Oct 092012

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This month’s Recipe Swap, started by Christianna Rheinhard of Burwell General Store, features a Russian Salad, a side dish very close to my homesick Serbian heart. When I was growing up, you did not dare invite people over for a dinner or a celebration in the Fall or Winter without offering an immense bowl filled with Russian salad (it goes without saying that a roasted suckling pig would have been the centerpiece of the table, no matter what).

Mother always made mayonnaise from scratch and enlisted our help in dicing the other ingredients, which had to be cut into the equally-sized tiny cubes. She would cook them all separately: the eggs, the carrots, the potatoes, and the chicken breast. Frozen peas were blanched for a minute or two and added in the end, along with ham and pickles. No herring, onions, or beats in the Serbian version. To this day, I welcome in every new Year with a bowl of this nostalgic condiment, and the taste reminds me of every single December I spent in my parents’ house.

I was tempted to make the Serbian-Russian salad, but for me it needs a special date, a celebration, or someone’s birthday. My College Critter is not home bound until November, when our first birthday celebrations start. As she is mildly obsessed with all things Russian, due more to her choice of a major than to her Ukrainian boyfriend, I am sure that she will insist on making the Capitol or French salad (as the Russians call our ubiquitous Russian salad) for her twenty-first birthday.

October Recipe Swap from bibberche.com

Meanwhile, prompted by a wish from my elderly neighbor, I made a simple egg salad that my girls crave, and that they will be happy to find in their brown bag school lunches.

As I pride myself on being organized (which mainly means that I dread getting up too early in the morning to prepare their lunches) I boiled the eggs in the afternoon and allowed them to cool off before peeling them. I made mayo from scratch, as I dutifully do once a week. At night I diced onions, celery, pickles, and eggs, and made the salad with an additional pinch of salt and a grind or two of black pepper. The covered bowl went into the fridge overnight to meld the flavors together.

I am the last one in the house to go to bed and the first to get up. But I am a night owl and much sharper at the wee hours of the night then early in the morning. Therefore, before I leave the kitchen for the night, I fill two small water bottles and place them in the fridge. I lay lunch paper bags on the counter, along with a Sharpie and a stapler. I pick two pieces of fruit from the fruit bowl and place them next to the bags. And if need be, I write myself a note as a reminder, just to make my mornings less stressful and more manageable.

As my Turkish coffee cools off, I try to get in step with this syncopated morning dance, moving from the stove to the counter and back, preparing the breakfast and packing the lunch, satisfied only when the bags are stapled and clearly marked (with a carb count clearly written on Zoe’s bag), and the girls are perching on the stools along the counter, ready to attack the plates laden with food in front of them.

Come December, I will make a traditional Russian salad and post a recipe for it. But for now, I offer a classic egg salad that my girls and I learned to love, a dish almost scorned and abandoned by many, just like my beloved Serbian-Russian salad.

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This open-faced beauty was my lunch



  • 5 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 small pickles, diced
  • ½ yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ cup mayonnaise, store-bought or homemade
  • salt and pepper to taste


Place eggs, pickles, onions, and celery into a bowl. Add mayonnaise, and stir to combine. Season to taste and serve.

Sep 102012

Chiles Rellenos with Picadillo from bibberche.com

It’s been a few months that I did not participate in my favorite online culinary exchange Recipe Swaps. Oh, I was ambitious when I set sails for Serbia earlier in the summer, intending on reporting about various farmers’ markets I visited, foods I tasted and I enjoyed, dinners al fresco and at restaurants, and family meals I prepared in the warmth of our family’s kitchen. But life intervened and my good wishes were dispersed in an instant. My blog suffered and I missed the interchange with my virtual friends scattered all over the globe.

Things happened and hours in the day were too few. My muse was like a flitting fairy, here in one second, gone in the next, and the rhythm of my days over there was so syncopated that I could not plan anything even one hour ahead. I am not complaining, even though some of those hours were saturated with grief of the deepest kind; I was fortunate to spend a few weeks with people I loved who loved me in return. We cried and we laughed intermittently; we reminisced and remembered, filling each other’s stories with our own  almost forgotten details; we spent long minutes in silent embraces, our shoulders wet from tears; we sat at a long, disjointed table in the yard underneath the eave, drinking Father’s golden-hued, homemade slivovitz and listening to the ballads that marked our youth; we allowed ourselves to get lost in bygone years, reaching to the past to get that special feeling back, the feeling of unwavering hope, unbridled energy, and the unstoppable zest for life yet to come.

Hatch Chiles from bibberche.comThe weeks I spent overseas were therapeutic, sobering, and mind-awakening. I drifted between sorrow and exultation; after my mom died, I sniffed her  pillow knowing that even the faintest whiff of her smell would make me cry for hours; minutes later I would be laughing with my sister as we remembered the funniest moments of our childhood, Mother making faces, cracking jokes, and instigating some seriously funny mischief.

I returned to the U.S. filled with energy, ready to tackle all the obstacles of  life, prepared to face all the demons I was hiding from for so many years. My smile is bright, my skin is shining, and my mind is set on finding the right path for my future. My friends love my new aura of self-confidence, and I bask in the glow of their appreciation.

