Oct 232013
 

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Ever since I received my new kitchen toy from Grain Mill Wagon, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of grinding. My eyes search different grains every time I enter a grocery store and I have accumulated quite a selection of prospects. My newest acquisition was toasted buckwheat, a plant that has more in common with sorrel and rhubarb than wheat, contrary to its deceiving name.

I have never eaten buckwheat while growing up in Serbia, even though Eastern Europe is the main producer, along with China. But, we did not eat oats, either, and I learned to love a steaming bowl of steel-cut oats with a touch of brown sugar and some dried fruit. I am curious by nature and a hedonist by choice, so experiments with culinary ingredients make me happy.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Once in a while I feel guilty that my children do not come home from school to a plate full of freshly baked pastries, as I remember how comforted and loved I felt when Mother offered a plump, warm yeast roll as a cure-all for any kind of teen angst. Those gnawing moments are mercifully rare and intermittent – I have finally accepted the fact that I will never be like Mother and that there are different ways to comfort and love, some of them not dependent on finicky yeast doughs and hours of proofing.

Yet, one of those moments caught me recently pondering what to make for my newest project. So naturally I decided to make rolls even though I did not know what to expect from substituting some of the wheat flour with freshly ground buckwheat flour. I have lost my fear of baking breads and pastries and kneading a soft dough is one of the most enjoyable tasks I can think of. But I am far from an expert and I was just a bit apprehensive of adding a variable.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

The aroma of roasted buckwheat flour was robust and nutty, and texture grainy. It colored the dough taupe and its skin added a few chestnut  speckles throughout. But it rose beautifully and I encountered no problems while shaping the rolls.

I had a baggie of nigella seeds I bought at an Indian store a while back and thought that their exotic taste would complement the bold notes of roasted buckwheat. I sprinkled them on top of the rolls along with sesame seeds and I was smitten by the aroma wafting from my oven while the rolls were baking.

I loved these rolls. My neighbors loved them. My octogenarian friend who grew up in Oklahoma loved them. Even if you are not adventurous and daring, I promise you that buckwheat will charm you. As for my girls, I can assure you they felt loved and comforted, and just a little special, when they found a plate of these rolls on the kitchen counter just waiting for them.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Buckwheat Rolls
Print

Recipe type: Bread/Rolls
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Buckwheat flour adds a rustic, nutty flavor to these rolls. They could be made smaller and filled with various ingredients.
Ingredients
  • DOUGH
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope instant yeast
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp coarse salt
  • 6 Tbsp very soft butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (110F)
  • FILLING
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (or crumbled feta)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Topping:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sesame seeds, nigella seeds, caraway seeds (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place both flours in a large bowl.
  2. Add dry yeast, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix thoroughly.
  3. Make a well in the middle and add butter and oil.
  4. Mix a little and start adding water, little by little (you might not need all of it).
  5. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.
  7. Mix cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt.
  8. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them into balls.
  9. Flatten each ball into an oval approximately 8×5 inches.
  10. Place a few small heaps of cheese mixture in the middle, fold the longer sides over it and start rolling from one short side.
  11. Place the roll seam-side down on a cookie sheet.
  12. Continue until all the balls are shaped, filled and rolled.
  13. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds, as desired.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  15. Let the rolls rest while the oven is heating.
  16. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven, until golden brown.
  17. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow the rolls to cool slightly before placing them to a baker’s rack to cool completely.

I am a part of October Unprocessed, an event started by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules in 2009. If you still have not heard of it, visit his blog and read all about it.

October Unprocessed 2013

Mar 282013
 
Rose-Shaped Easter Bread from bibberche.com
The days approaching Easter were filled with excitement and anticipation for us while we were growing up in Serbia. As soon as we noticed the envelopes of different dyes and cartons of eggs waiting in the pantry, we became antsy, barely able to wait for “Veliki ÄŒetvrtak” or Big Thursday, to join in the ritual of coloring Easter eggs. The galley kitchen in our old house was too narrow to accommodate Mother’s slender figure joined by Njanja’s much more corpulent presence. When the three of us ran around, weaving through skirts and legs, the small space became like an anthill, teeming with small creatures.
Mother would empty an envelope in the water, add a tablespoon of vinegar to help set the color, and heat it until it boiled. She would place the eggs one by one carefully into the bubbling liquid, and let them move around and absorb the color for fifteen or twenty minutes. The moment when the eggs were to emerge from the murky swirls was greeted by wide open eyes. Upon resting our glances on a perfectly colored oval resting in the spoon glistening in Carmine Red, Prussian Green, Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Violet, or Cobalt Blue, the smiles of relief would appear, and the egg would be placed gingerly onto a plate to cool off.

