Tag Archives: kid friendly

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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Wine Braised Cabbage with Plums & Bacon

14 Aug

The other day, I discovered a smoked turkey sausage in the back of my fridge. With ‘it’ being far removed from my much more popular non-processed food corner, I didn’t even catch its presence until famine set in and I nosied around in the fridge for a quick dinner idea, or shall we say, in a desperate attempt to save myself a trip to the grocery store. And there it was. Sitting proudly in the ‘man corner’ of the fridge, right next to the hot dogs and beer. I’m usually pretty good with keeping a detailed inventory of our fridge’s contents in the back of my mind, you know, in that special lobe that keeps track of all practical things, but that darn sausage snuck up on me. I’m not ‘big’ on things that have an unnatural and/or freakishly long shelf life, but with our finances seriously strapped these days, a sale on $5.00 smoked sausage goes a long way…

Just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for kielbasa in this world as well. However, when I bought that sausage, I must have not been entirely sure where exactly that place was. Come to think of if, this is probably why it ended up on the ‘man shelf’ in our fridge in the first place. Then, as per divine intervention, I remembered: ‘Rookworst met rode kool’! Braised red cabbage and sausage is not only popular in Belgium, but in Holland as well. Although our northern neighbor traditionally opts for braised kale or ‘boerekool’, rather than red cabbage. Either way, braised cabbage is everywhere in the lower lands and many a Flemish child grows up on that stuff.

With my flavor palette a bit more refined these days, I fancified my vocabulary this cabbage a little bit. Rather than braising it traditionally with just bits of apple and vinegar, I opted for a more flavorful combination of red wine, dried plums and bacon.

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WINE BRAISED CABBAGE WITH PLUMS & BACON
(A “Hungry Belgian” original…)
– 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded thinly or chopped finely (+/- 1.5 lbs shredded)
– 2/3 cup of good quality red wine + more for soaking (*)
– 2-3 shallots, chopped into small dice (or 1 medium size red onion)
– 10-12 dried plums, slivered
– 2 small pears, peeled, cored & diced
– 2 sticks of cinnamon
– 2 cloves
– 1 laurel leaf
– 4-5 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced into small slivers
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) The age-old adage is: if you don’t like the wine for drinking, don’t cook with it either!

Soak plums in a bit of red wine to soften them. Place a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat and brown the bacon until crisp. Remove from pot and set aside.

In the bacon fat, brown shallots until translucent. Then add shredded cabbage with wine, pears, spices and salt & pepper to taste, and fold so everything is well combined. Cover the pot and braise over medium-low heat for approx. 45 min until cabbage is soft. Add plums, and simmer 10-15 min more to allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Remove cinnamon, laurel leaf and cloves, and add bacon bits back in.

Serve braised cabbage alongside your preferred choice of crisp browned sausage links.

Flemish Beignets

7 Aug

‘Oliebollen’ or ‘smoutebollen’, Belgium’s answer to American donuts, are firmly planted in youth sentiment for me. They bring back lots of teenage memories, of spending hour upon hour parading up & down the snowy fairgrounds with my friends, often in sub-zero temperatures, in hopes the cute fair hands would notice us and score us a free paper cone of hot beignets or a free ride.

When the weather gets dreary or downright mean, there’s nothing more comforting than to bite into a crispy hot ball of freshly fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. The sugar instantly melts on the hot surface and forms a crackling coating on the outside of this deep fried dream. I’m telling you now, oliebollen are a ‘must have’ when the temps drop and your nose hairs are starting to congeal.

You can buy yourself some sugary warmth at the many quaint stalls that line the town squares in Holland & Belgium, and waft invitingly through the cold Fall & Winter air. Especially during the times the ‘kermis’ or fair is in town, or the annual Christmas Markets that start showing up in late November, both of which add much needed light & coziness to the short, dark evenings. I mean, just look at it:

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Doesn’t it look all warm and beckoning?

