Oct 302012
 

Lundberg Family Farms from bibberche.com
In the days preceding my trip north to Sacramento Valley with California Farm Water Coalition and the visit to Lundberg Family Farms, I invoked my inner romanticist and historian and conjured up the images of people in wide-brimmed straw hats hip-deep in rice fields, with water buffalo lounging in the muddy shallows of the Mekong River Delta. I was going all Pearl Buck and Louis Bromfield, until we pulled over in front of the company’s main office building.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

Bryce Lundberg and his mother Caroline welcomed us in their company’s lunch room

Third generation rice farmer Bryce Lundberg welcomed us to the property and led us inside, just past a tractor with shiny, red wheels, a relic from the 30s. His mother, Caroline, joined us in a spacious, modern, well-lit room that showcased many products manufactured at the farm. While we munched on a variety of incredibly delicious and crunchy rice chips and rice cakes, Caroline and Bryce told us a story that dispersed my images of the past.

Lundberg Family Farms from bibberche.com

Albert and his wife Frances left Nebraska for Central California in 1937, lured to the land of eternal sunshine by the promises of fertile soil. They were tired of the unpredictable life of the Dustbowl where there was no irrigation and the lingering consequences of the Great Depression. Once they arrived with their four small sons, they discovered, along with many other new transplants, that the familiar cultures did not thrive in the hard, heavy-clay dirt of the Central Valley. But hope quickly replaced the disappointment when they found out that the land was perfect to grow rice. The layer of extremely hard, compacted soil a few feet under the surface kept the precious water from seeping too deep, allowing rice to germinate and grow surrounded by moisture.

Lundberg Rice Farm

All the farmers collected their crop in the co-operative in the beginning. Most of the rice grown in the area was exported due to the lack of interest on the domestic market. But a few companies were leaning towards the organic rice and the Lundbergs followed their own vision: they wanted to control the quality of their rice, as they decided to take the treacherous, but rewarding route of sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture.

Lundberg Rice Farm

From the early days, farming was a family business, with each of the four sons getting a share of the land when they reached high school. In order to maximize the returns, they brought their separate properties together and continued to farm as one entity. In 1967 they built a mill to have more control of their crops, taking the production one step further along the vertical development concept.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

The view from the cockpit of a combine

Lundberg Family Farms grows seventeen varieties of rice, with seventy percent organic and the rest conventional, or eco-farm. They do not use carcinogenic herbicides nor GMO products. They have forty different farms in the area that grow crops for them, with 12,000 acres under the organic rice, and a little over 3000 acres planted with the conventionally grown rice.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

The buckets show the steps of processing rice

In the past, once the rice was harvested, the remaining stalks were burned to clean the fields off the debris and prepare them for planting. But modern farms, including the Lundberg Family Farms, use the flooding method, which pumps the water from the irrigation systems built around the Sacramento River all over the harvested fields, where it sits, allowing the stalks to rot and add the necessary nutrients to the impoverished soil. In turn, many of the temporary shallow lakes become natural refuges for the wild birds, with over 400 species using them to survive the winter. In spring, the flooded fields are planted with seeds thrown out of the airplanes, and even though the birds will feast on some of them, many survive to make a plentiful crop.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

Rice cakes facility was fascinating

It takes only about 16 gallons of water to grow one serving (1 ounce) of rice, which is comparable to most of the vegetables grown in the US. The compacted layer of dirt preserves the moisture and allows the rice to thrive. As the rice stalks mature, the water is drained, and when harvest approaches in October, the fields are ideally dry. After the harvest, the rice is dried, put into a mill to separate the grain from the hull and packaged or processed into rice flour or rice cakes.

Four Brothers

Four Lundberg brothers, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer

Lundberg Family Farms is still a family business, with third and fourth generation involved in day-to-day operations from many angles. Some of them have vowed never to become a part of the agricultural concept, studying law, business, or history. But inevitably they are drawn back to the family enterprise, proud of the accomplishments and eager to continue the legacy their ancestors started almost a century ago, proving that it is possible to grow food that’s as good for us as it is good for the environment.

(Lundberg Family Farms products are sold in natural and health food stores around the country, as well as at co-ops and major grocery stores. For the store locator in your area check the News&Info category on their official site.)

Oct 182012
 

Tiramisu from bibberche.com

I did not taste Tiramisù when I majored in Italian and went religiously to every Italian restaurant in our capital city of Belgrade; I did not ask about it when I spent a month in Italy, traveling from Rome to Abruzzo and then back to Rome with my friend Stefania, staying with her family and eating many meals in their hotel a few miles off the coast of the Adriatic;  and I certainly did not find it at the first fine dining restaurant whose doors opened to me when I embarked on the American soil, even though the owner/chef was an Italian by origin.

