Curaçao

When faced with yet another country that I have never heard of…

Step 1: Pull up a map on the nearest electronic device and figure out where it is (island in the southern Caribbean).

Step 2: Look up the pronunciation (cure-a-sow).

Step 3: Google/Wikipedia it (turns out it’s also the name of a liquor).

With that out of the way, from what I recall, Curaçao did not have an abundance of recipes to choose from. As with many of the Caribbean nations, there were several other cultural influences in developing the national cuisine.  I selected tutu, which is another variant of the starchy mush that we are getting used to seeing in the Caribbean and Africa, and a marinated fish recipe descriptively titled “Curaçao Style Snapper” (spoiler alert–pretty sure we didn’t actually use snapper.  It was probably tilapia.).

Curaçao Style Snapper (recipe)

This started with a tasty looking marinade of lime juice, garlic, habanero pepper, and ground pepper.  Then the fish were breaded and fried.  The fish frying pan was deglazed with the remaining marinade, in which the tomatoes, onion, and pepper were cooked.  The fish filets were topped with the veggie mixture and baked in the oven for another ten minutes.  I’m not sure why the recipe asked us to line the baking pan with aluminum foil, but we did as we were told.

Curaçao_snapper_dish

Yum.

Curaçao_snapper

Tutu (recipe)

We’ve had mixed luck in the past with these starchy mush side dishes, but we seem to be getting better.  This one used cornmeal and was a little unique in that it also included black eyed peas and was cooked in coconut milk.

It started pretty liquidy:

tutu_step1

Gradually thickened…tutu_step2

And eventually was firm enough to hold its shape.tutu_step3

From here it was smashed between two plates (which I don’t remember being anywhere near as disastrous as I expected) for the final presentation:

tutu_complete

The recipe recommends serving it with cheese (check!) and cod fish (snapper… cod fish… tilapia… same difference, right?)

The finished meal:

Curaçao_meal

This was a winner!  The lime juice really came through in the fish, but not overpoweringly so.  We loved the flavor and the addition of veggies on top.  The tutu, aside from having a fun name, was surprisingly good and was better than most of the dishes we have made like this.  It was sweeter than I expected–probably thanks to the coconut milk–but that was countered nicely by the cheese and the tart fish.

Overall meal rating: 4

Next up, Cyprus and Czech Republic (we were pretty excited at the time about having a couple European countries and finishing the Cs!)

Cuba

So way back in October, we cooked Cuba!  Today we cooked The Gambia, which is 20 countries later in the list…

I remember reading about a popular Cuban sandwich but wasn’t excited about the prospect of eating pickles on it. So I went with a slow cooked beef recipe called ropa vieja (the fact that it could be made in the crock pot definitely made it a winner!), yet another rice and beans recipe called “Moros y Cristianos” (“Moors and Christians” … the black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians… yep.), and a sweet plantain dish called platanos en tenacion.

Ropa Vieja (recipe)

This was a slow cooked beef recipe with tomatoes, peppers, and a tomato based sauce.

What went in the crock pot in the morning:

ropa_vieja_uncooked

The finished product:

Cuban_ropa_vieja

Moros y Cristianos (recipe)

This another pretty simple rice and beans recipe.  Sauté onions, garlic, and peppers.  Add beans, tomato paste, and some spices.  Add chicken broth and rice.  Cook until done.

Cuban_moros_y_cristianos

Cuban Platanos en Tentacion (recipe)

The recipes I read (including this one) were very insistent that this is a side dish, not a dessert!  It involved plantains (the riper the better), cinnamon, sugar, butter, and white wine.  All good things.  The brown things sticking out of the bananas are pieces of cinnamon (we did not eat them).

Cuban_platanos_en_tentacion

The full meal:

Cuban_meal

The flavors in this meal were great.  The rice and beans (of which there was a LOT) was good.  The meat tasted great, but the cut that the recipe called for was very stringy after cooking.  I had a hard time getting past the texture, but Tyler was okay with it.  The bananas, which were as sweet as you would expect bananas baked in butter, sugar, and cinnamon to be, actually worked reasonably well as a side dish and complemented the other foods.

Overall, not bad!  I gave the meal a 4/5 rating.

Here’s to catching up on these blog posts…

Bhutan

We reached another milestone with Bhutan… we are officially 10% of the way through our list of countries!!

I also seem to be stuck in a rut of being one country behind in my blog posts.  As soon as I write a blog post, we end up cooking the next country and I get behind again.  Bolivia was last night, and I don’t have a plan for the following country, so here’s to getting caught up by then!

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country at the edge of the Himalayas.  From what I read, they treat chili peppers as a vegetable, not a spice, so their food comes with a lot of heat!  I decided almost immediately that we would be making ema datshi, which looks similar to chili con queso, served on red rice.  This seems to be widely recognized as their national dish.  Several other “cooking around the world” type blogs that I have stumbled upon also picked this dish, and they all come with a warning that it is HOT.  We made some modifications in an attempt to bring the heat level down to something we (I) could eat while keeping it as authentic as possible.  To go with the ema datshi and rice, I selected a type of dumpling called momos that is common in the Himalayas, and we made a simple chili sauce to go with them.

We also attempted to make butter tea, which is common throughout the Himalayas.  It is exactly what it sounds like… tea mixed with butter.  Preferably yak butter.  And salt.  It seems to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, and the general recommendation is to expect it to be more along the lines of a hot soup than a tea.

