Jan 182012
 

Chocolate Chunk Cookies from bibberche.com

They tip-toe into the kitchen stealthily, whispering to one another, trying to open the cabinets without making a sound. They cast furtive glances in my direction while they move the bags and boxes aside, afraid that the rustling will attract my attention. Failing to excavate anything desirable from the pantry they move to the refrigerator and conduct an extremely detailed inventory of its shelves. I can hear sighs of disappointment when their quest ends without the expected result and they start to slowly retreat to their room, crestfallen, but resigned.

I sit patiently and wait for them to reappear armed with the sweetest smiles and hastily put-together speech in an attempt to cajole me to change my schedule and divert some of my time to making them a treat. I pretend that I am annoyed at their most inconvenient request, testing their determination and persuasion skills. I take advantage of the moment to ensure that their room will be picked up and free of clutter before I even think of dragging the hand-held mixer out. I have learned that they will promise everything but the most precious toys and trinkets in exchange for something sweet, and I do not hesitate to negotiate.

I enjoy assuming the role of a drill sergeant to my hapless grunts as I send them on the mission to collect the necessary tools and ingredients. In the meantime, I print the recipe and divide the roles. There is inevitably a dissent as they bicker and argue over the coveted task of cracking the eggs and holding the mixer, but in the end they surrender, knowing it is a very small price to pay for the chance to lick the whisks and bowls clean.

They take turns measuring flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, and vanilla, admonishing one another and competing in accuracy and expertise. They know how to weigh the ingredients on a scale, and they always break the eggs in a ramekin first to check for errant shells. I monitor their progress from afar, allowing them to garner confidence and train their hands to wield the cooking utensils skillfully. I close my eyes if an egg ends on the floor or if a cup of flour mistakenly gets splattered all over the counter. I count in my head as they take minutes for a step that I could accomplish in a second, but I do not intervene.

They take turns shaping rounds of dough with an ice cream scoop and placing them on a cookie sheet. As the bottom of the mixing bowl starts to appear, they start sending imploring looks my way until I relent and let them eat some of the dough raw. While the cookies are dispatched to the oven, they finish licking the bowl and the beaters and without too much fuss place all the used utensils in the sink. They return to their room giggling, their cheeks flushed from the excitement, eyes sparkling with the satisfaction of achievement.

Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies from bibberche.com

I sigh in relief, luxuriating in the ensuing moments of peace and quiet, as endorphins work their miracle in stopping them from bickering and whining. Every couple of minutes a sentinel would appear in the kitchen inquiring about the progress, seduced by the smell of melting chocolate blending with vanilla and butter, as the cookies slowly spread and turn golden. I get them out of the oven and let them cool for a bit before I carefully place them on baking racks in neat rows. They wait impatiently, having poured milk and laid the place mats on the table, their hands clutching small plates in anticipation of the first cookie.

They inspect them with scrutiny while they cool, trying to select the biggest specimens loaded with the most chocolate chips, their fingers slowly creeping to the chosen ones, afraid that the other one would get to them first. When I say Go! their hands flit to the cookies and snatch them off the rack in a second. For a moment they look into each other’s plates making sure that they ended up with the right cookie before they run to the dining room table and take the first, delicious bite of a still warm, soft cookie.

I return to my interrupted schedule with a smile plastered all over my face, listening to them giggle and describe the subtle undertones of vanilla and the barely perceptible, but complementing bursts of sea salt crystals. They might think they have won this battle, but I know that our little game will bring me hours of contentment.

When they finish, they place their plates and glasses in the sink and skip to their room, stealth completely gone from their steps. They will emerge from time to time to take another look at the cookies and to conspire about the best place to hide them before the Cookie Monster returns home from work and depletes their stash. But for now they are happy, working out their sugar rush with paper dolls and puppet shows, while I bask in the illusion of a quiet idyll.

Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookie from bibberche.com

CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

I cannot remember where I found this recipe, but I have been making these cookies for at least ten years. Husband, AKA Cookie Monster, has managed to convince me that they are the epitome of an all-American perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookie and I remain loyal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 stick (4 oz,115 gr) cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 slightly beaten egg
  • 7 oz (200gr) chocolate chunks (I prefer dark, good quality chocolate with high percentage of cacao, but this time all I had at hand were semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Directions:

Sift flour and baking soda, and mix in salt. Using hand held mixer (I am still waiting for a fairy godmother to bring me a ruby red Kitchen Aid stand-up mixer) combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar at low speed. Mix for 3 minutes. Add vanilla and egg and stir until combined. Slowly add flour mix and stir until it just comes together. Mix in the chocolate chips or chunks using a wooden spoon.

Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350F.

