- 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
According to my family tree, I am a hundred percent Serbian. I am lenient and allow for a trace of Turkish, Hungarian and Austrian genetic input. But as hard as I search, I cannot find an atom of Irish anywhere in my bloodline. But we are approaching St. Patrick’s Day and the only way for me to celebrate in style is to devote this post to my Irish-by-proxy experiences.
My first ex-husband was partly Irish, which showed in his ruddy cheeks, his jovial behaviour and his deeply ingrained love of adult malted beverages. Through his Irish genes he passed all those traits to our only child, my beloved Nina, who plans on taking a trip to the Emerald Isle one day soon to connect with her long-lost relatives (and I don’t doubt for a second that she’ll find several, even though the White family sailed to the New World on the Mayflower).
My cousin Vladimir is definitely not Irish, having been sired and raised by two full-blooded bona fide Serbs. But he can definitely fool anyone into believing that he is a genuine Celt, with his fiery red hair, fair skin covered with freckles, and a talent for breaking into the real Irish brogue at the spur of the moment.
I truly enjoy Irish music, especially the broody, morose tunes, Danny Boy included. It seems that Nina followed after my taste when Â she danced her version of Irish jig in front of a boy she fancied in first grade. And it does not surprise me that she had a long-lived love affair withÂ Riverdance, which we finally saw together a couple of years ago.
One of my best friends was a no-nonsense New Yorker, Debi, who went to an all-catholic high school in Ireland and was expelled, after a series of small, but disturbing events when she instigated rebellious behaviour and clandestine actions. I spent many days at her house, thoroughly enjoying the stories about her adventurous life in Ireland and Manhattan, and hugging her daughters when mine was far away in Seerbia with her grandparents. Oh, and she colored my hair blond once, just to jolt me out of my boring daily routine.
I devoured Trinity by Leon Uris, eager to understand the years of conflicts, bombs, threats, and unstability. I saw many movies on the subject, and the ones made in Ireland reminded me of our own, Balkan movies, with their overwhelming sense of gray, drab, rainy and grimy, intended to paint the picture not only of the life in Ireland, but of the sadness and despair its people carry with them every day.
And even though I have never been to Ireland, I love Irish food, the hearty, comforting stews, succulent lamb, warm and satisfying potato dishes, and sturdy breads. My girls await with anticipation the celebratory American-Irish meal of corn beef, potatoes, cabbage, and soda bread some time this week and our foggy mornings keep me motivated and eager to tackle the humble feast.
My Irish flag tart probably has as little to do with Ireland as I do, but it is festive, fresh, simple, and rewarding, pairing tart mandarin oranges and fragrant baby kiwi with rich vanilla-scented custard and sweet, ripe bananas. It is a small indulgence, an easy surrender to the world of desserts, a pretty and uncomplicated few forkfuls, just enough to satiate the desire for sweets.
I wish all my Irish and Irish-wannabe friends Happy St. Patrick’s Day – you have definitely colored my life with so many unusual and bright hues that it can never be drab and boring.
This tart was made possible by generous contribution from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest distributor of fresh fruits, vegetables and food products in the U.S. Mandarins and baby kiwi* were delightful to play with and I truly appreciate this gift of food!
* Baby kiwis are grape-sized, smooth-skinned version of regular kiwis, best eaten fresh as a snack, in salads, in fruit salads or on top of a fruit tart.
IRISH FLAG FRUIT TART
Shortbread Pie Crust:
- 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter at room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 egg yolks
- Â¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Â¼ milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 Â½ tsp cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
- Â½ cup orange juice
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 banana, sliced,
- 1 package (6 oz) baby kiwis, sliced
- 1 mandarin orange, segmented
Using a hand-held mixer blend butter and sugar together into a paste. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and knead lightly until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a circle slightly bigger than the pie pan, and using the rolling pin, transfer the dough into the pan. Pat the bottom and sides to adhere to the pan and cut off the excess dough. Spear the bottom with the fork a few times, cover with aluminum foil, fill with pie weights (or dried beans) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil and bake for another 5 minutes, until it starts turning golden brown.
