Jan 282013
 

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Holiday season for those who follow the tenets and traditions of Serbian Orthodox church does not end with the big ball coming down on Times Square. We celebrate Christmas on January 7th and usher in a New Year on January 13th, as our church has not accepted the Gregorian calendar. And even though we do not have a habit of making New Year’s resolutions, let alone sticking to them, it always makes me feel good to have that extra time to get my affairs in order, reflect on the previous year, and start thinking about the new beginnings.

2013 started off bright, promising excitement and new challenges, even though I fell asleep well before midnight out of sheer exhaustion, both on December 31st and on January 13th, raising a glass of prosecco surrounded by the love and warm hugs of my family some time in the afternoon, rather than at the last moments of the departing year. There was no countdown for me, no traditional Strauss waltz right after the bubbles slide down my throat, nor heartfelt wishes whispered in my ear. Overcome by many days of fatigue and frenzy, we all succumbed to sleep in our new home, without guilt or regret.

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

The long month of January is slowly winding down; and I am just organized enough in my new life to reach for some familiar things that always make me happy: my music, my photographs, my books, and my cooking. Most of my books are safely packed in the storage, along with four book shelves that used to shelter them, but I kept a few favorites out of prison, knowing that just looking at them would bring a smile to my face and assure me that everything is well with the world.

One of those books is a cookbook from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest produce supplier in the U.S., conveniently located only a dozen or so miles away in Vernon, California.  50 Best Plants on the Planet is published by Chronicle Publishing and features the writing of Cathy Thomas, an acclaimed food columnist for the Orange County Register, and luscious photographs by Angie Cao. The forward is written by Cheryl Forberg, RD, a James Beard Award-winning chef and former nutritionist for The Biggest Loser.

This book sits on the box freezer in my new kitchen and whenever I need a burst of fresh and colorful, I reach for it. We had several weeks of rain and fog in southern California and our spoiled souls suffer under the tyranny of gray. But I forget about the cold and rain as soon as I start flipping the pages, mesmerized by the beauty of nature’s bounty, so simple and unassuming, yet so glorious and inviting.

This encyclopedic tome features fifty fruits and vegetables which pack the most nutrients, listing them alphabetically. Each selection offers three versatile recipes developed by a team of experts and chefs at Melissa’s Produce, as well as numerous tips for buying, using, storing, and preserving the chosen plants. I was not surprised to find included all-time favorites like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, blackberries, and oranges; but I was definitely glad to learn about the benefits of watermelon, gooseberries, cantaloupe, gai lan, beet greens, and edible chrysanthemum leaves (not the common blooming ones in our gardens – those would be poisonous, as I was cautioned by Cathy).

I don’t need a New Year’s resolution to get inspired, as I had a chance to taste some of the recipes at Melissa’s Produce book-signing party a few weeks ago. The counter in the middle of their glamorous kitchen was laden with colorful dishes bursting with flavor, and it took several trips to sample all the food that Melissa’s talented chefs prepared for us. After our hunger was satiated, Cathy Thomas entertained us with the stories about her childhood, talked about her inspirations for the book, and answered many questions from the attentive and curious audience.

Melissa's Produce from bibberche.com

I have received a signed copy of the book, and I already have dozens of recipes book-marked. I am eager to start learning and cooking, relying on the advice of the experts, as well as experimenting with my own creations. I have no doubts that this cookbook will contribute to a healthier and more prosperous new year.

50 Best Plants on the Planet: The Most Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables, in 150 Delicious Recipes is available for sale at Bristol Farms supermarkets. Its hardbound edition is sold exclusively online from www.melissas.com and it retails for $35.00. By April 2013 it will be distributed to all major book sellers in the US.  It can also be pre-ordered on www.amazon.com.

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Jan 222013
 
Lenti Bulgur Pilaf from bibberche.com

Photo by my 3G iPhone. No comment.

I have always wondered how celebrity chefs on TV manage to pull off their seemingly easy cooking demonstrations, having to consider the time and space limitations, the necessity to show technique, the need for banter and entertaining talk, and the intimidating presence of non-forgiving video cameras.

I am an oldest child and I embrace challenges. Or, as my sister would put it, I tend to pick ways to make my life harder. I played with the idea of making a video of myself preparing a dish I am truly comfortable with, only to satiate my curiosity and explore another terra incognita. Recently I decided to put that momentous event off until much later, convinced that it really would make my life much harder. And these days I want to invoke my inner Milan Kundera and experience my own Unbearable Lightness of Being. No need to stress, over-exert, or worry. I had more than my share of those in the past several months, thank you very much.

