Tag Archives: healthy

Brazilian Shrimp & Crab Stew

19 Sep

Earlier this morning, my friend Debi over at Life Currents posted a recipe for Shrimp & Crab Enchiladas. She & her husband ‘Dan-the-Man’ apparently roam in delicious circles, as their fabulous friend Chad whipped up those incredibly delicious-looking enchiladas. Chad, you’re the man too! 

Since I wasn’t properly fed or caffeinated yet, what with having skipped breakfast and all, the thought of succulent shrimp & crab flirted with me like a fierce Russian mail order bride until well after noon. By the time I got off work, I knew I wanted shrimp & crab, but we had just feasted on Mexican food yesterday so I was contemplating what to make with it. Then, as by divine intervention, I drove past a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu place on my way to the grocery store, et voila I know! Isn’t the brain a wonderful thing?! 

The dish below is actually called “Moqueca”. A quick Pinterest study taught Me that there are about as many versions of “Moqueca” available as there are Brazilian grandma’s, but I read a few recipes and ran with it. I’m by no means proclaiming the dish below is authentic, but it tastes like a sultry day salsa dance on Ipanema Beach, steel drums & all. Perfect for a Monday eve, if you ask me.  

Serve it over rice or -like yours truly- with a big honk of crusty bread to sop up all the juices. 

BRAZILIAN SHRIMP & CRAB STEW
(Based on a handful of Pinterest recipes for “Moqueca de Camaroes”)

– 2x 16oz bags of fresh or frozen large shrimp, peeled & deveined, tail off
– 32oz of fresh crab meat, or 2x 16oz of canned premium crab meat (claw)
– 2x 12oz jars of roasted red peppers, drained & cut into strips
– 2 yellow bell peppers, cut into strips
– 2 large onions, finely diced/chopped
– 3-4 fresh limes
– 6 cloves of garlic, grated 
– 4oz of tomato paste
– 2 Tbsp of turmeric
– 2 Tbsp of ground cumin
– 2 Tbsp of fresh ginger, grated
– 1-2 tsp of Sriracha (or harissa, sambal oelek or a similar hot sauce of your choice)
– 2x 15oz cans of coconut milk
– salt & pepper 

In a large container, toss shrimp with ground cumin, 2 grated cloves of garlic and juice of 2 limes. Set aside for 30 min.

In a large heavy pot, add onions & yellow peppers in a bit of oil, season with salt & pepper, and sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables begin to soften. 

Turn heat to medium and add turmeric, tomato paste & fresh ginger to the onions & peppers. Stir to coat and cook for 1-2 minutes to release the flavors

Add diced tomatoes, coconut milk, garlic and juice of remaining 1-2 limes, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until vegetables are soft and sauce begins to thicken somewhat.

Add Sriracha and season with salt & pepper to your liking. 

Add shrimp and all their juices to the simmering vegetable mixture, and cook 15-20 min until shrimp are cooked through. Add crab meat and warm through over low heat. 

Add chopped cilantro & parsley, and serve immediately. 

Sour Cream Mashed Sweet Potatoes

28 Feb

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 




SOUR CREAM MASHED SWEET POTATOES

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

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

– 8 cups of chicken stock

– 1 cup sour cream

– 1/4  cup light brown sugar 

– 1/4 cup of maple syrup 

– 1/4 cup whipping cream

– 4 Tbsp of butter

 

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

 

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

Mason Jar Salads

12 Aug

Mason jars. Aren’t they just fantastic? Not like a ‘Bananas Foster’ kind of fantastic, but more like a ‘ooh, look!’ kind of fantastic. I already own a not-so-modest selection of small & medium glass jars that currently sit on my shelf showing off their pale hues to one another in anticipation of being called upon for my random storage needs, but then Pinterest beguiled me last Saturday morning with the idea of ready-to-eat ‘grab & go’ salads in mason jars. In that precise moment, the moment in which I brought my iPhone closer to my face so I could actually see what was on the screen, I heard cherubs plucking tiny golden harps. Honest to God.

