Tag Archives: healthy

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.

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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!

Belgian Endive Salad with Blue Cheese & Walnuts

12 Aug

A few weeks ago, I wrote a tidbit about crunchy & faintly bitter ‘witlof’ in a post featuring a delicious Summer red beet, apple & fennel slaw. Authentic ivory-colored Belgian endive tends to be expensive over here, but you can find the red variety in California fairly easily and at a much lower cost. In order for the leaves of ‘witlof’ to stay a pearly white, it needs to be grown and tended to in a dark, cool & temperature-controlled environment. With this wisdom uncovered, I’ve always been baffled as to why the USA seemingly can’t reproduce this elegant chicory variant, so a few years ago, I set out on a ‘witlof’ mission… Inspired by this beauty, which makes my Belgian heart pine for witlof each and every time:

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(Photo courtesy ‘Roquefort Cheese Co’)

Back then, my local ‘Henry’s produce & farmers market’ was kind enough to aide me in my quest to understand witlof pricing in the US, and summoned their Regional Purchasing Manager to explain a few chicory facts to me. As luck may have it, Mr. Roden happened to in town that morning, and showed up clasping a leather-bound file folder tightly in his arm pit, whilst gently cradling a white and a red chicory root in the palm of his aging hands. “The ‘real’ Belgian endive”, he says in a serious teacher tone of voice whilst holding up the all-ivory root, “has to be imported from Belgium”. He continues stating that it is usually packaged and shipped to the USA in 10 lbs boxes. Because the vegetables are exposed to sunlight during transport, it causes these tender delicate roots to develop their natural, greenish color. As a result, each box has to be unpacked upon arrival at the East Coast, with each individual root of ‘witlof’ needing to be stripped of its outer leaves by hand and subsequently repackaged to be distributed to the rest of the country. “All of this is very labor-intensive and thus costly”. I nod my head in agreement.

Another cost-factor”, he continues, “is that much of the endive grown in Belgium is grown artisanally by a method called ‘forcing’”. In Belgium, many farms that grow endive use this labor-intensive agriculture which involves replanting the chicory root by hand. That replanting process, called ‘forcing’, must take place in a darkened, temperature-controlled room. Twenty-one days after the roots are planted, employees then crouch down on hands & knees, scrape the dirt off the endive and harvest it. I look bewildered. He continues that after decades of seed trials and piddling around, the USA managed to grow a red variety hydroponically (i.e. in water), eliminating the need for workers to hand-wash the dirt off of the roots and eliminating much of the shipping- & import costs. Unfortunately, growing endive still involves a costly production process that is labor intensive.

I thank Mr. Roden for his time in sharing his knowledge with me, and sheepishly add that I’m from Belgium and miss being able to afford Belgian endive now that I live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He shakes my hand firmly and promises that the red variety virtually has no difference in taste, which prompts my confession that the pearly white roots simply hold nostalgic value to me. I think I inadvertently struck a chord in the somewhat stern older man, because on my way out of the store, the clerk I spoke with earlier, stopped me in my tracks and handed me a bag of ‘real’ Belgian endive, “courtesy of Mr. Roden”, she winks with a smile.

With its faint bitterness, witlof is a bit of an acquired taste. However, paired with the sweetness of a ripe apple and the creamy sharpness of a marbled blue cheese, this bitterness dissipates and melds beautifully with the other flavors introduced in the salad.

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BELGIAN ENDIVE SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUTS
For the salad:
– 3 Belgian endives, washed and torn into individual leaves
– 1 sweet apple, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
– 4 oz of blue cheese, crumbled into chunks
– 1/3 cup of walnuts, roughly chopped

Peel & discard outer leaves of the endives. Remove inner leaves individually and arrange on a serving platter. Toss thinly sliced apple wedges over the endives and sprinkle crumbled blue cheese & chopped walnuts over the top. Drizzle dressing over the top.

