Tag Archives: fall

Haldi Ka Doodh (Golden Milk)

2 Sep

The other day, my workoholic beau private messaged me on Facebook with: “I’d like to try golden milk. I haven’t looked up the recipe online, but it’s supposed to be good for you and give you energy”. At first, I figured his carnivorous self couldn’t possibly have come up with this himself, which instantly made me think that surely he heard it from that cute little barista at his nearby Starbucks. However, since I’m not entirely “Sybil”-like, I quickly suppressed my recessive jealous gene by channeling my non-PMS’ing brain cells, and explained his request as someone who wants to get healthier… and possibly be around me for a long time to come. I’m blessed.

So.. challenge accepted, mister. Turns out, golden milk is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s official name, Haldi ka Doodh, calls for milk to be warmed and steeped with fresh turmeric, fresh ginger and a pinch of black pepper, the latter reportedly boasting your body’s ability to digest turmeric by 2000%. TWO THOUSAND! Whoa. There are a ton of variations available online. As a matter of fact, while I slept comfortably under my rock, it seems ‘golden milk’ rose to frenzied fame on the wellness web. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it. Do I need to say more? DO I?!

The star players in the various renditions you can find online are always a milky foundation and yellow turmeric. You are free to milk your own cow or goat, but many seem to use coconut milk or almond milk. Since dairy tends to not always agree with the mister, I used coconut milk. Some recipes call for tablespoons versus teaspoons, some tell you to bring the mixture to a boil whereas others warn you not to let the mixture boil to avoid losing the natural benefits of its ingredients. Some creatively hint towards a blend of mulling spices, a good number of them have discrepancies in cup measurements and there is a wild debate between fresh turmeric & fresh ginger versus their powdered cousins. Add in the sheer schizophrenia in its namesake (turmeric tea, turmeric latte, golden milk, golden latte, Haldi ka Doodh…) and you’ve got a recipe that is more confused than a gender-fluid teenager. 

Firstly, let’s talk turmeric… This ‘spice-du-jour’ is what gives your milky concoction its golden hue. Be forewarned, in its fresh root or ‘paste’-variety, it’s an instant dye for your milk, cutting board or whatever new item of clothing you happen to be wearing. Turmeric’s health benefits come from its plant compound named ‘curcumin’ (“kurkuma” in Dutch, because my Flemish-speaking mom will surely ask me what the heck turmeric is. You’re welcome, mom!). Reportedly, curcumin boasts a wide range of digestive, respiratory and… boom chika chika wow wow… reproductive-health improvements. It’s reportedly also good to prevent cancer and seems to aide liver function. Disclaimer: none of these health benefits are actually backed by scientific research, but then again, free natural stuff impedes on a pharmaceutical exec’s vacation on Bora Bora. I’d say, check it out for yourself and see if you feel better. At the very least, you will have discovered a delicious new drink.

Personally, turmeric & I have long been embroiled in a hot affair, as almost all Indian spice blends include turmeric and typically give curry its yellow color as well. Since Scott & I have a thing with warm Indian flavorings, I figured golden milk could very well be good for you and tasty at the same time. I ventured out to Whole Foods, purveyor of all things extraordinary expensive natural & organic, but wasn’t able to find fresh turmeric. I settled on dried, ground spices instead. I used coconut milk from the dairy aisle and added in a small can of coconut cream, because I like things creamy.

Pouring everything into a big cast iron pot and letting the mixture warm through, the aroma grabbed me by the nose almost right away. It’s earthy and so warmly spiced, it’s truly a cozy cup of Fall deliciousness. I haven’t tried drinking it cold, but it was very tasty whilst hot and I can assure you I’ll be making overnight oats with this concoction… If you don’t like Indian food, this is likely not going to be your cup of tea. However, if you’re like us and you like warm spices, then this will surely become one of your favorites too.


HALDI KA DOODH (GOLDEN MILK)
(A pleasant Americanized good-for-you beverage)

– 8 cups of coconut milk (or almond milk, soy milk, cow’s milk or any other kind of milk)
– 6 oz of coconut cream (optional) (*)
– 3 Tbsp ground turmeric
– 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 2 Tbsp ground ginger
– 0.5 tsp ground cardamom
– 3 Tbsp of honey (or a sweetener of your choice)
– 4 cloves
– a splash of hot water
– a pinch of saffron (optional, garnish)
– a pinch of black pepper (**)
(*) fat aides in the absorption of curcumin, if not using cream, make a spice paste with a bit of coconut oil instead of water. You can also use regular dairy whipping cream.
(**) black pepper boasts your body’s ability to absorb the beneficial curcumin (Turmeric) by an impressive 2000%.

