Jul 032012
 

airplane from bibberche.com

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  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!

Lamb Burgers 

Lamb Burgers from bibberche.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Chimney smoking from bibberche.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Pasta Salad

Summer Pasta Salad from bibberche.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Summer Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables from bibberche.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Sweet Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter

Grilled Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roasted Peppers, Roasted Beets, and Grilled Eggplant

roasted peppers from bibberche.com

Apr 142011
 

My parents’ generation grew up in harsh conditions.  WWII was not kind to Serbia and many went hungry for years. Their view of food is very much akin to that of the Americans who survived the Great Depression. Meat was a luxury, served at holidays, and occasionally in the winter, through various reincarnations of the venerated pig (there was no part of the hog that was left unused). Wheat bread was reserved for the well-off, and the poor ate corn.  The main dishes were soupy, filled with vegetables and grains, and served with a lot of bread to sop up the juices and fool the belly into feeling satisfied. In some really large poor families,  mothers would frequently add a hefty amount of hot peppers so kids would eat less. It was a cruel, but unfortunately practical world in which children were dispensable, and men working the fields were kept at the top of the food chain.

Just like any other country’s peasant fare, Serbian traditional dishes, even today, contain small amounts of meat, hidden amongst piles of cabbage, carrots, peppers, eggplant, rice, or potatoes. Most of them, you eat with a spoon and several thick pieces of fresh bread. They are satisfying, simple, hearty, non-pretentious dishes. Not something you would seek when dining out, but definitely a first choice when coming home for the weekend from the University or after a camping trip with friends.

We usually spend summers in Serbia, and the peppers are everywhere, in all shapes, colors and sizes, their aroma permeating the market. Mother would carefully cut the stem out of each shiny, rounded, pale yellow pepper, loosely stuff them with onions sauteed with ground beef, salt, pepper, and a handful of nutty short-grained rice.  She would close the opening with a round slice of potato and lay them snuggly in a pot, potato facing up, covered with water and just a little bit of homemade tomato sauce. They would simmer for an hour or so, filling the kitchen with an irresistible  smell that always made me feel safe, comforted, and happy. When the skin became wrinkly and the peppers plump, she would serve them right from the pot; no side dish was necessary, just some good bread and a hungry crowd.

The young Beasties clamored for some stuffed peppers. I made Mother’s version several times this past winter. This time I decided to risk rebellion and take the stuffed peppers on a southeasterly trip.  They still contained the essence of summer, but offered a different approach in spices and seasonings which packed some intense flavors and an interesting mouth-feel.

We have befriended the Mexican butchers who run the meat department in our local Persian store. I practice my rudimentary Spanish with them, and they correct me. Husband tips them unobtrusively every time, so we do not have to worry about the quality of meat that ends up in our basket. I had them grind the lamb, imagining the tasty detour the peppers would make.

The Beasties observed, tasted, looked at each other, and continued eating. They did not stage a rebellion. The only complaint: not enough sauce. Well, I can live with that. I was safe! Sure, it was not Mother’s recipe, but it was unbelievably good. It did not fly me home with the speed of light, but it brought a dose of mystery, a sense of the exotic, the smell of comfort and the unknown at the same time.

The imaginary wrinkled, gray-haired, tired man I thought of while eating these peppers was not of Serbian descent. He was a Berber, somewhere in Maghreb, but his smile was the same. I bet he used a lot of pita to pick up the juices off his plate. And he laughed with his family, satiated and happy with the lingering taste of sweet peppers on his lips.

Blog-checking lines: Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

MOROCCAN STUFFED PEPPERS

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium bell peppers (I used two red, two yellow)
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup short-grain rice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp paprika (hot or sweet )
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup prepared tomato sauce

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Cut the peppers in half and cut off the stem. Heat the oil on medium temperature in a heavy skillet, add ground lamb and spices. Stir until browned 5-6 minutes Add onion and garlic, and stir for another 2-3 minutes. Add rice, stir until it becomes transluscent and nutty-flavored, 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and lemon juice, and stir for 2-3 minutes more. Stuff the peppers and lay them on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with prepared tomato sauce.

