yogurt was perfect with the sweetness of that potato, and in combination with the saltiness of that delicious Tilapia… I swear, I nearly peed myself from culinary excitement. If only Liberace would have understood subtle balance like that!

 

Laura’s yam made me re-think the whole idea of sweet potatoes. No more cloyingly sweet casseroles or sugary mashes. And puh-lease, hold the damn marshmallows! The mash below is mildly sweet, but it’s the tanginess of that sour cream that steps it up and shows that yam who’s boss. I’m totally team sour cream.

 




SOUR CREAM MASHED SWEET POTATOES

(Recipe courtesy: “The Madison Inn”, Ascheville NC)

– 1 dozen large red sweet potatoes or yams (or both), peeled and sliced in chunks

– 8 cups of chicken stock

– 1 cup sour cream

– 1/4  cup light brown sugar 

– 1/4 cup of maple syrup 

– 1/4 cup whipping cream

– 4 Tbsp of butter

 

In a large pot, combine sweet potato chunks and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender and easily mashable. I mashed my potatoes by hand, but you can also use a mixer. I like my mashed potatoes a bit chunky still. 

 

In the meantime, melt 4 Tbsp of butter and stir into the cold whipping cream. Pour over cooked mashed sweet potatoes and blend well. Fold in sour cream & brown sugar, and season with salt & pepper to taste. If you like your mashed potatoes sweeter, add some more maple syrup or sugar. (I omitted the maple syrup altogether, and the mash was just the right amount of sweetness to me)

Hot Mulled Apple Wine

19 Dec

Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than the aroma of hot, mulled wine simmering away. Wafting through the house, whilst the colorful lights of an ornately decorated tree dance across the ceiling and the ‘Yule Log’ DVD is playing in the background the fire in your hearth is crackling in perfect harmony. Mulled wine is a scent that permeates Belgium in the Winter too. From the many cozy Kristkindl markets near the German border to various booths (‘kraampjes’) across cobblestoned city squares, there is no escape from it.. and let’s face it, with single digit frost blowing in your face, hot spiced wine is just about the ticket to Winter heaven. Nothing warms your congealed fingers better during the midnight mass on Christmas eve, than wrapping them around a Styrofoam cup of hot liquid deliciousness, whilst listening to the choir belt out Handel’s Messiah on a make-shift stage outside the church.

I remember the first time I tried mulled wine as a child. The assault on my young taste buds was so violent, that I spat it out on the church floor, which yielded protest from my mom for desecration and for not having “swallowed out of respect & politeness”. Nowadays, I swallow. Get your mind out of the gutter, please. Don’t be alarmed by the notion that European children grow up with things like mulled wine. While most Americans will condemn European parents for feeding their children… shudder… ALCOHOL, it is actually a fairly normal thing in Belgium to expose your 12+ year old to things like beer & wine. Within limitation, of course. And with parental supervision at all times. Especially ‘mulled’ wine is fairly harmless, as some of the alcohol in the wine evaporates during the cooking process, and mostly the robust flavors of the spices and full-bodied wine remain. It’s definitely a grown-up taste though, if you ask me.

I confess that I hated mulled wine as child. So much so, that I didn’t touch wine ever again until I was well into my college years, even though the legal drinking age for beer & wine is 16 in Belgium (which is rarely enforced in the presence of adults). In attempt to be ‘cool’ and ‘holiday hip’, my first attempt at making mulled wine resulted in a traumatic childhood flashback. It went mostly down the drain, in a semi-violent fashion. Mind you, I didn’t have access to Pinterest and thus no recipe, as this occurred in the Jurassic before the Internet was invented. ** If your tween child is reading this with you, please pick him/her up from the floor and start CPR now.** At the time, I thought that mulled wine was just red wine that was simmered with spices. Whoops.

There’s plenty of recipes for red mulled wine available online, so I decided to post the white version of hot spiced wine… I based the recipe on a concoction I found at the ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern in Belgium. This white mulled wine has a gentle apple flavor, similar to apple cider, and gets its kick from the lemon peel and the warm spices from traditional red mulled wine. Enjoy!