Ema Datshi (recipe)

I found this recipe through some of the other international cooking blogs I have been looking at as I go through the list.  It is written by someone trying to recreate an authentic taste using ingredients that are available in other parts of the world (for example, it addresses the question of what type of cheese one uses as a substitute to yak cheese).  I still couldn’t find one of the ingredients locally–szechuan flower peppercorn.  From what I read there isn’t an appropriate substitute, so we just left it out.

As I mentioned above, I made some modifications to this recipe.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the heat of the recommended two cups (!!!) of jalapeños.  However, just scaling back that ingredient seems like it would drastically change the consistency of the food.  So we aimed to maintain the two cups (chopped) volume, but substituted some different peppers.  We used one green bell pepper, two poblano peppers, and two jalapeño peppers.

First the garlic and ginger were fried in some oil, then the lemon zest and spices were added.  For some reason I was very surprised to see turmeric show up in this recipe, but I’m not sure why this was surprising, considering the proximity to India and Bangladesh.

Garlic_ginger_for_ema_datshi   garlic_ginger_spices_for_ema_datshi

 

Next the onions were added and cooked, and then the peppers were added.  After frying them for a couple minutes, we put on the lid and left it to simmer.  The recipe says to let it simmer for 30-60 minutes, and I didn’t pay that close attention to the time.  I’m guessing they had 45-60 minutes of simmering.

onions_etc_for_ema_datshi   ema_datshi_pre_cooking

 

After simmering, the peppers were wonderfully tender and had left a lot of liquid in the pan.  Then the tomatoes, lemon juice, and buttermilk were added.  We let it simmer for the fifteen minutes uncovered, since there was a lot of liquid.

ema_datshi_cooked_peppers   ema_datshi_with_tomatoes

 

After this, the cheese was added!  All of the blogs I visited used different combinations of cheese types.  Many used Feta, some used blue cheese, and others attempted various types of farmer’s cheese and easily meltable cheese.  We used a mix of Feta, blue cheese, and Havarti.

ema_datshi_with_cheese   ema_datshi

 

The cheese melted fairly quickly, and it became gloriously thick and cheesy!

Bhutanese red rice

There was nothing special about this; we just followed instructions on the package.  But since I have never encountered red rice before, I wanted to share some pictures.  We were thrilled to find rice that is imported from Bhutan at the grocery store!

Bhutanese_red_rice   red_rice_raw   cooked_red_rice

 

Bhutanese Momos (recipe)

I followed the “meat filling” recipes for momos at this link.  It isn’t very specific in the measurements, so I got a little creative and did some guesswork with the quantities.  Many of the recipes I saw used yak meat, which we obviously aren’t going to find here, so we used ground beef.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to cook the meat ahead of time, but I did.  In retrospect, I don’t think I was supposed to… but they turned out just fine with it precooked.  I cooked the onions at the same time, and they I added some ginger and garlic.  I think it was 2-3 cloves of garlic and a tablespoon or so of ginger.  I also mixed in some cilantro, salt, and pepper.

momo_filling

 

The dough recipe was simple, although I thought it was strange that it used yeast but was never left to rise.  I made the dough and cut it into circles.  As with other dumpling recipes we have made for this project, I ran out of dough before I ran out of filling… so we ended up making a second batch of dough.

momo_dough

 

I filled these with about a teaspoon each of the filling, and then I attempted to recreate the round/twisty shape I saw in pictures of Bhutanese momos.  I was partially successful.  Since we still don’t own a double boiler, these went in a strainer over a pot of boiling water with the lid loosely fitting over the top.  It took several batches, each steaming for about fifteen minutes.

momos_steaming

I had a few blowouts but no major casualties!
Bhutan_momos

Bhutanese Chili Dipping Sauce (recipe)

This was another simple recipe–just mix soy sauce, white wine vinegar, and chili oil.  We used chili powder instead of chili oil.  I know that’s a big substitution, but I saw several other similar recipes that used chili powder.

Butan_chili_sauce

Himalayan Butter Tea (recipe)

We scaled back this recipe to make just two cups of tea.  We steeped some black tea (a little stronger than we usually make it).

steeping_tea_for_butter_tea

Then mixed in the butter and salt.

making_butter_tea

 

Then poured it into cups.

Bhutanese_butter_tea

Meal review!

YUM.  The ema datshi had an amazing flavor!!!  I am so glad we scaled back the spiciness to a level that we could handle, because it would have been such a waste to make this delicious dish and not be able to eat it.  Seriously, the types of cheese we used, the pepper flavors, the ginger… yum.  It went very well with the red rice, which I would describe as somewhere between quinoa and brown rice.  It was good, and I could see use eating more red rice in the future.  I liked that it was a more hearty rice, which was perfect to soak up the cheese sauce.

The momos were okay.  They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either.  I think I got the dough a little too thick, so that was kind of overpowering.  I also don’t think I used enough ginger/garlic/salt/pepper, since they seemed a little bland.  Some of the other recipes through in a chili pepper of some sort, so maybe I should have done that.  The chili dipping sauce helped, although the soy sauce and vinegar were pretty strong, so I could only use it in small quantities.