I’m not a fan of office lunches. Mostly because my weekday lunches in our small office kitchen are boringly uneventful, and the selection of food that is available for purchase in the immediate walking area surrounding LAX airport, pales in excitement compared to my grandma’s knit sweater. I either have the option of buying overpriced food at one of the fancy airport hotels nearby, or I can go to the only 2 places available that are within walking distance, neither of which is particularly exciting. About half the time I end up packing my own lunch at home, but getting up at 05:30A to do so is most definitely not fun, and my packed lunch usually symbolizes this pre-dawn Beowulf mindset.

So when I saw these mason jar salads on Pinterest last Saturday morning, it felt like I got struck by lightning… Not only do they look so very tasty & fresh, they require zero prep in the morning. BINGO! As an added bonus, my colleagues can do all the shoving they want in the office fridge, since my salad jar fits in the refrigerator door and is not exposed to the brutality that is a community refrigerator. Since I have an impulsive streak, I can tell you that by Saturday afternoon we were at our local hardware store and by Sunday morning, my 12 shiny new quart-size mason jars had gone through 2 hot cycles in our dishwasher. When I open the refrigerator door now, and see my colorful mason jar salads neatly lined up on the shelf, it almost makes Monday mornings feel like less of a satanic cult a drag. Almost.

I used quart size jars, but feel free to use pint size jars or any size jar you like, really. Just keep in mind that for these salads to last the full 5 days that they reportedly stay crisp and fresh, you have to layer them properly. If they aren’t layered properly, fuhgettaboutit!. Also, keep the dressing in the bottom and don’t shake or tip them. You want that dressing to live its lone solitary life in the bottom of the jar until such time you’re ready to dump & eat.
I posted an Asian Chicken Salad below that I found on foxeslovelemons.com, but you can let your creativity run wild. The idea is to place all your salad toppings in the jar first and end with lettuce, so that when you dump the jar out into a bowl or on a plate, you have a no effort gorgeously crisp salad to eat without any prep.

Proper layering is key:

BOTTOM: dressing. Use dressing that easily pours out of a jar. I used simple vinaigrette variants, but if you like creamy dressings, dilute them a little with cream or milk so they’ll easily come out. In a quart size jar, you want to cover the bottom ½ inch. It’s tempting to add more, but it’s not necessary.
FIRST LAYER: this layer of vegetables will actually sit in the dressing itself, so use any kind of vegetables that are hardy and can withstand pickling. These vegetables will absorb some of the dressing, making them even more flavorful. You can also add ‘al dente’ noodles and pasta here, and they’ll absorb some of the dressing too. Build this layer so it towers slightly out of the dressing and forms the base for the next (dry) layer. (e.g. cucumbers, carrots, onions, peppers, cabbage, rice noodles…)
SECOND LAYER: This layer will be the first layer that will actually not come into contact with the dressing, but may still absorb some the dressing flavor from sitting in the jar. You want to use vegetables or toppings that will benefit from absorbing some of the dressing flavor without actually touching the dressing. (e.g. tomatoes, edamame beans, regular beans, olives, corn…)
THIRD LAYER: nuts, cheeses and meats. This is where the final toppings come into play. They are far removed from the dressing and stacked to ensure your salad stays crisp and fresh for up to 5 days.
TOP LAYER: lettuces. Unless you shake or tip the jar, which is a no-no in jar salads, your lettuce will stay crisp and fresh just like it would if you were to store it by itself.

If you follow the above layering order, you should end up with easy ‘grab & go’ salads that will stay fresh & crispy in your refrigerator for approx. 5 days. If you’re like me, and you lack time on weekdays to get everything done that you need to in the first place, then these are a godsend come lunch time. I don’t know who came up with this idea but whomever you are, I bow to your genius.

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ASIAN CHICKEN SALAD
Based on a recipe from foxeslovelemons.com)
– 3 quart size mason jars (or more, if smaller size)
– 1 large boneless & skinless chicken breast, poached in broth, cooled & cubed
– approx. 1.5 cups of shelled edamame beans, cooked
– 2 red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
– 3 carrots, julienned or cut into thin sticks
– 1 10oz package of Udon or Soba rice noodles, cooked, cooled & drained
– 1.5 cups of raw soybean sprouts (if you can’t find them, don’t worry. You can leave them out)
– 1.5 cups of unsalted, roasted peanuts

Boil noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water and allow to cool completely.
Pour dressing (see below) into each jar, until approx. ½ or ¾ of an inch in height. You don’t need any more, trust me.
Place a layer of noodles in the dressing until they tower above the dressing (+/- 1.5 – 2 inches high)
Place a layer a of carrots on top of the noodles, then a layer of bell pepper (approx. 1 inch each, but this is not an exact science. J)
Sprinkle a handful of edamame beans on top of the bell pepper, then top with soybean sprouts.
Finish veggies with a layer of diced chicken and top with peanuts.
Screw lid on jar and refrigerate. Repeat with remaining jars.

