Apr 012014
 

Ojai Pixie Cake from bibberche.com

I am standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. A coffee maker is gurgling behind me, and to the right the onions and potatoes sizzle in the skillet on the stove. My 70s kitchen could have easily been duplicated from an Updike’s Rabbit novel, but all the smells that surround me scream comfort and warmth. The tree branches in front of my balcony sway in the rhythm with the wind that blows from the west, bringing along a hint of the  ocean through the open door.

Yes, life is hectic and I still need at least five or six extra hours a day to accomplish everything. But even with the constant adrenaline rush I manage to take in all the beauty and serenity around me and acknowledge how grateful I am that my girls and I are finally settled in our own apartment. I still smile every time I unlock the door and glimpse a stairway leading up to the bedrooms, pinching myself just in case I were dreaming. Every day is like a present, unexpected, but eagerly awaited and greatly appreciated.

Ojai PixieTangerines from bibberche.com

I want to finally anchor myself to one place even though I still feel like a tourist who has decided to make this Southern California vacation last longer, and every Saturday chants “one more week, one more week.” I walk around with my mouth open, greedily soaking up every detail of beauty that surrounds me. I crane my neck through the car window, hoping to see the mountains covered with snow in the distance. I eagerly await the green light on the way to our local Persian store just to see the undulating hills of the valley hugging the horizon while the car plummets down the steep, curvy road.

I still get excited when I see a plump palm tree in a neighbor’s yard. I point and clap every time I spy a citrus tree, and sometimes even plan the elaborate nightly raids on the unsuspecting fruit hanging off the easily reached branches in the street that leads to my daughter’s school. I feel as if I were here on borrowed time, and any minute a cold hand will snatch me and whisk me away back to Ohio. And just in case I wake up freezing in some driveway west of Cleveland, I would like to have my pockets stuffed with tangerines, lemons, and oranges to keep me warm.

Ojai Pixie Tangerines from bibberche.com

A few days ago the mailman delivered a box full of Ojai pixie tangerines from Melissa’s Produce to my door. As I brought them up to my face and inhaled their fresh, citrus smell, I could not stop smiling. I do not have to sneak through the neighborhood and make the chihuahuas restless while I try to pick someone else’s fruit. I am not going anywhere and I do not have to arm myself with California sunshine to battle the invisible forces trying to plunge me into the land of eternal snow. I loved Cleveland, but right now I am starting to make firmer and more self-confident steps on the California sand.

I felt as if I were living a California dream as the sweet, sticky liquid ran down my fingers and the smell of fresh citrus enveloped me. It made me tremendously happy to be alive right now, in this beautiful part of the world that I can finally call home.

Ojai Pixie Caramel Cake from bibberche.com

Ojai pixie tangerines are incredibly sweet and fragrant. Their season is short and can be easily missed. We ate most of the loot, but several ended up in this cake which pretty much describes my life right now: fulfilling, satisfying, light, fresh, and at times surprising (as the caramel hardened on top of the tangerines, it added a delightful, albeit unexpected crunch).

Ojai Pixie Cake with Caramel Sauce
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
This cake is easy to make and versatile. You can substitute fruit of your choice and play with the flavor combinations.
Ingredients
  • 6 Ojai pixie tangerines (zested, peeled and separated into segments; reserve 1 tsp of zest for the recipe, save the rest in freezer)
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Caramel Sauce:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ⅔ cup Ojai pixie tangerine juice (about 4 tangerines)
Instructions
  1. Cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.
  4. Combine the butter and sugar and mix on medium speed until fluffy using an electric mixer.
  5. While the mixer is running, add eggs one at a time.
  6. Add the grated orange zest.
  7. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  8. Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix until it is incorporated.
  9. Pour the batter into the pan.
  10. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the cake is an even golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  12. Take the cake out of the pan.
  13. Arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the cake.
  14. Caramel Orange Sauce:
  15. Combine sugar, water, and tangerine juice in a heavy pan.
  16. Heat on moderate-high temperature until sugar is melted.
  17. Turn the heat down to low and cook until the color turns light amber, stirring occasionally.
  18. Pour the caramel on top of the cake and tangerine slices.
  19. Let it cool and serve.

Thanks Melissa’s Produce for the gift of citrusy sunshine.

Mar 042014
 

Colcannon from bibberche.com

I was in the U.S. only for about six months when I first encountered St.Patrick’s Day celebration. I was working in a restaurant that served green beer on March 17th and featured enormous shamrocks all over its walls. The customers shouted botched Gallic to one another and inhaled the bowls filled with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.

