Mar 042014
 

Colcannon from bibberche.com

I was in the U.S. only for about six months when I first encountered St.Patrick’s Day celebration. I was working in a restaurant that served green beer on March 17th and featured enormous shamrocks all over its walls. The customers shouted botched Gallic to one another and inhaled the bowls filled with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.

My husband picked me up and took me to an Irish pub, where we met his friends and family, all brandishing the bottles of Irish brew and shots of Jameson’s whiskey, sparkly shamrocks plastered on their cheeks. I married into an Irish family that still clung to its roots, which date all the way to the Mayflower. Were there any Irish on board the Mayflower? I’d say no.

Dutch Baby Potatoes

My ex-husband’s ancestors have the lineage better than the Vanderbilts. Peregrine White was the first English baby born in the new land, while the ship was anchored at Cape Cod. There is a thick, leather-bound genealogy book that lists hundreds of names which came after him.  I heard that at some point in history the White family was pretty affluent. My ex-husband’s great-ancestor must have been the ubiquitous black sheep part of the tribe, prone to gambling and drinking, destined to squander the inheritance. Which he did, leaving the legacy of laissez-faire hedonism to his posterity.

Did the great-grandpa meet a ginger-haired Irish lass who took him dancing, when he was supposed to pray? Did he surrender his prudish upbringing to the altar of unlimited  joie de vivre? I don’t assume we will ever find out, but this wing of the family was defiantly Irish, slightly catholic (relative to the relative), and very much steeped in every aspect of hedonism.

Leeks from bibberche.com

There are some historians trying to connect ancient Celts with the ancient southern Slavs, especially the Serbs, claiming that originally they were all one big tribe. Something prompted one part of the group to separate and settle on the Emerald Isles.

I don’t know if I buy into this theory, but I have some very fond memories of this Irish-American family, their self-deprecating humor, gregariousness, refusal to grow up, and great attraction to sin. I chose to leave and therefore I am only connected to them through my oldest daughter, who is the keeper of the family tree; but each St. Patrick’s Day I remember them decked in bright green with silly hats on, loud and ebullient, raising foaming mugs of beer and toasting one another, “Sláinte!”

Kale sprouts from bibberche.com

Baby Kale Sprouts from Melissa’s Produce

Colcannon
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Irish
Author:
This is a versatile and very satisfying dish, a great accompaniment to roasts or sausages.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb potatoes (I used baby potatoes from Melissa’s Produce)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp bacon grease or butter
  • 1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, rinsed and cut into pieces (1/4 head of cabbage or Savoy cabbage) – I used baby kale sprouts from Melissa’s Produce
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved and cut into semi-circles
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the unpeeled potatoes in a heavy pot.
  2. Cover with cold water.
  3. Add salt.
  4. Heat until it starts to boil.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
  6. Remove potatoes from the pot.
  7. Add butter or bacon grease to the pot and heat on medium temperature.
  8. Add the greens and saute until slightly softened, 3-4 minutes.
  9. Add the leeks and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  10. Add the potatoes and smash them with a fork so that there are no big lumps.
  11. Add the milk and place the pot back on the stove.
  12. Stir for another minute or two until creamy and combined.
  13. Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Thank you, Melissa’s Produce for a magnificent box of goodies!

Some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day:

1. St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Rome, kidnapped as a child by Irish pirates, and brought to Ireland where he herded sheep before managing to escape.

2. St. Patrick was depicted wearing blue, rather than green.

3. Symbol of Ireland is not the shamrock, but the harp.

4. There are more Irish living in the U.S. than in Ireland (especially if we include eveyone who boasts Irish ancestry).

5. Until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday and all the pubs were closed. Beer started flowing freely only when it was converted into a national holiday.

6. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.

If you’d like to learn to pronounce sláinte (which means “health” in Gaellic), click here.

Sep 182013
 

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from bibberche.com

I planted seven heirloom tomato plants in April. They were all different shape, color, and size. I staked them, watered them, and watched them grow and bloom to be strong, healthy, and fragrant. Some of them took of faster and started producing a lot of soon-to-be ripe fruit. After five years of gardening withdrawals, my heart was atwitter with excitement. The neighbors were stopping by admiring my luscious plants and I already started imagining baskets  filled with red, orange, yellow, green, and striped tomatoes, still warm from the sun, decorating our kitchen counter.