For the dressing:
– ¼ cup of champagne vinegar
– ¾ cup of olive oil
– 2 tsp of Dijon mustard
– ½ tsp of fresh grated garlic
– 1 egg yolk, room temperature
– salt & pepper, to taste

In a non-reactive bowl, add vinegar, mustard, egg yolk & garlic and whisk until well-combined. Continue whisking and slowly pour in olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Spicy Caribbean Fish Stew

9 Aug

OK. So a Belgian-Caribbean connection may sound far-fetched, but if you think about it, it isn’t really all that bizarre. After all, being right next door Holland, we’re directly exposed to the culture of its territories overseas and the culinary melting pot that is Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to work in the travel industry for roughly 20 years now and have always been exposed to a broader world view in that capacity. My very first job was at the much coveted chain of adventure travel stores named ‘Joker Toerisme’, a company exuding a laid back REI-kinda atmosphere. To this day, ‘Joker Toerisme‘ holds fast to its deep-rooted values of promoting sustainable travel with the utmost respect for local culture & customs, and ensures that the many tourist dollars spent overseas directly benefit the local population. I remember that the people who walked into our store were firm believers in fair trade and genuinely seemed interested in the cultural heritage of their planned destination.

Despite my desire to relocate to the USA, I absolutely loved my job there. My colleagues were among the coolest, most caring & well-traveled people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in my life. Even though I amicably quit that job heavy-hearted when an opportunity to relocate arose 13 years ago, I can pick up the phone today and talk to any of them as though no time has passed… My visits back to Belgium always include a few dinner invitations from former colleagues, which are traditionally evenings that are filled with great travel stories, reminiscing about the old times with laughter and fantastic home-cooked meals from recipes that were collected from all corners of the world.

No matter how many hours pass, these cozy evenings seem to fly by quickly. Belgians are known to be a gregarious, hospitable folk. We take great joy in welcoming guests and providing a warm, cozy atmosphere. Like many Europeans, most of my Belgian friends have traveled extensively and their homes are eclectic havens of exotic textiles & interesting knick-knack’s that were collected throughout their many adventures overseas. I remember that many years ago, my friend Griet put on a slide show about her trip to the Caribbean she had literally just returned from. To set the proper tone, her massive oak wood table was adorned with Caribbean-style stoneware, set neatly on banana-leaf placemats, and she had cooked a scrumptious spicy fish stew from the island of Aruba. The aroma greeting me at the front door was as though I had set foot ashore the Dutch Antilles… Reportedly, she had collected the recipe from the innkeeper’s cook of a small bed & breakfast in Oranjestad. Rumor has it, the cook in question fancied Griet’s fair skin & blue eyes, but let’s not go there, shall we?

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SPICY CARIBBEAN FISH STEW
(Adapted from a recipe by the ‘Arubiana Inn’ in Oranjestad, Aruba)
– 1 lbs of firm white fish (cat fish or halibut work great in this recipe)
– 1 lbs of large shrimp, shell-on
– 1 red onion, finely chopped or diced
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 laurel leaves
– 2 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– 1 Tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1+ spicy red pepper(s), choose as per your ‘heat’ preference (*)
– 1 cans of diced tomatoes
– 1 lemon, zested & juiced
– 3 Tbsp of sour cream
– 1/3 cup of coconut cream (or coconut milk)
– Salt & pepper, to taste
– Olive oil
– Fresh cilantro, for garnish
(*) My friend Debi over at ‘Life Currents’ wrote a great post about choosing hot peppers. Read her post here, so you can decide how ‘hot’ you want to go in choosing the kind of pepper and the quantity for this dish.

In a large heavy pan, sauté the diced onion until translucent and starting to brown. After approx. 3 min or so, add the minced garlic, curry powder, cloves, cinnamon and chopped spicy pepper(s). Continue to stir-fry the spices and onions for 3-5 min to bring out their flavors. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, sour cream & coconut milk and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Chop fresh fish into large chunks, and place chunks in these in the sauce. Make sure to submerge them in the sauce as much as possible, so they cook evenly. Let them braise for about 15 min, then add shrimp and cook for 3-5 min more until shrimp are pink and fish is cooked through.

Sprinkle some chopped fresh cilantro over the top and serve with fried plantains, bread or rice.

