Tag Archives: lunch

Mason Jar Salads

12 Aug

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

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

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

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

Proper layering is key:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Chickpeas with Chorizo & Piquillo Peppers

18 Feb

Shortly before the holidays, my friend & pastor Erika G. tagged me in a Facebook ad she saw from a local kitchen supply store, with the mentioning that I simply ‘had to’ respond. “This is so you!”, she said, “You should apply!”. I don’t know how or where she saw the ad, but I never did and Lord knows I spend enough time on Facebook food pages that I should have seen this. Anyway, considering the fabulous Erika G. is my pastor, I think she was summoned by divine intervention and then asked to channel one of the three wise men and deliver this gift to me… by means of modern communication, rather than camel.

The ad in question came from Surfas-Culinary District, and it was an open invitation to all local food bloggers to apply to become a ‘product reviewer’. Sounds fancy, huh? I nearly wet myself from excitement. Not only have I been a customer of theirs for several years, but more importantly, I love that store. As in ‘luuuuvvvvv’. I totally understand that this sounds fishy now that I’m an official Surfas endorser, so to speak, but if you’ve followed this blog, then you’ve seen me write about Surfas long before I even applied to their ad. And my friends know that if they dare ask me where to find something, I send them to Surfas. Plain & simple. The walk-in store in Culver City, CA is the perfect combination of industrial urban-ness and artisanal food shopping, and while the building and/or atmosphere inside may not be as visually elegant as ‘Sur La Table’ or ‘Williams-Sonoma’, there is nothing you can want that Surfas doesn’t deliver… It’s foodie heaven, I tell you. My mother knows this too, and a trip to Surfas is on the agenda every time she visits from Belgium. It’s also my ‘go-to’ place when she tells me that she *must* find natural squid ink to make black risotto or a ‘thingy that looks like a pincette but is much larger’, which some random celebrity chef uses in Cecilia’s favorite cooking show on Belgian TV… You can bet on it that Surfas has that too.

But we digress… Last Saturday, my package with the first few items arrived. I’ve long wanted to try Piquillo peppers, and yesterday was my lucky day. Piquillo peppers are in the chili family, and are traditionally grown in the Northern part of Spain, where they are harvested at peak ripeness and then roasted whole and preserved in brine. The peppers are small, with firm sweet flesh and no heat. They are named after a bird’s ‘piquillo’ (get your mind out of the gutter) or beak, since the peppers have a pointy shape. The fruit very much resembles regular roasted red peppers, but they are sweeter and with a distinct flavor I can’t quite place my finger on. I guess you could say they have a more intense pepper flavor and their texture is firmer yet silkier than that of a regular roasted pepper.

Most recipes for Piquillo peppers call for the peppers to be stuffed with anything from cheese to ground beef & fish. However, I wanted to make a meal out of it yet stay true to the flavors of Spain at the same time. The result was pretty darn tasty, and I served it alongside a grainy artisanal bread to emulate that Mediterranean flair.

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SPANISH CHICKPEAS WITH CHORIZO & PIQUILLO PEPPERS
(adapted from a recipe for ‘Garbanzos con Chorizo’ that I found on the Internet)
– 4 13.5oz cans of chickpeas
– 1 13.5oz can of crushed tomatoes, unseasoned
– 1 13.5oz can of Piquillo peppers, sliced into ribbons
– 3 Tbsp of tomato paste
– 4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
– 2 shallots, finely chopped
– 7oz of dry chorizo, sliced in thin slices or cubed finely
– a few good slashes of cooking sherry
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried oregano)
– 1-2 Tbsp of Piment d’Espelette or another hot pepper like cayenne or a dash of sriracha
– salt to taste
– parsley, for decoration

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain chickpeas and rinse until no longer foamy. Drain Piquillo peppers in a separate sieve and slice each pepper into thin ribbons.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, brown the chorizo until it starts to sweat and turn color a little bit. You don’t want it to be crispy at this point. Add chopped shallots and sauté until shallots turn translucent. Add tomato paste and minced garlic, and cook for additional 1-2 minutes. If your pan is getting a bit crusty, add a splash of cooking sherry and scrape up any bits.

