May 262012
 
Igalo, Montenegro from bibberche.com

My sister (on the right) and me

It has been two years since those two ubiquitous words “Hello, world!” appeared on the first page of my newly-hatched blog. You would think that I should have been a blogging pro, having spent several years reading various blogs from their inception to  celebrity status. But no, my blog started out on an impulse and I was like a startled rabbit, scrambling to come up with a name, design, and a theme. I did not think for a second that I would have to pronounce the name of my blog EVERY SINGLE TIME I found myself surrounded by fellow food bloggers. It did not cross my mind that I would have to recite the etymology of my blog’s name at every meeting, conference, or workshop.

I was happy with my choices in my self-absorbed little universe, completely unaware that there are other human beings out there who would be reading my words and having a hard time relating to my seemingly innocuous and vague word associations. I wish I could go back in time and change some features of my blog, but as I am not on speaking terms with any branch of physics that would enlighten me to the ways of making a time-travel machine, I have reconciled with my blog being the way it is, awkwardly named and verbose. I find it charming, if unpopular, and decided to embrace it and plunge forward, damn the SEO and Google Search.

I do not want to deceive you that I am an utterly impractical person, but opportunism usually comes to me too late in the game, and I scramble to salvage what remnants I can. One day soon I will publish another blog that will exemplify everything I learned since I started blogging. It will be a site some of my blogging mentors would be really proud of.

It might be serendipitous, but today I was nominated for a Food Stories Award by Lisa of Parsley and Sage. I hate to admit it, but it felt a little bit like back in high school when one of the most popular, gorgeous guys asked me to go out on a date. (We lasted for almost four years, which made me reassess the pecking order and realize that the high school hierarchy is bullshit. This does not mean that I expect to rule the blogosphere for the same time.) Lisa, you have made my day! Thanks for all the smiles that appeared on my face today:)

The rules of the game state that I have to write one random fact about myself to be considered for this nomination. So I am sitting here chewing on my virtual pencil not because I cannot come up with a random fact, but because I cannot pick one from the many. OK, here we go. When I was in eighth grade, I won an essay contest titled “What You Know about Traffic”. Instead of winning a few hard cover books as I expected, my reward was a curse: I had to compete in the town’s bicycle race. It was on a weekend and the course ran from our school, through the city park and on throughout closed-for-the-traffic city streets, which were lined by eager-looking parents and students. I was a socially awkward child and riding a bike was not a boasting point for me, as I considered myself lucky if I avoided the trucks and crazy motorcycle riders on my way to my friend’s house. Here I was exposed in front of my whole town, my crush included, trying to navigate the curves of an “8″ drawn on the concrete of the playground, trying not to touch the lines and attempting in vain to keep my front wheel straight enough to balance through the ten yards of an “as slow as you can go” stretch. Do I need to reiterate that I finished close to the bottom two? And all because I could write?

In order to further qualify for this award, I have to nominate at least five bloggers whose writing I enjoy, which was even harder than coming up with a random fact about me. I encounter talented writers every day and every day someone’s words seduce me. Here are my favorites who have not been chosen yet:

The Kitchen Witch: Dana has a great sense of humor and her everyday stories usually make my stomach hurt from laughter. I wish I had her penchant for snark. I turn to her blog whenever I need a dose of weirdly colored sunshine.

Anecdotes and Apple Cores: Who does not feel the effects of Monet’s beautiful writing? Even when the fates deal her hand after hand of ugly, she keeps on writing, offering us insightful pieces of her soul.

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Maureen Abood’s writing is wistful, evocative, and beautiful. In every sentence you can feel the love for her family and her Lebanon.

Food for the Thoughtless: I have no clue how I stumbled on Michael Procopio’s brilliantly written blog, but I don’t care. Every post he writes is a literary gem, an essay worth of publishing in the best of magazines.

Sasa Sunakku: I did not expect to discover such fresh and beautiful writing when I clicked on Sasa’s Harissa Carrot Salad recipe. But I was smitten from the first click and even though she does not update her blog as often as she did, I await every post with eager anticipation.

Lentil Breakdown: Adair is the master of the metaphor and her wit can slice through the toughest armors. The only predictable thing about her posts is that they will make you smile.

You might wonder about the significance of the photo. It was one of the best vacations: me, my sister, and my girls in beautiful Montenegro. And I like the way I looked. yes, I am that vain:)

May 212012
 

Hummus from bibberche.com

As a child I quieted my nomadic spirit by immersing myself in books and traveling vicariously through various lands and various times. I could not accept the static of my life and hoped that some genius would invent a time machine and liberate me from the shackles of my existence. I was a sensitive child, easily seduced by a mere trace of romanticism and adventure, and I followed hundreds of fictional characters throughout their escapades all over the globe and beyond, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as a vicarious participant.