Neither of us made it through a single sip of the butter tea.  It tasted like hot salt water.  I am seriously questioning whether the recipe we looked at was supposed to say one TEAspoon instead of one TABLEspoon of salt.  I glanced at a few other recipes afterwards, and they all used a smaller quantity of salt.  One of these days, we may get brave and try it again.  At the very least, I think we will give it another chance when we get to this part of the world (Nepal… it will be a while).

Bhutan_meal

 

 

 

Bahrain

Next on this list is Bahrain!  An archipelago of islands, it is located in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia.  Dates, which are a native crop to Bahrain, play a large role in their cuisine, and there is generally a large influence from neighboring middle eastern countries.

I quickly found two recipes that I wanted to make–chicken machboos, which uses an abundance of spices and flavorful ingredients mixed with chicken and rice, and muhammar, which is a sweet rice that is often flavored with dates.  HOWEVER, I didn’t think I could handle two rice dishes in one meal…

We went with the chicken machboos, which just looked too delicious to pass up.  I saw several comments with recipes for chicken machboos that it is often served with a salad and with a warm sauce called daqqous.  The muhammar/sweet rice is going on my list of recipes to revisit sometime in the future.

Chicken Machboos (recipe)

Like with the curry for Antigua and Barbuda, we prepared a spice mix for this recipe.  This mix is called baharat, and it is a wonderful smelling mix of cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, pepper, cardamom, paprika, and nutmeg.

Baharat_spices

Everything except the paprika and nutmeg was cooked in a pan for a few minutes–just until it became fragrant and started to smoke a bit.  As I expected, this smelled great.

Baharat_on_stove

After that cools, it is ground up with the nutmeg and paprika.  At this point, I had no doubt that this was going to be an awesome meal.

Baharat

Next, I prepared another set of ingredients.  One of which was new to me–loomi, also known as black limes.  These are limes that have been boiled in salt water and then set out to dry in the sun.  I was worried we would have to come up with a substitute, but the local international grocery store had them!

loomi

I set out the loomi, cardamom, ground cloves, cinnamon, garlic, pepper, onion, turmeric, baharat, ginger, onions, and tomatoes.  Seriously, with all of these delicious foods and spices going into it, how could this not be delicious?

machboos_chicken_ingredients

While I was doing this prep work, Tyler cooked the chicken pieces so they were golden brown on both sides, then set them aside until later.  We used about a 2 1/2 lb package of bone-in chicken pieces.

The onions were fried in butter, then the ginger, garlic, and peppers were added.  Then the turmeric and baharat.

machboos_chicken_satueed_veggies

Next, all of the above ingredients, plus chicken broth, were added to the pot and brought to a boil.  Then it simmered for an hour and filled the house with wonderful smells.

machboos_chicken_pre_cooking

We were worried about the chicken getting cooked all the way through, so I ended up adding water until the chicken was covered.

The Basmati rice, cilantro, and parsley were added for the last 20 minutes or so.  The rice absorbed all of the liquid during that time and came looking nice and yellow (thank you, turmeric!).  I sprinkled rose water on top before serving.

machboos_chicken

Daqqous (recipe below)

I read through several comments and descriptions of this sauce and decided to wing it.  I cooked two cloves of diced garlic in oil for a minute or two, then added 16 oz. of diced tomatoes, 2 Tbs. tomato paste,  some hot pepper (I used a half of a small Thai pepper, and I think I could have used more since I didn’t notice the kick), and salt.  I simmered this for 15-20 minutes, let it cool for a while, then pulsed it in a small blender to break up the bigger tomato chunks.

Daqqous

Middle Eastern Shirazi Salad (recipe below)

I merged several recipes and descriptions for this one too.  It is pretty straightforward–dice the tomatoes, onion, and cucumber into small pieces (I read somewhere that it is traditional/important to cut it into very small, evenly sized pieces).  Then I roughly chopped the parsley and fresh mint.  I mixed together some lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and then tossed all of the ingredients together.

Bahrain_salad

Review

YUM.  The smells and piles of delicious looking ingredients and spices while cooking the chicken machboos had me convinced that this would be a winner right away, and it did not disappoint.  I was starting to get burned out on these rice based dishes, but this turned that around!  There was just so much flavor.  It was a very different set of flavors than I’m used to–especially the use of cinnamon in a savory dish.  But every time I ate the leftovers I noticed different flavors coming out.  The consistency was thick, creamy, and moist.  I would give this 5 out of 5 stars, and it definitely gets me excited to make more dishes from this region.  As an added bonus, we threw some of the extra baharat seasoning in a batch of chili the other day, and I thought it was a great addition.  It was a nice mellow contrast to the spiciness.

The daqqous was good, but nothing too unique or exciting.  I wasn’t thrilled with it when we first made this, but I found that it was a great addition to the machboos chicken throughout the week as we ate leftovers, since it counteracted the slight dryness from microwaving the rice.

The salad was also good.  I really enjoyed the cool and refreshing flavor–I’m still so surprised every time I see mint paired with things like tomato and lemon juice!  I’m not a big fan of cucumbers or raw onions, so the crunchy texture wasn’t as enjoyable to me.  Tyler, on the other hand, liked the texture but wasn’t crazy about the flavor.  So I guess that evened out somehow.  Overall, it was nice to have a light side salad with the chicken machboos.  I don’t think I would have had room left in my stomach for a dessert after eating all the rice and chicken.