Add chickpeas, pepper ribbons, crushed tomatoes, Piment d’Espelette and oregano, and fold everything to combine well. Pour a few splashes of cooking sherry over the heap of yummy goodness and bake for approx. 15 min at 350F until the top is slightly crispy and the chickpeas are heated through.

Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top for prettiness, and serve alongside grainy bread or rice.

Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes

5 Feb

Last Friday, karma struck. So did the guy that was driving behind me. It appears his nicotine levels were dropping dangerously low, and in an act of sheer desperation, he decided to retrieve his pack of cigarettes from the floor of his truck whilst driving in rush hour traffic. I was amusedly gazing at the seagulls out the front window, and never saw him coming. Being the last car at the tail-end of stopped traffic, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marlboro Man when he crashed into the rear of my Honda CR-V at 30 mph, and sent my head flying in directions that defy all human anatomy.

Let me first start by saying that whiplash is poop. No, seriously. It’s poop! I can’t decide if I like the constant nausea better, or if perhaps the pinched nerve & cramping muscles rock my world more. And then there are the meds that are doing a number on my digestive system too, but what really tops the cake, is that all of sudden my brain’s auto-pilot mode seems corrupted. Yesterday, I tried to open our mailbox with our house key, you know, the key that is typically 3x LARGER! in size, until it dawned on me 15 seconds later – with an air of exasperation – that I had the wrong key. I feel like I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed right now, and that bothers me almost as much as Lady Gaga proclaiming she is classically trained and was invited by ‘Juilliard’. I mean, have you ever heard of a classically trained musician brushing an invitation from New York’s finest music school off the table to pursue a career in weird make-up and glittery green bodysuits that produce really awful camel toe look seriously painful to wear in one’s nether-regions?! Not me. But maybe I’m not seeing the possibilities here.

My wee blog has been suffering too. I’m already working 7 days a week and also attempting to run our household, and now I have to hold my head ‘just so’, so as to minimize the pain… Quite frankly, I feel like I should be sainted in a Papal audience and let it be hereforth known that I’m waiting for his invitation. Okay? After all, I do scoop the cats litter box quite frequently, and what comes out of there very much resembles leprosy, if you ask me. And with Father Damian being Belgian, well, we’re practically family. There.

And how does one tie leprosy into a recipe?!, you might ask. Fret not, for I am here to enlighten you with creative writing. When I purchased Trader Joe’s vegetable pancakes a few weeks ago, I decided that whatever Trader Joe’s can do, I can do better too… I’ve always been a BIG fan of Macadamia nuts, and I knew I wanted them to make a grand appearance in my crispy brunch latkes. And there you have it: Macadamia nuts = Hawaii = Molokai = leprosy. Please hold the applause.

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Carrot-Macadamia Nut Brunch Cakes
(based on a recipe for potato latkes)
– 1 lb of grated carrot
– 6 oz of Macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
– 3.5 oz of aged Gouda, grated (or aged cheddar)
– 3 oz of day-old corn bread crumbs
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 tsp of Sriracha sauce or any hot sauce of your liking
– 2 Tbsp of Italian parsley, finely chopped + more for garnish, if you like.
– 2 Tbsp of fresh thyme, finely chopped
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika powder
– olive oil
– salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. When hot, line baking sheet with foil and toast Macadamia nuts for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Give nuts a rough chop, until crumbled.

Grate carrot, and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Pour into a fine-mesh strainer, drain well and allow to cool.
Combine carrot with grated cheese, corn bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, egg yolks, Sriracha, sweet paprika and salt & pepper. Divide mass into 10-12 equal parts, and form into a small ½ inch thick patties.

In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan, heat olive oil (be generous) until hot and fry patties until crisp & golden, approx. 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot with a side of sour cream.

Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorn

24 Dec

Yesterday was one of those days on which I simply did not feel festive. I suffered from a serious case of the ‘holiday blues’, and on top of that, my uterus decided that it was time to go Beowulf.

