Apr 012014
 

Ojai Pixie Cake from bibberche.com

I am standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. A coffee maker is gurgling behind me, and to the right the onions and potatoes sizzle in the skillet on the stove. My 70s kitchen could have easily been duplicated from an Updike’s Rabbit novel, but all the smells that surround me scream comfort and warmth. The tree branches in front of my balcony sway in the rhythm with the wind that blows from the west, bringing along a hint of the  ocean through the open door.

Yes, life is hectic and I still need at least five or six extra hours a day to accomplish everything. But even with the constant adrenaline rush I manage to take in all the beauty and serenity around me and acknowledge how grateful I am that my girls and I are finally settled in our own apartment. I still smile every time I unlock the door and glimpse a stairway leading up to the bedrooms, pinching myself just in case I were dreaming. Every day is like a present, unexpected, but eagerly awaited and greatly appreciated.

Ojai PixieTangerines from bibberche.com

I want to finally anchor myself to one place even though I still feel like a tourist who has decided to make this Southern California vacation last longer, and every Saturday chants “one more week, one more week.” I walk around with my mouth open, greedily soaking up every detail of beauty that surrounds me. I crane my neck through the car window, hoping to see the mountains covered with snow in the distance. I eagerly await the green light on the way to our local Persian store just to see the undulating hills of the valley hugging the horizon while the car plummets down the steep, curvy road.

I still get excited when I see a plump palm tree in a neighbor’s yard. I point and clap every time I spy a citrus tree, and sometimes even plan the elaborate nightly raids on the unsuspecting fruit hanging off the easily reached branches in the street that leads to my daughter’s school. I feel as if I were here on borrowed time, and any minute a cold hand will snatch me and whisk me away back to Ohio. And just in case I wake up freezing in some driveway west of Cleveland, I would like to have my pockets stuffed with tangerines, lemons, and oranges to keep me warm.

Ojai Pixie Tangerines from bibberche.com

A few days ago the mailman delivered a box full of Ojai pixie tangerines from Melissa’s Produce to my door. As I brought them up to my face and inhaled their fresh, citrus smell, I could not stop smiling. I do not have to sneak through the neighborhood and make the chihuahuas restless while I try to pick someone else’s fruit. I am not going anywhere and I do not have to arm myself with California sunshine to battle the invisible forces trying to plunge me into the land of eternal snow. I loved Cleveland, but right now I am starting to make firmer and more self-confident steps on the California sand.

I felt as if I were living a California dream as the sweet, sticky liquid ran down my fingers and the smell of fresh citrus enveloped me. It made me tremendously happy to be alive right now, in this beautiful part of the world that I can finally call home.

Ojai Pixie Caramel Cake from bibberche.com

Ojai pixie tangerines are incredibly sweet and fragrant. Their season is short and can be easily missed. We ate most of the loot, but several ended up in this cake which pretty much describes my life right now: fulfilling, satisfying, light, fresh, and at times surprising (as the caramel hardened on top of the tangerines, it added a delightful, albeit unexpected crunch).

Ojai Pixie Cake with Caramel Sauce
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
This cake is easy to make and versatile. You can substitute fruit of your choice and play with the flavor combinations.
Ingredients
  • 6 Ojai pixie tangerines (zested, peeled and separated into segments; reserve 1 tsp of zest for the recipe, save the rest in freezer)
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Caramel Sauce:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ⅔ cup Ojai pixie tangerine juice (about 4 tangerines)
Instructions
  1. Cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.
  4. Combine the butter and sugar and mix on medium speed until fluffy using an electric mixer.
  5. While the mixer is running, add eggs one at a time.
  6. Add the grated orange zest.
  7. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  8. Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix until it is incorporated.
  9. Pour the batter into the pan.
  10. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the cake is an even golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  12. Take the cake out of the pan.
  13. Arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the cake.
  14. Caramel Orange Sauce:
  15. Combine sugar, water, and tangerine juice in a heavy pan.
  16. Heat on moderate-high temperature until sugar is melted.
  17. Turn the heat down to low and cook until the color turns light amber, stirring occasionally.
  18. Pour the caramel on top of the cake and tangerine slices.
  19. Let it cool and serve.

Thanks Melissa’s Produce for the gift of citrusy sunshine.

Feb 122014
 

Passion Fruit Mini Cheesecakes from bibberche.com

February is not one of my favorite months. It’s too short, too whimsical, too unpredictable, and it comes just before my birthday month of March. I am a bit vain and it is not surprising that I cannot wait for February to move over and allow the bright yellow forsythia flowers to break the winter grays. A harbinger of spring I am, having arrived on Earth at the last day of winter, just to bid it goodbye.

When I was younger, I had several winter “breaks” a year to look forward to; days spent skiing, nights spent playing games, drinking, and laughing with good friends – more than enough to speed February along and disperse the last remnants of seemingly endless sub-zero temperatures.

