Tag Archives: family friendly

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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General Tsao’s Chicken

7 Sep

Who is this General Tsao and did he own a cast iron skillet?! A quick Wikipedia search tells me that while the Hunan province man existed, it appears the Qing Dynasty general actually had little or no connection to the sweet & sour deliciousness named after him. It remains a mystery if he owned a cast iron skillet, but with cast iron being a Chinese invention from the 5th Century BC, I’m thinking “yes”.

I confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Chinese take-out. Not because I think the fate of all feral dogs & cats has anything to do with it, even though my mom would argue the mathematical uncertainty of this, but rather because it lacks bacon it tends to be so syrupy sweet. A factor that directly contributes to the Farklepants’ stepkids’ burning love for Chinese take-out.

Fueled by cocky contempt for cheap take-out, I figured that whatever Panda Express can do, I can do better. There’s no shortage of recipes online, so I blended the best of all and added Sriracha my own touch to please my palate. And since I’m preoccupied with the health of my family, I also added a good amount of veggies, because, you know, I’m an evil person “green” is a color my adopted brood’s diet is challenged by.

Feel free to substitute the bell peppers and/or sugar snap peas with any other vegetable(s) you like… or leave them out altogether and garner a deep respect from the entire male juvenile population in the USA. On that note, you can use this sauce on pretty much anything you want to give an Asian flavor, grill with it, marinate with it or simply suck it with a straw.

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GENERAL TSAO’S CHICKEN
(Loosely based on a vast collection of Pinterest recipes)
For the sauce:
– 1/2 cup of chicken stock
– 2 Tbsp of soy sauce
– 2 Tbsp of rice vinegar
– 4 Tbsp of Hoisin sauce (*)
– 4 tsp of Sriracha sauce (this dish is pretty spicy. Add less for moderate or mild heat)
– 4 tsp of sesame oil
– 5 Tbsp of honey or sugar
(*) You can find Hoisin sauce in the Asian section of your supermarket. Kikkoman is the brand I used and the most commonly sold.

For the stirfry:
– 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
– 1/2 cup of corn meal (*)
– 1/2 of all-purpose flour
– 1 large red bell pepper, chopped into strips
– 2 good handfuls of sugar snap peas or snow peas
– 2 bunches of scallions, chopped
– 6 garlic cloves, minced
– 3 tsp of fresh ginger, grated (approx. 3-inch piece)
– peanut oil or lard for frying the chicken cubes
(*) You can also just use flour if you can’t find corn meal. I find that a flour/corn meal mixture gives extra crunch, but it’s not a “must”.

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a jar and give it a good shake. You should have about 1.5 cups worth, but a bit more or less is not a problem.

Slice all veggies and set aside. Grate garlic and ginger, and set aside.

Rinse & dry chicken breast completely. Slice chicken into bite-size pieces, approx. the size of a walnut. Salt & pepper the chicken pieces.
Combine corn meal & flour, and coat chicken pieces liberally. Make sure all pieces are bone-dry, as otherwise they won’t brown properly.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pot, heat peanut oil (or lard) to 350F and fry the chicken pieces until they are golden brown and crisp. You only need to go about 1/2 inch deep with oil, and for me, that was about 1 cup of lard in my 12-inch cast iron skillet.
I fried my chicken in 3 batches. Each batch only takes a few minutes, so it went pretty quickly. They should be slightly crunchy on the outside. They may not be cooked entirely trough at this stage, but don’t worry, as they’ll cook through later on when we combine everything.

Take fried chicken pieces out of the pan, and set on a paper towel lined plate to absorb some of the excess fat.

Drain all but 1-2 Tbsp of the fat, place hot pan back over medium heat and add all of the bell pepper & sugar snap peas and sauté for a few minutes until ‘just’ beginning to soften. I like the crunchy texture of slightly under-cooked vegetables, but you can sauté them all the way to “done” if this is your preference.

Add grated garlic & ginger, half of the scallions & chicken pieces back into the pan, and pour sauce over the top. Simmer over medium-low heat until sauce reduces, thickens & coats chicken evenly. This only takes about 10-15 min or so.

When ready, add remaining scallions and serve hot over steamed white or brown rice.

