Tag Archives: topping

Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

Lucette’s Calvados Apple Butter

12 Sep

Just last week, my colleague Alex asked me if I could figure out the recipe for Lucille’s famous apple butter. If you’ve had the pleasure of dining at ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that gooey, buttery sweetness you spread entirely too thick over those soft warm biscuits… of which they only give you two! Good Christian women are not greedy!

Until a friend treated me to a BBQ lunch at Lucille’s one time, I had never heard of apple butter. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I had ever tasted freshly baked warm biscuits either. Biscuits were non-existent when I lived in Belgium. The whole idea of serving a semi-sweet pastry with something even sweeter to smear on top… for dinner!…. is an abstract concept that was entirely foreign to me. Baked goods and sweetness belong with breakfast or way after dinner, not during dinner. The preposterous absurdity of eating something sweet with dinner, prompts my mother to give me her best ‘get this away from me!’ face every time she visits. To place this blatant snubbing of a Southern staple into perspective, Cecilia’s idea of a delectable dessert is a smelly plate of French cheeses with crackers… which is entirely an appetizer in my book, but whatever. She usually passes on a ‘real’ dessert altogether. Evidently, she is sweet enough ‘as is’. ZING! POW!

The smooth, tasty apple lover of Lucille’s is a compound butter that is made with real butter, unlike the typical delicious fruit butters you see appearing on grocery shelves around Fall. I figured I did not want a regular compound butter with big chunks of apple in it, I wanted the smooth bluesy James Brown kind the restaurant chain itself offers. I found several recipes online but ‘powdered apple’, really? I don’t know about you, but a dehydrator is not something that collects dust on my kitchen counter. I also do not per se want to plan my apple butter-making adventure 7 days in advance so I can then order my ‘powdered apples’ online some place, nor do I want to spend 8-10 hours tediously watching apples dehydrate in my oven to see if they are dried enough already but not turning brown! I read somewhere online that reportedly Lucille’s blends its butter with the fruity canned apple butters you find jarred in various supermarkets, and an undisclosed amount of Karo corn syrup. I opted for using plain old dried apples. They’re readily available everywhere, and you can also buy them in bulk in farmers market-type stores like ‘Sprouts’ here in Southern California.

In the end, I took the best of what I read online and ran with it… I think this delicious apple butter comes very close to Lucille’s in flavor, but can perfection really be… well… perfected? Let’s just consider my butter to be Lucille’s more sophisticated twin sister, and as such, I’m naming her Lucette. There.

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LUCETTE’S CALVADOS APPLE BUTTER
– 1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
– 2 Tbsp of light brown sugar
– 3 Tbsp of good quality honey (preferably orange blossom, but any kind will work!)
– 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract
– 6 oz of dried apple slices (not candied!)
– 1/4 cup of Calvados (French apple liquor)
(*) This is a sweet butter. If you want the butter to only be mildly sweet, reduce sugar & honey, to your liking.

In a food processor, soak the dried apples in the Calvados for about 20-30 min, then blend apples until you achieve a fairly smooth paste-like substance. Add in the butter, and blend until well combined. Then add the cinnamon, honey & sugar, and keep blending until you get a gorgeous and fragrant butter-like substance. Place in an airtight glass jar, and store in the fridge for a few weeks… as if this would even last a few weeks!

Blackberry Balsamic Onion Jam with Bacon

1 Sep

A few years ago, during a random browsing session at Williams-Sonoma, my eye fell on a small jar of balsamic onion spread. With a $10.99 price tag, I decided it was entirely too expensive so I bought it anyway. For a little while I smeared it on anything from bread to crackers and grilled cheese sandwiches, until I could see the glass bottom and went into full-blown panic mode and rationed it as though the end of civilization was nigh.

So when my mom arrived for a visit some weeks later, we picked up a few gorgeous cheeses and a loaf of crusty French bread at the farmers market for lunch one day. As I was setting the table, mom came upon my nearly empty jar of balsamic onion spread, tucked in the back of my fridge, where it was shielded from impulsive midnight snacking. I think she must have seen the frantic expression in my twitching eye, cause she grabbed it and dismissively announced that wherever it came from she was sure they had more. Later that afternoon, one sales rep at Williams-Sonoma in Palos Verdes, CA became employee of the month for a record sale of balsamic onion spread, financed by the ‘Bank of Mom’.

