Tag Archives: healthy

Piperade Basquaise

17 Jul

Traditionally from the rural Basque regions in Spain & Southern France, I decided that something as delicious as ‘Piperade’ must be honored on this blog. There’s no tie to Belgian cuisine, other than the fairly mundane fact that I ate this in my mom’s country kitchen in our small Flemish country town, surrounded by smelly dairy farms, swarms of potato bugs, cackling poultry and endless corn fields.

Piperade fits right in this pretty farmers picture. It’s a flavorful and hearty dish that won’t break the bank… unless you live in coastal Los Angeles, but let’s not be cynical about living a mile away from the Pacific Ocean, shall we? In Spain and the South of France, piperade is often accompanied by cubes of grilled Bayonne ham and silky poached eggs, and served alongside hand-torn morsels of brown country bread to sop up the culinary orgasm that is runny yolks blended with ham- and sweet pepper juices. I feel bashful just writing about it.

Since Bayonne ham is not readily available in my coastal settlement, I would probably have to drive all the way to smog city downtown LA in order to score some authentic Basque ham. And trust me when I say that no ham is worth fighting 405 freeway traffic for!

This leads me to tell you that since Bayonne ham has a light smoky flavor, I figured I’d try my luck with pancetta, and… BINGO! I think bacon would work well too, or surely even diced smoked kielbasa. In fact, this is such a versatile dish, that you could completely omit the meat and go vegetarian altogether. Or serve it alongside or on top of crispy browned chicken legs, which I vaguely remember is what my mother did.

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PIPERADE BASQUAISE
(adapted from multiple recipes I found online)
– 1 medium size red bell pepper
– 1 medium size yellow bell pepper
– 1 medium size orange bell pepper
– 2 medium size onions
– 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
– 6 cloves of garlic, minced
– 1 tsp of Piment d’Espelette (*)
– 1/2 tsp of chopped fresh oregano
– 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme
– 1 cup of diced pancetta
– 4 large fresh eggs
(*) Piment d’Espelette is a medium hot chili that comes from the Basque town of Espelette. You can find it in specialty food stores, but you can also replace it with hot paprika if you can’t find it.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise, seed, core and slice into thin strips. Cut onions in half and slice into thin strips as well. Mince garlic cloves.

Heat oil in a large heavy pan and sauté garlic and onions until beginning to soften, approx. 3-4 min. Add peppers and sauté until beginning to soften, approx. 5 min. Add bay leaves, piment d’espelette and fresh oregano, and simmer over low heat until vegetables are soft.

In the meantime, dice pancetta and brown in a separate pan. When browned, set aside on paper towel. Deglaze pan with a bit of white wine, and add pan juices to vegetables.

When vegetables are soft, add pancetta & fresh thyme to pan and simmer 3 min more to blend all flavors. Salt & pepper to taste.

Make 4 small spaces in your pan, among the pepper mixture, and drop a raw egg in each space. Turn heat to low, cover and allow egg to cook for 3-4 min until whites are done and yolks are a bit runny still. This will take a little while, so patience is key here. (You can also poach your eggs separately, and serve over the piperade).

Sprinkle with some fresh parsley and serve with crusty brown bread, or over couscous.

Soledad Goat Cheese

16 Jul

I have a confession to make. I just ate lemon-lavender goat cheese for dessert. Straight from the jar. What kind of goat cheese can conceivably be conceptualized as a dessert by taste buds? This kind.

At $6.00 a tub, I used to think Soledad goat cheese was way too expensive, until they roped me in with a sample one day. Ever since that moment, I’ve had pear-walnut-honey goat cheese on raisin toast for breakfast, onion-cucumber goat cheese on rye for lunch, roasted sweet pepper goat cheese stuffed in figs for a snack, regular goat cheese on beet salads, lemon-lavender goat cheese as dessert… Oh dear Lord, help me.

I’m sorry if you live out of Los Angeles County lines, because that means you will likely not be able to drift off into goat cheese nirvana until your next vacation. However, next time you plan a visit, make sure to pencil in a stop at any of our local farmers markets and pick up a tub of their goat cheese.

Apart from making great cheese, the folks at Soledad Goat Farms love their goats. Loved goats give great milk. It’s a happy place.

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Rémy’s Ratatouille (Rat-a-too-ee)

16 Jul

So…how many of you saw the title and instantly wandered off to romantic Paris in their mind, with its cobble-stoned rues and fresh baguettes? Right? A few Christmases ago, my sweetheart surprised me with Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’, and I instantly fell in love with it for more reasons than just the adorable rat Rémy and the equally as lovable man who gave me the movie in the first place. I loved it because it teaches us a very simple but important lesson in life: no matter who you are or where you come from, there’s always something wonderful around the corner when you follow your passion. Aw.