Use herbs, garlic skins, onion sacks, rubber bands and discarded sticky “dots” from a three-hole puncher to get unusual and festive designs.

We breathed in the astringent smell of vinegar waiting eagerly for our cue to affix the clingy decorative labels depicting adorable chickens and cute bunnies onto the eggs. After straightening the folds of the filmy material, making it become one with the surface, Mother would rub the eggs with bacon, making them shiny and beautiful, resplendent in their primary colors.
The first red egg was sequestered into the credenza to await the next year’s Big Thursday, replacing the old one that sat triumphantly on the shelf for a year. This egg was called “čuvarkuća”, its purpose: to take care of the house and its inhabitants and protect them from the evil spirits. They say that this first red egg never rots, but I was never brave enough to test this hypothesis.
At the conclusion of this endeavor, there were baskets of colorful eggs adorning every flat surface of the house. We would approach them surreptitiously and caress their smooth surfaces, trying to pick the sturdiest specimens for the upcoming egg battle on Sunday morning. We called forth images of Father choosing a ripe watermelon, thumping and probing, and shook the eggs, knocked on them, and rolled them around. We pulled the ones we decorated on top, and marked the possible winners with a marker. Every day the position of the eggs in the baskets changed, as we attempted to be sly and sneaky, looking forward to the challenge.
Veliki Petak (Great Friday, aka Good Friday) was one of the few days during the course of the year that we observed the Eastern Orthodox Lent rules: no red meat, no dairy, no eggs. I am convinced that I mastered the art of delayed gratification ogling those beautiful eggs for three days, without being able to get to them.
Our Lenten dinner was not a humble affair. There was always a lot of pan-fried fish (trout or fresh-water bass), accompanied by crusty bread,  potato salad with red onions and a vinaigrette, baked Serbian beans, black radish relish, and several desserts, including baklava. But those forbidden eggs taunting us with their vibrant splendor were the center of our attention.
Easter service started early and the lawn in the church yard was filled with people carrying baskets of decorated eggs, neatly tucked in checkered dish cloths and adorned with spring flowers. They passed their prettiest specimens around and received enough in return to make the basket full again. Those randomly collected eggs, each one different in style and hue, would make it home, only to undergo a serious evaluation from each member of the family.
Naturally colored Easter eggs from bibberche.com

I use onion skins, turmetic, and coffee to color my eggs naturally and I love the hues.

The Easter Sunday table was covered with a crisp, white, starched tablecloth that awaited us after service when we sauntered in with our freshly scrubbed faces and squeaky-clean teeth. We wore our best clothes that Mother picked the night before and laid for us on the living room couch. We would solemnly sit at the table, appraising its offerings:  magenta slivers of fresh radishes, crisp spears of green onions, white cubes of farmers’ cheese, a bowl of pale yellow kajmak* a platter exhibiting one of Mother’s baking masterpieces, and in the center: the basket of eggs, flanked by a wooden salt and pepper dispenser.
We would wait patiently while the adults took their places at the table, ready to grab the egg we had chosen days ago to be the contender. When everybody’s cups were filled with milk or yogurt, the egg battle could commence. The only rule that was imposed was the proper positioning of the egg in the hand. We went around, knocking egg against egg, sharper side to sharper side, obtuse to obtuse, until one egg was the absolute winner, having at least one of the sides intact. The other eggs became pure fodder for the masses, dunked in salt and eaten together with crunchy scallions. The winner went back to the basket, its owner jealously guarding it during any upcoming meal. These battles were not to be taken frivolously and everybody coveted the winning egg. But we all enjoyed the rest of the Easter breakfast, arguing the merits of each carefully chosen egg, and enjoying the wonderful food greeting us on the table.
*kajmak is made when the raw milk is slowly simmered on the stove to pasteurize. The fat rises to the top, and when the milk is cool, it is scooped up, lightly salted and used as a spread.
ROSE SHAPED BREAD (POGAČA RUŽIČARA)
This was one of our favorite breads to eat on Easter, shaped like a flower, shiny and glistening like the sun, perfect to usher in the spring.
Ingredients:
  • 1 inch piece of fresh yeast (or 1 envelope of dry instant yeast)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 200 ml warm milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 100 ml plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
  • 650gr all purpose flour (a bit more for dusting the counter)
  • 120 gr (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
Directions:
Dissolve yeast and sugar in milk. When it blooms, whisk in eggs, yogurt, salt, and butter and stir until combined. Add most of the flour and knead in the bowl.
Turn over to the lightly dusted counter and continue kneading, adding more flour as needed, to get an elastic, shiny, slightly soft, but not sticky dough. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and keep on room temperature until the dough doubles, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough on floured surface and flatten into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Spread 2 tablespoons of butter over one half of the rectangle and cover the buttered side with the unbuttered one. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over one half of the folded dough, and cover it with the unbuttered part, forming a square. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
Flatten it again into a rectangle and repeat. Let it rest another 10-15 minutes.
Flatten into a rectangle and spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter over the whole dough. Roll into a tight roulade, placing the seam down. With a sharp knife cut slices 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and place cut side down into a round pan. Brush with beaten egg and let it rest on room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake your bread until golden brown and nicely risen, for 40-50 minutes. Allow it to rest in the pan before removing it to a baking rack.
Dec 182012
 

Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com

This month I am a part of a team that promotes a cookbook written by one of our own, Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic. Middle-Eastern food is like a trip home to me, and I felt a connection to Faith as she wrote about her culinary experiences after she married a Syrian man and embarked on a trip to learn how to cook his favorite dishes from Sahar, her mother-in-law (as a linguist, I could not pass this one – sahar translates into sugar:)

The culinary world is sometimes like a game of Telephone that we used to play at grade school, before the birthday parties moved forward to embrace slow-dancing. A dish travels along the meridians and changes slightly with each turn, only to become something different every hundred or so kilometers. Every region adds its own flair, adopts it, and claims it with passion; and each incarnation is a story in itself, of the people, the land, the culture, and the history that brought it all together.

When I opened Faith’s book An Edible Mosaic, I felt as if I were visiting distant relatives. I felt comfortable, at home, but still minding my manners and observing keenly from a side table. Most dishes were like beacons that pulled me back to my childhood and foods I enjoyed in Mother’s and Njanja’s kitchen. But there were variables thrown in the mix that intrigued me and made me shift focus for a bit.

We have many dishes featuring dough and spinach in the Balkans. But instead of farmers’ cheese, eggs, and phyllo dough, this recipe asks for yeasted dough, sumac, sauteed onions, lemon juice, and cumin/coriander spice mix. I am lucky to have two Persian stores a few blocks away and cumin and coriander are a staple in my house. I tasted sumac for the first time when I visited my oldest daughter in Berkeley and ate at an Afghani restaurant. I could not wait to try a recipe that asked for it. And I was not disappointed.

An Edible Mosaic

Here is what Faith has to say about Spinach Turnovers:

During my time in Damascus, one of my favorite meals was my mother-in-law’s Spinach Turnovers. She and I would go to the market to pick up fresh spinach along with any other ingredients that were needed, and then she’d make the filling when we got home. After that, one of her sons was sent to the communal oven where the baker stuffed the family’s filling into his dough, and then baked the turnovers. Done this way, the family pays for the baker’s dough and goes home with freshly made treats.

The communal ovens were such a novel idea to me; they are remnants leftover from a time when very few homes had ovens of their own. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case in Damascus, the tradition has endured.

I really love the pleasantly tart flavor of these turnovers, which comes from both sumac and lemon juice. Paired with plain yogurt, they are a completely satisfying vegetarian meal.

Faith Gorsky, Author of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair 

This virtual potluck is like a mix-and-match menu, a prix fixe if you want, letting you sample appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Just say Open, Sesame, and the world of culinary wonders will be yours. Thank you, Casey from Kitchen Play for getting this group together and opening our horizons!

SPINACH TURNOVERS (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh):

Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Yields about: 25-35 turnovers

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lb (500 g) spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers
  • Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)

 Directions:

  1. Prepare Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough
  2. 2. Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and saute until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.
  3. 3. Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.
  4. Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy; if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well-seasoned salad; if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices accordingly).
  5. Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).
  6. Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).
  7. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use the rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).
  8. To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)
  9. Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com
Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough 

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 11/4 teaspoons of fine salt
  • ¾ cups (185ml) milk at room temperature

 Directions:

  1. Brush ½ tablespoons of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form shaggy dough (you may not need all the milk).
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press your finger into it and the indentation remains.
  5. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in  size, about 1 ½ hours.
I am so happy to be a part of this group of very talented bloggers who have passion for immersing themselves into new cultures and facing the challenges of new culinary pursuits.
Falafel from Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Coconut Semolina Cake from Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures
Date-Filled Cookies from Jennifer of Savory Simple

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are my own. I have received a free review copy of the book from the publisher.

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. While Kitchen PLAY will receive a small fee for each sale of An Edible Mosaic made through this link, the link has been utilized solely for tracking purposes. We want to better understand how a program like the Cookbook Tour can positively impact cookbook sales. All proceeds from this specific affiliate link will be donated to Share Our Strength.)

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.