Moroccan Stuffed Peppers from Bibberche

I would like to send my peppers to Hearth and Soul blog event, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life.

Jan 192011
 

I woke up before five o’clock this morning for no apparent reason. The birds started their tentative chirping, and I pulled the covers over my head, trying to silence them. Husband was softly snoring, and after giving him a chance or two to stop on his own, I started nudging him, first with my elbow, and then with my knee. I was jealous of his state of unconsciousness, but in spite of all my tossing and turning, I could not reach it myself.

If I could have stayed in bed, even awake, opening the laptop and getting lost in the Great Unknown of the Internet, it would have been fine. But I had to gather all my strength and plod on to work, which only brought up tenfold my grumpiness level. Eyebrows almost meeting across the frown, I opened the patio door, desperately longing for a chilly morning domed with a gray sky. Instead of indulging me, warm California air rushed to greet me, embracing me in a comforting hug, sending off whiffs of eucaliptus and pine, while the green leaves whispered gently, rustled by a balmy breeze.

What an affront! I quickly closed the door and continued to get ready without making the house awash with sunshine and fresh air. The shades stayed drawn and the only illumination came from the fluorescent bulbs in the bathroom. The smell of freshly ground coffee did not bring a smile on my lips. Neither did Father’s detailed description of how he intended to spend the morning, which included a usual walk around the neighborhood and lying by the pool.

While I walked towards the car, the warm wisps caressed my arms, trying to seduce me out of my grouchy mood. I brushed them off, pursing my lips even tighter, not allowing my eyes to wander and soak up the beauty around me. Even at seven o’clock in the morning, there was not a hint of January to latch onto; not a shadow of a cloud to mar the perfect blue stretching all the way to the mountains in the east and the beach in the west. I found a small comfort only in trying to outsnarl the neighbors’ equally miserable chihuahua which seemed unwilling to share the sidewalk with humans.

Having only one contact lens (my right eye still recovering from the self-inflicted damage from dish-washing liquid and hourly shower-rinse in Berkeley), the reflection in the car window that greeted me might have been somewhat incorrect, but at that moment I saw an image pretty similar to Danny DeVito’s Momma, minus the cane. Even that failed to soften the frown on my face. Instead, I silently coveted the cane.

When I entered the restaurant, I was determined to nurse my joyless day to its limits. The first strike against my decision was a surprising appearance of my favorite manager, who certainly did not deserve to meet The Beast (he needs to maintain the highest opinion of me as classy, sophisticated, well-read European, the only one in his known world who can coach him to properly pronounce his Russian girlfriend’s name and gain immeasurable positive points in his personal life). My face reluctantly opened into a smile, and the grumpy persona started to crack.

The second strike was the optimism of my favorite co-worker who had decided to look beyond and venture into the unknown waters of high-end dining in his quest for a career. I have been nurturing this single father’s ambitions for months, teaching him bartending skills, and filling his head with all the possibilities fine dining offers. His enthusiasm managed to penetrate the sullenness and my smiles became somewhat less restrained.

What brought me 180 degrees back to normalcy was our short and always mean head cook who suddenly appeared from the kitchen wearing wrap-around cheap sunglasses and stood by our side waiting patiently for our outrageous burst of laughter. After that, it was all uphill. I tried really hard to salvage every little trace of  misery from this day. The whole world seemed to have conspired to cheer me up and bring me to the bright side. And I surrendered unwillingly, grasping at straws and fighting all the way. The rest of the working day slipped away lightly, made endurable by jokes and friendly banter. There was a bounce in my gait as I approached the car. The harsh midday sunlight made me squint and put on my fake designer shades.