Now the thing is, there’s nothing even remotely Belgian about ratatouille. It’s a dish straight out of French cuisine, Provence to be precise. As children, my brother & I spent many Summer vacations in our family’s sweltering caravan, on a dusty campground at the Cote d’Azur. How lucky were we?
Ratatouille is reminiscent of the flavors of my childhood vacations, so it has a special place in my heart, right next to the smell of gasoline and roasted salty & sweet peanuts. Don’t ask.

Rémy didn’t actually cook ‘ratatouille’ as his showcase dish for Mr. Anton Ego, the austere & disdainful food critic in the movie. No. Rémy cooked ‘Confit Byaldi’.

While similar in flavor, Confit Byaldi is the more elegant version of its often too soggy & overcooked Provençal cousin ratatouille. Visually stunning, Confit Byaldi tempts with caramelized layers of equal size slices of zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant & roma tomatoes, all resting happily on a bed of piperade sauce. Doesn’t that sound sexy already? And with all these gorgeous Summer vegetables making a happy appearance at your local farmers’ market right now, the timing couldn’t be better.

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CONFIT BYALDI
(adapted from Thomas Keller)

For the Piperade sauce:
– 1/2 red bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 of orange bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1 small clove of garlic, minced (+/- 1 tsp)
– 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
– 1.5 cups of crushed tomatoes
– 1 small onion, finely diced
– 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
– salt & pepper
– 1 bay leaf

Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onion & garlic over medium-low heat until onions are soft but not browned, +/- 8 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, thyme & bay leaf, and simmer until everything is very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Add peppers and simmer until soft, another 8-10 minutes or so. Discard bay leaf & thyme, season with salt & pepper.

For the vegetables:
– 1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
– 1 small red onion, sliced thinly but make sure rounds stay together and don’t fall apart
– 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced in rounds
– 1 tsp minced garlic
– 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme leaves
– 1/2 cup of sliced black olives (if you hate olives, you can totally leave them out. No big deal)
– salt and pepper, to taste

(*) I use a mandolin to slice my thumbnail all vegetables nice & evenly, but you can definitely do this by hand as well. Just make sure all slices are even in size.

Spread piperade sauce on the bottom of an oven-proof pan. Heat oven to 250F degrees.
Arrange alternating vegetables in a close spiral, so that 1/4 of each slice of vegetable sticks out. Repeat until pan is filled and all (or most) of the vegetables are used.

Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables.

Cover the pan with foil and seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Uncover, turn oven to 400F and bake for 30 minutes more, or until the dish is slightly browned and liquid has mostly evaporated.
Take out of the oven and sprinkle olives and fresh thyme over the top.

I typically serve this over couscous or brown rice, barley… You name it. Chicken or fish are great with this dish as well.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Shallots

12 Jul

Behold: spruitjes!

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Don’t hate! ‘Spruitjes’ are without a doubt the most misunderstood vegetable in this world. Their cabbagey deliciousness is completely under-appreciated, in my humble opinion. The problem with ‘spruitjes’ is that most people who label them the fruit of Satan, don’t buy them fresh. For purists like me, that’s strike #1. Worse yet, the misunderstood sweetlings are then dropped into a pot of salted water and boiled until there’s no sign of life left in them. Strike #2!

Spruitjes are truly delightful when cooked the right way. You simply *must* buy them fresh on the stalk, when they are still happily clinging to the mother ship. Slice them off individually with a sharp knife and remove all of the darker loose leaves. What you really want, is the lighter green darlings that are hiding behind those loose outer leaves. Trim the fibrous bottom a bit, so you have a nice looking, handsome sprout. Et voila, you can hardly go wrong from here…
(As an added bonus, you’ll end up with a mighty green light saber when all of this is done, not that we ever indulge in anything Star Trek in this house)

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA AND SHALLOTS
(in the manner of The Hungry Belgian)
– 2.5 lbs of Brussels sprouts (+/- 1 large stalk)
– 1/4 lbs of pancetta, cubed into fine dice
– 1 shallot, finely diced
– 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
– 2 tbsp of butter
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– salt & pepper, to your liking

Slice the little cabbages off the stalk as listed above. Take the cleaned & trimmed fresh sprouts, and slice each one in half or in quarters, depending on the size. You can also leave them whole, it’s up to you.