I figured that if I wanted ‘oliebollen’, I would have to learn to make them at home since Los Angeles is short on this kind of campy quaintness… and who can wait for the county fair to arrive… in July! No. I needed to have access to this greasy happiness in Fall & Winter, when evening temperatures drop well below 65F. Don’t judge.

I’ve probably spent too much time browsing the Internet for the perfect recipe, but the winning recipe came from a former colleague of mine, who was tasked by yours truly with the impossible mission of seducing prying the recipe out of our favorite ‘oliebollen‘ baker from the city fair in Ghent. I completely forgot about these, until I recently found her grease-stained email folded neatly in a cookbook of mine… Enjoy!

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OLIEBOLLEN
(aka Flemish beignets… per Marktkramer De Kuijper‘s recipe)
– 1.5 oz of good quality unsalted butter
– 10.5 oz of self-rising flour (or pastry flour or all purpose flour, if you can’t find self-rising flour)
– 1 oz of fresh yeast (or 0.5 oz of dry active yeast)
– 8 oz of whole milk
– 1 tsp of natural vanilla extract
– a pinch of salt
– 1.5 eggs (2 whites + 1 yolk)

Make sure to use room-temperature ingredients, and measure everything precisely!

In a large bowl, sift flour. In a small bowl, crumble fresh yeast into milk, and stir until dissolved. Add yeasted milk & vanilla extract to flour, and stir to create a batter.

Melt butter in the microwave on medium power, and add egg yolk and butter to batter. Stir until well combined.

Beat egg whites in a grease-free bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter, and also add a pinch of salt.
The batter should be fairly loose, so if it feels a bit too stiff, add a splash more milk.

Let the batter rest for 20-25 minutes while you fill a large Dutch oven with peanut oil and heat it to 375F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil doesn’t overheat, which causes uneven cooking.

Use an ice cream scoop to drop 2-3 scoops of batter into the hot oil at a time. Cook each side until golden brown. Doughnuts will cook very quickly in the right temperature oil, so check them quickly after you place them in the oil. Flip and cook the other side. Don’t crowd your pot, as this will cause the temperature to drop too rapidly, causing uneven cooking and can potentially cause your pot to overflow, which is dangerous!

Use a spatula to take the beignets out of the oil and let them sit on a paper towel lined plate for a minute or so, to absorb the excess oil. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven while you cook the rest of them.

When done, dust with powdered sugar and prepare to eat more than one!

Sinful Chocolate Truffles

7 Aug

What could possibly be wrong with a sumptuous mouthful of cream, chocolate and butter? If your genetic profile is anything like mine, there’s a lot wrong with these delicious truffles. As a matter of fact, I might as well bypass my digestive system completely and stick these directly onto my hips and thighs, since I’m incapable of eating just one. Who can, really?

Belgium’s love affair with chocolate ‘pralines’ & truffles traditionally unfolds at various quaint country tables, adorned with one’s best china and grandma’s hand-embroidered floral table cloth. Neighbors and friends eagerly gather around to catch up on the latest small town gossip, and to reconcile important town data such as who is getting married to whom and what was it that Marie overheard whilst standing in line at the butcher’s? To facilitate these impromptu social gatherings, a pot of freshly brewed coffee is there to loosen the tongues and the sugary sweetness of truffles is presented to melt away the bitter shock of hearing that the elderly pastor now has a pretty new housekeeper… and why is she so young? Not proper, I say.

Coffee is consumed by the liter in rural Flanders & beyond. You can’t ring someone’s doorbell without being beckoned to sit down at the kitchen table and have an unsolicited cup of joe appear under your nose within the first 5 minutes of entering, usually followed by an invitation to grab something from a box of sweets that permanently lives in the middle of the table. To my mom’s generation, a knock on the door holds the promise of an exciting bit of town gossip and one must be prepared for this kind of opportunity 24/7. No Belgian household is without coffee or chocolate. It’s just not proper.