In a small bowl, mix all ground spices (except saffron & pepper) and make a paste with a splash of hot water. Set aside.

In a heavy pot (I used a cast iron Dutch oven), combine milk with cream, spice paste, and cloves. Bring to a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil, until frothy. Turn heat off and let steep for an additional 15-20 min and add a pinch of black pepper. Strain mixture to remove cloves.

Finnish with honey (for sweetness) and a pinch of saffron. Serve hot or cold.

Recipe above makes approx. 8-9 cups

Cottage Pie with Root Vegetables

28 Aug

In exactly 44 days, my mom will land at Los Angeles Int’l airport. It’s an event the Farklepants’ household is already mentally preparing for, if nothing else, than to cross off the days on our kitchen calendar to see precisely how much more time we have left to bring the cleanliness & organization of our apartment up to military Cecilia’s standards.

It’s no easy feat. My mother, bless her heart, is a densely woven tapestry of arduous self-imposed rules & regulations, enforced daily by a deep, unrelenting desire for order & control. Flying by the seat of your pants, which is pretty much the mantra in our house, is something my elderly mom has a hard time coping with. She unwittingly, and with the best of intentions, attempts to smash & stuff our souls into her daily mold of how things ought to be, and at times this collides with the chaotic habits of my free-thinking creative family. She also takes planning and organization to uncharted heights. You know, the kind of heights Martha Stewart can only dream of reaching with her hand-carved & antiquated Scandinavian pinewood ladder.
On the other hand, underneath that regimented ice cap of self-imposed order and control, hides the woman that walks into a grocery store in Spain and buys a box of cat food by pointing her index finger into her wide-open gaping mouth and speaking the words ‘meow meow’. The same woman who has mastered the art of overly dramatic Japanese Kabuki-style facial expressions to anything that she finds a) odd, b) inappropriate, c) silly or d) all of the above (*)… It sometimes brings me to the brink of embarrassment, evoking a sheepish smile and a spontaneous “I’m sorry, she’s not from around here” response.
(*) Per example, she once addressed an unassuming diner waitress with a Maori battle cry when the poor woman came around to kindly refill her beverage and caught my mother off-guard. You see, Cecilia doesn’t believe in wasting any food or drink (and isn’t that a good Christian virtue?!), so even though she is full, her own set of imaginary rules mandates that she MUST finish whatever is presented to her. Also… she did NOT want any ice in her drink!!!!

This year, since our apartment is at full capacity and my mom fully expects me to lodge her in my house regardless of that fact, I tapped into my professional travel network & award points and was able to conjure free lodging for an epic 7-day road trip through the Southwest USA. It’s an adventure we’re both excited for, if it weren’t for my car having trouble with its right front wheel all of a sudden. We don’t even have enough money to make it through the month at times, let alone that I’m now having to face a dreaded trip to the mechanic, so he can take a look at it and tell me it’ll be $637.41 or so to fix it… Hurray! Let me write you a check. Right. This. Minute. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I guess God will take care of that predicament in due time. Note to self: have faith.

If our financial situation was a person, it would probably be a circus freak. Maybe even the Elephant Man. Or Quasimodo. I picture this is what mom went through as well as a single parent with a delinquent ex-husband. I pretty much spend my entire days worrying in anxiety biting every penny in half, whilst scouring Pinterest in search of hearty rib-sticking meals that cost mere pennies. Our protein-plan exists out of chicken & kielbasa, and the occasional ground beef. We haven’t had ribs or a juicy roast in a good long while, and steak & fish have vanished off of our menu entirely due to their price tag. The thought of Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner currently gives me the willies. Pray that by then, we’ll be blessed by the hand of the forces that may.

Mom cooked a lot of ground beef recipes, and I do too. One of my beloved cheap(er) dinners is ‘Cottage Pie’. It’s flavorful, hearty and it feeds my family of 3 hungry men + yours truly for pennies on the dollar. To add bulk, I use a gaggle of root vegetables that caramelize slowly, which gives the whole dish another depth of flavor that I find very tasty. The recipe below fills my large 15’ Lodge cast iron pan + a smaller oven dish, and it typically feeds us twice.

