Saturday, February 28, 2009
Ovo je za tebe, Tata, Deda, Čale!
You were born and raised in Grahovo, Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. A teenage prankster during World War II, you contributed to the complete destruction of a military guard’s house. You and an accomplice took an unexploded bomb dropped by the Italians and put it in the basement, throwing hay down with it and setting it alight. You slept in the woods for three days, afraid to go home! When you remember the story today, you are so grateful that no one was injured.
When you were a young boy of 16, you moved to Belgrade to attend apprentice school. You stood out because you wore a white linen suit that your sister made.
You were then and still are a romantic and charming man, and a good-natured flirt! You call ladies, even strangers 'my dear' and 'darrlingg'. You kiss their hands when you first meet them, even young girls your grand children's age!
And you charmed the best one of all, Emilija, whom you named ‘Mila’. You have never forgotten your ‘Valentina’ on Valentine’s Day, always showering her with roses and a personal gift.
You were ambitious and young and energetic. You left your homeland in search of a better life. South Africa is where you succeeded to be ‘your own boss’. Driven, successful and disciplined, you became an entrepreneur. You believe that with God’s help, you achieved.
You raised three children there and provided for them the best childhood and a firm but loving home. You kept us safe and always welcomed our friends, even when the entire class came for Vesna’s 11th birthday party unannounced! You took us on family vacations to the Kruger National Park and Durban every year.
You demanded that we do well in school. You showed us the world when you pulled us out of school and took us to see your birthplace. How we loved to run with the sheep in the clean mountain air! We then toured Europe, an education in itself. You demanded that we go to college and become educated.
After 18 great years in South Africa, your rather substantial nose sensed that it was time to leave. A secure future for your children was your priority. You were strong and moved us to Canada, but the climate and unexpected circumstances made you stronger and you moved us to warm and welcoming Texas! We know people who have never been to the next town, let alone hop continents!
You have boundless energy and to this day work seven days a week. You use your time wisely. You are an optimist and are always upbeat.
You are always ready to take on the tango with Mama or dance a lively kolo. You have taken the microphone many times to entertain us with a lively song!
Your kids married and you became passionate about all seven of your grandchildren. You were the first to bathe your first grandchild, Alex, when he came home from the hospital.
You are enthusiastic and when you attend Jovan’s basketball games and disagree with a call, you yell at the referee and call him ‘Judge’! There’s never a dull moment when you, Deda are around! Everyone in the stands asks for you when you miss a game.
You are the happiest when your family is healthy and happy.
You are always elegant.
In South Africa, they used to playfully call you 'Arizona’ because it sounded like our last name. Little did you know that you would end up in nearby Texas, wearing jeans and a cowboy hat and owning your own ranch! And would you please stop bumping your head on that silly shed?
You are humorous and playful and you are still a child at heart. We don’t always understand your jokes, but we do know that the kids ‘don’t mess with Boxer!’
You are a mechanical engineer without the training! You are able to repair, create, sew, assemble, build, manage and conceive with your talent and knowledge.
You are very generous. It is not uncommon for you to whip out your wallet and gift a kid with money. You make friends with everyone that crosses your path.
You have taught me to have an adventurous palate. You introduced me to stinky cheeses, liver and bakalar. You are an expert at making venison sausage, sarma and lamb on a spit. You befriend the butcher and the baker. And do you remember the time you enjoyed a raw garlic meal that kept the viruses and your family away for days?!
Deda, you are the happiest when you are loved and you are surrounded by your pride and joy. We are blessed to have you. You will always be our Slatkiš!
Naša ljubav za tebe nema kraja. Mi smo večito zahvalni za sve ono što si učinio za nas. Ti nam ulepšavas zivot sa tvojim humorom, pričama i ljubav!
- Mila, Dragana, Vesna, Božidar, Teague, Mark, Natalie, Alex, Emilia, Nikola, Saša, Stefan, Jovan i Jelena!
Živeo naš Deda!
Friday, February 27, 2009
When I first discovered food blogs last year, I was happy to see several wonderful blogs by my fellow Slavic sisters! These ladies can bake, shake, dice and shoot (pictures, of course!) with the best of them.
I am thrilled to be connected to the talents of Marija, Medena, Vera, Maslinka, Maxiene, and other great bakers and cooks at NikkiL, Nlo and Cuisine by Monsoon. Reading their posts brought back memories of food I ate as a child when my sweet Baba (grandmother) lived with us in South Africa. She was the primary cook in the family while my parents ran the family business.
