Jun 262012
 

Corn Chowder from bibberche.com

When I was four months old, our family friend and one of the towns best pediatricians, Dr. Herzog, asked Mother if she had fed me meat yet. As I was her first, we used each other as guinea pigs and she struggled to find the proper balance of foods that would satisfy my voracious appetite as the supply of breast milk was very unpredictable. Every Aunt, grandmother, and neighbor took it as a God-given right to offer this new mother a piece of mostly contradictory advice, leaving her buried under a mountain made up of old wives’ tales and most modern views that annulled each other.

She avoided honey, eggs, and strawberries to fend off potential allergies, mixed cow milk with water once her milk just refused to come out, placed a few seeds of carraway to lessen the stomach cramps, and mashed potatoes, pumpkin, and peas with a fork to feed it to my decidedly finicky and wide-open mouth. But meat? For a four month old whose gums were still void of even the smallest white protrusions seemed dangerous and too invasive. But Dr. Herzog had over thirty years of experience in assuaging fears of brand new mothers and his mild-mannered, but authoritative approach convinced her to try his recipe.

She made a vegetable and veal broth, simmered it until everything was very soft, strained it, smashed the veggies and discarded the meat strands which toughened in the poaching liquid. All the essence of the veal, he assured her, would remain in that broth. She fed it to me with a spoon, apprehensive, prepared to stop and take me to the emergency room at the first sign of trouble. But as I ruminated contentedly, she relaxed, which rarely happens to mothers with their firstborns.

When my oldest daughter was born, the economic sanctions imposed on Serbia were getting worse and worse and baby supplies were hit the hardest. No formula, no diapers, no baby creams, and definitely no jarred baby food. My sister brought anything she could think of every time she visited from Germany, and my little baby smelled sweetly of Bübchen and Nivea baby soaps and lotions, had a stash of disposable diapers when we ventured out for visits, and gulped down Enfamil with the addictive need of a seasoned drunkard as my milk supply was not even close to being adequate.

Mother and I pureed and mashed vegetables and fruits, and prepared flavorful meat broths as my baby-girl kept on getting bigger and stronger. When I moved back to Michigan, my ex-mother-in-law gave me a Mullinex hand blender, which was the best present I could have received. I made soups and stews, compotes and fruity desserts, and blended them all into colorful pulps that I froze in ice trays, labeled and color-coordinated, of course.

For two more babies this process was repeated, and anything the adults ate, they ate, too, fortunately too inexperienced and oblivious to frown upon mushy stuff in various shades of browns and greys. As they grew up, from time to time they inevitably developed a strong distaste for peas, or broccoli, or green beans, or eggplant, but my hand blender solved everything, rendering hearty vegetable soups into velvety smooth cream soups that I would garnish with spiderwebs or heart garlands of plain yogurt.

One of our food blogging friends, Shelley from Franish Nonspeaker is expecting a brand new baby Ruby in August, and my dear Ilke gathered a few of us to throw her a virtual baby-shower and give her ideas for simple, nutritious, easy to prepare and fast meals that would make her first months just a little bit less hectic (if that is at all possible).

I knew that I would make a soup that can fit all of those categories with hope that she will receive a hand blender at one of her real baby showers, which would miraculously convert it into several healthy servings of baby food.

Shelley, I wish you enjoy these last two months, even though they will be  riddled with anticipation and impatience, aggravated by the summer heat and humidity, and probably filled with doubt that your body will ever return to its before-Ruby shape. Trust me, it all changes the moment you hold that wrinkled, most beautiful creature in your arms for the first time.

Good luck!

CORN CHOWDER

I cannot wait for sweet, tender summer corn to use for this hearty, flavorful, but healthy and easy to prepare soup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 strip of bacon, diced (you can use bacon fat, or skip it altogether and use 1 Tbsp butter, to make it vegetarian)
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1/3 big red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric (it does not change the taste, but adds a bit of color to the soup)
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
    1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (home-made, but if store-bought preferably low sodium)
  • 3 ears of corn (about 1 ½ cups), shucked (you can use frozen corn, or already leftover cooked corn)
  • 1 big Yukon Gold potato (I used three baby Yukon Golds), diced

Directions:

Heat a heavy 3-quart soup pot or Dutch oven on medium heat and add diced bacon. When there is about 1 tablespoon of rendered fat, add onions, celery, carrot, and red bell pepper, and sautee for 6-7 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and somewhat translucent. Add chopped garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir for another minute. Mix in flour until evenly distributed and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and water and whisk to blend every bit off the bottom of the pot. Stir from time to time, as the soup might scorch as it thickens. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add corn and potatoes and continue simmering until the potatoes are done. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve for lunch, or an easy and fast weekday meal with a loaf of crusty bread.

