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 052013
 

Kale Sprouts with New Potatoes from bibberche.com

A long time ago I read that baby animals are cute on purpose, to make us like them and protect them. I can’t say that I loved our several cats and dogs any less when they became fully grown, but I definitely lamented the passage of time that rid them of their round, fluffy faces, innocent playfullness and adorable tininess.

As a child I wished for a potion that would stop the kittens from becoming cats and puppies for becoming dogs. At the same time, I could not wait until my next birthday and rejoiced at every centimeter that added to my height. I envisioned my teenage self at seventh grade, yet I brought home countless animal orphans I encountered on my meandering way back from school, all of them very young, very neglected, and always abandoned. Alas, Mother would not allow me to nurture these pathetic specimens until adulthood and as soon as they gathered strength, I had to release them into the world, shedding uncontrolable tears and saying long, melodramatic goodbyes.

Kale Sprouts from bibberche.com

I did not stop driving my Mother crazy with my penchant for all things miniscule even when I became an adult. I had to fend off her exasperated looks when I gulitily placed on the kitchen table the tiniest new potatoes I could find at the farmers’ market, the slimmest carrots, cornichon-sized cucumbers and ripe, locally grown tomatoes slightly bigger than golf balls. My onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers destined for the ubiquitous Serbian summer salad were daintily cut in half-inch pieces, and I vehemently defended my approach as I wanted the flavors to meld and each spoonful to have some of all the vegetables present.

To this day I have not changed. I secretly yearn to adopt a teacup chihuahua or two and keep them in my purse. I wish I could bring home the whole litter of kittens found abandoned in a neighborhood church’s cellar. I still cut the food on my plate in the tiniest bites and pick the smallest specimens at the farmers’ market. I look at my leggy teenage girls and see the round-faced babies they used to be, perfectly fitting in the crook of my arm as I rocked them to sleep with one of my Serbian lullabies.

The world of miniatures enchants me and it takes a big dose of reality to make me resist the pull of speckled quails’ eggs beckoning from the shelves of our local Persian market. And when I opened a box from Melissa’s Produce that arrived a few weeks back, I whirled around whispering terms of endearment looking at the cuteness in front of me embodied in boxes of delicate baby kiwis and colorful kale sprouts.

Kale Sprouts from bibberche.com

Baby kiwis looked just like regular kiwis that experienced a shot of Rick Moranis’ special ammunition and shrunk, except that they were hairless and soft-skinned. Kale sprouts, on the other hand, resembled no plant I have seen so far. I examined them thoroughly from all sides, admiring vivid purple that marbled deep green in the perky leaves. They looked like something Liliputians would plant to fool Gulliver, a doll-house variety of  Brussels sprout that had a menage-a-trois with cabbage and kale.

Mesmerized as I was, I knew that I had to prepare them in a way that would preserve their resplendent coloring and keep their texture from going too soft. There is a dish served at the Adriatic to accompany grilled fish that is made with cubed potatoes, Swiss chard and garlic. It is simple and unassuming, but flavorful and satisfying at the same time. I thought that these purple and green bundles would be a perfect fit for such a dish, especially if I paired them with sweet new potatoes.

Kale Sprouts from bibberche.com

The final result did not look, nor taste like the original, just like the kale sprouts did not look like anything familiar when I fist examined them. Yet, what I ended up with was a dish that celebrates spring, its freshness and color. Slight bitterness of kale sprouts was mellowed by sweetness of new potatoes, and garlic, while not assertive, brought a distinctive fresh note to the mix.

Even though I was convinced from the beginning that odd little sprouts would not disappoint, I felt victorious. I did not do the chosing this time, Mother, but the miniatures worked for me again!