Passion Fruit from bibberche.com

One year, we were cooped up in our cabin for days, unable to see above the snowdrifts. The boys worked on shoveling a tunnel to the wood shed; the girls made sure there is plenty of hearty food; together, we systematically worked through our vast alcohol stockpile, until the only bottles left were gin and maracuja syrup. We hoped it would stop snowing and we’d be able to get to a store and procure more desirable beverages. Alas, the preferans tournament lasted well into the witching hours and the stress of playing and kibitzing demanded fortification. Sweet, tropical, citrusy and exotic taste of maracuja drowned the harsh aftertaste of gin and the night was saved.

These days I don’t have to battle snow and freezing rains of February. My girls look forward to the winter breaks and long lazy weekends much more than I do, even though we had to redefine winter according to southern California.

Passion Fruit from bibberche.com

Last year at this time my life was entangled in a pretty messy Gordian knot, and Alexander the Great was nowhere in sight. Valentine’s Day found me hurt, exhausted, wounded, and frantic. I was doing my best to keep my head above the murky waters, and each breath I took, lead me upwards and forward. I lived every day breath by breath.

A year later, I find myself in a different world. Every single time I turn the knob and enter my apartment, I smile. I cannot help it. I am giddy with the overwhelming sense of freedom. My place! My life! My future! This February can linger as long as it wants – I have finished with being impatient. And I welcome each day as an enormous gift, grateful for everything that makes my life so wonderful and fulfilling.

Even though I still have a small jar of Seville orange marmalade I made last year, there is nothing bitter in my life on this Valentine’s Day. I still take a plunge once in a while and emerge gasping for air, my mouth filled with murky water; but each time  my head pops up, I smile, my gaze fixed beyond the horizon line.

Melissa's Raspberry Sauce from bibberche.com

When the box from Melissa’s Produce appeared at my door, I spent hours trying to figure out what I can make to celebrate the Lovers’ Day. I decided to make mini passion fruit cheesecakes, knowing that my daughters would be squealing with joy. When I cut through the tough, purple skin and separated the halves of the fruit, its aroma hit me like a hammer; in a second, I was back in the snowed-in cabin, holding cards in one hand and gin-and-maracuja* cocktail in another.

I was floating on the cloud of nostalgia, hearing the laughter, feeling almost enchanted by a vision of a wonderful life that we all experienced in those days. We were invincible and we could conquer the world. It was simple, and invigorating, and full of hope for the future. Just like my life a few decades later. Even though there is still no one out there holding a card and a box of chocolates with my  name on it.

*Maracuja is a Brazilian name for passion fruit; do not attempt this “cocktail” at home; it tastes palatable only when you are in your early twenties, cooped-up in a cabin with nowhere to go, with snow drifts towering above the roof. It is a cocktail of desperation:)

Passion Fruit Mini Cheesecakes from bibberche.com

Mini Passion Fruit Cheesecakes
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
These are delightful, versatile, easy-to-make little bites.
Ingredients
  • CRUST:
  • 20 graham cookies
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • FILLING:
  • 16oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 passion fruits (reserve one for the topping)
  • Raspberry Sauce (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Line a muffin pan with paper inserts.
  3. Prepare the crust:
  4. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor (or mini chopper) until crumbled.
  5. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.
  6. Place about 1 Tbsp of cookie mixture into each muffin cup and press down.
  7. Bake for 5 minutes.
  8. Let it cool down while making the filling.
  9. Whip the cream cheese until creamy.
  10. Add sour cream and sugar and whip until combined.
  11. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
  12. Stir in the passion fruit pulp and vanilla.
  13. Pour on top of the graham cracker crust.
  14. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm at the edges and still wiggly in the middle.
  15. Let it cool.
  16. Refrigerate or serve at room temperature, dotted with Raspberry Sauce (optional)

Thanks, Robert and Melissa’s Produce for another box filled with gorgeous products!

Dec 102013
 


Komibrot from bibberche.com

I made Eggs Benedict for my family a few days ago and had leftover egg whites. I usually freeze my egg whites (I keep them in a plastic bag and I just change the number as I add more), but this time I decided to make Komisbrot instead.

This is one of the lightest and tastiest desserts that I know, as well as unbelievably simple and fast to make. It was not a sweet that Mother would deem special enough for for guests, but rather a spur-of-the moment kids-need-an-after-school-snack thing. It is light, with very little fat, studded with dried fruit and nuts, very similar to angel food cake as it uses only egg whites. In Serbia, we call it Komisbrot, the name I am certain originated somewhere in the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I was taught by Njanja and Mother both how to properly flour and grease a baking pan to avoid unsightly cakes and sticky messes. They were pedantic and fastidious, and I learned the hard way not to challenge the wisdom of the experience: my short-cuts inevitably resulted in the batter stubbornly adhering to the walls of the pan, while I saw in my mind the smirking faces of my two culinary mentors.

These days I am the fastidious one as I teach my girls the basics of baking. But instead of swirling flour to cover evenly the buttered walls of the baking pan, I now use the baking oil spray. They are not all created equal, and I had some misgivings about using them, until I tried Pompeian Grapeseed Oil spray.

Its light flavor does not interfere with the flavor of food, it has a high smoke point, it’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, and it’s packaged in a pretty-looking, eco-friendly can which contains no propellants because of the newly designed pouch system, that also protects the oil from damaging light.