On Friday mornings I would run around the corner to the closest newspaper kiosk to grab one of the first issues of Politikin Zabavnik, the best children’s magazine of all time. They would frequently feature illustrations of boys and girls dressed in ethnic costumes with bubbles above their heads teaching you how to count in the language of that particular country. As I had already fallen in love with the languages, by the time I was in fifth grade I knew how to count to ten in dozens of them.

The next obvious gateway into the world was music. I have attended music school along with the regular elementary school, and studied the theory of music, as well as piano. Listening to the great composers transported me instantly far away from the wooden desks that bore the words carved by hundreds of little hands before me. I walked the clean streets of Vienna with Mozart, shivered in the cold wind of the steppes with Tchaikovsky, rode the unsaddled Gypsy horses with Brahms, and followed a graceful swan around its lake with Saint-Saëns.

Listening to popular music brought me closer to my international peers, and I spent interminable hours taping songs in English, Italian, French, and Spanish from the radio and trying to catch the lyrics, which I would learn by heart and sing again and again throughout the day. No one around me knew any better, and only my older self shudder much later at the gibberish I tried to pass on as the actual songs.

Around the time I was twelve, I started traveling abroad and for the first time experienced life in a foreign country. That summer I spent two wonderful weeks with my grandmother Njanja and a group of Serbian tourist on a Russian sleeping car with a giant samovar* and an elegant dining car. We visited Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad, and as much as I loved the dense, dark bread and yellow curlicues of butter, I detested all three types of caviar they served at every meal at every hotel that housed us. I also blushed every time I saw a young, rosy-cheeked Russian soldier from the window of our tour bus, imagining that he smiled at me.

We took a road trip with another family entering Romania at its most northern point and driving south all the way to the Black Sea. That was the year I saw “Jaws”, and nothing in the world could make me step into the water deeper than my knees. We continued on to Bulgaria along the sea coast, spent a night in Sophia where my sister and my friend drank the distilled water from the plastic inserts that my parents froze to keep the food cold in the coolers and where I had one of the worst earaches in my life.

I went to Austria with my choir, and when we read “The Third Man”  and saw the movie a few years later in college, I brought back the memories from the Prater, feeling the wind in my face as Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles rode the big wheel. I don’t remember what we ate, but I remember the smell of burned human flesh from the crematoria in Mauthausen concentration camp that still lingered in the air after more than forty years.

I spent a day in Hungary with my Aunt and cousin from Vojvodina and ate a marvelously spicy beef stew in a restaurant nestled in an old-fashioned windmill right out of Don Quixote. I spent a month visiting another Aunt and Uncle who lived on the border of Germany, France, and Switzerland, taking care of their small children while they worked and practicing my rudimentary German with shopkeepers in their little town. One of their friends was a train hostess and on a weekend, she took me along on one of their trips north along the East German border, past Hamburg and onto the island of Sylt. As much as I enjoyed the trip, I felt as if I were at the end of the world on the small island surrounded by icy waters of the North Sea.

My curious mind and nomadic feet keep me moving to this day. Visiting different locales and learning about the people and their culture is still one of my biggest passions. But life somehow intervened and made me work around three kids, very limited finances, and even less free time. I packed my bags and boarded a plane several times, but my adventures became virtual and vicarious more and more. Living in the U.S. allowed me to reach beyond the borders and experience the world through food, and even though I know it is not the same, I embrace the opportunity and take advantage of my circumstances.

I want my girls to look beyond the horizon and become true citizens of the world. They are seasoned travelers whose faces break into wistful smiles when a plane flies over the car on I4o5. They hum foreign songs and download the apps for languages. They huddle over the geography atlas and quiz one another on world capitals. It makes my heart sing when they ask me to make Thai noodles, a spicy Indian curry, or a Morrocan tagine. They are adventurous and inquisitive, their young palates already developed enough to pick out nuances and identify the spices.

Through food they continue to learn and explore. They embrace the unknown and yearn to break out of their space as much as I did when I was a girl. And I want more than anything else to give them the strength to spread their wings and take on the world.