Using a hand-held mixer, mix the egg yolks and sugar together until combined. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and stir into the egg mixture to form a paste.
Heat the milk on medium temperature until it starts to bubble up around the edges. Remove from the heat and slowly add into eggs and sugar, vigorously stirring to prevent curdling of the eggs. Return to medium heat and cook until boiling, whisking constantly. Once it boils, whisk for another 30-60 seconds to thicken and remove from heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent the crust from forming and keep refrigerated until use.
Combine all the ingredients in a small stainless steel pot and heat on medium temperature to thicken slightly.
Pour the cooled pastry cream over the crust and place the fruit decoratively on top. Pour the glaze over the fruit and keep in the fridge until ready to eat.
More recipes using baby kiwis:
Minted Tomato, Pepper, Feta Salad with Baby Kiwi from Shockingly Delicious
Honey-Glazed Baby Kiwi Mascarpone Cheesecake from Cooking on the Weekends
Kiwi and Peach Puree from Weelicious
We did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in Serbia Â when I was growing up. So my first February on the new continent, I strolled through the aisles of the grocery stores in a western suburb of Detroit, and gazed in amazement at the piles of chocolates, pink and red hearts, red roses, and enormous helium balloons. I felt like Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where he imagines he has a weird disease whose symptoms include multicolored dots dancing in front of his eyes. I was dazzled by the exhibit of commercialized romance, wondering where all the pink and red ended up.
I worked at a small family restaurant that Valentine’s Day and a few minutes before closing, a white teddy bear holding a huge red helium heart-shaped balloon appeared at the door. I chuckled and shook my head, amused by the utter silliness of the moment. But the balloon was heading in my direction and I froze when I saw my husband’s bearded face behind it, smiling from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of my mushy and tearful response to this oh-so-very romantic gesture.
Everyone around me was oohing and aahing, and I wished that I could wave my magic wand and disappear; or at least have the teddy bear and the balloon disappear. I should have known that Don would pull something like that. After all, he took me to see Howard the Duck on our first date after I arrived to the U.S. And he was extremely excited when an old Gypsy sold him Huey, Dewey, and Louie wall ornaments silhouetted in wrought iron at the market in my home town in Serbia. I did not have the heart to tell him that I really thought all the kitsch I saw around me was meant for high school kids.
Throughout the years I got accustomed to seeing men in suits and ties logging behind them big red heart-shaped balloons and stuffed animals, bedazzled crimson boxes filled with chocolates too sweet for my taste, and cards brimming with tasteless and sappy poetry. I overcame my cultural shock and learned to accept these funny expressions of affection that came my way on the Day of Love.
I feel pretty domesticated on American soil after more than two decades of domicile. My second marriage is in its terminal and final phase and Valentine’s Day ambushed me this year. It would have snuck by unnoticed had my girls not insisted on making some red velvet cupcakes for their BFFs. I don’t want to infect them with my grumpiness and disdain for this holiday when they are so enthusiastic and eager to offer the world their small share of red, sweet, and chocolatey. It only seemed appropriate for me to let them take the center stage.
Oh, I participated in the madness, too, but in an unorthodox and weird way. My contribution this year is Seville orange marmalade whose seemingly contradictory nuances of flavor perfectly describe my life at present: it is slightly bitter, bright, sweet, and fresh, with a hint of exotic and mysterious. And it is the bitterness that I look forward to, as it seems to only bring out and accentuate the sublime taste of the preserves in all its complexity.
After I take the kids to school in the morning, I make a strong cup of Turkish coffee, spread some good butter on a piece of crusty Tuscan country bread and grab a small jar of marmalade. It has become a ritual I anticipate with glee. I wait patiently as the sweet orange jam slowly oozes from the spoon onto the bread, welcoming the bitterness that lingers for a few seconds. This marmalade is not comforting and mellow. It is bold and assertive. It does not coddle and carress, but most definitely reminds me that life is, indeed. bitter and sweet and exciting and unpredictable.
