Tag Archives: creamy

Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

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Tangy Honey-Mustard Dressing

2 Jan

2nd January 2015: The crossroads of ‘…ooooh, I mustn’t…’ and ‘…aargh, F#@& it!, I’m gonna eat it…’. If you’re here, right in the epicenter of that diet conundrum, divert your eyes and stop reading now.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt all proud and accomplished for having chopped up a wickedly healthy salad… only to then slather it in 500 calories worth of dressing, with buttery croutons to boot. You’re not alone! If it weren’t for the tang of dressing, I probably wouldn’t be all gung-ho about salad either. As a matter of fact, the creamier the dressing, the easier I find it to eat raw leafy greens, after all, I’m not a goat. Frankly, anyone who proclaims to enjoy salad without dressing is a shameless liar; a Spartan… or a farm animal reincarnate. I’m not above Buddhist philosophies, y’all.
In the face of whimsical diets that promote things like ‘light’ raspberry vinaigrette, creamy honey-mustard dressing may very well be the Beowulf of all salad condiments. In our fridge, however, its beguiling golden hue shines like the Holy Grail…

The other day, I bought a Costco-sized tub of sour cream. I don’t even know how many ounces is in that cradle of tangy deliciousness, but at $3.79 it was practically the same price as a much smaller tub you’d buy at the regular grocery store and that’s all the convincing I needed to heave that sucker into my cargo ship cart. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it’s safe to assume that my mind wasn’t on any New Year’s resolutions.

With a tangy sour cream base, the dressing below can be spooned straight out of the jar drizzled over salad, but should you feel rebellious, you can use steamed artichoke leaves as a vessel to bring this deliciousness into your gaping mouth as well.

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TANGY HONEY-MUSTARD DRESSING
(Per various Pinterest finds…)
– 1 ½ cups of sour cream (or Greek yogurt, for a ‘lighter’ version)
– ½ cup of mayo
– juice of 2 fresh lemons
– 1 large garlic clove, crushed
– 4 heaping Tbsp of yellow mustard
– 6 Tbsp of honey (or agave syrup)
– salt & pepper, to taste

Add all the ingredients to a large quart-size canning jar, and give it a good shake…

Mustard Braised Chicken with Tarragon

22 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemony Pasta with Peas & Mint

3 Oct

Back in 2010/11, Belgium went without a government for 589 days. Five hundred and eighty nine days! Parks remained open. Government agencies functioned. And our senators tightened their suspenders and showed up for congressional meetings with or without a chip on their shoulder. There was juvenile bickering and fighting amongst members of the congress. There was finger pointing, name calling, red-faced huffing and puffing. There was a 589 day governmental stalemate.

… so what do you do?

You cork a few vats of beer and PARTY! After all, breaking a ‘Guinness World Record’ for being the country with the longest ever recorded absence of Government in the history of civilized mankind, calls for fanciful fireworks and drunken city-wide celebrations. You invite the international press to the festivities, you show off your patriotic colors… on body parts we can’t show on national TV… and you make your mark on global history by displaying loud ridiculous behavior and madly proudly waving your country’s flag whilst yelling nonsensical talk at cameras, in a language nobody but Holland understands. This, is how Belgium handles political strife.

The Belgians aren’t entirely hitting a foul ball with their seemingly ludicrous celebrations… In times like these, what else is there to do but to laugh at your own misery and indulge in good food and a few libations among friends and family? And what better dish to bring people together than delicious and effortless pasta? Pasta is both heartwarming for the soul as well as your wallet’s bottom line. It’s a culinary super hero and a beacon of happiness during hard economic times. So instead of making lemonade with all the sour lemons Congress is throwing at us, why not make a creamy lemony pasta instead?

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LEMONY PASTA WITH PEAS AND MINT
– 1 package of fettucinni, or a pasta of your choice
– 2 cups of fresh English peas, par-boiled (or 2 cups of frozen peas, uncooked)
– 1/2 cup of crème fraiche
– zest of 2 lemons
– 2 Tbsp of chopped fresh mint
– a handful of chunks of Gran Padano cheese or another salty hard cheese of your choice
– salt & pepper to taste
– smoked salmon (optional)

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until almost cooked through. Rather than drain the pasta, take the pasta out of the pasta water with tongs and transfer it to a shallow pan, and don’t worry if some of the pasta water comes with it. We need this extra bit of wetness to create our sauce.

While the pasta cooks, boil some water in a small sauce pan and par-boil fresh English peas in boiling water for approx. 2 min, until almost tender. Shock in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking process. If using frozen peas, there is no need to par-boil those.

Stir the peas in the hot pasta, along with the crème fraiche, lemon zest & mint. Season with salt & pepper. Add a splash of olive oil to finish.

Serve with chunks or slivers of cheese sprinkled over the top… and/or for extra protein, add sliced smoked salmon.

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.

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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Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

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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.

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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.

Cajun Pumpkin Soup

11 Aug

Fall is by far my favorite Season. There’s several things I like about Fall, but the biggest charm for me is that all vegetables that remind me of a stormy day in Belgium are in season: parsnips, pumpkins, rutabagas, turnips… And, you get to spice everything warmly because ‘t is the season. Sadly, Southern California has only two seasons. The difference between the two being that in Fall & Winter you may need to take a sweater with you, you know, for when the sun sets… what with temperatures dropping below 65F and all.