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COTTAGE PIE WITH ROOT VEGETABLES
(a la Hungry Belgian)
For the beef mixture:
3 lbs of ground beef, at least 15% fat
1 onion, diced
2 rutabagas (or 2 small), diced
3 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, diced
1 celery root, diced
3-4 ribs of celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 6oz can of tomato paste
A handful of thyme & rosemary tied together in a bundle
A few dashes of ‘kitchen bouquet’ browning liquid or Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp of flour
1 16oz bottle of Stout beer or a dark beer of your liking
Salt & pepper to taste

I use a Dutch oven to cook the filling, but you can use any heavy large pan. Start by dicing the vegetables into even dice so they all cook at the more or less the same speed. Mince the garlic and have everything ready to go.

Start by heating up your pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the ground beef and a few dashes of browning liquid, and crumble while browning. When it’s all browned, take it out of your pan and set aside. Drain some of the fat, but leave some so we can caramelize the vegetables in it.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, add all of your diced vegetables (excl. garlic) and let them slowly caramelize a bit for 30 min or so, stirring regularly to achieve an even browning.

When vegetables are browned, add beef back to the pan and turn heat to medium-high. Add tomato paste and brown the tomato paste with the vegetables & beef for 2-3 minutes. Then sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over the lot, and brown another 1-2 minutes. Your pan will be cruddy on the bottom, but don’t worry, this crud adds a ton of flavor!
When mixture appears well browned, after 3-4 minutes, add beer and scrape all of the tasty bits off of the bottom of your pan over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, rosemary & thyme bundle, then add salt & pepper to taste. Turn heat to medium, and let the mixture reduce & thicken for another 20-30 minutes. If too thick, add some water or beef broth. If too thin, keep simmering and I promise it will reduce further. When it’s done, take rosemary/thyme bundle out of the pan and allow the mixture to cool a bit.

For the cheddar mashed potatoes topping:
5 lbs of Yukon gold potatoes
4-6 Tbsp of butter
Approx 1-1.5 cups of milk
1 cup of grated white cheddar
1 tsp of grated horseradish (not horseradish sauce!) (completely optional)

Peel, cube & boil potatoes until soft. While the potatoes are cooking, warm the milk & butter in the microwave until melted & combined. Add salt & pepper to milk mixture, per your preference.
When potatoes are soft, drain them and mash them as usual. They will be lumpy, which is what I like best. Add warmed milk mixture to mashed potatoes a little a time, until you achieve a soft but form mash and the milk mixture is well-incorporated. You may have to use a bit more or less.
Add grated cheddar & horseradish (if using), and fold until blended. Your potato mash should be firm and not too soft.

Butter or grease your oven dish(es) and spread all of the beef mixture on the bottom(s). Top the beef with the mashed potatoes to fully cover the beef layer. My personal cottage pie math is, is that I like to have 2/3 beef mixture and 1/3 potatoes on top. You can do half/half, it’s whatever you prefer, really. With a fork, make a few lines or crimps in the potato layer, so that when it brow in the oven, you’ll get crispy edges on those ridges. Alternatively, you can also pipe your mashed potatoes on top of the beef mixture ‘duchesse’-style.

Bake in a 375F oven for approx. 30-45 min until the edges of the potatoes are well browned. Serve hot, with a pint of Guinness and an Irish joke or two.

Bon appetit!

Drunken Chicken

17 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorn

24 Dec

Yesterday was one of those days on which I simply did not feel festive. I suffered from a serious case of the ‘holiday blues’, and on top of that, my uterus decided that it was time to go Beowulf.

So when I drove home with a plan to stop by the grocery store and grab whatever I felt could ‘pass’ as an acceptable dinner in my book, I didn’t expect to be roasting parsnips and cracking peppercorns. As a matter of fact, I was thinking more frozen pizza middle aisle than outer periphery… By divine intervention, I opened Pinterest and saw a recipe for what looked like a simple cracked pepper pasta dish. Tasty & cheap? Why, yes please!

$16.25 later, me & my bah humbug attitude drove home and strapped on the apron. Let me tell you, whacking the living daylights out of whole peppercorns with a rolling pin is seriously therapeutic during that time of the month!

As stated above, I saw the recipe below on Pinterest and was intrigued by the earthiness of the dish. It just looked really appealing and it seemed to be a play on a traditional pasta ‘cacio e pepe’, or a simple cracked pepper pasta. Yesterday was the perfect day to make this. I changed the recipe only slightly by adding cream and garlic, but I think that originally it was a Mario Batali creation.