So when I drove home with a plan to stop by the grocery store and grab whatever I felt could ‘pass’ as an acceptable dinner in my book, I didn’t expect to be roasting parsnips and cracking peppercorns. As a matter of fact, I was thinking more frozen pizza middle aisle than outer periphery… By divine intervention, I opened Pinterest and saw a recipe for what looked like a simple cracked pepper pasta dish. Tasty & cheap? Why, yes please!

$16.25 later, me & my bah humbug attitude drove home and strapped on the apron. Let me tell you, whacking the living daylights out of whole peppercorns with a rolling pin is seriously therapeutic during that time of the month!

As stated above, I saw the recipe below on Pinterest and was intrigued by the earthiness of the dish. It just looked really appealing and it seemed to be a play on a traditional pasta ‘cacio e pepe’, or a simple cracked pepper pasta. Yesterday was the perfect day to make this. I changed the recipe only slightly by adding cream and garlic, but I think that originally it was a Mario Batali creation.

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Creamy Orecchiette with Roasted Parsnips, Kale & Cracked Peppercorns.
(Adapted from a Mario Batali recipe I found on ‘Pinterest’)
– 1 lbs of orecchiette
– 1 Tbsp of pink peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of green peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns
– 1 Tbsp of white peppercorns
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 3 cups of roughly chopped kale, approx. 6-8 stems
– 3/4 cup of heavy cream
– 1/2 cup of white wine
– 4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
– 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)
– olive oil
– salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Place peppercorns in a ziplock baggy, and whack them until you achieve a rough texture. Some of the peppercorns will still be semi-whole, and that’s what we want.

Peel & cube parsnips, toss with olive oil and spread out over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Roast in the hot oven for approx. 20 min, until tender and slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

In the meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water. When you have a rolling boil, add orecchiette and boil according to box directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a heavy skillet, heat 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil with chopped garlic & cracked peppercorn. When oil is hot, add chopped kale, toss and sauté for a few minutes until the kale starts to wilt a bit. Add wine and cream, and simmer over low heat to allow the liquid to reduce by approx. half.

When sauce with kale has reduced and thickened a bit, add 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Add reserved pasta liquid until sauce is the right texture and coats evenly. Test with the back of a wooden spoon: if you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of your spoon, and the ‘edges’ stay put and don’t run, it means your sauce is the perfect thickness.

Add drained pasta and roasted parsnips to the pan with the sauce. Toss and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serve hot.

** You can also add some cooked Italian sausage, if you like.

Roquefort, Gruyère & Walnut Puffs

24 Aug

For the longest time, puff pastry scared me. I’m not a baker at all. It seems all my culinary talent is condensed into cooking, and the whole idea of working with dough brings forth horrible visions of botched pies and messy fails.

The thing is, is that baking requires you to be precise when measuring ingredients, to the point where I fear I’m playing Russian Roulette with my ticket to baking heaven if I even dare contemplate an extra component. I’m not a precise-kinda lass. I feel that all that preciseness cuts off the creative flow in my ‘chi’, and it prevents me from adding a little bit of this and that. I openly confess that all my baking attempts have resulted in mediocrity at best, and it’s nearly always been so, because I can’t stick to directions.

Puff pastry tops high on my rank of deliciousness. The first time I ever used puff pastry dough was for a lovely fig tart. Given my track record in baking anything, my expectations for success were low, but it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. I was so thrilled with myself that I figured a ribbon from the Pope would certainly be nigh.

Since then, puff pastry & I are BFF’s and it makes a frequent appearance at brunch. The scrumptious savory rolls below are a breeze to make and you could easily swap out the ingredients for things that are on your favorite list! For me, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with blue cheese, so if I want something flavorful & cheesy, that’s usually the route I take…

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ROQUEFORT, GRUYÈRE & WALNUT PUFFS
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Williams-Sonoma’)
– 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed (11×14)
– 3oz of Roquefort cheese
– 2-4 Tbsp of double cream (like mascarpone)
– 1/2 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or minced
– 3 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese, shaved or grated
– honey, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400F, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a flour-dusted work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick, then cut in half lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, combine cheeses and enough cream to make a spreadable paste.