For the dressing:
– 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or any oil you like)
– 1/4 cup of soy sauce
– 1/3 cup of rice vinegar
– 4 hefty squirts of Sriracha for medium-spicy dressing (depending on how spicy you want things)
– 3-4 large scoops of peanut butter

Put everything in a small mason jar and stir to dissolve peanut butter just a bit, screw on lid and shake vigorously until well-combined.

Mediterranean Orzo with Roasted Vegetables & Lemon Zest

11 May

Dinner parties. It’s a time for pretty table linens, elegant dinnerware and culinary flights of fancy. A time in which my little apartment kitchen seems all too tiny and I start dreaming of a spacious farm kitchen, complete with brick walls and weathered wooden family table. When I was a child, our house was usually filled with dinner guests on Saturday evenings. My brother & I knew the kitchen was off-limits for pretty much the entire afternoon, as mom was in there whirling like a tornado and mostly cooking a 6-course meal for guests that would arrive later in the evening. Setting foot on the tile kitchen floor, meant the risk of being sucked into mom’s dishwashing vortex so we generally steered clear.

Fast forward 35 years, and – despite my good intentions – I realize I have turned into my mother. Rats. While I’m not yet wearing high-waisted hot pink capri pants that reach to my bra straps, or pee behind a spruce in Yosemite NP because the call of my bladder is far stronger than the language on any of the Park Ranger warning signs, I share my love of cooking with Cecilia. I enjoy entertaining guests with food I prepare, and I take joy out of billowing crisp, brightly colored linens over my table in preparation of the festivities. I enjoy buzzing around in my kitchen, hovering over pots & pans and making sure my guests will ooh & ah, whilst at the same time banning my house elves family members from entering the kitchen with a certain air of authority and mild annoyance. (*)
(*) Note to self: Must fight this genetic pattern before hot pink capris become all the rage.

Yesterday, J. was coming over for dinner. She had to drop off some papers, so – naturally – I suggested I cook dinner for all of us. I had planned on cooking a big pan of my lemon-braised chicken and serve that family-style, since I had to work all day and didn’t have much time whip out my whole arsenal of culinary wizardry. Lemon braised chicken has such a unique flavor, that it’s always a bit hard to find a side dish that will accompany it flawlessly without being blah, but the orzo below did just the trick. The roasted vegetables burst with flavor and are slightly caramelized which brings a note of sweetness, while the lemon dressing breaks that sweetness with the right amount of tang. The freshness of the scallions and basil not only adds to the wonderful flavors, but also makes this really pretty t look at.

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MEDITERRANEAN ORZO WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES & LEMON ZEST
(inspired by a ‘Barefoot Contessa’ recipe)
– about 2 cups of uncooked orzo pasta
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
– 1 yellow of orange bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
– 1 small eggplant, diced into 1 inch pieces
– 2-3 small red onions (tennis ball size), diced into 1/2  inch pieces
– 3-4 ripe lemons, zested & juiced
– 1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin
– 1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
– 2 good handfuls of fresh basil, julienned or sliced into thin ribbons
– 2-3 cloves of ROASTED garlic (optional)
– olive oil (+/- 1 cup)
– salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place the peppers, onions & eggplant on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt & pepper and coat liberally with olive oil on all sides. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, approx. 30-40 min. Set aside and allow to cool to temperature. Turn off oven.

In a small sauce pan, toast pine nuts until golden brown. Set aside and cool.

Zest 3-4 lemons, and set zest aside. Slice scallions and basil, and set aside.

For the lemon dressing, juice zested lemons into a measuring cup or bowl. Preferably one with a pour spout. You should have approx. 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add about 3/4 cup-1 cup of olive oil to the lemon juice and blend well. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add pureed roasted garlic to the dressing, if you desire.

Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil, and cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain well and pour into large serving bowl.  Immediately, while hot, pour about half of the lemon dressing over the pasta, and coat well so it won’t stick as it cools to room temperature.