 

Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray

There is always a moment of trepidation when I lead the knife around the edges of the cake to loosen them. Will the batter Gods be merciful or will I be forced to use every ounce of creativity to salvage my baking disaster? I have to say that my “komisbrot” plopped beautifully on my hand after I turned the bread pan upside down. I patted my shoulder congratulating myself and seeing in my mind the admiring and approving  faces of  my mother and Njanja.

Komisbrot from bibberche.com

Komisbrot, a Serbian Angel Food Cake: Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray
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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: European
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
The recipe does not ask for specific number of egg whites, as they are measured by volume, along with the other ingredients. I happened to have 6 egg whites, which amounted to about 1 cup.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup chilled egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup various dried fruit and nuts, chopped (I used cranberries, white raisins, pecans, and walnuts)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly spray a bread pan with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray.
  3. Beat your egg whites with salt on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  4. Add the sugar and mix to combine.
  5. Stir in the flour, fruit, nuts, and lemon zest.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and flatten the surface.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes (if the knife pierced through the middle comes out clean, it is done).
  8. Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes and turn over to the bakers rack to cool completely.
  9. Cut into slices and serve.

To learn more about the benefits of Pompeian Grapeseed Oil, visit the Pompeian site.  Take a few seconds to answer a couple of questions for a chance to win $200, and continue on to get the $1.00 off coupon for Pompeian Grapeseed Oil. And  for the latest news and promotions, like Pompeian on Facebook.

Disclosure: Thanks to Smiley360 and Pompeian for providing me with Pompeian Grapeseed Oil Spray for the purpose of my review.  This is not a paid post and the  opinions are my own.

Oct 292013
 

Bosnian Poached Apples, Tufahije from bibberche.com

I was born in the town of Novi Pazar in southwestern Serbia, very close to the border with today’s Montenegro and Herzegovina. My parents were newlyweds when they moved there, Father a young doctor, Mother the high school German and Art teacher. Their apartment was on the second floor of a building overlooking the main street that became the promenade at night, filled with young men and women walking in a lazy, elongated circle, casting surreptitious glances at their secret crushes, shy and apprehensive, with many awkward giggles hidden behind a hand.

The town was a mix of Christians and Muslims with early 10th century solid rock churches on the outskirts looking over the slender minarets in the center. Four centuries of Turkish Ottoman rule left a significant imprint on the area changing forever the religious and cultural milieu of the land. The Turks rode back east in the late nineteenth century, but a big part of their culture stayed behind.

Green Dragon Apples from bibberche.com

Green Dragon Apples from Melissa’s Produce were perfect choice for this dessert

We moved to central Serbia when I was a baby, and went back to Novi Pazar only occasionally to visit relatives and friends. I was always fascinated by this town which reminded me of 1001 Nights with its mosques, narrow cobble-stoned streets, small shops selling hand-made copper dishes and filigree gold, the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans, the high brick and mortar walls with gates facing the street, men in red fezes smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking tea for hours, the busy markets crowded with haggling shoppers, and people with strange sounding names.

We looked forward to these weekend two-hour trips by car, feeling as if we were going not only away in space, but back in time. The language had a different rhythm, the pace was slower, the sounds exotic, and the smells coming out of the kitchens unusual and romantic. The breads were flatter, the meat was definitely lamb, and thick yogurt accompanied many restaurant dishes.

Bosnian Poached Apples, Tufahije, from bibberche.com

Around noon, housewives would leave their chores at home and venture out into the streets, the yards of silk undulating around their legs, long, curly locks hidden behind a colorful scarf. They would visit each other, spending a leisurely hour drinking freshly ground and brewed Turkish coffee and spreading the neighborhood news whispered in confidence over the walls separating the houses.

Turkish coffee is strong, and wise women knew many tricks to prepare the gullet for enjoying it. Sometimes there were only sugar cubes to dunk into a small fildzan of hot, dark liquid. Sometimes there was rose or bergamot flavored rahat-lokum* on a saucer with an accompanying glass of water served as a refreshment before the coffee. Sometimes the hostess would offer her latest homemade fruit preserves, watching with hawk-like attention for her friends’ reactions.

Bosnian Poached Apples Tufahije from bibberche.com

And sometimes there would be desserts cut into small squares and drowned in sweet, lemony syrup. As kids, we learned quickly which houses promised the best feast and ran behind mothers, aunts, friends, and neighbors, eagerly anticipating the flavorful, exotic sugar rush.

Every time I go back to Serbia, I try to go to Novi Pazar to visit my relatives. The town has joined the 21st century with power lines swooping overhead and cell phones at every other ear, but if you squint, you can imagine yourself embraced by a sleepy, romantic air of bygone days, filled with smells and sounds reminiscent of the East.  To bring that feeling to my family in America, I try to introduce all my friends to the wonderful ritual of drinking Turkish coffee. I offer sugar cubes, rahat-lokum, and home-made fruit preserves. And sometimes I even make the sweet, simple desserts, covered in lemony syrup.

