Apr 292011
 

Eton Mess from bibberche.comBack in the 7os and 80s, we watched a lot of historical mini series. My favorites were Roots; Shogun; I, Claudius; Leonardo Da Vinci; and Edward and Mrs. Simpson. It was so easy to get lost in another world gone by for an hour every week, to cry and rejoice, to root for the good guys and curse the villains, all along learning the ways of the past, having the scenes etched forever in the memory.

The story of England’s King who abdicated the throne to be with the woman he loved was one of the most romantic I have ever encountered. I was always the sucker for romance and my world was intentionally full of melodramatic love sagas. For me, he was a noble outlaw defying strict and illogical rules, fighting for the rights that should be inalienable for anyone. That he and his beloved Wallis suffered exile until the end of their lives seemed to a fourteen-year-old me like a small price to pay for true love.

I have never been a British Royalty groupie, but I could not avoid the news  blasting at me from every corner, as the media loves to bring the haughty aristocracy closer to the masses. I followed Queen Elizabeth’s voyages through the world, waved a high five when she knighted Elton John,  smiled sweetly when homely Charles married comely Diana, and cried for her children on the day the Princess died. I tried to avoid the yellow print, but unavoidably had to cast an occasional glance at the front page of People as I waited in line at the grocery store. So, I was aware when Charles started openly dating Camilla. And as everyone was appalled, I thought they were physically much better suited as a couple.

I am not really interested in the daily escapades or routines of the rich and famous. If a piece of information hits me while I flick through channels during commercial breaks between Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy rounds, I will process it and move on, unperturbed and unchanged.

The world outside my own is atwitter with the news of the latest royal wedding. The bride and groom are young and beautiful (again, the bride outclassing her royal catch), and one day they will pretend to rule one of the most powerful nations in the world. I wish them all the luck in the world, but if I can avoid it, I’ll stay away from any news channels today. But the food world has its special ingenious tricks in its magic hat. I can poo poo the reports of the color of Kate’s dress, but I cannot resist  the onslaught of the recipes for scones, crumpets, popovers, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, fish & chips, tarts, and cucumber and watercress sandwiches saturating every nook of my virtual world.

I will avoid my TV set  like a leper colony, but in the weeks leading up to the big British bash, my family has experienced a slight change in programming, getting to taste recipes form Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, and Nigella Lawson. Oh, I try to run around the well at least once, not wanting to admit how easily I can be influenced, and I prepare Jamie’s Morrocan Beef Tagine or Nigella’s Big Pasta with Mushrooms, not landing anywhere near the British Isles in my culinary escapades.

But it is just a ruse. I am still a big sucker for romance, but this time the love comes enveloped in food, smelling like freshly baked bread, and tasting of sun-kissed apricots. I will join in the celebration in my own way, offering a light, easy, beautiful dessert that glistens with macerated strawberries resting atop soft, white, pillowy whipped cream, its smooth texture pleasantly interrupted by crumbled crunchy meringue pieces.

Eton Mess is usually served at Eton College’s annual cricket games and appeared for the first time in the 30s. I thought it was the most appropriate dish to ring in the new couple, as I am convinced that William had attended Eton at some point, rowing, riding, eating crumpets, and waiting on his own Wallis Simpson.

meringues from bibberche.com

ETON MESS (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe from Nigella Express)

Nigella’s recipe asks for store bought meringue, but I made my own, because it’s so easy, and I always have frozen egg whites in the freezer. The recipe is my grandmother Njanja’s. The rest of the ingredients do not really have to be measured or weighed, as the recipe is pretty flexible.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cut up strawberries
  • 2-3 tsp pomegranate juice (or any other red juice, sour cherry, even cranberry)
  • 1-2 tsp sugar (if the strawberries are ripe, it’s not necessary)
  • 2 cups (about 500ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2-3 Tbsp sugar
  • 4-5 crumbled meringues (recipe follows)

Directions:

 

Sprinkle the strawberries with juice and sugar, stir carefully, and let macerate until you whip the heavy cream. When the soft peaks start forming, add sugar. When done, crumble in the meringues, mix lightly with a spatula, and divide into several serving dishes, depending on the desired serving size, alternating layers with macerated strawberries. Finish with strawberries and serve.

For the meringues:

  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 250gr (about 1 cup) sugar (can substitute part for brown sugar, for tan color)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 250F*.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, add the sugar and lemon juice or vinegar. Put the meringue into a pastry bag with a star tip and pipe the rosettes, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the heat off and leave in the oven for another hour.