I don’t know how many teddy bears, chocolate boxes, and big, red, hear-shaped helium ballons are in my future. I’d prefer to avoid them if possible, but even if I see them approaching me from the distance, I won’t be embarrassed and I won’t roll my eyes in disapproval. After all, I know that ther would be someone’s huge smile hiding behind them and that’s all that counts. In the meantime, I’ll bid Valentine’s Day goodbye, with my fingers sticky from the marmalade.
Seville oranges originated in China and Arab explorers brought them to Europe, where they reigned for the next few centuries, before their sweeter cousins took over. The first orange marmalade was made from Seville oranges, as they are high in pectin. Inclement weather made a ship carying them take shelter at the Scottish harbor of Dundee, where a local grocer bought the whole cargo cheaply. His wife used a few sacks of sugar sitting in the store to make marmalade and soon after, they started a jam-making business.
Seville oranges are hard to peel and have too many seeds. Their juice is sour and tart, but abundant, which makes them perfect for juicing, marinades, and dressings, as they are not especially good for eating fresh. Their slightly bumpy skin is fragrant and rich in essential oils, and when zested adds a fresh citrusy punch to a salad, a bowl of wilted greens, or grilled fish.
SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE
- 1 dozenSevilleoranges
- 3 Meyer lemons (mine were from my neighborâ€™s tree)
- 4 cups water
- 7 cups sugar
Prepare the jars and lids. Heat a big pot of water and when it boils, submerge the lids and the jar inside and boil for 5-10 minutes. Invert them on a clean paper towel to dry.
Scrub oranges and lemons and cut them in half. Squeeze the juice and strain it. Reserve the pits, the pulp, and the membranes and tie it in double layer of cheesecloth (this is where all the pectin resides).
Using a grapefruit spoon scrape as much of the white pith as possible, as thatâ€™s what makes the marmalade bitter. Cut the skins in thin strips and then in smaller pieces.
Boil the skins for an hour to make them softer and drain. Add the squeezed juice (I had about 3 cups), water, and cheesecloth with pits and pulp.
Heat until it boils, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add the sugar and continue simmering for another hour, until the skin is soft and transluscent. To check if the marmalade is ready, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Drip a few drops on it and swirl it around. If it barely moves, itâ€™s done. If it runs, it needs to cook a little bit longer.
Turn the heat off and let it cool slightly. Carefully fill the jars and close the lids tightly. Keep the marmalade in the fridge for a month.
Thanks Robert from Melissa’s Produce for the gift of this beautiful citrus!
Something miraculous occurs to me every time I taste a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. I fall into a sensory overload, remembering the days of my childhood when I felt comforted and safe, as the warm smell of roasted nuts greeted me at the kitchen door, and adventurous summers of my early teenage years when the boys vied for my attention bribing me with boxes of Eurocream, a Serbian version of Nutella. Tthe aftermath was not as romantic, as I gained ten pounds in one month; but, oh, it was so well worth it!)
Both my mother and grandmother were talented bakers. When the holiday season started in Fall, they would put away their differences and join elbows in order to create the tastiest tiny morsels in town. Each celebration ended with vintage platters lined with dozens of perfectly shaped desserts, small enough to fit into your mouth in one ladylike bite, and allowing you to taste as many without feeling like you were overindulging.
For days, my sister, my brother, and I would be tempted by warm and comforting smells coming from the oven, as the rows of sweets multiplied on the tables throughout the house. We raced Father for the scraps, the cut-off edges, and occasional slightly burned and misshapen specimens. We begged Mother to pass us a few bites behind her back, risking Njanja’s wrath after her usual daily counting duty, but were able to fully enjoy the offerings only after the guests have gone home, leaving us more than enough sweet bounty for several days to come.
I never had a favorite, but throughout the years, a few desserts rose above the others and I reluctantly started to make them in my own kitchen, wanting my girls to experience at least a small part of my excitement. The two younger ones have never met Njanja, and visited Mother only in the summer. They learned to appreciate their grandmother’s culinary skills, but did not have a chance to try her petit fours first hand. My baking skills cannot compare to hers, but they don’t know that, as all they know are the stories.