For a cream soup, just whir it with the hand blender or regular blender until it’s completely smooth. If it is too thick, add some more liquid, milk or water, until desired consistency.

Freeze the leftovers in a plastic container or a Ziploc bag, labeled and dated. To serve, place still frozen soup into a pot, add ½ cup of water and heat it on medium-low heat, stirring often.

Here are the other bloggers who are coming to the shower. I hope you stop by and say “Hi” during this week :)

Ilke from Ilke’s Kitchen

Anna from Keep It Luce  

Carrie from Bakeaholic Mama

Christina from Girl Gone Grits

Elaine from   California Living  

Esra from Irmik Hanim

Jennie from Pastry Chef Online

Jennifer from Scissors and Spatulas

Lisa from Lisa Is Cooking

Renee from Sweet Sugar Bean

Robin from A Chow Life

Sarah from Snippets of Thyme

Jun 202012
 

Summer Tomato Soup

I have been sick last couple of days. It’s one of those sneaky, insidious colds that first appear as a mere tingle in your throat, tricking you into believing that you can ride it out with all the flair of Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot in the movie “The First Knight”, only to have you wake up in the morning feeling like you cannot separate from the bed, your limbs painfully attached to the mattress, your throat ablaze like the center of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, and your head throbbing in the rhythm of the wildest Scandinavian death metal band*.

I valiantly attacked my daily chores trying to ignore the beast and hoping that I can deter it with sheer determination and optimism. I do this every time I get these colds, and every time I hope that I can get a different result with the same strategy – a technique so opposed to using your intelligence. As I grow older, Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot appears less and less, replaced by the images of tired and moribund regents, still regal, but surrendering to the inevitable forces of time and circumstances.

This morning I woke up coughing so violently that tears ran down my cheeks. My throat felt raw and I could barely utter a word. I kicked the pride to the side and proclaimed the stage closed for the day, pulling the covers tightly around me, and letting the girls fend to themselves. I certainly did not look like the Queen Guinevere of Camelot, but fancied myself rather like Tolkien’s Golum, with blood-shot eyes filled with feverish desire and a few wisps of greasy hair stapled to his head.

I really wanted Mother’s chicken soup with egg drops or farina dumplings, but I could not even imagine going to all the necessary steps to achieve the flavor that would make me rise from the dead. For once, my freezer did not offer not even one measly container of chicken stock, even though there were numerous plastic bins holding vegetable, seafood, and beef stocks. For a moment I contemplated the possibility of a worldwide conspiracy, but even though my mind was somewhat addled by the thoughts of self-pity, I still regained some of my senses.

Summer Tomato Soup from bibberche.com

I can trust the girls to abandon for a moment their silly, but oh so important games of MASH that place them into imaginary lives with their beloveds, and whisk eggs or stir an already prepared meal. But they are not ready to face an extra sharp knife and a shiny onion or a slippery carrot. Even if I managed to ignore the inevitable giggling. So I knew that I was on my own if I wanted something warm and comforting to touch my lips.

I dragged my aching body out of the bed, straightened the sheets, opened the windows, and shed the pajamas. A hot shower brought me closer to life as it should be, and I almost felt a new surge of energy penetrate my ennui. I thank Lydia of The Perfect Pantry for perpetuating my pantry hoarding habits that enabled me to assemble all the ingredients I needed to make my Mother’s summer tomato soup on the whim.

Even though my sinuses suffered for a few days, I still caught the elusive whiffs of onion, carrot, and celery as they luxuriated in the tomato broth burbling on the stove. And in an instant, I was whisked away to my childhood, when all my worries, alms, and concerns were assuaged by comforting words and familiar smells enveloping me as I stepped into the kitchen, my teen angst at its peak. Mother was always there, tending to the pots and pans and eagerly awaiting another emotional report fresh from my day at school.

I felt as vulnerable and hurt as I stood by my stove in California, straining the vegetables and stirring the dough for the egg drops. But with every aromatic that hit my nose from that pot I felt better, as if Mother were caressing my cheeks and willing me to feel better with her tender, healing touch.