My husband picked me up and took me to an Irish pub, where we met his friends and family, all brandishing the bottles of Irish brew and shots of Jameson’s whiskey, sparkly shamrocks plastered on their cheeks. I married into an Irish family that still clung to its roots, which date all the way to the Mayflower. Were there any Irish on board the Mayflower? I’d say no.

Dutch Baby Potatoes

My ex-husband’s ancestors have the lineage better than the Vanderbilts. Peregrine White was the first English baby born in the new land, while the ship was anchored at Cape Cod. There is a thick, leather-bound genealogy book that lists hundreds of names which came after him.  I heard that at some point in history the White family was pretty affluent. My ex-husband’s great-ancestor must have been the ubiquitous black sheep part of the tribe, prone to gambling and drinking, destined to squander the inheritance. Which he did, leaving the legacy of laissez-faire hedonism to his posterity.

Did the great-grandpa meet a ginger-haired Irish lass who took him dancing, when he was supposed to pray? Did he surrender his prudish upbringing to the altar of unlimited  joie de vivre? I don’t assume we will ever find out, but this wing of the family was defiantly Irish, slightly catholic (relative to the relative), and very much steeped in every aspect of hedonism.

Leeks from bibberche.com

There are some historians trying to connect ancient Celts with the ancient southern Slavs, especially the Serbs, claiming that originally they were all one big tribe. Something prompted one part of the group to separate and settle on the Emerald Isles.

I don’t know if I buy into this theory, but I have some very fond memories of this Irish-American family, their self-deprecating humor, gregariousness, refusal to grow up, and great attraction to sin. I chose to leave and therefore I am only connected to them through my oldest daughter, who is the keeper of the family tree; but each St. Patrick’s Day I remember them decked in bright green with silly hats on, loud and ebullient, raising foaming mugs of beer and toasting one another, “Sláinte!”

Kale sprouts from bibberche.com

Baby Kale Sprouts from Melissa’s Produce

Colcannon
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Irish
Author:
This is a versatile and very satisfying dish, a great accompaniment to roasts or sausages.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb potatoes (I used baby potatoes from Melissa’s Produce)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp bacon grease or butter
  • 1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, rinsed and cut into pieces (1/4 head of cabbage or Savoy cabbage) – I used baby kale sprouts from Melissa’s Produce
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved and cut into semi-circles
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the unpeeled potatoes in a heavy pot.
  2. Cover with cold water.
  3. Add salt.
  4. Heat until it starts to boil.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
  6. Remove potatoes from the pot.
  7. Add butter or bacon grease to the pot and heat on medium temperature.
  8. Add the greens and saute until slightly softened, 3-4 minutes.
  9. Add the leeks and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  10. Add the potatoes and smash them with a fork so that there are no big lumps.
  11. Add the milk and place the pot back on the stove.
  12. Stir for another minute or two until creamy and combined.
  13. Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Thank you, Melissa’s Produce for a magnificent box of goodies!

Some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day:

1. St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Rome, kidnapped as a child by Irish pirates, and brought to Ireland where he herded sheep before managing to escape.

2. St. Patrick was depicted wearing blue, rather than green.

3. Symbol of Ireland is not the shamrock, but the harp.

4. There are more Irish living in the U.S. than in Ireland (especially if we include eveyone who boasts Irish ancestry).

5. Until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday and all the pubs were closed. Beer started flowing freely only when it was converted into a national holiday.

6. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.

If you’d like to learn to pronounce sláinte (which means “health” in Gaellic), click here.

Dec 102013
 


Komibrot from bibberche.com

I made Eggs Benedict for my family a few days ago and had leftover egg whites. I usually freeze my egg whites (I keep them in a plastic bag and I just change the number as I add more), but this time I decided to make Komisbrot instead.

This is one of the lightest and tastiest desserts that I know, as well as unbelievably simple and fast to make. It was not a sweet that Mother would deem special enough for for guests, but rather a spur-of-the moment kids-need-an-after-school-snack thing. It is light, with very little fat, studded with dried fruit and nuts, very similar to angel food cake as it uses only egg whites. In Serbia, we call it Komisbrot, the name I am certain originated somewhere in the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I was taught by Njanja and Mother both how to properly flour and grease a baking pan to avoid unsightly cakes and sticky messes. They were pedantic and fastidious, and I learned the hard way not to challenge the wisdom of the experience: my short-cuts inevitably resulted in the batter stubbornly adhering to the walls of the pan, while I saw in my mind the smirking faces of my two culinary mentors.

These days I am the fastidious one as I teach my girls the basics of baking. But instead of swirling flour to cover evenly the buttered walls of the baking pan, I now use the baking oil spray. They are not all created equal, and I had some misgivings about using them, until I tried Pompeian Grapeseed Oil spray.