I have mastered a few of Njanja’s and Mother’s recipes in the last twenty years and even though I know very well how tedious and tiring the whole process will be, I make the sweets nevertheless, feeling the connection to these formidable women who shaped me, knowing that I’ll see the smiles of enjoyment on my children’s faces.
One of their favorites has always been the Indianers, hazelnut shortbread sandwich cookies with custard and chocolate ganache. I have tried to figure out why they were named Indianers, and the only explanation that comes to mind is that the top, dipped in dark ganache, looks like an Indian’s head wrapped in a turban. Almost.
I made Indianers for our annual Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group cookie exchange meeting. As they yield a lot, I took a couple of dozen to a Bunco game, and it made me feel good when they disappeared instantly. My blogger friends seemed to enjoy them as well, and I felt really proud of myself, knowing that I am continuing the tradition, without betraying the ardor, skill, and creativity of my mother who tried to teach us to strive for the best, to challenge ourselves, and to be kind and giving to the people around us.
INDIANERS – HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD SANDWICH COOKIES WITH CUSTARD AND CHOCOLATE GANACHE
- Â¾ cups (200gr) sugar
- 2 sticks (300gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 oz (250gr) roasted hazelnuts, ground
- 1 Â¼ cups (300gr) all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- Â¾ cup (12 Tbsp) sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 sticks (350gr) unsalted butter
- 6 oz bitter-sweet chocolate
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp milk
Cream sugar and butter with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add egg yolks, one by one, until mixed in. In a separate bowl stir together ground hazelnuts and flour. Stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well combined. Flatten into a disc and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
On a lightly floured surface flatten the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut small circles using 1-inch cookie cutter (or a metal top of a booze bottle, as my mother would use). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Whisk the eggs and egg whites together until foamy and light. Add the sugar and stir in a double boiler on low heat until thickened, 20-30 minutes (a wooden spoon would leave a trail when dragged on the bottom of the pot). Let the custard cool completely and only then whip the butter in.
In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter. Stir in the milk.
Place about Â½ tsp of filling on top of one cookie. Form a pyramid of filling in the center of the cookie using the spoon, place another cookie on top and press lightly to evenly disperse the custard.
Line the assembled sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet.
When all the cookies have been put together, dip each one in ganache, making sure that only the top part is covered with chocolate. Place the cookies on a tray and let them cool. Keep in the fridge for 1 week, or freeze for several months in an air-proof container.
My mother grew up in Vojvodina, the part of the country that was under the Austro-Hungarian rule until the end of WWI. When she married my father and joined him in central Serbia, she brought with her many culinary traditions which were not very familiar to the natives. Some of them were immediately accepted by her new friends and family; some needed a longer time and more cunning approaches to become a staple at dinner time; and some just never survived the challenges of the impenetrable barrier of the palates unaccustomed to weird, different, and foreign influences.
While we ate plenty of chickens along with Â pheasants and quails Father brought from his intermittent hunting expeditions, only when we went to Vojvodina did we have a chance to taste a duck or a goose. We were entranced by these white birds that seem to frolic in every yard, splashing in the ponds and squawking, the shape of their bright-orange beaks the only notable difference between the species: sharp, pointy beaks belong to geese, the flatter and rounded ones to ducks.
And while the holidays in our home town always involved roasted piglets or spring lambs, in Vojvodina we were treated to roasted ducks and geese. As if the mere taste of the water fowl was not enough to separate the two geographical regions deeper than the river Danube that marked the border, the fruit sauce that accompanied them made us feel as if we were visiting another country, with the benefit of still speaking the same language. Depending on the season, we had cherry, apple, pear, or quince sauces, only slightly sweetened, chunky and surprisingly delightful along the stronger tasting meat of the water fowl.
Back at home, we never mixed sweet and savory, even though Father was an adventurous eater. And I have never seen a duck or a goose at the Farmers’ Market (forget the grocery stores, as we do not buy our meets there) in my home town.