Kale Sprouts with New Potatoes from bibberche.com

The Magic of Miniatures: Sauteed Kale Sprouts with New Potatoes and Garlic
5.0 from 1 reviews

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Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Kale sprouts are a hybrid of Russian red kale and Brussels sprouts, looser that the sporuts, but more compact than kale. They should not be cooked too long lest they lose they crispiness and color.
Ingredients
  • 6-7 new potatoes, halved
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 packages kale sprouts, halved
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.
  2. Add the salt and cook until the water boils on high temperature.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot and cook for another 10 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.
  4. Drain the water.
  5. Heat the oil at medium-low heat and add garlic.
  6. Sautee until it softens a bit, for about 30 seconds.
  7. Add kale sprouts and stir to coat them with the garlicky oil.
  8. After 30-60 seconds, add stock and scrape the bottom of the pan.
  9. When the liquid boils, add the potatoes, salt, and pepper and continue cooking until most of the stock has evaporated, 3-5 minutes.

I was not the only one that experimented with kale sprouts. Some of my friends came up with a few fabulous recipes that showcase them in all their glory:

Shockingly Delicious - Introducing Kale Sprouts

Cooking on the Weekend - Roasted Kale Sprout Salad with Pickled Beets, Mandarins and Spicy Pecans

A Communal Table - Pan Roasted Kale Sprouts with Farro

Jolly Tomato - Kale Sprouts with Pistachios

Mama Likes to Cook - Kale Sprouts and Scrambled Eggs

I have not been compensated for this post, but I received a box full of gorgeous baby vegetables and fruits from Melissa’s Produce. I hope you don ‘t doubt for a second that the opinions expressed in my writing are all my own:)

Mar 092013
 

Savoy Cabbage with Quinoa from bibberche.com

My parents traveled a lot when we were growing up and I cannot even begin to describe the excitement we felt each time when we sneaked out of our room well after midnight, after Njanja was sound asleep and snoring in her bed; we were eagerly awaiting their return on the living room couch. We learned very fast that Mother spent her free time wisely, looking for unusual gifts for us, and could not wait until the morning to watch her unpack and hand out carefully picked toys, crafts and books.

We were the first kids in school to make watercolors using more than twelve shades and the only ones in the neighborhood who had a set of beautifully crafted and detailed medieval army, complete with horses, their riders, and infantry. We spent hours playing with miniature traffic signs aligned along the imaginary streets, learning the rules without even trying. We loaned our friends thick coloring books and could not even imagine going to a sleepover without toting the game of “Life”.

After these trips our pantry and refrigerator would fill out with stinky cheeses, shiny olives, mysterious patés, delectable chocolates, and unusual liqueurs. They mostly shared their spoils with their friends, but we had the first dibs, and in time our curiosity won and we started to enjoy these exotic products still unknown in our town. New and unusual food products stopped to scare us and we embraced the unfamiliar tastes and learned how to appreciate the foods that were not ordinary and common.

When we traveled together as the family, the meals were almost always something we looked forward to. Eager to sample the best an area had to offer, we all usually ordeded different dishes in order to share and experience as much as we could. We never picked the wiener schnitzel and pommes frites (aka french fries), a staple that can be found in any European restaurant, just like we never stayed in Holliday Inn-type hotels. We wanted adventure and yearned for challenges, leaving comforting, standard and known to less intrepid travelers.

It is only natural that my girls never found children’s menu exciting. I chuckled when my ex-husband complained about Nina’s love and appreciation of more choicy types of seafood when she visited him in Florida as a first grader. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy when Zoe wanted mussels for her fifth birthday party, even though I had to intervene and convince her that her friends might prefer pizza. And when I ask for dinner suggestions, one of the first things Anya would shout is Chicken Livers!

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Plenty more recipes to come!

When I received a copy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet from Melissa’s Produce, written by Cathy Thomas and photographed by Angie Cao, my mind went into the adventure-seeking mode and I chose to make recipes that went against my comfort zone. I don’t know anyone in my home town who ate Savoy cabbage besides my family, thanks to Mother, who incorporated her Central-European culinary influences into our daily lives. Her dish paired this unusual cruciferous vegetable with pork, celery leaves, potatoes and garlic, making a soup/stew kind of dish, very satisfying and warm, perfect for chilly nights that we have been experiencing lately.