As if she could guess seemingly antagonistic thoughts occupying my head, our group leader and founder Christianna, from Burwell General Store, challenged us to recreate Pork Fruit Cake from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook for this month’s Recipe Swap. Ground pork paired with molasses, cloves, and raisins, mixed with flour and baked into a cake? An impossible task at first glance.

recipeswap, pork fruit cake from bibberche.com

I channeled all the contradictions of my present life and conjured up a vision of a dish containing many of the given ingredients,  celebrating their bold, yet complementing tastes. Picadillo sounded just right, with its sweet plump raisins and exotic spices not often paired with pork (at least not where I come from). Piquant Hatch chiles are at the peak of their season and I used a batch I had roasted a couple of days ago as a cradle for this fragrant sauce. When their soft flesh closed around the filling, and the icy touch of the freezer made them more compliant, I rolled them in the flour and the beaten eggs, and fried them gently until they were perfectly browned and crispy.

All the flavors from rice, tomato sauce, and stuffed peppers melded together even as they jumped individually, asserting themselves one by one: the sweet and tart of cranberries mellowing out the spicy notes of Hatch chiles, the cumin in rice finding the cumin in the tomato sauce, the nutty crunch of roasted almonds welcome alongside crumbled, slightly tart pork.

I am slowly settling back into my American routine, each new day another challenge I gladly accept with my new-found energy, even though I am still partially overseas, roaming the house that holds so many memories, smiling through tears, confident that the best of life is ahead of me.

Roasted Hatch Chiles from bibberche.com


Loosely adapted from Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bailess


Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp lard or bacon fat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor or a blender
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup chicken broth


  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2lb ground pork (or beef)
  • 2 Tbsp milk*
  • 1 cup reserved tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (usually it’s the raisins required by the recipe, but my girls don’t like them)
  • ½ Tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but you can add one of your choice)


  • 12 Hatch chiles (or 6 poblanos), roasted and peeled ( destemmed mine, but it’s easier if you leave the stem on and clean only the seeds)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour+1Tbsp
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • oil for frying
*I always add a few tablespoons of milk when  work with ground meat; it softens it so it breaks easier, thus avoiding big lumps; I saw this tip a long time ago on a food TV show featuring an Italian chef.


Heat the lard or bacon fat on medium-low temperature. Add the onions and garlic, and sautee until translucent and soft, about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves, and simmer for another 25-30 minutes, until it thickens.

Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for picadillo.

Add the chicken broth to the rest of the sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat and add almonds. Stir for 1-2 minutes until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove the almonds and add the pork to the skillet along with milk. Break the meat clusters with a wooden spoon and sautee until equally browned and crispy on the edges.

Mix in the tomato sauce, dried cranberries, and vinegar and stir until combined, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

Make a slit in each pepper and remove all the seeds, trying to keep the stem intact (I failed at this, but it still worked). Place about 1 Tbsp of picadillo filling in the middle and wrap the sides of the pepper gently over it. Place on the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When all the peppers are stuffed, put the pan in the freezer for about 1 hour, for easier frying.

Separate the eggs. Whip the whites until firm, but not rigid. Add salt and yolks. In the end mix in the 1 Tbsp of flour.

Heat the non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add enough oil for frying, about 1 inch in depth.

Roll the peppers in the flour and then in the egg mixture. Place them in the skillet, four at the time. After 2-3 minutes, when golden brown, flip them with a spatula and fry for another 1-2 minutes until the other side is done (the egg burns easily, so be careful). Place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Continue until all the peppers are fried.

Spoon some of the sauce on a plate and place a couple of peppers on top. I served mine with Mexican rice and even though Hatch chiles managed to pack some serious heat, the girls and I enjoyed the dish.

Picadillo from bibberche.com


Apr 182012

Roasted Tomato Soup from bibberche.com

I met Christianna of Burwell General Store blog last May at a BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. We stayed up one night over a bottle or two of really good red wine and a sparkle of friendship was ignited. Even though both of us call Southern California our home, we have been getting to know one another mostly through emails and Twitter. We have so much in common and talking to her feels as if I were speaking to an old friend who can finish my sentences and predict my next thought.

Christianna started Recipe Swap in December 2010, and I joined the wonderful group of bloggers about a year ago. Each month she picks a vintage recipe from an old cookbook she unearthed at a flea-market and throws a culinary challenge to us: we have to be creative and use our inspiration and imagination to twist the recipe, mold it to reflect our personalities and tastes, and give it another life and another form. Every month, on the day when our posts appear, I read the stories and innovative incarnations of the same recipe, delighted each time by unique approaches to a simple list of ingredients.

We have tackled jelly cakewild rabbit with vegetables, hot slaw with mayonnaise dressingmaple syrup cakeToll House cookies, zabaglione, and wild rice dressing, and I am mesmerized again and again by the limitless possibilities of the human mind to modify, adjust, and re-create.

Since December of 2011, we have been working through the book The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places, compiled in 1954. Our recipe for April is Tomato Pudding, a specialty side dish offered by Hotel Dilworth, a B&B in Boyne, Michigan.

Tomato Pudding

I had never eaten bread pudding as a child in Serbia; it was a dish I discovered only when I landed, wide-eyed, on the shores of the New World. When I looked at the ingredients for tomato pudding, I sat speechless for several minutes, blinking in confusion, trying to envision a butterfly emerging from a non-descript cocoon hiding in this unappetizing pile of stuff. Bread, boiling water, tomato purée, and a whole cup of brown sugar?