Its light flavor does not interfere with the flavor of food, it has a high smoke point, it’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, and it’s packaged in a pretty-looking, eco-friendly can which contains no propellants because of the newly designed pouch system, that also protects the oil from damaging light.

 

Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray

There is always a moment of trepidation when I lead the knife around the edges of the cake to loosen them. Will the batter Gods be merciful or will I be forced to use every ounce of creativity to salvage my baking disaster? I have to say that my “komisbrot” plopped beautifully on my hand after I turned the bread pan upside down. I patted my shoulder congratulating myself and seeing in my mind the admiring and approving  faces of  my mother and Njanja.

Komisbrot from bibberche.com

Komisbrot, a Serbian Angel Food Cake: Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray
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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: European
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
The recipe does not ask for specific number of egg whites, as they are measured by volume, along with the other ingredients. I happened to have 6 egg whites, which amounted to about 1 cup.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup chilled egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup various dried fruit and nuts, chopped (I used cranberries, white raisins, pecans, and walnuts)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly spray a bread pan with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray.
  3. Beat your egg whites with salt on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  4. Add the sugar and mix to combine.
  5. Stir in the flour, fruit, nuts, and lemon zest.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and flatten the surface.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes (if the knife pierced through the middle comes out clean, it is done).
  8. Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes and turn over to the bakers rack to cool completely.
  9. Cut into slices and serve.

To learn more about the benefits of Pompeian Grapeseed Oil, visit the Pompeian site.  Take a few seconds to answer a couple of questions for a chance to win $200, and continue on to get the $1.00 off coupon for Pompeian Grapeseed Oil. And  for the latest news and promotions, like Pompeian on Facebook.

Disclosure: Thanks to Smiley360 and Pompeian for providing me with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray for the purpose of my review.  This is not a paid post and the  opinions are my own.

Oct 292013
 

Bosnian Poached Apples, Tufahije from bibberche.com

I was born in the town of Novi Pazar in southwestern Serbia, very close to the border with today’s Montenegro and Herzegovina. My parents were newlyweds when they moved there, Father a young doctor, Mother the high school German and Art teacher. Their apartment was on the second floor of a building overlooking the main street that became the promenade at night, filled with young men and women walking in a lazy, elongated circle, casting surreptitious glances at their secret crushes, shy and apprehensive, with many awkward giggles hidden behind a hand.

The town was a mix of Christians and Muslims with early 10th century solid rock churches on the outskirts looking over the slender minarets in the center. Four centuries of Turkish Ottoman rule left a significant imprint on the area changing forever the religious and cultural milieu of the land. The Turks rode back east in the late nineteenth century, but a big part of their culture stayed behind.

Green Dragon Apples from bibberche.com

Green Dragon Apples from Melissa’s Produce were perfect choice for this dessert

We moved to central Serbia when I was a baby, and went back to Novi Pazar only occasionally to visit relatives and friends. I was always fascinated by this town which reminded me of 1001 Nights with its mosques, narrow cobble-stoned streets, small shops selling hand-made copper dishes and filigree gold, the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans, the high brick and mortar walls with gates facing the street, men in red fezes smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking tea for hours, the busy markets crowded with haggling shoppers, and people with strange sounding names.

We looked forward to these weekend two-hour trips by car, feeling as if we were going not only away in space, but back in time. The language had a different rhythm, the pace was slower, the sounds exotic, and the smells coming out of the kitchens unusual and romantic. The breads were flatter, the meat was definitely lamb, and thick yogurt accompanied many restaurant dishes.

Bosnian Poached Apples, Tufahije, from bibberche.com

Around noon, housewives would leave their chores at home and venture out into the streets, the yards of silk undulating around their legs, long, curly locks hidden behind a colorful scarf. They would visit each other, spending a leisurely hour drinking freshly ground and brewed Turkish coffee and spreading the neighborhood news whispered in confidence over the walls separating the houses.

Turkish coffee is strong, and wise women knew many tricks to prepare the gullet for enjoying it. Sometimes there were only sugar cubes to dunk into a small fildzan of hot, dark liquid. Sometimes there was rose or bergamot flavored rahat-lokum* on a saucer with an accompanying glass of water served as a refreshment before the coffee. Sometimes the hostess would offer her latest homemade fruit preserves, watching with hawk-like attention for her friends’ reactions.

Bosnian Poached Apples Tufahije from bibberche.com

And sometimes there would be desserts cut into small squares and drowned in sweet, lemony syrup. As kids, we learned quickly which houses promised the best feast and ran behind mothers, aunts, friends, and neighbors, eagerly anticipating the flavorful, exotic sugar rush.