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Hot Mulled Apple Wine
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern)
– 2 bottles of dry white wine, the cheapest one you like drinking is fine (makes approx. 8 large mugs)
– 4 cups of clear apple juice
– 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
– Peel of 1 lemon + juice
– 5oz of brown sugar
– 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped or crushed
– 3 sticks of cinnamon + more for decorating the mugs
– 2 whole vanilla beans, sliced open (do not remove seeds)
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 star anise + more for decorating the mugs
– A small pinch of ground nutmeg

Rule #1: do not boil the wine! Try to keep the wine below boiling point, and let it gently heat through without ever cracking a boil. Bringing it to a rolling boil will make the wine very bitter.

Peel lemon so that only the oily zest comes off (not the white rind underneath), juice the peeled lemon.

In a large Dutch oven, combine everything except for the wine. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes in a covered pot. Add wine and bring to nary a boil. When you notice the wine is about ready to boil, turn the heat to low and allow it to heat through and steep for 2-3 hours without ever boiling. Pour the whole pot through a sieve to sift the impurities and spices out of the wine.

Serve hot and decorate each much with a stick of cinnamon and a star anise.

Curried Orange-Mustard Glazed Turkey

18 Nov

Turkey Day is almost here. At the Farklepants house, we’re excited about that. There’s nothing that screams ‘family bonding’ more than a variety of X-Box controllers, ipods, Wii remotes & laptops gathering around a roasted ex-bird, as horrible as that sounds to my vegetarian friends.

The first turkey I ever roasted, was an uncharted adventure to me. I had no idea what I was doing, really. I had been in the country for nary a year or so, and I was all gung-ho about buying a whole turkey and roasting it to a crisp in my sub-par apartment oven. I had dreamy fantasies of American holiday greatness, and Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be Thanksgiving without a turkey. Period. My kitchen was the size of a shoebox with barely any counter-space. Let me tell you, over the years I have come to understand the value of counter-space real estate. As a matter of fact, if counter-space had any equitable value, it would be comparable to a gaudy mansion, complete with gold-plated tiled Roman pool and room for an Arabian race horse. Counter space is everything, and the lack thereof on a day like Thanksgiving transforms me into Beowulf.

But we digress… I roasted my first bird 13 years ago. It was just myself and I wasn’t expecting any guests, but roasting a bird on Thanksgiving was practically a rite of passage to my new American life, and I wanted to do it the traditional way with the stuffing cooked inside. Ambition is my middle name, y’all. Truthfully, the turkey turned out moist and delicious, but the stuffing very much resembled a Columbian cartel-ghetto… on a bad day! Also, this is probably not news, but roasting a whole turkey when your only dinner guest is you, means that you will have committed to a turkey bonanza for 3 odd months or so. The good news is, is that cooked turkey meat freezes surprisingly well.

I’ve since earned my stars & stripes in this country, which was recently re-enforced by boldly venturing into the eggnog realm of the holiday season, but last year I got adventurous with Mrs. Bigglesworth and rubbed her all over with a sweet curry & cumin concoction, in true Bollywood-style. I’m not sure if I just got lucky with a juicy bird, or if some sort of sweet voodoo happened with the seasonings, but that bird was to die for. Also, the smell of this turkey was like a siren call. Quite frankly, with a house full of teenagers and electronics, I can’t wait to hear those game controllers & remotes to crash on that tryptophan rock again…

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CURRIED ORANGE-MUSTARD GLAZED TURKEY
(a Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 whole turkey, 18lbs or less
– salt and pepper
– 6 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– 4 limes, juiced
– 4 tsp of ground ginger
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 1/2 stick of softened butter
– For the cavity: a bundle of fresh herbs, 1 quartered onion, a few roughly chopped celery stalks and carrots

Glaze:
– 1/3 cup of orange marmalade
– 1/3 cup of grainy mustard or brown mustard

Preheat oven to 450F. (Bear with me… a high ‘starting’ temperature will cause the fat underneath the skin to brown the skin from below. Starting off with a low temperature, will cause the flavorful fat to melt and run away into oblivion, without doing any tasty browning at all).

Remove gizzards and neck, then wash the turkey and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Contemplate what to put in the cavity of the turkey…. Personally, I put a bundle of fresh herbs in my turkey’s cavity, consisting of lots of fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and sage. And I also stuff a quartered onion, a few chopped celery stalks and some roughly chopped carrots in there, for good measure.

