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

CLASSIC AMERICAN EGG SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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

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.

CREAMY ROASTED TOMATO AND RED PEPPER SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 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

 Directions:

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

GRILLED CHEESE WITH GRUYÈRE, CARAMELIZED ONIONS, AND BALSAMIC REDUCTION 

(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.)

Ingredients:

  • 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
Directions:
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.



Sep 052010
 

The weather in Southern California has been fiercely hot recently. Husband complained about humidity several days ago, but today’s dry heat was more to his liking.  Hot with a chance of more hot. As long as I can find shade, I do not gripe about the weather. After all, it is California, and we moved here intentionally, dreaming of nice, warm days all year long. But, warm can be a pretty relative term.

It cannot compare to summers in the Midwest, when the humidity would reach 80 to 90 percent. Taking a shower was obsolete. Straightening your hair? Why bother?  In minutes all the unwanted curls would show up at random places on your head. The meticulously applied make-up would become a shiny gloop and rivulets of sweat would run down between your breasts, at the nape of your head, and around the edges of your hairline. That perfectly selected white blouse would stick to your ribs and you would keep your arms close to your body in fear of showing the sweat stains.

My relatives and friends in Europe did not understand this phenomenon. I tried for years to explain, but it was all for nothing. Until one day a memory struck me head-on and I knew I had the perfect example. I went back in time to my student days at the University of Belgrade.

It is June and the whole city is pulsating with sweltering temperatures. The asphalt appears to shift, to shimmer, to change hues in front of your eyes. The concrete emanates heat like a microwave and the air is hopelessly still. The green oasis of the parks is not enough to combat the merciless and relentless attack of the sun, and it seems that the city has succumbed to the fiery god. The last classes of the semester find us listless and unable to concentrate. Our minds are wandering, seeking refuge from the stuffy, stale air of the classroom. The professors feel it more than us and let us go earlier than expected. We run down the two flights of stairs and emerge onto the street. The hot air envelopes us as we hurry to our favorite gathering place next to the “Knez Mihajlo” sculpture.

Exhausted and weary, we collapse into the plastic chairs on the plaza, under the umbrella. As on command we light up our Marlboros and relax, pummeled by the heat, but comforted by the hour of leisure. We smile sweetly and accept a brochure from a Hare Krishna girl dressed in an orange sarong. We throw some change at the Gypsy boy playing the accordion. We skim the National Theater schedule and pick a couple of events worth visiting. As we light another cigarette the waiter appears, and we all order Ice Café (this is a European summer treat – cold instant coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some fresh whipped cream). Even in this heat, all the tables are occupied. For a moment we forget the rising temperatures and incoming exams. We chatter, gossip, argue, and laugh, while nursing our drinks through several cigarettes. The heat is still unrelenting, but we are oblivious to it.  At one point in time, as if on cue, we get up, say our goodbyes and stroll off in different directions.

I usually have a book with me and waiting for the city bus is not an ordeal. At four o’clock in the afternoon, when the factories spit thousands of workers out of their halls, the bus stops are crowded. At long last the right bus arrives and I have to elbow my way into it. Closely gripping my black canvas bag from Germany, I hold onto a steel pole. The windows are sealed shut to prevent death-by-draught (I thought this was a Serbian phenomenon, but I guess the Italians suffer from the same ailment). There are no places to sit, and standing room is pretty scarce. In a couple of minutes I feel the sweat beading on my arms. I hold onto a pole, trying to keep steady every time the bus takes a sharp turn. The guy next to me is awfully close and I move away from him, nestling next to a grandma coming home from the market, hauling a basket of produce. By this time I am completely drenched. And I do not sweat easily! The bus takes its sweet time to get to my stop. I exit, panting, and rush across the stretch of land that separates the bus stop from my Uncle’s building in Novi Beograd (a newer part of town). As I cross the no-man’s land, I say a mantra wishing for the elevators to work. Climbing two sets of stairs to the eighth floor is not easy. AT ALL!. Coming up the elevator, or having to climb the stairs, I arrive completely exhausted, feeling clamminess all over my skin. Once I ring the bell and see the beautiful face of my cousin Maja I start feeling at home. I know my Aunt PaÅ¡ana will make us coffee and later dinner. I will shower and lay back on the bed, relaxed and cool. I will study, the cool breeze from the fan rustling the pages, forgetting for a moment the moist heat that enveloped me on the bus.

So, there it goes: Mid-West humidity feels like being on a crowded local bus on the sunniest day of the summer, with all the windows safely locked. I know that my sister and my friends can relate. I hope that my parents can relate. The days of humid midwest summers basting me in my own juices are behind me. I welcome the heat of California with all my soul. And because of that we decided not to cook today. We opted for sandwiches instead. BLTAs.

We bought the onion rolls at Albertson’s. I whipped up a cup of mayonnaise in no time while the bacon sizzled in the pan. We crisped up the rolls in the oven for five minutes and presented the casual dinner on the “lazy susan” in the middle of the table. The AC was humming quietly in the background and nobody complained of being too hot or too cold.

We love living in California and this dinner was a casual celebration of the state and the bounty it provides.  Fresh tomatoes and avocados don’t need a lot of frills to satisfy.  The sandwiches were as cool as we were.

BLT SANDWICHES WITH EXTRIES

Ingredients:

  • 4 onion or Kaiser rolls, warmed up in the oven for 5 minutes, at 350F
  • 1 pound of bacon, fried
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I make my own. It’s very easy and tastes so much better then store-bought)
  • lettuce
  • Avocado, optional
  • turkey deli meat, optional
  • onion slices, optional

I am submitting this post for Kahakai’s  Souper Sundays and 12 Days of Bloggie-mas

Aug 222010
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAMBURGERS

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

Summer grill blogger event hosted by food blogs

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

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

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

Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hop