Hummus ingredients from bibberche.com

HUMMUS

A friend of mine spent a year in Tunisia with Peace Corps in the late 80s and when he came back, we spent days together while he talked and I listened, mesmerized. I would bring wine and he would make something to eat. He made me my first hummus which became a staple snack food in my family.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (you can drain and rinse them, or you can save the liquid)
  • ¼ cup tahini paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup water (or the liquid from the beans)
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp for garnish (optional)
  • ½ tsp paprika for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Place the beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water, and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth (you may have to stir the contents a few times to mix). Pour into a bowl and garnish with olive oil and paprika. Serve with pita chips or vegetable sticks.

And just to add a bit of variety, I sometimes toss a roasted and peeled red bell pepper along the rest of the ingredients, which lends a hint of smoke and sweetness and makes the color pop.



Last year: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

May 112012
 

Leftover Tostada from bibberche.com

When the times get tough financially, my instincts kick in and the survival mode becomes default. But I don’t really change my modus operandi, as frugality is somehow ingrained in me, and I just keep on doing what I do best: digging through my pantry and my freezer and putting healthy, nutritious, appetizing food in front of my girls, playing with ingredients, pimping up the leftovers, and offering colorful and enticing meals that would make them appreciate all aspects of the culinary world.

Sometimes the prompts come from them, if they feel inspired and creative – in  the rare moments when they are not entranced in a fantasy play or a puppet show. But most of the times it takes a few minutes poring through the contents of my legume drawer or taking inventory of every refrigerator shelf to come up with a perfectly balanced meal that would be cost-effective, creative, flavorful, and overall nutritious.

It breaks my heart when I see food being wasted. I collect the tough asparagus stems, cauliflower stalks, celery leaves, and lettuce cores to make a vegetable stock. I salvage the roasted chicken carcass with all the gelatinous deposit on the bottom of the pan and make a hearty chicken stock. I collect egg whites for a future angel food cake, and pork fat for the day I feel inspired to render lard. I place parsley and cilantro stems in bags and add them to stews and soups, reluctant to waste even a smidgen of the goodness they impart.

My freezer is a repository of oddly shaped bags containing fish heads, shrimp and lobster shells, chicken gizzards, and stock. There are labeled plastic containers with leftover tomato sauce, chopped herbs, and duck fat, along with neatly wrapped packages of beef and lamb bones destined for a soup.

The girls rarely know what they will have for breakfast or dinner, because I employ all my resources when I start to contemplate it. They are adventurous and open to new culinary challenges, which makes my thought process much easier.

School lunches are limited in creativity as they have to be stored in a locker for hours, eaten within fifteen minutes and relatively easy to handle. They eat outside and have no access to a microwave. I smuggle a Ferrero Rocher treat or a square of dark chocolate in their paper bags to give them a sense of adventure.

This week they had state testing and school let out earlier, which allowed me more freedom with their mid-day repast. They arrived from school famished and I had a perfect meal for them every single day, taking advantage of the amenities I had at home, excited to offer them something different than the usual sandwich or wrap fare.

True to my nature, I had to be frugal, and most days the lunches were spruced-up leftovers. But every single time their faces lit up and they brought the plates to the kitchen licked clean.

These tostadas elicited a whole lot of squeals. I loved how my girls’ faces alighted with excitement when I poked the eggs and released the yolks. This lunch did not cost me anything, but a few minutes of my time and some kilowatts of energy. But it made my daughters feel special, loved, cherished, and adored. And in the times when every dollar spent has to be spent wisely, that’s the only thing that matters to me.

LEFTOVER TOSTADA WITH POACHED EGG

Ingredients:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Remoulade (recipe bellow)
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • Black bean and corn salsa (recipe bellow)
  • Jack cheese, shredded
  • Poached eggs (recipe bellow)
  • Cilantro

 Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place corn tortillas on a cookie sheet. Spread remoulade all over the tortilla. Spoon salsa and diced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with cheese and place in the oven. Bake for five minutes until the cheese is melted. Take out of the oven and place each tortilla on a separate plate. Place a poached egg on top, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Remoulade:

Mix together ½ cup of mayonnaise, 1 tsp of capers, 1 tsp of lemon juice, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, a bit of salt, and 1 tablespoon of chopped dill.

Black Bean Salsa:

Combine 1 can (14oz) rinsed black beans, 1 cup frozen cor kernels, 1 chopped jalapenñño, ½ shopped onion, salt, pepper, and lime juice.

Poached eggs:

Heat the water in a small stainless steel pot until it boils. Turn the heat down to simmer. Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Break an egg into a ramekin and pour it carefully into the boiling water. Fold the egg white over the yolk with a spoon and cook for 1 minute. Using the slotted spoon remove the egg and place it onto a plate covered with a few layers of paper towels to absorb the moisture.