* my oven is obviously off, as my meringues turned tan at this temperature; if you know that your oven is hotter than normal, adjust the heat

I am sending my Eton Mess to Mardi at Eat Travel Write. She is hosting Forever Nigella blog event this month celebrating Royal Wedding. This event was started by Sarah from Maison Cupcake.

I am proud to display here an award that I received from Wit, Wok & Wisdom on her Let’s Break Bread blog event. Thanks:)

Apr 272011
 

Rolling Stone Restaurant from bibberche.com

When I first read the name Rolling Stone Restaurant and Lounge, I immediately thought of Hard-Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. But  a quick search through Google piqued my curiosity and dispelled the thoughts of mediocre and overpriced bar food. Last time we walked down Hollywood Boulevard, we were showing the sights to my sister and her husband visiting from Germany, our own tourist tags barely expired.

Somewhat incredulous to be strolling along the sidewalks looking like natives, mostly oblivious to whose star we might be trampling on the Walk of Fame, we opted for the circuitous Highland Avenue route so we could check out the awesome silo-like front of the restaurant. It is situated right in the middle of one of the most famous locations in the world, a hop from the Kodak (where they have the Oscars) and a skip from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (where the biggest stars in the world leave their surprisingly small footprints in cement), and a jump across from California Pizza Kitchen. But once we left the kitchy, loud, crowded street and stepped inside, we were greeted by a sleek, modern space, all glass and bold geometry contrasting with soft,  flickering candlelight.

The bar area of the restaurant is not big, but promotes a friendly intimacy that makes conversation possible and likely… an oddity for even a restaurant bar these days. There is enough room to relax on several leather benches, sipping one of the signature cocktails concocted by their own mixologist Tricia Alley. I chose a festive red Wayfarer made from cane sugar rum, house-made Grenadine, citrus juices and a touch of Angostura bitters, but promised myself that next time I would try the pale yellow and very refreshing-looking Whiskey Delicious with muddled cucumbers and mint. We found out that every morning an employee comes in to press and squeeze juices for several hours and that all the ingredients in the cocktails are organic.

RSLA Dining Bar 1

Photo courtesy of RSLA

While the skilled bartenders entertained the crowd, I walked over to the parapet and took in a glamorous lounge sprawling on the lower floor. A huge crystal chandelier’s icy prisms danced into the sea of violet light bathing luxurious, white, semi-circular booths wrapped around small tables. A different level opening a completely new world with another bar and a promise of a great party night. If  there was music I would have climbed those curving stairs and joined the crowd on the dance floor. But there was no music, nobody was dancing, and I found myself in the main dining room, soaking in the ambiance.

The Lounge at RSLA from bibberche.com

More geometry on the walls, blocks of glass interrupted by black metal, quotes from musicians, their familiar faces rendered in stylish black and white and suspended all around with the subdued neon lights subtly illuminating the tables in changing colors. Another wall of glass overlooked the street. The ceilings had more blocks, more faces, and more inscriptions, but the whole effect was neither overbearing nor busy. I guess we expected that tired Applebees style where they throw a yardsale full of mementos and schlock at the walls. We were happy to see the style was sleek, smooth, and somewhat subtle. Rock-n-roll music played in the background while the servers, dressed all in black, walked around smiling.

The concept of the restaurant’s food is not new, but the approach is different. The Executive Chef, Christopher Ennis, trained in his native New York and here in California, gaining recognition as one of top chefs in Los Angeles. He has lent his expertise to Fig&Olive at Melrose, a  New York based French restaurant group that recently started to expand into California. His menu is versatile and the ingredients sourced whenever possible from local farmers markets.

RSLA Dining Booth

Photo Courtesy of RSLA

Dungeness Crab Stuffed Mushrooms ($12) were delectable, brought to the table piping hot, mushrooms perfectly sized for a nice bite, crab meat sweet and creamy. Smoked Trout Toasts ($9) were served with horseradish and marinated baby beets, the textures complementing each other. We loved the bold flavors of Pamplona Chorizo Flatbread ($14), curbed somewhat by Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, Cured Olives, and Fresh Oregano. Our waiter, Buck, originally from Texas, recommended Warm Cheddar Popovers served with Caramelized Apple Butter ($5), and these light, doughy, cheesy bites were perfect to tide us over until the next course.

