Croatia

Croatia was one of the more difficult countries to pick recipes… from what I read (and what I can still remember several weeks later), their cuisine is pretty varied, with different regions enjoying food similar to Bosnia, Italy, Austria, or Hungary.

When I was looking through possible recipes, one that immediately caught my eye is pasticada, also known as a Dalmation pot roast.  Dalmatian like the region… not like 101 Dalmatians.  It is a cut of beef that is marinated and slow cooked with bacon inside of it, then served with a savory tomato/fruit/rosemary/bay leaf/etc. sauce and gnocchi.  Sounds delicious.  We also made a poppy seed roll called makovnjaca for dessert.

Potato Gnocchi (recipe)

We looked at a few gnocchi recipes and went with this mashed potato based one.  We started with boiling and mashing potatoes, which were mixed with butter and left to cool.  Then they were mixed with flour, eggs, salt, and cut into small pieces.  It made a LOT.  We still have 1/3 of the uncooked gnocchi in the freezer for a future meal.

Croatia_gnocchi_uncooked

I didn’t get a good picture from after boiling the gnocchi, so you’ll just have to wait for the picture with the main course to see how they turned out.

Pasticada (recipe)

We started with a cut of beef and stuffed little pieces of bacon stuffed inside it.  This was marinated with apple cider vinegar and mustard, and then it was browned in oil.  The onion, garlic, and vegetables (carrots and celery root) were sautéed in the oil, then the meat and veggies were simmered for a couple hours in red wine, water, and sugar.

pasticada_1

 

By the way, it was our first time experiencing a celery root… that thing looked and smelled like pure evil.

celery_root

More wine and sugar were added throughout the cooking time, as was the tomato paste, apple slices, prunes, and figs.  Later the bay leaves and rosemary went in, too.

pasticada_2

 

At the end, a little bit of semi-sweet chocolate and plum jam were added to taste.  The meat was removed, the remaining sauce/produce were blended, and it was served over the gnocchi!

pasticada_with_gnocchi

Makovnjaca (recipe)

This recipe started with making a yeast based dough that was left to rise for several hours.  After that, the (ground) poppy seeds were cooked in hot milk on the stove with honey, lemon rind, cinnamon, and rum.  Then this was left to cool off a bit.

The dough was rolled out and covered with the poppy seed filling.

Makovnjaca_1

This was rolled up and could be topped with either sugar or poppy seeds.  Due to some misunderstanding of the recipe, we did not scale it at all and ended up with TWO rolls, so we made one each way.

Makovnjaca_2

After baking:

Makovnjaca_3

And here it is cut into slices (the swirly was actually much better in the second roll, but I never took a picture of it):

Makovnjaca_4

We were very pleased with how this meal turned out.  The gnocchi, beef, and sauce were fantastic.  You definitely had to be mentally prepared for a very rich meal, since the sauce was puréed fruit, aromatic vegetables, and herbs.  But it was delicious.  We both rated it pretty highly.  I’m also excited to get out the frozen leftover gnocchi sometime when we need a quick dinner idea.

The makovnjaca (poppy seed roll) was good, although I would have liked for it to be a bit sweeter.  I normally am okay with less sweet desserts, but this took it a bit too far for my taste.  That said, I thought the dough was very good and enjoyed the taste of poppy seeds… I can’t say I have eaten something so prominently featuring them.  It was pretty good with a cup of tea.

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Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

As usual, we started getting nervous when we saw an African country approaching the top of our list.  We don’t have the best track record with African food, although it is slowly improving…

Our plan for Cote d’Ivoire was to make a stew called Kedjenou, attieke (which is, essentially, couscous made of cassava), and gâteau molleux à l’anabas et à la noir de coco (pineapple and coconut cake).  We couldn’t find attieke, so we ended up substituting standard issue couscous and following a similar cooking method to what we used for Algeria.

Kedjenou (recipe)

This was another easy recipe… the instructions are to dump everything in a big pot, then let it cook for a long time.  We used chicken (I think chicken thighs?), eggplant, onions, chili pepper, tomato, ginger, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, chicken stock, and peanut oil.  We turned it into a crockpot meal.