With onions being fairly inexpensive, and fueled by my degree in Business, I figured their profit margin on that drug stuff must be sky-rocketing high, and so I set out on a quest to recreate my precious anything-spread. Only, I’d make it even better. There was some unpalatable trial & error, and a fair amount of spontaneous gagging, but in the end I came up trumps with something that is out-of-this-world delicious. The addition of bacon was real stroke of genius, but you can leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian version.

For your BBQ pleasure, I also smear this deliciousness on a Brioche bun, and top a crusty browned beef patty with some blue cheese, a fried egg and arugula, for a killer-hamburger that has just the right amount of ‘wrong’!

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BLACKBERRY BALSAMIC ONION JAM WITH BACON
(…because bacon makes everything better!)
– 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into very small pieces
– 2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
– 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries
– salt and cracked ground pepper, to taste
– 2/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (*)
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2/3 cup cooking sherry
(*) I used a lovely blackberry balsamic vinegar I found at the Torrance farmers market, and it gave this jam an even sweeter & fruitier touch.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned but not crispy, approx. 5-8 min. Remove the bacon from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Drain off all but 2-3 Tbsp of the bacon grease and then stir in the onions. season with a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions for 2 min. then add a splash of cooking sherry, and scrape the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the blackberries, cover the pot and cook the jam until the onions are soft and brown, and the berries have broken down, approx. 15-20 min.

Stir in a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and remaining sherry, and add in reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens and is almost completely absorbed, approx. 10 min. The jam should be a dark rich brown at this point.

Allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

Bourbon Pecan Pumpkin Butter

29 Aug

With pumpkin season lurking right around the corner, I can’t contain my excitement any longer. If I had to name one thing that I absolutely love about Fall, it’s that for 8-12 weeks out of the year you can find pretty much find anything with the comforting aroma of warm spiced pumpkin.

Pumpkin was not a big thing in Belgium when I grew up. It was mostly used in soups, but I hear from friends that nowadays Halloween celebrations are popular too. As a child, I can’t remember a single fun Halloween celebration. My only memories of ‘All Hallows Eve’ are that it was a solemn Catholic affair, and not the commercial circus it is today. Instead of happily hanging orange or purple-glowing pumpkin- & bat-shaped porch lights, mom would dress us to the nines and we’d be picked up in my dad’s old Ford to attend a full blown Catholic mass with his side of the family. If a 60-min Catholic mass in Latin wasn’t enough to sit through as a young child, especially hearing all the happy ding-ding-dong’s from the fair rides echoing over the town square, we’d also had to gather outside in the icy cold October air after mass and stroll the cobblestone pilgrimage path around the grey stone church building 3x, with the adults reflected in deep prayer. After that ordeal, we’d then swing by the graveyard to ‘visit’ people I had never even heard of and place potted chrysanthemum bushes on their gravestones, and finally, when the blood in my young veins was adequately congealed and my cold hands just the right shade of bluish pink, we were allowed to get in the car and drive to someone’s house for sandwiches and soup… followed by hot ‘oliebollen’ at the fair!

Nowadays, I actually enjoy the atmosphere Halloween brings along. I’ll come right out saying that I’m very wimpy and as such not a fan of the various scary haunts you find across town (*), but I love seeing the pumpkin patches appear and the fact that Halloween sort of rings in the pumpkin-flavored ‘anything’ season. I never knew pumpkin butter was so tasty, until I saw it at the store one time and decided to try it for the sake of culinary progress. I can literally ssschhhhmear pumpkin butter on anything from bread to yogurt, and in the dead of night on occasion, I can be seen spooning it straight out of the jar… Because let’s be honest, whatever I put it on, is really nothing more than a vessel to get that deliciousness in my mouth. A few years ago, when perusing Williams-Sonoma, I willy-nilly picked up one of their recipe cards for pumpkin pie. If you think the jarred stuff is good, wait until you make your own! It’s so easy and tasty, you’ll allow none to touch it until they pry it out of your dead hands. Let ye all souls be warned!
(*) I once bravely accepted an invitation from a friend to go to ‘Shipwreck Queen Mary’ in Long Beach, CA… where I may or may not have screeched at the top of my lungs and spontaneously slapped a blood-covered ax-wielding actor in the face out of fear for my life. I plead the fifth… but I did apologize profusely. Oh dear.