Tufahije, Bosnian Poached Apples from bibberche.com

Tufahiye/Tufahije
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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Turkish-Influenced Balkan Cuisine
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Crispy apples poached in a lemony, sweet syrup, filled with ground nuts and topped with fresh whipped cream
Ingredients
  • 6 medium-sized apples (choose firmer apples that do not fall apart under heat)
  • 400ml (1 ½ cups) water
  • 400gr (15 oz) granulated sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 150gr (5 oz) ground walnuts
  • 250ml (1cup) heavy whipping cream
  • 1-2 Tbsp sugar
Instructions
  1. Peel and core the apples (make the hole 1 inch in diameter) and lay them in a pot.
  2. Cover with water, sugar, and lemon juice, and cook for 15-20 minutes until softened, but still holding their shape.
  3. Take the apples out of the liquid and place them in a serving dish with walls at least 2 inches high.
  4. Continue simmering the liquid until it slightly thickens, another 10-15 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, fill the holes in cooked apples with ground walnuts.
  6. Pour the hot liquid over the apples and nuts.
  7. Add more nuts if necessary.
  8. Chill in the refrigerator.
  9. Whip the heavy whipping cream until the soft peaks form, add the sugar, and serve on top of the apples.

*rahat-lokum is known in English as Turkish Delight, a candy made of powdered sugar, starch, and aromatics, often containing nuts.

 

Jul 152013
 

Boozy Peach Compote

My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladioli with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.

When we were in high school, I used to resent her birthday, as it seemed that she had an unfair advantage; everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check.

Serbian Peaches

As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked  at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.

Boozy Peach Compote from bibberche.com

Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. After smelling them individually for quality control, I bought several pounds at our local grocery store. I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed.

I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, wherever I am, I buy gladioli frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.

Boozy Peach Compote from bibberche.com

Ghosts of Summers Past: Boozy Peach Compote
5.0 from 3 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert, Condiment
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
This is an easy, versatile recipe which can accommodate any type of stone fruits and different liqueurs or spirits. The fruit is not really cooked, but rather plunged into the hot liquid, leaving it somewhat firm. Use it to top vanilla ice cream, pound cake, pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
Ingredients
  • 4-5 large, ripe, but not too soft peaches, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp brandy, rum, or cognac (optional)
  • 1 cup apple juice (add a bit extra if not using alcohol)
  • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Fresh mint leaves
Instructions
  1. Pour water and sugar in a heavy, stainless steel pot and heat on medium-low temperature until sugar caramelizes, swirling the pot frequently to prevent burning. (It will start changing color at the edges first and swirling will distribute the caramelization).
  2. It is done when it turns amber.
  3. Remove the pot from fire and add alcohol. (Be careful, as it may ignite).
  4. Add apple juice and lemon juice, and heat until it boils and all the crystallized sugar melts.
  5. Pour the peaches, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick into the hot liquid and immediately turn the heat off.
  6. Let it cool off to desired temperature and serve with fresh mint leaves.

 

Jun 072013
 

graybeh from bibberche.com

Ever since I started elementary school, my family spent two weeks of winter break in the mountains, where we had an adorable, miniature, and very rustic cabin. Everything we needed, we had to pack into the trunk of Father’s Fiat 1300; there were no stores and the narrow, mountain road was often buried under the enormous snow drifts, which made it impossible for anyone to navigate for days.

The week before our departure, Mother and Njanja would rarely leave the kitchen, preparing enough food to sustain us and guests for the fortnight. The refrigerator and pantry shelves slowly filled up with enameled pots of beans, sarma*, cabbage with pork, and goulash, trays of pastries, rolls, and cookies, and bowls of semi-prepared side dishes.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

Father would pack them tightly around snow tires, along with packages of frozen meat, wooden crates of vegetables and fruit, sacks of pantry staples, and casks of red wine. Five of us would remain pretty much immobile during the three to four hour trip to the cabin, Mother and the three of us buried under the canvas bags and baskets containing the rest of the supplies, Father intensely focused on the road conditions. Filled with excitement and sense of adventure, we never complained, even after we had to help unload the car and take the provisions in the house down a path Father shoveled for us moments before.

He would immediately get to work defrosting the pipes and building fire in the fireplace. It took a long time to warm up the foot-thick stone walls and we sat on the couch with our full winter attire on, shivering, but awaiting with anticipation the first offering: a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies. Mother would empty a bottle of water she filled at home into a teapot, turn on a small two-burner gas stove, and get the tea steeping, while unwrapping gurabije, not too sweet, but crispy butter cookies topped with chopped nutsshe and Njanja prepared ahead.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

The balls of dough are about 1 inch in diameter

Never did those cookies taste better than on those frigid early afternoons, when we dared take the gloves off only to dunk a piece in our tea. They dissolved on our tongues, their buttery flavor chased by the fragrant aroma of hibiscus and wild flowers, bringing comfort, and temporarily easing hunger caused by the unrelenting mountain air. The tea would warm our hands just when the fireplace came to life, and we would finish the last bites huddled together in front of fire.