Every October, when the last residual heat of September slowly ebbs away, I’m excited to start feeling the crisp chill in the beach air and occasionally hear the sound of rain pounding my apartment’s roof. I confess that I didn’t like rain when I lived in Belgium. Rainy days would turn into soggy weeks, then into months, and eventually you’d start wondering if you should start building an ark and save yourself?! It’s only after several months of dry heat and blistering sun that I learned to appreciate a cool, wet day. Fall in Southern California is bliss. Day time temperatures remain a steady 60F-70F, and evenings get cool enough to cuddle with my beau and sip on spiced wine without risking a hot flash. An added bonus is that with 60F, we can still crack our windows open just a smidgen, and let the earthy smell of the damp beach sand & wet wooden boardwalk permeate our humble home.

It’s on these days that the soup below tastes fantastic. Decades ago, when my brother still lived in Amsterdam and mom & I would drive up for a weekend visit, he would frequently invite us for dinner at a restaurant called ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’, off of the Ceintuurbaan in the heart of the city. At the time, I was already thinking about relocating to the USA and eventually, my brother bought me the Cajun bistro’s cookbook as a parting gift. I’ve since adapted the recipe to my own preference, but the base recipe comes out of the book.

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CAJUN PUMPKIN SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’ by Rob Van Berkum & Andre Numan)

– 8 cups of chicken broth
– 35 oz of cubed pumpkin
– 2.5 cups of good quality dry sherry
– 1.5 cups of heavy cream
– 3 large shallots, diced
– 3 ribs of celery, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning + more for the shrimp
– a pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
– a cup of sliced or chopped mushrooms (any kind)
– 1 lbs of large scampi-size shrimp
– 5 slices of bacon, cooked & crumbled

Place a large soup pot on the stove over high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, and saute the chopped shallots & celery until translucent and starting to brown. Douse with sherry, and cook for a minute or so to burn off some of the alcohol. Add chicken broth and chopped pumpkin, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until pumpkin is soft and cooked through.

In the meantime, saute sliced mushrooms until browned and cooked through. Set aside.

Cook bacon, drain or pat dry and crumble. Set aside.
Shell & devein shrimp, toss in a bit of olive oil and grill in a 450F oven with a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning until done , approx 10 min.

When pumpkin is soft, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. Add cream, 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning, grilled shrimp, bacon and browned mushrooms and warm through in the soup. Season with salt & pepper, and add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Ladle in soup bowls, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and serve with corn bread.

Gentse Waterzooi (chicken stew from Ghent)

6 Jul

If chicken ‘n dumplings had a Belgian cousin, it would surely be “waterzooi”. While waterzooi doesn’t come with puffy buttermilk dumplings, it ranks just a high on the creamy comfort food scale. Once you sop a piece of crusty French bread in its yolky broth, you’ll understand why this dish became a National treasure.

Translated from Dutch, ‘waterzooi’ means ‘to simmer in water’… The dish was historically nothing fancier than a simple fish boil with readily available fish like cod & perch, and potatoes. As rivers and ponds became more polluted and fish populations diminished, chicken made its debut in this classic charmer.

Today, the city of Ghent reigns unchallenged in waterzooi-land. Located in the Northwest corner of Belgium and only a short drive away from the North Sea, Ghent has placed waterzooi on the culinary map. Hundreds of restaurants each boast their own variation of the dish, all vying for the attention of the oodles of tourists that roam this picturesque city in search of waterzooi.

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GENTSE WATERZOOI
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Restaurant De Karmeliet’)

– 1 whole chicken, quartered
– 3 stalks of celery
– 1 leek
– 3 carrots
– 6 firm potatoes (like Yukon Gold)
– 1 bunch of parsley
– 2-3 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
– 6-8 cups of chicken stock
– 2 tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper, to taste

Heat chicken stock and add chicken, let simmer for approx. 20-30 min on a low-medium fire until the chicken is done. Set aside.

Cut celery, carrot and leek into very fine strips (‘julienne’). Dice potatoes into rough chunks.
Take a large enough pan so all the broth and chicken will eventually fit, and sauté the vegetables and the potatoes in 1-2 tbsp of butter over medium heat.

In the meantime, take chicken out of the stock and peel off the skin, discard the skin.

Add peeled chicken to the vegetables & potatoes. Sift the stock to eliminate any impurities the chicken left behind, and add to pot with chicken, vegetables and potatoes.

Add 2/3 of the cream into the pot, and simmer another 10-15 min. Season with salt & pepper, to your liking.

In a separate bowl, add remaining cream and 2 egg yolks. Whisk together and gently add a bit of the hot broth one spoon at a time. This is called ‘tempering’. Keep whisking as you introduce the broth, to make sure your egg mixture won’t scramble. Keep adding broth until you reach a warm temperature. When the egg mixture is warm, take pot off the stove and gently drizzle and stir the egg mixture in the pot.

Ladle in shallow soup bowls, and sprinkle chopped parsley & thyme leaves over the top. Make sure to serve some French bread on the side, as the broth will have you yearning for more!

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