We’re going to be out of town the rest of this week, so we’ll be back sometime next week with Bangladesh!  In the mean time, we will be reminding ourself what American food tastes like for the next few days…

Daqqous Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • hot pepper
  • water and salt as needed
Directions:
  1. Cooked the diced garlic in about 1 Tbs olive oil
  2. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper, and salt to taste, then simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Pulse in a blender to break up tomato chunks

Middle Eastern Shirazi Salad Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 red onion
  • parsley
  • mint leaves
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • salt to taste
Directions:
  1. Chop the tomatoes, onion, and cucumber into small pieces.
  2. Roughly chop the parsley and mint.
  3. Mix the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste.
  4. Toss all ingredients together.

The Bahamas

We made it to the Bs!!  Once again, we had a cold, snowy day to cook a meal from the Caribbean.

This was another meal that tested my food aversion limits.  I have a bit of a mental block about most seafood, so I started getting nervous when I read about the most famous food being conch meat.  I took the word of several other global cooking bloggers and avoided spending too much time looking into what conchs look like out of their shells but before having the skin and eyes removed…

The three most common conch dishes I read about in The Bahamas are 1) conch salad (in which the conch is usually eaten raw… sorry, not that adventurous!), 2) conch chowder (maybe…), or 3) conch fritters.  The fritters looked the best out of these three, and it definitely occured to me that the conch would be most well disguised in this option.  I almost backed out on cooking with conch when we couldn’t find it locally, but Tyler and my brother convinced me to stick with it.  Amazon to the rescue–they sell canned conch! It was more expensive than I would have liked for one can, but as Tyler keeps reminding me, “we aren’t doing this to save money!”

Our second dish for The Bahamas is peas and rice.  Contrary to what you might expect from their name, pigeon peas are a type of bean.  I’ve read that this is common throughout the Caribbean, so I will probably come across it again.  It seemed like a good accompaniment to the fritters–and a good fallback in case I couldn’t stomach the conch. 🙂

I picked a dessert for our third dish, and I felt pretty confident that it would be good.  Gauva duff–sweet bread filled with guava goop and guava sauce!

Conch Fritters (recipe)

This was another “divide and conquer” meal, and I left Tyler in charge of the fritters (surprise, surprise).  I generally avoided the conch preparing scene, but I did snap a photo of the chopped conch.

conch_meat

The conch pieces were mixed with finely diced veggies–onion, red and green bell peppers, hot pepper (we used small Thai peppers that were leftover from a few countries ago), celery, and chopped cilantro–and the dry ingredients–flour, thyme, and seasoned salt.  Water was added to this to reach a thick, somewhat sticky consistency.  Yes, that is a glass of red wine that appeared between these steps. 🙂

conch_fritters_dry_ingredients   conch_fritters_batter

It took much longer than we expected for the oil to get hot.  We used canola oil in the stockpot (to minimize splattering) and were probably a bit shy of the recommended two inches.  Since this used a LOT of oil, our plan was to add more only if needed.  We appreciated the tip from this recipe to drop a small amount of the batter in the oil to test whether or not it was hot enough.  Eventually, it got hot and Tyler started frying!

frying_conch_fritters

Sadly this took a long time and caused us to miss the beginning of the Olympics closing ceremony. 😦

Conch_fritters

We also made a basic dipping sauce for the fritters.  I saw a lot of variation in what the sauce should include, but I followed a common theme in the recipes and mixed together 2 Tbs. mayonnaise, 2 Tbs. ketchup, and 2 Tbs. lime juice.  I intended to add a dash of hot sauce but forgot about it until we were already eating.

conch_fritter_dipping_sauce

Peas and Rice

There were a lot of recipes out there for Bahamian peas and rice, and just as many comments on those recipes from Bahamian natives with comments about what is it and is not authentic.  I merged a recipe from all of this information, although I have started to notice that two natives of a country do not aways have the same opinion of what is “authentic.”

This recipe started with 3 slices of bacon, chopped and cooked.  Yum.  I added the green pepper, celery, and onion to the bacon and bacon fat and cooked until the onion was translucent.  I added the minced garlic and cooked for another minute or two.

Peas_and_rice_bacon_veggies

Next I added the tomato paste, thyme, coconut milk, and pigeon peas.  I forgot to take a picture at this step, but you’ll have to trust me when I say that it looked pretty tasty at this point.  As a side note, this is the step where I intended to add browning sauce, which some comments said was critical to make authentic Bahamian Peas and Rice.  I totally forgot to put it on the grocery list, and we (Tyler) had already made two trips to the grocery store that day.  I added some extra tomato paste to make up for it.

Once this came to a boil, I added the rice and enough water to cover it.  I used white Basmati rice, since that is the only long grain white rice we had on hand.  In retrospect, I should have soaked it for a while like I did for Azerbaijan, because that stuff was thirsty.  Every time I turned my back, the liquid was gone, so I kept adding water to the pan.  I gave it about 30 minutes, after which I declared it to be done.  It got to hang out on the stove for a while longer, though, since the fritters were taking forever.

Bahama_peas_and_rice

Guava duff (recipe)

This was definitely the most labor intensive of the recipes!  We did most of the work before starting the fritters or peas and rice, and we had to run the dishwasher while cooking the rest of the meal since it was full after making the guava duff.