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

Apr 122012
 

Buttermilk Biscuits from bibberche.com

It’s spring break week and every day seems like a Sunday. Most of my friends have packed their bags and left sunny California for even warmer, more tropical climates, and I cannot wait to hear their stories of culinary escapades and see their sun-kissed faces once they return to reality.

The girls have been going to the pool every day for a few hours and we are taking walks down to the beach, breathing in the ocean air with full lungs, happy to call this amazing town our home. I let them be lazy, grateful for the moments when they envelope me in their elongated teen limbs and plant soft kisses in my hair and on my cheek. We hug a lot these days and stay in a clinch for minutes, an intertwined statue of femininity at its most fragile state, and at the same time the epitome of strength.

I went to the drugstore on the last day of school and brought home a bag of small, luxurious, nice-smelling, and utterly-meant-to-spoil items, promising them a day of pampering, the three of us the only patrons of the exclusive spa. They ogled pretty bottles and jars and giggled with anticipation, only to leave and continue playing with their Barbies, excited by the interruption, but eager to get back to their stories.

They are starting to like boys just a little bit, but their affection is aimed exclusively at out-of-reach young actors like Asa Butterfield and the adorable kid who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. Their male schoolmates are still the specimens of an icky, unknown, and hostile species, but I observe the sudden attention they pay to putting together outfits they would wear to school  and at the same time exhale in relief when they innocently pull the plastic box filled with Barbies from underneath their bed.

I indulge them in the kitchen and ask every morning if they crave something special. They stretch their arms and yawn, look at one another, the sleep slowly fading from their semi-closed eyes. This lazy week allows me to to spend time with breakfast and I love the feel of not rushing and expanding my options to include anything they might desire.

Invariably, on one of the mornings, they decided in unison that they wanted biscuits. Biscuits used to intimidate me.  I viewed them as spoiled Southern Belles, finicky and over-sensitive, fragile, pouty, and easily offended. I dreaded the thought that they might turn on me, scorn me for not belonging, and refuse to play nice. But I was determined to win them over and prove that a Southern Slav is as skillful as any Southerner below the Mason-Dixon line to tackle their snobbish peculiarities. I wanted to be accepted into their inner circle–big hats, mint juleps, and fainting spells with the necessary vapors included.

Coming out of the oven they were gorgeous, golden around the edges and pale in the middle, filling the kitchen with their comforting aroma. They perched perkily on the plate, and when the girls reached for them and opened them up, they were flaky, tender, and light, with a crumbly crust. They thirstily accepted the first yellow pad of butter, perfect in their seeming simplicity. I felt vindicated and for just a second I thought I heard the reverberating echo of horses’ hooves disappearing into the distance, as the breeze brought a touch of Southern humid heat into our California home.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits from bibberche.com

There are certain things I learned on my quest to attain the perfect, flaky, light biscuits:

1. The butter has to be really cold. I don’t own a food processor and I mix my dough by hand. That’s why I borrowed Mother’s grating method for keeping the butter chilled. The more time the flour, the dough, and the biscuits spend in the fridge, the better.

2. Do not overwork your dough, or the biscuits will be tough. I cut my biscuits in squares to avoid the remnants form the circles, as they always make for tougher biscuits, having been rolled several times.

3. Once you shaped and placed them on cookie sheet, you can cover them with a plastic wrap and freeze them. To bake them, let them sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

4. The biscuits should be eaten immediately.

5. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own in minutes. Measure ¾ cup regular milk and squeeze 1 Tbsp of lemon juice. The acid will slightly curdle the milk and turn it into buttermilk! You can use it immediately.

SOUTHERN BELLE BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 8 Tbsp very cold butter
  • ¾ cups cold buttermilk

* I was not able to find White Lilly flour that everyone recommends for quick, flaky breads, as it has much less gluten then the all-purpose flour. Next time I will have to experiment and substitute some of the all-purpose flour with cake flour, just for comparison.

Directions:

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Using the side with the biggest holes on your grater grate the butter as quickly as you can. Mix with a fork and add buttermilk. Mix until combined. Turn the dough onto a very lightly floured kitchen counter and knead just a few times. (The dough will be slightly wet). Wrap in the plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to allow butter to cool off.

Preheat the oven to 475F.

Turn the dough out on the lightly floured counter and flatten into a rectangle with a rolling pin without pushing too hard and overworking the dough. It should be about ½ inch thick. Using a sharp knife (or even better a pizza cutter) cut into 2 inch squares. Sprinkle with a little flour and place on a cookie sheet. (If the time allows, put the cookie sheet in the freezer for several minutes to ensure that the butter stays chilled.) Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Serve immediately.