Every time I go back to Serbia, I try to go to Novi Pazar to visit my relatives. The town has joined the 21st century with power lines swooping overhead and cell phones at every other ear, but if you squint, you can imagine yourself embraced by a sleepy, romantic air of bygone days, filled with smells and sounds reminiscent of the East.  To bring that feeling to my family in America, I try to introduce all my friends to the wonderful ritual of drinking Turkish coffee. I offer sugar cubes, rahat-lokum, and home-made fruit preserves. And sometimes I even make the sweet, simple desserts, covered in lemony syrup.

Tufahije, Bosnian Poached Apples from bibberche.com

Tufahiye/Tufahije
Print

Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Turkish-Influenced Balkan Cuisine
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Crispy apples poached in a lemony, sweet syrup, filled with ground nuts and topped with fresh whipped cream
Ingredients
  • 6 medium-sized apples (choose firmer apples that do not fall apart under heat)
  • 400ml (1 ½ cups) water
  • 400gr (15 oz) granulated sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 150gr (5 oz) ground walnuts
  • 250ml (1cup) heavy whipping cream
  • 1-2 Tbsp sugar
Instructions
  1. Peel and core the apples (make the hole 1 inch in diameter) and lay them in a pot.
  2. Cover with water, sugar, and lemon juice, and cook for 15-20 minutes until softened, but still holding their shape.
  3. Take the apples out of the liquid and place them in a serving dish with walls at least 2 inches high.
  4. Continue simmering the liquid until it slightly thickens, another 10-15 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, fill the holes in cooked apples with ground walnuts.
  6. Pour the hot liquid over the apples and nuts.
  7. Add more nuts if necessary.
  8. Chill in the refrigerator.
  9. Whip the heavy whipping cream until the soft peaks form, add the sugar, and serve on top of the apples.

*rahat-lokum is known in English as Turkish Delight, a candy made of powdered sugar, starch, and aromatics, often containing nuts.

 

Oct 082013
 

Carpaccio from bibberche.com

First time I tasted carpaccio was at an upscale Italian restaurant in one of the western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, our home town for more than a decade. It was presented on a big, narrow, cream-colored oval plate, and it looked stunning; thin, red pieces of beef tenderloin, perky dark green arugula, curlicues of shaved parmigiano, yellow-green comas of extra virgin olive oil, and dark-brown droplets of balsamico painted a picture that reminded me of Caravaggio and his beautiful contrasts.

I was seduced by its clean, simple taste from the first slender bite. Of course, those were the days of promises, when the tears were easily hidden in a glass of good Sicilian Primitivo and the future always overrode the present. But the flavor of carpaccio was not emphasized by euphoria and hope; it was truly good and memorable.

Contrary to what some members of my family may think, I am a geek, and I started researching carpaccio, wondering if I could make it at home, satisfying my inner hedonist as well as my inner frugal self. What I found out did not surprise me: the most important thing is ensuring the superb quality of each ingredient.

From that day on, I stopped ordering carpaccio in restaurants. I mastered the technique of preparing it myself, and it became my favorite starter for a dinner party, providing my guests were not of a squeamish and non-adventurous sort that eye everything not burned and charred as inedible.

Olives from bibberche.com

I buy my beef tenderloin at a local Persian store where the young Mexican butcher knows me well. I talk to him in my rudimentary Spanish, trying to practice as much as I can, even though he speaks perfect English. I tip him a dollar or two every time I buy something from his counter and he always brings me the best and the freshest cuts from the back of the store.

I splurged a long while ago on a bottle of thick, fragrant balsamic vinegar and I use it extremely sparingly for special occasions, treating it with more reverence than a bottle of VSOP Courvoisier. I purchase only the authentic, aged Parmigiano Reggiano which resides wrapped in luxurious layers of thick paper towels neatly enclosed in a ziploc bag.

When it comes to olive oil, I usually fall back to the old and familiar and anything that was produced in the Mediterranean will be more than sufficient to meet the standards (my standards have to do more with memories of sweet, hot nights spent under the olive tree branches in Croatia, Montenegro, and Italy, than with the intricate process of extracting the best olive oil).

This time, though, I abandoned my tried and true and used Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the first one in its category to receive the USDA Quality Monitored seal, which verifies the quality and purity of olive oil through rigorous government testing and reviews of production processes. It’s low in acid due to first pressing of great quality olives, fragrant and beautifully colored.