Chop the fresh thyme finely.

In a heavy pan, such as cast iron, cook the pancetta until beginning to brown. Remove and set aside. Melt butter in the remaining pan drippings and cook shallot until softened and translucent. Add sprouts and cook over medium heat for approx. 6-7 min, until they are bright green, beginning to brown and somewhat soft. You want your spruitjes to still have some ‘bite’!
Add 2/3 of the chopped fresh thyme and pancetta back in the pan, stir and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Season with salt & pepper to your liking, and sprinkle fresh lemon juice & remaining fresh thyme over the top.

Please don’t hate. Try these, they’re delicious!

Twisted Mashed Potatoes (Stoemp)

8 Jul

If there was one thing my brother & loved when we were kids, it was ‘stoemp’. Mom would make it quite often, as we lived on a single-mom budget, and it’s one of those dishes that pack a ton of deliciousness on a few pennies.

Stoemp (pronounced ‘stoomp’) is a delightful mash of creamy potatoes and any vegetable your kids will eat you fancy that can be mashed with the potatoes. It’s often prepared with carrots in Belgium, and served alongside juicy browned sausage, with the buttery pan drippings drizzled over the mash. It’s pure awesomeness, believe me.

Now that I’ve outgrown my ‘Bunny & Friends’ dinner set, I still enjoy a good potato-vegetable mash. Not only is it a bit lighter and healthier, I feel that it gives plain ole mashed potatoes a more interesting flavor. It’s ‘feel good’ comfort food without fearing the immediate expansion of your hips.

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CAULIFLOWER, LEEK & FENNEL MASH
(makes enough to feed a family of 6… or your husband)

– 1.5 lbs of yellow potatoes
– 1 medium size head of cauliflower
– 3 leeks, sliced thinly
– 1 medium fennel bulb, very finely diced
– 3-4 tbsp of butter
– 1/3 cup of fresh thyme leaves
– salt & pepper to taste
– Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated (for topping, optional)

Cut cauliflower and pull florets apart. Discard outer green leaves and rough stems. Soak florets in a bath of salty water for a few minutes, to entice all bug friends to vacate the cauliflower NOW. Cut potatoes into chunks, roughly about the same size as the cauliflower florets so they cook evenly. Put potatoes and cauliflower into a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer until done and easily mashed.

In the meantime. Cut the dark green tops off of the leeks, and slice off bottom root. Slit each stalk in half lengthwise and rinse under cold running water, separating the layers a bit, to remove any dirt. Dry stalks with paper towels, and slice them into thin rings or strips.
Cut green stems, top and bottom root off of the fennel. Slice bulb into thick slices and finely dice each slice into small pieces like you would an onion.

Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pan and sauté fennel over medium-low heat. When fennel is starting to soften (+/- 4-5 min), add leeks and continue to sauté until vegetables are soft, slightly browned and caramelized.
Sprinkle thyme leaves over vegetables, and sauté an additional 2 minutes to release the flavor of the thyme.

Mash cauliflower and potatoes with 2-3 tbsp of butter, add leek & fennel mixture, 1 clove of minced garlic and salt & pepper to your liking. Use a wooden spatula to combine everything together.

Sprinkle some grated Pecorino-Romano cheese & thyme leaves over the top and serve hot.

Homemade Curry Ketchup

4 Jul

With grilling season wide open, I can’t thank my foodie friend Debi at Life Currents enough for posting her delicious homemade ketchup recipe. Debi, seriously girlfriend, I bow to your culinary genius.

Now, I wouldn’t be a full-blooded Belgian, if I didn’t turn this saucy deliciousness into an authentic Belgian staple: curry ketchup. It’s one of those things that I was forced to abandon when I came to America… Or so I thought. Nothing screams Belgium more than a good old paper cone baggie of crispy hot fries, accompanied by a zesty curry wurst (frikandel) with freshly diced onions and curry ketchup. It’s how we roll in Belgium.

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HOMEMADE CURRY KETCHUP
(adapted from a recipe by Life Currents)

– 1 6oz can of tomato paste
– 1/4 cup of water
– 1/4 cup of white vinegar
– 1/4 cup of blue agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of brown sugar
– 1 tsp of sweet curry powder
– 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
– 1/4 tsp of onion powder
– 1/8 tsp of garlic powder
– 1/4 tsp of salt

In a medium sauce pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10-15 min. Let cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
For regular ketchup, omit the curry and cayenne pepper, an “up” the brown sugar to 1tsp, instead of 1/2 tsp… or head on over to Life Currents!

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