I have never even contemplated making gurabije here in the New World, as for me they are inextricably tied to those long-gone winters and our beloved small cabin that is not there any more. But the memories flooded me when I opened Jerusalem: A Cookbook,  by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, looking for a dessert to make for our monthly virtual club started by my friend Beth of OMG!Yummy. There on page 260 was a recipe for Ghraybeh, simple butter cookies topped by pistachios. I knew that I had to make them right here in my kitchen, even though southern California comes in contact with snow and ice only via Hollywood.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

I am sure that graybeh and gurabije have a common ancestor somewhere in the Middle East and that the cookie reached the Balkans carried in fond memories of many Ottoman Turks who occupied the area for several centuries. Unlike Njanja’s version, it asks for orange blossom and rose petal waters. I am lucky that I live near two Persian grocery stores and finding those, to me, elusive and exotic ingredients does not pose a problem.

Njanja used various cookie cutters to shape gurabije; in this recipe, the small balls of dough are flattened by hands which gives them more old-fashioned, rustic look. There is no egg-white wash, nor chopped nuts on top, rather a solitary shelled pistachio in the center of the cookie. They baked to slightly golden color and accompanied by a cup of strong tea, they were satisfying and comforting, albeit lacking the tantalizing promise of adventure the cookies of my childhood miraculously possessed.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook is a treasure filled with recipes that have the power to instantaneously whisk you away to those enchanted, ancient lands. One day soon I hope to walk the streets of Jerusalem and experience a new adventure. In the meantime, I am filling my wandering soul with promises just by flipping page after page. Why don’t you join me in Tasting Jerusalem?

*Sarma is a Balkan take on dolma; it features sauerkraut leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice).

graybeh from bibberche.com

Apr 102013
 

 

Puslice from bibberche.com

When I look back in time of my childhood, I have to be in awe of Mother and Njanja for all the baking they did, almost on daily basis. I cannot remember a single day that we did not have something sweet to round up our meal and to snack on. I definitely took it for granted and only when I became a mother and faced the demands of the adult world did I realize how fortunate we were growing up.

My children do not enjoy daily doses of pies, cookies, tortes, cakes – not even crepes, the ubiquitous dessert that most of the European children learn to make about the time they start preschool (yes, I am kidding, but crepes are a simple, inexpensive and versatile dessert that can be whipped up in minutes, and as such they are considered ordinary by many of my “paesanos”). That way, when I bake something, anything, they are elated and tremendously happy.

Sure, I have inherited Mother’s hand-written cookbook and Njanja’s painstakingly recorded page after yellowed page of decades-worth of recipes, and one of these days I will embark on a project of preserving the old-fashioned, delicious, and oh-so-time-consuming European dishes of the past. I hate to see them lapse into the oblivion, but I am not ready yet to tackle Njanja’s Dobos Torte or Mother’s Napoleon Torte. My girls know nothing about this idea and that’s for the best. In the meantime, I bake the simplest of desserts, once every couple of weeks, and make a grandstand of it, accepting accolades, praises, and, of course, sweet kisses with feigned modesty.

Our Food Bloggers of LA April meeting was held in the Orange County, at a beautiful house perched on a Tustin hill. Kim of Rustic Garden Bistro was our hostess, and as this was the second spring she and her ever-so-nice husband Barry have kept chickens, it was no surprise that the theme of the get-together was “Egg-stravaganza”.

I planned on making a quiche, a Russian Salad, or maybe an assortment of deviled eggs, but I was ambushed by a few unexpected errands the day before, which left me literally scratching my head as I had to go to work in the early afternoon. I did not completely disregard the teachings of my female ancestors, though: every time I make mayonnaise, I save the egg white and keep it in a plastic bagie in the freezer – as I add more, I just change the number on the bag with my Sharpie.

I promptly excavated a baggie containing three egg whites, placed them in a cup of warm water to defrost, and danced a happy dance in the middle of my 70s kitchen in anticipation of light-as-foam, crispy meringues. They might not have been Mother’s elaborate masterpieces combining several beautiful flavors that sing to your palate in a delicious symphony, but the members of my household, including Pepe, the French poodle, were exctatic.

Meringues (Puslice) from bibberche.com

Basic Meringue Cookies
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
It takes a little bit of patience to whip the egg whites into a firm meringue, but the results are always going to be successful, as long as you do not allow any yolk to penetrate the egg whites.
Ingredients
  • 3 large egg whites
  • a small pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (240 gr) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Place the egg whites and salt in a large, cold metal or glass mixing bowl (if you are using the stand mixer, refrigerate the bowl for 10-15 minutes).
  4. Whip on high speed until the stiff peaks appear, about 15 minutes.
  5. Slowly add the sugar until incorporated.
  6. Mix in the lemon juice and in the end the lemon zest.
  7. Spoon the meringue into a Ziploc bag (or a pastry bag) fitted with a large star tip.
  8. Pipe the rosettes (1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter) on top of the parchment paper in the cookie sheets, leaving some space between them as they spread a bit.
  9. Place the cookie sheets in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 200F (100C).
  10. Bake (or rather dry) the cookies for 60 minutes until done. (They should stay white).
  11. Do not open the oven door during the baking process (that might cause the meringues to collapse).
  12. At this point you can turn the oven off and leave the cookies inside until ready to serve.