One day I caught a snail eating a small tomato that just turned the right shade of red that morning. I picked it off and flung it across the fence into the street. I rummaged through the plants and found many more stuck to the leaves, probably resting and gathering the energy to attack the fruit as soon as the pale moon appeared in the sky. Visibly perturbed, I gathered them one by one and stepped on them, ignoring the disgusting slime that coated the soles of my shoes.

My Ohio Garden from bibberche.com

My tiny, but so rewarding Ohio garden

In a few days, my tomato plants started to lose their luster. They drooped, leaves curled and dried out, no matter how ardently I watered them in the morning and twilight. And then the holes around them started to appear. I would fill them in with fresh sod, and the next time I looked, there were new ones, deep, narrow, baring the roots. I wanted to keep on blaming the snails, but unless a gross mutation was involved, it seemed more probable that a rodent of some kind was responsible.

Unfortunately, I did not manage to find the culprit and I lost my tomato plants one by one. The neighbors extended their sympathy and offered their opinions on the origin of the damage. I was devastated. Sure, I harvested a few dozen of early bloomers, but nothing close to what I imagined. Yes, it was another summer sadly void of homegrown tomatoes.

Garden Tomatoes from bibberche.com

My summers in Serbia were marked by simple salads of tomatoes and onions, sometimes with crunchy cucumbers and crumbled cheese, served daily as an accompaniment to any dish. I start craving their familiar flavor in late May, resigned to wait a few weeks until the ripest, sweetest fruit appears. With a heavy heart, I pulled my desiccated remnants from the ground, and started making weekly pilgrimages to Torrance Farmers’ Market, where piles of heirloom tomatoes, albeit pretty pricey, waited for me. For summer is not summer without tomato salad.

According to the calendar, we are running out of summer days. But southern California climate ignores the arbitrary limits, which means we can wear white after Labor Day and we can eat summer salads until whenever. A few days ago I made a Greek salad to accompany my favorite roasted red peppers, spinach, and feta quiche I took to a picnic in a downtown LA park.

Watermelon Cucumbers from Melissa's Produce

I could not wait to use the cute, tiny watermelon cucumbers I received from Melissa’s Produce, one of the biggest fruits and vegetables distributor in the U.S. I like my mixed salads chopped in smaller bites, so I halved these lemony, crunchy treats and mixed them with ripe, juicy tomatoes, olives, red onions, roasted beets, pepperoncini, and feta cheese. A hefty pinch of coarse salt, some freshly ground pepper, and a few glugs of extra-virgin olive oil (thanks, George!) was all that was necessary.

All these different and complementary flavors came together in each bite and for a moment I forgot that the produce had not come from my garden. I was transported to the shores of my Adriatic instantly, if only for a brief moment, until Judd Nelson appeared on the big projector screen in “Breakfast Club” and my girls started screeching in delight. This was a memory-building evening, somewhat bitter-sweet, as I inevitably returned to my first viewing of the movie, to those innocent days when the world was brimming with promises just behind the horizon.

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from bibberche.com

 

Greek Salad
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Recipe type: Salads
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
There is no lettuce in this salad, which is how most Mediterranean countries prefer their summer salads. The quantities are approximate.
Ingredients
  • 3-4 wine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • a handful of watermelon cucumbers (or 1 smaller regular cucumber, peeled)
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 3-4 pepperoncini peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut ionto rings
  • 1-2 roasted beets, cut into slices
  • a handful of olives
  • salt and pepper
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • about 8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Instructions
  1. Mix all the vegetables gently.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Stir once more gently.
  5. Crumble the cheese on top.

 

May 152013
 

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant Salad from bibberche.com

It’s a sweltering July afternoon and even though the back door is open wide, only the scorching dry summer heat comes into the kitchen. Mother is standing by the gas stove, flipping thinly sliced zucchini  just as they turn golden brown. A tray sits on the counter, filled with a few layers of the uncooked ones, salted and dipped in flour, just luxuriating and waiting to be covered with egg batter and pan fried.