But then I decided to make my new home all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and my first Thanksgiving meal was turkey served with cranberry sauce from the can and many other side dishes and desserts, most of which originated in a can or a box. I have never tasted cranberries before and I immediately fell in love with their tart and assertive taste so capable of pairing with the gaminess of turkey. It took years to fight my way over to the real food and side dishes made from scratch, but I am now happy to know that my daughters will remember my slowly simmered cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, and giblet gravy as the part of their holiday tradition.
And more than that, I carried over my mother’s culinary ways, including fruit sauces with roasts, always leaning on seasonal produce. That’s why I though of pairing beautiful duck breasts I bought at Lazy Acres Market with crunchy and juicy Korean pears simmered in apple cider (they worked so well in Kale SaladÂ I made last week). My ancestors might be rolling their eyes, but the combination worked beautifully. The pears were firm and kept their texture without becoming mushy, while adding a fragrant note to the sauce slightly enriched by the spiciness of the cider. A pat of butter was enough to add a smidgen of richness without competing with the complex taste of the seared duck breasts.
My family has dwindled in size in a few last years, and a whole turkey at Thanksgiving looks very intimidating. But a pair of flavorful, seared duck breasts with a tart cranberry sauce, some cornbread dressing, and gravy might be just right for an elegant and intimate family affair.
My mother passed away last July. She might have raised an eyebrow if I served her this dish and she might have given me an advice on how to make it better, but I know that she would have approved of my creativity after a few hours of grumbling. She might have been silent at dinner table, but I am pretty sure that she would have smiled comforted in the thought that her culinary traditions are making their way across the meridians and across the generations.
SEARED DUCK BREAST WITH KOREAN PEAR SAUCE
- 2 duck breasts
- a pinch of salt
- some freshly ground pepper
Korean pear sauce:
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp rendered duck fat
- 1 Korean pear, cored and diced
- 1 cup of apple cider
Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat (you can use a stainless steel skillet, too). Score the duck skin in a criss-cross manner, making sure not to cut into the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the duck skin down in the skillet for 6 minutes, allowing the fat to render and the skin to turn brown. Turn the breasts and cook or another 4 minutes for medium-rare, up to 8 minutes for well done.
Place on a plate and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into thin slices.
Pour all but 1 Tbsp of duck fat into a separate bowl and save for frying potatoes (or anything else). Add butter and heat a 10-inch skillet on medium heat. Add diced pears and saute for a minute, until they start to brown and sizzle. Add apple cider, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Take the cover off and simmer for another 15 minutes, reducing the sauce until it’s thick and chunky.
Serve atop of sliced duck breast.
Korean pears are in season from November through March. Check out what some of my friends did with them – you will be amazed!
- Grilled Ribeye Steak Marinated in Asian Spices and Korean PearsÂ - Cooking on the Weekends
- Korean Pear Slaw, Gangnam-StyleÂ - Jolly Tomato
- Asian-Style Slaw with Korean PearsÂ - Cooking on the Weekends
- Korean Pear and Kale Salad – Bibberche
- Riesling-Poached Korean PearsÂ - A Communal Table
- Introducing Korean Pears, and 10 Things to do with ThemÂ - Shockingly Delicious
- Honey-Glazed Baked Korean Pears in Wonton Crisps with Honey-Cinnamon MascarponeÂ - Cooking on the Weekends
- Blue Cheese & Brie Fondue with Asian Pears – Geez Louise
Thank you Melissa’s Produce for the sample of glorious Korean pears! They are truly magnificent and versatile.
Â I received a sample of Korean pears fromÂ Melissaâ€™s Produce. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The opinions are mine and only mine:)
I encountered sweet potatoes at my first Thanksgiving, a few months after I moved to the U.S. I watched from the sidelines as my ex-husband, his sister and her boyfriend woke up with the first rays of sun to start the vigorous and detailed preparation for this, for me an unknown holiday. Roasted turkey and mashed potatoes were the only two dishes made from scratch. The rest arrived to the table straight from the can or a box. For years I participated only as a menial laborer – stirring, dicing, mixing, and washing dishes, fearful not to upset the feelings of a traditional holiday meal.