But Cathy Thomas offered a drastically different approach and I knew instantly that we would accept the challenge and enjoy the outcome. Mother would be proud that I tackled Savoy cabbage in a new way, testing my girls’ palates and pushing them towards culinary adventures. As I have bookmarked almost every page, we are in for a great culinary trip.

This gorgeous book is available for purchase at some selective grocery store chains (Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres) and online on melissas.com. The hard cover edition will be distributed to most bookstores throughout the nation in April.

Savoy Cabbage with Quinoa from bibberche.com

SAUTÉED PEPPERS WITH SAVOY, RAISINS AND QUINOA

Recipe courtesy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet by Cathy Thomas (Chronichle Books, San Francisco); reprinted with permission.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry red quinoa
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 2 yellow red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • ½ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped Savoycabbage
  • 1 ½  teaspoons balsamic vinegar

 Directions:

1. Combine the quinoa with 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil on high heat. Cover and decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Gently stir and set it off heat, covered.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the peppers and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the raisins and fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the peppers are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and vinegar. Stir to combine and cook until the cabbage is limp, about 4 minutes.

3. Divide the quinoa between eight small bowls. Taste the pepper mixture and adjust the seasoning with vinegar, salt, and/or pepper. Spoon the cabbage mixture over the quinoa. If desired, top each serving with some feta cheese. Serve.

Red Quinoa from bibberche.com

Thanks, Robert Schueller and Melissa’s Produce for your beautiful, fresh edibles!

 

Feb 162013
 

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

We did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in Serbia  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.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

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.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Pits and pulp are full of pectin

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.

Seville Orange Juice from bibberche.com

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 caress, 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 balloons 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 there 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 carrying 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 from bibberche.com

Fragrant Seville Oranges from Melissa’s Produce

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 from bibberche.com

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen Seville oranges
  • 3 Meyer lemons (mine were from my neighbor’s tree)
  • 4 cups water
  • 7 cups sugar

 Directions:

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 that’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 translucent. 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, it’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!

Jan 222013
 
Lenti Bulgur Pilaf from bibberche.com

Photo by my 3G iPhone. No comment.

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

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

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

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky

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

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

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

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions from bibberche.com

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

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

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

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

(MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

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

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oct 032012
 

 

pita sa jabukama / apple strudel, from bibberche.com

I’ve heard the phrase “As American as baseball and apple pie” many times as a child, watching old black-and-white American movies and enjoying translated comics that ended up in  Politikin Zabavnik, my favorite magazine that came out on Fridays. I was not familiar with baseball and as far as I was concerned, Americans were more than welcome to call that mysterious and foreign game their own. But apple pie was another matter completely.

I am Serbian through and through, with some spicy and adventurous Hungarian blood thrown in by known sources, and possibly some dark, unpredictable, hedonistic Turkish genes that sneaked in unrecognized and illegitimate during centuries of Ottoman occupation. But American I am not, and neither was the apple pie that I grew up with.

It would not occur to me or any of my friends to steal a freshly baked pie cooling on the window-sill like Dennis the Menace frequently did to Mrs. Wilson. And it seemed absolutely absurd to throw a baked pie into someone’s face like I saw in so many silent movies. I innocently concluded that the American apple pies were not as respected as ours and that American mothers and grandmothers did not really care if their desserts were stolen, thrown, or destroyed in any of the savage and thoughtless ways Hollywood showed us. At times I even considered the possibility that an American apple pie was prepared for anything else but eating. But the apple pie that came out of the orange and brown kitchen of my childhood was something different.

Come September, Serbian hills show off branches laden with plums, pears, and apples, and yards and cellars fill up with crates of the abundant fruit. Fragile plums are turned into slivowitz, the potent plum brandy that cannot be replicated in an industrial facility. Dainty pears are preserved in sweet syrup and sturdy and resilient apples are stored throughout the cold months. Often snubbed by us as too prolific and passed by in favor of more exotic bananas and pineapple, they still unselfishly permeated the dewy cellars with their fragrance, masking the musky smell of wine barrels.