When pasta is cool enough to handle, add roasted vegetables & lemon zest to the orzo, and gently fold until well combined. If the pasta salad seems a bit dry, add some more lemon dressing. Fold in toasted pine nuts, scallions and basil. keep a few basil leaves for decoration.

You can eat this pasta salad warm or cold. This recipe will make a large bowl that will comfortably feed 8 people or more. It can be served as a side, or with crusty French bread for a light lunch.

Bon Appetit!

Zippy Orange, Fennel & Avocado Salad

6 Sep

The other day, I was on the phone with a friend from Belgium, chatting in Dutch or ‘baby language’ as my All-American family calls it. Having landed here well over 13 years ago, my brain is firmly lodged in English and I find that there are certain Dutch words that have completely vanished from my ‘old world’ vocabulary… Consequently, my conversations in Dutch tend to be more of a linguistic comedy of errors rather than anything else, and they tend to be laced with free interpretations of what I feel certain English words should sound like in Dutch. It irritates my scholastic mother to no end when she hears me stomp my way through Flemish, and she will immediately revert back to her 7th grade school teacher self upon hearing a word that I mispronounced, or worse yet, doesn’t exist! If I dare confess that I have forgotten a word altogether, well, all bets are off.

Without fail, she arrives on my Californian doorstep with a stack of Flemish tabloids and cooking magazines she acquired to entertain herself on the 16-hour flight over here, and makes it a point to ostentatiously hand those to me with a firm, somewhat patronizing announcement that reading those will help me maintain my mother tongue. I haven’t yet been handed any homework assignments, but I’m fully expecting those to kick in should my Dutch proficiency drop below the level of acceptance on my mother’s learning curve. On the other hand, she quit her English class in her home town because she got homework it wasn’t fun anymore and she was only taking the class to gain English proficiency for social pleasantry… Besides, it’s universally known that wherever my mother travels, people should just learn to speak Dutch already. Full stop.

The recipe below is a free interpretation of one I found in my mom’s leftover magazines. I came across it when I was hell-bent on purging my ‘old’ stack, in anticipation of the glossy new stack of magazines that will arrive in early October. They had been sitting on our bedroom floor, strategically placed as a feline perch, for the past 12 months. It’s not that I dislike these magazines, as a matter of fact, I’ve asked my mom to bring some more, but prior to ownership of an iPhone, converting measurements from the metric system into the wrong American system was a real pain. Now that I have an app for that, it’s a breeze. And how pathetic is that? So much for all those tedious hours my mother spent patiently sitting at the kitchen table with me, teaching me decimals and fractures using pickled gherkins and carrots… If only Steve Jobs would have sent her memo back then that he was working on a technological break-through, she could have been watching those endless reruns of ‘Paradise Island’ after all.

But we digress… I made this salad a little while ago. First off, is there anything more photogenic in the vegetable world than fennel?! It’s the Linda Evangelista of the produce aisle, really. The addition of sweet orange wedges and tart pomegranate seeds makes this salad a real refreshing treat when it’s this gross hot & muggy outside…

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ZIPPY ORANGE, FENNEL & AVOCADO SALAD
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘Flair’)
– 1 large orange
– 2 medium fennel bulbs, with stems
– 1 ripe avocado
– 1/2 pomegranate
– 1/4 cup of champagne or white wine vinegar
– 1/3 cup of olive oil
– 1 Egg, yolk only
– 1 large clove of garlic, grated or minced
– A pinch of cayenne pepper
– Salt & pepper, to taste

Cut peel & white-ish rind from the orange, leaving the fruit whole and exposing the bright orange flesh in each ‘pocket’ or partition. With a sharp knife, slice orange flesh out of each ‘pocket’. Try to leave the fleshy orange wedges as whole as possible. When all flesh is removed, take orange and squeeze out remaining juice in a separate bowl.

In bowl with squeezed orange juice, add egg yolk, garlic, vinegar, cayenne pepper and salt & pepper, and whisk brusquely to combine. Gently and in a thin steady stream, add olive oil whilst whisking feverishly, to emulsify the dressing into a smooth liquid. If you add the olive oil too rapidly, the dressing will not combine properly. Set aside.