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Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorns.
(Adapted from a Mario Batali recipe I found on ‘Pinterest’)
– 1 lbs of orecchiette
– 1 Tbsp of pink peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of green peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of white peppercorns
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 3 cups of roughly chopped kale, approx. 6-8 stems
– 3/4 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of white wine
– 4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
– 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)
– olive oil
– salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Place peppercorns in a ziplock baggy, and whack them until you achieve a rough texture. Some of the peppercorns will still be semi-whole, and that’s what we want.

Peel & cube parsnips, toss with olive oil and spread out over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Roast in the hot oven for approx. 20 min, until tender and slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

In the meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water. When you have a rolling boil, add orecchiette and boil according to box directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a heavy skillet, heat 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil with chopped garlic & cracked peppercorn. When oil is hot, add chopped kale, toss and sauté for a few minutes until the kale starts to wilt a bit. Add wine and cream, and simmer over low heat to allow the liquid to reduce by approx. half.

When sauce with kale has reduced and thickened a bit, add 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Add reserved pasta liquid until sauce is the right texture and coats evenly. Test with the back of a wooden spoon: if you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of your spoon, and the ‘edges’ stay put and don’t run, it means your sauce is the perfect thickness.

Add drained pasta and roasted parsnips to the pan with the sauce. Toss and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serve hot.

** You can also add some cooked Italian sausage, if you like.

Cider Braised Chicken

12 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finnish Salmon Chowder

7 Nov

Hurray! We’re fast approaching my 90-day binge fest favorite season of the year. Besides the fact that it’s widely accepted that legs don’t need daily shaving anymore, Winter is practically a free season pass to sweet candy, luscious pies, roasted turkeys with all the fixings, bottomless spiced hot chocolates and all kinds of other culinary deliciousness… Not to forget domestic fabulousness like plaid flannel pajamas, wickedly cool decorations, the year’s best movie releases, crackling hearths and overall homely splendor. Let’s admit it, Winter is like the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet’ of all seasons.

Back when I was still gainfully employed for an adventure travel company in Belgium, a handful of co-workers & I got invited on a 5-day dog-sledding ‘trek’ through the great outdoors in Lapland, in the very Northern tip of Finland… We flew from Brussels to Ivalo and then onwards to Kittala, located at the rim of the Arctic Circle. Upon arrival at our destination, we stopped at what looked like a log cabin and were greeted by a Finnish guide who beckoned us to come inside his ‘mud’ room and promptly fitted us for a bright red thermal monkey suit.

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We were instructed to wear this one-piece hooded suit so that only our nose and eyes were exposed. The staff was very particular about making sure we understood the importance of covering up as much as we could. We were told the hairs inside our nose would freeze, but we were reassured to not panic since our own body temperature would prevent our nostrils from freezing shut. Great! We were warned the moisture in the corner of our eyes may – or may not – freeze, causing your eyelid(s) to freeze and get stuck. “When this happens, place your gloved hand over your eye and wait to defrost”, they said, “don’t pull your eyelids, as it may cause injury”. It was -55C outside (minus 67F. MINUS, people!!!). Factor in the wind chill, and I’ve never been happier to carry 50-odd pounds of excess fat on my frame than I was then. As the days progressed, we’d mock and laugh at each other whenever an eye would freeze half shut, and we had a running tally of bets to see who’d be the first one to have both eyes freeze shut. It sounds terrible, but I’ve never laughed harder.

Those 5 days were without a doubt the most beautiful, exhilarating and eventful trip I have ever taken. Besides the fact that one of my colleagues fell madly in love with our Finnish guide and shocked us all by impulsively deciding on day 5 to not return to her husband in Belgium, we ‘yeehaw’-ed our own dog sleds through the most magnificent Winter wonderland ever…

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…and we stopped to visit Santa Claus Village.

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That’s right, I’ve been to Santa Claus in the Polar Circle. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re envious! On a side note, Peggy Sue did eventually return to Belgium to resume her marriage, but we never got any detail as to what happened exactly.

Between seeing a nightly spectacle of Northern lights and eating the best cedar plank salmon I have ever tasted, I have many fond memories of that trip, but a foodie favorite of mine was ‘lohikeitto’. It’s a creamy concoction of salmon, leeks and potatoes, and it tastes great so good with toasted rye bread on a cold winter’s day. It’s Finland’s answer to New England clam chowder, really.