And for years I did not see the appeal of gorging on processed and semi-processed food three times a day, only to collapse on a couch and watch an interminably long game that held absolutely no interest for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors arrived to this country on the Mayflower and I bowed to the traditions as a newest family member. I wanted to feel the goosebumps and excitement of sharing the familial table, experiencing the closeness, support, and love, but there was no pay-off to the hours of hard work, as everyone scarfed the food down in minutes and migrated to the living room, whining and patting their engorged bellies.
I am an adventurous eater, not afraid to try new and unknown dishes, but grayish spears of green beans baked with a can of cream of mushroom soup and mealy sweet potatoes poured into a pan from a huge can and roasted with marshmallows on top left me uninspired and disappointed. I was not a food snob, but I was raised on dishes prepared from scratch, fresh produce, and meat raised humanely and ethically. I accepted the fact that creativity was not welcome at this holiday, and went along with family traditions presented to me.
After my divorce, I sent my daughter and my mother to my ex-husband’s family for Thanksgiving and I enjoyed the holiday on my own, watching movies, drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese. I really liked my new holiday tradition and did not miss the gloopy jellied cranberry sauce plopped on a platter, still bearing the markings of the can that housed it, nor the gravy mixed hastily from an envelope.
My second husband hailed from the south and even though he pined for green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and jellied cranberry sauce, he introduced a few innovative and to me appealing dishes: southern dressing and giblet gravy. I embraced both, appreciating the efforts that went into preparing them, relishing the idea that there were no cans or boxes necessary for preparing them. All of a sudden, Thanksgiving started to shape into a different kind of holiday, a day that I would look forward to, a family event that made us all excited. It might have had something to do with a fact that my second husband could care less about sports of any kind, and enjoyed sitting at the table for hours, talking and sipping wine, surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and platters still filled with food.
There was no sister-in-law nor mother-in-law to reign over the kitchen and impose the habits that I would have to accept unconditionally. My husband craved certain tastes that brought him close to his childhood and I obliged him with every dish I prepared for Thanksgiving, but I refused to build my children’s traditions on cans and boxes. From our first holiday, everything I prepared was from scratch.
Our Thanksgiving table’s theme is mostly southern. Turkey is roasted unstuffed, with cornbread dressing baked on the side and hearty giblet gravy to spoon on top. My cranberry sauce is chunky and simple, dinner rolls soft and buttery, green beans blanched and tossed with diced tomatoes and garlic. There is always a pecan pie, rich and boozy, decadent and oh-so-satisfying.
But one dish that is all mine and that fits beautifully in my adopted southern Thanksgiving tradition is candied southern sweet potatoes. This simple dish allows the taste of mashed sweet potatoes to come forward, accentuating their soft texture and elevating them to a higher level with a crunchy topping of melted butter, chopped pecans, brown sugar, and a hint of nutmeg. When I feel inspired, I stir in a glug of bourbon just to cement it firmly south of the Mason-Dixon line.
This November marks a third anniversary of our Food Bloggers LA group that ideally meets once a month. On Sunday, more than twenty of us showed up in Santa Monica at Andrew Wilder‘s place, bringing our favorite Thanksgiving dish. I am happy to say that my southern sweet potatoes disappeared and I brought an empty dish home. The best compliment came from my friend Christina from Christina’s Cucina, who brought this insanely good Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse Cake with Ganache topping. She does not like sweet potatoes, but said that done my way, they can grace her family table any time.
I hope you all have a great holiday with family and friends. I know that I have only a few more years to train my daughters’ sensitive palates and develop culinary traditions that will bring them home once they fly away and make their own nests. And I hope these sweet potatoes are going to be a part of their family celebration.
CANDIED SOUTHERN SWEET POTATOESÂ
- 2 lbs of sweet potatoes (2 big ones)
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp Bourbon (optional â€“ but why not? Itâ€™s the holidays!)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- Â¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400F. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork in a few places to make sure they bake evenly. Place in the heated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. If the knife goes in easily, the potatoes are done.