Father walks in on his way back from the hospital, grabs the top-most zucchini, and pops it in his mouth without stopping, oblivious to the fact that it’s still sizzling from the hot pan. The three of us saunter in the kitchen, refreshed from the shower we just took, exhausted and ravenous after a few hours spent at the city pool. I can’t help but sneak a zucchini off the platter, even though I make sure that Mother notices me rolling my eyes at the sight of her pan-frying a mountain of them on the hottest day of the century.

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant from bibberche.com

Chewing slowly to prolong the enjoyment, I swear that I will stop the tradition and avoid the kitchen when I grow up. After all, Aristotle would not have been Aristotle had he spent every waking minute cooking, cleaning, sewing, and helping children with their homework, as I sagely pointed to Mother fairly often, scolding her for abandoning her easel and her sketchbook for the degrading and not-at-all rewarding life of a housewife.

Some years later, here I am standing next to a gas stove in my southern California kitchen, flipping golden brown egg-battered zucchini slices, my apron speckled with flour. I checked the items off the list in my head as the mound on the platter next to me keeps on growing. I will have finished everything I intended to before going to work in the afternoon, including pan-frying zucchini and eggplant for next day’s Food Bloggers LA monthly meet-up.

Pan-Fried Zucchini from bibberche.com

As I proudly pat myself on the shoulder, my fourteen-year old enters the kitchen in a quest for something “sweet, creamy and delicious”. “That looks like the most tedious chore in the world!”, she proclaims, throwing one of her famous disdainful looks my way. And all of a sudden I am transported from this gorgeous, balmy May afternoon in California, with the breeze that brings the smell of roses and rosemary through the open front door, to one of the scorching summer days in Serbia filled with crates of pale green, tender-skinned zucchini begging for attention.

And I understand that Mother did not find her role as degrading as I thought it was at the time. She enjoyed preparing the most wonderful meals for her family, even though the job was not that rewarding and we definitely took her creativity, talent, and effort for granted. My precocious teenager is as haughty as I was at her age and I know better than to try to explain to her that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan would probably praise me for my choice to sacrifice a few hours of my precious free time to cook a delectable meal, as it makes me infinitely happy.

Salads from FBLA from bibberche.com

Pan-Fried Zucchini or Eggplant
5.0 from 3 reviews

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Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: Serbian, International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
Even though it is somewhat tedious and time-consuming to prepare, this dish brings out the best out of the humble zucchini. It is by far my favorite zucchini dish. If only I could source out the preparation!
Ingredients
  • 6-8 zucchini or 2 eggplants, peeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup sunflower oil
  • salt
  • Batter:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Dressing:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup vinegar (my mom used white, I prefer either red wine or apple cider vinegar)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise in slices about 5 mm thick (between ¼ and ⅛ inch).
  2. Cut the eggplant in rounds about ¼ inch thick.
  3. Lay the cut slices on a tray lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt (you can put them in several layers separated by paper towels)
  4. Leave them on the counter for 30 minutes.
  5. Squeeze the vegetables and drain the liquid in the sink.
  6. Place flour on a plate.
  7. Batter:
  8. Beat the eggs, milk, and water with an electric hand-held mixer until fluffy and combined.
  9. Mix flour and salt.
  10. Pour eggs and milk into flour and stir vigorously to combine (it should be the consistency of crepe batter).
  11. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  12. Add oil (check if it is done by placing a drop of batter in it; it should sizzle and foam around the drop)
  13. Coat each slice with flour on both sides and dip into batter.
  14. Let the excess drip off and place carefully into heated oil.
  15. Pan-fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown and flip.
  16. Cook the other side until done.
  17. Remove to the plate layered with paper towels.
  18. Sprinkle with salt.
  19. You can serve zucchini and eggplant like this as a side dish or an appetizer, or you can turn it into a salad:
  20. Place all the ingredients for dressing except for garlic in a small jar.
  21. Put the lid on tightly and shake to combine.
  22. Place a layer of pan-fried vegetables on the bottom of the platter, sprinkle with garlic and spoon some dressing on top.
  23. Continue until all the vegetables and all dressing have been used.
  24. Put the platter in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to meld.
  25. Serve as an appetizer, salad, or a side dish.

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!

 

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.