Last year: Rosemary Focaccia

Feb 282012
 

Pain Au Chocolate from bibberche.com

She is nine and a half years old this June, and her Baba’s birthday is coming up in a few days. She does not have enough money to buy a proper present, something that adults plan and execute with little thinking. As far as she can remember, Baba has made everyone’s birthday special, pouring all her creativity and love into that particular day, excited to bring joy and cause shrieks of laughter with her thoughtful and unique presents.

Besides her mother, Baba was the biggest part of her life, a constant that made her feel loved, secure, and comforted. Her middle name (Angelika) was in honor of her beloved grandmother. Baba taught her how to read in Serbian and put her to sleep singing beautiful melodies in her soft alto. She took her to the park every day, pushed her on her bike until she took off and became free for the first time, and held her little squirming body up in the pool while her splashing legs and arms sent a thousand droplets of water around them.

Since she was born, Baba was an everyday presence in her life, but when she started kindergarten, she had to learn to say good-bye to her beloved grandmother at the airport, hiding her tear-soaked face in Baba’s embrace, not embarrassed at all that everyone at the gate could hear her sobbing. She counted the months until Baba’s next arrival, and at Grandparents’ Day in school she told anyone that would listen that her Baba spoke four languages, painted wonderful watercolors, knitted beautiful sweaters, sewed, cooked the best dishes, sang in a choir, knew her way around the Internet, and had a whole wall in her room lined with book shelves.

Baba sent her beautiful handmade cards filled with lines overflowing with love for her first grandchild. She sent Baba her first awkward renditions of flowers, butterflies, and families in which the two of them were always holding hands and smiling.  Every year she eagerly awaited the last day of school knowing that only a long inter-continental flight separated her from spending her summer break in Serbia.

Nina and Baba from bibberche.com

Nina and Baba

Still fighting the last vestiges of jet lag, she tried to think of something she could give Baba to make her happy. When the idea came to her, she knew it would be the perfect gift. She shared her plan with her mother and aunt, enlisted their help in gathering the necessary items, and gave them the instructions to wake her up really early on the morning of June 15th.

The morning broke and she quietly climbed down the stairs, mindful of the sixth step from the bottom which squeaked, clutching her wallet in her right hand, while holding to the banister with her left. She peaked into the kitchen where her aunt was pouring three small cups of Turkish coffee, and darted outside through the central hall, hoping that Baba was too busy talking and laughing to notice her sudden movements.

She ran to the corner bakery and back, closing the wrought-iron gate slowly behind her, and stealthily walked ahead hugging the walls of the house. As was the plan, her mother and her Aunt served the coffee outside at the table underneath the eave, where the apricot tree cast shade and the view of Baba’s lovingly tended yard was unspoiled. She busied herself in the kitchen fetching everything she needed, trying not to make any noise as the back door was open and Baba could hear fish talking.

 

When she was ready, she carried the silver-plated serving tray gingerly down the stairs as the three women stared at her. She ceremoniously placed the tray in front of Baba, leaned down and hugged her tightly, blasting an excited “Happy Birthday!” in her ear. Words chased words as she stumbled over her prepared little speech: “You always make breakfast for everybody and I wanted to make breakfast for you. Prijatno*!” Baba’s eyes were blinking as she was fighting the onslaught of tears, but it was useless.  She clutched her oldest granddaughter’s narrow hands and sobbed silently, a habit she developed over the years as she cried herself to sleep night after night.

She did not want to make her Baba sad, and now her mother and aunt were crying, too. She started to feel weird, as if she had done something she was not supposed to do, and she shifted her weight from one foot to another, unable to understand the overflow of emotions and drama evolving in front of her. Baba finally released the grip on her hands and looked at the offerings displayed on the silver platter.

There was the ubiquitous handmade card with two female figures holding hands and smiling, oblivious to the world around them. A small crystal glass filled with milk hugged the far right corner. A soft, white damask napkin was folded into a triangle and tucked underneath a zwiebelmuster saucer barely big enough to hold a still-warm, plump, flaky chocolate croissant, dusted generously with powdered sugar, and three luscious, dangerously red June strawberries from the farmers’ market.

Nina is a student at the University of California at Berkeley now, and she will read this and look back and marvel at the beautiful little girl she once was who  stood there and wondered why we were all crying… knowing now that tears are sometimes diamonds, beautiful and powerful and sparkling with the emotions that make us who we are.

*Serbian for Bon Apetit!