As the fog slowly lifted, ideas started coming to me tentatively. I locked on panzanella, a wonderfully simple Italian peasant dish that combines chunks of crusty, stale bread and sun-ripened tomatoes. But even though I live in Southern California, sun-ripened tomatoes are not here yet, and the bland, store-bought, perfectly round, soulless impersonators could not make the salad sing.

roasted tomatoes from bibberche.comBut then I thought of tomato soup and imagined a crispy, golden-brown grilled cheese sandwich on the side plate next to the bowl of soup.  Once I firmly grabbed that idea by its tail, I clung onto it, delving deeper, putting the plan of action together, with a vision of a comforting meal filled with assertive and complimenting flavors.

Instead of using fresh, inferior tomatoes from the grocery store, I bought a few pounds of meaty Roma tomatoes and roasted them to intensify their sweet notes. I added a roasted red pepper to add a bit of smokiness and texture, as well as another punch of sweetness. I mellowed the harshness of onions and garlic by roasting them, too, and threw in a bunch of thyme and basil to bring out the bold taste of Italian summer in the country.Roasted Tomatoes from bibberche.com

For the grilled cheese sandwich, I chose to pair a robust and hardy Tuscan-style bread with mild and barely nutty Gruyère cheese and slowly caramelized onions finished with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The sandwich mimicked the deep flavors of the soup with a hint of smokiness and that wonderful agro-dolce note.

roasted tomatoesOnce again, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment as my girls and I sat at the table and started eating. The soup was hearty and satisfying, the sandwich a perfect accompaniment with its crunchy texture and mild, melting cheese that trapped caramelized onions in its strings.

I am grateful that I am a part of the vintage Recipe Swap and proud of yet another successful metamorphosis. This is a busy time for both Christianna and me, but now that I have moved even closer, I don’t need a crystal ball to imagine the two of us sitting under the awning of a restaurant somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway sipping a glass of crisp Prosecco, while the waves break against the beach just a few yards beyond.



  • 2 lbs Roma tomatoes (about 10 larger ones)
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • a few basil leaves (optional)
  • coarse salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 large red pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded, and chopped into large chunks
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 300F.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place, cut side up, on a cookie sheet brushed with olive oil (I dipped the cut side into the oil on the bottom and then flipped the tomatoes up – it seemed easier than sprinkling them with oil afterwards). Season with salt and bake for several hours, until shriveled and dark red in color.

Turn the heat of the oven up to 350F. Place onions, garlic, and thyme on a cookie sheet (I used a cast iron skillet), sprinkle with salt and a little bit of olive oil and roast for 25-30 minutes, until softened.

Discard the thyme and squeeze the garlic cloves out of their peels.

In a heavy soup pot combine the tomatoes, roasted onions, garlic, and red pepper. Add 4 cups of water, season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper and heat until the first bubbles appear. Turn off the heat and puree in a blender in batches until creamy and relatively smooth. (Be very careful as the lid can fly off the blender once it starts and you can get burned by hot soup – yes, I am talking from first-hand experience!)

Roasted Tomato Soup from bibberche.com


(I had a leftover clove of roasted garlic from the soup and I rubbed the insides of my bread with it, but. It gave the sandwich another layer of depth, pairing well with the garlic in the soup.)


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • country style bread (I used Tuscan Country Bread from Trader Joe’s)
  • Gruyere, sliced
  • butter
Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add onions and cook them for 30-40 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Sprinkle with salt and add balsamic vinegar. Cook for another few minutes until the liquid reduces and thickens.
Heat a skillet on medium heat. When hot, add a pat of butter (about 1 teaspoon). Place the cheese to completely cover one slice of bread and pile caramelized onions on top. Cover with another slice of bread and press. Carefully place into the skillet and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, lightly pressing with a spatula. Lift the sandwich and add another pat of butter to the skillet. Flip the sandwich and cook for another couple of minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Cut it in two and serve with soup or without.
I know that you will find the inspiration in the creative takes on this recipe from my fellow participants.

Feb 052012

Freekeh, Onion, and Mushroom Dressing from bibberche.com

The first Sunday of the month marks the time to write another Recipe Swap post. Ever since I became a member of the group almost a year ago, I have been looking forward to these challenges. Each old-fashioned recipe that Christianna from Burwell General Store chooses for us from retro cookbooks she finds at flea markets throws me into a whirlwind of thinking, pondering, imagining, and dissecting. We are not supposed to replicate the recipe as written, but rather to change it, make it our own, adapt it so it reflects our experiences, preferences, tastes, and personalities. Once the idea takes hold and solidifies, there are hundreds of what ifs and how abouts that run through my head as I surrender to my perfectionism and start fretting about the end result.

So far, I’ve managed to pull off every single challenge without any snags and I feel confident. Once I hit Publish, I pat myself on the shoulder and embark on the most enjoyable part of the process: exploring my friends’ blogs and discovering all the variations on the given recipe prompt. There are not two that are alike, and month after month I am amazed at the versatility and creativity of our group.

This month, this Wild Rice Dressing recipe came from another junk-store find, Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Placeswhich features the best dishes of restaurants found all over the country. This one originated in Pine Tavern in Bend, Oregon. It looked pretty straight-forward, even though I veered off the familiar dressing recipe only a few years ago, nudged by my curiosity and somewhat nomadic culinary tendencies. For years, I made the southern corn bread dressing that Husband brought with him when he migrated north from rural Georgia (I revel in any opportunity that will allow me to mention his place of origin, especially if I can make it juicier and mention that the mountains and river gorge near his great grandmother’s Tallulah Falls home was where they filmed “Deliverance”).

