Category Archives: Good Eats

Eating Belgian Style: Liège Waffles

I’ve been collecting reasons for buying a waffle iron FOR YEARS (silly, I know) but today I’ve discovered the coup de grâce that will send me straight to the store come Monday.   They’re called gaufres des Liège, otherwise known as Liège waffles, and they’ve obliterated my pre-waffle-iron-owning self.

Full disclosure: Yes, I’m watching Stage 1 from Liège to Seraing of the Tour de France, and I’m hungry.  Really, really hungry.

Fresh from the racks in Liège (Source)

A diminutive variation on the Brussels waffle that relies less on toppings than dense, chewy perfection, the Liège waffle took its inspiration from brioche bread dough and pearl sugar, which caramelizes into crunchy pockets as the waffle cooks.  Deliciously aromatic of vanilla and butter, the eponymous waffle first delighted the Prince-Bishop of Liège when his cook whipped up the recipe in the 18th century.  They were an instant hit and filled Belgians with waffle frenzy soon after their debut.  Today they’re a common street food, wrapped in paper, and dusted with cinnamon or eaten plain.

To make an authentic Liege waffle you really must get your hands on some pearl sugar (many recipes recommend Lars’ Own).  Unlike cube sugar, the pearls are designed to withstand high heat without melting, thus ensuring those sweet pops of crunch when you bite into the waffle.  I would recommend the authentic recipe for enthusiasts only since the prep time will likely leave you thinking these waffles are best left to the professionals.   But don’t despair.  Shortcuts abound and there are a gazillion recipes to choose from, though they might cause waffle purists to thumb their noses at what we’ll proudly Fauxliege waffles.  The following recipes, curated according to active prep time, should help you started.

If any of you lovely readers try these recipes, let me know how they turn out. Once I hunt down a perfect waffle iron (recommendations are most welcome), I’m going to give the authentic recipe a whirl.  I might even blog about making waffles in what will inevitably become the swear kitchen, but then again, I’ll probably be too busy eating.  After all, anything that takes hours to make should be extraordinaire.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Summer’s rolled along into September and the garden’s plump with tomatoes.  The only problem: what to do with them besides freezing and canning?   Oven Roast.

Forgoing the cherries of last year, we planted juliets and big beefeaters, the latter of which I resisted because I didn’t like the name.  Silly, I know.  Beefeater makes me think of sloppy burgers and tasteless tomatoes, and if I’m being nice, gin.  I did, however, capitulate after our retired neighbor, Corwin, turned us on to these mammoths. 

His tomato plants grow taller than a tween while ours have ever remained gnomes.  His secret appears to be plenty of clipped grass—not a weed to be had there—and what I’m beginning to suspect is plenty of good fertilizer. 

But, I still prefer the juliets.  They’re succulent, sweet little bombs that unlike cherries, don’t pop on the vine if forsaken by rain and sprinklers.  They sprawl around the garden, creeping low and of late, mingling with the garter snakes (yikes!).  For those with arthritic knees they may coax out a few newfound pains, but they’re worth every ache.  Especially when they’re plucked fresh, chopped into coins for salsa, or as I’m doing today, oven roasting.  It’s been chilly here in Minnesota and as oven roasting is akin to sun roasted, I’m giving it a whirl. 

The recipe is simple: slice, spread, a little salt and pepper, a spray of olive oil, and a leisurely 4 or so hours at 220.  Next batch, I’m thinking oregano and basil.

18th Century Book – The Experienced English Housekeeper

Wonder how to make a portable soup for travellers?  Set an 18th century table?  Make soup a la reine

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald is an essential book to discover not only what people ate in the 18th century, but also how their meals were cooked.  There’s a wonderful section on preserves and confections, extensive chapters on meats (ox cheek anyone?).  And, of course, you’ll want to learn how to make an edible “amulet.” Many of the recipes are easy to whip up today, provided you translate the odd spelling.  It’d be rather funny if you didn’t. 