Pain Au Chocolate from bibberche.com

PAIN AU CHOCOLAT

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 2 tsp instant yeast (or 1 inch cube of fresh yeast)
  • 100gr (3 oz) granulated sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) warm milk
  • 500 gr (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt

Other:

  • 150gr (12 Tbsp, 1 and a half stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 100 gr (3oz) good quality chocolate (I prefer at least 70% cacao, but the rest of the family likes it sweeter), cut into pieces; you can use Nutella or any other chocolate spread

Directions:

Place yeast with sugar and milk in a large bowl and allow it to bloom for 10 minutes. Add most of the flour and salt, and mix to combine. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. Add the rest of the flour in small increments if necessary.

Remove to the counter dusted with flour and knead for 10 minutes until elastic. Lightly oil the dough, return to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at a warm place to double in size, about 1 and a half to 2 hours (I left mine in the refrigerator overnight).

Divide the butter in three equal parts. Punch the dough down and shape into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick, the longer side facing you. Spread butter onto two right thirds of the rectangle, fold the left third over the buttered middle third as if you were folding a business letter, and in the end the remaining uncovered third over the other two folds. (I folded mine one more time to form a square). Place on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated for 30 minutes.

Pain au Chocolate from bibberche.com

Repeat the process two more time, for the total of three folds. After the final rest in the fridge (which can be overnight), shape the dough into a rectangle and cut strips 2 inches wide and 4-5 inches long. Or you can shape the dough into a circle and cut it in triangles to form croissants (first in halves, then in quarters, eights, etc., just like a big pie).

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Place a chocolate square close to the narrow end and fold into a roll. Flatten the roll just a little bit, and place seam down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (if you have a non-stick pan, you don’t have to do this).

Pain au Chocolate from bibberche.com

Bake the rolls for 10-15 minutes, until light brown. Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack. After they cool off, sprinkle with powder sugar and serve.

Lisa Michelle from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives is hosting Bread Baking Day #47, an event started by Zorra from 1x Umrühren Bitte. She chose the theme for this month, Bread and Chocolate, and I think  my Pain Au Chocolate would love to be in the company of so many baked beauties.

Another one of my favorite events is Yeastspotting, hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast. I wish only that I can participate more often. For now, I am sending her this beautiful pastry.

Feb 212012
 

Blueberry Muffins from bibberche.com

I have never taken February seriously. It was the month right after winter break when my legs still craved the tortuous curves of the moguls on the snow-covered mountain, feeling the weight of the boards and the bindings days after we said goodbye to our family winter haven.

It was short and unassuming, but crammed full of school work devoid of the promise of a holiday (there is no Presidents’ Day or MLK Day in Serbia). It was also the month before my birthday, which made it irrelevant and easily ignored. The only interesting fact that I could attach to this gray and drab part of the year was my Grandmother Babuljica’s birthday: when she died she was technically only 16 years old, as her birthday occurred every four years on February 29. That and the first blooms of the spring, the bright yellow blossoms of forsythia bushes that stood apart like beacons in the sea of gray.

Fat Tuesday holds little significance for me, even though I am tempted every year to go into the kitchen and emerge only after IMardi Gras Carnival Mask from bibberche.com produce a big bowl of krofne, which are very similar to Polish paczki or the beignets served at the Cafe du Monde. While my adventurous spirit always keeps alive a desire for losing myself in the throngs of scantily clad Brazilians inebriated by the seductive rhythm of samba, garishly costumed Southerners emptying innumerable hurricanes in N’awlins, or slender Italians hiding behind articulately decorated masks along the canals of Venice, I refuse to pretend that I am part of the celebrating crowd only by decorating the house in the appropriate colors and serving the delicacies meant to bring the tired carnival-goers necessary sustenance before they embark on forty days of Lent.

For Orthodox Christians, the last day before Lent is the Saturday that falls six weeks before Easter Sunday. Father diligently leaves me the calendar that marks the dates of all the religious holidays, but I still consult the almighty Internet whenever I need the information. This year, the two Easters are separated by only a week, which makes the next Saturday the last day before Lent for my fellow Serbs. There are no make-believe parades in my town, no colorful costumes, loud music, or traditional dishes that make the passage into Lent more bearable. Next Sunday, the believers will abstain from all red meat, dairy products, and eggs for six weeks, as the Christian Orthodox faith prescribes.

This February arrived incredibly fast. I have not caught my breath from moving to another city, the girls starting school just before the mid-terms, having to learn how to get around, where to find the best and most affordable produce, and where to enjoy the best burgers in town. The end of the month is approaching with geometric progression, and if we stayed in Midwest, I would be suffering the intoxicating effects of the incoming spring fever and be quite ready for the snow to finally melt. But in Southern California we are surrounded by eternal spring and bright forsythia flowers are not necessary to break winter depression.