Walking toward the apartment I breathed in the warm smells of the late summer offered freely by stern January. I wished that the chihuahua would be out for another miserable walk, only to show it that we can embrace the world of beauty and make compromises on the right to sidewalks. But the only movement I saw was the rapid fluttering of a hummingbird’s wings as it fed on the lavender blossoms on our patio. I was humming We Are the World as I opened all the windows in the apartment. Husband blinked like Mr. Magoo, trying to comfort his inner mole. We are the ones that make a brighter day…

I was finished with the hibernation. I heard the call of the Earth slowly awakening. I wanted to bury my hands in soft, yielding dirt, and plant seeds. But my garden stayed behind at our old address in a suburb of Cleveland, and until I appropriated a small yard here in Southern California willing to let me sow, grow, and harvest, all I could play with were my potted plants lined atop the patio fence. The basil and thyme were clearly suffering, but the rosemary was going strong, defeating the seasons. No need any more to pluck it off the hedge at Costco.

I  inhaled the odor of the herbs off my hands and thought of the azure waters of the Mediterranean sparkling under the sun, the silence broken only by the crickets and an occasional faint rustle of the ancient olive trees. I wanted to feel the warm waves lapping at my feet as the breeze brought the briny smells of the harbor. The kitchen floor morphed into the weathered terracotta tiles, the walls darkened, the invisible shutters squeaked while barely moving in the gentle wind.

My hands rubbed the olive oil, sea-salt, and coarse-ground pepper onto four plump, fresh lamb shanks. They sizzled fiercely upon touching the hot oil, but calmed down and absorbed the heat until a crispy, golden-brown skin appeared on their surface. After leaving them to rest on a plater, I threw into the skillet a couple of handfuls of chopped onions, two chopped carrots, some garlic, a diced red pepper, rosemary, and thyme. The aromas of the garden rose from the stove as the vegetables softened. Several glugs of red wine went in towards the end, some tomato paste, and a cup or two of chicken stock. I laid the shanks on top, covered them, and placed them in the oven. The sounds of bouzouki slowly reached me as one of my favorite Greek songs played from a corner. The notes invited some old memories of good friends, red wine poured from casks, unbridled laughter, and newly awakened desire, and I blissfully followed the tune, happy for the digression.

I was lost in the revelry for an hour, while the shanks softened in the oven, soaking in the flavors of the wine and spices. I peeled and quartered several potatoes and tossed them in the juices, resting the meat on top. After another half an hour the potatoes succumbed and the lamb quivered when I moved it to the plate. This was a meal worthy of a Greek shepherd, who would only have to  cut big chunks of fresh bread and pour the wine to make it better.  Whatever was left of my misery and my desire to cling to it was gone.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Ingredients:

  • 4 lamb shanks, about 4-5 lbs
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 6-7 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and brown fro several minutes on all sides. Remove from the skillet and let it restf on a platter. Turn the heat down to medium-low and sauté the vegetables until softened, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Deglaze the pan with wine and stock. Season and stir for another minute or two.

Return the meat to the skillet, cover with aluminum foil and roast for 60-70 minutes. Uncover and toss in the potatoes, resting the meat on top. Return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes and serve.

braised lamb shanks from bibberche.com

This post fits perfectly with the Hearth and Soul blog hop, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life, and Real Food Wednesdays, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Aug 222010
 

This week has been the hottest yet since we moved from Ohio to Southern California almost two years ago. When I walk out the door before seven in the morning to go to work, I cannot feel the remnants of the desert chill lingering in the air which usually greets me right at the threshold. The light breeze is pleasant, playful, inviting, bringing the promises of scorching afternoons.

When I come back from work, the sky is this unbelievable shade of blue which almost looks fake. The sun touches the skin with its fiery kisses and I search for shade going up the sidewalk. The hot wind brings with it the smells of eucalyptus, pine, and the ocean. I rush inside to take a shower. Refreshed, wearing shorts and a tank-top, I go out to the patio to greet my tiny container garden. The essence of the Pacific is now joined by heady aromas of thyme, basil, lavender, and rosemary adorning the parapet fencing the small area in front of the apartment. The heat does not bother me any more because I am suddenly transported to a place somewhere on the Adriatic coast, lounging in the shade of an old olive tree, listening to the waves breaking on the shore. The crickets are harmoniously singing their ode to the sun and it seems the whole world is asleep. The air moves just enough to bring a hint of garlic and rosemary meeting the hot grates of a grill in the distance.