Once I found out that he would not make any attempts at secession, having his traditional family tastes satisfied throughout the years, I spread my wings and experimented with various ingredients and techniques. But this approach misfired this last Thanksgiving when my middle daughter asked me to make the same dressing as I made the previous year. Predictably, she remembered only that it tasted great, without mentioning what it consisted of. I might have stumbled on the future family tradition, but it slipped through my fingers as I did not remember to write it down, even though I have a folder on my desktop devoted solely to grading and commenting on the recipes I tried.

The dressing that accompanied our juicy and plump chicken for Thanksgiving was made with wild rice and we enjoyed it. This time I duly recorded it and alotted it the several stars that it deserved. But I am always searching for new and different,  and this Recipe Swap challenge gave me another opportunity to experiment.

Freekeh from bibberche.com

I came home from last month’s visit to Melissa’s Produce in Vernon, California, with a big burlap bag filled with fruits, vegetables, and grains, some familiar, some wrapped in several veils of culinary mystery. One of the baggies contained freekeh (pronounced free-kuh), an ancient grain that left me completely befuddled. It is actually roasted wheat that is harvested when still young and green, and therefore has a lot more vitamins and minerals than regular wheat. Its fiber content also gives it the status of food that’s really, really good for you, and I was more than happy to include it in my legume and grain drawer.

When I decided to pull out the baggie with freekeh and make it the star of my recipe, the rest just fell into place. I knew that earthy and robust mushrooms would pair well with chewy grains, and caramelized onions would bring just enough sweet notes and soft texture to balance the dish. A whisper of wine, a slight crunch of celery, and a nice amount of spices would round out the finish. The only thing that surprised me a bit is that baking it did not seem to change the consistency a whole lot. Next time I will skip that step and serve it as a hearty side dish.

This was a perfect winter fare, served with moist roasted chicken and a garlicky beet salad. Freekeh was easy to cook and reminded me of barley in its texture.  I am happy to have found another ingredient that will at least occasionally make an appearance at our dining table.

Freekeh Dressing from bibberche.com



  • 1 cup uncooked freekeh
  • 2 ½ cups cold water
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil, divided
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 8 oz cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning or a mix of sage and thyme (if fresh, double the amount)
  • ½ white wine, dry sherry, or dry vermouth
  • a big handful of fresh parsley, chopped


Place freekeh and water into a heavy pot and heat on high temperature. When it boils, turn to low, cover, and simmer for 50-60 minutes, until there is no more liquid and the grains are soft. Remove from the heat.

In the meantime, heat 1 Tbsp oil on medium-low heat and add onions. Cook for 30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown. Combine with freekeh.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Heat the remaining oil on medium heat and sauté mushrooms and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, 6-8 minutes. Add wine and cook until it evaporates. Mix into freekeh and onions along with parsley. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Pour the dressing into a square or round baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

You can find my fellow swappers’ recipes just below. And if for some reason the links don’t show, click on the frog.

Jan 082012

Snenokle from bibberche.comIt’s time for another monthly Recipe Swap, the first of the year. Christianna from Burwell General Store started it more than a year ago, getting the idea from All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground, an old cookbook and hymnal she unearthed at a flea market. Every month a group of food bloggers gets the assignment with a challenge not only to reproduce the recipe, but to change it and make it their own. The recipes are short, not very detailed, and obviously aimed at experienced home cooks.

In December, we switched books and made our first recipe from  ‘The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, yet another book Christianna  found at a flea market.  This month the task was to remake Zabaglione, an Italian custard dessert that was a staple at the Imperial House restaurant in Chicago.

I love Italian food, Italian music (just peek into my iTunes library, there are hundreds and hundreds of canzone), and above all, the Italian language (my University of Belgrade diploma is the proof), but when it comes to desserts, I tend to favor the Central European and Middle Eastern-influenced delicacies of my childhood. It has nothing to do with geography, but  rather with those immeasurable specks of Mother’s love that magically found their way into every morsel.

I did not even hesitate or attempt to second-guess my decision after I read the ingredients: I knew that I would be making Å nenokle (Snow Dumplings), a light and creamy, egg-based dessert also known as Iles Flottante for the connoisseurs of French cuisine. It is one of the few sweets that ended up in my black leather bound notebook that traveled with me through college and bravely crossed the ocean to help me adjust to my new home in the U.S.

We always had eggs and milk in the house, and this was a go-to dessert for emergencies. To this day, I have not encountered a soul, except for my first husband’s sister, who did now swoon over this simple, but elegant dish. I know that we counted the hours after the hot, pale yellow cream was placed in the fridge, eagerly awaiting its final appearance at the kitchen table. Mother sometimes placed buttery cookies on the bottom of the dish and with time they became one with the cream, adding just right amount of texture and flavor.

Snenokle from bibberche.com

As simple as this dessert is, it took years for me to stop worrying about the outcome and become comfortable making it on the spur of the moment. Creme Anglaise can be finicky, and I spent hours panicking over its consistency and tendency to curdle at at whatever whim. In our house, the eggs and milk are always available. As my girls love the rich taste of the cream and pillowy and light texture of the egg white clouds swimming in the sea of yellow, I try to indulge them from time to time.