When I first moved to the USA, glitzy Los Angeles of all, I remember that random people I had never seen before would wave at me enthusiastically on the street or greet me with a smile during my visits back to small town Belgium. It later dawned on me that my move to ‘Aahhhh-merica’ must have been the topic of conversation during many such coffee-orgies, undoubtedly piquing the interest of people who did not know Cecilia’s brave and/or adventurous daughter yet. I’m sure the news of ‘Helga-sightings’ spread fast within the community, like I was some sort of rare caribou one had to look out for. My mother’s main agenda for my visit back home was to cram in as many coffee gatherings as a week would allow. The upside of this was homemade cookies & Leonidas truffles at each one…

The truffle recipe below is an old-fashioned, artisan recipe I found online years ago. I tweaked it for flavor & richness of texture, but it’s fairly authentic and you can proudly serve these in a bowl… on your granny’s hand-crocheted doily. For good measure.

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BASIC TRUFFLES
For the ganache:
– 8 oz of dark chocolate
– 4 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 oz of good quality unsalted butter

For the coating:
– 4 oz of dark chocolate, melted
– ½ cup of semi-sweet cocoa powder

In a bowl, break chocolate into bite-size pieces and set aside. In a small sauce pan, heat heavy whipping cream over a medium heat until very hot. Add butter and stir until butter is melted. Then pour hot cream mixture over chocolate pieces and stir until all chocolate is melted and you achieve a smooth mass. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the chocolate mass, and refrigerate for a few hours until ganache is set.

When cold and stiff, take ganache out of the refrigerator. Using a double-boiler method, melt remaining chocolate for coating in a small saucepan. When melted and cool enough to handle, scoop small balls out of the ganache and gently coat them with the melted chocolate. Needless to say, coating the truffles is by far the messiest part of this recipe, but there’s no avoiding it so you might as well enjoy the mess. The best way to coat the truffles, is by gently rolling them around in the melted chocolate, using a chopstick or toothpick.

When coated, immediately take them out of the melted chocolate with a toothpick and roll them in a coating of your choice. Traditionally, semi-sweet cocoa powder is used, but you can also use chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, coconut flakes.. whatever you fancy, really.

Place the coated truffles on a parchment lined plate, and let harden in the fridge a little before serving.

ORANGE GRAND MARNIER TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following in the ganache:
– 1-2 Tbsp of Grand Marnier or Cointreau liquor
– 2 Tbsp of freshly grated orange zest

Coat truffles with semi-sweet cocoa powder.

IRISH TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following to the ganache
– 1-2 Tbsp of good quality Whiskey
– 2 Tbsp of very strong coffee

Roll truffles in white chocolate shavings.

WHITE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH HONEY & SAFFRON
Use basic truffle recipe above, but replace dark chocolate with white chocolate. Add the following to the ganache:
– a pinch of saffron
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– a splash of white rum

For the coating, use melted white chocolate and roll truffles in powdered sugar, unsweetened coconut flakes or very finely chopped almonds

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Belgian Rice Pudding with Saffron

5 Aug

‘Rijstpap’ or rice pudding is a much celebrated treat in Belgium, and it’s no coincidence why this rice dessert became a traditional regional dish in the Province of Brabant, encompassing the central heart of Belgium.

Every year in Flanders, from small rural towns to larger cities, this creamy dessert makes a star appearance during the annual ‘Brueghel Feesten’. These medieval-type festivities compare to the American renaissance fairs, but traditionally focus around food & drink whilst celebrating Flemish cultural heritage and the world-renowned artwork by ‘Master Painter’ Pieter Brueghel. During the 16th Century, Breughel’s work was highly sought after by the wealthy elite of the richer cities, and the humble ‘peasant’ painter was warmly embraced & respected in the high society circles of thriving medieval Brussels. His works mostly featured magnificent landscapes and bustling farm village life, often painted with a comical yet honest approach and illustrating the abundant food & drink at the festive farmers’ table in great detail. Since then, the often 2-day long ‘Breughel Feesten’, for which people dress up in traditional 16th Century peasant grab, are synonymous to copious amounts of free-flowing ‘tap’ beer, fantastic food and… plate after plate of creamy golden ‘rijstpap’.