Unfortunately, we had to use canned guavas.  An employee at our grocery store told Tyler they had fresh guavas the day before, but they were getting too old and had to be tossed.  We used three 28 oz. cans of guava to reach the 4 cups of guava flesh for the filling!  We ended up with extra filling, so I think we could have gotten by with just two cans.

I have never cooked with guavas before.  They smelled deliciously sweet and tropical.  *Note below picture is just ONE of the three cans of guavas!

canned_guavas

I separated the seeds and pulp from the flesh, which I chopped into small pieces.  These were mixed with brown sugar, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and cooked over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.  I’m not sure what the final consistency was supposed to be, but I kept mashing them to get rid of the big pieces.  It felt and looked like I was making applesauce!

guava_sauce   IMG_5528

I transferred this to another bowl to chill in our walk-in refrigerator (AKA the screened porch on a cold midwest evening).  Meanwhile, I made the sauce.  This used the pulp from the guavas (I ran them through the food mill to remove the seeds).  The recipe called for 1/2 can of sweetened, condensed milk but didn’t say what size of can, so I used somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup.  I also scaled back the sugar a bit from the recipe.  I added a splash of the optional vanilla extract and rum.  This was a crazy, thick, gooey sauce.

guava_sauce

Meanwhile, Tyler prepared the dough and rolled it out.

guava_duff_dough

And this is where disaster struck!  I scooped all of the filling onto the dough and attempted it roll it up.  There was sooo much filling that it was oozing out everywhere.  It was a total mess, and it was HUGE, so there was no way we could really wrap it up in the parchment paper/aluminum foil.  I made a controversial decision to unroll it and start over.  I scooped as much of the filling into a bowl as I could.  The recipe suggests mixing some of the guava filling in with the dough (originally we had skipped this since the filling was still hot), so I didn’t worry about the guava filling that stuck to the dough.  I kneaded it together and had a big sticky mess.  Several additions of flour later, I had a somewhat workable dough.  For the second attempt, we made two smaller rolls instead of one, and we didn’t use all of the filling.  The first roll was somewhat successful, and the second seems pretty close to what it was supposed to look like.

Since my hands were covered with sticky dough/guava goop and I was reasonably frustrated, I didn’t capture any photos of the disaster…

I did document one of the rolls as it was covered in parchment paper and 2-3 layers of aluminum foil.  I definitely felt like a wannabe burrito chef doing this part.

guava_duff_pre_wrapping   guava_duff_parchment_paper   guava_duff_wrapped

Now, the recipe suggests two cooking methods: one on the stove and one in the oven, both involving submerging it in boiling water.  We attempted this in our stockpot, but it just wasn’t big enough.  So we moved them to the crockpot, put on the lid, and set it on high!

guava_duff_cooking

We checked one after the suggested 1 hr. 20 minutes, and it was still pretty goopy.  We decided to experiment a bit, and I re-wrapped this one and set it in a shallow roasting pan with hot water in the oven at 300°F.  I left the second roll in the crockpot.  We checked on them after another hour or so, and then they both came out perfectly done!
guava_duff_cooked

I cut it into thick slices and served it with the sauce (not pictured below).

guava_duff_sliced

I think our frustration over the guava duff, annoyance that we missed the beginning of the Olypmics closing ceremony, and the fact that we ended up eating while watching the rest of it on TV (1-2 hours later than originally planned, as usual…) limited my ability to appreciate this meal.  However, I did enjoy it

The fritters were good.  I won’t say they were phenomenal, but they were good.  I am still working past my mental block of seafood as I eat the leftovers. 🙂  These reminded us a lot of a fried, seafood version of the breakfast muffins we like to make.  I really liked the extra kick of the lime in the dipping sauce.  The conch meat was pretty subdued in this, other than a general seafood flavors.  Several recipes I looked at said that you could substitute other types of seafood for the conch, and I can see why.  I don’t think the difference would be very noticeable.

The peas and rice were good, although they weren’t as flavorful as I hoped.  I think we ended up with too much rice relative to everything else, so the flavors were diluted.  Tyler really enjoyed this though, and I don’t think it will be a problem to go through the leftovers.  I could see jazzing this up with more seasonings (or less rice) as a simple vegetarian meal.

The guava duff was absolutely amazing.  Loved it.  The guavas had a unique and tropical flavor that I’m not used to, and the duff was a great, soft consistency.  I had to go light on the sauce to avoid it getting too sweet, but overall this was wonderful and a great dessert (at least as great as a dessert can be without chocolate 🙂 ).  I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be good with some fresh nutmeg grated on top, but I haven’t tried that yet.  Although I wouldn’t be exited about repeating the amount of work and frustration we had, I would happily eat this again!  I was glad we got to try a new cooking method, and I think we would have less frustration if we made it again.

Bahamas_meal   guava_duff_slice

Overall, I would say this meal was pretty successful!  The biggest downside is all the leftover celery that we have to do something with (sorry, no ants on a log in this house).

Next, we are back across the ocean to Bahrain!