A big platter of cold beef sprinkled with briny cheese and bitter arugula, and dotted with sweet vinegar and robust olive oil made for a perfect repast on a day when the Santa Ana winds brought the heat back to southern California. I don’t have an ancient olive tree in my yard, but the smell of the ocean at twilight when the sun is dipping bellow the horizon is enough to send me back to those sultry Adriatic nights that will forever keep on bringing a smile to my face.

CARPACCIO

Ingredients:

  • Beef tenderloin
  • Aged parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
  • arugula and/or other dark greens

Directions:

1. Wrap the meat in plastic and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Unwrap and slice thinly against the grain with a sharp knife.

3. Place the pieces between two layer of plastic wrap and beat with a meat mallet until paper thin.

4. Layer the pieces of thin meat on a platter.

5. Scatter the greens on top.

6. Dot with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

7. Shave the cheese on top evenly.

8. Serve with a glass of hearty, Italian red wine (not necessarily Sicilian Primitivo)

Carpaccio from bibberche.com

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Thank you Smiley360 for a complimentary bottle of Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Sep 182013
 

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from bibberche.com

I planted seven heirloom tomato plants in April. They were all different shape, color, and size. I staked them, watered them, and watched them grow and bloom to be strong, healthy, and fragrant. Some of them took of faster and started producing a lot of soon-to-be ripe fruit. After five years of gardening withdrawals, my heart was atwitter with excitement. The neighbors were stopping by admiring my luscious plants and I already started imagining baskets  filled with red, orange, yellow, green, and striped tomatoes, still warm from the sun, decorating our kitchen counter.

One day I caught a snail eating a small tomato that just turned the right shade of red that morning. I picked it off and flung it across the fence into the street. I rummaged through the plants and found many more stuck to the leaves, probably resting and gathering the energy to attack the fruit as soon as the pale moon appeared in the sky. Visibly perturbed, I gathered them one by one and stepped on them, ignoring the disgusting slime that coated the soles of my shoes.

My Ohio Garden from bibberche.com

My tiny, but so rewarding Ohio garden

In a few days, my tomato plants started to lose their luster. They drooped, leaves curled and dried out, no matter how ardently I watered them in the morning and twilight. And then the holes around them started to appear. I would fill them in with fresh sod, and the next time I looked, there were new ones, deep, narrow, baring the roots. I wanted to keep on blaming the snails, but unless a gross mutation was involved, it seemed more probable that a rodent of some kind was responsible.

Unfortunately, I did not manage to find the culprit and I lost my tomato plants one by one. The neighbors extended their sympathy and offered their opinions on the origin of the damage. I was devastated. Sure, I harvested a few dozen of early bloomers, but nothing close to what I imagined. Yes, it was another summer sadly void of homegrown tomatoes.

Garden Tomatoes from bibberche.com

My summers in Serbia were marked by simple salads of tomatoes and onions, sometimes with crunchy cucumbers and crumbled cheese, served daily as an accompaniment to any dish. I start craving their familiar flavor in late May, resigned to wait a few weeks until the ripest, sweetest fruit appears. With a heavy heart, I pulled my desiccated remnants from the ground, and started making weekly pilgrimages to Torrance Farmers’ Market, where piles of heirloom tomatoes, albeit pretty pricey, waited for me. For summer is not summer without tomato salad.

According to the calendar, we are running out of summer days. But southern California climate ignores the arbitrary limits, which means we can wear white after Labor Day and we can eat summer salads until whenever. A few days ago I made a Greek salad to accompany my favorite roasted red peppers, spinach, and feta quiche I took to a picnic in a downtown LA park.

Watermelon Cucumbers from Melissa's Produce

I could not wait to use the cute, tiny watermelon cucumbers I received from Melissa’s Produce, one of the biggest fruits and vegetables distributor in the U.S. I like my mixed salads chopped in smaller bites, so I halved these lemony, crunchy treats and mixed them with ripe, juicy tomatoes, olives, red onions, roasted beets, pepperoncini, and feta cheese. A hefty pinch of coarse salt, some freshly ground pepper, and a few glugs of extra-virgin olive oil (thanks, George!) was all that was necessary.

All these different and complementary flavors came together in each bite and for a moment I forgot that the produce had not come from my garden. I was transported to the shores of my Adriatic instantly, if only for a brief moment, until Judd Nelson appeared on the big projector screen in “Breakfast Club” and my girls started screeching in delight. This was a memory-building evening, somewhat bitter-sweet, as I inevitably returned to my first viewing of the movie, to those innocent days when the world was brimming with promises just behind the horizon.