Rijstpap made an appearance early on in Flemish history, and quickly became associated with rural life and heavenly simplicity. After all, as per an old Flemish folkloric saying, heaven welcomes you with bottomless bowls of rijstpap and golden spoons. I can’t testify to the veracity of this tale, but I’m on board!

This sweet, milk-based porridge bears somewhat of a resemblance to American rice pudding, but not entirely. For starters, a traditional Belgian rice pudding is spiced with saffron & cinnamon, and not just vanilla. Secondly, the texture is more porridge-like (‘rijst’ meaning rice, and ‘pap’ meaning porridge) and not quite as sweet or sugary as a pudding. And lastly, the dessert is classically eaten with a hefty dusting of dark brown sugar, that slowly melts into a molasses-type syrup when it blends with the milky rice. It’s ridiculously good and it brings back many happy childhood memories of the ‘Brueghel Feesten’ for me…

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Belgian Rice Pudding
(As per a childhood recipe)
– 1 liter of whole milk (or approx. 32 fl oz)
– 4 oz of long grain, white rice (dry)
– 1 vanilla bean
– 1 stick of cinnamon
– 1-2 hefty pinch(es) of saffron (if you like the flavor & color of saffron, use 2. If not, use 1)
– 5 Tbsp of sugar

Add the milk, rice, and sugar in a heavy pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to separate the grains. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and saffron threads, cover and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes or more, until the rice is tender and has absorbed the milk. Do not stir the rice during this part of cooking.

Stir with a wooden spoon when rice is tender, to spread the saffron color evenly.

Discard the cinnamon and vanilla, scoop the rice pudding into small bowls and allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar before serving.

Rose Water & Lemon Turkish Delight

4 Aug

Yesterday evening, I drifted into a beautiful Pinterest dream and stumbled upon picture after picture of gorgeous Polish and Turkish pottery.

There are times where I reminisce about my life in Belgium with somewhat of a pang of homesickness in the pit of my stomach, and seeing that beautiful pottery made me miss the Turkish markets in my town there. Compared to so much cultural history and ‘couleur locale’ (local ‘color’), California seems sterile at times, despite the Hispanic and Asian influence we’re inundated with over here. It’s not the same. I miss the public open-air markets in Belgium. They usually run once a week and are set up like our farmers markets over here, just with a lot more variety in goods and tremendously more local color. They bring together a variety of people, from the old bitties to the young hipsters, all in search of hot waffles and exciting market finds. The many vendors or ‘markt kramers’ are celebrities on their own turf, luring customers by loudly broadcasting their wares in a thundering voice and colorful language, or blatantly flattering the female population in hopes of piquing their interest. Market days were fun, even when temperatures dropped to single digits and rain puddles formed alongside the cobblestone streets.

One of the things I would regularly indulge in whilst browsing around on market days, was delicious ‘lokum’ or Turkish Delight. Sweet, gooey & soft, it was the perfect kind of treat to reward yourself with after a busy morning at the market, or to make you forget you’re entering your fifth week of nonstop pounding rain & howling wind. Paired with a hot cup of mint tea, it brings a bit of Oriental flair into your home and you can pretend you went shopping at the ‘casbah’ or Turkish bazaar.

Turkish delight is easy to make. It’s traditionally flavored with rose water, like marzipan, but you can add whichever flavoring you prefer. I prefer the authentic rose water flavor, but I add in some fresh lemon juice as well. You could even add in some pistachio nuts, fresh mint leaves or a pinch of saffron. The possibilities for these gelees are endless.

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ROSE WATER & LEMON TURKISH DELIGHT
(Makes approx. 60 pieces)
– 1 2/3 cups of cold water
– 7 tsp of unflavored gelatin (approx. 4 packages)
– 2 1/3 cups of sugar
– 3 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
– 4 tsp of rose water
– 2 drops of red food coloring
– corn starch
– vegetable oil

Brush a 8x8x2-inch non-stick metal pan with the oil. Place 2/3 cup of water in a small bowl, and sprinkle gelatin in it. Set aside until gelatin softens, approx. 15 minutes.