 

jabuke / apples, from bibberche.com

The apple pie was not a special dessert made for holidays and celebrations. It was an everyday sweet dish made for the family and relatives who visited so often that they were not considered guests. It was not meant to impress, but to satisfy and offer comfort. And in the late afternoons of early Fall, when we would return from school after the afternoon shift, chasing the last rays of sun and catching the first subtle hints of northern winds, the smell of apples and cinnamon greeting us at the door made us forget all our worries.

As the powder sugar flecked our hands and our teeth bit into flaky, crispy phylo dough on the way to still warm and soft sweet apples in the middle, we regaled Mother with stories of friends and enemies, of tests gone bad, of teachers proud and disdainful, of secret crushes and annoying pursuers. Our day would be wrapped in the pastry that melted in our mouths and soft, fragrant essence of the fruit that made us feel safe, warm, and loved.

September meeting of our Food Bloggers LA group celebrated Fall fruit, apples and pears. Even though the temperatures in Southern California have been in triple digits for weeks, I was ready to shift gears and start thinking of more robust and heartier dishes. In the end, I decided to make a Serbian apple pie, eager to share comforting smells of my childhood with my friends.

Voce - fruit from bibberche.com

Bounty from Father’s ranch

SERBIAN APPLE PIE OR APPLE STRUDEL 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (500g) phylo dough
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sunflower oil
  • 3 lbs apples (about 6 large, crisp apples, like Gala, Braeburn or Honeycrisp), peeled and grated (large holes)
  • 8 tsp granulated sugar (or more, if your apples are tart)
  • 4 Tbsp cream of wheat (farina)
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla sugar (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet (it should be as long as a sheet of phylo)

Unwrap the phylo sheets and place them on your counter.

Divide them in four piles (the number of sheets differs depending on the manufacturer).

Each pile will make one roll.

Mix water and oil in a small bowl.

Spread one sheet of phylo in front of you, keeping the rest covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel.

Sprinkle with water and oil.

Place another sheet of phylo on  top and sprinkle with water and oil.

Repeat the process until you have four phylo sheets on top of each other.

Spread ¼ of the apples all over the top sheet, leaving 1 inch border along the longer sides.

Sprinkle with 2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbsp farina, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar.

Roll all four sheets together, starting from the longer side facing you.

Carefully transfer the roll to the prepared cookie sheet.

Repeat with the other phylo sheets.

If you have more than 16 sheets in your package (more than four sheets per roll), you might have to apply filling twice.

Brush the rolls with water and oil mixture and bake for 30-45 minutes, until golden brown.

Let it cool slightly. Slice each roll into pieces and dust with powdered sugar.

VARIATION: You can apply a little bit of filling to each sheet and then form a roll.

apple strudel, from bibberche.com

Sep 282012
 

salad with figs, goat cheese, and pecans from bibberche.com

I remember the two steps to the entrance of our yellow bungalow; I remember eating cold whipped cream “Ledo” with a square plastic spoon on our way to the beach; it was packed in a paper cup and it tasted like milk, vanilla, and freshly churned butter; I remember holding several really big, skinny books Mother and Father bought me at the fair; I remember the feel of hot pebbles and cool Adriatic caressing my chubby, four year old feet; I remember the ease with which my younger sister made friends with the kids next door, while I hid behind a huge aloe vera plant and bit my nails; I remember a paper cone filled with warm figs Father brought from the market and spilled on top of our oversized striped beach towel; and I remember how I watched the weird-looking fruit with suspicion, doubting its real identity, invoking the images of Christmas Eve and amber-colored, chewy, and wrinkled pillows filled with sweet seeds that exploded when bitten.