Austria

I am a little behind with blog posts, but we cooked food from Austria last Sunday.  Since Australia was fairly simple and we were feeling more motivated than usual,  we cranked up the some Mozart music and started cooking the food of his homeland and made it two days in a row of international cooking!  Austria is another country that I was excited for.  It is the first of the countries that I have been to, and I really enjoyed the German and Austrian food I have eaten during my trips to Europe.  I was very tempted to make wiener schnitzel and spaetzle, but we decided to save those for Germany (which will be around September this year at our current rate).  We also wanted to avoid just recreating foods that we have eaten before.  I found many references to a boiled beef dish called Tafelspitz, which is often served with an apple-horesradish sauce.  We paired this with a pan fried potatoes recipe called Bratkartoffeln.  Much like Australia, the real struggle was narrowing down the list of fantastic looking desserts!  I wanted to avoid anything cake-like after having cashew cake for Aruba and Lamingtons (chocolate coated cake slices) for Australia, so we settled on Apfelstrudel.

Tafelspitz with apple-horesradish sauce (recipe below–we adapted on our own recipe based on various other recipes, descriptions of this dish, and ingredients that were available or in the fridge waiting to be used)

The tafelspitz is essentially a cut of beef boiled in broth with some seasonings.  The beef is slow cooked for about an hour with a a bone/shank, a bunch of root vegetables, peppercorns, bay leaves, and allspice.

Tafelspitz_starting

Most of the recipes we looked at also suggested slicing an onion in half and frying the flat sides on a cast iron skillet.  I didn’t research why they do this, but it must have to do with releasing the magic onion flavors or something.  Anyway, I thought it looked cool.

toasted_onions

We let this boil for about an hour (until the meat was cooked), then removed the veggies and replaced them with more root veggies.  The idea is that the first ones lost most of their flavor to making a broth, and the second batch of vegetables would be the ones we eat with the beef.  It continued simmering until the vegetables were cooked.  The beef is sliced against the grain and served with the vegetables.  Since the cooking liquid is essentially homemade beef broth, we put that in a gallon sized Ziplock bag and chucked in the freezer.  Whenever we need broth for a soup or something, I’m sure it will be delicious.

tafelspitz

It seems to be common to serve tafelspitz with apple-horeseradish sauce and chopped chives (or chive sauce).  We used chopped chives instead of the sauce, but we were both intrigued by the idea of apple horseradish sauce.  It was pretty simple to make–we just chopped an apple and combined it with a small (4 oz.) jar of prepared horseradish sauce.  We blended this in a small food processor until it had a fairly smooth consistency.

Apple-horeradish_sauce

Bratkartoffeln (recipe)

I roughly followed this recipe from food.com.  I’ve eaten similar fried potato dishes in Germany, so it looked relatively authentic to me.  I knew this would test my patience, since you are supposed to let the potatoes sit in the pan for several minutes (without stirring) to get crispy.  I am terrible at leaving food alone… I like to poke and prod my food, whether it is on the stove or leftover on my plate at the end of a meal…

This recipe called for cooking the onions and bacon first until the onions are translucent.  In retrospect, I think I should have given the bacon a head start because it looked pretty raw still when the onions were starting to turn brown.  I also should have used a larger pan.

Bratkartoffeln_onions_bacon

Next the potatoes are added.  I boiled the potatoes earlier in the day until they were mostly cooked but not mushy.  Some people recommend cooking them the day before, but I didn’t even know I would be cooking this the day before.  I put them in the fridge for the afternoon then cut them into thin slices and added them to the pan.  I also added oil–since the bacon wasn’t fully cooked and, therefore, wasn’t emitting much bacon fat liquid to cook the potatoes in.  I wasn’t successful in getting the nice crispy finish I’ve had on similar dishes in Germany.  Although the bottom of the potatoes got crispy, the crispy part stayed behind every time I flipped the potatoes.  As a result, I kept adding oil to keep it from sticking.  In the end, I got some browned potatoes, onions, and bacon, and I scraped the crispies off the bottom of the pan and mixed them in.

Bratkartoffeln_frying

The tafelspitz, sauce, chives, and potatoes made a nice spread of dishes for dinner.

Austrian_dinner_dishes

Of course, this was supplemented with a loaf of crusty bread. 🙂

bread_for_Austria_meal

Apfelstrudel (recipe)

I found a lot of recipes from apfelstruedel, but I loved this blog post with a family recipe and a wonderful explanation of how to make it.  Once I saw the pictures of dough stretched out to fill a table, then rolled up with the tablecloth, I knew we had to make this.

This started with a small ball of dough, which we let sit out for several hours (as with the boiled potatoes, we didn’t plan ahead well enough to make this the day before).

apfelstruedel_dough

Once the rest of the meal was almost ready, we started preparing the apfelstrudel.  I chopped apples and measured the cinnamon, sugar, and bread crumbs, while Tyler worked on the dough.  He put flour out on a clean tablecloth then started rolling out the dough, occasionally spreading melted butter over the dough.  It started pretty small and eventually stretched out to the size of our table!  Then he trimmed off the thick dough around the border… which looked like a surprisingly large percent of the original ball of dough’s volume.

Apfelstreudel_dough_1   Apfelstreudel_dough_2   Apfelstreudel_dough_3   Apfelstreudel_dough_4

I spread the apples, cinnamon, sugar, and bread crumbs (we omitted the raisins, because… yuck.  I may have warmed up to raisins in savory dishes, but I’m keeping them out of dessert as long as possible).  It was super fun to roll up the strudel with the tablecloth.  I took an awesome video of this, but sadly it appears that I can’t uploaded it without paying to upgrade my WordPress account. 😦  So here are a couple snapshots of the process.

Apfelstreudel_pre_rolling

Apfelstreudel_rolling_1   Apfelstreudel_rolling_2

We twisted it into a horseshoe shape and spread some more melted butter on top, then baked it.  YUM.