Combine remaining 1 cup of water, sugar and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup boils. Cover, increase the heat and boil 3 more minutes.

Uncover, attach a candy thermometer, and boil until temperature reaches 238F, which should be about 5 min.

Remove pan from the heat and add in gelatin mixture, store until completely dissolved. Mix in the rose water and food coloring (*), and pour into oil-brushed prepared pan. Let stand at room temperature until set, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.

Cut candy into small squares and completely coat with corn starch. You can keep these in the fridge in an airtight container for approx. 1-2 weeks.

(*) Food coloring is strictly for color only and you can leave this out or add as much as little if you desire. You can also play around with different colors.

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

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MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

Jozefa’s Chocolate Mousse

2 Aug

Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Blech!

Not to trample on an American staple, but telling me that this overly sweet and unnaturally flavored syrup tastes like ‘chocolate’, is like telling me that fried pork rinds are wholesome. I fully comprehend the nostalgia behind Hershey’s syrup and, just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for it in our culinary repertoire, but let chocolate mousse not be part if it. OK?

Alright. I’ll come right out saying that I’m a bona fide chocolate snob. I’m Belgian, you can’t hold it against me, really. I’ll take Swiss chocolate as a close second, and San Francisco’s Ghirardelli as a third, if all else fails and I’m at imminent risk of turning into a brooding murderous harpy during that time of the month. If it’s any consolation, British Cadbury ranks right down there with Hershey’s as well in my book. Don’t get me wrong: I love America. I will defend America vehemently in cultural debates with my European friends. I love baseball, Texas BBQ and bull riding. Just not American chocolate.
I think one of the worst chocolate experiences I’ve had in this country was a chocolate mousse I ate at a little bistro in Morristown, NJ several years ago. It wasn’t per se horrible but it definitely wasn’t ‘chocolate’ what my taste buds were concerned. And it certainly wasn’t anything like the chocolate mousse my grandma used to make, but then again, Jozefa set the bar way high.

With my hips arbitrarily expanding from a size 12 to a size 16 at the mere sight of dessert in the blink of an eye, I try to watch what I eat but let me be clear: there’s a time and a place for everything, and dessert is no place to skimp on butter, cream and/or sugar. As a matter of fact, I’d rather not have dessert at all if I can’t have the full fat stuff. My grandma understood this too and her chocolate mousse would have earned her a ribbon from the Pope. It’s that good! So without further ado, I must bring her genius into this world and spread the love.

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JOZEFA’S CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
(My grandma’s recipe for a perfectly delicious chocolate mousse!)
– 8 oz of good quality semi-sweet dark chocolate (the higher the cacao %, the better!)
– 1.5 cups of heavy whipping cream
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz of sugar

Melt chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

HELGA’S GROWN-UP HAZELNUT AMARETTO MOUSSE
(Adapted from my grandma’s chocolate mousse recipe above)
– 4 oz of good quality dark chocolate
– 4 oz of gianduja chocolate (*)
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 3 Tbsp of Amaretto liquor
– A splash of pure hazelnut extract (or hazelnut liquor like Frangelico)
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3 oz of sugar
(*) Gianduja is a firm, Italian chocolate bar made from ground hazelnuts and milk chocolate. You can usually find bars of gianduja chocolate at your local Italian delicatessen. If you cannot find gianduja chocolate, replace it with Nutella, but drop cream down to 3/4 cup.

Melt all chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka in a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks, amaretto, hazelnut extract and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

Blue Cheese Potato & Rutabaga Gratin

1 Aug

Belgium is big on potatoes, hence our national love affair with French fries… Potatoes were also my grandpa’s favorite dish, and genetically, I think that’s where I got my potato-love from. He especially liked mashed potatoes, with loads of butter & cream, to the point where they had to be served in a shallow bowl to ensure all that buttery deliciousness didn’t land on the antique parquet floors.

