It was Thanksgiving. I made a chocolate stout cake in a beautiful bundt pan, but it didn't release properly. So... what to do when your bundt ends up looking like a misshappen blob? Tell yourself it'll taste good and that's all that matters, and then drizzle melted white chocolate over it. Dip a fork into melted chocolate- you can practice flicking your wrist and making lines into the bowl of white chocolate if you want to practice. Once I started drizzling white chocolate over it I thought, "just a little bit more, that's all it needs"... and it ended up being mostly covered. Oh well- nobody guessed that it looked like a mutant.
My Mom is from Montenegro, which is a tiny country that sits on the Adriatic Coast, south of Croatia, and north of Albania. It has a Mediterranean climate, but up in the mountains and further inland the spices and flavors are influenced less by the Mediterranean Sea, and more by Ottoman/Turkish/Eastern European flavors. A few flavors and foods that make me think of Montenegro and the Balkans are brined feta cheese, ajvar, and the all mighty Vegeta seasoning. Ajvar is a roasted pepper spread that has spices and sometimes eggplant or tomatoes. It is slightly bitter and smoky, and in my my memory the flavor tends to vary quite a bit from brand to brand.
Let's talk feta. I don't mean the small squares that are shrink wrapped, and sitting in neat little packages on the cheese shelf. I'm talking about giant blocks of feta that sit in brine, patiently waiting to bought by haggling babushkas so they can feed their giant families. You can find such feta at international groceries, and it is well worth the trip. Furthermore, there are several types of feta: Greek, Bulgarian, and French are the ones that I've seen. Bulgarian is the strongest and saltiest, whereas French is milder, but still creamy and salty. Greek feta tends to crumble easier, and has a sharper tang than French.
Vegeta is an all-purpose seasoning that was invented in Croatia, and is very popular in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Check the label because there is a version with MSG, however there is one without. It reminds me of my childhood- my mom would mix this in her chicken and rice dishes, over roasted potatoes, in soups... the possibilities are really endless. Also, Vegeta is vegan.
BALKAN BUDDHA BOWL
1 can chickpeas, drained
steamed spinach, or steamed veggies of choice
cooked wild rice, or grain of choice*
*Wild rice takes about 50 minutes to make, so if you prepare a batch of that, the rest of the meal will come together in less than 20 minutes.
1. Heat a pan of oil, and add vegeta seasoning and chickpeas. Sautee the chickpeas over medium-high heat for ten minutes, until crispy and browned. Set aside. In a medium sized pot, steam vegetables of choice. Load up each plate with steamed veggies, crispy chickpeas, a few scoops of wild rice, a wedge of feta, and ajvar.
Photo credit: Vegeta: Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kattis_j/8985554277/">Katarina Jardenberg</a> via <a href="http://foter.com/">Foter.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a> Ajvar: Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kattis_j/8985554277/">Katarina Jardenberg</a> via <a href="http://foter.com/">Foter.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a>
A long long time ago, there was some big awards show on TV. We "watched" it, which meant we made these cute little caprese salads. PERFECT FINGER FOOD!
We all love bruleed foods, am I right? This is a great alternative to regular, unbruleed grapefruit, and the perfect pop to a cold winter's day.
Preheat broiler. Arrange baking rack to about 5 inches below top coils. Halve grapefruit. Slice off a tiny patch on the bottom of each half so they don't roll. Carefully run a paring knife around the membranes (this will make eating it much easier). Drizzle with honey and a dash of cinnamon. Broil for a few minutes, until the top is bubbly and begins to brown. Let cool for a minute, then enjoy!
2 12 oz. bags of dark chocolate (Ghiradelli's 60% has just the right amount of cocoa flavor that lets the sweetness of the strawberries or other fruits come through without overwhelming it)
Rinsed and dried strawberries
Parchment, wax paper, or tin foil
CHOCOLATE MELTING METHOD 2: DOUBLE BOILER
Instead of melting the chocolate over a gas flame directly, we're putting one degree of separation between the very hot stove and the easily burnable chocolate. Simmer two inches of water in a medium saucepan with a heat resistant glass or metal bowl over the pot so that it sits comfortably on the rim. The steam will heat up the bowl and melt the chocolate. I usually turn the stove off once the chocolate is halfway melted- the residual heat from the pot will last for at least ten minutes. Feel free to put it on very low.
CHOCOLATE MELTING METHOD 1: MICROWAVE
Easy peasey. Take a microwave proof bowl with chocolate, and microwave at 20 second intervals. If you microwave it longer than than that, you risk burning it. Every microwave is different, but 20 seconds is a good ballpark figure. Keep zapping it and stirring it, and after four or five turns in the science oven it will be a glistening pool of promised dreams.
Pat strawberries dry. It is important to use thoroughly dried berries, because any extra water can cause the chocolate to seize, which will make your strawberries look sad. It will also cause the chocolate to seize.
Line a tray with parchment paper. The process is simple: dip strawberries, shake gently, and place on parchment lined tray.
TOPPINGS: slivered/toasted almonds/chopped nuts, coconut flakes, a drizzle of white chocolate (melted and piped in a ziploc bag), or anything your heart desires!
Roasted mushrooms are so wonderful... they're the full essense of UMAMI- which is that extra flavor that translates to "hits the spot". I usually sautee mushrooms, but roasting them in the oven works very well, as long as your stir them every once in awhile to make sure they baste in their glorious buttery/garlicky/wine elixir.
Baby portobello, or button mushrooms
Preheat oven to 375. Clean mushrooms- wipe with a damp cloth, and give a quick rinse. Chop (or not), and arrange in a baking dish. Coat with oil, dab with small pieces of butter and garlic, add salt and pepper to taste. Add a sprinkle of parsley, and a splash of white wine. At this point go ahead and pour yourself a glass as well.
Bake, checking on it after ten minutes to add more wine and stir. Stir periodically to make sure the mushrooms are basting. After 30-40 minutes the mushrooms will be done- garnish with chopped parsley and a dash of lemon juice, and serve immediately.