Before cooking (yes, we still had useable thyme in the garden in mid-October for this!):

Kedjenou_before_cooking

After cooking:

Kedjenou_after_cooking

 

Served on couscous:

Kedjenou_on_couscous

Gâteau Molleux à l’Ananas et à la Noix de Coco (recipe)

It had been a while since we made an international dessert, so we decided to make this cake.  It also seemed fitting to make a cake since it was close to my birthday!

The cake batter involved shredded coconut, butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, and chopped fresh pineapple (yum!).  Other than the pieces of fruit, the batter and cakes looked pretty normal.  Perhaps slightly more done than I would have liked.

cote_d'ivoire_cake_1

 

However, the flipping onto a cooling rack step was not so successful (although this gave us a good excuse to sneak a taste of the cake, which got done before dinner was ready 🙂 ).

cote_d'ivoire_cake_2

But it still tasted good!

cote_d'ivoire_cake_3

 

This meal was better than we have come to expect from African food, although it wasn’t phenomenal.  There was a reasonable amount of flavor in the stew, but the chicken seemed dry to me.  The cake was also good, but it seemed like it was missing something.  I would rate this meal as average… not bad, not great.  Probably won’t be making it again.

Costa Rica

It’s been several weeks since my last post.  We’re still going strong working through our list (our next country will put us past the 25% point!!!), but I am, unfortunately, ten countries behind on this blog…

Several weeks ago we cooked Costa Rican food!  One of the most well known national dishes is actually a big breakfast, so we had breakfast for dinner one night.  We made gallo pinto (yet another rice and beans dish…), which is typically served with platanos maduros (fried plantains), eggs (fried or scrambled), and sour cream.

Gallo Pinto (recipe)

This was pretty straightforward–fry onion, pepper, garlic, and cilantro (although I think I may have waited and added cilantro at the end?) in oil.  Then mix in cooked beans, sauce, and spices (we had to buy a new sauce for this: Salsa Lizano… thank you, Amazon Prime).  Then the cooked rice was mixed in.  Done.

gallo_pinto

Platanos Maduros (recipe)

This was another nice, simple recipe.  The only struggle is that our grocery store did not have very ripe plantains in stock at the time we made this.  We ended up using a combination of medium ripe plantains and very ripe small bananas (I don’t remember their name, but the sticker said they came from Costa Rica, so I called that close enough…).

Pre-frying:

platanos_maduros_uncooked

 

Mid-frying:

platanos_maduros_cooking

Post-frying, served with dinner:

Costa_Rican_meal

Overall, this meal was very good.  Even for an egg hater like me, the scrambled eggs went pretty well with the rest of the food.  Everything on the plate complimented the rest very nicely.  Tyler made the pinto gallo for breakfast several times afterwards in the next couple weeks, and the leftovers went quickly.  So we’ll call that a win.

Comoros

Oh, The Comoros.

My first step was learning how to pronounce the name.  (The) Cah-muh-rohs seems to be the correct pronunciation.

My second step was researching recipes.  I came up with two contenders… a chicken curry dish that looked good but not too unusual or spectacular… or lobster with vanilla sauce.

My third step was working up the bravery for a memorable shopping trip.

Meet Frank.

Frank_the_lobster

 

…and the tail of “Frozen Frank.”

Frozen_Frank

Yep, that happened.

Langouste a la Vanille (recipe)

Fortunately, Tyler was braver than me… he handled Frank the lobster and diligently followed the recipe’s instructions to stab poor Frank between the eyes and sever his spinal cord from the brain.  It was a little traumatic.  Frank wasn’t happy.

Frank_mischief

After that traumatic experience and more clicking and scuttling sounds from the lobster box than I needed to hear, our lobster friends found their way to the oven…

Before:

lobster_pre_cooking

 

After:

lobster_post_cooking

I now understand why the Red Lobster restaurants have the name they do…

This yielded a surprisingly small amount of meat.

cooked_lobster

Meanwhile, on the less traumatic side of the kitchen, I was making the vanilla sauce.  Since we were already spending an arm and a leg on the darn lobsters, we figured we might as well spend another $12 for a vanilla bean and do this right.  I’ve never cooked with a vanilla bean before, and I was pretty amazed by the collection of itty bitty seeds inside it.

vanilla_bean

 

The sauce involved sautéing shallots in butter, then adding white wine and white wine vinegar.  Then more (!) butter and 1/2 of the vanilla bean seeds were added.  All said and done, this used a full stick of butter.  That is a LOT of butter.

vanilla_butter_sauce

The recipe suggested serving it with spinach and watercress withered in (more) butter.  I couldn’t find watercress, but I found a blend of spinach and two other types of leaves that were conveniently listed on the internet as reasonable substitutes for watercress.