To further add to my love for potatoes, both mom & dad would take me to local farms for basic provisions like milk & eggs, butter, tomatoes… I was very little and I don’t remember many of them, but I do vividly recall one of them. It had a stone arched entrance with large, cast-iron gate doors that creaked when you pushed them open, and the old stone farm house & buildings were wrapped around a cobblestone courtyard, complete with the prerequisite droppings of horse manure and hay shoveled in the corner. The grounds were guarded by a large mutt that once bit my brother in the ass was allowed to roam freely and would come barrelling down towards you, stopping only a few feet shy, and then taunt you with his bark until the farm hands would shoo it away. You never knew which corner ‘the creature’ would come from, and as a little girl, that made me grasp my mother’s pants extra-tightly out of fear for death by wild canine. To further confirm my belief that this was purgatory, the plump farmer’s wife would often beckon us into the farm house in her stained apron and with a semi-toothless smile, and then proceed with pinching my cheeks with her callused, rancit smelling hands. The farm ‘office’ had several yellow sticky fly traps hanging from the ceiling with a handful of flies desperately trying to free themselves from certain death, and I always tried not to look at those things, because it made my little heart weep for the shimmering blue-green souls. The only upside I remember about that particular farm was that we were allowed to play on the potato fields whilst serious business was conducted inside the office. On occasion, we’d be handed a small garden shovel by a farm hand and asked if we’d like to go digging for spuds. I loved digging for potatoes! To me, it was like hunting for buried treasure: you never knew whether you’d come up with tiny little ones or the BIG monster kind that earned you serious bragging rights. Our loot would be taken home and prepared, and somehow it always tasted waaayyy better then when we’d buy potatoes from the store. I think I learned early on that farm fresh food tastes better then the stuff you buy in the grocery store.

Just like my opa, potatoes have a special place in my heart and on my hips. Belgian cuisine is the more down-to-earth sibling of French cuisine, and as such it is heavily French influenced. However, being more of a hearty meat & potatoes kind of country, we worship the lowly tuberous crop alongside many other root vegetables like turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga etc. Potato gratin is one of those dishes that seem to always make it to family get-togethers during holidays or festivities, and often in duplicate too. I’m not sure where precisely I got the recipe below from, but I think I based it loosely on ‘Gratin Dauphinois’ and then sort of made it my own over the years.

20130801-154359.jpg

BLUE CHEESE POTATO & RUTABAGA GRATIN
– 1.5 lbs of firm-cooking potatoes (Yukon Gold, for instance), more or less even in diameter
– 4-5 medium rutabaga
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of half & half
– ½ cup of chopped fresh thyme
– 6-8 oz of Gruyere cheese, shredded
– 4 oz of blue cheese crumbles (Danish Blue or Roquefort work great)

Heat oven to 375F. Peel and wash potatoes. Peel rutabagas. With your mandolin slicer, slice potatoes and rutabagas into thin, even slices (approx. 1/8 inch thick).

Butter an oven pan on all our sides. In the bottom of the pan, make a ¼ inch layer of the potato slices and rutabaga slices combined (you can mix & match them, so your ¼ inch thick layer has a bit of both), overlapping them a bit. Sprinkle with some of the blue cheese and a bit of the fresh thyme, then lightly toss some gruyere over top. Repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Reserve about 3-4 oz of the gruyere and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine milk & cream, add /minced grated garlic and salt & pepper to taste. Add remaining thyme, if you have any, and give everything a good stir. Pour all of it over the potato/rutabaga mixture in your pan. The cream mixture will thicken as the potatoes release their starch, so don’t worry if it looks a bit too soupy at first. Cover pan and cook in a 375F oven for approx. 30-45 min, until potatoes & rutabaga are tender and easily pricked with a fork. Uncover, sprinkle remaining Gruyere over the top and brown until the broiler until cheese is nicely melted, a bit browned on the edges & bubbly.

Blue Cheese Potato & Rutabaga Gratin

1 Aug

Belgium is big on potatoes, hence our national love affair with French fries… Potatoes were also my grandpa’s favorite dish, and genetically, I think that’s where I got my potato-love from. He especially liked mashed potatoes, with loads of butter & cream, to the point where they had to be served in a shallow bowl to ensure all that buttery deliciousness didn’t land on the antique parquet floors.

