Tag Archives: sides

Spiced Cranberries with Port

30 Oct

A decade ago, I apparently crafted a legendary cranberry sauce. Who knew?

Certainly not me. I wasn’t aware of its legacy in Harry’s mind, until I met my ex-colleague’s wife Yvette during an industry event several years later.

Harry & I both worked for the same laid-back outdoorsy-type tour operator in 1999-ish. Every year, we’d host an informal pot-luck Christmas luncheon in our warehouse-type office building, and since this was my very first employer in the USA and my first official ‘American’ Christmas party, I was eager to make an impression and volunteered to bring cranberry sauce. Truthfully, having been in the country for only about 6 months at the time, I hadn’t the faintest idea about traditional American holiday dishes. Candied yams, green beans with crispy onions, stuffing… it was all foreign, to me, but I knew cranberry sauce so – pen in hand – I jumped on our pot luck list like a pouncing tiger and victoriously jotted down my name for it.

I don’t recall receiving any compliments for that sauce, but that could easily be because I was too busy being mesmerized by Ken’s unfazed deep-frying of 2 turkeys in our warehouse’s back parking lot. He, Harry and a handful of others had moved some of our tour vans out of the way and were about to drop 2 fat turkeys in what looked like a homemade contraption of a few camping stoves and metal pots, the latter filled with oil that bubbled hotter than lava… This was all too much for Ebenezer Scrooge our British boss Tony, who lividly charged at us, clutching a ‘Safety in the Workplace’ pamphlet in his white-knuckled hand, and yelled a series of unsavory choice words I cannot repeat on here. I will never forget this, because Tony’s anger rattled me so, that I practically saw my work visa shredded before my eyes for even partaking in such unauthorized holiday hooliganism… in the work place, no less! And deep-fried turkeys? Whoa. Shut the front door. That, was entirely a new concept for Flemish old me.

Fast forward 12-13 years, and apparently, Harry is still talking about that cranberry sauce. When I met his wife Yvette again after nearly a decade of hiatus, and we got past the initial ‘hey, where do I know you from?!’ awkwardness, she animatedly explained to me that ‘my’ cranberry sauce has become THE standard by which her husband Harry has measured all other cranberry sauces for the past twelve years… “The sauce from that German girl in my office”, he labeled it.

Well, Harry, you’re forgiven for labeling me German in the first place…. And without further ado, you can now rest assured that your holidays will be properly sauced, provided you make it worth Yvette’s while. You’re welcome.

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SPICED CRANBERRIES WITH PORT
(The way Harry likes it…)
– 2 packages of fresh cranberries (2x 12oz)
– 2 cups of Ruby port
– 1.5 to 2 cups of white sugar (depending on your own personal taste)
– 1 stick of cinnamon
– 2-3 cloves + 1 star anise (in cheese cloth, so you can easily remove them)
– 1 small orange, juiced
– 1/2 whole peel of the orange, not zested!

In a sauce pan, heat port with cinnamon stick, orange juice & peel, cloves & star anise over medium-high heat until bubbly. Immediately add fresh cranberries & sugar, and stir to combine. Simmer until berries spontaneously burst and are beginning to break down, and sauce thickens. Approx. 20-25 min. Take from heat, remove cinnamon stick, orange peel and spice packet. Serve at room temperature or allow sauce to cool in the refrigerator. When cool, this sauce should be the consistency of a thick jam. Makes about 4 cups.

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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!

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