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!

Swedish Kisses

17 Jul

Oh hey!… I have a blog!

I apologize for being a blogging hermit since Jan 2014 lately. I finally stopped working 7 days a week, hallelujah! Technically, this means I have free weekends to devote to my small apartment kitchen and wee blog, however, it so happens to be that these free weekends coincided with the FIFA World Cup of Soccer, et voila… there is no time for blogging when soccer is on, folks!

I’ve always been a sports lover. Besides swimming and volleyball, and a brief stint with judo, I also threw a mean javelin in our local athletics club. I even made it to the varsity-level Belgian National Championship, and competed in javelin as well as the ever-so-feminine shot put and discus hurling. Considering I ended at the top in all three disciplines, it appears that I’m good at throwing stuff. Mind you, this innate throwing-ability had previously been evidenced when little Tootsie Farklepants was banned from the county fair’s ball-throwing booth. I was just a wee little pig-tailed waffle girl. The mustached carnivalmeister was not impressed with my bull’s eye precision when I repeatedly knocked over pyramid after pyramid of neatly stacked cans, with only a handful of flimsy beanbag balls. He’d angrily cross his tattooed arms and lock his piercing blue ice-cold eyes into mine in a tense stand-off. Undeterred, I’d proceed with winning a half dozen top shelf prizes, resulting in my father being curtly told by raspy-voiced Popeye that I wasn’t allowed to play anymore. It was an injustice too big to comprehend. It shaped my competitive spirit, and taught me the art of hustling at the ripe age of 9. I would clean him out of top shelf prizes for years to come, since he couldn’t remember me amongst the hundreds of kids that would frequent his establishment during carnival times. I never forgot. #Karmastings

Nowadays, my love for sports mainly manifests itself in eating copious amounts of food whilst cheering on my favorite teams. To aid me in my quest, I spent the past 5+ years transforming my nicely toned triceps into bat wings, so that the flapping motion of my cheering arms deters any flying insect within a 5-foot radius from landing on my chips & dip. As always, I’m at the top of my discipline here.

Now that the championship is over and Germany took home the FIFA trophy, I felt it opportune to bake something last Sunday. Anything, really. I work in an office full of Germans, and I swear, baking must be the 11th Commandment in Germany: “Thou must baketh something every week, or elseth thou shalt become Austrian”. Seriously, turning Austrian is every German’s worst fear. I kid you not.
But we digress… In a moment of misplaced German patriotism, what with being Belgian and all, I felt the burning need to bake something. Any time I try to bake, I end up with Godzilla from hell. I’m simply not good at baking, but strangely enough, I often feel like baking. I figure that at age 43, I’m probably baking at the level a German 5-yr old pulls off in his/her Fisher Price play kitchen, but whatever. Rome wasn’t built in one day either. And if you too suffer from sub-par baking skills, then these cookies are made for you as well. The recipe calls for exactly 4 ingredients. Four! How can that even go wrong, right?

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Swedish Kisses
(as per my colleague Melanie’s recipe, who probably saw it in some magazine or so…)

– 2 sticks of good quality softened butter
– ½ cup of plain white granulated sugar
– 2 cups of sifted, all-purpose flour
– your favorite jam or jelly

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a bowl and with a handheld electric beater (or in your fancy Kitchenaid mixer), beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add sifted flour a little bit at a time and incorporate it into the butter/sugar mixture with the beater on low speed. Trust me, you want this to be on LOW speed unless you don’t mind flour cakes in your arm pits.

When all the flour is well-incorporated, you will end up with a very crumbly mass resembling coarse wet sand. Take a bit of that crumbly dough in your hand, and roll into a ball about the size of a small apricot. Place that little ball on your lined baking sheet, and push your thumb into the center to create a little well or divot. Hence, ‘thumbprint cookies’.

Fill that little divot with your favorite jam, and bake cookies in the center of your oven for approx. 15-20 min until the edges are golden brown. They will be like crack cocaine buttery and crispy.