When we were growing up, the six weeks before Easter were no different than any other week of the year as my parents were not religious. We will not embark on six weeks of abstinence either, and even though the geek in me has researched the traditions and observances of the Eastern Christians and come up with several dishes that mark the passage into Lent among Russians and Greeks, I will have to ignore the urges of the food anthropologist wannabe and refrain myself.

Blueberry Muffins from bibberche.comMy oldest daughter, the College Kritter, left to head back to Berkeley this afternoon after spending four incredibly short days with us. As usual, we spent a big part of our time together cooking. It is easy to indulge her every whim as she is eager to tackle the most difficult kitchen tasks. We made much better tasting copycat Egg McMuffins, braised chicken enchiladas with black bean salsa, black-and-blue hamburgers with homemade buns, shrimp pesto,  garlic and olive oil crostini, buttermilk biscuits with ham, eggs, and milk gravy, and chocolate fudge.

Some of the dishes came out beautifully, just like we envisioned, and some flopped. But neither one of us despaired over the failures, knowing that there is always the next time. Before she woke up this morning, I made blueberry muffins, intending to send her off enveloped in a big, fluffy cloud of comforting smells. She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in her soft white robe, her long hair damp and feet bare, reaching for the cup of coffee I had waiting for her at the counter.

This month is short and seemingly unassuming. There is no forsythia in the neighborhood, but my rosemary plant and hibiscus are thriving in front of our apartment door. We skipped Valentine’s Day and celebrated Mardi Gras with humble and easy blueberry muffins. Next year we might make gumbo, krofne, or beignets. Or even better, me might be off to Rio, New Orleans, or Venice, ready to tackle on the most demanding challenges of the carnivals, toasting each other with a caipirinha, a hurricane, or a negroni.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan and coating the blueberries
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
  • 1-2 Tbsp granulated or turbinado sugar (I prefer turbinado sugar, as the crystals are bigger and shinier)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly butter and flour a regular-size muffin pan (or place the muffin inserts to save this step; I would have done it, if I had not run out of the paper inserts).

Sift flour into a bowl (take out 1-2 teaspoons to coat the blueberries). Add salt and baking powder and stir to combine. In a separate bowl cream sugar and butter. Add oil, milk, eggs, and vanilla, and mix until combined. Stir in the flour and slowly add the blueberries using a wooden spoon.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling the holes to about ¾. Sprinkle the sugar on top evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and done. (To check for doneness, insert a knife at the thickest part of the muffin and if it comes out dry, muffins are ready.)

Let the muffins cool in the pan for a minute or two, transfer them to a rack and let them cool for another 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Shrimp and Scallop Creole

 

Louisiana Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Jan 132012
 

ruzicara from bibberche.com

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

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

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

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

ruzicara from bibberche.com

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

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

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

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

ruzicara from bibberche.com

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

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

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

ruzicara from bibberche.com

ROSE SHAPED BREAD (POGAČA RUŽIČARA)

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 282011
 

Redondo Beach apartment from bibberche.com

Before I left for college and departed my parents’ nest for good, unaware that the flight away would be final, my family moved three times, which would make us pretty nomadic in Serbian terms. Upon graduating from Medical school, Father started working in Novi Pazar, the city that paid his tuition and reserved his services as the young MD for three years. I was born in March, delivered by an old Muslim midwife who managed the delivery ward with unrelenting confidence on the tail of decades of experience.

We moved to ÄŒačak (pronounced chah-chahk) in June to join Njanja and Deda-Ljubo, Father’s parents. My sister and my brother were born within the next four years and most memories of our early childhood are tied to that stately yellow house with wrought iron gates, the shed that always smelled of smoked meats, a huge mulberry tree with a swing, Deda’s beloved roses, and Njanja’s lush hydrangea bushes.

stara kuca from bibberche.com

When I was eleven, Father got an apartment from the hospital (in socialist times, that was the only way the new family could disengage from the parents and start from the beginning), located only a block away from the yellow house. Our building was brand new, pink with white balconies, architecturally daring and modern, with straight lines and stuccoed walls. Mother finally had a kitchen big enough to spread her culinary wings and she made it into a cozy, warm spot, all orange and brown. It overlooked the city park and was bathed in the soft northern light.

I loved that apartment, but I was at an awkward age when we lived there, and I will always associate it with the anxiety, paranoia, and teen angst that engulfed me and threatened to destroy me at times. My cheerful polka-dotted pull-down curtains were always drawn; my window was always shut for fear of “the people” hearing what I had to say; I prepared for hours every time I had to leave the house and when I was outside, I would look straight ahead of me and rush, rush, rush to the store, convinced that everyone around was just staring at me, laughing, and whispering.