“Eels or Lamprey with pudding in the belly” aside, here are a few I’m planning on for a future 18th century test kitchen:

Note:  If you decide to delve into the book, remember it was published in 1782.  The spelling is surprisingly uniform but what looks like “f” is typically “s” in older english books. 

Enjoy!

Spicy Cornmeal Cod, Lemony Aparagus Gnocchi

I’m hooked on this dry mix recipe for cod.  It’s eggless so you can make it in a pinch with thawed frozen fish and dry ingredients.  The only off-beat ingredient is gumbo file (fee-lay), commonly used in authentic Cajun cuisine.  It’s made from ground Sassafras leaves and has an distinctive, ususual flavor.  Some people think it smells like eucalyptus.  It can also be used as a thickener in stews and soups. 

Spicy Cornmeal Cod

1/2 to 1 cups cornmeal
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp garlic
1 tbsp pepper
1-2 tsps chipotle chile pepper (be careful.  spicy!)
1 tsp gumbo file (optional)
Lemon and olives for garnish

Mix dry ingredients together. Pat fish dry. Coat each filet evenly in mix. Saute fish on medium in olive oil until coating is golden brown and fish is flaky.  Add lemon slice and olives as garnish, if desired.

Lemony Asparagus Gnocchi topped with Chive Flowers sauteed in Garlic Tarragon Butter

A little tart, a little sweet, and very delicious

1 pkg gnocchi
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 lemon, juiced
10-15 chives, minced
pepper to taste
garlic tarragon butter (see directions)

Boil water and cook gnocchi for 2-3 minutes or as directed.  Meanwhile, saute chive flowers in a small amount of garlic tarragon butter for about 5 minutes.  In microwave or on stove top, steam asparagus, adding a small amount olive oil or a pat of garlic tarragon butter for flavor.  Cut up into 1/2 size pieces after asparagus tips are steamed.  In a bowl, toss lemon juice, pepper, chives, and asparagus. Add gnocchi and if preferred, another small pat of garlic tarragon butter to taste.

Garlic Tarragon Butter

4-7 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 to 1 stalk of tarragon
1 stick of butter at room temp

Mash together, shape into a ball or roll, and return to fridge until ready to use.  Will keep for at least a week.

Tea Find – Kalahari Organic

As much as I love coffee, I have a bit of a tea obsession.  I like to collect different varieties and brands, drinking them much slower than their rate of purchase to savor the accumulation of comforting future moments.  I drink black or mate when I’m tired, rooibos after dessert, and an herbal tisane before bed.  I also make my own herbals out of mint and chamomile and rose hips in the garden.  Still, I can’t get enough. 

I recently discovered Kalahari’s line of Chocolattes, specifically Raspberry Latte, and let me say if I wasn’t on vacation, I would’ve tossed more than one of each in my cart.   They looked delightful: Hazelnut Mocha, Matcha Mint.  To my surprise the Raspberry Latte tasted exactly as one would expect: a hint of ripe red berry, a smooth undercurrent of rich dark cacao melted with slight sweetness of rooibos.  It’s divine with a bite of dark chocolate or as a complement to dessert.  Their other teas sound wonderful too: Highlands Honey, Limpopo Lemon, Zambezi Red Chai.

Which leads to the question: where to get it?  I’ll be scouring my local grocery store soon but with my predilection maybe online ordering is the best option.  The tea comes in individually wrapped sachets and they offer a special discount for bulk orders.  Purchase 6 boxes of a flavor and get $3 off your order total.  Teavana, I’m whispering but you just might have a competitor.

Why mishaps in the kitchen make for great memories

I have just burnt my morning oatmeal and by burnt I mean brown pan-crusted, back breaking to clean, char. It only occurred to me that something might be remiss when my stomach rumbled and I started to think, “Why am I hungry? Didn’t I already eat breakfast?”  Doh!  I’m so smart I even surprise myself some times.   At least if I can’t get the burn smell outta my house, I got to draw that disgruntled face above!