Place the turkey on a rack in a foil-lined roasting pan. You want to prevent the bottom from getting soggy, so if you don’t have a rack, use some imagination to ‘prop’ your bird up from the bottom. Make sort of a rack with a few hard veggies like carrots, turnips and potatoes, or buy 2 disposable roasting pans and crumple them up to form an improvised V-shape rack. The possibilities are endless, just make sure your contraption is food safe and oven safe.

Cut a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold in a triangle shape. Lay it on top of your turkey’s breast and mold it to form sort of a warrior shield for the breast of the turkey. Tip facing down towards the cavity, wide part of the triangle to go over the bird like a cape. Once molded, remove the foil making sure to keep the mold ‘intact’ and set it aside.

Combine the curry powder, lime juice, ginger, cumin, and butter. Rub the mixture all over the turkey and under the skin.

Place the turkey in the blazing hot oven for 30-40 minutes, just to give the breast a chance to brown. After about 30 min, the breast should be nicely browned. If it isn’t, put it back in the oven and give it another 10 min or so. When the breast is browned, take the pan out of the oven and place the molded aluminum shield over the breast. This will deflect some of the heat and keep the breast from drying out while the red meat cooks. I learned this from Alton Brown. Honest to God. Stick your thermometer directly through the foil in the thickest part of the breast, making sure not to touch any bone.

Place the turkey back in the oven and drop the oven temperature to 350F. Roast at 350F until the thermometer registers 155F, or about 2 hours later for an 18 lbs bird. About 10 to 15 minutes before the turkey is done, or roughly after 2 hours and 15 minutes, remove the aluminum foil shield from the beast and discard, combine the preserves and mustard and brush generously over the bird. Continue roasting until internal temperature reaches 161F, about 15-min longer.

Food safety guidelines tell us that we should roast poultry to an inner-temperature of 165F. Keep in mind that once you remove the turkey from the oven, it will continue to cook for several more minutes while you allow it to rest, which means that if you take it out of the oven at exactly 165F, it will be over-cooked! Taking it out of the oven a few degrees shy of 165F, like at 161F, will mean that by the time you’re ready to carve this turkey, it will be perfectly cooked at 165F and still juicy & moist…

Spiced Cranberries with Port

30 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculaas Cookies

20 Aug

Another blissful childhood memory of mine is ‘Sinterklaas’ day and the traditional ‘speculaas’ that comes with it. A typical Belgian holiday favorite, this spiced dark brown cookie is the star behind the ‘Biscoff’ speculoos cookie butter (or Trader Joe’s cookie butter) you see appearing on more & more American grocery shelves nowadays.

‘Speculaas’, or speculoos with double ‘o’, is readily available in Belgian grocery stores year-round, but its national primetime is definitely on ‘Sinterklaas’ day! Many bakeries press this deliciously spiced cookie dough in special wooden ‘speculaas’ molds, to create various imprints and shapes of the cookie, often with depictions of Sinterklaas.

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Top of the line pastry boutiques and fine bakeries even create toddler life-size Sinterklaas statuettes, that adorn their elaborately decorated & animated store windows and are admired by passers-by for their artistry with a sense of wonder.

‘Sinterklaas’ day, celebrated on 06th December, is deeply rooted in Catholicism since the Middle Ages. It is traditionally a celebration of Saint Nikolaus, patron saint of sailors, among others. Legend has it that Saint Nikolaus, a Greek bishop from the city of Myrna in present day Turkey, would roam the lands alongside the Mediterranean Sea, to remind folks of their religious duties. It is said he would preach about good moral values and spread cheer among the sailors’ families & children.