Lemon Braised Chicken with Black Olives & Saffron

8 Aug

I have fond memories of our vacations in the South of France. How can you not completely lose yourself amidst the sights & smells of beautiful Provençe? The fragrant purple-glowing lavender fields, knotty olive trees, the distant sound of church bells echoing over the citrus groves, the sweet honey-like smell of juicy figs, freshly baked crusty French bread wafting through the warm air, old cobble stone streets that are host to bustling markets selling anything from creamy local goat cheese to bright colorful Provençal textiles, and the prerequisite dusty bocce ball courts that are strategically placed underneath the shady oaks in the old town square, where the older beret-wearing men mingle and discuss politics over a friendly game of ‘pétanque’ or ‘jeux de boules’, while their wives haggle with the chatty vendors over fresh fish and cured olives…

Provençe is where the good life is at… It seems time has come to a standstill in the sleepy cobblestone towns, with their red clay rooftops spread out against a backdrop of olive groves and lavender fields, and their historic architecture splayed over the hillsides. These are the kind of rural hamlets where senior villagers frequently lounge in comfortable chairs right outside the doorstep of their old stone houses, to catch up on local gossip and to gawk amusedly at the occasional accidental tourist that stumbles into town. I suppose the younger generation flees towards the excitement & lure of the larger cities as soon as they have the chance, and who can blame them? With nothing more than an old mossy church, a few cafés or bistros and a handful of ‘odds & ends’ type stores the size of shoebox, there’s hardly anything present to engage or capture the essence of youth in these old havens of peaceful nothingness.

It’s precisely here, in this type of quiet solitude, that you find that unforgettable meal in your trip that will fondly linger in your memory for years to come. A dish that is sourced from the best quality local ingredients only, purveyed fresh from the field that same hazy morning, and infused with generations of love & passion for authentic regional cuisine. The recipe below hails from such a charming town in Provençe, and as such, its flavor and smell will transport you directly to ‘Banon’, to name just one Provençal pearl…

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CHICKEN WITH LEMON, BLACK OLIVES & SAFFRON
– 4 whole chicken legs or 6-8 thighs, skin on
– 4 fresh lemons
– 3 large onions, roughly the size of a small orange
– Approx. 20 oil-cured black olives (the Greek kind, with a deep dark black color and slightly wrinkled skin)
– a hefty pinch of saffron
– 1 cup of chicken stock
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– Salt & pepper, to taste

Chop onion in half, and then each half cross-wise in half again, slice each onion quarter in small rings. Juice 2 of the lemons and reserve both juice and peels. Quarter 3 lemons (including the juiced ones), and then slice each lemon wedge cross-wise in half again. Slice 1 lemon in pretty round slices, for visual appeal… Wash chicken legs and pat dry, then salt & pepper them liberally.

In a large Dutch oven, sauté the onions in a splash of olive oil until translucent and slightly browned. Add chicken legs skin side down and brown to a crisp. Add reserved lemon juice, all lemon wedges & slices, garlic, olives, chicken stock & saffron, and braise covered over low heat for approx. 60 min, until chicken is “fall-off-the-bone” tender and flavors have developed.
Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the delicious lemony sauce and a crisp, cold Pinot Gris.

Bon appétit!

Pink Grapefruit & Limoncello Mousse

6 Aug

Last time my mom visited from Belgium, I randomly asked her if she still remembered those little cups of yogurt mousse she used to buy for us by the dozen. We were on our way to ‘Surfas’ kitchen supply store in Culver City, in search of organic black squid ink – don’t ask! There was nothing in particular that sparked my question, so it is entirely possible that I overwhelmed her with the randomness of it, but mom firmly stated that she had no idea what I was talking about and quickly concluded that I must be remember things wrong, because mom is always right… even when she’s wrong. It’s a Flemish miracle, really, and one that should be recognized by a ribbon from the Pope and possible sainthood.

I know that I didn’t dream up this deliciousness, because I still remember exactly what the packaging looked like and I remember that this fluffy delight came in lemon, strawberry and blueberry flavor. The tart, sweet lemon flavor was by far my favorite, and I recall I would secretly re-shuffle the containers in the fridge so that the lemon ones were always hidden from plain sight in the back of the fridge, thusly, increasing the odds of saving them for yours truly by 200%. I was stealth like that.