FBI is an acronym for Food Blog Inspection. Rukavice (gloves) is the Slavic version started by Mamajac of Cooks and Bakes blog. This month, at Marija's recommendation, we inspected Medena's blog, Cafe Chocolada.
I have already made several of Medena’s recipes and none have disappointed! Her blog is colorful and informative and full of traditional desserts from the ‘old’ country. Fabulous!
When I first saw Medena’s: Moist Yogurt Cake with Tart Cherries, I immediately thought of my friend Beth. Beth is a lover of anything tart – green apples, green bananas, lemon filled desserts and anything with cranberries. Beth loves cranberries - I’ve even taught her to enjoy them raw! Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C. I guess that’s where she gets the energy to run her diminutive body all over the tennis court and chase all the balls down, even when she’s playing a doubles match! A real go-getter, you’ve got to love her!
So, with Beth in mind, I substituted cranberries for the tart cherries. I decided to make a small 6” cake for her and 12 muffins for the rest of the tennis team. The muffins and cake were moist and fluffy when baked, thanks to the addition of yogurt.
Here are my additions to the original recipe: I added 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (to get an extra ‘rise’), 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind and1 teaspoon lemon juice to the batter. Instead of the vanilla sugar, I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence.
I topped the cake and muffins with my Cream Cheese Icing:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
In a mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy and combined. Add sugar, essence, lemon rind and juice. On low speed, beat until just combined. Raise speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy. Ice cakes or pipe on muffins.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Yes, they are tall! Unlike the suggestion in the book, I chose to bake the dough in an 8 x 11 fluted tart pan – more dough in a smaller pan = a thicker base. I wanted a taller bar to serve at a special event this coming Saturday.
My mother is always particular about her bar and cookie presentations. Her sitne kolače (small cakes) are individual, bite-size pieces served on rectangular crystal trays. There is always a colorful variety on each tray, with cookies placed neatly in rows. These will fit right in!
Thanks to Whitney of What's left on the table? for choosing Caramel Crunch Bars from Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking from my home to yours. Please check her site for the recipe and to see how other bakers fared during the process.
For the base I used Ghirardelli chocolate baking bars, 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, which happen to be my favorite bars for snacking! I added 1/3 cup toasted and chopped almonds to the dough for a nutty flavor. The espresso powder and cinnamon intensifies the flavor of the chocolate. I wouldn’t leave it out. If you like seriously sweet desserts, this one is for you. Serve these cut in small pieces!
This is a great basic recipe that I am going to experiment with. Next time I plan to sprinkle toasted, slivered almonds on top instead of the toffee bits. Hazelnuts would be divine with the chocolate…or how about Nutella… berries… jam… whipped cream…
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This post is a tribute to our dear friends Jeff and Doris, who have just reached 30 years of marital bliss! Their marriage is one for the record books – loving, respectful and adventurous.
From a woman’s point of view, Doris, you’re a saint! Just kidding, Jeff!
Jeff and Doris’ tradition is to celebrate their anniversary at Sunday Brunch at Brennan’s in Houston. Unfortunately, Hurricane Ike caused a fire which still has Brennan’s Houston location closed. That of course, left only one alternative: go to Brennan’s in New Orleans for brunch or, heaven forbid, b r e a k w i t h t r a d i t i o n !
Our wine and dinner group was privileged to be invited to celebrate this momentous occasion. Laissez les bons temps roulez!!! Cher, you know it doesn’t take much prodding for us to skip town and enjoy a fancy outing! After a nine hour drive from Houston (during which I was able to knit two complete scarves!), including a lunch stop in Henderson at Pat's Fisherman's Wharf and two traffic jams, we arrived in NOLA! That’s New Orleans LouisiAna - for those of you unfamiliar with that acronym.
The Hotel Monteleone on Rue Royal, is situated in the heart of the French Quarter, just a few easy blocks from Jackson Square and the Mighty Mississippi. The hotel is a literary landmark (bestowed by the Friends of Libraries, USA) because it was often frequented by Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Anne Rice, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Rebecca Wells (Ya-Yas!). Our room was elegantly decorated and the bathroom was spacious, modern and sparkling.
It was an exciting time to visit NOLA. Mardi Gras season was in full swing and many parades were scheduled for the weekend. There were police and sanitation crews everywhere.
The most charming parade was small - no fancy floats but several groups of local kids and a few horse drawn carriages. It wound its way down Bourbon Street through the narrow streets of the Quarter. Leading it was the Warren Easton Senior High School Marching Band. I’ll bet some of these kids have horrific post Katrina stories to tell. Their school is now a charter National Blue Ribbon School and was closed for a year after the hurricane. Look at them now!
