Category Archives: Recipes

On Bliss

Standard

On Bliss

Many people seem to have a bucket list; a series of unfulfilled desires or needs to be realized before life comes to an end. All of it depending of course on the chance that they live long enough to enjoy it all.

chocolate_and_strawberriesI have opted for the present moment and am indulging in a bliss list; that which gives me the most immediate and rewarding pleasure without having to compromise with fate.

I pondered briefly about what I would chose to lead the list of my life’s reward and agreed that it was that most intoxicating and mysterious of foods called CHOCOLATE.

But before indulging in the present, let me dip into the past. Chocolate’s history is fascinating and covers thousands of years. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed in its magical power and divine properties. I also learned that bee keeping was an important occupation in the Yucatan. This may account for the Aztecs using honey in their cacao mixture. There is also a rather unsavory aspect to the Aztec use of the cacao bean. It was given to sacrifice victims who felt melancholy to join ritual dancing before their death. They were give a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up! (The Chocolate Connoisseur – Chloe Doutre-Roussel)chocolate

Recent discoveries place it even further back in time. But it was the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes who brought it to Spain. Nobility there disliked it at first but when they mixed it with honey or cane sugar, chocolate soon became the favorite drink of the kings and queens of Europe. It was believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties. No wonder that Casanova was especially fond of it! And so it goes…

The Aztecs knew it all along as the “food of the gods” is now recognized to increase heart health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. But the flavanol, an antioxidant shown to have anti-cancer properties, neutralizing cancer causing free radicals is found in dark chocolate only! (at least 70% cacao.)

And there’s more…Good chocolate won’t make you fat because you only have to eat a small square of chocolate a day to satisfy your senses with delight. And your heart and skin will respond with joy as well. Ah the bliss of it…

heart_in_chocolateI have my own history with chocolate, which summons memories recalling my childhood in Belgium. I was in a convent, not as a nun but as a four-year-old child taken into safety from the Nazi occupation. I didn’t know French at the time so the nuns did everything they could to hasten the process. One in particular, Sister Clotilde, the chef in residence, became very fond of me. She was Flemish and the pronunciation of her name was quite an effort for me. But when I finally got it right she swept me off my feet and led me to her secret cupboard where she was hiding her stash of Cote d’Or chocolates. To my surprise she handed me a bar with the most beautiful wrapping. I tried not to tear the picture of the gold elephant resting on the brown paper. When some of the chocolate melted and smeared my fingers Sister Clotilde exclaimed in delight Oh, les sales petits doigts! what dirty little fingers. She watched me lick the chocolate off my dirty little fingers before devouring the rest of the chocolate inside the wrapping. Then she picked me up and as I leaned against her headdress to give her a kiss I left a dark chocolaty stain on that purest of white. She started to laugh. I never forgot that first taste of chocolate ambrosia or Sister Clotilde’s laughter cascading into the universe. The event has remained with me through time as well as the recollection of my first gustatory ecstasy.

*** More of the story in my memoir entitled Mindele’s Journey – Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust on Amazon.com

Brussels, the city where I was born, has remained my chocolate paradise. When I return vacation time, I head for the Place du Grand Sablon. I walk down the side of the square just as I did when I was a child and stop in front of Wittamer and gaze in disbelief at the shimmering window display of row upon row of the most incredible chocolate and pastry creations in existence. It is as if time stood still. I go in and after giving the salesgirl a brief explanation of my relationship with the store, I point with a trembling finger to the display of chocolates that filled my childhood with such pleasure. And as I walk out with my purchase I feel I am bringing a bit of bliss back home with me.

chocolate_slows_down_the_aging_process

I’ve been told that there are good chocolate shops in New York but anybody who knows – knows Godiva is not the same (you’d never find liqueur in pralines made in the States) and that Cote d’Or is now owned by Philip Morris and Leonidas is loaded with too much sugar and Callebaut is owned by Suchard a Swiss company. Oh well, truth be told I wait for my next trip to Belgium to load up on bliss.

I invite all who read my chocolate tale to share in a recipe that became my signature dessert.