The salad was a delightful mix of crispy romaine lettuce, sweet roasted baby beets, thin, crunchy slices of Pink Lady apples, spicy hot pecans, and creamy goat cheese. Flaky Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon ($20) rested on a bed of wilted spinach livened by golden raisins, capers, and fingerling potatoes. Grilled Rack of Lamb ($18 for a half, $34 for a full rack) was a succulent example of medium rare, accompanied by earthy black quinoa, grilled spring asparagus, and Greek yogurt, a Mediterranean-Andean fusion which hit the spot.

RSLA Main Dining

Photo Courtesy of RSLA

The dessert, Seascape Strawberries and Rhubarb Tart, might have been the best example of Chef Ennis’s vision. The flaky, buttery crust hugged honey-sweet local strawberries and tangy rhubarb, while a mascarpone crÄ—me fraiche offered a mild respite. I took my time breaking the crispy crust with my fork, loading it with fruity filling, and scraping some mascarpone on the way up.

Definitely not your mediocre, overpriced bar fare, even though there is  Burger ($14), served with Balsamic Onions, Aged Cheddar, and Smoky Blue Cheese, a Turkey Sandwich ($10) with Melted Brie, Fig Marmalade, Basil, Walnut Raisin Bread, a Reuben ($11), and even an Egg Salad Sandwich ($9).

On our way out, we passed by yet another part of the restaurant called the B-side. This room can accommodate 40 to 50 people. It has a separate entrance off Highland Avenue and its own bar. The walls are dark, made of bricks, and you feel like you are in a Prohibition-era speak-easy. It’s a cozy space, perfect for small, private affairs. It welcomes the local crowd and hopes to build a strong relationship with wary Angelenos.

Our friends and relatives visit often. We take everybody to see the Kodak Theater, Grauman’s, and the Walk of Fame. After everybody takes the obligatory photo with the Hollywood sign in the background, we are usually starving and predictably grumpy. But knowing ahead that we can satisfy everybody’s whims with one visit to the Rolling Stone Restaurant located just around the corner will make our tour-guide experience immeasurably more pleasant.

Rolling Stone Restaurant and Lounge

6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, at Highland Avenue.

Phone (323)464-4000.

Website: www.rollingstonela.com.

RSLA Logo

Apr 182011
 

Beef Tagine from bibberche.com

Ever since I learned how to talk (they tell me it was long before I took my first step), I was fascinated by language. Creativity was a default for me, coming up with my own words for whatever crossed my path unlabeled, and pretty soon everybody around me adopted my inventive nicknames for grandparents, relatives, and neighbors. I read voraciously and my parents fed my addiction by providing me with reading material at any cost. They bought books from  bookstores, ordered them from catalogs, filled in paperwork for door-to-door salesmen, and even purchased the newest editions from the shady types that would set up their portable exhibits on the trunks of their cars in the parking lot of the only department store in town.

The walls in our house were lined with bookshelves, and there was no prohibited reading – even Father’s medical encyclopaedia and Mother’s beloved art books were not off limits as long as we treated them with respect. We rarely borrowed material from the library, not for a lack of interest, but because the bookshelves in our house were constantly overfed and dripping with such a voluminous variety that we seldom needed to look beyond it.

I did not stop with just exploring the depths of Serbian, or as it was known back then, Serbo-Croatian language. Mother was a German teacher, and since we were small, she would interject words and phrases of Deutsch into our everyday communication. She tucked us in with German lullabies, taught us nursery rhymes, and sang songs about windmills and Lorelei. At ten, I started learning German on my own, using her old college books with yellow pages that seduced me with their smell which reminded me of cramped used-book stores somewhere in Vienna or Prague.

In  fifth grade, I started learning English in school. My English teacher was a strange creature in her late twenties who rented a room from the spinster sisters who lived across the street from our house. She rode her red bike to school, neck wrapped in a red and white scarf. She usually wore a t-shirt with a fading picture of Kabir Bedi as Sandokan* and a pair of ill-fitting jeans when all the other teachers adhered to strict dress codes and wore mid-calf skirts and matronly dresses exclusively.