The first time I tasted this simple, but elegant Italian dessert was when my sister visited from Germany. My youngest daughter was only two months old, all round-faced, ginger-haired, and as demanding as if she were the first-born, and I was trying to find my zen while carrying her clasped to my breast, feeding her one-year-old sister secured firmly in her high chair, and helping my second-grader with her homework.

My sister waltzed in flaunting her sleek, European chic even while wearing black yoga pants and a tee shirt, no make-up, no pretense. I felt utterly exhausted on every level, but having some adult company and being able to converse in more than one-syllable words made me forget all about interrupted sleep, colic, and interminable hours spent putting my babies to sleep.

She was born efficient and organized, and the years she spent as a nurse in an ICU unit in Frankfurt, Germany, made her hone those traits to perfection. She commandeered the house with the authority of a seasoned ship’s captain and brought back the harmony that Shiva-like forces of my hectic life inevitably disrupted. It did not surprise me that my girls obeyed her every command uttered with a smile, but firmly, without objecting, whining, and dramatic scenes.

She took away lime-green sippy cup from my hand and replaced it with a glass of chilled French rosé. She set up a mini spa and did my nails that have not seen the salon in months, while I laid on the couch, a gloopy mask covering my face, two cucumber slices placed over my eyes. She colored my hair, picked my outfit, and kicked me out of the door so we could go shopping.

And then one afternoon she made a tiramisù which seduced me with creaminess, a subtle nudge of coffee and just a hint of alcohol. All I wanted was to inhale it, spend my days with it eating it very slowly, bite by tiny bite, making it last. But it did not last. It appears that even the smallest members of my household loved the adult flavors of this dessert and I had to share.

My sister has come and gone many times since then. Every time I feel like locking her in, keeping her in my home like a hostage, grabbing on to her black leather jacket and making her stay. But I just take her to the airport, stand in the crowd until she disappears in the winding TSA line and wave to her, not even bothering to hide my tears. I know she will be back. But I also know that I will miss her every single day.

We did not make tiramisù when she was here in September, back from her scuba-diving trip to Tahiti. I was grateful for that week she spent with me and the girls, happy to have her around, elated to see my house rejuvenated and spruced up once again. And I was grateful for the lazy afternoon hours we spent sipping chilled French rosé, reminiscing about our old boyfriends and listening to the 80s music, giggling like we used to back when sixteen months between us was a big deal.

But I made her tiramisù for my girls who were too small to remember its taste when she first made it. The three of us sat at the counter and ate our perfectly sliced cubes, making each bite last as long as it could before melting on our tongues, the coffee asserting itself over the softness of mascarpone, ladyfingers completely surrendered to the flowery touch of Cointreau. I miss my sister fiercely, but this was enough to bring her back here, bold, exciting, sweet, and soft at the same time, just like this Italian dessert she introduced to us so many years ago.

MY SISTER’S SIMPLE TIRAMISÙ

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 lb mascarpone cheese

The Rest of the Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of strong coffee at room temperature (espresso would be the best)
  • 3 Tbsp rum, amaretto, brandy, cognac, or Cointreau
  • a package of lady fingers (savoiardi) – I needed 30 pieces, but it all depends on the size of your dish
  • 1/3 cup cocoa for dusting (you can use chocolate shavings instead)

 Directions:

Mix the eggs and sugar with hand-held mixer or in your food processor until foamy and pale yellow. Add mascarpone cheese and mix until combined.

Stir together coffee and liqueur of your choice in a shallow bowl.

Place ladyfingers, one by one, in the coffee-booze mix, roll around for about 5 seconds and lay flat in a rectangular Pyrex dish. Continue laying the savoiardi until the bottom of the dish is covered. Place the half of the filling on top of them and spread evenly. Repeat with another layer. Spread the remaining filling on top and dust with cocoa powder or chocolate shavings.

Keep in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Tiramisu from bibberche.com

Oct 122012
 

Nathan Turner American Style Book from bibberche.com

A few days ago, I found myself, along with several other food bloggers at Melissa’s Produce warehouse to celebrate a newly-published book Nathan Turner’s American Style – Classic Design & Effortless Entertaining with its author. With enough time on my hands just in case I got lost, I maneuvered the streets of South Central LA with what I perceived as utmost skill and total cool. I arrived early Melissa's Produce Warehouse from bibberche.comenough, and after saying Hello! to my friends and acquaintances, and shaking hands with folks I did not know, Robert Schueller, the spokesman for Melissa’s, led us inside through the winding corridor decorated with photographs of celebrities and posters recording significant events of the past.