The Cherry on Top

As well as I can whip up the something mouthwatering, I have my moments of utter mentalness in the kitchen. Cherry pie is kinda my kryptonite. When Jon and I first moved into our house, I decided – great idea! – that I was going to fix his favorite cherry pie to celebrate our new, little nest. So I painstakingly pitted the cherries, dressed them in a lattice of crimped dough and slid the pie pan into the oven . . . without a tray underneath. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle. You can guess what happened next.

I think I enjoyed that pie almost as much as I enjoyed cleaning the thick, cherry goo encrusted on the bottom of the stove. Okay, full disclosure: Jon cleaned it; I watched. He does have stronger arms than me though. And men who clean are just downright sexy!

Salt Cherry Pie

Flash forward a couple of years.  I’m all excited over this recipe for sour cherry pie – a way to mix up the old recipe I’ve since mastered – and impress Jon with my baking skills extraordinaire.  I should know by now that this cherry experimentation means trouble, right?  Ha!

I felt like Betty Crocker . . .  for a while.  It was a perfect pie: the crust a golden buttery brown, the cherries fresh and sweet.  Except, of course, they weren’t.  I’ll concede that I might’ve grabbed the wrong sugar.  Maybe.  I still maintain it was the inherent sourness in the cherries, but either way, I can’t make a cherry pie today without Jon making a crack about it.  And life’s all the sweeter for it.

Oh, and by the way, that new fruit tree in the backyard. It’s a cherry.

 

Chive Flower Salad

Chives have a special place in the garden – and that would be right up there with weeds.  Much like mint, they’re invasive, spreading and stretching, popping up feet after feet away from their original planting site. Pesky plants.  After I dug up some clumps last spring, they’ve sprouted near my roses bushes, nudged next to the lilies, and tangled themselves up with the thyme. 

This annoyance is really all my fault.  Before laying out a formal herb bed, I moved my chives three times.  The worst was crowding them into the perennial flower garden (a bad, bad idea which still has me pulling onion-scented sprigs!)  But there was an upside because now I’ve an abundance of chives bursting with spiky purple flowers and those edible petals are every bit as delicious as they are pretty.  Slightly more pungent than the chives’ green stems, they impart equal parts soft crunch and potent oniony flavor to salads and pastas.  Under Jon’s dubious brow – which believe me, was contorted with dreading curiosity – I tossed lemon vinaigrette with greens, walnuts, feta, pepper, and a few choice flowers.  Needless to say he was surprised by the flavor.   This edible is not your typical, bland pansy! 

When you’re prepping, just make sure to wash and dry the flowers carefully, keeping an eye out for any small crawling creatures.  Then discard the hardened flower stems and voila!  

 

 

Curious which other flowers are edible?  Edible Flower Chart

Homemade Masala Chai

Namaste!

Do I have a delicious masala chai recipe for you.  It’s simple, so simple, in fact, that you’re gonna wonder why you haven’t made it before. Once mastered from scratch, you can forget about chai concentrate or those weird powder mixes. Made fresh, it’s heavenly and fills your house with the delicate scent of warm spices. It’s also fragrances your garbage can for the day, which is an unexpected, but suprisingly wonderful bonus.

So what is chai exactly?

In South Asia, Chai is a generic term referring to any type of tea.  Masala chai is Hindi for literally “spiced tea”. Chai tea, as Americans so often say, is “tea tea”, but we dont’ speak Hindi so that’s just a funny linguistic thing. If you visit India (and you definately should!), you will come to one conclusion very quickly – Indians drink a lot of masala chai. It’s served like the English serve tea: during social calls, consumed at breakfast or after lunch. Also expect it whenever you visit a shopkeeper, that is, every shopkeeper.  They bring it out steaming on little trays, a friendly smile on their faces, and it’s lovely.

Originally an ayurvedic remedy, masala chai is now consumed with the same fervor with which Americans consume coffee. Everyone has their individual recipes and this one is handed down to me by my mother-in-law. She drinks it every morning before the sun rises, sharing it with her cleaning lady, Gulabi. I’ve made a few modifications of my own, but feel free to experiment with a variety of “warm” spices and quantities. Just make sure to add milk, and if you’re inclined, some type of sugar.