The recipe is versatile – you can omit the lemon zest and top each meringue with a quarter of a walnut or a pecan. You can add a bit of cocoa to color it and give it chocolate flavor. You can add chocolate chips or chopped nuts as Judy of Bumbleberry Breeze did. And besides, they are so easy to make that I entrusted my girls to watch them, turn the oven off, and let them dry out while I went to work.

 

Mar 152013
 

Irish Flag Tart from bibberche.com

According to my family tree, I am a hundred percent Serbian. I am lenient and allow for a trace of Turkish, Hungarian and Austrian genetic input. But as hard as I search, I cannot find an atom of Irish anywhere in my bloodline. But we are approaching St. Patrick’s Day and the only way for me to celebrate in style is to devote this post to my Irish-by-proxy experiences.

My first ex-husband was partly Irish, which showed in his ruddy cheeks, his jovial behaviour and his deeply ingrained love of adult malted beverages. Through his Irish genes he passed all those traits to our only child, my beloved Nina, who plans on taking a trip to the Emerald Isle one day soon to connect with her long-lost relatives (and I don’t doubt for a second that she’ll find several, even though the White family sailed to the New World on the Mayflower).

My cousin Vladimir is definitely not Irish, having been sired and raised by two full-blooded bona fide Serbs. But he can definitely fool anyone into believing that he is a genuine Celt, with his fiery red hair, fair skin covered with freckles, and a talent for breaking into the real Irish brogue at the spur of the moment.

Mandarin oranges from bibberche.com

I truly enjoy Irish music, especially the broody, morose tunes, Danny Boy included. It seems that Nina followed after my taste when  she danced her version of Irish jig in front of a boy she fancied in first grade. And it does not surprise me that she had a long-lived love affair with Riverdance, which we finally saw together a couple of years ago.

One of my best friends was a no-nonsense New Yorker, Debi, who went to an all-catholic high school in Ireland and was expelled, after a series of small, but disturbing events when she instigated rebellious behaviour and clandestine actions. I spent many days at her house, thoroughly enjoying the stories about her adventurous life in Ireland and Manhattan, and hugging her daughters when mine was far away in Seerbia with her grandparents. Oh, and she colored my hair blond once, just to jolt me out of my boring daily routine.

I devoured Trinity by Leon Uris, eager to understand the years of conflicts, bombs, threats, and unstability. I saw many movies on the subject, and the ones made in Ireland reminded me of our own, Balkan movies, with their overwhelming sense of gray, drab, rainy and grimy, intended to paint the picture not only of the life in Ireland, but of the sadness and despair its people carry with them every day.

Baby Kiwi from bibberche.com

And even though I have never been to Ireland, I love Irish food, the hearty, comforting stews, succulent lamb, warm and satisfying potato dishes, and sturdy breads. My girls await with anticipation the celebratory American-Irish meal of corn beef, potatoes, cabbage, and soda bread some time this week and our foggy mornings keep me motivated and eager to tackle the humble feast.

My Irish flag tart probably has as little to do with Ireland as I do, but it is festive, fresh, simple, and rewarding, pairing tart mandarin oranges and fragrant baby kiwi with rich vanilla-scented custard and sweet, ripe bananas. It is a small indulgence, an easy surrender to the world of desserts, a pretty and uncomplicated few forkfuls, just enough to satiate the desire for sweets.

I wish all my Irish and Irish-wannabe friends Happy St. Patrick’s Day – you have definitely colored my life with so many unusual and bright hues that it can never be drab and boring.

This tart was made possible by generous contribution from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest distributor of fresh fruits, vegetables and food products in the U.S. Mandarins and baby kiwi* were delightful to play with and I truly appreciate this gift of food!

Irish Flag Tart from bibberche.com

* Baby kiwis are grape-sized, smooth-skinned version of regular kiwis, best eaten fresh as a snack, in salads, in fruit salads or on top of a fruit tart.

IRISH FLAG FRUIT TART

Shortbread Pie Crust:

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Pastry Cream:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼ milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch

Glaze:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Fruit:

  • 1 banana, sliced,
  • 1 package (6 oz) baby kiwis, sliced
  • 1 mandarin orange, segmented

Directions:

Crust:

Using a hand-held mixer blend butter and sugar together into a paste. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and knead lightly until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a circle slightly bigger than the pie pan, and using the rolling pin, transfer the dough into the pan. Pat the bottom and sides to adhere to the pan and cut off the excess dough. Spear the bottom with the fork a few times, cover with aluminum foil, fill with pie weights (or dried beans) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil and bake for another 5 minutes, until it starts turning golden brown.

Pastry Cream:

Using a hand-held mixer, mix the egg yolks and sugar together until combined. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and stir into the egg mixture to form a paste.

Heat the milk on medium temperature until it starts to bubble up around the edges. Remove from the heat and slowly add into eggs and sugar, vigorously stirring to prevent curdling of the eggs. Return to medium heat and cook until boiling, whisking constantly. Once it boils, whisk for another 30-60 seconds to thicken and remove from heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent the crust from forming and keep refrigerated until use.

Glaze:

Combine all the ingredients in a small stainless steel pot and heat on medium temperature to thicken slightly.