Sinterklaas festivities may seem insensitive to many Americans, but these traditional celebrations came long before they acquired any racial connotations later on in history. With the legend of Saint Nikolaus so deeply rooted in Catholicism and the religion’s pre-occupation with ‘good vs. evil’, the depiction of a ‘white’ holy man and his ‘black’ assistants has nothing to do with racial equality or differences… and everything to do with pitting good vs. evil. As such, Sinterklaas is depicted as a ‘good’ holy man, and his black assistants – Black Pete’s or ‘Zwarte Pieten’ – are meant to represent the ‘bad’ immoral influences we are tempted by. In that role, the ‘Zwarte Pieten’ are not meant to be depictions of actual humans, but rather portraited caricatures of frolicking, mischievous black devils that accompany the holy man to represent the evil influences that seemingly taunt us in our quest to be ‘good’. After all, if you were even remotely raised with deeply rooted religious beliefs, you have been warned a handful of times that the devil can take on any form to try and sway you from the ‘right’ path… Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet truly are considered equals in the story, with each their own role to shine in, and the Black Pete’s form of dress is merely an accurate depiction of what men would wear during the medieval times in Moorish Spain, and not intended as mockery.

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In present day Belgium, Sinterklaas still arrives by boat and many port cities will stage and broadcast his arrival over national & local media. In smaller towns, Sinterklaas rides the streets on a white horse and visits local schools, grocery stores and other public buildings. Just like Santa Claus, Sinterklaas makes house calls the night before, and parents urge their children to place a shoe by the hearth or the front door, so Sinterklaas can leave candy & goodies overnight. The importance of leaving a carrot or two for his beloved equine companion, is equally stressed! Throughout the year, parents cleverly use the whole Sinterklaas story to urge their children to be ‘good’, because being ‘naughty’ results in being whisked away to hell in Black Pete’s burlap sack. As a child, this was a credible threat that one could not take lightly!

‘Sinterklaas’ day was always fun. It broke the academic tediousness of school. You knew that anything could happen on this day, and you’d keep your eye out in giddy excitement for a glimpse of any of the Black Petes or a sign they were present. Many times, we’d hear the ruckus & screeching from a few classrooms down, and your heart would start racing with whirly anticipation of Sinterklaas’ arrival into your classroom. The first ones to arrive, were always the ‘Zwarte Pieten’. One would come barging through the door, throwing candy around and sending kids clambering all over their desks to get some, while another would mischievously start writing on the blackboard with blatant spelling errors and disregard for the scholarly establishment… Yet another would start emptying or rearranging book shelves or cabinets, or sit down next to you whilst mimicking your every move, much to the excitement of your peers. With Sinterklaas striding into class elegantly, almost royally, he’d immediately reprimand the shenanigans of his assistants, and inquire in class to spill the beans on what his assistants had been up to so far. Many children will eagerly blurt out everything from A-Z in hopes of pleasing Sinterklaas, much to the staged chagrin of the Pete in question, while others – like Teutonic little me – would feel there was no place for all of this frivolity until such time it was revealed who was on the ‘good’ list and who on the ‘naughty’ list. This was serious business, folks!

Other than ‘speculaas’ and chocolate, Sinterklaas – said to be hailing from Spain – also brings mandarins, marzipan and ‘lieve vrouwtjes’ as well.
(*) a marshmallow type candy in the shape of the Holy Mary

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SPECULAAS SPICES
(Adapted from Flemish celebrity chef Piet Huysentruyt)
– 4 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1 Tbsp ground cloves
– 1 Tbsp ground mace
– 1/3 Tbsp ground ginger
– 1/4 Tbsp ground cardamom seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground white pepper
– 1/4 Tbsp ground coriander seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground anis seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground nutmeg

Put everything in a ziplock baggy and shake well! Store in a small glass jar, in a cool dark place.

SPECULAAS COOKIES
(Adapted from a recipe by Flemish celebrity chef Jeroen Meus)
– 1 lbs light brown/golden sugar
– 1 lbs of pastry flour, self-rising flower or all purpose flour, sifted
– 8 oz of good quality butter, room temperature
– 1 egg, yolk & white separated
– 1-2 Tbsp of speculoos spices (see above. Use 2 for a spicy flavor)
– 1 tsp of baking soda
– 1 tsp pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl, and mix with a mixer or your hands until you get a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap dough ball in plastic foil, and rest dough in the fridge overnight to allow spices to develop flavor and permeate the dough.

Preheat oven to 400F. Roll dough into a sausage, and slice into cookie slices. Alternatively, roll dough out on a floured surface, and use your cookie molds to cut out shapes.

Place cookie dough on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and bake for approx. 25-30 min. Allow cookies to cool and crisp.

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