Masala Chai Recipe

  • Green Cardamom, about 6-10, crushed on countertop
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks, cracked in half
  • Whole Black Pepper, 2 heaping tbsp
  • Fennel or Anise, 1 heaping tbsp
  • Ginger, fresh, 1 tbsp or so peeled and grated/cut up  (I never grate – it’s a hassle with no great benefit.  Do not use powder!   Also, keeps in the fridge for a few weeks)
  • Whole Cloves, 15 (or one or two large pinches)
  • Nutmeg, a few shakes
  • Earl Grey Tea (or Black Tea Leaves)  – use two tea bags per conventional size sauce pan or if loose, 2 tbsp

Note concerning spice usage:  when in doubt about quantity, use more.  Before you add the Earl Grey Tea, the spice/water mixture should be darkish brown and very concentrated.  Although this chai recipe will taste different from the chai you get at a coffee shop, it should never be bland or watery.

Directions:  Fill sauce pan close to brim with water.  Boil spices without the tea until you get a thick concentrate, ususally 1/3 to 1/2 reduced.  You want the cinnamon sticks and cardamom to open.  Take off heat.  Steep Earl Grey tea or black tea in spice concentrate for a few minutes.  About using Earl Grey: I prefer the slight undertone of bergamot and also find that Earl Grey has a less astringent taste than other black teas.  It give the masala chai a smoother finish instead of overpowering the spice with a slightly bitter aftertaste.  Note: do not cheat and use powdered versions of the spices.  The only exception is nutmeg, if you don’t have the time nor inclination to grate it.

Add milk and sugar and enjoy!  Depending on how much milk you prefer, the chai should be a cappucinno type color or lighter, like this.

The Art of Fine Coffee

“He was my cream, and I was his coffee – And when you poured us together, it was something.”
– Josephine Baker

A list of coffee awesomeness

Steep & Brew

If you thirst for flavored coffee beyond the realm of hazelnut and french vanilla, you must try this brand.  Roasted from only the highest quality beans – the top 2 or 1 percent – they boast 25 delectable varieties including my faves Irish Whiskey & Cream, Highlander Grog, and Amaretto French Roast.  Select seaonsal roasts are available for when your in the mood for let’s say, Chestnuts by the Fire or Dark Chocolate Mint, and summer absolutely calls for Basket of Berries.  The aroma alone is happiness inducing.

Click about their site and you’ll also discover the unusual – orange cappucinno – and twists on some old standbys like Icing on the Cake (cinnamony-cakey delight) and Chocolate Nirvana (cocoa and spices, oh my!).  Another great thing about Steep & Brew? Shipping is $5, no matter how much you order.  And even without reasonable shipping, their coffee is a steal! A 12oz bag runs on average $6.50.  How’s that for frugal java?

For those loving the organic fair-trade coffee and chemical free decaf, you’ll find plenty of options too.  And if you think flavoring is a perversion in coffee, make sure to peruse their signature roasts and dark roasts.

Live in the Midwest?  Make sure you search their store locator!

Nespresso Aeroccino

Milk like whipped cream, frothed to perfection?  It is possible without a) an espresso machine and b) steam.  Push button, wait 50 seconds for the cold milk to both warm and froth, and voila!  Use it for lattes, cappucinnos, hot chocolate – the list is endless.  Best off all, the Aerocinno plugs into an outlet (so you don’t have to stand there and froth!), is simp to clean, and works like a charm for around $100. If you’re thinking “eek” about the price, keep reading.  It’s not a coffee accessory you want, believe me, it’s one you need.  Steamers fail, handheld wand frothers break, and stovetop ones are just a pain.  I can attest through experience, you’re better off just shelling out the dough in the beginning.

Interested? Watch the cheesiest promo for the Aeroccino. Not sure what they were thinking with the jazz and throaty vocals but hey, it’ll make you laugh about being gourmet!