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from bibberche.com

 

Greek Salad
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Recipe type: Salads
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
There is no lettuce in this salad, which is how most Mediterranean countries prefer their summer salads. The quantities are approximate.
Ingredients
  • 3-4 wine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • a handful of watermelon cucumbers (or 1 smaller regular cucumber, peeled)
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 3-4 pepperoncini peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut ionto rings
  • 1-2 roasted beets, cut into slices
  • a handful of olives
  • salt and pepper
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • about 8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Instructions
  1. Mix all the vegetables gently.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Stir once more gently.
  5. Crumble the cheese on top.

 

Jul 152013
 

Boozy Peach Compote

My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladioli with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.

When we were in high school, I used to resent her birthday, as it seemed that she had an unfair advantage; everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check.

Serbian Peaches

As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked  at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.

Boozy Peach Compote from bibberche.com

Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. After smelling them individually for quality control, I bought several pounds at our local grocery store. I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed.

I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, wherever I am, I buy gladioli frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.

Boozy Peach Compote from bibberche.com

Ghosts of Summers Past: Boozy Peach Compote
5.0 from 3 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert, Condiment
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
This is an easy, versatile recipe which can accommodate any type of stone fruits and different liqueurs or spirits. The fruit is not really cooked, but rather plunged into the hot liquid, leaving it somewhat firm. Use it to top vanilla ice cream, pound cake, pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
Ingredients
  • 4-5 large, ripe, but not too soft peaches, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp brandy, rum, or cognac (optional)
  • 1 cup apple juice (add a bit extra if not using alcohol)
  • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Fresh mint leaves
Instructions
  1. Pour water and sugar in a heavy, stainless steel pot and heat on medium-low temperature until sugar caramelizes, swirling the pot frequently to prevent burning. (It will start changing color at the edges first and swirling will distribute the caramelization).
  2. It is done when it turns amber.
  3. Remove the pot from fire and add alcohol. (Be careful, as it may ignite).
  4. Add apple juice and lemon juice, and heat until it boils and all the crystallized sugar melts.
  5. Pour the peaches, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick into the hot liquid and immediately turn the heat off.
  6. Let it cool off to desired temperature and serve with fresh mint leaves.

 

Apr 252013
 

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

For a few years, we have been facing some tough times. At moments, the panic would strike and I would not be able to breathe from anxiety, helpless, ambushed by an existential crisis that completely blocked my view.  I felt like a rabbit caught suddenly and without a warning in bright headlights, unable to move, frozen, awaiting with dread whatever came at me from the darkness.

The end to our troubles was an elusive, a pie-in-the-sky kind of thing, but I still believed and held firmly to that belief. Passage of time did not bring it closer, as it always stayed far enough away, tempting us with the promise, but never becoming a reality. And now, that there is no more “us”, my world changed completely, including new strategies, new goals, and new promises.

Israeli couscous from bibberche.com

There were days when I did not know if the refrigerator and pantry would yield an edible meal for two teenagers, and I would drag out the printouts of all the places in the neighborhood that offered free meals to the indigent people. In time I learned the addresses of churches and temples, but fortunately did not have to use their services and hospitality. I was raised to be Aesop’s proverbial Ant and I somehow always managed to put food on the table. It helped that my girls were adventurous eaters, not picky at all, satisfied with whatever they found on their plates.

I want to think that those days are behind me. Freida, who opened her house to us, marvels at all the food that I manage to cram in the fridge, freezer and pantry, assuring me that I am not the only one who draws comfort from it. I don’t really want to do it, but in my head I keep a tally of all the meals I can prepare from the food I diligently dragged home. Just like there has to be some money stashed somewhere for emergencies, so there has to be emergency food. Once bitten, twice shy, they say. I was bitten twice already in my life in the US, and I’d rather be prepared really well.

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

These days I can send my girls to the neighborhood ice cream place with their friends without wringing my hands and second-guessing my decision. I feel secure enough in our family finances to indulge their occasional cravings for a milk shake or an In-N-Out hamburger. And I deliberately silence voices in my head who pipe up immediately as soon as I even think of doing something for myself, trying to make me feel guilty. I have to work on that, but I am determined to prevail.

My finger lingered for a few moments before it pressed the button that would make an online purchase final, but I made it move down. In a few days, the mail man delivered a box from Amazon and in it a beautiful book I coveted for months: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Some time back, my friend Beth of OMG! Yummy invited me to participate in Tasting Jerusalem, a virtual cooking group that explores the recipes of this fascinating region as seen by two people who grew up in the city, an Israeli and a Palestinian. For a long time I just watched from the bleachers, unable to take part, anticipating the day when I would be able to bury my face in the book and smell its fresh-from-the-press pages.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook from bibberche.com

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, deserves a post all by itself, but today I have to concentrate on the topic of the month, which is couscous. I have cooked with couscous for many years, ever since I discovered the versatility of these small pasta spheres made of durum semolina wheat. Instead of replicating a recipe from the cookbook, this month’s challenge was to come up with our own dish using couscous.