Besides custards, mousses are my next favorite dessert things. I love their airy, light fluffiness. It was only recently that the idea of a pink grapefruit mousse slapped me in the face, when I read an article about how incorporating this fruit into your daily diet promotes weight loss… and what better way to do it than with dessert? Right?

Yeah.

I’m sure this is not what the author had in mind, but whatever. Don’t rain on my culinary parade, please.

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PINK GRAPEFRUIT & LIMONCELLO MOUSSE
(Adapted from a variety of mousse recipes)
– 2 ruby red or pink grapefruit
– 6 oz of thick Greek yogurt
– 7 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 Tbsp of limoncello (or another citrus-flavored liquor)
– 3 egg whites
– a pinch of salt
– 4 sheets of gelatin
– 2 Tbsp of sugar

Place gelatin sheets into a bowl of cold water and allow it to swell. When gelatin is soft, pour cold water out of the bowl and add 2-3 Tbsp of very hot/boiling water and allow swollen gelatin to melt. Let cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.

Juice both grapefruits and strain juice so all fleshy bits and pits stay behind. Combine clear grapefruit juice with limoncello. Fold sugar into yogurt, and add juice. Beat yogurt mixture with handheld mixer until well-combined and somewhat fluffy. Taste for sweetness, if it’s too tart, add a bit more sugar.

Beat heavy whipping cream until it is firm & fluffy, but not super stiff. Fold it gently into the yogurt mixture, together with the lukewarm melted gelatin.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, and gently fold these into the yogurt/cream mixture. Try to keep the air in the egg whites, as this will give your mousse a light, fluffy texture.

Divide mousse over 6 ramekins or small glasses, and allow to set in the refrigerator for at least 2-4 hours.

Princess Slaw

31 Jul

I would be lacking proper patriotic pride if I didn’t feature something ‘witlof’ on here. After all, this bitter leafy vegetable ‘is’ Belgium’s pride, so much so, that it is commonly referred to as Belgian Endive in English. Like Vegas brides, witlof was discovered entirely by chance. The story goes that it was someone at the Botanical Gardens in Brussels who happened to store chicory roots in a dark cellar, and then later discovered that they had produced fragrant white leaves. Like so:

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In 1872 some of this ‘witlof’ was sent to Paris, where it was later show-cased in an exhibition… and everybody lived happily ever after! Well, maybe not everybody.

As a child, I was never a big fan of raw witlof. Braised, these little cabbages caramelize and turn somewhat sweet, but left raw, the white leaves have a rather bitter crunchy bite. At the time, my juvenile palette wasn’t ready to embrace this without a fight, especially not considering there were sweeter salad options available. Nonetheless, mom loved endive salads and so we ate them. As odd as it may sound to America’s culture of coddling its brood, Belgian children typically grow up eating whatever the adults eat around the table, give or take the prerequisite portion control or cutesy approach to prevent excessive sulking. Being a foodie herself, mom was particularly insistent on expanding our palettes and exposing us to different flavors and foods from around the globe. Her tenacity in this fiercely rivaled my stubbornness, to the point where she once cooked spinach 4 days in a row and fed it to me with each meal, simply because I refused to eat the required 3 spoonfuls for good measure. Four whole days!!! If I even remotely hinted that I was hungry, I’d be at the table with my darned reheated bowl of spinach. I endured four days of ‘spinach prison’, before my young brain grasped the concept that I wasn’t going to win this one… um, yeah. Not that I’m stubborn or anything.

But, we digress… Yesterday, my Flemisch childhood friend Hadewych private-messaged me over Facebook to sing praise about my blog (she’s very pretty AND intelligent!), and asked if I was going to feature witlof and root vegetables, as these are true Belgian staples. She shared a recipe for a delicious, crisp witlof salad with red beets and happened to mention, tongue-in-cheek, that she calls it ‘Princess Slaw’ since the beets give the salad a pink hue and her young daughter Sam is easily bribed with anything pink and/or “princess” these days… Hadewych: 1 – Sam: 0.

With Belgian Endive costing you your first born an arm & a leg over here, and our finances seriously challenged, I got creative and played around a bit with Hadewych’s salad recipe. However, originally this slaw is made with thinly sliced witlof, rather than fennel. My more budget-friendly version below is still pink, so I’m sticking with ‘Princess Slaw’. In honor of a little blue-eyed girl named Sam.