I was in high school for a few months when we moved again, only two blocks from our apartment, a block away from the yellow house. The yellow house was doomed, marked for demolition by the urban planners. In its place there was going to rise a skyscraper, and my grandparents had to move. The city offered several houses in exchange, and they picked the one that Mother and Father still  live in. But the transition was not swift, nor easy, as a smaller house had to be erected in the place of the summer kitchen for Njanja and Deda, and the ceilings in the big house were lowered to make a second floor a possibility. Mother was the main engineer, architect, and designer, along with being the cook who fed the numerous crews who worked on the house for months.

Moja kuca

In the end, it was perfect. The three of us had command of the second floor, my brother in one room, my sister and I in another. There was a huge balcony, a big open living room, a bathroom, a dark room for photography, and a storage room. We loved it, even though we did not understand at the time how fortunate we were. Understandably, every party was held at the house, and it became the hub of activity. To this day, many people remember the days and nights spent at our place, with Mother providing the victuals and Father taxiing the guests home.

I went away to college and came back every two weeks, unable to break the ties with my hometown and my family. That house continued to be the pillar of my security and even now I call it ” my home”, even though it has not been my home for twenty five years. There are memories engraved in every inch of its walls, in every tile, in every corner of our multi-angled, wood-covered second floor ceiling. I spent some of the best days of my life in the house, and it resonates with my friends’ laughter, with my sister’s giggling, with my brother’s 80s music, and my boyfriend’s whispers. The house moved on, gaining new memories and new sounds, but for me, it remained cemented in an age that makes me feel happy and strong.

Kuca

I moved fifteen times since I arrived to America in August of 1986. My sister rolls her eyes when she tells me that there are no lines left in her address book for me anymore. I laugh it off, knowing that she’ll adjust. When we moved from Ohio to California in August of 2008, it was out of desperation and hope. We landed in Orange County because we had Ohioan friends living next door and nobody else. We left our beautiful house on the lake to come and live in a tiny apartment surrounded by hills and people who like to spit on the sidewalk. The girls declared that they hated California. And we were scrambling to prove them wrong.

It took three whole years of me working at a yucky diner and Husband taking whatever work he could find until he finally found a writing job that would enable us to make a leap forward and move away. We are still holding our breaths, but we think we are home. After a couple of weeks of grueling work, back pains, and total exasperation, we are at peace. We found a place we can call home and our girls are going to like California.

Hermosa Beach from bibberche.com

This morning Husband and I walked to the beach. It took us fifteen minutes to get to the Strand and we were in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. We know we can be happy here, once we are free of the boxes. Our spirits are high, our energy is spiking, and our hope is at a new high. We are ushering the New Year in completely loving our new digs and anticipating a future that can only be awesome for us.

It gets harder and harder every time we move. We are growing older and the physical exertion cannot be ignored. I know that we will move again. But we know that the next move will put us into a place of our choice that the girls can call home for decades to come. This interim place is making us happy and letting us breathe with full lungs, adding the ocean air as a bonus.

For the new beginnings and the promises of New Year I have a festive dish that adorns many a Serbian celebratory table. It is a savory roulade made with spinach dough, cheese filling, and roasted red peppers.

FESTIVE SPINACH ROULADE

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 6 eggs
  • 6 Tbsp flour
  • 6 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 500gr (1lb) blanched spinach squeezed of water, chopped (you can use two packages of frozen spinach)

Filling:

  • 250gr (1 cup, ½ lb) crumbled feta (or cottage cheese)
  • 4 Tbsp sour cream
  • 2-3 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tsp salt (if the cheese is not too salty like feta)
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Separate the eggs and whip the egg whites into a stiff meringue. Add the yolks, and mix well. Add the milk and mix until combined. Sprinkle with salt and add the flour and baking powder. It should look like the cake batter.

Stir in the spinach until it is combined thoroughly and pour into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (If your pan is bigger, the roulade will be thinner and more decorative). Spread the batter evenly with a spoon and shake the pan a few times to get rid of the bubbles.

Bake for twenty minutes, like you would a cake batter. When done, roll the dough into a roulade using the parchment paper and let cool. In the meantime prepare the filling.

Crumble the cheese and combine it with sour cream, cream cheese, and the salt, if necessary. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the green dough and lay pieces of roasted red pepper on top. Roll tightly with the parchment paper and place in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.

When chilled properly, remove from the fridge and slice into ½ inch thick pieces. Place on a platter and serve.

Spinach Roulade from bibberche.com

I brought Spinach Roulade to our monthly Food Bloggers LA (FBLA) meeting hosted by Erika of In Erika’s Kitchen. For the round-up of all the wonderful recipes visit Dorothy’s website at Shockingly Delicious.

Last year at this time I wrote The Night We Came Home with a great recipe for Mulled Wine.