Espresso Machine or French Press

My husband and I travel with our espresso machine, no joke.  It’s an addiction and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Well, maybe the world, but who’s offering anyway?

My number one advice with the espresso machine: one can always start small.  Our first machine was somewhere around $200 and we’ve upgraded from there based on our ever-pressing need for thicker crema.  But if you’re holding your guns to drip coffee, consider the French Press.  It’s portable – great for the office when everybody else is drinking burnt morning brew in the afternoon.  And since it captures coffee’s essential oils and depth of flavor, the French Press delivers a stronger, thicker coffee than the drip.

Organic Milk & Agave Nectar

Organic milk tastes richer, froths better, and well, it’s organic.  A must have for superior taste and natural sweetness.  As for Agave Nectar, the only reason this is worth mentioning is that processed white cane sugar not only has all the nutrients stripped from it, it also slightly alters the flavor.  While inessential to most American style coffee drinkers, agave nectar or demerara sugar (brown) will lend a subtle sweetness to espresso without disturbing the rich balance of acidic and bitter flavors.  Try it for a few days.  I’d wager you won’t go back to processed sugar.

Reinventing the Pantry

Watching “Julie and Julia” has put me in the mood to cook, or at least write about cooking.  I think a lot about what I’m going to make for dinner and yet I have an aversion to recipes.  I find my greatest creativity occurs when I’m low on ingredients.  You know the scenario – your fridge is nearly empty, your pantry is filled with the regular goodies (or not so goodies!) and you’re feeling uninspired but you still have to make dinner.  The frozen pizza is looking pretty appetizing by now.  But wait!  Stock your pantry right and these days of quick unhealthy bites become part of your murky past in non-cooking.  Instead of the frozen standbys, you start whipping up a tasty dish like Tangy Tuna Pasta or Sundried Tomato Frittata.  Dinner is suddenly delicious.

My Fridge

So I’m all about making life easier in the kitchen and while fresh ingredients are undoubtedly the way to go, cooking straight from the pantry now and then is a refreshing change from the daily grind of take-out or healthy choice.

The Pantry Essentials

Part I: Oils

Everybody stocks olive oil nowadays, right?  Its rich, goes well with fish, meat, and poultry, not to mention pasta and salads, and cooks at high heat.  But sometimes its, well, common.  Using one oil all the time deadens the palate so why not try something more unusual?  I find that toasted sesame oil is an amazing addition to salads and pasta.   I’ve blogged about it before, but La Tourangelle is amazing.  TJ Maxx regularly stocks it, but you can also find it on amazon.  Just be prepared to pay a higher price at the latter (TJ Maxx is usually at least half that price).  Keep in mind that oils are used sparingly so the $7-$20 you spend on a container will last a very long time.  Consider these:

  • Roasted Hazelnut Oil – seriously yum.  Use it on salads, lettuce and bean; pastas, fish.  It smells exquisite.
  • Grapeseed – has virtually no distinctive taste.  Perfect when you don’t want to add flavor to a dish
  • Also roasted walnut oil, pumpkin oil, and white truffle (awesome on pasta and not just for gourmands!).

Part II – Canned & Bottled

I reguarly buy frozen veggies for those nights when I’m running low on fresh.  They work in a pinch, but there are some canned veggies that far outperform frozen.  And while I’m not talking Spam, consider seafood for protein.  Tuna has come up in the world.

  • Artichokes
  • Black Olives
  • Corn – try this in saute pan with lime juice and chili pepper.  I salivate just thinking about this simple recipe.
  • Tomato sauce, plain – add italian seasoning, a pinch of sugar, and red pepper flakes for super easy spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce.  If you’re cooking the sauce for longer than 10-20 mins, consider carrots instead of sugar.  It’s not as acidic and as such, does not leave a bitter aftertaste.
  • Veggie Broth – or chicken, if that’s what you prefer.
  • Canned Oysters – Oyster soup (milk, worcestershire sauce, pepper, and butter – what could be easier?)
  • Tuna in Olive oil (if possible) – think outside the box here.  Try googling “tuna baguette”.  I’ve even convinced my husband, a staunch canned tuna hater, that tuna can be edible and delish.
  • Anchovy Paste – trust me; caesar salads almost always require these, as well as certain pistous, tapenades, and some pasta sauces.
  • Beans
  • Capers – pickled bud of the perrenial caper bush – you need to stock this.  They’re handy for pasta, meat, salads, sauces.  Just try it!
  • Hot Sauce – I love Frank’s for pasta and as an addition to meatballs.  Makes all the difference.
  • Jam – not just good for toast.   Mix into plain yogurt, add to baking, oatmeal, etc.  Try it on a grilled cheese sandwich, especially fig jam.