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BOURBON PECAN PUMPKIN BUTTER
(Inspired by a recipe for pumpkin pie)
– 1 29 oz can pumpkin puree, approx. 3 1/2 cups (not the pie filling kind)
– 1/2 cup apple juice
– 1/3 cup of good quality Bourbon
– 2 tsp ground ginger
– 1/2 tsp ground cloves
– 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
– 1.5 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp of ground cardamom
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– 1 cup of pecans

Reserve lemon juice, pecans & bourbon, and combine all other ingredients in a medium Dutch oven or large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook without lid over low heat for approx. 45min until thick. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 400F and toast pecans for 10-15 min. Allow to cool and grind them into a powder with a food processor… Or crush them with a hand mixer for a chunky butter.

Pour bourbon into warm pumpkin mixture during the last 30 min, and simmer until liquid is evaporated.

Fold pecans & lemon juice into the warm pumpkin mixture and allow pumpkin butter to cool completely. Adjust spices as needed, to your taste.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for approx. a month… Not that it’ll last that long!

Kickin’ Chayote & Melon Salsa

28 Aug

I have a confession to make. Until I set foot in the USA, I had only vaguely heard of salsa. Let alone that I knew what it was supposed to taste like. As a matter of fact, the first time I tried it, was at a grungy roadside diner located across the street from my then office in Rockaway, NJ… Let’s just say that it was an overly sweet, jarred disappointment. It wasn’t until I set foot on California soil that my taste buds were properly courted by the smooth Latin lover that is ‘salsa fresca’.

Mom is an adventurous amateur chef, so it baffles me a wee bit as to why I didn’t really hear about salsa until I came to the USA. Frankly, growing up in Belgium and vacationing frequently in sweet Provence, we were surrounded by juicy tomatoes fresh from the vine every late Spring & Summer. When we moved into our new house in the country, mom even planted a few odd tomato plants against a sunny wall we shared with our neighbor. It so happens to be that those tomato plants set off a royal feud with Mr. Grouch, who never got over the fact that our yard was twice the size of his, and who vehemently claimed that watering our tomato plants caused structural damage to his garage’s wall. He was a royal pain in the you-know-what, and I won’t even go into detail about what happened when my soccer ball went over the fence and landed on his prize-winning dahlias. I don’t think the food blogging world could stomach the horror of such atrocity. But we digress… I think the problem with Flemish salsa may have been that things like limes, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – the latter being imported into Belgium and so by default ‘expensive’ – were either not in our family’s budget or not readily available… or mom didn’t care for them, which is the least likely of all three.

Mom is madly in love with fresh salsa & ‘pico de gallo’. During her weeklong California visits, she single-handedly powers through 2-3 family-size (!) containers of the stuff from the ‘salsa man’ at Torrance farmers market. She even engages in pseudo-English conversation with the man, using partial hand gestures and broken soap opera English. (*) She likes his stuff that much! Yes, the salsa man and my mom share a special bond.
(*) Like the time she walked into a grocery store in Spain, intending to buy cat food for the strays, sans knowledge of any Spanish, and resorted to signaling out “cat food” by pointing into her wide-open gaping mouth and uttering ‘meow meow’ to the unassuming store clerk. Per God’s blessing, I wasn’t present for this linguistic embarrassment.

With a great variety of fresh, flavorful salsas readily available here in Southern California year-round, I’ve never been challenged to come up with my own creation. I also don’t own a food processor, an excuse I’ve used far too many times to justify my salsa laziness. Now that I’m trying to live a little healthier with more ‘whole’ foods and fewer manipulated foods, I’m trying to move away from the jarred stuff which often contains ingredients that sound like they could be Klingon. No offense, Trekkie fans! The fresh tomato kind tends to come in the same boring old flavors, and I wanted to try something new. I can’t wait for my mom to be here in October, so she can then tell me in her dry, ‘matter-of-fact’ teacher voice that the tomato stuff from the salsa man is better. I’m fully prepared to embrace that defeat…!