If you have never been to Melissa’s test kitchen, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It’s spacious, filled with light, lined with bookshelves heaping with cookbooks, preserves, and condiments, with walls proudly displaying items from Julia Child’s kitchen that owners Joe and Shannon Hernandez collected over the years, and the center island that usually features the food.

This time when we entered, a single, long table was set for us, with fold-out chairs made of bleached wood flanking it. Roughly sewn burlap tablecloth and dark blue denim runner were the backdrop to a stunning, yet simple design, one of those that hit you mid-glance, urging you to ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” From plain glass vases holding purple basil, mint, and a variety of green plants of different textures, to linen napkins rolled and tied together with a rosemary twig on top, to mason jars instead of glasses, to a three-tiered distressed tin centerpiece cradling an array of colorful vegetables –  the design was a comforting country, laid back and relaxed, but harmonious and aesthetic nonetheless.

Melissa's luncheon for Nathan Turner from bibberche.com

I approached Nathan, his black-rimmed nerd glasses and casual clothing perfectly matched with the interior of the room. His warm Nathan Turner at Melissa's from bibbberche.comsmile and sparkle in his eyes put me at ease immediately. Our conversation was spontaneous, even though I was afraid at times that my questions tinted with accented English sounded like machine-gun fire. But even if they did, he responded in a calm, mellifluous voice, his smile never leaving his face.

Nathan TurnerNathan is a fourth-generation Californian, a mix of English and German, raised in San Francisco and on the working cattle ranch (emphasis on working) his maternal grandfather established, which made him appreciate real food. He has a degree in business, but the fate led him down another path; he discovered his passion for design on one of his summer jobs, and never looked back. He moved to Los Angeles a decade ago and opened his first shop in a dilapidated bungalow in West Hollywood, pulling all his creative impulses to mask the architectural faults of the smallNathan Turner from bibberche.com building and make his own mark in one of the most competitive fields in California.

His idiosyncratic approach to design that encompasses his love of travel and obsession with food made him stand out and become one of the most prestigious designers in our city. “My approach to decorating and entertaining is all about finding new ways to live and celebrate with low effort and high style”. He embraces his native West Coast laid back and relaxed style, effortlessly blending interiors and exteriors, bringing inside the elements of the outside world that make California so special.

His book is divided into three sections: Going Coastal, City Living, and Going Country. Nathan takes us for a tour of his Malibu home, lets us take a glimpse at his mother’s house in Tahoe, and even allows us to peek into some of the celebrities’ homes he transformed into  veritable retreats and sanctuaries (who doesn’t want to see the inside of Ione Skye’s or Amanda Peet’s glamorous Spanish adobe?) He brings his simple motto “barefoot, fuss-free, but still high-style” everywhere he goes and makes you want to kick back and enjoy life in any of his casually, but stylishly adorned rooms, secure that the party will be a hit and the food perfectly matched to the occasion and season.

Melissa's Produce Kitchen from bibberche.com

After he answered all the questions and signed all the books, we sat down to yet another delightful lunch prepared for us by Melissa’s

Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comtalented chefs Tom and Raquel. Every dish represented the seasonal bounty, from fresh fruit platter, to Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comgarden salad, jewel-like grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad, to Dutch Yellow potato salad spiced with Hatch chile vinaigrette, to unctuous strands of roasted spaghetti squash served with rich Bordelaise sauce, to beef and chicken lettuce wraps with flavorful aiolli, to addicting and alluring Hatch chile Devil’s food cookies as piece de resistance. We quenched our thirst with lemonade and Arnold Palmers, of course.

Warned in advance, I refrained from asking any personal designing questions while the Q&A session continued once we all visited the center island two or three times, but Nathan was gracious enough to share with us his tips on decorating on the budget. He advised us to go outside and look for inspiration. “The Nature offers so much at such a low cost. Look in your yard, in your neighbor’s yard, or take a drive on PCH and grab whatever you fancy! Don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your instincts.”

Nathan Turner from bibberche.com

As we were leaving, I shook Nathan’s hand and thanked him for inspiring me and allowing me to think, even for a minute, that I could pull it off as easily as he can. I will remember his advice and I will bury myself into his book for more inspiration in the days to come. (I am already scanning my neighbors’ yards for centerpieces).