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Finnish Salmon Chowder
(also known as Lohikeitto… Adapted from a few recipes online)
– 3 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 leek, chopped (white and light green part only)
– 2 carrots, diced
– 3 cups of fish broth or stock
– 1 bay leaf
– 3/4 lbs potatoes, cubed and peeled
– 3/4 lbs salmon filet, skinned, de-boned and cut into small chunks
– 3/4 cup cream (or half & half)
– 1 Tbsp cornstarch (up to 1.5 Tbsp if you’d like the broth thick) + 1 Tbsp of water
– 1 Tbsp butter
– salt and pepper
– fresh dill for topping (or parsley, if you’re dill-hater)

Heat the olive in a large saucepan and sauté the leek until softened. Add 3 cups of fish stock and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and carefully add the potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add the salmon and simmer for five minutes. Add the cream and stir to mix. Make a cornstarch slurry with the cornstarch and 1 Tbsp of water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add to the soup and simmer until the soup has thickened.
Add the butter and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with plenty of fresh parsley or dill. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

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Appalachian Onion Soup

22 Oct

Yes. You read that right. This is ‘Appalachian Onion Soup’ because a) it’s made with Kentucky Bourbon and b) who doesn’t want to stick it to the French? Don’t be shy, raise your hand. I haven’t decided yet whether I hate the French or like them, but I sure do love their cuisine. You can’t go wrong with all that butter, cream and wine… n’est-ce pas? In all honesty, I secretly love the French and their curly moustaches. But being that I am from Belgium, and that I’m decidedly non-Francais and speak ‘funny’ French, I can’t be loved in return… You see, it’s against ‘The Code of Honor’ between the French & the Belgians. I understand. At least we have better chocolate. OH SNAP!

But we digress…. When I discovered that I had half a dozen of onions in my fridge and feared they would meet their early demise, I decided my family’s dinner destiny had to be French onion soup, for starters. The only problem, it was already pushing 07:00P and with zero ambition to schlepp myself to the store to go pick up white wine and a few random ingredients that go in an authentic ‘soupe a l’oignon’, I decided to get creative with my American pantry. And since the French would rather die than to endorse this version of their beloved classic, I can’t shame myself further into naming it French onion soup. It’s not proper. And besides, I’m Belgian… what do I know? Tsk!

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APPALACHIAN ONION SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe for classic French Onion Soup)
– 6 large onions, halved and cut into half rounds
– 4 small cloves of garlic, pressed or minced (or 2-3 large ones)
– 3 bay leaves
– 3 Tbsp of ground thyme
– 1 Tbsp of ground sage
– 1/2 cup of aged balsamic vinegar
– 1 cup of Kentucky Bourbon
– 3 cups of beef broth
– 3 cups of chicken broth
– a few slices of 2-day old sour dough bread, toasted
– a handful of grated white cheddar cheese
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 2 Tbsp of butter + 2 Tbsp of olive oil, to caramelize the onions (or 4 Tbsp of ‘ghee’ or clarified butter)
– 1 Tbsp of maple syrup, to caramelize the onions (optional)
– fresh thyme, finely chopped (for garnish)

Heat oven to 500F.

Cut each onion in half, then slice each half into half-moon rounds. Chop fresh thyme finely.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. The oil will prevent the butter from burning. Add bay leaves and sliced onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and a rich amber or golden brown color. You can sprinkle the raw onions with some maple syrup or honey/sugar, which will help them caramelize quicker. This is an optional step, though. Caramelizing the onions will take upwards of 30 min., so be patient and stir only occasionally! If the onions seem to be burning, turn the heat down a notch and add in a splash of water. The water will evaporate in the process and will not water down your soup, but it will prevent the onions from burning.
When the onions are beginning to color lightly, add in the pressed garlic and ground thyme & sage. Stir to combine and continue to simmer the onions until they have reach an amber-like color.

When the onions are browned and caramelized, remove bay leaves and add the balsamic vinegar and half of the Bourbon to the pan, and deglaze the pan by scraping up the browned bits. Add the rest of the Bourbon and both broths, and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for an additional 10-15 min without the lid, so the alcohol burns off and the flavors can develop further.

In the meanwhile, take your slices of 1-2 day-old bread and brush them lightly with olive oil. Lay bread slices on a flat baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for approx. 10 min. Keep an eye on them, as they can go from crispy to burned in a matter of seconds. Take the toasted slices out of the oven and lightly rub a clove of garlic over each slice.

Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls, and place a slice (or 2) of toasted bread on top of each bowl. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over bread, and place bowls under the broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the bubbly, melted cheese and serve right away.