The first evening of our visit, we dined in the wine cellar of a restaurant called August. We feasted on scallops, gnocchi with blue crab and Perigord truffle to die for!, sweetbreads and duckling. We were highly entertained by our oft-mistaken-for Antonio Banderas waiter from Venezuela who imitated Mandy Patinkin perfectly: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” from the entertaining comedy The Princess Bride. If you haven’t already seen it, go rent it NOW!
We started the evening with Pomegranate Martinis. Doris especially loves Martinis, she even named a cat after the drink! I am a relative newcomer to the drink, but I especially enjoy it if it includes my favorite spirit - vodka. It’s clean and bright, and gives this martini the perfect boost without compromising the tart body of the pomegranate. Here’s my version:
Serves 2, generously
Because of the absence of simple syrup (sugar and water) this martini is not very sweet, but the sugar on the rim of the glasses adds a touch.
1 cup pure pomegranate juice
2 ounces vodka (I used unflavored vodka, but feel free to use a citrus infused vodka if you wish)
3 ounces PAMA pomegranate liqueur (the ruby red color is exquisite)
crushed ice or ice cubes
a few drops of fresh lime juice, optional
sugar, a lime wedge, thin slices of lime peel, for the rims of the glasses
Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, pomegranate liqueur, ice and lime juice (if using) in a stainless steel shaker and shake vigorously until well-chilled.
Moisten the rim of two martini glasses with the lime wedge and dip rims in sugar to coat. Pour chilled martini in glasses and serve with lime peel.
After several poignant toasts at Bayona (more about this innovative restaurant in a later post) and a wonderful traditional brunch at Brennan’s we headed home. Here’s to another 30 years of wedded bliss and our next trip to NOLA!
Monday, February 16, 2009
I hate going to the grocery store for one item! Last week, Husby suggested hamburgers for dinner. I pulled out a package of organic ground beef from the freezer, and lettuce, onions, tomatoes and pickles from the fridge. All I was missing were hamburger buns, but that’s ok. It was a leisurely afternoon at home, so flour and yeast came together quickly and before I knew it the dough for home made hamburger buns was rising in a warm place in the kitchen!
Okay, so it would have taken me 15 minutes max to drive to the store, grab the buns and drive back home, but there’s the nagging fact that I have a serious dislike for the texture of gummy, doughy preservative-laden sit-on-the-shelf-for-weeks buns! I like a crisp crust with a firm body that doesn’t feel pasty on the palate when chewed. Husby claims the purpose of hamburger buns is to soak up and keep the ketchup, mustard and meat juices from running down one’s hands! Perhaps…but my home made buns are equally as capable!
I have been waiting for the opportunity to try a bun recipe I came across on Mari’s fabulous blog Once Upon A Plate. It was inspired by a recipe from the files of King Arthur Flour and a regular contributor to its recipes named Moomie! Moomie’s legendary sandwich buns recipe can be found here. With a few changes, I produced wonderful buns sprinkled with sesame seeds (and I finally figured out how to make those pesky seeds stick).
Did you know that bread baking has become a lot easier since the introduction of instant (rapid rise) yeast? No longer do we have to proof the yeast (test it to see if it is viable). You can now mix it in with the flour, add the liquids and you’re on your way! Please don’t be intimidated by yeast – it’s a leavening agent that works wonders at the right temperature, a little loving (aka kneading) and a little sugar! All you need is to do is start a little earlier so as to include time for the dough to rise. You will be rewarded with much healthier and tastier buns!
For the meaty part of the burger, I was in the mood for some zip! Zesty feta cheese and kalamata olives are staples in my fridge, and they are perfect accompaniments to the ground beef.
Feta and olive beef patties
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 – 3/4 cup feta cheese, coarsely crumbled or cubed
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced. People - don’t even think of using rubbery, tasteless olives in a can – they are inferior by far to olives from the olive bar or in a glass jar. Yes, they are cheaper, but there is no comparison in taste, whatso e v e r!
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes for added spice (optional)
Combine all of the above ingredients by folding the meat over onto itself as you incorporate the feta and olives. Try not to mash the meat between your fingers as this will ruin the texture of the patties. Shape into 3 or 4 patties.
Sauté the patties in a hot skillet or cook them on the grill. I like to cook them in a skillet because it’s easier to flip them over without them falling apart.
Serve on a toasted bun with sliced tomatoes, caramelized red onions, lettuce, mayo…
Serves 3 or 4.