May 072012
 

Eton Mess from bibberche.com

Eton Mess

I prefer to stay home for Mother’s Day. I relish the moment I hear the first whispers of my girls as they tiptoe into the kitchen and start preparing breakfast for the family, trying in vain not to make any noise as they pull pots and pans out of the cupboards. I am comforted by the familiar sounds that meander around the hallways and arrive at my doorstep: the hissing of oil when it meets a hot pan; the crackling of egg shells; the grating of the whisk against a plastic bowl; bacon starting to sizzle as its edges curl and brown; the hypnotizing whir of my hand mixer; the subdued thuds of drawers getting shut.

I stretch like a spoiled Angora cat and play along, feigning sleep, as I squint through one eye at a time in anticipation of their arrival to my room. They open the door and enter in a solemn procession, valiantly trying to stay focused, but by the time they reach the backboard of my bed, they explode in giggles. Chattering excitedly, they approach offering gifts of food they lovingly prepared for me and laid on a silver-plated tray covered with a starched damask napkin. One long arm proffers a bright and still fizzing Mimosa, and I sit up against the pillows, the tray safely resting in my lap. They jump on the bed, surrounding me, racing each other with colorful and thoughtful home made cards, covering my face and my hands with tender kisses.

The three of them are all the crowd I need to feel happy. And this Mother’s Day, we’ll stay home and spend all day indulging our taste buds and surrendering to whimsy. My oldest will make a couple of Mimosas and we’ll clink the glasses, toasting to mothers everywhere, and sending virtual kisses to my sister in Germany and Mother in Serbia.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Cheese, and Grits from Bibberche.com

 Baked Eggs with Bacon, Cheese, and Grits

Light and Flaky Buttermilk Bicuits from bibberche.com

Southern Belle’s Buttermilk Biscuits 

Plump Cinnamon Rolls from bibberche.com

 Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

Basic Blueberry Muffins from bibberche.com

 Basic Blueberry Muffins

Pain Au Chocolat from bibberche.com

Pain Au Chocolat 

Pogaca Ruzicara from bibberche.com

 Rose Bread (Pogača Ružičara)

Pound Cake with Strawberries

 Pound Cake with Strawberries

Some of my favorite bloggers have compiled lists of their favorite, delectable Mother’s Day recipes. I always find inspiration there!

Recipe Girl

Shockingly Delicious

Elana’s Pantry – Gluten Free Recipes for Mother’s Day

Katherine Martinelli

Shiksa in the Kitchen

Closet Cooking

May 032012
 

This is a post I wrote a while ago, but it contains some of my favorite Mexican dishes. Moving to southern California was like “Open, Sesame!” for me – I encountered so many culinary treasures previously hidden. I left the photos unchanged, just like I submitted them to Rick Bayless’s Twitter contest. I hope at least one of these meals will inspire you for Cinco de Mayo.

 

I ate my first taco at a bowling alley in Highland, Michigan, in 1986, while accompanying my ex-husband’s sister and her friends to the meeting of their bowling league. And I did not care for it at all. I found out later that taco meat is highly seasoned with cumin and at the time I was put off by it. The texture of avocado reminded me of melons, and melons and I do no keep good company. I found the green mushy fruit bland and not deserving of my time.

I discovered cilantro purely by chance. Mother was visiting at the time and we were shopping for groceries at a local supermarket. We bought some nice looking green beans, but when we cooked them they had a specific taste that we could not stand. We deemed the beans spoiled, rotten, contaminated, and threw the whole batch away.  The next day I went to the same supermarket to inspect the beans because I bought them before at the same place, and they were fine. When my nose approached the vegetables another smell, forceful and overbearing, got my attention. The green leaves next to the beans resembled Italian parsley, but when I rubbed them between my fingers, I thought I would just keel over and die. Poor, innocent beans were as healthy and fresh as they could be. They were just positioned next to cilantro, which usurped and overpowered their taste without a thought. And every time a family member would come to visit from Serbia, I would put them to the cilantro test. We are proud to be extremely adventurous in culinary matters, but not one of them liked it. Or to be more precise, we all just hated it.