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.

Balsamic Chicken with Figs & Port

15 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add the thyme & figs, and stir to combine.

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

Spicy Butternut Squash with Sage

27 Sep

In exactly 185 hours and 29 minutes, my mom will be landing at LAX airport. In about 184 hours, we’ll roll into a full-fledged panic and do things like finally clear off the dinner table and dust behind the bed posts, and things like that. It’s a good thing mom arrives once a year, as otherwise our dining room table house would never be available for eating thoroughly cleaned. If it’s anything like 2 years ago, our kitchen floor will be drying whilst I go and pick up mom at the airport.

Last year, however, she missed her connecting flight at JFK airport and we had a gratuitous 2 hours to clean vowed to “..never EVER!!!!..” fly via New York “..ever!!!!..” again. The combination of being 69, arthritic, thoroughly jetlagged and not speaking enough English to ask where to go next, made for a seriously grumpy capuchin monkey senior when she finally did come down the escalator in Terminal 5. Throw in an 18+ hour journey, and she collapsed in an audible coma in our guest room by 08:00P. I hope her transatlantic flight treats her better this time around. Play nice, Atlanta!

I remember the first few years that I lived here, I missed everything from Belgium and my grocery wish list was as long as from here to Baja California, including, but not limited to: Maggi bouillon cubes, Kwatta choco, Vondelmolen peperkoek, Royco minute soup, Lotus speculaas, Cote d’Or chocolate, Sultana raisin cookies and Sirop de Liège… all things I thought I couldn’t possibly live without. She even smuggled in a 24-count tinderbox of the finest Cuban cigars at one point, as I thought it would make a nice Valentine’s present for my then boyfriend. Oye, the excess luggage I have subjected my aging mother to, have earned her the privilege of bossing me around for 9 days…(and I’m counting on her lack of English proficiency here!) Nowadays, my desired Belgian grocery list isn’t nearly as long, but there are just certain things you either can’t afford here or can’t find in the store, such as ‘Piment d’Espelette’.

‘Piment d’Espelette’ is a spicy pepper from Espelette, a picturesque village nestled in the Pyrenees in the Southwest of France, in the Basque region by the Spanish border. A stroll down its cobblestone streets, reveals balcony upon balcony draped with endless bunches & strings of these lovely red peppers, which are drying in the blistering afternoon sun. As a matter of regional pride, this pepper is so famous, that it has been given a protected designation by the European Union, ensuring that only peppers grown in the Espelette region may be labeled as ‘Piment d’Espelette’ (an ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’). The small pepper is red when ripe & mature, and relatively mild. When dried, Espelette peppers turn dark, with a slightly smoky & hot peppery flavor that can be intensified with roasting or sauteeing, and is commonly used in the Basque cuisine of Northern Spain and Southwest France. Heat-wise, ‘Piment d’Espelette’ is similar to smoked hot paprika, but not quite as smoky as paprika. Either way, smoked hot paprika would be a good substitute for Espelette pepper, however, for the purists, you can order ‘Piment d’Espelette’ online from specialty grocers, but be prepared to sell your first born shell out cold hard cash.

If you never taught that refined French cuisine could teach your palate anything about heat, I suggest you splurge and order a jar of this stupendously flavorful pepper. It’s a ‘finishing’ spice – meaning it can turn a bit bitter if cooked for too long – and extremely versatile. The recipe below holds the perfect balance between the sweetness of winter squash and the spicy smokiness of the ‘Piment d’Espelette’.

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Spicy Butternut Squash
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘Chili Pepper Magazine’, 2008)
– 4 Tbsp of good quality butter
– 1 large shallots, thinly sliced
– 2 Tbsp of loosely torn fresh sage
– 2 Tbsp of Piment d’Espelette
– 1/2 cup of honey
– a pinch of salt, to your liking
– 1/2 cup of dry white wine
– 1/2 cup of vegetable stock
– 2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced into ‘fries’ or cubes.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In cast iron skillet or large sauté pan, melt the butter, and sauté the shallots until translucent. Stir in the honey, wine and stock. Season with salt only.

In a large bowl, toss the squash, onions and torn sage leaves with the shallot mixture. On a baking sheet, spread everything in a single layer, and bake. After 15 minutes, toss things around so everything browns on all sides. Roast until tender, about another 5-10 minutes or so. Remove from oven, and dust all sides lightly with ‘Piment d’Espelette’.

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