Thank you, Nathan, and than you, Melissa’s, for this wonderful day!

“Nathan Turner is a renowned interior designer and entertaining expert. He owns an eponymous shop in Los Angeles – which merges his three passions of design, food, and travel and is a go-to-source for the country’s leading interior designers. He is featured on the Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators and is the style expert at Pottery Barn. Nathan’s Parties, products, and designs have been featured in major national and regional publications.” (Abrams)

Nathan_Turner book from bibberche.com

Nathan Turner’s American Style: Design and Effortless Entertaining                                                                                                                                       By Nathan Turner                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abrams Books / October 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                               U.S. $40.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ISBN 978-1-41970-439-0                                                                                                                                                                                                             Hardcover with jacket                                                                                                                                                                                                                                224 pages / 81/2″x101/2″                                                                                                                                                                                                                        150 color photographs

 

Oct 092012
 

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This month’s Recipe Swap, started by Christianna Rheinhard of Burwell General Store, features a Russian Salad, a side dish very close to my homesick Serbian heart. When I was growing up, you did not dare invite people over for a dinner or a celebration in the Fall or Winter without offering an immense bowl filled with Russian salad (it goes without saying that a roasted suckling pig would have been the centerpiece of the table, no matter what).

Mother always made mayonnaise from scratch and enlisted our help in dicing the other ingredients, which had to be cut into the equally-sized tiny cubes. She would cook them all separately: the eggs, the carrots, the potatoes, and the chicken breast. Frozen peas were blanched for a minute or two and added in the end, along with ham and pickles. No herring, onions, or beats in the Serbian version. To this day, I welcome in every new Year with a bowl of this nostalgic condiment, and the taste reminds me of every single December I spent in my parents’ house.

I was tempted to make the Serbian-Russian salad, but for me it needs a special date, a celebration, or someone’s birthday. My College Critter is not home bound until November, when our first birthday celebrations start. As she is mildly obsessed with all things Russian, due more to her choice of a major than to her Ukrainian boyfriend, I am sure that she will insist on making the Capitol or French salad (as the Russians call our ubiquitous Russian salad) for her twenty-first birthday.

October Recipe Swap from bibberche.com

Meanwhile, prompted by a wish from my elderly neighbor, I made a simple egg salad that my girls crave, and that they will be happy to find in their brown bag school lunches.

As I pride myself on being organized (which mainly means that I dread getting up too early in the morning to prepare their lunches) I boiled the eggs in the afternoon and allowed them to cool off before peeling them. I made mayo from scratch, as I dutifully do once a week. At night I diced onions, celery, pickles, and eggs, and made the salad with an additional pinch of salt and a grind or two of black pepper. The covered bowl went into the fridge overnight to meld the flavors together.

I am the last one in the house to go to bed and the first to get up. But I am a night owl and much sharper at the wee hours of the night then early in the morning. Therefore, before I leave the kitchen for the night, I fill two small water bottles and place them in the fridge. I lay lunch paper bags on the counter, along with a Sharpie and a stapler. I pick two pieces of fruit from the fruit bowl and place them next to the bags. And if need be, I write myself a note as a reminder, just to make my mornings less stressful and more manageable.

As my Turkish coffee cools off, I try to get in step with this syncopated morning dance, moving from the stove to the counter and back, preparing the breakfast and packing the lunch, satisfied only when the bags are stapled and clearly marked (with a carb count clearly written on Zoe’s bag), and the girls are perching on the stools along the counter, ready to attack the plates laden with food in front of them.

Come December, I will make a traditional Russian salad and post a recipe for it. But for now, I offer a classic egg salad that my girls and I learned to love, a dish almost scorned and abandoned by many, just like my beloved Serbian-Russian salad.

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This open-faced beauty was my lunch

CLASSIC AMERICAN EGG SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 5 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 small pickles, diced
  • ½ yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ cup mayonnaise, store-bought or homemade
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place eggs, pickles, onions, and celery into a bowl. Add mayonnaise, and stir to combine. Season to taste and serve.

Oct 072012
 

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.com

My sister has a hyper-sensitive nose. She makes a face when she spies a wedge of pecorino Romano and she can identify the tiniest amounts of any goat product, no matter how fresh and pristine. “It smells like a musk ox!”, she would yell and that became our war cry, a kind of a goat radar, even though no one we are even acquainted with has come in contact with a musk ox.