Warm Chocolate Cake

(for your best friends or enemies who need taming)

Ingredients:

8 eggs
8 yolks
12 tablespoons flour
2 cups sugar
14 oz. chocolate (I use Valrhona)
12 oz. butter

– Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler.
– Beat eggs and yolks with sugar ( at least 10 minutes).
– Combine the chocolate and butter mixture with the eggs, yolks and sugar mixture (beat until well mixed).
– Add 12 tablespoons flour (mixing the batter until it reaches a smooth consistency).

Place the batter into buttered and floured molds and bake 12 min. in a preheated 375o oven (do not overcook as it will not have a velvety chocolate interior).

flourless_chocolate_cake

MAY YOUR BLISS BE ADDICTIVE!

Waterzooi (Recipe)

Standard

Waterzooi

la_ville_de_ghent

La Ville de Ghent

Before you know it, summer vacation will be upon us. You may not have made your plans yet but if you like to travel and enjoy good food as well, why not Belgium! The reason is very simple: everybody eats better in Belgium!  I should know because I was born there and I revel in the memory of all those gustatory feasts that made such an impact on my childhood.

It is not well known but Belgium has more three-star restaurants per capita than France. As a people, Belgians are fiercely protective of their culinary status which was well established as a result of the spice trade in the Middle Ages. It has also acquired and preserved in its traditions a rich combination of influences brought about by foreign invasions. If you travel there today you will find out for yourself the delightful variations that exist between the Flemish and Walloon part of the country.

I grew up in the Walloon part of Belgium not far from a monastery in the town of Rochefort known for its extraordinary beer. It was a delightful destination for excursions, especially driving down beautiful country roads before reaching the welcoming abbey. The monks tended their herb garden where I learned to recognize tarragon, thyme, sage, parsley, chives and chervil. But it was the tender leafy chervil I loved the best. To me it was a jewel among all the herbs I watched growing in our garden. It looked and tasted somewhat like parsley but incomparable in its fragrance and taste. I wonder to this day why it is so difficult to find it in the greengrocer shops in New York. But I took back some seeds from Belgium last year and dispersed them among the rocks behind the building where I live in Brooklyn. And when I went out this morning, I was greeted by the most tender green spreading out over the stones. I picked a few leaves and rubbed them into my palms to carry the scent of my childhood for at least part of the day. But today for the delight of my guests, I will recreate a Belgian dish that originates in the city of Ghent in Flanders.

waterzooi_dishAlthough Flanders is in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, it was quite popular with my aunt Therese who never made such distinctions and prepared it on every special occasion. It’s one of my favorites because the scent and taste of this wondrous stew, like Marcel Proust’s petites madeleines brings me back to a past that lingers in my taste buds. And of course I will garnish the top of the dish with tender snippets of chervil!

Its name derives from the Dutch term “zooien” to boil but it really is a dish prepared with fish or chicken simmered in a soup base of egg-yolk and cream thickened into vegetable broth, carrots, onions, leeks, potatoes, parsley, thyme, bay-leaves, sage and snippets of chervil at the very end of cooking.

A simplified chicken version follows:
Take a plump roasting chicken (cut in pieces)
4 leeks (white parts only)
4 carrots (sliced into rounds)
4 sticks celery( sliced into rounds)
A bouquet garni of bay leaves, fresh parsley, thyme
Minced chervil for garnish
2 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
Some large baking potatoes cut into cubes
4 cups chicken broth
Salt, pepper
2 medium onions (chopped)
3 tbsps. butter

waterzooi_ingredientsMelt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the bouquet garni and cook a bit longer. Then place the chicken pieces on top and add enough of the chicken broth to partially cover the chicken. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove any fat or foam accumulating at the top. Add the leeks, carrots, and celery. Simmer for another 30 minutes.

Add the cubed potatoes to simmering liquid and cook until the potatoes and chicken are done (chicken will be very tender).

Remove the chicken from broth and place in a large dish. Remove the bouquet garni from the broth.

You will easily remove the skin and bones from the chicken so that you can have bite-size pieces of meat.