 

Jan 082013
 

 

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(landscape)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

New year literally brought a new beginning into our lives. I erased our presence from the beloved apartment with a gallon of Clorox, turned my keys in, and hugged the managers whose eyes mirrored mine and sparkled with tears.  A new family was moving in, and I had to smile at the three girls jumping and skipping around, excited about their new home, remembering my two daughters and their happiness just a year ago. I drove off with my clothes piled up on the back seat of the old Bonneville, while the fountain in the courtyard and the pink facade slowly disappeared from my sight.

My girls and I are almost completely unpacked, with just a few odd items disrupting the harmony of our new abode. We have roses in the front yard and an orange tree in the back. We have an adorable poodle who makes our feet warm on these surprisingly chilly California nights. This holiday season ended with a miracle for us and I cannot even try to explain the gratitude I feel for my dear friend who opened her home to us and welcomed us in with a huge embrace and even bigger smile, erasing the scary thoughts of homelessness and shelters that occupied me for days.

We are slowly adjusting to our new routine, getting to know the pathways through the house and learning to live with the unusual noises. My friend has a house full of vintage cooking props and I cannot wait to use them in my photos. In turn, she is hungry for my cooking, and even a simple fried egg I make for her in the morning makes her face beam. I am humbled by her generosity and if she asked me to prepare a pheasant under glass, I would gladly do it, even if I had to go in the Sierras and catch the bird myself!

My life is slowly getting back to normal. A different, new normal, filled with uncertainty and mystery, but comfortable and welcoming nevertheless. The beast of anxiety and fear is still a frequent daily guest residing on top of my chest, but the promise of a wonderful year ahead gives me strength to shake it off and force it to go away.

I miss writing. I miss my camera. I miss the feel of a few keys that slightly stick under my fingers as I type yet another blog post. I miss my friends, real and virtual, and feel as if I were in exile for months. But as I disassemble the last of the packing boxes and send them to a recycling bin, I know that I have not only come home, but returned as well. And I am so ready to start living again!

An Edible Mosaic

What can be better to announce the beginning of a life much richer, fuller, and more satisfying, than a beautifully photographed cookbook filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables of the Middle East, with authentic recipes for fragrant and aromatic foods of Syria, Tunisia, Morocco simplified and adjusted to the markets of the west? I am proud to be a part of the team involved in promoting Faith Gorsky’s lovely book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with an Extraordinary Flair.

If you remember, the six of us each picked a different recipe from the book several weeks ago, and prepared a prix fixe virtual meal for our readers. My family enjoyed Spinach Turnovers and it makes me feel good that it’s also one of Faith’s favorite recipes she learned from her Syrian mother-in-law.

I would like to invite you to join us again, this time in real time, for the Twitter party Cook, Tweet and Eat this coming Saturday, January 12th, at 4:00 pm EST. Let’s have fun preparing Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions together, exchanging tips and ideas, posting photos, learning from one another and from Faith! I have participated in a few Twitter events in the last couple of years since I’ve been blogging, but this one will be special, as so many of us will be making the same dish and I cannot wait to see different takes, variations, and creations.

Hashtag for this event will be #AnEdibleMosaic. Casey of Kitchen Play helped us form our group and formulate a plan for promoting An Edible Mosaic. After Cook, Tweet&Eat party, she will put up a photo album of all the photos submitted on Twitter, with links and credit.

If you are interested, you can RSVP here. I hope to see you at the party on Twitter!

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(portrait)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

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’re 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 sautee 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.

 

Nov 092012
 

Korean Pear and Kale Salad from bibberche.com

As the Fall firmly takes a hold even in southern California where we bundle up and don gloves and hats as soon as the temperatures drop bellow 60F, the last brave specimens of the late summer fruit slowly retreat and surrender the coveted shelf space to bright orange persimmons, dark red pomegranates, apples colored every hue from green to yellow to red, Weeble-shaped fragrant and sun-kissed pears, and ubiquitous pumpkins who reign not only because of their heft, but also because of their colorful kitschy appeal.

And as if we did not have enough drama in the produce department of any given grocery store, enters Korean pear, the prima donna of fruit, the spoiled Asian heiress grown to be the juiciest, the freshest, the lightest fruit in the aisles. Its delicate brownish-yellow skin is thin, unblemished, and perfect, as the fruit is wrapped while it grows for protection from the elements and parasites that threaten to mar its smooth surface. The flesh is white and crunchy. It does not turn brown or wrinkly when exposed to air. You can imagine it in a floppy hat and big sunglasses, sipping a mint julep at the races, looking all fabulous and haughty.