To further add to my love for potatoes, both mom & dad would take me to local farms for basic provisions like milk & eggs, butter, tomatoes… I was very little and I don’t remember many of them, but I do vividly recall one of them. It had a stone arched entrance with large, cast-iron gate doors that creaked when you pushed them open, and the old stone farm house & buildings were wrapped around a cobblestone courtyard, complete with the prerequisite droppings of horse manure and hay shoveled in the corner. The grounds were guarded by a large mutt that once bit my brother in the ass was allowed to roam freely and would come barrelling down towards you, stopping only a few feet shy, and then taunt you with his bark until the farm hands would shoo it away. You never knew which corner ‘the creature’ would come from, and as a little girl, that made me grasp my mother’s pants extra-tightly out of fear for death by wild canine. To further confirm my belief that this was purgatory, the plump farmer’s wife would often beckon us into the farm house in her stained apron and with a semi-toothless smile, and then proceed with pinching my cheeks with her callused, rancit smelling hands. The farm ‘office’ had several yellow sticky fly traps hanging from the ceiling with a handful of flies desperately trying to free themselves from certain death, and I always tried not to look at those things, because it made my little heart weep for the shimmering blue-green souls. The only upside I remember about that particular farm was that we were allowed to play on the potato fields whilst serious business was conducted inside the office. On occasion, we’d be handed a small garden shovel by a farm hand and asked if we’d like to go digging for spuds. I loved digging for potatoes! To me, it was like hunting for buried treasure: you never knew whether you’d come up with tiny little ones or the BIG monster kind that earned you serious bragging rights. Our loot would be taken home and prepared, and somehow it always tasted waaayyy better then when we’d buy potatoes from the store. I think I learned early on that farm fresh food tastes better then the stuff you buy in the grocery store.

Just like my opa, potatoes have a special place in my heart and on my hips. Belgian cuisine is the more down-to-earth sibling of French cuisine, and as such it is heavily French influenced. However, being more of a hearty meat & potatoes kind of country, we worship the lowly tuberous crop alongside many other root vegetables like turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga etc. Potato gratin is one of those dishes that seem to always make it to family get-togethers during holidays or festivities, and often in duplicate too. I’m not sure where precisely I got the recipe below from, but I think I based it loosely on ‘Gratin Dauphinois’ and then sort of made it my own over the years.

20130801-154359.jpg

BLUE CHEESE POTATO & RUTABAGA GRATIN
– 1.5 lbs of firm-cooking potatoes (Yukon Gold, for instance), more or less even in diameter
– 4-5 medium rutabaga
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of half & half
– ½ cup of chopped fresh thyme
– 6-8 oz of Gruyere cheese, shredded
– 4 oz of blue cheese crumbles (Danish Blue or Roquefort work great)

Heat oven to 375F. Peel and wash potatoes. Peel rutabagas. With your mandolin slicer, slice potatoes and rutabagas into thin, even slices (approx. 1/8 inch thick).

Butter an oven pan on all our sides. In the bottom of the pan, make a ¼ inch layer of the potato slices and rutabaga slices combined (you can mix & match them, so your ¼ inch thick layer has a bit of both), overlapping them a bit. Sprinkle with some of the blue cheese and a bit of the fresh thyme, then lightly toss some gruyere over top. Repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Reserve about 3-4 oz of the gruyere and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine milk & cream, add /minced grated garlic and salt & pepper to taste. Add remaining thyme, if you have any, and give everything a good stir. Pour all of it over the potato/rutabaga mixture in your pan. The cream mixture will thicken as the potatoes release their starch, so don’t worry if it looks a bit too soupy at first. Cover pan and cook in a 375F oven for approx. 30-45 min, until potatoes & rutabaga are tender and easily pricked with a fork. Uncover, sprinkle remaining Gruyere over the top and brown until the broiler until cheese is nicely melted, a bit browned on the edges & bubbly.

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