Scoop rounds of dough with and ice cream scoop and place them on 2 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving about 2 inches in between each cookie. Place the cookie sheets on the first and third shelf and bake for 10-14 minutes (depending on the size of your cookies) until just barely brown around the edges. Rotate the cookie sheets after 6 minutes.

Let the cookies cool of on the sheets for a couple of minutes before removing them to the cooling racks.

Last year post: Les Miserobbed (and a delightful recipe for Braised Lamb Shanks)

Jan 132012
 

ruzicara from bibberche.com

There are smells wafting from the kitchen window that can steal my soul during one breath and never release it: hazelnuts toasting in the oven; onions warming up in a sautee pan, slowly surrendering their sharpness and becoming sweet; garlic clove rubbed against the craggy surface of a brushetta; rows of red peppers roasting on the charcoal grill; specks of vanilla peppering the hot smoothness of Crème Anglaise; smoky bacon dancing in the skillet, hiding glistening drops in the curls of its edges…

But only one is capable of bringing tears to my eyes and enveloping me in imaginary soft and fuzzy blankets, making me feel content, comforted, and absolutely safe: the smell of bread baking in the oven. It is not alluring, nor seductive; it is not exotic, nor is it elusive; it is primal and rustic, inviting me into a warm cave offering shelter from blustery winds that plaster ice crystals on my eyelashes.

Warm-from-the-oven bread is one of my favorite foods. I prefer it smeared with lightly salted butter, milky kajmak, or home-rendered lard topped with salt, paprika, and thinly sliced onions. When I bite into the firm crust, I find myself running after the cows with my cousins, one hand clutching a book, the other firmly gripping a big, crunchy piece of bread that came out of the wood-oven minutes before.

Every time I sink my teeth into a slice, I wonder how something so basic can elicit so much pleasure. But with all its simplicity, I did not have the courage to make my own loaf for many years. I was comfortable with cooking, allowing my creativity to teach me how to improvise, eager to learn new methods and techniques, and willing to experiment with various cuisines and ingredients. But bread baking scared me. Even though many assured me that I need only try, I was mystified and convinced that nothing as miraculous as bread can come out of my kitchen.

ruzicara from bibberche.com

Yeast seemed whimsical and impulsive, and I did not know if I would be able to wake it up from its slumber and make it play. Flour was confusing in all its different denotations and types, which were not at all the same in Europe and the USA. It appeared to me that too many variables would make it impossible to achieve success. The time for kneading, proofing, and resting, the temperature of the kitchen and the oven, the altitude, the consistency of the dough, the amount of pressure applied while kneading and when deflating, all conspiring against me.

But one glorious day, my perfectionism decided to go on sabbatical. Taking advantage of the moment, I dragged out a 10 pound bag of 5 Roses flour that Mother preferred while in the US, tied my colorful apron around my waist, and courageously took the first step. I did not have to use the recipe; Mother’s words were embedded in my mind like a mantra and I plunged in with calculated movements, dissolving yeast in warm water with a bit of sugar to feed it; adding flour, salt, and more water; kneading for a long time, remembering Mother’s advice and admonitions; covering the dough with a clean kitchen towel and placing it on the stove.

By that time the doubts slowly started creeping up, but bolstered by my new energy and zeal, I brushed them all off. Even if my bread resembled a brick coming out of the oven, I decided not to fret, to just dump it into a trash can and start making another loaf. But when I peeked under the kitchen towel, my first-born dough was beautiful, round and soft, and doubled in size.

My first bread was not as good as Mother’s, but it was the first of many, some of them beautiful, some of them disastrous. I never looked back, placing another slash on the board of my accomplishments.

ruzicara from bibberche.com

January 7th marks Christian Orthodox Christmas*. No matter what food is served, there has to be pork roast and homemade bread. I remembered with nostalgia the square, many-layered bread  that Njanja made every Christmas. It was brushed with egg yolk and pierced all over the top with a fork, and somewhere in its soft middle there was a coin, promising luck to the person that found it.

I wanted to make Mother’s bread, which is shaped like a rose, and decided to combine the two, adding and subtracting, adjusting the amounts, and enjoying the process of creation. No matter how many times I made bread, I am still mesmerized when I see the beautiful loaf when it comes out of the oven. And for the first time in our new home I sent the smell of freshly baked bread out to all my neighbors, hoping that it would bring them comfort and peace.