Caramelized red onion
1 large red onion, peeled, cut in half crosswise and sliced thinly
Sauté the red onion slices in a little olive oil over medium heat. Stir the onions occasionally until very soft and caramelized (they will start to turn black on the edges). Set aside.
Sesame seed buns
Yield: 8 hamburger or sandwich buns
3 1/4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg white (for egg wash)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds or other seed of your choice
Place flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a mixer bowl with dough hook attachment. Heat water and butter to about 125F (I usually microwave in 30 second intervals and measure the temperature with a candy thermometer). With mixer at low speed, slowly pour the water mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg. Beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until all ingredients are combined and the dough is smooth.
Place dough in a large bowl (enough to hold twice the amount of dough) greased with olive oil. Flip the dough over so that the olive oil covers the entire surface. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow dough to rise until double in volume. (I turn my oven on to barely heat the interior and place the bowl in the oven, close the door and leave it for about 30 minutes. You should see the kitchen towel rising on top of the mound of dough above the edge of the bowl. Sweet!)
When the dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured surface*. Knead for a minute by hand and let it rest for about 5 minutes. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle (about 12” X 8”) and cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. For each bun – tuck the ends of each piece of dough under several times, moving the dough from hand to hand, until you get a nice round shape. Place on a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with other pieces of dough. Cover with a sheet of wax or parchment paper and allow buns to rise until they are the size of hamburger buns. Remove wax paper from buns.
Beat the egg white and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl until loose and starting to foam. Brush the top of each bun very carefully with egg wash and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds.
Bake buns in a preheated 375F oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.
If you have a bread machine: Place all ingredients in bread machine. Select ‘dough’ cycle. Allow cycle to run. Remove the dough and place it on lightly floured surface. Continue from * in the third paragraph above.
Good looking buns!
Monday, February 9, 2009
My wonderful nephew, Stefan, dropped by for a visit last week just as I was about to grab a snack. I don’t usually make lunch because I’m a grazer during the day, so I rummaged through the refrigerator to see what my options were for feeding a lanky 6’3” wide receiver on the high school football team.
Pancetta, spring lettuce mix, tomatoes and a perfectly ripe avocado were the items that summoned. The combination reminded me of a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, but with a twist. Slices of bread from a sesame semolina loaf were the perfect bookends for this fresh version.
If you’re not familiar with pancetta, it’s time to give this very flavorful Italian bacon a try. It’s now available in the deli section of most grocery stores. ‘Pancia’ means belly, so pancetta is ‘little belly’. It differs from American bacon in that it is cut from the underbelly (and not the sides) and is less fatty (an added bonus!).
Pancetta is dry-cured and seasoned with salt, pepper and other spices. It is usually rolled into a tight cylinder and sliced very thinly. A little goes a long way so it’s commonly used as a flavoring for pasta, soups, and many more dishes. I like to use it to flavor my bean and lentil soups, and think of the pizzazz it would add to a dull chicken breast or a pork loin.
As an introduction to pancetta, try this sandwich I call the PLTA:
Pancetta, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado
Serves 4 (3 for Stefan and 1 for me!)
16 slices pancetta, about 4 ounces (don’t unroll slices)
spring lettuce mix
1 large tomato, sliced thinly
2 avocados, halved and sliced
8 slices sesame semolina bread or bread of your choice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place pancetta in a saucepan and fry until crisp. This will only take a couple of minutes because the pancetta is very thin so watch it closely!
Toast bread and spread each lightly with mayonnaise. Place 4 pieces of pancetta on each of four pieces of toast. Top with a slice of tomato, and about half of an avocado (sliced). Season lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground black pepper. Heap spring lettuce mix on top of each sandwich and top with remaining toasted bread slices. Serve immediately.
And that, my friends is a great alternative to the standard BLT! Stefan and I loved the contrast in texture of the paper-thin crispy pancetta, smooth and silky avocado, and the variety of the lettuce mix. And according to Stefan, it beats the lentil soup I made him try when he was about ten years old. Being from the old school of you-must-try-it-before-you-can-say-you-don’t-like-it, I insisted he try my lentil soup (which I thought was fabulous). Much to my dismay, it caused an allergic reaction in his mouth and throat, so that I ended up rushing him to the doctor’s office for a cortisone shot! That scare put this pushy tetka (aunt) in her place!
Now, about those big feet I keep tripping over …is it your attempt at pay back?!