Spread half the mixture on one half of the prepared puff pastry, spreading to within 1/4 inch of the edges. Sprinkle with walnuts, rosemary and drizzle a wee bit of honey over the top.

Starting from the long side, roll up pastry sheet and pinch the edge to seal. Repeat with other half of the puff pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolls crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick.

Place on your lined baking sheets, spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

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!

Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

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I love everything about fresh figs, really. The sweet stickiness that lingers on your lips, the earthy smell, the bright red flesh that offsets the crisp green or deep dark purple of the skin, the plump texture with just the right amount of crunch form the tiny seeds… I even like the shape of the bright green leaves and the knottiness of the tree branches. Let it be known that if I were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d like to come back as a fig tree.

Mom must have loved figs too, because I remember us bringing back a few saplings during one of our vacations in the South of France. Mom carefully nursed them on our dining room window sill, where the afternoon sunlight would caress their tiny organic bodies and would cause their little leaves to quiver from the warmth. The next Spring, we planted two of them in the backyard, in a post-winter ritual involving partially decomposed dog doodoo and a rusty shovel (with possibly some canned banana shoved in the hollow handle) (*). We didn’t hold much hope for the saplings’ survival of the first brutal Belgian winter that would be nipping at their fragile roots come November, nor did we expect for them to thrive in our cold, wet climate. Despite all odds being stacked against them, these little knotty fig trees have grown to reach the edge of my mom’s single level’s rooftop over the years. Overwhelmed by the amount of fruit they’d produce every late Summer thru early Fall, we couldn’t keep up with the harvest and… well… let’s just say that the crows & squirrels of the ‘Jasmijnenlaan’ were well fed.
(*) For more intriguing story lines of ‘canned bananas’, please read my banana butter post here.

I realize that figs are expensive outside of Southern California. Lucky for me, however, I happen to live in a dry, sunny climate, similar to the Mediterranean where fig trees thrive. Even better is that ‘fig season’ actually comes in 2 installments… The first crop, named the ‘breba’ crop, grows from branches that sprouted the previous year and is the harvest that begins in late Spring. It’s a fairly short-lived season, usually with the last crops harvested around early Summer. The second & larger harvest, sprouting from this year’s branch growth, begins in mid-August and runs as late as October for some varieties. This means that, with a bit of clever pre-planned farmers market hopping, I can actually enjoy fresh figs with nary a hiccup through fall. Most of the figs around here are ‘Brown Turkey’ figs or ‘Black Mission’ figs, with the deep purple black mission fruit usually having a more intense fig flavor. Later in the summer, you see ‘Kadota’ figs and ‘Calimyrna’ figs. Kadota figs are used mostly for drying, but the bright green Calimyrna’s are excellent for eating raw as well. ‘Adriatic’ figs and striped tropical ‘Panachée’ figs are quite scarce over here, so if you see them, grab them.

If you’ve never eaten fresh figs before, don’t be alarmed. When ripe, there are few fruits that compare to their sweet juiciness and I know you’ll love them too. Simply rinse the whole fruit, trim the stems back a bit and sink your teeth in like you would a strawberry. On the other hand, fresh figs are a treat when roasted in the oven with some goat cheese or chopped in salads, or you can bake them into a sweet or savory tart like I did below.

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FRESH FIG TARTLETS WITH GOAT CHEESE & HONEY
– 4 pieces of puff pastry, sliced into 6-7 inch rounds (or squares)
– 5-6 oz of soft, mild goat cheese (or if you don’t like goat cheese, use ricotta)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped
– 1 tsp of lemon zest
– 6 fresh figs, sliced fairly thinly (like you would a lemon)
– Honey, for drizzling
– Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place 4 puff pastry rounds on top, spaced approx. 1.5-inch apart. In small bowl, soften goat cheese with some salt & pepper to taste, and the lemon zest. Divide goat cheese mixture evenly over the center of the puff pastry rounds, making sure to leave approx. 1 inch of the edges clear. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over the goat cheese.