Turn the heat down to 350F.
Cool the potatoes, peel an place into a large bowl. Add brown sugar, egg yolk, butter and bourbon if using and mash with a hand=held mixer for a few minutes until fluffy and combined.
Melt the butter fir the topping and combine it with the rest of the topping ingredients. Spoon on top of mashed sweet potatoes.
Pour into an oven proof dish and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
Thursday afternoon, the girls and I will board a big white bird and fly across the ocean to London and then to Belgrade. Last few days I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of unbearable panic accompanied as usual with an accelerated heart beat, a crazy adrenaline rush (not in a good way), and a sensation that a baby elephant has made a nest on my chest. The items on my list are almost completely crossed over, our e-tickets are printed, the passports are neatly laid out right next to the tickets, and empty suitcases lined up on the bedroom floor.
I still have to buy a few necessities for the trip, like goat cheese, multi-grain crackers, and pretzels, as the girls requested them as snacks. Packing should not take a lot of time, as Â I have piles of stuff destined to travel neatly arranged all over the apartment. I am helping my sweet next-door neighbor with making a creative journal for her special friend’s 70th birthday. In exchange, she will water my succulents and keep my herbs alive until we return. The roots and grays are covered, the nails are done, the purses purged of extraneous material that inevitably manages to collect in time.
I am as excited as anxious, unable to relax, even though these trans-Atlantic trips have been my routine for over twenty five years. But, I tend to fret whenever anyone travels, even for a weekend, even just across the state. Once the baggage is checked in and boarding passes are safely tucked in my purse, I’ll slump in a hard plastic chair at a Starbucks and bury my face in a latte, a smile replacing the angst. Until we arrive at Customs, of course.
Wednesday morning, the suitcases will be packed and keeping ranks in the hallway. I hope to emulate Dorothy Parker and walk around my friend’s street party, cool, armed with a witty repartee and a glass of good wine. (The only thing that I can guarantee right now, though, is a glass of good wine.) We’ll stroll down to the beach at sunset to watch the fireworks and I will take every burst of color personally, as a farewell greeting and a colorful goodbye. I will miss the smell of the ocean and the bike rides on the strand. I will miss my friend madly. But summer is always the fastest of the seasons, and the day of our return will creep up sooner than I expected, as always, and plunge me into another panic-ruled state.
I will not be cooking any Fourth of July delicacies, but here are some great dishes that would make any party unforgettable. Happy Fourth!
I prefer to stay home for Mother’s Day. I relish the moment I hear the first whispers of my girls as they tiptoe into the kitchen and start preparing breakfast for the family, trying in vain not to make any noise as they pull pots and pans out of the cupboards. I am comforted by the familiar sounds that meander around the hallways and arrive at my doorstep: the hissing of oil when it meets a hot pan; the crackling of egg shells; the grating of the whisk against a plastic bowl; bacon starting to sizzle as its edges curl and brown; the hypnotizing whir of my hand mixer; the subdued thuds of drawers getting shut.
I stretch like a spoiled Angora cat and play along, feigning sleep, as I squint through one eye at a time in anticipation of their arrival to my room. They open the door and enter in a solemn procession, valiantly trying to stay focused, but by the time they reach the backboard of my bed, they explode in giggles. Chattering excitedly, they approach offering gifts of food they lovingly prepared for me and laid on a silver-plated tray covered with a starched damask napkin. One long arm proffers a bright and still fizzing Mimosa, and I sit up against the pillows, the tray safely resting in my lap. They jump on the bed, surrounding me, racing each other with colorful and thoughtful home made cards, covering my face and my hands with tender kisses.
The three of them are all the crowd I need to feel happy. And this Mother’s Day, we’ll stay home and spend all day indulging our taste buds and surrendering to whimsy. My oldest will make a couple of Mimosas and we’ll clink the glasses, toasting to mothers everywhere, and sending virtual kisses to my sister in Germany and Mother in Serbia.
Some of my favorite bloggers have compiled lists of their favorite, delectable Mother’s Day recipes. I always find inspiration there!