I go back inside smiling, relaxed, the petty and stressful politics at work obliterated by the welcoming sight of my dozen pots. I ask if anybody wishes something special for dinner. The Beasties have spent the whole day inside, encapsulated in the “mole hole” with the AC on and the shades closed. They are chilly and they crave the winter fare. One shouts “Lasagne!” (uhm…no, not hard, but time-consuming, being that I have to make my own ricotta and tomato sauce, and the bechamel has to be simmered with spinach to make it truly red-white-and-green Italian fare). The other clamors “Roasted pig!” (again, no… four hours of roasting, basting the pork shoulder every fifteen minutes with beer…I love lard but would opt for something much lighter). Husband is very diplomatic when he says “What are you thinking of?” Well, now we are talking! My mind races from Mexico, to Cuba, to Northern Africa, and stops at the Mediterranean, when a pound of frozen ground lamb beckons to me from the freezer. Lamburgers!

Husband comes back from the store with the perfect buns and a bag of charcoal. I try to warm up the house with some appropriate music, starting with an Italian CD a friend from Serbia made for me, moving on to Spain and the music from Pedro Almodovar’s movie “High Heels”, Un Año de Amor and  Piensa en Mi by Luz Casal ( I love that flick!), and finishing with this Greek song that always touches my soul and makes me cry, even though I do not understand a word in it. By this time I am waltzing around the kitchen with a glass of chilled white wine to the rhythm of my music, chopping garlic, snipping green onions, and whirring bread for breadcrumbs in my mini food processor.

While the “chimney” is slowly firing up the real mesquite charcoal, I harvest thyme, rosemary, and mint from the patio. My mezzaluna is at its best as it chops and minces the herbs which join garlic and green onions in the chopper just for a minute. I scrape the mix in the bowl with the ground lamb and breadcrumbs, add the egg, crumbled feta cheese, salt, and pepper kneading it until it all comes together. As I form the patties, the chimney releases the charcoal into our little Weber grill and the smell of smoked wood permeates the air. The Beasties emerge  from their room as the meat hisses on the grill. They set the table while I make a Greek salad with kalamata olives, cucumbers (Husband is allergic and his dish is separate), feta, red onions, roasted beets, sliced hot peppers, and a couple of tomatoes left over from the visit to the South Coast Farms in  San Juan Capistrano.  All this is dressed in a simple vinaigrette.

The weather might be hot. It might be sweltering. It just might justify turning on the AC. Or not. As I sit at the table with my plate full of Mediterranean flavors, I cannot help but bask in the thought that we are living in paradise, not affluent, but at least eating like kings.

LAMBURGERS

Ingredients:

  • 500gr (a bit more than 1 lb) ground lamb
  • 1 small bunch of scallions, shopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small handful mint leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme, chopped
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, taken off the branch and chopped
  • 150gr (4-5 oz) crumbled feta
  • 2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Directions:

Place the lamb into a bowl. Combine scallions, garlic and herbs in a food processor, and mince. Add to meat, together with feta, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine and form patties. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side (you can sear them in a cast-iron skillet for 3-4 minutes per side with the same results). Serve on the bun or a pita, with a Greek salad.

This is a perfect recipe for Get Grillin’!, the event hosted by Marla of Family Fresh Cooking and Dara of Cookin’ Canuck.

Summer grill blogger event hosted by food blogs

“Get Grillin’ with Family Fresh Cooking and Cookin’ Canuck, sponsored by Ile de France CheeseRösle,Emile HenryRouxbe and ManPans.

I have submitted this post to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Marija from Palachinka, my fellow Serb and a wonderful photographer.

This also goes by the way of Two for Tuesdays, one of my favorite food blog events.

Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hop