My girls recently developed a love affair with tabbouleh, a zesty Middle-Eastern salad made with chewy bulgur wheat, sweet, ripe tomatoes, pungent parsley, fresh mint, and lemon juice. Substituting toothsome whole wheat Israeli couscous for bulgur wheat was a no-brainer and the results did not disappoint. I used mint that grows rampant in the bed of calla lillies and lemons from the yard next door. I only wish the tomatoes came from the garden, but that will have to wait for a few more weeks.

I don’t know if I will win the contest for the most creative use of couscous. I am just excited to be a part of this group that takes me virtually to a city I long to visit one day soon. It all started with a hesitant press of a button, an action that was not possible for me even a month ago, a deed that seemed courageous and momentuous that left me feeling comforted and content…Almost like a glance into my fully stocked pantry.

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

Couscous Tabbouleh
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Salad, Starter, Side Dish
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Use Israeli or pearl couscous instead of bulgur wheat in this healthy, flavorful Middle-Eastern dish.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of Israeli couscous (I used whole wheat variety)
  • 1¼ cups water
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped finelly
  • 1 small onion, diced finelly
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced (about ½ cup when done)
  • ½ bunch of mint, minced (about ¼ cup when done)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Place couscous in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 10-15 minutes on low temperature, until it softens and the water evaporates.
  2. When cooled, add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly until combined.
  3. Serve with pita chips as a starter, or as a side dish alongside a Middle-Eastern entre.

Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, and liking our Facebook page

Apr 192013
 

Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers from bibberche.com

Once a month I play Bunco with a very diverse group of women. In my previous life across the ocean, I enjoyed playing cards and board games with my friends and I am still very passionate about sharing a few leisurely hours in a relaxed and lets-pretend-to-be-competitive atmosphere.

First time around I was a complete novice, ignorant of the simple rules. It did not help that I was the newest member of the Bunco tribe that had previously met for years. I was understandably anxious, but my fears were assuaged immediately by an exceptionally warm communal welcome that included a glass of red wine and a nice and versatile spread of nibbles. I felt comforted by the thought that these women are witty, funny, approachable, and as eager to pop a cork on a bottle of wine as I was.

As I said, the rules of the Bunco game are stupidly simple and not meant to be challenging, nor ambiguous. Anyone can win, and even if you lose, you can win. Throughout the night, I switched tables, rolled the dice, and got to know my fellow Bunco-ites. I concluded that the point of the game is not to win, to compete, to be better, but to make friends, to relax, and to enjoy the company.

Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers from bibberche.com

I was introduced to the group by my friend and neighbor as a food blogger, a “foodie”, and a make-it-from-scratch kind of girl. It is only logical that I would think really hard about the potluck dishes I had to bring, having to uphold my reputation. Food for Bunco nights is supposed to be fun, unpretentious, and easy to eat. Small portions and bite-size offerings are hugely appreciated as we eat while standing up, holding a plate and a glass of wine.

The last time we met, I had to work during the day. I knew that I would not have enough time to make something very special and time-consuming, but bringing food bought at the grocery store was definitely out of the question. Having decided that I had all the ingredients necessary to make cheese crackers, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I was confident that these little cheesy bites would be popular with the ladies, as they pack just enough punch to wake up your palate in the most delightful way.

I was not disappointed: the crackers were a success, not only with the members of my Bunco group that night, but with my girls and Freida in my absence. I now have a standing request for these easy snacks, one that I am more than happy to comply with. Crackers are easily adjusted to tastes and availability of ingredients, very simple and fast to make, and satisfy kids and adults equaly. And my Bunco ladies never suspected that I did not slave in the kitchen for hours to bring these cheesy morsels to them.

I used Special Reserve Extra Sharp Tilamook Cheddar Cheese and it was divine! No, Tilamook cheese company has not supplied me with cheese – I just happen to love it.