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KICKIN’ CHAYOTE & MELON SALSA
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 chayote squash, peeled & diced very small (*)
– 1/4 honey dew or Galia melon, diced very small
– 1/2 red onion, diced very small
– 1 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped very fine
– juice & zest of 1 large lime
– 1 tsp of agave syrup
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
– salt, to taste
(*) If you’re not familiar with chayote, see picture below, you should know that they have a crisp, cool flavor similar to cucumber. The flat, almond-shaped pit inside is edible too, but I remove it for this salsa.

Place all ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold together to combine. Let ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for a few hours, so flavors have time to develop and meld beautifully.

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Banana Butter

24 Jul

It is no secret that there was a lot of banana-love to go around in our humble, ranch-style country home. As a matter of fact, my brother & I loved them so much that – to this day – we both vividly recall a traumatic very unfortunate episode from our youth in which mom decided to stock up on canned bananas, in an effort to meet basic supply & demand on a teacher’s budget. Since our mother was of the ‘no-nonsense’ type breed, she didn’t just buy a single can or two to give them a try. NO! She went ahead and bought a Costco-size pallet of them, to ensure she’d get us through the banana-famine that were our harsh Belgian Winters back in the day. Her heart was in the right place, but seriously mom?! Canned bananas???

If you’ve never heard of ‘canned’ bananas, go hug your mom now and thank her for not crossing over to the dark side. They were, for lack of better wording, nasty! Mom Tootsie Farklepants didn’t help the matter by maintaining a strict zero-tolerance policy in wasting food so… There you have it. I’ll spare you the gory detail, but let’s just say that for several months later, you would find partially-chewed canned bananas stuffed in the most peculiar places. Including our lawnmower.

None of this was enough to kill my banana-love, though. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than a warm, toasted English muffin, schmeared with butter and topped with honey-drizzled sliced bananas. Yum!

I have to include a moment here to thank ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’ for feeding me that delicious apple-butter that comes with their sweet, warm biscuits. The recipe below was totally inspired by that genius, so I owe them at least an honorable mentioning.

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BANANA BUTTER
(Inspired by ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’)
– 1 stick of room-temperature butter
– 1/2 of a very ripe banana
– 1/3 of a small, sweet apple, grated
– 1/4 cup of agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
– a pinch of grated nutmeg
– a pinch of ground clove

In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, combine all the inredients until well-combined & blended. Scoop mixture onto parchment paper and make a 1-1.5 inch roll out of it. Twist ends of the parchment to press butter roll together. Place roll in the refrigerator and allow to firm up for a few hours.

Coincidentally, this sweet butter goes great with the crepes I posted the other day, or melt a slice of the butter into some warm dark rum for a tasty hot buttered rum beverage!

Flemish Cocktail Sauce

14 Jul

Yesterday, whilst browsing for dinner ideas at our local market, we happened to walk past the fresh seafood display, when Scott stops dead in his tracks, points at the iced trays of salad shrimp and says: “Should we pick up some of these for shrimp-boy?!”, shrimp boy being one of the selfish opportunists we adopted from the shelter. Ever since we introduced his feline highness to his kitty-cocaine, he’s seriously addicted. And for only about $4.00/lbs, how could we resist?

Seeing those bright pink, plump little salad shrimp, jogged my memory and brought me back to sweltering Belgian summer days and shrimp-filled cold tomatoes with cocktail sauce. “Tomattes Crevettes” they were called, and they tasted delicious in the oppressing 90F degree heat that would occasionally envelope our garden patio during Summer.

I think one of the biggest food-disappointments I’ve experienced when I first moved here, was undoubtedly cocktail sauce. I remember first seeing it on the menu at a seafood joint in New York City and sharing my excitement with a few co-workers at the time. I had only been in the country for a few weeks, and seeing something familiar that reminded me of home somehow made me happy. When the bowl of iced shrimp made it to our table, I was confused about the dipping sauce and thought perhaps the kitchen staff made a mistake. It wasn’t the creamy, salmon-colored deliciousness that hugs your taste buds, but a harsh, slightly acidic bright red tomato sauce. I could discern horseradish, which seemed even stranger to me, but I was assured by my colleagues that this was indeed cocktail sauce. In the thirteen years I’ve been blessed to live here, I never touched American cocktail sauce ever again.

Below is the “Flemish” version of this beloved seafood dipping sauce.