Kabir Bedi as Sandokan

She pronounced mushroom moo-shroom, and made us learn the English alphabet by heart. To this day, I cannot spell correctly in my head. I have to write the word on a piece of paper or imagine it written to get it right. But in spite of her shortcomings, I became blessedly infatuated by the English language, its irregularities, illogical spelling, and crazy idioms. In order to override my teacher’s inability to correctly pronounce the words, Mother ordered for me an English course that consisted of tapes and shiny books featuring the Union Jack in all its splendor. While the other grade-school kids were busy chasing the soccer ball by the river and rollerskating, I spent afternoons after school rewinding again and again the tape recorded and listening to the proper BBC pronunciation.

The freshmen year of high-school, my teacher was a young and enthusiastic girl, recently graduated from the University of Belgrade. Her ideas were fresh, her methodology unorthodox, and I had a big teacher-crush on her. My sophomore year, the teacher was an older, small, bony woman with a bird face, horn-rimmed glasses and a perpetual frown. Her tight, thin lips were enough to turn me off English conversation, and her constant throat-clearing, which sounded as though she were trying to start a chainsaw, was the most annoying tick. In addition, she had us memorize paragraphs by heart. At sixteen, I was already pretty advanced in the subject, and I found it insulting. I would learn the whole lesson by heart, raise my hand, and recite it in monotone, ridiculing her and her inane teaching methods. This did not make me a teacher’s pet, and she learned to resent me. The feeling was mutual, but she did not kill my love of English.

I lucked out big time in junior and senior years. I knew that I would get along splendidly with my tall, quarterback-shouldered teacher from the first time she said in her perfectly accented Queen’s English, “Put the gum out of your mouth!” She was authoritative, knowledgeable, and completely capable of seeing through the most creative and imaginative bullshit that thirty or so smart, straight-A students in my class attempted to sell daily. I have heard that she moved to Australia a while back. Swept along with the excitement of graduation, prom, finals, and college applications, I never told her how much she influenced me in deciding to follow Mother’s steps and study foreign languages.

As a senior, I took a year of German in high school, attending classes after school and at night. I followed the curriculum, did my homework, took the tests and quizzes, intent on learning as much as I could. The kids looked at me as if I were a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not specimen, questioning my sanity, and laughing at me behind my back (as I found out more than twenty years later at a party :) ). I took all the jokes in stride, smiling all the time, helping them with their homework if they asked, trying to engage in everyday silly student routines. The teacher saw my determination and zeal and put me on the fast track. While the rest of the class was practicing declinations, I was translating passages. On the days when they were drilled on tenses, she gave me poems to read. When I received my high school transcripts at the end of the year, I saw that she had given me credit for four semesters rather than just the two I took.

Without all these women, I would not have decided to study languages and literature. I would not have attended the University of Belgrade’s College of Philology. I would not have married an American, and crossed the ocean toting only two suitcases. I would not have three daughters who speak fluently both mother tongues, mesmerized by foreign languages, and looking at the world of diverse cultures and traditions with wonder and curiosity.

I did not instill in them only the love of languages, but the love of eating well. My family is used to surprises awaiting them at the dinner table. I might not be the most accomplished cook, and I am not putting “personal chef” on my resume any time soon, but my curiosity leads me to explore the cuisines from all over the globe. Each foreign word I learn is like a piece of glass through which I can get a tiny glimpse into the soul of a different nation. And each new dish opens up a window, allowing me to hear the clutter of utensils, to see children seated around a table laden with food, and to smell the spices coming from the steaming plates.

The other day, I prepared Beef Tagine from Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie Does, for my group, I Heart Cooking Clubs. As I was rubbing the spice mix into the cubes of meat, I was thinking of the sixth grader sitting on the floor in the bedroom that she shared with her sister, completely absorbed by artificially annunciated phrases in British English coming from a Grundig tape recorder. Not for a second did that girl think that, one day, many years later, she would be making a Moroccan dish by a British chef in her American kitchen.

*Sandokan, or the Tiger of Malaysia, is a fictional pirate from the novels of Italian author Emilio Salgari. Popular mini-series that aired in the mid-70s all over Europe featured Indian actor Kabir Bedi as Sandokan.

This dish takes a little bit of planning ahead, but once the beef is marinated, the spices mixed, and the vegetables chopped, the process is simple and rewarding. The aroma of the spices hitting the heat of the oil fills the kitchen with comfort and anticipation. The sweet potato lends its creaminess and complements the tang of the tomatoes. The fruit is not overwhelming, but adds texture while the nuts give it a surprising and crunchy finish.