To assemble:

Pour the cooled pastry cream over the crust and place the fruit decoratively on top. Pour the glaze over the fruit and keep in the fridge until ready to eat.

More recipes using baby kiwis:

Minted Tomato, Pepper, Feta Salad with Baby Kiwi from Shockingly Delicious

Honey-Glazed Baby Kiwi Mascarpone Cheesecake from Cooking on the Weekends

Kiwi and Peach Puree from Weelicious

Feb 162013
 

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

We did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in Serbia  when I was growing up. So my first February on the new continent, I strolled through the aisles of the grocery stores in a western suburb of Detroit, and gazed in amazement at the piles of chocolates, pink and red hearts, red roses, and enormous helium balloons. I felt like Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where he imagines he has a weird disease whose symptoms include multicolored dots dancing in front of his eyes. I was dazzled by the exhibit of commercialized romance, wondering where all the pink and red ended up.

I worked at a small family restaurant that Valentine’s Day and a few minutes before closing, a white teddy bear holding a huge red helium heart-shaped balloon appeared at the door. I chuckled and shook my head, amused by the utter silliness of the moment. But the balloon was heading in my direction and I froze when I saw my husband’s bearded face behind it, smiling from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of my mushy and tearful response to this oh-so-very romantic gesture.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Everyone around me was oohing and aahing, and I wished that I could wave my magic wand and disappear; or at least have the teddy bear and the balloon disappear. I should have known that Don would pull something like that. After all, he took me to see Howard the Duck on our first date after I arrived to the U.S. And he was extremely excited when an old Gypsy sold him Huey, Dewey, and Louie wall ornaments silhouetted in wrought iron at the market in my home town in Serbia. I did not have the heart to tell him that I really thought all the kitsch I saw around me was meant for high school kids.

Throughout the years I got accustomed to seeing men in suits and ties logging behind them big red heart-shaped balloons and stuffed animals, bedazzled crimson boxes filled with chocolates too sweet for my taste, and cards brimming with tasteless and sappy poetry. I overcame my cultural shock and learned to accept these funny expressions of affection that came my way on the Day of Love.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Pits and pulp are full of pectin

I feel pretty domesticated on American soil after more than two decades of domicile. My second marriage is in its terminal and final phase and Valentine’s Day ambushed me this year. It would have snuck by unnoticed had my girls not insisted on making some red velvet cupcakes for their BFFs. I don’t want to infect them with my grumpiness and disdain for this holiday when they are so enthusiastic and eager to offer the world their small share of red, sweet, and chocolatey. It only seemed appropriate for me to let them take the center stage.

Oh, I participated in the madness, too, but in an unorthodox and weird way. My contribution this year is Seville orange marmalade whose seemingly contradictory nuances of flavor perfectly describe my life at present: it is slightly bitter, bright, sweet, and fresh, with a hint of exotic and mysterious. And it is the bitterness that I look forward to, as it seems to only bring out and accentuate the sublime taste of the preserves in all its complexity.

Seville Orange Juice from bibberche.com

After I take the kids to school in the morning, I make a strong cup of Turkish coffee, spread some good butter on a piece of crusty Tuscan country bread and grab a small jar of marmalade. It has become a ritual I anticipate with glee. I wait patiently as the sweet orange jam slowly oozes from the spoon onto the bread, welcoming the bitterness that lingers for a few seconds. This marmalade is not comforting and mellow. It is bold and assertive. It does not coddle and caress, but most definitely reminds me that life is, indeed. bitter and sweet and exciting and unpredictable.

I don’t know how many teddy bears, chocolate boxes, and big, red, hear-shaped helium balloons are in my future. I’d prefer to avoid them if possible, but even if I see them approaching me from the distance, I won’t be embarrassed and I won’t roll my eyes in disapproval. After all, I know that there would be someone’s huge smile hiding behind them and that’s all that counts. In the meantime, I’ll bid Valentine’s Day goodbye, with my fingers sticky from the marmalade.

*****

Seville oranges originated in China and Arab explorers brought them to Europe, where they reigned for the next few centuries, before their sweeter cousins took over. The first orange marmalade was made from Seville oranges, as they are high in pectin. Inclement weather made a ship carrying them take shelter at the Scottish harbor of Dundee, where a local grocer bought the whole cargo cheaply. His wife used a few sacks of sugar sitting in the store to make marmalade and soon after, they started a jam-making business.

Seville Oranges from bibberche.com

Fragrant Seville Oranges from Melissa’s Produce

Seville oranges are hard to peel and have too many seeds. Their juice is sour and tart, but abundant, which makes them perfect for juicing, marinades, and dressings, as they are not especially good for eating fresh. Their slightly bumpy skin is fragrant and rich in essential oils, and when zested adds a fresh citrusy punch to a salad, a bowl of wilted greens, or grilled fish.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Ingredients:

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

 Directions:

Prepare the jars and lids. Heat a big pot of water and when it boils, submerge the lids and the jar inside and boil for 5-10 minutes. Invert them on a clean paper towel to dry.

Scrub oranges and lemons and cut them in half. Squeeze the juice and strain it. Reserve the pits, the pulp, and the membranes and tie it in double layer of cheesecloth (this is where all the pectin resides).