Apfelstreudel_before_baking   Apfelstreudel_after_baking

The finished meal was wonderful.  I was a little worried that the tafelspitz would be bland, but the flavor really came from the meat.  I liked the flavor the chopped chives added. The apple-horesradish sauce was also very good with this, although it was a very dominant flavor.   I had to make sure I ate a few bites without it to appreciate all of the flavors.  The potatoes were also good, but they weren’t as good as similar dishes I’ve had in Europe.  I had too many problems with them sticking to the pan, and I think they also ended up too oily from all the oil I added to prevent sticking.  They were good with the meal, but I think I will opt for less oily potato cooking method. 🙂

As much as we enjoyed dinner, the apfelstrudel was the clear winner of this meal.  Delicious.  The flaky pastry layers were wonderful, and the apple filling was so wonderfully cinnamony and warm.  I can’t say enough good things about this… we will definitely be making it again!!

Austria_dinner   Apfelstreudel_slice

Tafelspitz Recipe

Prep 10 mins ∙ Cook 4 hrs ∙ Makes 6 ∙ Difficulty Medium

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs beef (we used Bottom Round Roast)
  • 1 beef bone (shanks work)
  • 1 onion
  • 6 carrots
  • 2 turnips
  • 2 leeks
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 1 allspice berry
  • 1 jar horseradish sauce
  • 1 apple, skin removed and chopped

Directions

  1. Separate the carrots, turnips, and leeks (other root vegetables can be substituted) in half.
  2. Cut half of the vegetables in large chunks.
  3. Bring a small pan to a high heat. Cut the onion in half (do not peel it). Place the onion halves on the heat and hold until brown but not charred.
  4. Place the bone in a large stock pot. Put the meat on top of the bone and placed the chopped vegetables and onion halves on top of the meat.
  5. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the vegetables with an extra inch above. Guess if the vegetables start floating.
  6. Bring the pot to a boil. While the water is heating up add all spices except the salt.
  7. Once the water is boiling, reduce to an uncovered simmer for 1 hour.
  8. Add salt to taste, about a tablespoon. Resume simmering until the meat is tender, about 2 to 2.5 hours. Refresh water as necessary.
  9. Once the meat can be easily stabbed with a fork, remove meat, bone, and vegetables. Save the water but discard the vegetables and bone (they have no more flavor). Put the meat back in the water.
  10. Chop the reserved vegetables in whatever manner you want to eat them. Add them to the broth. Simmer for 1 hour or until the vegetables are at desired tenderness.
  11. While vegetables are in the water, combine horseradish sauce and diced apple in a food processor. Use the amount of apple that seems appropriate. Blend the two until the sauce is smooth.
  12. When vegetables are done, remove the beef and slice thinly against the grain. Vegetables can be removed and served along the beef or kept in the broth and eaten as a soup. If serving the vegetables as a side, keep the broth for later use.

Notes

This meal sounds bland but the boiling process adds wonderful flavor to the meat. This meal is the rare sort where the flavor comes from the meat and not the spices on the meat.

Australia

On Saturday we made our way to Australia!  After watching the parade of nations during the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday evening, it felt kind of boring for our next country to be so similar to American cuisine.  They seem to be another “melting pot” when it comes to food and culture, so most of the foods were familiar to me.  I also saw a lot of desserts… Pavlova, Tim Tam cookies, Anzac cookies, and Lamingtons.  Two of the iconic foods I saw were hamburgers loaded with toppings (most notably including beets) and meat pies–often served as “floaters,” which means they are dunked in pea soup and topped with tomato sauce (ketchup).  The alternative would be to go with the aboriginal food, such as grubs and kangaroo meat… one of which is not appealing, and the other of which is not cost effective.

We went with meat pies, mushy peas, and Lamingtons.  I considered the Pavlova, but it seems that the widely accepted origin of Pavlova is New Zealand, so I think we will save it for the Ns next year.

Aussie Meat Pie (recipe)

This recipe was pretty straightforward… yet another dish that started with cooking ground beef and onion together (this seems to be a reoccurring theme around the globe).  This was mixed with water, beef bouillon, tomato sauce (ketchup), Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, oregano, nutmeg, and flour.

Aussie_meat_pie_filling

This was our second country in a row that involved a ground beef filling with ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  I have to admit, this one looked more appealing than the last. 🙂  This went in a pan with regular pie crust (not homemade) on the bottom and puff pastry (also not homemade) on top, glazed with egg.

Aussie_meat_pie_without_lid   Aussie_meat_pie_with_lid

It came out of the oven looking perfect!

Aussie_meat_pie

Mushy Peas (recipe)

Our side of mushy peas was even simpler.  I cooked the green onions in melted butter, then added the frozen peas and let it steam with the lid on.  It definitely took longer than the suggested 3-4 minutes… it was probably closer to 10.  We also omitted the mint leaves, having just thrown away a bunch of extra mint from the mint tea of Algeria and stuffed grape leaves of Armenia.  Once the peas were hot and soft, I mashed them with a potato masher.  I added olive oil a few times to make it creamier, and I ended up putting about 2/3 of it in a small food processor to make it smoother.