*Our church has not accepted the Gregorian calendar and all the religious holidays are observed two weeks later.

ruzicara from bibberche.com

ROSE SHAPED BREAD (POGAČA RUŽIČARA)

Ingredients:

  • 1 inch piece of fresh yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 200 ml warm milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 100 ml plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
  • 650gr all purpose flour (a bit more for dusting the counter)
  • 120 gr (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten

Directions:

Dissolve yeast and sugar in milk. When it blooms, whisk in eggs, yogurt, salt, and butter and stir until combined. Add most of the flour and knead in the bowl. Turn over to the lightly dusted counter and continue kneading, adding more flour as needed, to get an elastic, shiny, slightly soft, but not sticky dough. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and keep on room temperature until the dough doubles, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough on floured surface and flatten into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Spread 2 tablespoons of butter over one half of the rectangle and cover the buttered side with the unbuttered one. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over one half of the folded dough, and cover it with the unbuttered part, forming a square. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Flatten it again into a rectangle and repeat. Let it rest another 10-15 minutes.

Flatten into a rectangle and spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter over the whole dough. Roll into a tight roulade, placing the seam down. With a sharp knife cut slices 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and place cut side down into a round pan. Brush with beaten egg and let it rest on room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake your bread until golden brown and nicely risen, for 40-50 minutes. Allow it to rest in the pan before removing it to a baking rack.

I am sending my Rose Shaped Bread over to April Harris of 21st Century Housewife for her Gallery of Favorites and to Susan for Yeastspotting

Last year at about this time I wrote about my beautiful oldest daughter and a recipe for Saffron Rice.

Jan 082012
 

Snenokle from bibberche.comIt’s time for another monthly Recipe Swap, the first of the year. Christianna from Burwell General Store started it more than a year ago, getting the idea from All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground, an old cookbook and hymnal she unearthed at a flea market. Every month a group of food bloggers gets the assignment with a challenge not only to reproduce the recipe, but to change it and make it their own. The recipes are short, not very detailed, and obviously aimed at experienced home cooks.

In December, we switched books and made our first recipe from  ‘The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, yet another book Christianna  found at a flea market.  This month the task was to remake Zabaglione, an Italian custard dessert that was a staple at the Imperial House restaurant in Chicago.

I love Italian food, Italian music (just peek into my iTunes library, there are hundreds and hundreds of canzone), and above all, the Italian language (my University of Belgrade diploma is the proof), but when it comes to desserts, I tend to favor the Central European and Middle Eastern-influenced delicacies of my childhood. It has nothing to do with geography, but  rather with those immeasurable specks of Mother’s love that magically found their way into every morsel.

I did not even hesitate or attempt to second-guess my decision after I read the ingredients: I knew that I would be making Å nenokle (Snow Dumplings), a light and creamy, egg-based dessert also known as Iles Flottante for the connoisseurs of French cuisine. It is one of the few sweets that ended up in my black leather bound notebook that traveled with me through college and bravely crossed the ocean to help me adjust to my new home in the U.S.

We always had eggs and milk in the house, and this was a go-to dessert for emergencies. To this day, I have not encountered a soul, except for my first husband’s sister, who did now swoon over this simple, but elegant dish. I know that we counted the hours after the hot, pale yellow cream was placed in the fridge, eagerly awaiting its final appearance at the kitchen table. Mother sometimes placed buttery cookies on the bottom of the dish and with time they became one with the cream, adding just right amount of texture and flavor.

Snenokle from bibberche.com

As simple as this dessert is, it took years for me to stop worrying about the outcome and become comfortable making it on the spur of the moment. Creme Anglaise can be finicky, and I spent hours panicking over its consistency and tendency to curdle at at whatever whim. In our house, the eggs and milk are always available. As my girls love the rich taste of the cream and pillowy and light texture of the egg white clouds swimming in the sea of yellow, I try to indulge them from time to time.

We are having a guest tonight for dinner: Husband’s Vietnamese colleague is visiting us for the first time, and I decided to put some sparkle to my dessert, to give it some more panache and make it shine. I made caramel sauce and decorated the bowls with caramel swirls, while the girls buzzed around me frenetically, hoping I’d have some remaining pieces of amber sugar. Now I sit and wait, but I am smiling in contentment, not afraid of the outcome.

ILES FLOTTANTE (Å NENOKLE) 

Ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1l (1 quart) milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form on high speed. Add sugar and mix until the meringue is firm and shiny. In the meantime scald the milk on medium heat until it starts to ripple. Turn the heat to medium-low. Using a larger spoon scoop up some meringue and place it in the milk carefully. Work in stages, turning the meringue after a minute or two. Take them out with a slotted spoon and place them into a bowl, or several individual smaller dishes. Place the bowl into the refrigerator.

After all the egg whites are gone, strain the milk and heat it up again. Whip the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until pale yellow and shiny. Pour small amount of milk into eggs to temper them, and them pour all of the egg mixture into the hot milk. Stir on low heat until it thickens and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

Pour the cream on top of the egg whites and place back into the refrigerator.