BEEF TAGINE (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s book Jamie Does)

Ingredients:

  • 600gr (1 ½ lbs) beef (I used chuck), cut into cubes
  • 3 Tbsp spice rub (recipe follows)
  • sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro
  • 1 can (400gr, 15oz) chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can (400gr, 15oz) chickpeas, drained
  • 800ml (1 quart) of beef stock
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 100gr (3-4oz) assorted dried fruits (I used cranberries, apricots, and raisins)
  • 100gr toasted hazelnuts

For the spice rub:

  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp North African spice mix*
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1 Tbsp sweet paprika

*Jamie calls  for ras-el-hanout,  (Arabic for ‘top of the shop’) a blend of the best spices a vendor has in his shop. The mixture varies depending on who is selling it, but can be a combination of anywhere from 10 to 100 spices. It usually includes nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, aniseed, turmeric, cayenne, peppercorns, dried galangal, ginger, cloves, cardamom, chilli, allspice and orris root.

I used cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, hot paprika, turmeric, and nutmeg.

Directions:

Mix the spice rub ingredients in a small bowl. Put the beef into a large bowl, massage it with about 3 tablespoons of the spice rub, cover with plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for a couple of hours (next time I will marinate it over night, as Jamie reccomends, for the spices to fully absorb into the meat.)

When you are ready to cook, heat sunflower oil in a casserole or a Dutch oven and fry the meat over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add chopped onion and cilantro stalks, and fry for another 5 minutes. Pour in the chickpeas, tomatoes, and half of stock and stir. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 1½hours.

At this point add sweet potatoes, died fruit, and the rest of the stock. Give everything a gentle stir, then put the lid back on the pan and continue cooking for another 1½hours. If it is necessary, add a splash of water if it looks too dry.

If it seems too runny, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more with the lid off. The beef should be really tender and flaking apart now, so have a taste and season with a pinch or two of salt. Scatter the cilantro leaves over the tagine along with the toasted hazelnuts.

I served it with Israeli couscous.

For the original recipe go to Jamie Oliver’s site, and for beautiful renditions of his recipes visit I Heart Cooking Clubs.

I would like to remind my readers that Saveur magazine is running its annual Best Blog Award in about a dozen categories, including the Best Essay. While I do not eve dream (yet) of becoming the Best Blog Ever, I would be extremely happy to be noticed for my writing. The nominations are open until 22nd of April, and Saveur will announce the finalists on 26th. Thanks!

I love Hearth and Soul blog event hosted by Alex at A Moderate Life. I am sending my tagine her way.

Apr 142011
 

My parents’ generation grew up in harsh conditions.  WWII was not kind to Serbia and many went hungry for years. Their view of food is very much akin to that of the Americans who survived the Great Depression. Meat was a luxury, served at holidays, and occasionally in the winter, through various reincarnations of the venerated pig (there was no part of the hog that was left unused). Wheat bread was reserved for the well-off, and the poor ate corn.  The main dishes were soupy, filled with vegetables and grains, and served with a lot of bread to sop up the juices and fool the belly into feeling satisfied. In some really large poor families,  mothers would frequently add a hefty amount of hot peppers so kids would eat less. It was a cruel, but unfortunately practical world in which children were dispensable, and men working the fields were kept at the top of the food chain.

Just like any other country’s peasant fare, Serbian traditional dishes, even today, contain small amounts of meat, hidden amongst piles of cabbage, carrots, peppers, eggplant, rice, or potatoes. Most of them, you eat with a spoon and several thick pieces of fresh bread. They are satisfying, simple, hearty, non-pretentious dishes. Not something you would seek when dining out, but definitely a first choice when coming home for the weekend from the University or after a camping trip with friends.

We usually spend summers in Serbia, and the peppers are everywhere, in all shapes, colors and sizes, their aroma permeating the market. Mother would carefully cut the stem out of each shiny, rounded, pale yellow pepper, loosely stuff them with onions sauteed with ground beef, salt, pepper, and a handful of nutty short-grained rice.  She would close the opening with a round slice of potato and lay them snuggly in a pot, potato facing up, covered with water and just a little bit of homemade tomato sauce. They would simmer for an hour or so, filling the kitchen with an irresistible  smell that always made me feel safe, comforted, and happy. When the skin became wrinkly and the peppers plump, she would serve them right from the pot; no side dish was necessary, just some good bread and a hungry crowd.

The young Beasties clamored for some stuffed peppers. I made Mother’s version several times this past winter. This time I decided to risk rebellion and take the stuffed peppers on a southeasterly trip.  They still contained the essence of summer, but offered a different approach in spices and seasonings which packed some intense flavors and an interesting mouth-feel.