We are having a guest tonight for dinner: Husband’s Vietnamese colleague is visiting us for the first time, and I decided to put some sparkle to my dessert, to give it some more panache and make it shine. I made caramel sauce and decorated the bowls with caramel swirls, while the girls buzzed around me frenetically, hoping I’d have some remaining pieces of amber sugar. Now I sit and wait, but I am smiling in contentment, not afraid of the outcome.



  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1l (1 quart) milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form on high speed. Add sugar and mix until the meringue is firm and shiny. In the meantime scald the milk on medium heat until it starts to ripple. Turn the heat to medium-low. Using a larger spoon scoop up some meringue and place it in the milk carefully. Work in stages, turning the meringue after a minute or two. Take them out with a slotted spoon and place them into a bowl, or several individual smaller dishes. Place the bowl into the refrigerator.

After all the egg whites are gone, strain the milk and heat it up again. Whip the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until pale yellow and shiny. Pour small amount of milk into eggs to temper them, and them pour all of the egg mixture into the hot milk. Stir on low heat until it thickens and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

Pour the cream on top of the egg whites and place back into the refrigerator.


My fellow bloggers who participate in Recipe Swap are extremely talented and creative people. Stop by their blogs and check out their renditions of this month’s challenge.



Dec 042011

kiflice sa kokosom from bibberche.com

When I was a child in Serbia, if you wanted a cookie, you would have to go to the store and buy them in a factory wrapped box. There were crispy, square butter cookies, ring-shaped and not too sweet tea cookies, hazelnut and mocha flavored wafer cookies, thin cookies shaped like leaves and clovers with bottoms dipped in dark chocolate, shiny, flower-shaped cookies that melted in your mouth, and crumbly, ridged cookies doused with vanilla-scented powdered sugar.

Homemade versions of cookies were made in a device similar to a panini press or in a machine with a hand crank that came with several molds. I don’t remember any field trip away from school or a camp without a bag full of these crispy desserts, crunchy and somewhat soft, with a zing of lemon zest, not too sweet, hardy enough to survive a grade school child’s lack of attention and offer the same fresh taste after a week.

But for holidays, Mother and Njanja would completely ignore these cookies and reach for recipes that produced the most delectable petit fores. The competition in the town was fierce and they each excelled in the pastry department. While they watched sugar caramelize and made Italian meringue, we were at the table armed with small hammers, breaking the shells of walnuts and hazelnuts, begrudgingly contributing to the family effort and eating as many nuts as we could sneak by Mother’s Sauron-like eye.

To us the ordeal was torturous, but we knew better than to whine and complain. In the end, we were always rewarded by some simple sweet that could be prepared in minutes, while the perfect little squares, balls, and triangles they made were laid out on long, narrow trays, geometrically aligned like Roman legions, and completely out of our reach. We knew the guests would get the right of first choice and we acquiesced, albeit grumbling and envious. But we knew that some of the smells that embraced the house like luxurious pashmina shawls belonged to us and as we stealthily visited the beautifully arranged trays in the cold, closed-off white-and-blue formal dining room, we restrained ourselves and retreated upon ogling the goods, knowing that in a few days we would get to taste them, and that in the meantime we were not forgotten.

Yes, we were spoiled. I don’t recall a day when there was not something sweet awaiting us when we returned from school or when we finished the main meal in the afternoon. Mother did not like to buy cookies, finding it ridiculously easy to put something together that would satisfy the voracious appetites of her brood. I admit that we lusted after the commercially produced sweets, but we were aware that they could not compete with Mother’s desserts.

In the summertime, we enjoyed light, creamy concoctions filled with juicy, fresh fruit, but the cold months were filled with the scents of vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, and roasted hazelnuts. Oh, how we loved these simple, non-demanding desserts that Mother made for us…  just because… in between… without a thought!

It’s another round of Recipe Swap, the event started by Christianna of Burwell General Store. Once a month a group of very creative and imaginative people make the same recipe, putting their own twist on it, weaving their stories and experiences through their posts. So far we have been preparing different dishes from an old hymnal and cookbook Christianna unearthed at a flea market, but this month we are branching off and trying the recipes from another junk yard find,The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places. “It was written in 1954, and features recipes from famous restaurants at the time, making it a fascinating vintage social register” (quote by Christianna). The recipe is for Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.

recipe swap tollhouse cookie

This is the basic, simple recipe for a treat that welcomed many generations of American children when they ran inside coming home from school. It’s comforting, homey, sometimes crispy, sometimes chewy, the best when chased with a glass of cold, whole milk. It evokes the feelings of love, safety, and warmth. It is the cookie that my mongrel girls choose when I offer a treat. It is the epitome of cookie for them and as I type, a batch of them is cooling off on the rack in the kitchen.

I love chocolate chip cookies. But when I want to go home in my mind, when I want to feel the icy touch of northwestern wind and smell the first snowflakes in the air, I reach all the way to my childhood, to the smells wafting from Mother’s oven, welcoming and warming. And there I find these simple treats that smelled so good cooling off that we emerged out of our rooms nose-first, like cobras entranced by an Indian fakir’s seductive melody. There is no snow in Southern California, but with these cookies I can pretend that the winds that attack us from everywhere are icy, frigid, bringing with them the intoxicating smell of first snowflakes.