Chocolate-Dipped Cinnamon Waffles with Amaretto

27 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Melanie’s Promised Lasagna

26 Jul

Belgians are gregarious people by nature. We enjoy mingling with friends & family in our local cafés, and we love food & drink as much as we enjoy engaging in theatrical debates about the linguistic & political divide in the country. Most of this bickering takes place over a few pints of ‘Maes Pils’ or ‘Leffe’, and the more freely beer flows, the better we seem to understand each other. Heated arguments nearly always end in boisterous laughter and an amicable pat on the back, and a family size paper pack of mayo-laden French fries is never far away. While it’s widely known for Italians to visually paint their verbal language with dramatic hand gestures & body language, you’ll find similar story-telling antics in Belgium. For instance, mom has always been exceptionally talented in adding depth to her words with dramatic facial expressions and colorful hand gestures. I’ve secretly pondered if perhaps she isn’t part Italian, a belief that was reinforced by her uncanny ability to cook a mean spaghetti.

Which brings me to Italian food… Italian cuisine is celebrated everywhere in the world and Belgium is no exception to this. Our people embrace pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano like no other, and our towns are dotted with colorful red/white/green pizzerias and rustic trattorias. We didn’t get to eat out very often, but during town festivities or family gettogethers, when the ever-watchful eye of mom wasn’t so watchful, we’d gorge on Italian wedding cake and forbidden fruit cream soda like there was no tomorrow. Italian food has always been a sultry lover of mine. Despite my best New Year’s resolutions, I can’t seem to resist its salty cheeses, wine-cured meats or dreamy pastas… It’s no wonder then that I sometimes ‘go to the mattresses…’ in my small apartment kitchen, and bake lasagna from scratch, leaving the kitchen looking like a bloody scene out of ‘The Godfather’. The tomato-mess is well worth the army-size supply of lasagna we end up, as I haven’t quite mastered the art of portion control just yet.

Half a year ago A little while ago, I brought lasagna leftovers to the office and shared them with my colleague Melanie F. It was amore at the first bite. She’s asked me for the recipe ever since, but has been patiently waiting for my procrastination to die down naturally. In talking about my blog the other day, she jokingly reminded me I still owed her that recipe, so I crossed over to the pimp-side and promised her I’d post it if she’d become a follower on my blog… Yeah. I’m that cheap, y’all. So without further ado, here’s Melanie’s promised lasagna recipe…

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MELANIE’S PROMISED LASAGNA
For the meat sauce:
– 1 large carrot, grated
– 2 shallots, grated
– 2 ribs of celery, grated
– 2 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes
– 1 8oz can of tomato paste
– 12 oz of chianti (or any dry red wine)
– 1 lbs of ground beef (extra lean)
– 1 lbs of Italian sausage, casings removed (hot or sweet, but I prefer sweet)
– 1 large onion, finely chopped
– 6 small cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
– 1.5 cups of fresh basil, chopped
– salt & pepper, to taste

In a large heavy pan, sauté the grated carrot, celery & shallot (aka ‘mire poix’) until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so longer so the garlic has time to release its flavor a bit. Add chopped onions and brown until translucent and soft. Add the meats and brown until crumbled and mostly done. Add tomato paste and brown 2-3 minutes longer until tomato paste gets a deep brownish red color. Douse with half of the chianti and let reduce until most of the wine has evaporated. Add crushed tomatoes, rest of the chianti and salt & pepper, and simmer without the lid until all of the watery liquid has evaporated and you achieve a thick sauce. Fold chopped basil in the sauce and season with salt & pepper to your liking.

For the creamy béchamel-like sauce
– 2 15oz tins of ricotta cheese
– 2 cups of milk
– 2 Tbsp of butter
– 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour
– pinch of nutmeg
– pinch of cayenne
– salt & pepper

Melt butter in a sauce pan. When butter is melted, add flour and cook for 1 minute until an even ‘paste-like’ consistency forms. Slowly incorporate milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Sauce should start thickening fairly soon when milk simmers. When béchamel sauce is ready, stir in a pinch of nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste. Take pan off of the stove, and add 2 tins of ricotta cheese. Fold until you get a thick, creamy, pudding-like consistency. Salt & pepper to taste.