Place fresh fig slices over the goat cheese to more or less cover. Fold the edges of the pastry over themselves just a little bit, so you get a bit of a thicker edge on the outside.

Bake the tartlets in the oven for approx. 15 min until the edges are puffed and the center looks caramelized and somewhat gooey. Drizzle some honey over the top and serve warm.

Omoe Jozefa’s homemade mustard

5 Jul

Since I posted a recipe for homemade ketchup yesterday, it’s only befitting that I would post one for mustard today. After all, ketchup & mustard belong together like Siegfried & Roy. Seperate them, and – well – things are just not right.

While it’s not a Belgian invention, mustard is another one of those Belgian staples. It’s served alongside everything. If you hail from a small Flemish country town like I do, you surely remember the annual Summer ‘Breugel Feesten’ where you are traditionally presented with a plate of diced gouda & paté of pheasant or wild boar, served alongside a bowl of zesty ‘cornichons & ajuintjes’, tiny little pickled dill gerkins & onions… all to be washed down with a nice dark Leffe ‘van ‘t vat’ (Leffe beer on tap).

Mustard is ridiculously easy to make, albeit a bit time consuming as it requires some planning ahead. You’ll find many mustard recipes online, but the basic recipe below comes from my very own grandma Jozefa, bless her soul. She made sure that I understood the importance of using non-reactive utensils and unsuccesfully taught me the virtue of being patient. Mustard is really nothing more than a combination of ground (or powdered) mustard seed and some sort of liquid, blended together with any flavorings you fancy.

There’s a few tips I can pass along to you:

  • For a spicy and flavorful mustard, always use a combination of yellow, brown and/or black mustard seed. Yellow seed is fairly mild and – when used alone – typically yield a ‘flat’ or very mild mustard. For a bolder flavor, you need to add some black mustard seed.
  • To change the flavor, experiment by swapping liquids (beer, champagne, white wine…) and adding additional flavorings (tarragon leaves, honey…)
  • When adding the liquids to the ground mustard seed, the temperature of the liquid makes a difference too: hot liquids yield a more mild mustard whereas cold liquids give it more kick or bite.
  • The longer mustard ‘sits’, the milder it gets. Don’t be alarmed if your mustard tastes too spicy right after you made it, it’ll definitely ‘calm down’ in a few days to a week.

HOMEMADE MUSTARD – THE BASICS  (yields approx. 5oz of mustard)
– 2oz of mustard seed (I use even quantities of yellow, black & red or brown mustard seed)
– 3.5 fl oz of white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
– 3.5 fl oz of water
– pinch of salt, to your liking
– pinch of sugar or 1 tsp of honey, if you like your mustard a bit sweet

Place the mustard seed in an airtight glass (or non-reactive) jar with the water and vinegar. Shake well and let sit for 24-48 hours.
In a food processor (or with mortar & pestle), pulverize the soaked seeds until you get a nice creamy paste. This takes a bit of time, so be patient. For a more grainy mustard, blend less. For a creamier mustard, keep on blending until you achieve the desired creaminess. Add a bit more water one tbsp at a time if it all turns out a bit too grainy and dry. Also, homemade mustard is not quite as ‘yellow’ in color as store-bought mustard. If you fancy that yellow color, add a dash of kurkuma for color.

BEER-THYME MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above, but replace water & vinegar with 4.5oz of full-bodied red or amber ale (or stout), and 2.5oz of champagne vinegar. Once blended, add 1-2 tsp of finely chopped fresh thyme leaves.

HONEY-DILL MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When the mustard is blended to your desired creaminess, add a 1-2 tbsp of honey and a whopping tbsp of chopped dill.

LEMON-TARRAGON MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon zest and 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

ROSEMARY MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 2 tbsp of very finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Homemade mustard lasts approx. 1 month in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Before using, allow it to sit for approx. 5 days so the ‘fire’ dies down a bit and the flavors have a chance to blend together.

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