  • 250gr (1 cup, 2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking owder
  • 100 gr (3 oz) ground walnuts
  • 100 gr (3oz) coconut flour (I bring it from Serbia; it’s sweetened and ground much finer that American coconut)
  • 200 gr (7oz) flour
  • 1 cup powder sugar


Mix butter and sugar using an electric mixer until creamy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Combine all dry ingredients and mix together. Stir butter mixture into dry ingredients until combined. The dough should be soft.

Pinch off pieces of dough the size of walnuts, roll into a dowel, and curve like a horseshue, ½ inch in diameter. Place on the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-18 minutes until pale brown. Let the cookies cool on the sheets. When cooled off, roll into powder sugar.

Nov 062011

Rum Torta from bibberche.com

First Sunday of the month is the time we post our Recipe Swap creations. Today marks the first anniversary of this event started by Christianna of Burwell General Store. Browsing through the piles in an estate sale, she found an old hymnal/cookbook whose recipes we use as a starting point while trying to adjust them to our personalities, likes, experiences, and inspiration. The newest challenge is Maple Syrup Cake, which in my interpretation skip the continent and became a Rum Torte.

Growing up, I was surrounded by women who ruled the kitchen with a magic wand. My grandmother Njanja was a master of southern, Turkish-influenced cuisine, and with years learned how to make multi-layered, classic European tortes and beautiful petit-fours that were the envy of the neighborhood. Mother brought with her Central-European and Hungarian dishes, aromatic yeasty breads, and intricate strudels, accompanied by a myriad of unusual recipes she collected from foreign magazines while still a girl. Add to the equation many relatives more then willing to share their expertise in the kitchen, and neighborhood matrons more then eager to enter this friendly exchange, and you get a family that enjoyed innumerable feasts daily, spoiled for eternity by exposure to so many skillful hands.

We had something sweet every day. When the chores overwhelmed her, Mother would whip up a batch of crepes, feeling guilty for offering such a pedestrian desert to her growing children. If she felt especially inspired, she would spend the better part of the day creating a cake that could be proudly displayed at the most prestigious Parisian bakery. And then, there was everything in between: angel food cakes studded with chopped nuts, candied fruit, and grated lemon zest; syrup-infused baklavas and other Middle-Eastern delights; crispy meringues topped with a walnut quarter that seemed to pulverize itself  in your mouth like fairy dust; crumbly sandwich cookies with a layer of tangy jam rolled powdered sugar; buttery shortbread cookies brushed with egg whites and sprinkled with chopped walnuts; pound cakes hiding fresh fruit bursting with all the flavors of summer; light and crispy pastries made with phyllo dough; creamy homemade puddings sparkling with preserves on top; tiny croissants filled with apricot jam and sprinkled with powdered vanilla sugar; cream puffs with their whimsical tops covering the luxuriously rich creme anglaise; quick cakes made with butter wafers soaked in strong coffee and attached with buttery chocolate filling; light and airy European doughnuts best eaten when hot…

layers for rum torte from bibberche.com

When I think of my childhood, I feel a bit guilty, as my three daughters experienced some of this bounty only when Mother visited us in the U.S. and on our summer pilgrimages to Serbia. I stay away from sweets, Husband is allergic to many ingredients, the girls have not yet developed those voracious teen appetites, and therefore I rarely make desserts. But it’s hard for me to resist the soulful call of my youth here in my parents’ home in Serbia. It could be that I am growing older; it could be the desire to connect with the innocent and idyllic days of my childhood; it could be the feeling of looming homesickness that I can predict will befall me as soon as I drive away in a cab on my way to the airport next week.

I recognize and inhale with gusto the food smells of October and November mixed with crisp, fresh gusts of the north-western winds that bring the hint of snow from the Alps. I need to feel comforted and cocooned while the skies are getting ominously darker and the rain attacks the window panes ferociously. I indulge my inner selfish child and dig up the  recipes Mother made for us a long time ago and I prepare them the way she used to, with no shortcuts, without cheating, finding pleasure in every step of the process.

As I stir, chop, mix, blend, and simmer, the scenes of my childhood dart in front of my eyes, sometimes in slow motion and sometimes accelerated like in an old black and white silent movie. I am usually alone and it’s easy to get lost in the mellow haze of the days when I was younger than my youngest child is now. I reach for those long lost memories and try to hold onto their dissipating tendrils, wishing that they could envelop me into the oblivion and propel me once again to those times when this house reverberated with strong energy of people coming and going, with Father briskly walking up the steps and Mother flushed by the stove, stirring something vigorously and mercilessly correcting my grammar while I sat at the kitchen table and chewed on my pencil.

I cannot bring vigor to Father’s tired gait. I cannot bring color to Mother’s pale cheeks. Time has worked its magic and made them old overnight. All I have are the memories, often conflicting stories they tell, the moments fossilized in the ever-changing routine of life. And I have my smells that bring forth in an instant those afternoons of icy northern winds and comforting warmth of the stove.

rum torte assembly from bibberche.com

The simple and flavorful Rum Torte has been my favorite when I was little. I shared the love of it with my grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, the WWI veteran and invalid since he was eighteen. The Bulgarian shrapnel that made a big hole in his head and took away the ability to move his legs in any controlled manner did not make him a bitter, hateful human being, but accentuated his good nature and kindness. I remember sitting in his lap with the daily newspaper open on the kitchen table in front of him, while he mixed the batter for the cake and read the news stories to me at the same time. It was the time just before the electric mixers appeared in the stores of Yugoslavia and his patience and determination were a guarantee of a dough properly mixed. After it went into the pan to be baked, he would relax and continue to read to me in a more lively voice, while the smells of apricot jam, rum, and freshly baked yellow cake seduced us from the kitchen.

