Czech Republic

Two posts in one day after a seven month absence!

Next on the list was another European nation: Czech Republic!  Also known as the day in which we discovered caraway seeds.

Veprova Cecene (recipe)

First up was another seasoned and slow cooked pork recipe.  This time around it was seasoned with a paste of oil, mustard, caraway seeds, garlic powder, salt, and pepper:

veprova_cecene_seasonings_paste
This was rubbed on the pork roast and left to marinate for half an hour.  Then it was plopped in a baking pan with beer and chopped onions:

veprova_cecene_uncooked

After cooking and slicing:

veprova_cecene_cooked

 

After cooking, the pork is removed, and the juices/onion and cooked with butter and corn starch to make a sauce.

 

Knedliky (recipe)

My best description of knedliky is that is some kind of bread-dumpling hybrid.  You make a dough with the usual ingredients–flour, baking soda, baking power, salt, water, etc,–then mix in bread cubes (we forgot to remove the crust).  We ended up with a gloppy looking dough:

knedliky_dough

This is rolled up in cloth:

knedliky_before_cooking

Then boiled and sliced:
knedliky

Zeli (recipe)

I am slowly, but surely, developing an affinity for sauerkraut through this project!  This recipe started with frying bacon and onions.  Then a jar of sauerkraut was added with more caraway seeds, salt, and pepper.  Some corn starch and water were added for thickening, and we called it done:

zeli

The final meal:

Czech_Republic_meal

Overall, this meal was surprisingly good!  The caraway seeds gave this a completely different flavor than I have come across before, and somehow the pork seasoning/sauce flavor mixed very well with the tartness of the sauerkraut and the relatively neutral knedliky.  Totally out of my comfort zone, but very good.

I think my biggest complaint was similar to the previous country (Cyprus), in that the cut of pork we used was pretty fatty.  I would definitely use a different cut next time.

Cyprus

Okay world, I have gotten enough requests to keep this blog going that I am going to make one more attempt to catch up.  It has been seven (!) months since my last post on here, and I am 32 (!!!) countries behind.

Waaay back in November, we excitedly made it to Cyprus.  It is always exciting to get to a European country…  different enough from American food to be interesting, fairly accessible ingredients, and a lot of good recipes and options.

Pourgouri (recipe)

This was a great twist on the startchy side dish and was somewhat reminiscent of (but better than) the Uncle Ben’s, Rice-a-roni, etc. rice mixes that Tyler and I have both eaten many times.  Sautéed some onion in oil, add bulgur (a new grain to us!) and vermicilli (or in this case, angel hair pasta…although we have since found the “nests” of vermicelli at our grocery store), add water and seasonings, and let it do its thing for 40 minutes.  At this point, I have no recollection of what “seasonings” we used, although in re-making/re-imagining this dish since the first time we made it, we have thrown in whatever herbs/spices sound good or are on hand.

The next step is to remove the pan from the heat, cover with a towel, and let it stand for 10 minutes to cook to perfection.  We have not yet mastered this step, and usually end up spending more time with it on the heat.

Before cooking:

pourgouri_uncooked

After cooking:

pourgouri

Afelia (recipe)

This one was pretty easy–brown some pork, then slow cook it with red wine and crushed coriander seeds.  Lots of color, lots of flavor.

Here it is before the long simmer:

afelia_1

And again after cooking, served with the pourgouri:

Cypriot_meal

Pink Pomegranate Pavlova (recipe)

I suppose the one good thing about getting so far behind on the blog is that I get to rediscover some of the things I forgot we made, like this one!  This dessert was really interesting and new to us… beat together ingredients like egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, corn starch, etc. to get a thick batter (is that the right word?).

pavlova_batter

This was glopped out into for circles on parchment paper:

pavlolva_before_cooking

Then baked:

pavlova_after_cooking

I haven’t made or eaten meringue before, but I think this was a pretty similar idea?

Meanwhile, we made the pomegranate syrup.  Pomegranates were in season, we procured the juice by running a bunch of pomegranate seeds through the food mill.  It was a messy and time-consuming endeavor.  In the end, the syrup, homemade whipped cream, and a few pomegranate seeds were artistically drizzled on top of the pavlovas.

pink_pomegranate_pavlova

The verdict?

Delicious. The afelia and pourgouri were delicious, and as I alluded to above, the pourgouri has had several repeat performances.  We’ve made the second variant on the linked recipe, which adds tomatoes, and I think we added beans a different time for a vegetarian meal.  This has become one of our favorites… it has such a thick, rich consistency and flavor to it.

If I remember correctly, my only complaint with this meal was that the cut of pork was fairly fatty–I think I would use a pork tenderloin cut into medallions if I made it again.

The pink pomegranate pavlova was also great, although it was extremely sweet!  I would say it bordered on too-sweet-to-handle territory for me, so I would probably make smaller portions if I made it again.

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.