Using a grapefruit spoon scrape as much of the white pith as possible, as that’s what makes the marmalade bitter. Cut the skins in thin strips and then in smaller pieces.

Boil the skins for an hour to make them softer and drain. Add the squeezed juice (I had about 3 cups), water, and cheesecloth with pits and pulp.

Heat until it boils, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add the sugar and continue simmering for another hour, until the skin is soft and translucent. To check if the marmalade is ready, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Drip a few drops on it and swirl it around. If it barely moves, it’s done. If it runs, it needs to cook a little bit longer.

Turn the heat off and let it cool slightly. Carefully fill the jars and close the lids tightly. Keep the marmalade in the fridge for a month.

Thanks Robert from Melissa’s Produce for the gift of this beautiful citrus!

Dec 242012
 
Hazelnut Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Custard and Ganache

Photo by Dorothy of Schockingly Delicious

Something miraculous occurs to me every time I taste a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. I fall into a sensory overload, remembering the days of my childhood when I felt comforted and safe, as the warm smell of roasted nuts greeted me at the kitchen door, and adventurous summers of my early teenage years when the boys vied for my attention bribing me with boxes of Eurocream, a Serbian version of Nutella. Tthe aftermath was not as romantic, as I gained ten pounds in one month; but, oh, it was so well worth it!)

Both my mother and grandmother were talented bakers. When the holiday season started in Fall, they would put away their differences and join elbows in order to create the tastiest tiny morsels in town. Each celebration ended with vintage platters lined with dozens of perfectly shaped desserts, small enough to fit into your mouth in one ladylike bite, and allowing you to taste as many without feeling like you were overindulging.

For days, my sister, my brother, and I would be tempted by warm and comforting smells coming from the oven, as the rows of sweets multiplied on the tables throughout the house. We raced Father for the scraps, the cut-off edges, and occasional slightly burned and misshapen specimens. We begged Mother to pass us a few bites behind her back, risking Njanja’s wrath after her usual daily counting duty, but were able to fully enjoy the offerings only after the guests have gone home, leaving us more than enough sweet bounty for several days to come.

I never had a favorite, but throughout the years, a few desserts rose above the others and I reluctantly started to make them in my own kitchen, wanting my girls to experience at least a small part of my excitement. The two younger ones have never met Njanja, and visited Mother only in the summer. They learned to appreciate their grandmother’s culinary skills, but did not have a chance to try her petit fours first hand. My baking skills cannot compare to hers, but they don’t know that, as all they know are the stories.

I have mastered a few of Njanja’s and Mother’s recipes in the last twenty years and even though I know very well how tedious and tiring the whole process will be, I make the sweets nevertheless, feeling the connection to these formidable women who shaped me, knowing that I’ll see the smiles of enjoyment on my children’s faces.

One of their favorites has always been the Indianers, hazelnut shortbread sandwich cookies with custard and chocolate ganache. I have tried to figure out why they were named Indianers, and the only explanation that comes to mind is that the top, dipped in dark ganache, looks like an Indian’s head wrapped in a turban. Almost.

I made Indianers for our annual Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group cookie exchange meeting. As they yield a lot, I took a couple of dozen to a Bunco game, and it made me feel good when they disappeared instantly. My blogger friends seemed to enjoy them as well, and I felt really proud of myself, knowing that I am continuing the tradition, without betraying the ardor, skill, and creativity of my mother who tried to teach us to strive for the best, to challenge ourselves, and to be kind and giving to the people around us.

FBLA Cookie Exchange

Thanks, Dorothy, for making my cookie tin so photogenic!

INDIANERS – HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD SANDWICH COOKIES WITH CUSTARD AND CHOCOLATE GANACHE

Ingredients:

Shortbread pastry:

  • ¾ cups (200gr) sugar
  • 2 sticks (300gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 oz (250gr) roasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 1 ¼ cups (300gr) all-purpose flour

Custard:

  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¾ cup (12 Tbsp) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 sticks (350gr) unsalted butter

Ganache:

  • 6 oz bitter-sweet chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp milk

Directions:

Shortbread Pastry:

Cream sugar and butter with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add egg yolks, one by one, until mixed in. In a separate bowl stir together ground hazelnuts and flour. Stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well combined. Flatten into a disc and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

On a lightly floured surface flatten the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut small circles using 1-inch cookie cutter (or a metal top of a booze bottle, as my mother would use). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Filling:

Whisk the eggs and egg whites together until foamy and light. Add the sugar and stir in a double boiler on low heat until thickened, 20-30 minutes (a wooden spoon would leave a trail when dragged on the bottom of the pot). Let the custard cool completely and only then whip the butter in.

Ganache:

In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter. Stir in the milk.

Assembly:

Place about ½ tsp of filling on top of one cookie. Form a pyramid of filling in the center of the cookie using the spoon, place another cookie on top and press lightly to evenly disperse the custard.

Line the assembled sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet.

When all the cookies have been put together, dip each one in ganache, making sure that only the top part is covered with chocolate. Place the cookies on a tray and let them cool. Keep in the fridge for 1 week, or freeze for several months in an air-proof container.