Beat the cream and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Place Dutch oven over medium heat.

waterzooi_imageTake a ladle and remove some of the liquid from pot to slowly add to egg mixture. This is to prevent the eggs from curdling. Then slowly stir mixture into the broth with the vegetables. Cook over low heat, constantly stirring until the sauce thickens. Be careful not to reach boiling point. Return chicken pieces to Dutch oven. Add salt and pepper.

Place the waterzooi in a deep ( and warmed) serving dish and sprinkle tender little chervil leaves on top. A dish to remember!

Mariette Bermowitz is the author of “Mindele’s Journey: Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust”, available on Amazon. Her story is a testament to a guiding force instilled in her by the nuns who sheltered her during the war. “I know what it’s like to give up hope, but something always drove me on.” says Bermowitz.

Pomegranates for Thanksgiving

Standard

With Thanksgiving approaching and guests announcing themselves, I head for the bookcase where my cookbooks tempt me with fabulous titles. I bought several of them while traveling and living in foreign countries. That in itself allows me to reminisce and dream about the journeys that led me to learn about different foods, ingredients and fragrances that linger in the mind.

I choose from among the glossy covers tempting me, the fabulous cookbook by the Iranian born chef, Najmieh Batmanglij, entitled Silk Road Cooking. There, next to a dish of  Pilau (rice) infused with pomegranate seeds I am smitten by the sight of two crimson colored pomegranates. The appellation of the word comes from ancient French pomme grenate or crimson apple or more mysterious still, somber red.

Painting by Patrick Flynn

The first time I ever saw this tempting fruit was in a Flemish still life of the seventeenth century. I will always remember that open pomegranate in the forefront of the painting emptying its scarlet seeds and sensuous color onto a white porcelain dish. But it was in the Iranian city of Yazd that I discovered its origins.

I had traveled three hundred miles through a barren landscape to visit the last center of Zoroastrianism and learned that Marco Polo had visited this city on his journey from Italy to China in the thirteenth century. And it was in one of the quaint restaurants along a dusty main street that I first tasted Yazdi Polow , a rice dish from Yazd, with Khoreshe Anar(Pomegranate sauce).

Yazd, Iran

According to Najmieh Batmanglij, “The red pomegranate is native to Iran and the tastiest ones come from Yazd, where it has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years. It is considered the fruit of heaven; in fact, it was probably the real “apple” in the Garden of Eden. The ancients commended it. Among them were King Solomon, who had a pomegranate orchard. And the prophet Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”

That being said, recalling my journey and exotic discoveries in Iran, fills me with sweet nostalgia. And so I will share that extraordinary gustatory experience with my version of Khoreshe Fesenjan (Pomegranate sauce) which may be added to either chicken or turkey for Thanksgiving.

Chicken or Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce

2 ½-3 lb fryer (cut up);  2 cups walnuts (finely chopped); 5 tbsp. shortening

3 ½ cups water; ½ tsp. poultry seasoning; 1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon; ½ tsp. pepper; 2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 large onion (finely chopped); 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice or

2-3 tbsp. pomegranate molasses; 2 tbsp. tomato sauce; 3tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. sugar; 2 whole pomegranates

Wash and prepare the chicken pieces (or turkey breasts) for frying. Sauté the chicken with seasoning in shortening until light brown on all sides. As an alternative method the chicken may be baked in a 350oF oven for 45 minutes instead. Put aside. Sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons butter until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and sauté for a few minutes. Add walnuts to the sautéed onions and sauté over a medium fire for about 5 minutes. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the walnuts. Add water, seasoning, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice (or pomegranate molasses). Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and if you find it a little sour add sugar.  Arrange the sautéed chicken in this sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve rice.

The trick to serving this beautiful dish is to cut the pomegranates into slices . Add some seeds into cooked rice, then place the rice  into a mold. When you remove the rice from the mold, the red seeds will add a beautiful touch to the rice crown. Arrange the rest of the pomegranate slices around the rice or use to decorate the chicken or turkey dish.

NOOSHEJAN       BON APPETIT