We have befriended the Mexican butchers who run the meat department in our local Persian store. I practice my rudimentary Spanish with them, and they correct me. Husband tips them unobtrusively every time, so we do not have to worry about the quality of meat that ends up in our basket. I had them grind the lamb, imagining the tasty detour the peppers would make.

The Beasties observed, tasted, looked at each other, and continued eating. They did not stage a rebellion. The only complaint: not enough sauce. Well, I can live with that. I was safe! Sure, it was not Mother’s recipe, but it was unbelievably good. It did not fly me home with the speed of light, but it brought a dose of mystery, a sense of the exotic, the smell of comfort and the unknown at the same time.

The imaginary wrinkled, gray-haired, tired man I thought of while eating these peppers was not of Serbian descent. He was a Berber, somewhere in Maghreb, but his smile was the same. I bet he used a lot of pita to pick up the juices off his plate. And he laughed with his family, satiated and happy with the lingering taste of sweet peppers on his lips.

Blog-checking lines: Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

MOROCCAN STUFFED PEPPERS

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium bell peppers (I used two red, two yellow)
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup short-grain rice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp paprika (hot or sweet )
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup prepared tomato sauce

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Cut the peppers in half and cut off the stem. Heat the oil on medium temperature in a heavy skillet, add ground lamb and spices. Stir until browned 5-6 minutes Add onion and garlic, and stir for another 2-3 minutes. Add rice, stir until it becomes transluscent and nutty-flavored, 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and lemon juice, and stir for 2-3 minutes more. Stuff the peppers and lay them on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with prepared tomato sauce.

Moroccan Stuffed Peppers from Bibberche

I would like to send my peppers to Hearth and Soul blog event, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life.

Apr 092011
 

Focaccia from bibberche.com

My College Kritter’s infatuation with food probably started the day she was born, four days after the predicted date. After conferring with my ObGyn, Father called from the hospital and told me to be there at noon. I was a novice at the delivery business and did not want to take any chances of going without food. I calmly asked Mother to make me some sauteed chicken livers. Her first reaction was utter confusion, followed closely by incredulity, only to finish in amusement.

I sat at the table facing a plate of glorious morsels crunchy and salty on the outside, soft and sweet inside, with a hefty piece of crusty bread  on the side to dip into the flavorful lard. Mother’s chicken livers are always insanely good, but this plate stayed in my memory as the best. I had to get up occasionally and breathe rhythmically as I walked around the kitchen table. But I managed to polish off a huge plate just before Father arrived to take me to the hospital.

Fortified with all the comforting goodness, I was ready to tackle a two-to three day delivery process. But my firstborn arrived after only four hours of the most intense pain I had ever experienced, well before my morning meal was entirely digested.

The nurses told me the first day that she was one of the most voracious eaters ever, ruefully informing me that my breast-feeding would not suffice. My sister, the nurse, arrived from Germany the day Nina was born, toting a suitcase full of baby formula, just in case. The wars were ripping Yugoslavia apart, and baby food was a luxury, hard to find and extremely expensive. I was grateful and at the same time awfully sad, feeling inadequate at providing nourishment for my baby.

From the beginning she was not a picky eater. She approached new foods with enthusiasm and joy. She was a healthy and  happy girl. She was nine months old when I fled my country and came back to the States, frightened by the threat of international sanctions and bombing. When a pediatrician in the U.S. told me in an accusatory tone that she was too tall for her age, I stopped seeing him. Upon my return I faced an insecure future, a husband who barely worked, maxed-out credit cards, unpaid bills, and an empty refrigerator. In spite of all that was happening in our lives, Nina continued to thrive.

I still see that two-year-old sitting at Mother’s kitchen table in Serbia, chanting “Meso, meso, meso“*, banging her little fist holding a fork against the wooden surface, her curly dark pig-tails bobbing up and down keeping the beat. I remember her peeking under Father’s Yugo looking for a quince that rolled out of her hands, upset that her Baba would not be able to make jelly for her. I smile when I bring back the memories of her kneeling on a chair, covered in flour, working the rolling pin over the dough in earnest.