Bulgaria

For some reason when I hear about Bulgaria, I have always thought it is next to Russia and would have similar food and culture.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit how surprised I was when I realized that Bulgaria actually borders Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia.  So the cuisine was much closer to Mediterranean cuisine than I expected.  Not a bad surprise!

I was also surprised to learn how heavily yogurt seems to be eaten there!  All of the dishes we selected included yogurt, and two of them recommended serving yogurt on the side.  I learned that a type of bacteria used to make yogurt, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, was named by a Bulgarian scientist upon discovery in 1905.  As a side note, the linked article starts with a statement about how “there is hardly a person in the world who doesn’t know Bulgaria is the homeland of the yogurt.”  So I guess that makes me a pretty ignorant person of the world.

I found several good looking dishes for Bulgaria, and it was tough to narrow them down.  Stuffed peppers were a very close runner up, and the three winners were:

  • Tarator: a cold, yogurt-based soup with cucumbers, dill, walnuts, and garlic
  • Moussaka: a casserole dish with potatoes, tomatoes, and ground meat topped with a layer of egg and yogurt.  There is also a Greek version of this dish that uses eggplant, but the consensus seemed to be that Bulgarians are the original moussaka makers.
  • Banitsa: a dish made of philo dough layered with a filling of cheese, egg, and yogurt

Tarator (recipe)

We prepared the soup early in the afternoon–this gave it time to chill and took some of the pressure off the later dinner preparations.  It came together very easily; we just had to do some chopping, measuring, and stirring.   First I got a “bunch” of dill from our garden.

dill_for_tarator_soup

The dill and parsley (conveniently, the two herbs we need for this meal) have both been prolific lately!

prolific_dill_and_parsley

Back to the soup.  The cucumbers, yogurt, ground walnuts, finely chopped garlic, and chopped dill were mixed together.

tarator_soup_ingredients

Then enough water was added to reach the desired consistency.  I like a thick soup, so we didn’t add much water.  I also thought some liquid would seep out of the cucumbers over the time and make it more watery.

tarator

 

Moussaka (recipe)

I didn’t take many pictures since this was a pretty simple casserole.  The recipe calls for ground meat and says that ground pork is most common in Bulgaria, although after reviewing several different recipes for this dish, I found ground beef to show up in more recipes.  So we used ground beef.  This was fried with onion (big surprise there) first, then chopped tomatoes, parsley, potatoes, salt, and pepper were mixed in and transferred to a 9×13 glass baking dish.

moussaka_pre_cooking

This baked for 1 hour.  I was worried that it would burn or dry out, but it was fine.  Then the eggs and yogurt were mixed together, poured on top, and the dish went back in the oven.

moussaka_with_topping

 

I checked on it after the recommend 10 minutes, and although everything looked cooked and done, the top didn’t have the nice golden spotted color I saw on many pictures online.  So we turned on the broil setting to give it some direct heat for a few minutes.  It looked perfect after that.  I forgot to take a picture until after I had scooped out my food, so we can just pretend the picture was set up this way to show off a cross section of the casserole.  I may or may not have been very hungry.

moussaka

 

Banitsa (recipe)

We started preparations for this meal by setting the philo dough out to the thaw with plenty of time (at least 2 hours).  We have had countless struggles in the past with improperly thawed philo dough breaking apart while being unrolled.  Giving it adequate thawing time made a huge difference, as expected.

The next step was mixing together the filling.  I couldn’t find the specific Bulgarian cheese that is referenced in most of the banitsa recipes, but feta cheese seems to be a close approximation.  The crumbled feta is mixed with eggs and (you guessed it) yogurt.  Then several sheets of philo dough were layer out, smothered in melted butter, and topped with this filling.  The filling was very liquidy, so this was a bit of a messy operation.  This was then rolled up and transferred to the baking pan.  I felt brave and went with the traditional method, which involves creating a spiral with each philo dough roll you make (the “cheating” method is to just layer it all in a square or rectangular pan).  I had reasonably good success with this process, although I had to use two pans since I didn’t have anything round that was big enough to hold it all.

About a half a cup of milk was poured over each pan before it went in the oven.

Banitsa_pre_cooking

They looked and smelled amazing when they came out of the oven later.

banitsa

And they looked even better when sliced open.

banitsa_slice

The final meal:

Bulgaria_meal

Meal review:

We liked everything in this meal.  Despite the ridiculous amount of yogurt, was definitely one of our all around winners.

I’m generally not a huge fan of cold soups, but this tarator is the third time I have encountered them on this project.  I liked aspects of the last two in Azerbaijan (which could be served hot or cold) and Belarus, but Tyler was stuck with  most of the leftovers of them.  I think the difference with tarator is the consistency.  I like chunkier soups, and the diced cucumber made it chunky.  I have heard that sometimes the cucumber is grated or even blended, and I’m really glad I stuck with diced cucumber.  I couldn’t eat a lot of this in one sitting, but I did continue to enjoy it as leftovers.