It’s Time for Bunco: Fast and Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Starter
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
With just a few ingredients, these intensely cheesy bites can be on the table in no time. Serve them as an appetizer or a snack with a cold beer or glass of wine.
Ingredients
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 8 oz sharp, good quality cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp mustard powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cup all-purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Combine butter, egg, cheese, salt, red pepper flakes, mustard powder, and black pepper in a bowl of a stand mixer (as I still do not have, but covet, a stand mixer, I placed the ingredients in a large bowl and used my loyal hand-held mixer).
  2. Pulse until it all comes together.
  3. Add flour and pulse some more, to combine.
  4. Place the dough on the cutting board lined with plastic wrap and shape into a log approximately1½ inch in diameter.
  5. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the refridgerator for a few hours (if you are short on time, as I usually am, you can place it in the freezer for 20 minutes).
  6. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Cut ¼-thick circles from the log and place them on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch space in between.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and crispy, switching cookie sheets after 8-9 minutes.
  9. Let the crackers cool completely on the sheets before you take them out to a platter.
  10. Makes 24-30 crackers, depending on thickness.

 

Apr 102013
 

 

Puslice from bibberche.com

When I look back in time of my childhood, I have to be in awe of Mother and Njanja for all the baking they did, almost on daily basis. I cannot remember a single day that we did not have something sweet to round up our meal and to snack on. I definitely took it for granted and only when I became a mother and faced the demands of the adult world did I realize how fortunate we were growing up.

My children do not enjoy daily doses of pies, cookies, tortes, cakes – not even crepes, the ubiquitous dessert that most of the European children learn to make about the time they start preschool (yes, I am kidding, but crepes are a simple, inexpensive and versatile dessert that can be whipped up in minutes, and as such they are considered ordinary by many of my “paesanos”). That way, when I bake something, anything, they are elated and tremendously happy.

Sure, I have inherited Mother’s hand-written cookbook and Njanja’s painstakingly recorded page after yellowed page of decades-worth of recipes, and one of these days I will embark on a project of preserving the old-fashioned, delicious, and oh-so-time-consuming European dishes of the past. I hate to see them lapse into the oblivion, but I am not ready yet to tackle Njanja’s Dobos Torte or Mother’s Napoleon Torte. My girls know nothing about this idea and that’s for the best. In the meantime, I bake the simplest of desserts, once every couple of weeks, and make a grandstand of it, accepting accolades, praises, and, of course, sweet kisses with feigned modesty.

Our Food Bloggers of LA April meeting was held in the Orange County, at a beautiful house perched on a Tustin hill. Kim of Rustic Garden Bistro was our hostess, and as this was the second spring she and her ever-so-nice husband Barry have kept chickens, it was no surprise that the theme of the get-together was “Egg-stravaganza”.

I planned on making a quiche, a Russian Salad, or maybe an assortment of deviled eggs, but I was ambushed by a few unexpected errands the day before, which left me literally scratching my head as I had to go to work in the early afternoon. I did not completely disregard the teachings of my female ancestors, though: every time I make mayonnaise, I save the egg white and keep it in a plastic bagie in the freezer – as I add more, I just change the number on the bag with my Sharpie.

I promptly excavated a baggie containing three egg whites, placed them in a cup of warm water to defrost, and danced a happy dance in the middle of my 70s kitchen in anticipation of light-as-foam, crispy meringues. They might not have been Mother’s elaborate masterpieces combining several beautiful flavors that sing to your palate in a delicious symphony, but the members of my household, including Pepe, the French poodle, were exctatic.

Meringues (Puslice) from bibberche.com

Basic Meringue Cookies
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
It takes a little bit of patience to whip the egg whites into a firm meringue, but the results are always going to be successful, as long as you do not allow any yolk to penetrate the egg whites.
Ingredients
  • 3 large egg whites
  • a small pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (240 gr) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Place the egg whites and salt in a large, cold metal or glass mixing bowl (if you are using the stand mixer, refrigerate the bowl for 10-15 minutes).
  4. Whip on high speed until the stiff peaks appear, about 15 minutes.
  5. Slowly add the sugar until incorporated.
  6. Mix in the lemon juice and in the end the lemon zest.
  7. Spoon the meringue into a Ziploc bag (or a pastry bag) fitted with a large star tip.
  8. Pipe the rosettes (1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter) on top of the parchment paper in the cookie sheets, leaving some space between them as they spread a bit.
  9. Place the cookie sheets in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 200F (100C).
  10. Bake (or rather dry) the cookies for 60 minutes until done. (They should stay white).
  11. Do not open the oven door during the baking process (that might cause the meringues to collapse).
  12. At this point you can turn the oven off and leave the cookies inside until ready to serve.

The recipe is versatile – you can omit the lemon zest and top each meringue with a quarter of a walnut or a pecan. You can add a bit of cocoa to color it and give it chocolate flavor. You can add chocolate chips or chopped nuts as Judy of Bumbleberry Breeze did. And besides, they are so easy to make that I entrusted my girls to watch them, turn the oven off, and let them dry out while I went to work.