Thursday, February 5, 2009
In Europe, the equivalent to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the nutella sandwich. Nutella is a heavenly blend of hazelnuts, cocoa, sugar, milk and oil and is deliciously spread between a chunk of French or hearty whole-grain bread. It’s the common school lunch fare in Italy and beyond! It is a popular filling for crepes in France. It’s a cultural icon in Europe and is included in many books and movies. Gaining popularity in the United States since its introduction to our markets in 2000, it’s available in many grocery stores next to the peanut butters and jams.
Nutella was created in Italy’s Piedmonte region by Pietro Ferrero during World War II when there was a shortage of cocoa. Native hazelnut trees were and still are abundant on the hills around Alba, and the hazelnuts were used as a filler with great success. A smililar product, Eurocrem, is made in my native Serbia and you may be familiar with Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Wrapped in gold foil, it’s a multilayered confection with a hazelnut in the middle, encased by a layer of nutella, a wafer shell, milk chocolate and chopped nuts. It’s one of my favorite chocolate treats!
I took the following picture during a fabulous trip to Piedmonte a little over a year ago. Piedmonte, ‘foot of the mountains’, is situated in the northwestern part of Italy, at the foot of the Alps. The hazelnut orchard (in the foreground and middleground in the photograph) is nestled between the vineyards of the rolling hills of the Langhe hills near Alba:
Nutella is so versatile, I’ve used it in many different ways – to make ice-cream, mousses, cakes, cookies, as a filling for crepes, on toast, and as a dip for fruit. The way my chocoholic and nutella addict daughter, Emilia enjoys it is a spoonful straight out of the container! I was scanning my pantry for inspiration for today’s World Nutella Day recipe, when my eyes fell on a bag of chocolate pasta. Perfetto! I had some strawberries in the fridge and a ripe banana and I put together a simple but delicious dessert you could make in no time!
Nutella sauce with chocolate pasta and fruit
8 ounces chocolate pasta
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) nutella
1 cup cream
8 strawberries, washed and halved
1 banana, sliced
whipped cream and chopped, toasted hazelnuts (or any other nut) for topping.
Cook pasta until ‘el dente’ (cooked but still firm). While pasta is cooking place cream and nutella in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 30 second intervals until nutella is soft and the cream is hot. Blend nutella and cream together with a whisk until smooth. Drain the pasta and divide between four serving bowl. Pour nutella sauce over pasta and top with strawberries, banana slices, whipped cream and toasted nuts. It’s that simple!
To see what other nutella lovers are doing today start at these two addicted ladies’ sites: Ms Adventures in Italy and Bleeding Espresso. For a good laugh, see what The Top Ten Signs You’re Addicted to Nutella are! If you are a nutella virgin or to find out what type of nutella lover you are or want to know 50 ways to eat nutella go to nutella virgin and enjoy!
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
If you are a chocoholic, like my daughter Emilia, I predict you’ll flip over these double chocolate wonders called World Peace Cookies from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, From My Home To Yours. Originally created by well-known Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, they consist of a shortbread batter enriched with cocoa powder, chocolate pieces and a generous helping of fleur de sel.
Fleur de Sel, ‘flower of salt’, gets its name from the flower shapes that comprise the delicate top layer of salt crystals that enter the marshes of Brittany, the Camargue, and Noirmoutier regions in France, and the Algarve region in Portugal. These delicate crystals are harvested by hand and contain a higher mineral content than other salts. They also retain a moistness which imparts a subtle scent of the ocean when the container is first opened. Because it is so delicate and melts faster, fleur de sel is often used as a ‘finishing’ salt in desserts and savory dishes.
The presence of the fleur de sel takes centre stage in this cookie. Its addition intensifies the chocolate and draws out its warm, rich flavor. You could eat an avocado, steak or rice pudding without a pinch of salt, but you’d be missing the brightness and essence that salt is able to draw from them. It is the essential ingredient in pickling and preserving and was once a spice high in value. In ancient Rome, soldiers were paid in salt (it was their ‘salarium’, hence the word salary).
Thanks to Jessica of cookbookhabit for choosing these cookies. Check out her blog for the recipe. I made the cookie as printed, with fleur de sel and mini chocolate chips. The batter came together nicely and the cookies retained their shape when baked and cooled. If you can’t find fleur de sel you can use regular table salt, but use half the amount, as the recipe indicates. If you are concerned about sodium intake, try them, but limit yourself to a couple a day if you can! And fleur de sel will delicately replace the necessary electrolytes your body craves!
So, add some fleur de sel to your life…it is the ultimate flavor enhancer for any dish, sweet or savory! And Emilia, my dear hard-working freshman in college, your cookie care package is in the mail!