Building the lasagna:
– 2-3 boxes of lasagna noodles, par-boiled & drained (or use the ‘no-cook’ kind)
– 3 cups of Parmesan cheese + Pecorino Romano, freshly grated by hand

Heat oven to 375F. Butter a large deep oven-pan. Spread a few Tbsp of the meaty tomato sauce to coat the bottom & prevent noodles from sticking to the pan, and place a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Overlap the noodles’ egdes slightly. Then, evenly spread a thick layer of the ricotta/béchamel sauce over the noodles (careful not to shift the noodles too much) and sprinkle liberally with grated cheese so the cheese covers most of the béchamel sauce. Top with an equal layer of the meaty tomato sauce, then add another layer of cooked noodles on top of the tomato sauce. Repeat this process 2 more times until your dish is full (+/- 3 layers) and you finish with a top layer of tomato sauce. Simply sprinkle grated cheese directly on top of the tomato sauce, and bake in the oven for approx. 45-60 minutes until heated through and cheese on top is bubbly and brown.

Serve with crusty bread and a nice glass of Chianti.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

23 Jul

No. This isn’t a typo. I literally do mean 40 cloves of garlic. I encourage you to fight the good fight for as long as you can, because once your taste buds cross over to the garlicky side, there is no turning back.

‘Allium Sativum’, or common garlic, and I have been going steady since my childhood. Because of our Mediterranean seaside vacations in the South of France, where – let’s face it – people practically take garlic baths, we were exposed to garlicky deliciousness from a very young age. I remember being handed a fresh clove of garlic to rub on toasted, crusty French bread from as early as I had the fine motor skills to do so. It is no wonder that when mom produced this miracle poultry on our dinner table one time, we all succumbed to its culinary super powers and it instantly became a staple in our family’s food pyramid. As children, we’d get excited and bickered over who got to crack the dough seal off of the pot. And as adults, we loved the aroma that caressed our nostrils as soon as the lid came off.

I’m warning you right now, that this is by far the juiciest and most flavorful chicken you’ll ever put in your mouth, so unless you’re willing to cook this on a regular basis, don’t do it.

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CHICKEN WITH 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC
(as per mom’s recipe)
– 1 capon or large roasting chicken
– a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
– a few sprigs of fresh thyme
– a handful of fresh Italian parsley
– a handful of fresh basil
– 1 laurel leaf
– 1 fresh lemon, quartered
– 40 cloves of garlic, in their skin (approx. 4-5 bulbs)
– approx. ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 3 cups of flour, ½ cup of water & oil (for the seal)
– 1-2 tbsp of soft butter

Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry, then salt & pepper the cavity. Take roughly about ¾ of all the fresh herbs, and stuff them in the cavity together with the fresh lemon. Rub salt & pepper on the outside and under the skin, and rub the chicken with a bit of butter.

Smash the bulbs of garlic on your counter top, and separate all the cloves. Remove the loose, rough outer leaves, but leave each clove in its own peel. Chop the remainder of the fresh herbs finely.

In a heavy large oven-proof & lidded pot (such as a Dutch oven), add the olive oil, fresh herbs and 40 cloves of garlic all at once, and stir/sauté for just a minute or two. Place chicken on top of the garlic & herbs.

Make a flexible yet firm dough from the flour, water & oil. Roll into a sausage and line it alongside the edge of your pot. Place the lid on top and gently press it down into the dough, creating a glue-effect. The idea is to seal the pot completely, so no air can escape whilst cooking… trapping all the flavors inside.

Place the pot in the middle of the oven, and cook for approx. 1 ½ to 2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken. For crispy skin, remove lid from pot (you’ll have to crack it open!) for the last ½ hour of cooking so the skin can brown a bit, however, doing so will allow all the delicious flavors to escape and mellow out a bit… I’m not a chicken-skin aficionado, so I usually don’t care about crispy skin and leave my pot closed. This will be your call, really.

When the chicken is done, take it out of the pot and scoop up the cloves of garlic that have now browned and caramelized in the chicken juices. You can quite literally squeeze them out of their peel, and use the sweet, caramelized flesh to mix into mashed potatoes or schmear directly on crusty slices of French bread. Bon appétit!

Serve with any vegetable you like, but ‘Confit Byaldi’ is a great accompaniment.

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