Korean Pears from bibberche.com

When I opened the box from Melissa’s Produce, a dozen Korean pears were nestled comfortably in soft indented trays, wrapped in delicate netting, not touching each other. I gingerly picked one out of its nest, unwrapped it, and barely resisted the temptation to start chanting a line from one of my favorite Loony Toones, “I will love him, and pet him, and squeeze him, and call him George.”* But I remembered in time that it was, after all, only a piece of fruit. I dropped the silliness and started thinking of the ways to use them in my kitchen. They are like Kobe beef of produce, coddled, nurtured, loved, but destined to satisfy the gourmands of the world in search of the best culinary experience.

Just to get an idea how pampered these pears are, watch this video:

http://www.melissas.com/Recipes/Videos/Melissas-Korean-Pears.aspx

My daughters ask for them at every meal and they make a perfect addition to their school lunches. They are crunchy like an apple, extremely juicy and refreshing, and sweet without being overbearing. For their size (and they are pretty hefty at about 10 ounces or 275 grams a piece), they pack surprisingly few calories, only 115, and less than 30 grams of carbs. They are available November through March, which means that they will start appearing at your local grocery stores soon. If you are not sure what stores carry them, contact Melissa’s Produce, the largest U.S. distributor of Korean pears, for the information.

Korean Pear

We could have easily eaten them all just like that, fresh from the box, crispy and firm and juicy. But I knew that I could pair them with a few other seasonal ingredients that would allow them to shine, all sophisticated and special. I picked up some gorgeous, dark green Tuscan kale at Torrance farmers’ market and decided to tame it with these juicy pears, plump dried cranberries, crunchy pecans, sweet matchstick-cut carrots, and roasted chicken breast. The salad came together with a light dressing of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. A pinch of lemon zest on top added just enough citrus fragrance to make it Californian.

I was happy. I shared it with a friend and she was happy. Looking at the small chunks of Korean pears glistening from the dressing, pristine and white in the sea of bold colors, made me confident that they were happy, too,

*You do know which cartoon I am talking about? It features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Yeti. If you have not seen it, find it on YouTube; it’s hilarious.

Korean Pear Salad from bibberche.com

TUSCAN KALE AND KOREAN PEAR SALAD WITH THE WORKS

Ingredients:

  • A bunch of Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, rinsed, trimmed of tough stems, and cut into thin strips
  • 1 Korean pear, cored, cut in wedges and then in smaller chunks (I prefer mine smaller, as I like to get a bit of everything on my fork, but this is up to you)
  • 1 handful of dried cranberries (dried cherries or even raisins would work, too)
  • ½ cup of chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 medium carrot cut into matchsticks or grated
  • 4 oz roasted chicken (I used ½ of roasted chicken breast) cut into cubes

Dressing:

  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • a twist or two of freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Toss all the salad ingredients together in a big bowl.

Place the dressing ingredients in a small recycled glass jar, twist the lid on tightly and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to combine. Pour over the salad and toss well. If you want kale to soften a bit, let the salad sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

For more recipes using Korean pears check some of my favorite blogs:

 I received a sample of Korean pears from Melissa’s Produce. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The opinions are mine and only mine:)

Nov 072012
 
Candied Southern Sweet Potatoes from bibberche.com

Photo credit: Dorothy of Shockingly Delicious

I encountered sweet potatoes at my first Thanksgiving, a few months after I moved to the U.S. I watched from the sidelines as my ex-husband, his sister and her boyfriend woke up with the first rays of sun to start the vigorous and detailed preparation for this, for me an unknown holiday. Roasted turkey and mashed potatoes were the only two dishes made from scratch. The rest arrived to the table straight from the can or a box. For years I participated only as a menial laborer – stirring, dicing, mixing, and washing dishes, fearful not to upset the feelings of a traditional holiday meal.

And for years I did not see the appeal of gorging on processed and semi-processed food three times a day, only to collapse on a couch and watch an interminably long game that held absolutely no interest for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors arrived to this country on the Mayflower and I bowed to the traditions as a newest family member. I wanted to feel the goosebumps and excitement of sharing the familial table, experiencing the closeness, support, and love, but there was no pay-off to the hours of hard work, as everyone scarfed the food down in minutes and migrated to the living room, whining and patting their engorged bellies.