Father bit into a slightly soft, light brown fig to reveal fleshy pulp the color of my tongue, and when his eyes closed in delight I trusted him without a question. I reached for one tentatively; my sister followed, and pretty soon we were running to the sea to wash off the sticky, pink rivulets that laced our tanned limbs, as we crunched the small seeds between our molars, trying to extract the last traces of the exotic honey taste that enchanted us.

Budva, 1968, from bibberche.com

For years, the only time I enjoyed figs was on the beaches of the Adriatic, and I almost forgot my initial infatuation. It all came back eight years ago when my sister and I took my three girls to the seaside in the town of Igalo in Montenegro. We were too lazy to go to the farmers’ market in the heat of the midday, and not willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to avoid it, but dark-haired and handsome teenagers who patrolled the beaches were not offering only small frosted bottles of Fanta and chocolate-covered mini donuts that would invariably attract the girls’ attention, but also baskets of warm figs, as ripe and swollen with seeds as that long-gone day Father offered them to us as a gift.

My daughters were older and not as trusting as we were. Anya was skeptical and doubtful, squeezing one unfortunate specimen between her fingers, dissecting it with her nails, breaking small pieces off and placing them carefully in her mouth, taking her time in getting to know this new fruit. Zoe, on the other hand, mesmerized by the dark rose interior and completely beguiled by the honey-taste and tiny crunchy seeds, grabbed a handful. My sister and I did not need a prompt, and our pile disappeared quickly, leaving our fingers, mouths, and cheeks sticky and sweet, and our faces brightened with smiles of contentment.

We ate our weight in figs that summer and my girls fell in love with that dowdy-looking Mediterranean fruit that hides its brilliant essence so skillfully. For years to come that was the only thing they wanted from friends and relatives who vacationed on the Adriatic coast when we happened to spend our summers in Serbia.

Igalo from bibberche.com

my sister and my girls

But now we live in Southern California and even though figs are everywhere, in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, on neighborhood trees, I behave as if I still had not received the memo and grab a box greedily every time I see one. And the fruit disappears as fast, sneaky long fingers plucking them one by one, until only their plastic containers remain.

Even though I admit to absconding with a few of the figs myself, I managed to save a dozen to use in the salad that all of a sudden is not a luxury. It came together so easily, as if I had been making it for years. Yes, my fingers tried to steal a few slices before they hit the salad bowl, but my restraint was formidable and we were rewarded with a glorious mound of spring greens dotted with crumbled goat cheese, sparkling candied pecans, and soft, sweet wheels of figs. Not even the presence of arugula, whose bodacious flavors the girls still have to discover, managed to deter them from clearing their plates and proclaiming it one of the best salads ever.

SALAD WITH FRESH FIGS, CANDIED PECANS, AND GOAT CHEESE
Print

Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
The flavors are bold and contrasting, but they come together in harmony, complementing each other.
Ingredients
  • Salad:
  • A big pile of mixed spring greens (enough for everyone)
  • 6-8 ripe figs, sliced into rounds
  • a handful of candied pecans
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • balsamic vinaigrette:
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Mix all the ingredients for salad in a big bowl.
  2. Pour balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper into a small glass jar (I save the jars from salsa, capers, artichokes, etc. and use them for emulsifying my dressings).
  3. Close the lid tightly and shake vigorously for ten seconds, to allow vinegar and oil to become friendly.
  4. Pour immediately on top of salad and toss lightly.

 

Aug 272012
 

Branzino from bibberche.com

The road from my Aunt’s and Uncle’s house in Montenegro to the beach spiraled around the hills sparsely covered with yellowed weed and resilient and hardened Mediterranean bushes. The heat radiated from the asphalt and the crickets kept me in rhythm as I became aware of the smell I missed for years: the smell of the Adriatic. I live a short walk away from the Pacific and every time I leave the apartment, I take time to breathe in the briny ocean air, but there is something different and seductive about the Adriatic.