 

My fellow bloggers who participate in Recipe Swap are extremely talented and creative people. Stop by their blogs and check out their renditions of this month’s challenge.

 

 

Jan 062012
 

Redondo Beach at sunset from bibberche.comI am sitting at our card table that’s pretending to be a desk surrounded by a pile of CDs waiting to be downloaded into the music library and liberated from their covers in order to make room. My black yoga pants are folded up three or four times and reach just beyond my knees. They are also a bit wet at the folds and I relish the feel of cold air gripping my shins and keeping me alert.

This is not a technique I employ for breaking a writer’s block or enticing inspiration or the free flow of creativity; we went to the beach and I walked in the surf of the majestic Pacific ocean. It was already dark for a few hours when Husband and I started our short trek downhill. We walked and jogged for half an hour on the strand, deciding to make our way back following the edge of the water. Shoes and socks came off and we ran across cold sand towards the ocean, wriggling our toes in the foam. I was squealing in delight every time a wave would break around my feet, excited to be playing chicken with the tide.

Husband kept at a higher ground, not willing to abandon his beloved iPhone to the touch of salty water, enjoying the feel of packed sand right at the point where the waves hug the sand, reaching further and further every second. I jumped in and out of the surf, trying to avoid the seaweed, ignoring the fact that water is definitely splashing well above the folds of my pants. I inhaled the briny ocean air while staring at the pale moon playing hide-and-go-seek with transparent, billowy clouds. We have lived in Southern California for more than three years, and we spent many leisurely hours visiting Laguna Beach; but it took less than a week of incessant crashing of the waves and salt in the air to wake me up and make me unbelievably happy.

Redondo Beach from bibberche.com

I like that I can walk to a major grocery store in about five minutes in one direction and Trader Joe’s in another, but I can’t describe the feeling that overwhelms me every time I catch a glimpse of the truly blue waters of the Pacific while I am pushing my cart through the entrance. Whenever we traveled to the seaside when we were children, the most exciting moment was spotting a wedge of blue behind a curve in the steep, serpentine road weaving through the mountains. Those moments were an annual happening, and therefore cherished and nurtured through the gloomy and gray months of Serbian winter. Every time the Pacific winks at me, it startles me and makes me catch my breath in awe.

I know that long walks will strengthen the tired muscles in my legs; the sun will bring out the rare golden strands in my hair and attempt to hide more numerous silver ones; the warm air will caress my skin and make it shiny; and gorgeous blue skies that run to meet the ocean somewhere behind the horizon line will clear my mind of worrying thoughts. I don’t have to make New Year resolutions; I only have to surrender to the beauty that meets my eye behind every corner.

***

CourtyardI enjoy cooking in my spacious, bright, new kitchen. The floor is set in Spanish tiles and the cupboards are painted white. There is a lot of storage room, but I have to keep a stool behind the fridge to reach the higher shelves. I baked some cookies for our managers, an older couple who live on the first floor and received a nice, big jar of strawberry butter as a “thank you”. Our next-door neighbor is a feisty widow in her seventies who waves to me through my kitchen window every time she passes by with her bike and tells me that the smells of my cooking are making her constantly hungry. I know I am going to like it here. And I know that many plates will leave my kitchen destined for our neighbors’ tables, because we need to make friends.

One of the lightest and tastiest desserts that I know is also unbelievably simple and fast to make. It was not a sweet that Mother would make for guests, but rather a spur-of-the moment kids-need-an-after-school-snack thing. It is light, with very little fat, studded with dried fruit and nuts, very similar to angel food cake as it uses only egg whites. In Serbia we call it Komisbrot, the name I am certain originated somewhere in the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I made Eggs Benedict for my family a few days ago and had leftover egg whites. I usually freeze my egg whites and write the number on the baggie as I keep on adding them, but this time I decided to make Komisbrot instead.

komisbrot from bibberche.com

KOMISBROT (ANGEL FOOD CAKE WITH NUTS AND DRIED FRUIT)

The recipe does not ask for specific number of egg whites, as they are measured by volume, along with the other ingredients. I happened to have 6 egg whites, which amounted to about 1 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chilled egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup various dried fruit and nuts, chopped (I used cranberries, white raisins, pecans, and walnuts)
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and flour a bread pan.

Beat your egg whites with salt on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar and mix to combine. Stir in the flour, fruit, nuts, and lemon zest. Pour into the prepared pan and flatten the surface. Bake for thirty minutes (if the knife pierced through the middle comes out clean, it is done).

Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes and turn over to the bakers rack to cool completely. Cut into slices and serve.