NIna from bibberche.com

At fourteen, she started making her signature yeast rolls with caramelized onions and rosemary. At sixteen, she fell in love with Asian cuisine and started preparing stir-fries and curries. At seventeen, she cooked a couple of meals a week and baked cookies with ease. When she was twelve, she announced that her first paycheck would go towards purchasing a whole wheel of cheese. True to her promise, she spent the first money she had earned hostessing in a restaurant on food. She came home with a wheel of cheese and several bags of groceries. That night we were treated to a beautiful feast of international food: crostini with gorgonzolla and fig preserves, a cheese platter, caviar, soft-boiled quail eggs, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, roasted asparagus, and Thai soup served in coconut shells.

My College Kritter has only recently become an official adult. Tired of the cafeteria food, she moved out of the dorm and into an apartment with two roommates. She calls occasionally, searching for a consultation on a meal she is preparing. She regularly confers with Mother on Skype, getting invaluable advice of the Queen of Cooking. Whenever she visits, she dives into my cookbooks and pastes colorful notes on dozens of recipes that intrigue her. I let her take over the kitchen, accepting in advance that dishes will miraculously disappear from their usual spots and that the Beasties will quickly become her volunteer slaves.

Coming home for winter break, she bought me the book, West Coast Cooking by Greg Atkinson. There are no photos, and the book is definitely not meant to be a coffee table conversation starter. But as I started reading, I felt the author’s love for the Pacific Coast and the abundance of food available to those of us lucky enough to dwell at the edge of western civilization. I am still in awe of the variety of edibles that surrounds me and I share his infatuation and gratitude.

West Coast Cooking from bibberche.com

Nina loves to work with dough. She is fearless and adventurous, while I hesitate when faced with finicky yeast. Any time she has to bring food to a party or a pot luck, she bakes bread. Thinking of her and missing her an awful lot, I chose to make Focaccia from my new book. The recipe was easy to follow, and I could hardly wait for it to come out of the oven. It was flavorful, soft in the middle, salty on the outside, with just enough spice from red pepper flakes and a nice burst of woodsy rosemary. I don’t know if it was better just by itself, or as a base for one of the best BLTs I have ever had. I only regret that I had not sauteed chicken livers. Sopping up the laden lard with such a beautiful Focaccia would be heaven.

*Meso is meat in Serbian

focaccia process

focaccia unbaked from bibberche.com

FOCACCIA (West Coast Cooking, by Greg Atkinson)

This bread was a breeze to make. The instructions were clear, the process easy to follow, and the resulting focaccia flavorful, soft on the inside, with hints of rosemary and spice on the outside.

Ingredients:

For the Sponge:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 envelope active yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Dough:

  • 2 ½ half cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

For the Topping:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Directions:

The Sponge: Put the warm water into a big mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top, and stir to dissolve. Mix in the flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge rest for 1 hour.

Add the remaining 2 ½ cups of flour and salt and mix until the dough starts pulling away from the sides. Move the dough onto the floured counter top and knead until elastic and springy. Place into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Pour the olive oil into a 16×12 baking sheet. Sprinkle some more flour onto the counter top and roll the dough into a rectangle big enough to fit into the prepared baking sheet. Put the dough in, and then flip it to oil the other side. Using your fingers make indentations all over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the rosemary, red pepper flakes, and sea salt all over. Bake until crispy and golden-brown, 15-20 minutes.

Focaccia from bibberche.com

I love baking bread. A new friend just started a blog event that has everything to do with bread, Let’s Break Bread Together. I am sending my focaccia her way. Visit Wit, Wok, and Wisdom for more wonderful bread recipes.

This is the first time that one of my recipes takes part in Susan’s YeastSpotting and I am excited. Cannot wait to check all the other entries.

Apr 042011
 

I have never written a guest post before. When Karen from Globetrotter Diaries asked me a couple of weeks ago if I would write a post about Serbian food for her blog, I was giddy. We have met before at one of the Food Bloggers of LA meetups and talked about going together to the 99 Ranch Market.

She came over on a Saturday, and we spent a lovely afternoon talking, cooking, eating, and getting to know one another. Karen took all the photos and washed all the dishes, and I felt very spoiled! Stuffed peppers never looked better to me. Share my excitement and head on over to Karen and Valerie’s beautifully written and highly informative blog featuring some of the most delectable dishes of the world brought to life in amazing photographs. In cooperation with Karen, I present you with Serbian Stuffed Peppers. Thanks, Karen, for the opportunity to cook with you! I had a great time.