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PRINCESS SLAW
(Adapted from super-mom Hadewych’s recipe)
– 1 large red beet, roasted (*)
– 1 tart apple, like Granny Smith
– 1 small/medium fennel bulb
– 2 Tbsp of good plain mayonnaise
– 3 Tbsp of Greek yogurt (or crème fraiche)
– juice & zest of 1 lemon
– 1 tsp of good mustard
– 1-2 Tbsp of chopped fresh parsley
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) When working with beets, it is good to know that they will stain not only your hands, but also any porous material you place them on. If you don’t like your equipment or hands turning a bright pink, use a plate to cut them. The color will wash off of your hands after a few washes, but you could also wear latex gloves.

Heat oven to 400F. Cut stems off of the beets (no need to peel the beets!), and wash them so you get rid off all the dirt. Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil. Place in the hot oven and roast until beet is fork-tender. For a tennis ball-size beet, this will be approx. 45 min.
Take beet out of the oven, and let cool until able to handle. Unwrap and rub beet under cool running water. The skin will slip right off without much effort! Chop into small cubes.

While the beet roasts, zest lemon and squeeze juice into a small bowl. Add mayo, yogurt, mustard and salt & pepper, to taste. Stir until you get a smooth dressing. Set aside and let flavors develop a bit.

Cute stems and ends of the fennel. Remove outer layer, and cube fennel heart in very small dice or slice thinly. Peel & chop apple into small dice as well.
Add chopped beet to bowl with fennel & apple. Pour dressing over the top and stir to coat everything. The slaw will turn bright pink. Sprinkle some roughly chopped fresh parsley over the top.

If you are a fan of raw beets, which I am not so much, you can also roughly grate a raw beet and the apple with your box grater, and combine it with with the thinly sliced witlof or fennel. Enjoy!

Curried Zucchini Cakes

29 Jul

My good friend Glynis posted a picture of her delicious home-grown zucchini crop on Instagram the other day, and freely confessed she had been on the hunt for zucchini recipes on Pinterest lately. My mind instantly went to a stack of curried zucchini cakes I whipped up months ago. I think last time I thought about frying up zucchini cakes in my skillet was probably when one of my colleagues arrived at my desk with a bag of monster-squash. She had grown them from seedlings and – by the sentiment in her voice – I could tell she felt comforted knowing her squash babies’ were going to someone who would love them as much as she did… I thanked her for sharing her glass house crop, and promised her I’d turn them into something magically delicious for lunch. Like Mary Poppins. Almost.

I’m not sure if these things happen to just me or everybody else, but at times I think my brain just randomly archives itself when it reaches system overload on all the foodie stuff. There are certain dishes I love and vow to put on regular rotation, and then, for some bizarre reason, I completely forget about them for months! Zucchini cakes are one of them. Every time I fry them up I fall in love with their crisp deliciousness and that token dollop of tart crème fraîche that goes on top, but somehow it nearly always takes some sort of a visual stimulus, like Glynis’ Instagram picture, for me to go “oooohhh, zucchini cakes!”.

I figured that I should post these forgotten gems on my blog, and hopefully I won’t forget about them anymore. Right.

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CURRIED ZUCCHINI CAKES WITH GOAT CHEESE & PINE NUTS
– 4-5 small zucchini, grated (approx. 2 cups)
– 2 small carrots, grated (approx. 1/2 cup)
– 1/2 of a small onion, grated
– 2 Tbsp of finely chopped fresh dill
– 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
– juice of 1 lemon
– 1 cup of flour
– 3 eggs
– 1.5 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– salt & pepper, to taste
– olive oil, for pan-frying
– mild goat cheese (*)
– toasted pine nuts
(*) Soledad‘s lemon-lavender goat cheese is delicious with these fritters!

Grate zucchini and place in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and lemon juice, and let drain for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, take zucchini and squeeze excess out of the vegetables. Place in a large bowl.

Add grated carrot and onion, eggs, flour, feta cheese, dill, and curry powder, and combine into a chunky batter. Add salt/pepper taste.