Remove stems and outer leaf from fennel bulbs. Pluck a few fresh, young leaves from the stems and reserve as garnish. Discard stems. With a mandolin, shave fennel bulbs into thin slices and set aside. Slice pomegranate in half, and remove bright fleshy red seeds for their pocket. Set aside.
Peel & slice avocado into thin wedges.

In a large bowl, very gently combine fennel, avocado & orange wedges. Pour dressing over the salad, and gently toss to spread the dressing. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top and decorate with the reserved fennel leaves. Sprinkle some more salt & cracked pepper over the salad, if so desired.

To make this salad a meal, serve with some freshly grilled shrimp from the barbeque! Delicious!

Summer Broccoli Tabouli with Ham & Pine Nuts

31 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

Remove outer leaves of scallions and slice into thin strips.

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

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

Serve cold.

Kickin’ Chayote & Melon Salsa

28 Aug

I have a confession to make. Until I set foot in the USA, I had only vaguely heard of salsa. Let alone that I knew what it was supposed to taste like. As a matter of fact, the first time I tried it, was at a grungy roadside diner located across the street from my then office in Rockaway, NJ… Let’s just say that it was an overly sweet, jarred disappointment. It wasn’t until I set foot on California soil that my taste buds were properly courted by the smooth Latin lover that is ‘salsa fresca’.

Mom is an adventurous amateur chef, so it baffles me a wee bit as to why I didn’t really hear about salsa until I came to the USA. Frankly, growing up in Belgium and vacationing frequently in sweet Provence, we were surrounded by juicy tomatoes fresh from the vine every late Spring & Summer. When we moved into our new house in the country, mom even planted a few odd tomato plants against a sunny wall we shared with our neighbor. It so happens to be that those tomato plants set off a royal feud with Mr. Grouch, who never got over the fact that our yard was twice the size of his, and who vehemently claimed that watering our tomato plants caused structural damage to his garage’s wall. He was a royal pain in the you-know-what, and I won’t even go into detail about what happened when my soccer ball went over the fence and landed on his prize-winning dahlias. I don’t think the food blogging world could stomach the horror of such atrocity. But we digress… I think the problem with Flemish salsa may have been that things like limes, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – the latter being imported into Belgium and so by default ‘expensive’ – were either not in our family’s budget or not readily available… or mom didn’t care for them, which is the least likely of all three.

Mom is madly in love with fresh salsa & ‘pico de gallo’. During her weeklong California visits, she single-handedly powers through 2-3 family-size (!) containers of the stuff from the ‘salsa man’ at Torrance farmers market. She even engages in pseudo-English conversation with the man, using partial hand gestures and broken soap opera English. (*) She likes his stuff that much! Yes, the salsa man and my mom share a special bond.
(*) Like the time she walked into a grocery store in Spain, intending to buy cat food for the strays, sans knowledge of any Spanish, and resorted to signaling out “cat food” by pointing into her wide-open gaping mouth and uttering ‘meow meow’ to the unassuming store clerk. Per God’s blessing, I wasn’t present for this linguistic embarrassment.

With a great variety of fresh, flavorful salsas readily available here in Southern California year-round, I’ve never been challenged to come up with my own creation. I also don’t own a food processor, an excuse I’ve used far too many times to justify my salsa laziness. Now that I’m trying to live a little healthier with more ‘whole’ foods and fewer manipulated foods, I’m trying to move away from the jarred stuff which often contains ingredients that sound like they could be Klingon. No offense, Trekkie fans! The fresh tomato kind tends to come in the same boring old flavors, and I wanted to try something new. I can’t wait for my mom to be here in October, so she can then tell me in her dry, ‘matter-of-fact’ teacher voice that the tomato stuff from the salsa man is better. I’m fully prepared to embrace that defeat…!

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KICKIN’ CHAYOTE & MELON SALSA
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 chayote squash, peeled & diced very small (*)
– 1/4 honey dew or Galia melon, diced very small
– 1/2 red onion, diced very small
– 1 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped very fine
– juice & zest of 1 large lime
– 1 tsp of agave syrup
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
– salt, to taste
(*) If you’re not familiar with chayote, see picture below, you should know that they have a crisp, cool flavor similar to cucumber. The flat, almond-shaped pit inside is edible too, but I remove it for this salsa.

Place all ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold together to combine. Let ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for a few hours, so flavors have time to develop and meld beautifully.