Towards the end of the summer, Mother would make huge batches of her tomato preserves with heavy, juicy, dark red tomatoes, sweet carrots, and white onions swirled in a blender with garlic and parsley, and encapsulated in 2 liter Coca Cola bottles that were snuggled neatly in  the big box freezer in the garage. At any given time there would be a defrosted bottle of the tomato goodness in the fridge, just awaiting someone to wish for a hint of the summer tomato soup.

I don’t preserve my tomatoes, but I know that I can squeeze every bit of flavor from the ingredients I find in my pantry and fridge. I yearn for juicy sweet summer tomatoes, but in the meantime I am perfectly satisfied with a can of good quality whole tomatoes picked at the height of the season, preserving their essence, sweet and acidic at the same time.

This soup exemplifies the simplicity of pure peasant cooking at its best, glorifying the best ingredients you can find and the ease of preparation. I did not sweat at the stove chopping and stirring. The whole preparation thing was done in minutes and the soup was ready in half an hour. And looking at the glorious red with specks of barely visible egg drops, I felt I could climb right onto that wild black stallion and ride with Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot, my hands encircling his slender waist, my head resting on his wide shoulder, as we rode into the sunset towards some enchanted Camelot.

Egg Drops from bibberche.com

SUMMER TOMATO SOUP

Ingredients:
Soup:

• 1 Tbsp sunflower oil (you can substitute vegetable, corn, or canola oil)
• 1 tsp sweet paprika
• 1 cup water
• 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use whole tomatoes which I process in a blender to allow for some chunks)
• 1 small yellow onion (or ½ a big one), peeled and cut in quarters
• 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into big chunks
• 2 stalks of celery, leaves on, cleaned and cut into big chunks
• 1 tsp coarse salt
• ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Egg Drops:
• 1 egg, beaten
• about ½ cup all purpose flour (depending on the size of your egg you might have to add a bit more)

Directions:
Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot on medium-low heat. Stir in paprika only until dissolved, making sure it does not burn. Immediately pour in water and stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes, vegetables, and seasonings. Turn the heat to high and heat until the soup start to boil, and turn it back down to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and soft.

In the meantime, make the egg drops. In a small bowl stir in the flour into the beaten egg little by little, until the strands of dough fall slowly off the fork in thin ribbons. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
Strain the soup through a wire mash and return to boil. Slowly pour the egg drops over the tines of a fork, controlling the size and shape of the ribbons. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, cover the pot, and simmer for another 5 minutes to cook the egg drops.

Dice the cooked carrots and return to soup and discard the onions and celery.

Serve immediately with some crusty bread.

*I love my Swiss friend Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums, and I know that this metaphor will bring a smile on her face and at least a second of a raised eyebrow, as she finds comfort in most metal music, just like my eldest daughter:)

Jun 132012
 

Zeljanica from bibberche.com

Mother firmly believed that each member of the family should contribute to the household chores. While she attacked the majority of the monotonous, routine, everyday tasks by herself, she assigned cameo roles to all of us. Father was in charge of lugging home huge sacks of flour and sugar, cartons of oil, and flats of eggs (the “lugging” part was mostly done in his Fiat 1300, later Renault 4 – only in the past few years have I seen him reluctantly leaving his beloved car in front the house and actually walking to the store or the post office).

Beet Greens from bibberche.comHis duties also included procuring vast amounts of animal protein. Nothing can send Serbian adults off to sleep with a smile on their lips better than two box-freezers filled with neatly stacked packages of meat. At any time, we had half of a young cow, a couple of pigs, twenty or so chickens, and a few turkeys chilling out in our deluxe, climate controlled animal sanctuary. Occasionally in spring, a lamb would appear in the yard, tethered to the metal frame of the rectangular carpet-beating contraption which adorns every Serbian yard. We knew better than to love him, pet him, squeeze him, and call him George. The hunting expeditions provided pheasant, quail, and rabbits. Friends going fishing would drop some extra wild trout for Fridays’ lent. No, we did not lack in the meat department.

As for us kids, our duties were light, although we certainly envisioned ourselves as modern-time Cinderellas, having to clean our room, set and clear the table, and the most abominable of all, shine Father’s shoes (we would form an assembly line where one of us scrubbed the dirt off with a bristley hard brush, the next spread the shoe polish with a small, soft brush – and, yes, there was one for black, and one for the brown shoes – and the last polished to a mirror-like shine).