Part III – Spices & Herbs

If there’s a spice regularly available at grocery stores, I’ve tried it.  I’ve even been known to buy spices I couldn’t pronounce just because my curiosity is unsatiable.  I want to sample everything.  Despite these forays into the unusual, though, I have a few absolute staples.  My general take on spices and herbs is the more the merrier.  You never know what you’re gonna need.

  • Basil – fabulous in scrambled eggs
  • Chili Powder – heats up practically anything: soups, mexican, eggs, meat . . .
  • Garlic Powder – when I’m too lazy to cut up garlic
  • Lemon Pepper – I cannot say this enough, high quality or none at all.  I use The Gourmet Collection.  Try this on roasted veggies.  It’s divine on roasted potatoes.
  • Saigon Cinnamon – when you want sweetness without sugar – great for diabetics too.
  • Italian Seasoning – a mix of basil, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a must for pasta sauces, pizza, soup.  The list is almost endless.
  • Sea Salt and Grindable Pepper – the best dishes are often seasoned with the simplest of seasonings.  Try chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder sauted in olive oil.  It’s perfect!
  • Herbes de Provence – savory, basil, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, marjoram, and lavender.  Great if you don’t want to buy these spices seperately.

Another note about spices: cook them first instead of adding to a dish that’s already cooking.  Sprinkling them in the pan with the oil before the rest of the dish really pulls out the flavor.  I think it’s the only way to make indian curries with the proper flavor.

Part IV – Condiments and Vinegars

Condiments are essentially what accessories are to your wardrobe.  They make it.

  • Dijon Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sherry
  • Worcestershire Sauce – great in soups and obviously with meats.  Try it on veggies too.
  • Garlic Teryaki – marinade steak in this to really please your man.
  • Soy Sauce
  • Boxed Red or White Wine – whichever you prefer.  By buying a box instead of a bottle, you have the opportunity to both drink and cook with it.  Boxed wine stays fresher longer and is better for the environment.  Suprisingly, some are pretty darned good!

Part V – Dry

I think some of these are pretty obvious but I’ll take a go at it!

  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Unsweetened Cocoa – a wonderful addition to breakfast oatmeals, cereals; make hot chocolate with real cocoa taste, add to smoothies.  As a plus, unsweetened cocoa is super healthy due to its plentious amounts of antioxidants.
  • Steel Cut Oats – retains the nutrition of whole oats.  Try adding in baked goods like scones, eat for breakfast with fruit, and get a good amount of fiber to start your day.
  • Agave Nectar – does not ruin the taste of coffee or tea and is also great with baking.  Cane sugar and beet sugar are more acidic.
  • Basmati Rice – a preference of mine for stir-fry and east indian cuisine.  Could also use brown rice or jasmine and if you find it easily available, try wild rice.  I love it as the base for Indian porridge for breakfast or as a substitue for wheat pasta with chicken.
  • Dried Breadcrumbs – experiment with adding spices.
  • Baking Soda and powder – if you bake
  • Coffee and/or Tea – add tea to smoothies, add coffee to baking and desserts, or best of all, just drink it!

There are, of course, always other useful pantry essentials but I find them less essential than those above.  In addition, it’s always a good idea to have the original basics: milk, eggs, and flour, or their respective substitutes.

So what about you?  What are a few of your pantry essentials, or even better, super easy recipes?