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Bacon Wrapped Trout

27 Aug

Like many Belgian families, we counted a pastor and nun amongst our immediate relatives. Having a clerical family member is practically a right of passage in Catholic Flanders, and we certainly nailed it. Not only did we have a ‘tante nonneke’ (auntie nun) and ‘nonkel pater’ (uncle pastor) in our bloodline, we also had my mom’s great-aunt Angèle, who had been a nun at some point in her life, but the details of that affair remain vague. Angèle lived somewhere around Ghent, which was considered far away with its 30-min drive, and she would make the rounds of the entire family whenever she happened to be in town. Angèle was a whiskered old hag staunch Catholic volunteer for an obscure African Mission, who’d shamelessly guilt me into giving up my doll’s play clothing for the children in Africa who did not have clothing (!) whenever she’d visit us. Neither of us really liked Angèle, but she was family. When elbowed and prodded by my mom to oblige Angèle in her blatant demands for my doll’s terry cloth onesies, her wrinkled old hands would curtly snatch whatever offering my 6-year old self reluctantly presented, as though to imply I would burn in hell for even having a doll with clothing to begin with. To add insult to injury, her prickly upper lip would be presented for a smooch, to seal the transaction.

My mom’s ‘uncle pastor’ was much nicer, albeit as obstinate as they made them in the early 1900’s. He was my grandpa’s older brother, and a terrible driver who’d have us white-knuckled in the passenger seat each time we’d go somewhere. Truth is, is that I don’t even remember his ‘real’ name, as we always referred to him as ‘Nonkel Pater’. Decades prior to my birth, the Roman-Catholic Arch Diocese had assigned him to the very rural town of Foy-Notre-Dame in the French-speaking Ardennes, about 1-hr drive South from Brussels.

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With only a few hundred inhabitants, the village center consisted out of a handful of houses & farms, a bistro restaurant and a small country church, its bells you could hear echoing over the fields twice daily. Reportedly, it is in this solemn country church that my 4-year old self made her mark on society. I won’t go into the horrid detail, but rumor has it, that I pushed open the heavy wooden church doors and cycled my creaky tripod through the center aisle in the buff… You should know that this happened during full Catholic Mass (!), and that I subsequently clambered onto the stage and proceeded with ‘picking’ the prettiest flowers out of the altar’s floral arrangements. Let’s collectively appreciate my resourcefulness in finding mom the finest daisies, and say a deep word of thanks that all of this took place prior to You Tube, smart phones and/or Facebook.

I spent many childhood Summer vacations in the Ardennes. The heavily forested region is a quick weekend getaway for many Flemish families foraging for walnuts & chestnuts in Fall, and it’s a popular outing on school field days. The area’s natural springs & cobbling creeks are renowned for trout fishing, and the wooded fields are home to wild boar, rabbit, pheasant & quail, as well as thorny bramble bushes and black berries. It’s this natural abundance that fuels the Ardennes gastronomic fame, which is complemented by old medieval castles that have been converted into stately boutique-style hotels or Michelin-prized restaurants.

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Combined with dozens of outdoor activities as well as picturesque cobblestone towns, the Ardennes culinary tour de force forms an unmatched trifecta in tourism revenue. You can find some of the finest dry-cured meats, game, pâtés and cheeses in the Ardennes, but for me it’s all about trout. The ponds & rivers in the Ardennes are this deliciously flakey fish’ natural habitat, and you can’t beat the flavor of a fresh wild caught grilled trout!

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BACON WRAPPED TROUT
(A classic out of Ardennes cuisine)
– 4 whole trout
– 1 bunch of thyme
– 1 lemon, halved and sliced very thin
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 4 tsp of good quality butter
– a handful of sliced blanched almonds, toasted
– 1 package of bacon (*)
– salt & pepper to taste
(*) Traditionally, the trout are wrapped in authentic ‘Jambon d’Ardennes’, which is Belgium’s answer to prosciutto, but to keep things a bit more budget-friendly, I used bacon.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Scrub & wash trout under cold running water. Remove fins, then pat the inside and outside dry.

Stuff fish cavity with a few sprigs of thyme, lemon and a bit of the minced garlic. Season inside with salt & pepper, then wrap whole fish in bacon.