For the photos of the peppers you have to visit Globetrotter Diaries. But I have some amazing red flowers blooming on the patio, posing shamelessly, waiting for the camera to make them immortal in their waning beauty.

red flowers from bibberche.com

Apr 022011
 

Quinoa, Nuts, and Fruit Salad from bibberche.com

A minute ago, I was sitting on the patio making googly eyes at a cloudless blue sky, breathing in the first scents of summer. A small bird with bright green feathers on its chest has made a nest underneath an eve, and weak, barely-heard chirps announced  an even smaller avian yawning its yellow beak in anticipation of food. The mimosa bushes on the hill are slowly shedding their yellow clusters and the lizards have become bolder. I love the fierce attack of the sun on my skin and the promises that come with its touch: the splash of the waves, sand-covered knees, grains of salt dried out on tanned arms, freckles, and gelato in Laguna Beach.

Living for years in Michigan and Ohio, my culinary experiences steered me toward the familiar and recognizable tastes of Eastern and Central Europe. The sky stayed gray for seven months, and once the leaves disappeared after a glorious October burst of color, green was exiled until the and of April. It seems that I cooked many dishes that involved simmering, roasting, and braising for hours, to bring to the table a plate as comforting to the palate as to the soul.

The girls and I spent summers in Serbia, and as soon as we got back, the stacks of firewood would start appearing in the yards, the pumpkins would greet us from front porches, and the north-western wind would begin to dispel the summer stuffiness and humidity.

And then we moved to Southern California where the world opened up its gates and my head started spinning from the various gastronomic influences competing for my attention. Long, warm days like this one were not a rarity, as I once thought, and it became easy to turn our lives into a globe-trotting adventure. Curious and daring, I plunged into the experience head first, filling the house with the exotic smells of countries that suddenly stopped being so far.

I don’t fret about dinner when the days get longer, the skies bluer, and the breeze warmer. I bid a teary-eyed farewell to my beloved winter friends: braised lamb shanks, oxtail soup, stuffed cabbage, and short ribs. I try not to think of the crispy crackling skin of a pork shoulder, or a comforting bite of pot roast. The wide open front door reminds me that there is a trusted charcoal grill on the patio eager to accept a beautifully marbled ribeye steak or some boneless chicken thighs from our local Persian market. A can of coconut milk in the pantry is enough to inspire me to take a culinary trip to Asia and bring all the flavors of Far East to my California kitchen. A sandwich night comes together in minutes with freshly baked rolls we buy at Henry’s Market, and several types of pasta I always have at hand make meatless meals an easy afterthought.

For dinner tonight I made a quinoa salad to accompany baked Vietnamese swai fish and sauteed summer vegetables. I discovered the pseudocereal (it is not a true grain as it doesn’t belong to the grass family) that originates in the Andes shortly after our move here. It is a species of goosefoot related to beets and spinach, but the seeds of the plant are very much like grain, a very rich carbohydrate. The ease of preparation, its nutritional properties, and the ability to meld with many different ingredients earned it a very common appearance at our dinner table.

First, I rinsed the quinoa, cooked it for 15 minutes, left it covered to finish absorbing the liquid, seasoned it with salt and pepper, fluffing it up with a fork, and then let it cool down. In the meantime, I toasted and cut almonds and hazelnuts and peeled some pumpkin seeds, grumbling and sending all kinds of evil thoughts in Husband’s direction for buying the seeds in the husks. I plucked a couple of large basil leaves from the plant on the patio, and chopped them, along with some mint, cilantro, and parsley that I buy in (very cheap) bunches at the Persian store. The nuts and the herbs went into cooled-off quinoa together with raisins, dried cranberries, and chopped dried apricots.

I made the dressing from grated ginger, lemon juice, and olive oil, and poured it over the salad, stirring until every grain was touched with it. The taste was fresh and light with flavors evoking the bazaars of Morocco and Tunisia, playing well together and complementing each other. Served atop mixed salad greens and finished off with a dollop of tangy yogurt, it was ready to be praised and cherished by the family.

Quinoa, Nuts, and Dried Fruits Salad was this week’s assignment for French Fridays with Dorie group. The recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table, among many other wonderful recipes. The book is well worth buying, and if you are curious about different experiences with this salad, visit our group.

AS we learned to love quinoa, I have to live the link for a completely different, but equally flavorful and satisfying dish using quinoa that I made this past year: Quinoa Stuffed Peppers.

quinoa, nuts, and fruit salad from bibberche.com