Before:

greens_for_Comoros_raw

After:

greens_for_Comoros_cooked

Comoros_lobster_with_vanilla_sauce_on_greens

 

Ladu (recipe)

Since all that butter wasn’t enough unhealthiness for one meal, we also made a dessert called ladu.  This called for coarsely ground raw rice, and we did manage to find rice that I would define as coarsely ground (I was expecting to end up finding a way to grind up whole rice on our own)  This was cooked in butter on the stove… allegedly this was to be done until it was cooked, but the truth is that butter does not do much for softening rice.  Ladu_cooking

 

I’m not sure if we had the wrong kind of “coarsely ground raw rice” or if the recipe was incomplete, but much like the arepas for Colombia, I took matters into my own hands and started adding water.  I kept adding water and cooking it until it was soft enough to be edible.

Ladu_cooked

Then the cardamom was added, and after cooking the powdered sugar and pepper were added.  It was supposed to be shaped into “bricks.”  We must have done something wrong, because bricks were not going to happen with this consistency.

Ladu

The final meal:
Comoros_meal

The verdict?

Not as good as I was hoping for, considering the cost of lobster and vanilla beans…

Truthfully, I am not a fan of most seafood other than fish, and lobster is no exception.  The sauce was fantastic, but I really struggled with the texture of the lobster meat.  Tyler ate most of it.  And after the traumatic cooking experience, I didn’t have enough an appetite left to be disappointed by this.  On the plus side, we can now check off “cook a live lobster” from the list of life experiences we have completed!  I’m still glad we cooked this meal, and I probably couldn’t have been convinced to purchase and cook a live lobster under any other circumstances.

The dessert was decidedly safe and “normal” for me compared to the lobster, although the combination of cold oatmeal-y rice with pepper and cardamom was unlike anything I have experienced.  I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate in.  In general, I found it to be such a different food experience that I had a hard time wrapping my head around it to form a strong opinion.

Whew.  Our next country of Costa Rica looked pretty reassuringly normal after this.

Colombia

For Colombia, I selected a main dish of sudado de pollo (Colombian style chicken stew) with a side of arepa (which I can best describe as a mix of cornbread and pancakes). I couldn’t resist selecting a cheese filled version of the arepa.

Sudado de Pollo (recipe)

Like so many recipes before, this one started with sautéing chopped onions (and red pepper, in this case). Tomato, garlic, salt and pepper were added after the onions were cooked.

Then the chicken (we used chicken thighs and some leftover rotisserie chicken from China), chicken stock, and more spices were added. The spices included cumin and a mix called Sazon Soya, for which I read a reasonable substitute is equal parts of ground coriander, cumin, annatto, garlic powder, and salt. This cooked for 25 minutes, and then potatoes and cilantro were added and left to cook until the potatoes were soft.  It thickened some after the below picture.

sudado_de_pollo

Arepa Boyacense (recipe)

The arepa proved to be a little more complicated than the main dish…

The main challenge was an ingredient we could not locate: masarepa, a type of pre-cooked cornmeal.  The closest substitute I came across was corn grits for polenta.

polenta_corn_grits

As I started “kneading” the corn grits, flour, water, milk, salt, sugar, and butter, it became clear that I had a problem.  There was not a lot of kneading going on, but there was a lot of swashing corn grits around in liquid and scratching my hands going on.  So I totally deviated from the recipe under the assumption that the cornmeal stuff needed to be cooked.  I ended up spending the next hour or so cooking this mixture in a skillet (adding water pretty often) until it became soft enough that I could imagine eating it without cracking a tooth.

So I returned to the recipe at that point and rolled it out into small circles, sprinkled some cheese on top, and added another circle on top to encase the cheese.

arepa_before_cooking

These were then fried:

arepa_frying

The arepa was served with the sudado de pollo over rice:

Colombia_meal_1

Colombia_meal_2

 

The verdict?