I was only four when I insisted that Deda-Ljubo read the entire newspaper to me loudly, while I moved my index finger underneath the lines, following his voice. His trembling baritone brought me comfort and the love I saw in his sad, blue eyes made me stronger to fight my battles later on in life. I wanted to make the Rum Torte to bring back the feel of his hug and to get lost for the moment in the illusive fog of my childhood. October 21st was the anniversary of his death which became the day when I stopped being a child and overnight became an adult.

I celebrate the Recipe Swap‘s birthday with the homage to my grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, whose life enriched mine and whose passing, after almost nine decades on this Earth, was a sorrowful affair only for a day or so. Even though he spent almost half of his life in a wheelchair, he made every day count, showing us that there is no limit to kindness, determination, strength, tolerance, and love.

rum torta from bibberche.com


This cake is most, juicy, light, and very festive looking. It’s easy to put it together and it does not require a lot of preparation time (I don’t count chilling overnight).


For the yellow cake:

  • 8 eggs, separated and divided in half
  • 8 Tbsp sugar, divided in half
  • 8 Tbsp flour, divided in half

For the multi-colored layer:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 5 Tbsp flour
  • a few drops of raspberry extract or red food coloring
  • ½ tsp cocoa
  • 250 gr sugar (a bit more than 1 cup)
  • 200 ml water (a bit less than 1 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp apricot jam (I used nectarine jam, as I did not have any apricot jam)
  • 3 Tbsp spiced rum*
  • 2 Tbsp rum or orange juice (I use tangerines fresh from the tree inMontenegro)


  • 200 ml (little less than 1 cup) water
  • 10 Tbsp sugar
  • red food coloring
  • 1 drop of sunflower oil
*I used European rum, which is very flavorful, and I am sure almost all fake. We don’t use this for drinking, but it smells heavenly! The best American alternative would be Myer’s Spiced Rum.


Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Yellow cake: Whip 4 egg whites until soft peaks form. Add yolks, and when blended, add 4 tablespoons of sugar. Carefully mix in 4 tablespoons of flour and pour in a greased, floured baking pan (25x20cm). Bake for 20 minutes, until it gets pale golden on top. Leave in the pan to cool and carefully remove the cake from the pan. Repeat with the other half.

Multi-colored layer:

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add yolks and sugar, and in the end mix in flour carefully. Divide the batter in three parts. Add raspberry extract or red food coloring to the first layer, cocoa to the second, and the third should stay yellow. Pour them in the greased, floured pan next to each other and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden on top. Leave in the pan to cool and carefully remove. Cut in small cubes.

Heat the water and sugar to boil on high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in jam and rum and let it cool. When cooled, carefully stir in the colored pieces of cake.


Place one of the yellow cake layers on the tray. Sprinkle evenly with orange juice or rum. Place the colored layer evenly on top and smooth to reach the edges. Top with the other layer and cover with something heavy (I used a cutting board) overnight.


Heat water and sugar to boil and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Let it cool and mix with an electric mixer until it thickens and becomes almost white. Add the red food coloring and oil (for the added shine) and pour immediately on top of the cake. Use the knife dipped frequently in hot water to smooth the glaze.

rum torta from bibberche.com

There are some extremely creative bloggers who participate in the Recipe Swap. Please, visit their blog and take a look at their imaginative takes on the Maple Syrup Cake.

Last year this time I posted a recipe for Hibiscus Cocktail and wrote a story about my first encounter with alcohol.

Sep 042011


our Serbian kitchen from bibberche.comEvery time my parents moved, the kitchen became much larger. Njanja and Deda-Ljubo lived in the big family house where most of the cooking was done outside in the separate summer kitchen. A hallway between their bedroom and the bathroom was converted into a tiny, galley-style kitchen, that could not accommodate both Njanja and Mother at the same time.

When I started fifth grade, Father was provided a condo by the hospital, and we moved away from our grandparents. A mere block away.  The building was brand new, and the eat-in kitchen was hip and modern, equipped with the best 70s appliances. It could fit a dining room table big enough for all of us to sit around and have a meal together.

We eventually moved into the house I have called home for most of my life, the house I sit in even now, writing this. This house was built in the beginning of 20th century, and the kitchen is pretty big. It was designed to be the center of family life with a big dining room table and a couch facing the working area, perfect for neighborhood housewives to stop by, have Turkish coffee every day, exchange recipes, and feed each other tasty morsels of town gossip. This kitchen was meant for the husband returning home from work, who would only have to climb four steps from the back yard, take his shoes off in the tiny square entrance way, and collapse on the couch while his face broke into a smile from the sight of his beautifully flushed wife finishing the preparation of their delicious daily repast.

There is a room in this house that contains a television and a more comfortable sofa and chairs. That other room is, for reasons that elude me, often called a “living room,” even though most of the living gets done in this kitchen. From morning coffee to late night snack… and all the conversations and life moments that go with them… the living gets done here, in the center of the universe… in this kitchen.