Roast trout in the oven (or grill on the BBQ) for approx. 20-25 min until crispy on the outside and done.

Serve fish with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and parsley, and a side of hearty potato.

Bon appétit!

Crispy Curried Chicken Drumlets

17 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creamy Herbed Pea Soup

15 Aug

Ask my mother what my favorite vegetable is, and she’ll loudly proclaim: ‘SWEET PEAS!’. Well, she’d actually say ‘zveet peez!’, what with her having learned English by watching subtitled episodes of ‘The Golden Girls’ and all. (On a side note: they eat surprising few peas those golden girls!).
I’ve been in love with crisp fresh English peas for decades. Seeing them happily clinging together in their tiny pods, reminds me of lazy Summer weekends hanging out on the porch and sipping ice cold tea with your best girl friends. I know it’s a stretch, but stay with me…

With pea season arriving right around the time the winter chill leaves the early morning air, there’s nothing that stops me from planting my pajama-clad ‘derriere’ in one of our floral cabana patio chairs, armed with a mug of coffee and a bowl of fresh English peas for hulling. With the canopy of a big fat loquat tree shading our patio, I usually get the company of a few humming birds whizzing about and/or house finches, chirping loudly over who gets to perch on the top tier of our birdfeeder. These kind of lazy Sunday mornings are my favorite. The ‘house men’ are night owls and tend to sleep in late, so I have our cozy apartment all to myself, with the cats snoozing in the morning sun somewhere inconvenient or doing their cute feline chit-chattering thing to the birds in front of the open window, secretly plotting for you to break a leg as you try to avoid stepping on them when you walk back inside with a bowl of hulled peas.

I like hulling peas. Seeing them bounce around on the bottom of the bowl as they come cascading in with the help of my thumb, I can’t help but think it must feel like a roller-coaster ride to them… I’ve always had a vivid imagination. It doesn’t help much that my office cubicle overlooks the take-off & landing strips of Los Angeles International airport, and I occasionally find myself day-dreaming about being sprawled out in a polka dot bikini on an exotic white sand beach with coconut palms swaying back & forth… That is, until the roaring engine of Air Tahiti Nui’s flight #85 approaches and thunders by my 6th floor office window, which usually sets off an overly sensitive car alarm or two. I’m instantly reminded that Century Blvd isn’t even remotely near Tahiti, and if I dare squeeze my curves into a tiny polka dot bikini, I’d risk getting a ticket for bringing the human form into disrepute. But we were talking about peas… See what I mean with vivid imagination?! Sheesh.

Last Spring, I came home with a 5 lbs bag of fresh English peas from the farmers market. We pretty much ate pea-anything that week. It was as if we were on a 7-day pea cleansing program, which I’m sure exists somewhere here, in Beverly Hills or so. Among many other green adventures, I made the Summer soup below. It’s served cold, like gazpacho, and it’s such a refreshing dish on a hot Summer day, but if you like, you could eat it warm too… Aren’t peas just awesome?!

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CREAMY HERBED PEA SOUP
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 large shallot, diced
– 1-2 Tbsp of grapeseed oil (or light olive oil)
– 2 3/4 cups of chicken broth
– 1/4 cup of Pinot Grigio (or other crisp white wine)
– 1.5 lbs of fresh peas (or equal amount of frozen peas)
– 1/3 cup of heavy cream
– 1 Tbsp of fresh mint, chopped very finely
– 1 tsp of fresh tarragon, chopped very finely
– 2 Tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped finely
– 1 Tbsp of fresh chives, chopped finely
– zest of 1 small lemon
– salt & pepper, to taste
– crème fraiche, for garnish
– 1/2 leek, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

In a sauce pan, add oil and sauté shallots over medium heat until softened, but not browned! Add broth, wine and peas, and simmer until peas are mostly tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and add lemon zest. In a blender, or with a hand-mixer, blend the soup so it’s smooth and lump-free. It should be a fairly thick but liquid consistency. Pour blended mixture into a bowl and set in iced cold water to cool the soup quickly and retain its bright green color. (Make sure the ice water won’t pour into your soup!)

When soup feels cool enough to the touch, add cream & herbs. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve in bowls. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche through it and sprinkle with a few of the shavings of leek, for garnish.

Pairs really nice with smoked salmon toast or cold shrimp. Yum!

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