Good, but not spectacular.  The chicken stew was definitely enjoyable, but it won’t go down in history as a meal we need to repeat.  Same with the arepas… tasty, but not quite as good as I expected.  The seemed a little too sweet, and although I saved them from being a complete disaster by cooking the “dough” ahead of time, I always wonder how differently some of these recipes we make would turn out if I didn’t have to make any substitutions.

China

Well, now I’m six countries behind on this thing, so I guess I better keep playing catch up…

Long story short, we really dragged our feet on this next meal.  We had the amazing opportunity to go to China in August to volunteer at an unofficial FIRST Robotics Competition scrimmage.  Ironically, the next country on our list at that time was China.  Somehow, we had a hard time getting excited about eating MORE Chinese food after a week there…

But, we finally got around to it, and we cooked a dish my brother had told us about–xiao long bao.  Also known as soup dumplings.  They are the inverse of what you usually might expect (dumplings in soup).  In this case, the soup is inside the dumpling!  We were very intrigued by the concept, and it was different enough from the food we ate in China that we could go along with it.  This was a pretty involved recipe and included a dipping sauce, so didn’t make anything else.

Xiao Long Bao (recipe)

The first step was making the broth for the soup.  We used the remains of a rotisserie chicken (and ate the good part for an easy dinner 🙂 ), along with ham, salt pork, ginger, green onions, garlic, and rice wine.  The smell took us straight back to China.  No chicken feet in the soup here, though…

xiao_long_bao_broth1

After simmering for multiple hours and straining out the chunks, we added gelatin and put it in a plan to chill.  The idea is that the soup solidifies when chilled so it can be stuffed in the dumplings, but upon heating it will re-liquify.

xiao_long_bao_broth2

 

The next day I broke it up into pieces (these pieces ended up being too big, but I didn’t realize that until later).

xiao_long_bao_broth3

The rest of the dumpling filling consisted of chopped up shrimp and pork with more rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, etc.  This was mixed with the gelatinous soup:

xiao_long_bao_filling

 

Meanwhile, Tyler worked on making the dumpling dough.  That wasn’t very exciting, so I didn’t take many pictures.  I followed a similar dumpling making process as I did for the momos for Bhutan… Put the filling in a small circle of dough, then attempt to twist it shut at the top.

xiao_long_bao_making_dumplings

We invested in a bamboo steamer (who knew they sold these things at Target???), which was lined with cabbage leaves to prevent sticking.  I didn’t do very well with the 1-2″ spacing between dumplings.

xiao_long_bao_before_cooking

 

After about twelve minutes of steaming, they came out looking like this:

xiao_long_bao_after_cooking

In the mean time, we also put together the dipping sauce.  An ingredient was Sambal/hot chili and garlic sauce.  We couldn’t find that, so we made our own:

sambal

The quantity was overkill… we needed two tablespoons.  It was added soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger.  It also was supposed to be mixed with black vinegar, which we couldn’t find.  I researched substitutes but didn’t write down what I did (oops).  I think it was a combination of two things… maybe balsamic vinegar with something else.  It wasn’t very photogenic sauce.

xiao_long_bao_dipping_sauce

 

So, all said and done, we had a nice looking meal.  We served it with some Chinese green tea.

xiao_long_bao_1

xiao_long_bao_2

 

The dumplings were delicious the first night!  Sadly, most of the soup escaped during the steaming process, but at least the meat filling was good.  And I think some of the broth flavor stuck around, even if the liquid didn’t.  They went very well with a cup of green tea.

We saved the rest of the dumplings (un-steamed) and steamed the another night for leftovers.  I don’t know if they weren’t as good after a couple days, or if we were just regressing to being done with Chinese food, or what, but we really didn’t enjoy them as much the second time around.  Oh well.  The important part is that we broke our fifty day international cooking break and got back into the project!

Chile

Catch up post number four!  We were excited to have made it out of our stretch of so many African countries!  We also were determined to squeeze this into our schedule when we did, because our next country to cook was China, and we were about to go to China!  More on that later.

