Apr 172014
 

Naturally Colored Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

The days approaching Easter were filled with excitement and anticipation for us while we were growing up in Yugoslavia. As soon as we noticed the envelopes of different dyes and cartons of eggs waiting in the pantry, we became antsy, barely able to wait for “Veliki Cetvrtak” or Big Thursday, to join in the ritual of coloring Easter eggs. The galley kitchen in our old house was too narrow to accommodate Mother’s slender figure joined by Njanja’s much more corpulent presence. When the three of us ran around, weaving through skirts and legs, the small space became like an anthill, teeming with small creatures.

Mother would empty an envelope in the water, add a tablespoon of vinegar to help set the color, and heat it until it boiled. She would place the eggs one by one carefully into the bubbling liquid, and let them move around and absorb the color for fifteen or twenty minutes. The moment when the eggs were to emerge from the murky swirls was greeted by wide open eyes. Upon resting our glances on a perfectly colored oval resting in the spoon glistening in Carmine Red, Prussian Green, Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Violet, or Cobalt Blue, the smiles of relief would appear, and the egg would be placed gingerly onto a plate to cool off.

Easter 2005

Easter egg and Anya, nine years ago.

We breathed in the astringent smell of vinegar waiting eagerly for our cue to affix the clingy decorative labels depicting adorable chickens and cute bunnies onto the eggs. After straightening the folds of the filmy material, making it become one with the surface, Mother would rub the eggs with bacon, making them shiny and beautiful, resplendent in their primary colors.

The first red egg was sequestered into the credenza to await the next year’s Big Thursday, replacing the old one that sat triumphantly on the shelf for a year. This egg was called “Cuvarkuca”, its purpose: to take care of the house and its inhabitants and protect them from the evil spirits. They say that this first red egg never rots, but I was never brave enough to test this hypothesis.

At the conclusion of this endeavor, there were baskets of colorful eggs adorning every flat surface of the house. We would approach them surreptitiously and caress their smooth surfaces, trying to pick the sturdiest specimens for the upcoming egg battle on Sunday morning. We called forth images of Father choosing a ripe watermelon, thumping and probing, and shook the eggs, knocked on them, and rolled them around. We pulled the ones we decorated on top, and marked the possible winners with a marker. Every day the position of the eggs in the baskets changed, as we attempted to be sly and sneaky, looking forward to the challenge.

Easter 2005

Nine years ago, Zoe and her egg.

Veliki Petak (Great Friday, as opposed to Good Friday) was one of the few days during the course of the year that we observed the Eastern Orthodox Lent rules: no red meat, no dairy, no eggs. I am convinced that I mastered the art of delayed gratification ogling those beautiful eggs for three days, without being able to get to them.

Our Lenten dinner was not a humble affair. There was always a lot of pan-fried fish (trout or fresh-water bass), accompanied by crusty bread,  potato salad with red onions and a vinaigrette, baked Serbian beans, black radish relish, and several desserts, including baklava. But those forbidden eggs taunting us with their vibrant splendor were the center of our attention.

The Easter Sunday table was covered with a crisp, white, starched tablecloth that awaited us early in the morning when we sauntered in with our freshly scrubbed faces and squeaky-clean teeth. We wore our best clothes that Mother picked the night before and laid for us on the living room couch. We would solemnly sit at the table, appraising its offerings:  magenta slivers of fresh radishes, crisp spears of green onions, white cubes of farmers’ cheese, a bowl of pale yellow kajmak, a platter exhibiting one of Mother’s baking masterpieces, and in the center: the basket of eggs, flanked by a wooden salt and pepper dispenser.

We would wait patiently while the adults took their places at the table, ready to grab the egg we had chosen days ago to be the contender. When everybody’s cups were filled with milk or yogurt, the egg battle could commence. The only rule that was imposed was the proper positioning of the egg in the hand. We went around, knocking egg against egg, sharper side to sharper side, obtuse to obtuse, until one egg was the absolute winner, having at least one of the sides intact. The other eggs became pure fodder for the masses, dunked in salt and eaten together with crunchy scallions. The winner went back to the basket, its owner jealously guarding it during any upcoming meal. These battles were not to be taken frivolously and everybody coveted the winning egg. But we all enjoyed the rest of the Easter breakfast, laughing, arguing the merits of each carefully chosen egg, and enjoying the wonderful food greeting us on the table.

I was not raised in a religious household, and neither are my girls. But when Easter approaches, their eyes become sparkly, and they start talking eggs. I indulge them and offer the cups of food coloring diluted in hot water. They draw with crayons before they color the eggs. They put sprinkles and rhinestones on eggs, they write messages and names, they try their best in topping the previous year’s lovelies.

Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

I do not buy the envelopes of powder dye, even though I still have dreams of those eggs posing on the dining room table. I collect onion skins and color my eggs naturally, decorating them with a leaf, a petal, a frond. It is  a method widely used in Serbia, and I just love the hues that I get from different exposure times and differently colored eggs.