Father’s neighbor at the ranch above our town in Serbia has a small herd of goats that she takes for a walk along the dirt road, allowing them to enjoy the overgrown hedges and brambles that flank it, while she walks slowly behind them, her knitting needles clacking and crisscrossing, a ball of yarn clasped firmly between her arm and her ribs. When she milks the goats in the morning, she fills white, reused one-liter plastic bottles with still frothy milk, loads them in canvas bags and dispatches her children on bikes to make rounds. The milk she gets at dusk she uses to make cheese the next day.

Father is one of her regular customers when we are in Serbia and my children have learned to enjoy the exotic, grassy taste of goat products. From time to time I even manage to persuade my sister to take a bite of young, lightly salted, unripened milky-white goat cheese cut in squares and laid in neat rows in a plastic box, or a few crumbs of older, yellow and drier cheese that spent some time developing its mature aroma. But she inevitably scrunches her face after a faintest whiff of goatness, and we all cry out in unison, “It smells like a musk ox!”

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.comAlmost two years ago the Internet sprinkled some fairy dust and made me stumble upon Stephanie’s beautiful blog Sale e Pepe. Her photography left me breathless and inspired me to strive for better every time I pick up my camera. When she told me that she has photographed a cookbook, I was not surprised. When she asked me if I wanted to participate in a virtual potluck to promote the cookbook, Tasia’s Table, I was ecstatic.

The author of the cookbook is Tasia Malakasis, a Southern girl of Greek origin, a fellow English major who switched gears a few years back and became a cheesemonger for her native Alabama company Belle Chevre. Most of the recipes in her book feature goat cheese in its many incarnations. Her writing is evocative and soulful, and Stephanie’s images bring forth Tasia’s enchantment with food and her desire to share it with her friends and family while tossing back a glass of red wine, laughing, and leaving all pretense behind.

My kind of cheese, my kind of girl, my kind of entertaining! The only bad thing about this endeavor was that I could not stop browsing the recipes. I wanted to make so many of them that my notebook became useless. I stopped only when I realized that I can make all these recipes in the future whenever I want. For the virtual potluck I chose an easy to prepare dish that would appeal to my girls, with ingredients that I usually have in stock: Tapenade-Olive Tart with Goat Cheese.

The puff pastry rose beautifully and the crust was rustic and imperfect in the best way possible, even though I tried really hard to make the edges even. Creamy, soft goat cheese cut the abrasive notes of capers and complemented the  flowery taste of roughly chopped green Manzanilla olives in my tapenade*, while toasted nuts tossed with fresh thyme added another subtle undertone.

Tasia, you are right: this is a simple, but lovely dish to serve on a weekday with a spring greens salad, but also perfectly suited to grace a table at an informal party, or when guests appear unexpectedly. And my sister was probably dreaming about us nine hours ahead in Germany, as we chimed, as if on cue, “It smells like a musk ox!”

*I made my own tapenade as I joined October Unprocessed started by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules.

You can order a copy of Tasia’s Table on Tasia Malakasis’s site.

 TAPENADE-WALNUT TART WITH GOAT CHEESE

from Tasia’s Table

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 roll of store-bought puff pastry
  • 4 tablespoons prepared olive tapenade
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ cup walnuts, crushed and toasted

Directions:

Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle about 8 x 12 inches.

Roll up the sides slightly and prick the bottom with a fork.

Cook for 10 minutes at 400 degrees on a nonstick baking sheet.

Remove from oven and cool.

Spread the tapenade on the cooked pastry.

Sprinkle with thyme and walnuts, and cover evenly with goat cheese.

Bake for 15–20 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese has melted and started to brown on top.

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.com

Tasia is offering a free signed copy of her book to one lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below and feel free to tweet out this contest using the handle @Bibberche and @BelleChevre, and the hashtag #tasiastable. I will leave this giveaway open until Saturday, October 13th, to give Tasia some time to pick a winner.

Several other bloggers are participating in this virtual potluck. I listed their blogs so you can visit them as well and enter again. Each of these bloggers will pick one response and send it to Tasia. She will then choose the winner and send them an autographed copy of Tasia’s Table. Good Luck!

The comments are the official entry, there is no purchase necessary, void where prohibited. US mailing addresses only. One (1) winner will be chosen randomly. Prize will be shipped by Belle Chevre. The contest ends Sunday, October 14th, 2012 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. The winner will be announced on Monday, October 15th, via email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Disclaimer: I received a signed copy of Tasia’s Table and no other compensation. Opinions and photography are my own.