So I found a lot of tasty looking food for Chile, but the reoccurring theme was a casserole called pastel de choclo, which is essentially a casserole of empanada filling topped with a sweet cornbread-ish topping.  We made pebre salsa and sopaipillas (pumpkin sopaipillas!!!) for a side.  The Pebre salsa could be eaten with the casserole or as a savory topping for the sopaipillas.  The sopaipillas pasadas also involved an orange/cinnamon/clove/sugar syrup to serve them as a dessert.

Pastel de Choclo (recipe)

As I described above, this started with what is essentially empanada filling… very similar to what we made for Argentina.  Ground beef, garlic, onion, paprika, cumin, oregano, etc.  We went with some of the variations listed on this recipe that seemed to be standard in many of the recipes I looked at–adding chicken (we used part of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken), hard boiled egg slices, and raisins.

This was topped with a cornbread type topping.  All of the recipes I looked at were a little different, and some other bloggers mentioned that this part is VERY sweet using American corn, which is allegedly more sweet than the average Chilean corn.  Since we were in the middle of Iowa sweet corn season, I obviously was going to make this recipe using fresh corn from the closest local farmer’s truck!  I ended up making a spreadsheet converting all the different corn topping recipes into common units (some used ears of corn, some used volume of corn kernels, and some used weight of corn kernels) and found some kind of happy medium.  According to my notes, I ended up using five ears of corn, three handfuls of cornmeal, and two splashes of milk.  And there was some chopped basil from our garden in there too.  Pretty scientific, I know.

After cooking, here’s what it looked like:

pastel_de_choclo

 

Pebre (recipe)

This was a nice and easy recipe.  I think we used mostly produce from the garden, too.  Just dice the fresh ingredients and mix it all together.  The red wine vinegar made this a little different from other salsas I have made.

Pebre_salsa

Sopaipillas Pasadas (sopaipilla recipe, sauce recipe)

As I mentioned above, these are not your ordinary sopaipillas… they had pumpkin!  I am a die hard, year round pumpkin lover.  So this recipe was a must when I read about it.

I made the dough using shortening, flour, baking powder, etc. and pureed pumpkin (from our garden!).  These were rolled into small circles than fried in an inch or two of oil.  They were done when the started to puff up and float.

sopaipillas_pasadas

We also made the sauce, which was sugar cooked in water for a looong time with orange rind, cloves, and a cinnamon stick.  Yum.

I don’t think it got as thick as it was supposed to be, so we ended up letting it boil more after dinner.

sopaipilla_pasadas_sauce

The final meal:

Chile_meal

sopaipillas_pasadas_dessert

Meal Review

This was another smashing success!!!  We absolutely loved the pastel de choclo casserole.  The corn topping was not too sweet as some warned it could be, and in fact it was just sweet enough to perfectly compliment the meat/filling.  The pebre salsa was a great accompaniment, and it was also good as a savory topping for the sopaipillas.  The sopaipillas and their sauce were delicious.  They didn’t hold up as well through reheating, but they were still delicious.  Definitely an all around winner, this was one of our favorite meals so far and earned the rare five star rating!

 

 

Chad

Another quick post as I play catch up…

I went with a very simple fried fish recipe for our main dish.  We made the creatively named “Chad salad” as a side and jus de fruit (AKA mango shakes) for dessert.

Chad Broiled Fish (recipe)

I don’t remember what type of fish we used anymore… I want to say it was mahi mahi?  We (Tyler) cut slits on the fish filets and stuffed in slices of garlic.

Chad_fish_before_cooking

Then they were dredged in flour and fried until golden brown.  They were topped with tomato slices and salt/pepper/chili powder, then covered and left to simmer for 40 minutes.

Chad_fish

Chad Salad (recipe)

Chad salad is one of the most bizarre recipes of unexpected ingredients that I have ever made.  One of the other global food bloggers made it and said it was pretty good, though, so we gave it a chance.  This salad consisted of lemon juice and zest, cooked rice, sliced cucumbers, sliced bananas, raisins, almonds, salt, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and honey.  Yep.