In a heavy skillet, heat olive oil until nice and hot (but not smoking) over medium heat. Place a hefty scoop of batter in the pan and press down a bit to flatten out. Cook until brown & crisped, +/- 4 minutes. Flip over and brown the other side.

Transfer to a 200F oven to keep warm, while you cook the rest in batches.

In a separate pan, toast pine nuts for a minute or so. Be careful, cause they burn easily!

Serve the zucchini cakes while still warm & crisp, with a dollop of goat cheese on top and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.

Dilled Cucumber Salad

25 Jul

Belgian Summers are notoriously finicky. Either the weather stays fairly overcast and entirely too cold for the time of the year, or the country is hit with a sweltering, oppressive heat wave that makes you wish you never cursed the wet dreariness from the past 7 months in the first place. With temperatures generally hovering between ‘%$!@, it’s freezing!!’ and ‘jeez, it’s still raining?!’, most brick homes are not equipped with central cooling either. During these brutally hot summers, windows and doors would be propped open, protected by colorful ribbon-screens to keep flies & bugs out (*), and you’d at least get the illusion of air circulating. Buckled under Mother Nature’s oppressive grip, I swear you could practically hear a faint, collective moan wafting through the air.
(*) unless you lived in our home, where a certain someone that I am not naming, thought it was fun to braid those vibrantly colored ribbons together into a visually pleasing work of art, and you’d inadvertently end up with the mother-ship of all mosquito colonies in your house. I’m not proud of it.

On those blistering days, we predominantly lived in our grassy backyard, barefooted. I can’t remember a Summer day on which we did not precariously shuffle a tray of plates & silverware to our teak-wood table. Our dinners on these sultry evenings were long family gatherings, in which we’d eat for a few hours by citronella candles and watch the threatening thunderstorms crack & pour down from underneath the comfort of our covered garden patio. The crisp cool air that followed these torrential Summer storms, made it all worthwhile.

Requesting a cooked meal on these sweltering days would have sent any respectable housewife into a tizzy, but our mom merely looked us in the eye with James Bond-like ‘cool’ and would calmly announce we’d be having salad for dinner, with some sort of barbecued meat, to distinguish lunch from dinner. For good housekeeping measure.

Mom got very creative with salads, and I remember loving most of them. Those summertime salads were also my first introduction to – insert dramatic drum roll here – the mandolin slicer! I think I must have been all of about 7-8 years old when I was allowed to touch one very carefully under the watchful eye of El Commandante mom, and was specifically instructed to always use the protective guard that comes with any mandolin slicer. Ha! The irony.

The crisp cucumber salad below is one of my favorites in my salad repertoire. It’s a play on Greek tzatziki. I think I got this recipe from mom, but I’m not entirely sure as it’s one of these dishes that just live in my head and surface out of nowhere. Either way, this tangy refreshing salad is perfect for hot Summer days…

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DILLED CUCUMBER SALAD
(Inspired by Greek tzaziki)
– 4 seedless cucumbers, preferably hot house
– 16 oz of Bulgarian yogurt (or plain yogurt. Not the thick Greek-style yogurt)
– 1 Tbsp of white wine vinegar
– juice of 1 fresh lemon
– 3 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
– 2 cloves of garlic, depending on size & strength, pressed or minced (or more)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh dill, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of fresh mint, chopped
– a handful of fresh chives, chopped
– 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon zest
– salt & pepper, to taste

Half & seed cucumbers lengthwise, and slice into very even, medium-thickness slices. A mandolin slicer works great here, but watch your fingers and knuckles. (not that I know anything about that! OK???) Place slices in a colander or sieve, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Place something heavy directly on top of the slices of cucumber, and let them drain out 15 min or so bit over the sink.
In a large bowl, combine yogurt with olive oil, lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Stir until you get an even consistency, it should be fairly liquid, dressing consistency. If it’s not enough, add a splash of water. Add garlic one clove at a time, and taste to desired garlicky-ness. Add salt & pepper to taste as well.
Add cucumber slices and fold until everything is well-coated. Fold in chopped herbs and cover. Set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, so cucumbers have time to absorb the delicious yogurt vinaigrette.

Perfect as a side with grilled shrimp or salmon!

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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