The moussaka was good.  I won’t say it was amazing, but it was a good, hearty casserole.  Parsley was the only herb or spice (other than salt/pepper), and it wasn’t very distinct.  The tomato, beef, and potato held their own, though.  The side of yogurt was a nice additition, and I actually mixed in some of the tarator soup when I had it as a leftover to get some extra moisture and flavor.

The banitsa was the hands-down winner of this meal! I strongly dislike the flavor and texture of eggs, and with four eggs going into the filling for this, suffice to say I was nervous.  But I absolutely loved it.  The eggs mixed with the yogurt and feta well enough for it to not seem egg-ey.  Overall, this had the delicious texture of a pastry (like a croissant or apple struedel), thanks to the philo dough, and when that mixed with the filling the flavor reminded me of macaroni and cheese.  Each bite was a warm, cheesy, pastry-ish treat.  They also recommended serving some yogurt on the side with this, which a nice enhancement but definitely wasn’t necessary to make the dish.  I read that this is typically served as a breakfast dish, which we discovered was a great idea for leftovers.

 

Belgium

Belgium. The first question/comment I got from most people when I mentioned cooking food from Belgium was, “are you making Belgian waffles?” And the answer is yes, yes we did. We also made beef cooked in a thick, beer based suace with homemade fries. Terrible for a calorie count, but so delicious.

I learned that there are several types of Belgian waffles, which somewhat correspond to different regions. I also learned that what we wanted to make is Liege waffles, which use pearl sugar that carmelizes on the outside as it cooks.

Fries
I didn’t follow a recipe for the fries–I just went off the descriptions I read. Traditionally there is a specific type of potato that is used, but we just went with the basic russets that we could find locally. They were cut into thick French Fry shaped slices. Apparently the key (other than using the right potatoes…) is to cook the fries once, let them cool, and then cook them a second time at a slightly higher temperature. This was our first attempt at homemade fries. Since we don’t own a deep fat frier (that’s probably for the best), we just poured vegetable oil in a deep pan to the minimum depth we could to still fully submerge a decent number of fries at once. That’s another place where we deviated from tradition… It is traditional to cook in animal fat, which didn’t find very appealing or readily available. So basically, we made regular fries and served them with a Belgian meal.

fries_frying   Beglium_fries

Flemish Carbonnade (recipe)
I will preface this by saying that unless you want to eat this stuff for a LONG time or feed a lot of people, scale the recipe! We made the full recipe, which used 4 (!) pounds of beef. That is either a very good or bad thing, depending on your opinion of this recipe and like or dislike of eating the same food for a week straight.

This recipe started with small pieces of beef, which were seasoned with salt/pepper, dredged in flour, and browned in melted butter. Again, with the whole 4 pounds of beef thing (which happened to be precut in smaller pieces than the recommended 2-inch cubes), this took a long time! As usual, we filled the house with smoke from burning butter during the frying process. Side note: we used a lot more flour and butter than the recipe called for to coat and brown all of the meat.

Flemish_carbonnades_browning   carbonnades_beef

The meat was transferred to the stock pot, since we still don’t own a Dutch oven. In the mean time, the onions were fried in the first pan.

carbonnades_onions

The the pan was deglazed with beer (we used two bottles of beer instead of three, since it didn’t seem like enough liquid for all the beef). This was all dumped in the stock pot with a few bay leaves and the dried thyme.

carbonnades_cooking

We let it do its thing for a couple hours, the added the currant jelly and vinegar as I was cooking the rest of the fries.

Flemish_carbonnades

Liege waffles (recipe)
I won’t pretend to know much about making the waffle batter… This was an all day affair with many steps that had 30 minutes, two hours, etc. between adding ingredients or kneading. Tyler used a day off from work to clean/organize/build shelves for the garage, and he was kind enough to make the waffle dough during the day! All I know is that it was a lot of work, took all day, and looked like this when I got involved (the white stuff is pearl sugar):

Liege_waffles_dough

Just before dinner, I kneaded in the pearl sugar (ow.) and separated the dough into five balls.

Liege_waffles_ready

After we ate the main course, we cooked these one by one in the waffle iron. It took a few attempts to perfect the temperature/cook time method, so we had a couple that were slight darker than intended.

Liege_waffles

 

The results? Another winner! The homemade fries were much better than what I’ve had in (American) restaurants, although they didn’t feel particularly exotic… They were, however, a great accompaniment to the carbonnades!! The beef had a good, rich flavor, and I was surprised at how thick the sauce was. Very good, very filling. That said… The waffles stole the show! We agreed that they really do not deserve to be in the same category as waffles. They were more like high quality pastries that just happened to be cooked in the shape of a waffle. I can’t say enough good things about the thick, delicious dough, and the carmelized sugar on the outside was amazing. These didn’t need any toppings… They were perfect by themselves.

Belgium_meal   Liege_waffles_2