I love this kitchen, its twelve-foot high walls, white-brown-apricot color scheme, the old wood-burning stove (used only in times of scarcity and astronomically high prices of kilowatt hours), and the big window that opens up to a concrete slab filled with house plants. I love the big pantry lined with shelves housing hundreds of jars of preserves, various appliances (useful and useless), and Mother’s enormous collection of pots and pans of different age, color, and material.

I can walk through this kitchen in the middle of a moonless night, when the electricity goes out, and find my way around the chairs, not once even touching a piece of furniture. Yet, every time I come back from the US, it takes me a week to relearn where everything is and get acquainted with new skillets and mysterious gadgets. I used to bring spices in tiny baggies, dreading the customs and the dogs trained to sniff out drugs and other smelly contraband, eager to share my culinary accomplishments in global cuisine.

This time I brought nothing, deciding to prepare only Serbian dishes with gorgeous produce from the overflowing farmers’ market. If I could, I would spend hours strolling between the stalls, never getting tired of the smells and vibrant colors of the summer offering. I would take the sweltering heat that everyone tries to avoid. I would even tolerate the pesky wasps that scare me, accepting that sweet, yellow pears attract them as much as they attract me.

When I found out that the September choice for the Recipe Swap was Wild Rabbit with Vegetables, I really wanted to cook game. The hunting season in Serbia is over, but one of my best friends runs the hunting grounds in the town and his company freezer is always full of wild boar, pheasant, venison, quail, and rabbit. He promised to bring me a surprise package if I invited him over for dinner. I love bartering for food, but he had to spend a weekend putting out forest fires, and the delivery was delayed.

pork shoulder and smoked ribs from bibberche.com

I stopped by the butcher and bought a chunk of boneless pork shoulder instead, fighting the urge to bury my nose in the paper and breathe in the smell of fresh meat. I was making a utilitarian dish and I knew that I had the winner with my purchase, even though I was really looking forward to using the juniper berries and bay leaf in my venison stew.

When I returned home, I went through the pantry and collected the ingredients for the dish I intended to make. In the beginning my pile was small, the ingredients simple and few: a couple of onions, a pepper, new potatoes, sweet paprika, stock, salt, and pepper. But I discovered two roasted red peppers in the fridge, two pieces of smoked pork ribs, and a pound of button mushrooms. To make the party merrier, I brought out a bottle of Father’s homemade red wine and a bag of dry thyme Mother had picked on the mountain.

produce from bibberche.com

My produce was fragrant and fresh. My meat was of superb quality. The wine was dry, carrying tones of sherry in its bouquet. Even my pot was gorgeous, an old enamel piece with handles that got hot after five minutes on the stove. I was not disappointed that it was not the rabbit simmering in the pot as the big old kitchen was enveloped in the comforting and warm smell of a hearty pork paprikash.

This is a versatile and forgiving dish. It can be made with various vegetables and meat. You can season it with different herbs and spices, you can make it as mild or as hot as you prefer. The broth can be thin, or it can be thickened with flour. You can cook the potatoes in it as I did, or you can serve it with pasta, dumplings, or mashed potatoes. You can call it paprikash, goulash, or stew, depending on the changes you made. Or you can just call it delicious.

Pork Paprikash with Potatoes from bibberche.com



  • 1 tbsp lard (or any other fat you prefer)
  • 750gr (1 ½ lbs) pork shoulder, cut in cubes (I prefer smaller cut, ¾ inch cubes)
  • 2 small pieces of smoked pork ribs (optional – I love the addition of the smoky layer, though)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 pepper (I use Serbian triangular pale green or yellow peppers, but a bell pepper would do), chopped
  • ¼ cup sweet paprika
  • 500gr (1 lb) button mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on the size
  • 2 roasted peppers, peeled, stemmed, and chopped (optional)
  • ½ cup dry, red wine
  • 1 quart of homemade chicken or beef stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or any herb or spice to your liking)
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) new potatoes, peeled (if you are inSerbia) or unpeeled (if you are in US) and halved


Melt the lard on medium-high heat in a heavy skillet, and add the meat seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in one layer, and remove from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium, and add onions and peppers. Saute until soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika and stir to incorporate.

Mix in all the mushrooms and roasted peppers, if using, and stir for another few minutes. Deglaze the skillet with wine, and when it evaporates, add the stock, salt, pepper, and thyme.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to boil. Turn the heat back down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the flavors develop and meat is almost fork tender. Add the potatoes and continue simmering, until the are done. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve with a vinegary coleslaw and crusty homemade bread. A cold beer or a glass of red wine are optional but desirable sides.

I met Christianna at BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. We spent only a few hours talking, but that was enough for me to connect to her and her amazing life story. When I found out that she hosts a food blogging event featuring an old recipe and hymnal book she unearthed at a garage sale, I signed up immediately. And I love being a part of the Recipe Swap group that so many talented and creative people belong to.

Please visit Christianna’s blog Burwell General Store to read my friends’ imaginative approaches to the simple recipe for Wild Rabbit With Vegetables. There are some truly inspirational posts.  ChristiannaDennisToniShumailaAlexLoraLindsayMariBarbPolaJamieClaireShariJoyMonique,LindaPriyaRachelAlliKaty,

Emily, KrissyJacquelineClaire, Monique and Jaclyn.