When I entered its turquoise blue water for the first time after a few years, it felt as if I were hit by a bullet train full of memories. In an instant, I re-lived my childhood and adolescence; a pink balloon shaped as a rabbit, almost bigger than I was at age four in Budva; a creamy bite of pistachio gelato from BaÅ¡ka Voda; the lavender smell of pillows and blankets in our room in Dubrovnik; grilled squid from Brela; the bold and energizing tang of the pine branches that protected our tents at the beach on the island of Pag; the electrifying touch of my boyfriend’s hand while we walked in the surf in Biograd; a glass jar of strong home-made red wine I shared with my sister in Igalo; the still too-hot-to-touch paper cones filled with fried smelt in BaÅ¡ko Polje; sharing the elevator with a beautiful blond German boy when I was thirteen in Srebreno; the feel of cobble-stones underneath my bare feet in Hvar; a crumbly, dry, salty cheese we tried to cut into in Makarska; the excitement of sneaking away from my senior class on a field trip in Portorož; and the precise moment when I was convinced that a guitar cannot sound better anywhere else in the world than at midnight on an Adriatic beach.

Adriatic from bibberche.com

I could not get enough of that briny high, helplessly lost in the magical world of remembrances, inebriated from the feel-good warmth that cocooned me as I swam, and dove, and jumped, and floated, pretending to follow the girls around in their silliness. While I was in the water, nothing else mattered. Nothing could come between me and the beauty that surrounded me, real or resurrected. I was riding the wave of endorphins even on my trek back home, up the hill, under the merciless southern sun, accompanied only by the unstoppable crickets and the gut-wrenching whining coming from the three girls who dragged their feet and begged me to send for the car.

As I turned the water on in the shower, I licked the salt off my still warm shoulder and savored the intensity of the sea, trying to delay the inevitable sobering up. The water washed the salt off my body and the sand from my hair, but the minute remains on my tongue kept me smiling for another few moments, just in time for the gaggle of girls to burst through the door kicking and shoving, racing each other to the shower stall.

Branzino from bibberche.com

I could not feel even a whisper of a breeze as I made my way to the stone-covered patio. Parsley and rosemary edged the garden and shimmered in the heat haze and the whole world seemed to move in slow motion. Father had retreated to his room for a siesta. Uncle slowly rose from his chair behind the wooden picnic table and, toting his ice-cold beer, brought out of the fridge a metal bowl full of silver and rosy fish, their eyes bright and shiny, the scales reflecting the harsh noon sun. He had bought a dozen branzini at a near-by fishing village that morning, sending the money down on a rope pulley and receiving a bag of just caught fish in return.

Branzino from bibberche.com

When I was a child, I could not run far enough away when Mother scaled and gutted the fish, afraid that I would be summoned to help somehow, feeling disgusted and well above those tedious and odious chores. But now I stood mesmerized as I watched my Uncle clean one branzino after the other, laying them back gently into their bowl, and then placing a sprig of rosemary and a sprinkle of coarse salt between the sides. They rested on a board, aligned like soldiers and covered with a netted screen for an hour to dry out. In the meantime, he made the fire in the vast outside oven, layering the wood coals, crumpled newspapers, and pine cones in a metal trough big enough to grill a meal for a squadron.

Branzino from bibberche.com

Once the fire subsided, he dragged the fish through olive oil and placed them on the hot grates, brushing them with more oil as they cooked. After ten minutes, he turned them, anointed them again, sprinkled some salt on top, and let them finish grilling until their skin was golden and crackling, their eyes opaque, and fins and tails deliciously crispy. When he laid the platter on the table, it looked like the food of gods, flanked by a simple Serbian potato salad, fresh home-made bread, hearty Montenegrin red wine, lemon slices, and the “marinade” -  fragrant mix of olive oil, parsley, and garlic.

The first flaky and sweet bite sent me on another high wave. Looking at the girls in summer dresses, with their faces kissed by sun, their long fingers greasy from the fish, their eyes glistening with content, I felt immensely happy, grateful for this day filled with simple gifts that touched all my senses and awoke the sentiments of excitement and peace at the same time.

Branzino from bibberche.com

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