For a while I avoided Mexican food, enjoying almost all the other world cuisines available to us. But I am a curious person, always looking to broaden my horizons, and it irked me to think that there was an abundance of dishes I was neglecting based on my underdeveloped palate. If I could eat liver, brain, Rocky Mountain oysters, snails, shellfish, feta cheese, and gorgonzolla, I could learn to like cumin, avocado, and cilantro. At the same time I started watching cooking shows on PBS  and my passion for food came at me full strength. I started exploring this undiscovered territory slowly adding small amounts of cumin to my ground beef. I would buy the wrinkly, ugly, almost black avocado, and cut it in half, just to stand mesmerized by its pristine green pulp. I mastered the deceptively simple art of taking the pit out and started making my own guacamole. Little by little the cumin and avocado grew on me, seduced me, and made me fall in love with them.

Cilantro had a more arduous fight ahead of it. I’d pick it out from salsas in Mexican restaurants and became resigned to an eternity of not being its fan. I love to cook with herbs and spices. I have always grown my own, and every morning, for years, the first thing I do after a sip of coffee is to go out and look at my pots. I could not stand the thought of not being able to enjoy so many dishes just because I could not stomach the cilantro. So I braced myself, bought a bunch, snippped a leaf or two in pico de gallo or a salsa, and surrendered. It was definitely a battle. Over time cilantro won.  I even learned to love it. Mexican food in our house became a staple.

And then we moved to Southern California and tasted our first fish taco. At a work potluck Christmas party, Ricardo brought home-made posole. Enrique made ponche spiked with tequila, Joe and Lupe brought spicy carne asada, Juan made chorizo. My Mexican neighbors send plates with tamales and lured the Beasties to stay over for some caldo de res and horchata (having three girls their age did not hurt). My mind was spinning. Where was all this coming from? So I started learning again.

In the spring of this year the College Kritter and I went to Yucatan and Cozumel over Christmas break. That was her present from us for graduating high-school, getting enrolled in a University and turning eighteen. It was her choice destination. And I was her choice companion. I will have to write about our adventure another time. But we discovered another variation of Mexican cuisine dining in Playa Del Carmen, Valladolid, and Cozumel. We avoided tourist traps and ate in the restaurants that locals frequented. Queso relleno, poc chuc, huevos motullenos, cochinita pibil, negro relleno, ceviche… We were in culinary heaven. In every restaurant we talked to waiters and cooks (Kritter speaks fluent Spanish and I can get by with what I picked up from co-workers, adding odd words in Italian), got the recipes, and vowed to replicate the dishes at home. I bought the “tortilladora” from an old woman in Valladolid, and decided to start making my own corn tortillas.

A couple of weeks ago Rick Bayless started a contest on Twitter. He tweets a recipe in 140 characters, we make it, photograph the finished dish, mail the photo to him, and hope to become winners of his newest cookbook Fiesta at Rick’s. I participate every time. It has become a much anticipated event in our household. My photos have not won me the book yet. But the journey that Rick took us on is a gift by itself. Every single recipe is a jewel, bursting with flavors, well balanced, assertive, and addictive. We are looking forward to Mondays when he puts out the new recipe, hidden in abbreviations of the tweeterese.

My love affair with Mexican food is only growing stronger. I do not think it will ever end. One of these days I am taking on the ridiculously long process of making the Yucatecan specialty cochinita pibil. I have already bought the banana leaves and stashed them in the freezer. Until then, Mondays at Rick’s will be more than sufficient to keep the flame growing.

WEEK ONE, POBLANO RAJAS

” Sear 1.25# bnls chix brst; cool, cube. Brn 1 onion,add 3 grlc,2 poblanos (rstd,pld,slcd),6 oz chard,1c broth,1c crema.Boil2 thickn.Add chix “

WEEK TWO, ENCHILADAS VERDES

” Rst 1#tomtllos,1 on,3 grlc,3 serranos;puree;sear n oil 2 thkn;simr w 2c broth,.5c crema.Oil,micrwv 12 torts,roll w rstd veg,sauce, chs, bake “

molcajete y tejolote (aka "el serdo") I bought at the Valladolid farmers market

WEEK THREE, TROPICAL BEACH CEVICHE

” 8oz slicd raw scallops+1c grapefrt j:45 min.Drain;blend 2/3c juice,1-2 chipotles,4 rstd grlc,2T br sgr.Mix w scal, red on,trop fruit,jicama “

Vladimir Jovanovic, my cousin extraordinaire, edited my photo

WEEK FOUR, CHIPOTLE GLAZED RIBS

“Proc 4 grlc,6T ancho,4t sugr&peppr,5t salt,1t oreg,½t cumin.Rub 4 slb ribs;ovrnite.Bake 300 75 min.Blend:7oz chiptles&3/4c honey.Grill;glaze”