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FLEMISH COCKTAIL SAUCE
– 3.5 oz of heavy cream
– 4 tbsp of mayo
– 1 tbsp of ketchup
– 1 tbsp of whiskey
– a few drops of Tabasco

Whisk cream by hand until slightly fluffy but still runny. Gently fold in ketchup & mayo until well combined. Add whiskey & tabasco sauce, and stir into a smooth sauce. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve with cold seafood or raw vegetables.

Homemade Nutella

13 Jul

If Belgium’s contribution to world peace & happiness is chocolate, than surely Italy’s is Nutella.

Pietro Ferrero, the brilliant mind behind ‘crema giandujot’, invented a chocolatey hazelnut butter during WWII, when chocolate was scarce and the traditional European chocolate butters that his children adored were no longer available. Pietro, driven by his desire to preserve his children’s happiness during the war, created a deliciously nutty paste of finely ground hazelnuts, milk and chocolate… and so ‘gianduja’ was born. Later, Italian chocolatier Ferrero-Rocher started marketing Pietro’s recipe as ‘Nutella’, and the rest is history.

Filberts, aka hazelnuts, have long been on my friends’ list too. It’s no secret that Nutella and my double chin I have been tangled up in a love triangle since my sweet sixteenth. I finally swore off the stuff because – as a cruel act of nature – my hips would expand every time I even remotely glanced in the direction of something I liked sugary.

I thought it would be fun to try and recreate Nutella. However, browsing the Internet for a recipe quickly became a Herculean task. From Vegan to French, pretty much all recipes called for the elaborate task of roasting, peeling and grinding hazelnuts into a fine paste and combining that with molten milk chocolate. I happen to know that Italian ‘gianduja’ is made this way, so I figured I could skip this step and create my own recipe using gianduja instead… The texture is not quite as creamy as Nutella, but the flavor is really close, in my opinion. You should be able to find the ingredients at your local specialty kitchen supply or baking store, or you can order most of it from Surfas online.
(*) if you decide to make your own gianduja, blend 1 cup of roasted & peeled hazelnuts with approx. 7 oz of melted milk chocolate and 1tbsp of butter. You will need a professional strength food processor or a vitamix, in order to achieve a fine paste or butter that is not ‘gritty’. Pour mixture out on a plastic lined baking sheet using a candy mold, and allow it cool outside the fridge in a chill area of max. 65F until it sets. You can then dice it or cut it as you like.

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HOMEMADE NUTELLA
(recreated from various recipes on the Web)
– 3 oz of milk chocolate, chopped
– 1 oz of bitter dark chocolate, chopped
– 5 oz of pure gianduja chocolate, chopped
– 1 397gr. can of UNsweetened condensed/evaporated milk
– 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar (or brown cane sugar)
– 1/2 cup of heavy cream (or half & half)
– 1 tsp of pure hazelnut extract
– 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
– 0.5 oz of cocoa butter (or 1/4 cup of coconut oil)
– pinch of salt

Warm condensed milk and cream over medium to low heat. Add chocolate & cocoa butter and sugar, and melt everything together until it’s well-combined. Add hazelnut & vanilla extract and stir to incorporate the flavor. Give it a pinch of salt to your liking, and pour into glass jars. Allow to cool & harden in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Belgo-American Beef Tartare

9 Jul

Literally translated, ‘Filet Américain’ means American Filet of Beef. But don’t be fooled. Filet Américain is not ‘just’ filet of beef, it’s tender raw beef that has been minced or ground very finely, blended with a delectable selection of spices, and bound into a heaping mush of savory deliciousness with mayo and egg yolks.

There you have it, my American friends. Before you collectively shout ‘FOUL!!’ and bombard me with various FDA warnings about eating raw beef and eggs, please allow me to ease your anxiety and assure you that I was spoon-fed Filet Américain from the moment I grew teeth, and live to tell about it… I’m not alone either. Millions of Belgians feast on Filet Américain every day. It’s practically written into our Constitution… thou shalt eat Filet Américain on thy lunch bread every day! It’s a National staple. A cornerstone in the Belgian lunch food pyramid.

Served atop crusty bread and topped with capers, pickled gherkins (‘cornichons’) or diced raw onions, it’s like the Cadillac of all beef tartare.