A while ago I enthusiastically answered an email from Casey Benedict of Kitchen Play and signed up for the Cookbook Tour with five other food bloggers. Supporting Faith Gorsky, a fellow writer and a newly-hatched cookbook author came naturally. Her book An Eddible Mosaic is gorgeous, the dishes from her Syrian mother-in-law invite me back home to Serbia, and every time I open it, I feel as if I were visiting an old friend.

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky

We invited our friends and readers to join us for a live Twitter party last weekend. All six of us were preparing the same dish, Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions, at the same time. We had one hour to gather the ingredients, cook, take photos, upload them to Twitter, and record our progress in a live Twitter stream.

Well, people who know me are aware of the fact that I am a techno-peasant. I believe that there are mean little elves who reside inside my laptop, whose only purpose in life is to sabotage and impede my technological efforts. But not only was I armed with my iPhone, I recruited my oldest daughter who was on her winter break from UC Berkeley. She poo-poos my woes and wrestles with any techie problem with an analytical and logical approach. And together we pulled it off.

The dish came together in less than an hour, the house smelled divine, and apart from the annoying fact that my father ate all of the caramelized onions that were supposed to be the finishing touch to the dish, I felt really proud of my accomplishment: not only was I able to follow all the steps accurately to come up with a fragrant and delicious meal, I managed to take the photos of the process and tweet while doing it!

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions from bibberche.com

Yes, we had to make another batch of caramelized onions, but we were at an advantage, as it was still early in southern California after the Twitter party ended. I made my first bulgur meal, I learned novel techniques and tips, and my whole family enjoyed this pilaf that I served with grilled Moroccan chicken.

This was enough excitement and multi-tasking for now. Shooting a video is definitely not going to happen soon. But as I learned from James Bond movies, never say never again.

I hope you get a chance to try some of the recipes from An Edible Mosaic. They are well written, comprehensible, easy to follow, and delicious. You don’t have to be an expert on Middle Eastern foods to take the plunge. And if you need some questions answered, don’t hesitate to ask me, or my friends who are participating in this book promotion.

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

(MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes, plus 10 minutes to let the bulgur sit after cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
  • 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
  • Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)

Directions:

1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they are always immersed; strain.

2. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and saute until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.

3. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sauteed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.

4. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.

5. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion. Serve with plain yogurt to spoon on top, if using.

 

Jan 192013
 

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

We did not have Super Bowl in Serbia and the phenomenon of preparing special foods for that day was a novel one. But eager to socialize with people who loved to cook and eat, I frequently joined my friends with excitement, even though I still did not understand the rules of American football and have not watched one single game in its entirety.

The major games in soccer, the ones that decide the winner of the national league or the world champion are watched sitting on the edge of the couch, falling down on your knees, jumping, pulling your hair, stomping your feet, howling, screaming, and eating your nails, oblivious to any victuals surrounding you. I delighted in preparing a menu for a day of sports, comforted in the thought that there will be others like me, there for friends, fun, and nibbles, rather than to feverishly follow the mystical dance by men in helmets.

Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

No one counted calories at Super Bowl parties and the tables were piled high with cheesy dips, spreads, and dressings, potato skins and stuffed jalapeños, chips and crackers, fried mozzarella sticks, crispy Nachos and tight spring rolls. And at every party the pièce de résistance was a platter of gloriously glistening chicken wings, an homage to the meat gods in the shape of finger food.

I have not eaten my share of chicken wings when I was a child, as my preferred piece was white meat. No one else staked a claim on chicken breast and it made me infinitely happy not to have to share with my siblings. Only in my adult years did I understand that everyone else in the family enjoyed much more flavorful morsels all those years, while I gloated over a big chunk of bland and dry food.

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

My parents fought over the chicken wings and I never understood the attraction. But when I arrived to the U.S. and tried Buffalo wings for the first time, I had to reconsider. I am not a gnawer and prefer a cut I could get to using utensils, but I discovered how good it feels to sink my teeth between the bones and suck the tiny fibers of muscle covered with spicy Red Hot Sauce and butter. Almost overnight I became a convert, not only in my love of chicken wings, but blue cheese as well.

Over the years I tried many incarnations of the ubiquitous bar food and I love them all. I have even introduced my Serbian relatives and friends to them and watched in glee as they savored the piquant Buffalo or smoky and sweet BBQ wings, their fingers sticky, their cheeks speckled with sauce.

But this year I am going back to my Serbian roots with my mother’s recipe which delighted my children and was a favorite when I was growing up. It is simple, prepared with only a few ingredients, and it can take me home faster than a Concorde. I cannot promise that we will even turn the TV on when the big game starts on Super Bowl Sunday, but you can bet there will be a few indulgent dips scattered around the living room, and a platter of sticky and crunchy Serbian chicken wings. Let the games begin!