In addition, as each of us turned four, our chores included shopping. There were no heavy trafficked streets to cross, and the store phyllo dough from bibberche.comwhere we bought a loaf of freshly baked bread and a glass bottle of yogurt was just around the corner from the house. Crossing our street and turning around the other corner, would take us to the kiosk which sold newspapers. With only our eyes visible above the display, we would ask for the Ekspres Politika for Deda-Ljubo, and make our way home, dragging the canvas bag with the leather handles, trying not to break the glass nor squish the bread. Drudgery, I am telling you!

After we started school and became experienced walkers and street-crossers, we would be entrusted with buying the phyllo dough. Two Albanian brothers made, stretched, and sold the dough in a store the size of a telephone booth right across the embankment that protected our town from floods. While I abhorred shopping for bread, yogurt, and newspapers, I could not wait to visit the Phyllo-men, as we called them. Inside the little stall it was always warm, and the smell of the dough was intoxicating. Peppered with flour, dressed in immaculate white shirt, pants, and apron, one of the brothers would smile and offer us a torn piece of the raw dough to munch on while he wrapped in cellophane 500gr of the thin baklava phyllo, or one kilogram of the slightly thicker (if you can even call phyllo thick) dough for various “pitas” (cheese, meat, sorrel, or spinach). I would linger, resisting leaving the cozy and comforting cocoon, only to be whipped by the cruel north winds of late November, or greeted by the steady murmur of raindrops pelting me fromrainbow swiss chard from bibberche.com a lead-grey sky.

I was already living in the U.S. when Mother told me the Phyllo-men had left the town during the ugly wars that forever changed the map of South-Eastern Europe. Every time I go back, I look at the spot across the embankment, hoping to steal a glimpse of those flour-covered arms tossing the sheets of phyllo in the air, or catch the scent of fresh dough carried on a random tendril of the wind.

There are other people making phyllo in our town. They make it using machines and sell it at the supermarkets. The sheets are uniform and too regular, wrapped in commercially sealed plastic. Until last summer, Mother still made baklavas, and pitas, and bureks, and strudels, but gone is the warmth and the smell of the tiny kiosk. Gone is the love that our Albanian neighbors poured into the dough with their skilled hands, rendering something no machine can offer.

Beet Greens from bibberche.comNot too long ago my friend Dorothy from Shockingly Delicious asked me if I would like a box of produce from Cut ‘n Clean Greens . I buy spinach in bulk and raid my friend’s garden for Swiss chard a few times a week, so it did not take a lot of arm-twisting to for me to say yes. The UPS guy showed up at my door with a huge box containing everything from organic kale to spinach, to beet greens, to Swiss Chard, and all the combinations imaginable. Even though I have to admit to being a food hoarder, I was overwhelmed at the amount of leafy green vegetables that camped in my fridge and immediately started thinking of various ways to use them.

One of the first things that came to mind was a strudel. In the Balkans, we make it with sorrel or spinach, but I knew that beet greens or chard would be equally delicious. I went to our local Persian store and returned  with commercially made phyllo dough neatly wrapped in plastic, square and perfectly uniform as only a machine can render. Like Mother, I will have to put some extra love into the strudel, hoping to compensate for what those skilled, Albanian hands could do that machines never will.

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

PHYLLO DOUGH AND GREENS STRUDEL (ZELJANICA)

I have changed the ingredients from the original recipe as “kajmak” is not available in the U.S. Cream cheese and sour cream make up for it adequately, if not ideally. Also, in the Balkans, this dish is called “pita” or “burek”, depending who you talk to. But whatever you call it, it’s a delightful light dinner or supper, accompanied best by a glass of cold milk, Balkan-style yogurt, or a frosty mug of beer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb fresh spinach, sorrel, beet greens, or chard
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 oz cottage cheese or a combination of cottage cheese and crumbled feta
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 lb (500gr) phyllo dough
  • ¼ cup sunflower oil
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions:

A day ahead defrost your phyllo dough in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Lightly grease a 13×9 pan with sunflower or vegetable oil.

Mix the oil and water in a small bowl.

Heat a large pot filled with water over high heat. When it boils, add your greens and blanch for 1 minute, until wilted and vibrant green. Remove immediately to a strainer (positioned above another pot) and let cool. When sufficiently cool, squeeze the excess liquid and cut into smaller pieces.

Place the greens into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, except for the phyllo dough, oil, and water. Mix to combine. Lay one sheet of dough to cover the bottom of the pan with the other half hanging over the edge. Place another sheet on the top with the other half hanging over the other edge. Sprinkle with the oil and water mix.