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FILET AMÉRICAIN
– 8 oz of very lean beef (*)
– 3 tbsp of ‘Kewpie’ mayo (**)
– 2 tsp of mustard (see homemade mustard here)
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tsp of paprika powder
– ½ tsp of salt
– ½ tsp of black pepper
– ¼ tsp of sweet curry powder
– 10 drops of Worcestershire sauce
– pinch of cayenne, to taste

(*) buy good quality beef, as beef is the star in this recipe. It doesn’t have to be an expensive cut of beef, but it needs to be extra lean and preferably ‘prime’. I use beef eye round.
(**) Kewpie mayo is a Japanese mayo that is richer, more yellow and more ‘sour’ than regular mayo. If you can’t find it, use regular mayo and add a few drops of lemon juice

In a food processor, mince all ingredients together until a nice, even consistency forms. You want a gooey looking spread. Et voilà, you’re done.

If you don’t own a food processor, like me, select a piece of beef you like and ask your butcher to grind it fresh for you. They do this without any qualms at my grocery store. You can also buy extra lean pre-ground beef, but freshly ground beef takes the cake, as who knows when exactly that package of ground beef was actually ground?! Right?

Whisk the egg yolk, mustard and mayo together. In a bowl, add whisked eggs, mayo & mustard to the beef and blend well. Add all spices and Worcestershire sauce in the beef mixture, and combine until a smooth even consistency forms. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and add some cayenne pepper to your liking.

Spread this on top of your bread of choice. Top with capers, little pickled cocktail onions or diced raw onions… and prepare to go to beef heaven.

** In the unlikely event you have leftovers, you should know that this recipe should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to max. 48 hours only.

Wickedly Zesty Pickled Peppers

6 Jul

A few weeks ago, I came across food porn an inviting recipe from Deb Perlman at Smitten Kitchen for pickled vegetables. It looked so colorful and beckoning. In my giddy foodie enthusiasm, I sent it to my good friend Jolene, who would sell her left kidney for a pickle , and I pledged to make it that day. And then I forgot about it. Until today, when I noticed that a handful of bell peppers in my refrigerator had sadly abandoned the freshness club.

As I mentioned in my homemade mustard post earlier, something pickled of any sort makes a frequent appearance on any Belgian farmer’s table. Pickles are often served alongside cubes of farmers’ cheese (boerekaas) or Gouda, pâté, hunks of grainy brown bread and a Trappist beer. So when I stumbled upon Deb’s pickled vegetable recipe, it spoke seductively to my Belgian heart. There’s something magical that happens to your tastebuds when vinegary crunch and Gouda meet.

Deb’s recipe is a winner ‘as is’, but I didn’t have all the vegetables on hand and I also wasn’t particularly enthused by the idea of pickled sugar snap peas. In short, I took her recipe and ran with it… I added a few extra flavor components, like fennel seed and crushed red peppers for extra wickedness, and added a red onion & some garlic for oomph.

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WICKEDLY ZESTY PICKLED PEPPERS – makes approx. two 16oz jars.
(Adapted from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen)

– 1 red bell pepper
– 1 yellow bell pepper
– 1 orange bell pepper
– 1/2 of a red onion
– 1 large carrot
– 2 whole cloves of garlic
– 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
– 4 tbsp of white sugar
– 2 tbsp of salt
– 1/2 tbsp of fennel seed
– 1 tbsp of yellow mustard seed
– 1 tbsp of black pepper corns
– 1/2 tbsp of celery seed
– 1-2 tbsp of crushed red pepper, depending on how much bite you prefer.

“Julienne” all vegetables (except cloves of garlic) and set aside. If you have a mandolin slicer with a julienne blade, great! If you don’t have a mandolin slicer, try to finely slice your vegetables into thin strips as even in size as possible. (* if your mandolin is as angry as mine is, you may want to keep some band aids around)

In a small non-reactive sauce pan, heat vinegar, sugar, salt and all spices until sugar & salt dissolve only. Add water and stir. Let cool to lukewarm.

Place 1 clove of garlic in each glass (or non-reactive) jar.Divide sliced vegetables over jars, and gently pour vinegar mixture over the vegetables until completely submerged. You want to make sure the spices are more or less evenly divided over each jar as well.
Put the jars in the fridge and let the pickling feast begin. They will be pleasantly zesty in about 2 hours, and will continue to pickle a bit more over time. However, the flavor won’t change much from the first 2-4 hours of pickling. Provided you keep the peppers submerged in the vinegar at all times, they should last in your fridge for about 1 month.

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