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

BACON-FLAVORED CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients:

  • Chicken wings (my last package contained 8 whole wings, which makes sixteen servings)
  • 2 TBSP bacon fat or home-rendered lard
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

Cut the little protruding piece from each wing and then cut through the joint to half them. Lay them out on the cutting board skin side up, and sprinkle salt and pepper on top.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high temperature. Add bacon fat or lard and heat until it sizzles. Place the chicken wings seasoned side down and sprinkle the other side with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken wings for 4-5 minutes, turn and brown the other side, for another 2-3 minutes. When the delicious brown pieces appear at the bottom of the skillet, turn the heat down to low, pour the water in (carefully, as the steam will rise up) and cover with a tightly fitting lid.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, until done. Take the lid off, turn the heat back to medium-high and simmer until the liquid evaporates and the wings become sticky. Scrape them off into a bowl and serve immediately.

(The remnants in the skillet are precious and Mother would soak them up for us with a few slices of crusty bread. But they would be perfect the next morning, turned into chicken gravy to serve with biscuits.)

Jan 082013
 

 

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(landscape)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

New year literally brought a new beginning into our lives. I erased our presence from the beloved apartment with a gallon of Clorox, turned my keys in, and hugged the managers whose eyes mirrored mine and sparkled with tears.  A new family was moving in, and I had to smile at the three girls jumping and skipping around, excited about their new home, remembering my two daughters and their happiness just a year ago. I drove off with my clothes piled up on the back seat of the old Bonneville, while the fountain in the courtyard and the pink facade slowly disappeared from my sight.

My girls and I are almost completely unpacked, with just a few odd items disrupting the harmony of our new abode. We have roses in the front yard and an orange tree in the back. We have an adorable poodle who makes our feet warm on these surprisingly chilly California nights. This holiday season ended with a miracle for us and I cannot even try to explain the gratitude I feel for my dear friend who opened her home to us and welcomed us in with a huge embrace and even bigger smile, erasing the scary thoughts of homelessness and shelters that occupied me for days.

We are slowly adjusting to our new routine, getting to know the pathways through the house and learning to live with the unusual noises. My friend has a house full of vintage cooking props and I cannot wait to use them in my photos. In turn, she is hungry for my cooking, and even a simple fried egg I make for her in the morning makes her face beam. I am humbled by her generosity and if she asked me to prepare a pheasant under glass, I would gladly do it, even if I had to go in the Sierras and catch the bird myself!

My life is slowly getting back to normal. A different, new normal, filled with uncertainty and mystery, but comfortable and welcoming nevertheless. The beast of anxiety and fear is still a frequent daily guest residing on top of my chest, but the promise of a wonderful year ahead gives me strength to shake it off and force it to go away.

I miss writing. I miss my camera. I miss the feel of a few keys that slightly stick under my fingers as I type yet another blog post. I miss my friends, real and virtual, and feel as if I were in exile for months. But as I disassemble the last of the packing boxes and send them to a recycling bin, I know that I have not only come home, but returned as well. And I am so ready to start living again!

An Edible Mosaic

What can be better to announce the beginning of a life much richer, fuller, and more satisfying, than a beautifully photographed cookbook filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables of the Middle East, with authentic recipes for fragrant and aromatic foods of Syria, Tunisia, Morocco simplified and adjusted to the markets of the west? I am proud to be a part of the team involved in promoting Faith Gorsky’s lovely book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with an Extraordinary Flair.

If you remember, the six of us each picked a different recipe from the book several weeks ago, and prepared a prix fixe virtual meal for our readers. My family enjoyed Spinach Turnovers and it makes me feel good that it’s also one of Faith’s favorite recipes she learned from her Syrian mother-in-law.

I would like to invite you to join us again, this time in real time, for the Twitter party Cook, Tweet and Eat this coming Saturday, January 12th, at 4:00 pm EST. Let’s have fun preparing Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions together, exchanging tips and ideas, posting photos, learning from one another and from Faith! I have participated in a few Twitter events in the last couple of years since I’ve been blogging, but this one will be special, as so many of us will be making the same dish and I cannot wait to see different takes, variations, and creations.

Hashtag for this event will be #AnEdibleMosaic. Casey of Kitchen Play helped us form our group and formulate a plan for promoting An Edible Mosaic. After Cook, Tweet&Eat party, she will put up a photo album of all the photos submitted on Twitter, with links and credit.

If you are interested, you can RSVP here. I hope to see you at the party on Twitter!

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(portrait)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS                                                                                                                             (MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes, plus 10 minutes to let the bulgur sit after cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
  • 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
  • Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)
Directions:
  1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they’re always immersed; strain.
  2. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and sautee until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.
  3. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sauteed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.
  4. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.
  5. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion. Serve with plain yogurt to spoon on top, if using.