I am an adventurous eater, not afraid to try new and unknown dishes, but grayish spears of green beans baked with a can of cream of mushroom soup and mealy sweet potatoes poured into a pan from a huge can and roasted with marshmallows on top left me uninspired and disappointed. I was not a food snob, but I was raised on dishes prepared from scratch, fresh produce, and meat raised humanely and ethically. I accepted the fact that creativity was not welcome at this holiday, and went along with family traditions presented to me.

FBLA Thanksgiving table from bibberche.com

Judy’s pumpkins stuffed with stuffing – the epitome of the season

After my divorce, I sent my daughter and my mother to my ex-husband’s family for Thanksgiving and I enjoyed the holiday on my own, watching movies, drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese. I really liked my new holiday tradition and did not miss the gloopy jellied cranberry sauce plopped on a platter, still bearing the markings of the can that housed it, nor the gravy mixed hastily from an envelope.

My second husband hailed from the south and even though he pined for green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and jellied cranberry sauce, he introduced a few innovative and to me appealing dishes: southern dressing and giblet gravy. I embraced both, appreciating the efforts that went into preparing them, relishing the idea that there were no cans or boxes necessary for preparing them. All of a sudden, Thanksgiving started to shape into a different kind of holiday, a day that I would look forward to, a family event that made us all excited. It might have had something to do with a fact that my second husband could care less about sports of any kind, and enjoyed sitting at the table for hours, talking and sipping wine, surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and platters still filled with food.

There was no sister-in-law nor mother-in-law to reign over the kitchen and impose the habits that I would have to accept unconditionally. My husband craved certain tastes that brought him close to his childhood and I obliged him with every dish I prepared for Thanksgiving, but I refused to build my children’s traditions on cans and boxes. From our first holiday, everything I prepared was from scratch.

FBLA Thanksgiving table

And this was not all…

Our Thanksgiving table’s theme is mostly southern. Turkey is roasted unstuffed, with cornbread dressing baked on the side and hearty giblet gravy to spoon on top. My cranberry sauce is chunky and simple, dinner rolls soft and buttery, green beans blanched and tossed with diced tomatoes and garlic. There is always a pecan pie, rich and boozy, decadent and oh-so-satisfying.

But one dish that is all mine and that fits beautifully in my adopted southern Thanksgiving tradition is candied southern sweet potatoes. This simple dish allows the taste of mashed sweet potatoes to come forward, accentuating their soft texture and elevating them to a higher level with a crunchy topping of melted butter, chopped pecans, brown sugar, and a hint of nutmeg. When I feel inspired, I stir in a glug of bourbon just to cement it firmly south of the Mason-Dixon line.

This November marks a third anniversary of our Food Bloggers LA group that ideally meets once a month. On Sunday, more than twenty of us showed up in Santa Monica at Andrew Wilder‘s place, bringing our favorite Thanksgiving dish. I am happy to say that my southern sweet potatoes disappeared and I brought an empty dish home. The best compliment came from my friend Christina from Christina’s Cucina, who brought this insanely good Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse Cake with Ganache topping. She does not like sweet potatoes, but said that done my way, they can grace her family table any time.

Pineapple Cake

Leslie baked this pretty Pineapple Cake for the third anniversary of our FBLA group

I hope you all have a great holiday with family and friends. I know that I have only a few more years to train my daughters’ sensitive palates and develop culinary traditions that will bring them home once they fly away and make their own nests. And I hope these sweet potatoes are going to be a part of their family celebration.

CANDIED SOUTHERN SWEET POTATOES 

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs of sweet potatoes (2 big ones)
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp Bourbon (optional – but why not? It’s the holidays!)

Praline Topping:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

 Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400F. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork in a few places to make sure they bake evenly. Place in the heated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. If the knife goes in easily, the potatoes are done.

Turn the heat down to 350F.

Cool the potatoes, peel an place into a large bowl. Add brown sugar, egg yolk, butter and bourbon if using and mash with a hand=held mixer for a few minutes until fluffy and combined.

Melt the butter fir the topping and combine it with the rest of the topping ingredients. Spoon on top of mashed sweet potatoes.

Pour into an oven proof dish and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.