Oct 032012
 

 

pita sa jabukama / apple strudel, from bibberche.com

I’ve heard the phrase “As American as baseball and apple pie” many times as a child, watching old black-and-white American movies and enjoying translated comics that ended up in  Politikin Zabavnik, my favorite magazine that came out on Fridays. I was not familiar with baseball and as far as I was concerned, Americans were more than welcome to call that mysterious and foreign game their own. But apple pie was another matter completely.

I am Serbian through and through, with some spicy and adventurous Hungarian blood thrown in by known sources, and possibly some dark, unpredictable, hedonistic Turkish genes that sneaked in unrecognized and illegitimate during centuries of Ottoman occupation. But American I am not, and neither was the apple pie that I grew up with.

It would not occur to me or any of my friends to steal a freshly baked pie cooling on the window-sill like Dennis the Menace frequently did to Mrs. Wilson. And it seemed absolutely absurd to throw a baked pie into someone’s face like I saw in so many silent movies. I innocently concluded that the American apple pies were not as respected as ours and that American mothers and grandmothers did not really care if their desserts were stolen, thrown, or destroyed in any of the savage and thoughtless ways Hollywood showed us. At times I even considered the possibility that an American apple pie was prepared for anything else but eating. But the apple pie that came out of the orange and brown kitchen of my childhood was something different.

Come September, Serbian hills show off branches laden with plums, pears, and apples, and yards and cellars fill up with crates of the abundant fruit. Fragile plums are turned into slivowitz, the potent plum brandy that cannot be replicated in an industrial facility. Dainty pears are preserved in sweet syrup and sturdy and resilient apples are stored throughout the cold months. Often snubbed by us as too prolific and passed by in favor of more exotic bananas and pineapple, they still unselfishly permeated the dewy cellars with their fragrance, masking the musky smell of wine barrels.

 

jabuke / apples, from bibberche.com

The apple pie was not a special dessert made for holidays and celebrations. It was an everyday sweet dish made for the family and relatives who visited so often that they were not considered guests. It was not meant to impress, but to satisfy and offer comfort. And in the late afternoons of early Fall, when we would return from school after the afternoon shift, chasing the last rays of sun and catching the first subtle hints of northern winds, the smell of apples and cinnamon greeting us at the door made us forget all our worries.

As the powder sugar flecked our hands and our teeth bit into flaky, crispy phylo dough on the way to still warm and soft sweet apples in the middle, we regaled Mother with stories of friends and enemies, of tests gone bad, of teachers proud and disdainful, of secret crushes and annoying pursuers. Our day would be wrapped in the pastry that melted in our mouths and soft, fragrant essence of the fruit that made us feel safe, warm, and loved.

September meeting of our Food Bloggers LA group celebrated Fall fruit, apples and pears. Even though the temperatures in Southern California have been in triple digits for weeks, I was ready to shift gears and start thinking of more robust and heartier dishes. In the end, I decided to make a Serbian apple pie, eager to share comforting smells of my childhood with my friends.

Voce - fruit from bibberche.com

Bounty from Father’s ranch

SERBIAN APPLE PIE OR APPLE STRUDEL 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (500g) phylo dough
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sunflower oil
  • 3 lbs apples (about 6 large, crisp apples, like Gala, Braeburn or Honeycrisp), peeled and grated (large holes)
  • 8 tsp granulated sugar (or more, if your apples are tart)
  • 4 Tbsp cream of wheat (farina)
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla sugar (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet (it should be as long as a sheet of phylo)

Unwrap the phylo sheets and place them on your counter.

Divide them in four piles (the number of sheets differs depending on the manufacturer).

Each pile will make one roll.

Mix water and oil in a small bowl.

Spread one sheet of phylo in front of you, keeping the rest covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel.

Sprinkle with water and oil.

Place another sheet of phylo on  top and sprinkle with water and oil.

Repeat the process until you have four phylo sheets on top of each other.

Spread ¼ of the apples all over the top sheet, leaving 1 inch border along the longer sides.

Sprinkle with 2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbsp farina, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar.

Roll all four sheets together, starting from the longer side facing you.

Carefully transfer the roll to the prepared cookie sheet.

Repeat with the other phylo sheets.

If you have more than 16 sheets in your package (more than four sheets per roll), you might have to apply filling twice.

Brush the rolls with water and oil mixture and bake for 30-45 minutes, until golden brown.

Let it cool slightly. Slice each roll into pieces and dust with powdered sugar.

VARIATION: You can apply a little bit of filling to each sheet and then form a roll.

apple strudel, from bibberche.com