Lightly scrunch up a sheet of dough and place on one side of the pan. Scoop a few tablespoons of filling on top. Repeat for two more sheets, scrunching and adding the filling. Sprinkle with some oil/water mix. Continue laying the scrunched sheets until they are all gone. Cover with the overlapping pieces of phyllo and sprinkle with the remaining oil and water.

Place in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove and let cool in the pan. Cut into squares and serve with cold milk, plain yogurt, or beer.

A year ago: Shrimp and Scallops Creole

Jun 012012
 

Summer Pasta Salad from bibberche.com

Mother dispatched me to college with a black-leather bound notebook filled with her hand-written recipes that were my favorites over the years. She really tried to take into account the inadequacy of my culinary skills, even though I spent many years assisting her in the kitchen. I just was not a willing participant, and I pretty much blocked any information trying to gain access to my brain that was obsessed by many worthy causes, and none of them connected with food preparation.

Ingredients for Summer Pasta Salad from bibberche.comIn the beginning I did not delve much into the precious notebook as I lived with my relatives and ate dinner that my Aunt Pašana prepared every night. My cousins were even less skilled in the kitchen duties, and we often played a game or two of Yahtzee! to determine who would make coffee or do the dishes.

Once I moved into my own apartment, I opened the notebook and started cooking. To my dismay, very few of the dishes that emerged from my kitchen resembled the comfort food I received at Mother’s, and I was rightly disillusioned. But my fear of failing retreated before the realization that I enjoyed good food and the only way to experience good eating away from home and on the student’s budget was to buckle down and learn.

While my room-mates were delegated to less appealing chores like cleaning or doing dishes, I ardently cooked almost every single day. Yes, there were many Sandra Lee concoctions in the beginning because I sometimes had classes for twelve hours straight; and there were many meatless pasta dinners that came together in less then thirty minutes; but from time to time I would proudly stand by the table hosting a particularly successful meal, my hands resting on my hips,Italian Dressing from bibberche.com my favorite orange apron still on, and a silly grin adorning my face.

In time, I realized that I felt really good about feeding the people I loved. And feeding people great food I prepared was not something to be embarrassed about. Sure, it would not bring me closer to a job for UNICEF, nor would it eradicate world hunger, nor prevent human beings from senselessly hurting each other, but it elicited so many smiles on regular basis that I felt I was surely resolving at least a few of the global conflicts.

My life took me along some very curvy roads, but the unpredictability of my tomorrows only motivated me more and more to offer comfort and love to all who stumbled into my kitchen. Good food does not have to be expensive and it does not have to dazzle. Most of the times a bowl full of pasta simply dressed with good olive oil, garlic, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper is enough to make you forget the ugliest facets of the world. A roast chicken can pull you in and send you back to your mother’s lap for the warmest hug. A plate of creamy mashed potatoes is able to to conjure up the sweetest dreams that would leave you rested and invigorated.

As a good digital age student wannabe, I transferred all the recipes from Mother’s hand-written leather-bound day timer into a Word document that houses thousands of recipes I have collected over the years. But the actual notebook is still with me and I leaf through it occasionally, caressing the pages inscribed in that beautiful, yet unusual artsy handwriting of an Art major. I know now that my beloved Mother sent me off into the world with a treasure map, convinced that I would eventually experience all the riches her gift bestowed upon me.

Summer Pasta Saladvfrom bibberche.com

SUMMER BOUNTY PASTA SALAD

This is not my mother’s recipe, but when it gets hot,  nothing feels better than a refreshing serving of this pasta salad with tangy dressing and crunchy vegetables. And for me, that’s comfort at its best.

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1 lb (500gr) pasta of your choice (penne, ziti, farfalle, corkscrews – just avoid long-shaped pasta)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 8oz (250gr) button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup olives, pitted (optional)

Garnish:

  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Grated parmigiano Reggiano

Italian Dressing:

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar (you can use white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, even aromatic vinegars)
  • ½ good quality olive oil
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Put all the ingredients for Italian dressing in a small jar, cover tightly with a lid and shake vigorously until it blends.

Boil pasta according to the package. Drain.

Mix in all the vegetables while pasta is still warm and stir. Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.

(The salad is better if it rests for several hours in the refrigerator.)

Garnish with parsley and parmigiano Reggiano and serve with crusty country bread or your favorite bruschetta, and a glass of crisp, chilled pinot grigio.