I carefully lay the basket of colored eggs on my Easter Sunday table, accompanied by magenta-hued radishes, crispy scallions, and freshly baked bread. The girls come out of their room scrubbed and clean, wearing their best clothes. Looking at their eyes darting around, appraising the situation, picking the best egg for the battle, I try to stifle a smile. I know for certain that they are going to pick the eggs they decorated, thinking they just might win this time!

ONION SKIN COLORED EGGS

Ingredients:

  • 2 dozen eggs (buy them several days in advance and let them rest in the fridge)
  • Onion skins (yellow onions and red onions are the best) – I start collecting mine a couple of months before
  • 1-2 Tbsp vinegar
  • leaves, fronds, petals – anything you think might make a good impression on the egg
  • old stockings
  • twist ties or rubber bands

Directions:

Wet a spot on the egg and affix the leaf, a petal, or a frond onto the egg. Wrap tightly in the stocking and twist off with a twist tie or a rubber band.

Fill a big Dutch oven or a stainless steal pot with onion skins, add water, and nestle the wrapped eggs inside. Heat until boiling, and then turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for twenty to thirty minutes (depending on the desired shade, the eggs can simmer for up to one hour.) Pull the eggs out and allow to cool. Cut the wrapping around the eggs and remove the greenery. Rub the eggs with a piece of bacon to seal the pores.

VARIATIONS:

I have colored my eggs successfully using turmeric and coffee. I love all the different hues I get with the method. I also use garlic skins to achieve marble effect, rubber bands, the adhesive “dots” that are left after punching holes in paper, and textured plastic bags that hold my garlic bulbs or potatoes.

Naturally Colored Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

Eggs colored with coffee, turmeric, and onion skins

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.

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.

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!

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
Print

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.

 

Oct 232013
 

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Ever since I received my new kitchen toy from Grain Mill Wagon, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of grinding. My eyes search different grains every time I enter a grocery store and I have accumulated quite a selection of prospects. My newest acquisition was toasted buckwheat, a plant that has more in common with sorrel and rhubarb than wheat, contrary to its deceiving name.

I have never eaten buckwheat while growing up in Serbia, even though Eastern Europe is the main producer, along with China. But, we did not eat oats, either, and I learned to love a steaming bowl of steel-cut oats with a touch of brown sugar and some dried fruit. I am curious by nature and a hedonist by choice, so experiments with culinary ingredients make me happy.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Once in a while I feel guilty that my children do not come home from school to a plate full of freshly baked pastries, as I remember how comforted and loved I felt when Mother offered a plump, warm yeast roll as a cure-all for any kind of teen angst. Those gnawing moments are mercifully rare and intermittent – I have finally accepted the fact that I will never be like Mother and that there are different ways to comfort and love, some of them not dependent on finicky yeast doughs and hours of proofing.

Yet, one of those moments caught me recently pondering what to make for my newest project. So naturally I decided to make rolls even though I did not know what to expect from substituting some of the wheat flour with freshly ground buckwheat flour. I have lost my fear of baking breads and pastries and kneading a soft dough is one of the most enjoyable tasks I can think of. But I am far from an expert and I was just a bit apprehensive of adding a variable.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

The aroma of roasted buckwheat flour was robust and nutty, and texture grainy. It colored the dough taupe and its skin added a few chestnut  speckles throughout. But it rose beautifully and I encountered no problems while shaping the rolls.

I had a baggie of nigella seeds I bought at an Indian store a while back and thought that their exotic taste would complement the bold notes of roasted buckwheat. I sprinkled them on top of the rolls along with sesame seeds and I was smitten by the aroma wafting from my oven while the rolls were baking.

I loved these rolls. My neighbors loved them. My octogenarian friend who grew up in Oklahoma loved them. Even if you are not adventurous and daring, I promise you that buckwheat will charm you. As for my girls, I can assure you they felt loved and comforted, and just a little special, when they found a plate of these rolls on the kitchen counter just waiting for them.

Buckwheat Rolls from bibberche.com

Buckwheat Rolls
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Recipe type: Bread/Rolls
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Buckwheat flour adds a rustic, nutty flavor to these rolls. They could be made smaller and filled with various ingredients.
Ingredients
  • DOUGH
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope instant yeast
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp coarse salt
  • 6 Tbsp very soft butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (110F)
  • FILLING
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (or crumbled feta)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Topping:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sesame seeds, nigella seeds, caraway seeds (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place both flours in a large bowl.
  2. Add dry yeast, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix thoroughly.
  3. Make a well in the middle and add butter and oil.
  4. Mix a little and start adding water, little by little (you might not need all of it).
  5. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.
  7. Mix cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt.
  8. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them into balls.
  9. Flatten each ball into an oval approximately 8×5 inches.
  10. Place a few small heaps of cheese mixture in the middle, fold the longer sides over it and start rolling from one short side.
  11. Place the roll seam-side down on a cookie sheet.
  12. Continue until all the balls are shaped, filled and rolled.
  13. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds, as desired.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  15. Let the rolls rest while the oven is heating.
  16. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven, until golden brown.
  17. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow the rolls to cool slightly before placing them to a baker’s rack to cool completely.

I am a part of October Unprocessed, an event started by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules in 2009. If you still have not heard of it, visit his blog and read all about it.

October Unprocessed 2013

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.

 

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.

 

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