It was served chilled and looked like this:

Chad_salad

 

Jus de Fruit (recipe)

This was essentially a mango shake… get out the blender and toss in a few ice cubes, mango, whole milk, sugar, and cardamom powder (!!):

Mango_shake

Meal Review

This meal was a smashing success!  That is not something we are accustomed to with our experiences of Africa so far.  The fish was done perfectly and had excellent flavor.  The salad was surprisingly delicious, considering the strange assortment of ingredients that it contained.  And the mango shake was absolutely delicious.  It was thick and creamy, and the mango and cardamom gave it excellent flavor.  I might not be quick to make the salad again, but I would definitely repeat the fish as an easy weeknight meal and the shake for a cool summer dessert.

Central African Republic

Central African Republic was number two of our three consecutive African countries, which I was a little worried about.  Once again, there weren’t an abundance of options to choose from.  We made this back in July too… still playing catch up with the blog posts.

We made a beef/peanut butter/okra stew called  kanda ti nyma, beignets de bananas (banana fritters), and a hibiscus tea called karkanji.

Kanda Ti Nyma (recipe)

This was a stew using several classic central African ingredients such as chili pepper, palm oil, okra, and peanut butter.  Several ingredients were mixed to make meatballs, then it was cooked with the okra and peanut butter sauce.  I added extra salt and chili powder at the recommendation of a comment on another international cooking blogger’s post.

kanda_ti_nyma_1

It was served over rice.

kanda_ti_nyma_2

Karakanji (recipe)

This seemed similar to the bissap that we made for Burkina Faso a while back.  The difference was that the hibiscus was steeped with ginger, and it used less sugar (and called for powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar).  As expected, it tasted similar but less sweet.

karakanji

Beignets de bananes (recipe)

These were basically bananas meet fair food.  Sliced and battered bananas were fried and topped with powdered sugar.  I had a hard time not burning them. 😦

beignets_de_bananes

Meal review

Overall, the beignets de bananas stole the show.  They were delicious… like I said above, they were pretty much sliced bananas marauding as fair food (think funnel cakes and deep fried snickers).  The only downside is that they did not hold up as leftovers, and we made a lot of them.  The kanda ti nyma was okay… I thought it was a decent, filling meal.  Tyler really didn’t care for it… so I ate most of the leftovers.  I, on the other hand, really didn’t care for the karakanji drink… I think if it had more sugar like the bissap we made, I would have liked it, but it was just too bitter or tart or something.

Cape Verde

So now that I’m five (soon to be six after we cook dinner in about an hour) countries behind, we are going to power through a few posts…

We cooked a meal from Cape Verde back in the middle of July.  This is another of those small countries about which I didn’t know much and for which I didn’t find a wealth of information and recipes.  We decided to make a large stew called catchupa, which is one of those recipes that every chef prepares differently and makes enough food to feed an army, a side dish (probably could have been a dessert) of avocados stuffed with dates and port), and a dessert of pudim de queijo or “cheese pudding.”

 

Catchupa (recipe)

The stew cooked for several hours with hominy corn, three types of beans, salt pork, sausage (I think I used kielbasa… sadly I couldn’t find chorizo with casing), cabbage, butternut squash, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, chicken bouillon, and olive oil.  Once it was done, the sausage was removed and sliced to be served separately.  Here’s what it looked like!

Catchupa

Avocado with Dates (recipe)

This one of those quick and simple recipes.  Cut the avocados in half, scoop out the contents, mix the contents with sugar, port, and chopped dates, then put that mixture back in the avocado skins/shells and refrigerate.

Cape_Verde_avodados_with_dates_3

 

Pudim de Queijo (cheese pudding) (recipe)

This closest thing I can liken this too is cheesecake, but it was more egg-y and liquidy (I don’t think it was supposed to be as liquidy as it was, actually).  It used goat cheese, sugar, water, and eggs.  The bottom was a caramelized sugar crust.  It looked like this (like I said, runnier than it probably should have been):

Pudim_de_quieijo_6

 

The finished meal (minus dessert):

Cape_verde_meal

The stew was not bad, but it was not fantastic, either.  It seemed like it needed more beans or meat and some starch (we added crackers to leftovers).  We made this on a weekend when we were working on finishing our porch ceiling, so the idea was to have a lot of food available that was quick and easy to reheat.  The stuffed avocados were good.  They seemed like an odd side dish to go with the soup, but I did enjoy them.  The pudim de queijo was also very good.  Probably not a dessert I would frequently come back to, but I did enjoy it.