Mushy_peas_in_process

Let’s just say that mushy peas won’t win any beauty contests.  It actually looked a bit like guacamole.

mushy_peas

Lamingtons (recipe)

Last, but not least, are the Lamingtons, whose name is almost as fun as mushy peas.  I read that this is commonly made with day old cake, so I made the cake earlier in the day and didn’t worry when it got a little dry from being overcooked.  The recipe instructed me to pour the batter into an 8×12 baking pan.  I’m not sure the word “pour” was appropriate in this case…

Lamingtons_batter   Lamingtons_batter_in_pan

It was a little overdone coming out of the oven, but I think that was okay for this recipe.  I let it sit out to cool and later sliced it into fifteen pieces.

Lamingtons_cake_sliced   Lamingtons_cake

The icing consisted of sifted powdered sugar and cocoa powder mixed with melted butter and warm milk.

Lamingtons_dry_ingredients   Lamingtons_icing   Lamingtons_pre_dunking

The Lamingtons were dunked in the chocolate icing and then coated with coconut.  Sadly I ran out of coconut for the last four or five slices. 😦  In the past I would have seen this as a hidden blessing, but after enjoying coconut on the Alfajores of Argentina, I’m coming to accept that coconut may not be so bad after all…

Lamingtons

(We kind of thought these looked like a fleet of Borg cubes.  I will call it a win toward our Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate that Tyler made the Star Trek reference before I thought of it. 🙂 )

The verdict?

Delicious.  This meal was definitely another winner.  I can say confidently after eating leftovers tonight that we will be making this meat pie again.  The meat pie had a great savory flavor, and I liked the texture of the puff pastry on top.   It doesn’t seem to be quite as authentic to make it in a pie pan instead of individual servings, but we had to work with the dishes we had.  It also wasn’t quite the iconic floater, but we tried to capture that spirit with the mushy peas and ketchup on the side.

By themselves, the mushy peas were nothing spectacular, but the sweetness was a nice contrast with the meat pie.  And darn it, the ketchup was actually good with the pie and peas!

The Lamingtons were also tasty.  They were a little dry, but somehow that seemed appropriate with the icing and coconut flakes.  However, they didn’t compare with the Apfelstrudel we made for Austria the next night…

Australia_meal

Australia_dessert

Armenia

Armenia was the meal that didn’t want to happen!  First, I had a terrible time selecting recipes… I found a lot of Armenian recipes, and they were all pretty different.  I finally narrowed it down to a few, and we picked Wednesday as the day to cook.  Well, then we couldn’t find all the ingredients.  So we scrapped one of the recipes and decided to substitute peaches for apricots for another recipe, and we started cooking on Friday evening.  But we then saw that it was recommended to make part of the recipe a day ahead of time, and it was getting late… so the meal was once again postponed.  On Saturday, we finally saw it through and made our Armenian meal, and unfortunately it was not really worth the wait. 😦

We selected three recipes:

Kufta (Armenian meatballs): these are meatballs… stuffed with more meat.  The filling is ground beef cooked with onions and some spices.  The outside is raw ground beef mixed with bulgur and more spices.  Then the meatballs are boiled in chicken or beef stock and served over lettuce and lemon wedges.

Yalanchi Sarma (stuffed grape leaves): These are stuffed grape leaves.  There is a more common version that uses meat in the filling, but with meat stuffed meatballs, we thought the vegetarian version of this side would be a better choice!

Dzerani Dolma (stuffed apricots): These didn’t show up frequently in my research, but we saw them in an archive of Armenian recipes from an old church cookbook and were intrigued by the idea of stuffed apricots.

The kufta started with two bowls of ground beef mixtures:

kufta_outside   kufta_filling

The raw meat/bulgur mixture was stuffed with the cooked meat mixture.   Before (left) and after cooking in chicken stock:

Kufta_uncooked   kufta_cooked

While Tyler worked on the kufta, I worked on the stuffed grape leaves.  The filling was too liquidy to work with at first, but after sitting in the refrigerator overnight it became thicker.  I put 1-2 teaspoons of filling in each grape leaf, then rolled it up and placed it in a pan lined with more grape leaves.

Yalanchi_before_rolling

It took a while to roll all of the grape leaves (and we even cut the recipe in half), but it wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting.  I added water to the pan and placed a smaller glass pan on top of the rolls to keep them from floating.  They didn’t look very different after cooking, except for the uncovered ones on the edges, which were a little burnt.

Yalnchi_before_cooking   Yalnchi_finished

The third dish was the stuffed apricots.  We couldn’t find apricots, so we ended up substituting peaches.  This recipe was pretty straightforward; after cutting the peaches in half and removing their pits, mix some ground beef with rice, salt, and pepper, then stuff it in the hole left from the pit.  Drizzle with sugar water, then bake for 25 minutes.

Armenian_stuffed_apricots_uncooked   Armenian_stuffed_apricots_cooked

The finished meal was okay, but not spectacular.  The meatballs were also okay, but by themselves they were a little boring.  They also were lacking something to counterbalance all the ground beef, in my opinion.  I really enjoyed the novelty of the stuffed grape leaves–I have seen various recipes with grape leaves over the years, and I have always been curious about them.  Unfortunately, we just weren’t crazy about this recipe.  I feel like they had a lot of potential, but the tart, lemon-ey flavor was too much for me, as was the occasional tough leaf vein.  This is another one of those dishes that leaves me (no pun intended 🙂 ) wondering if I didn’t do the dish justice, or if it’s just one of those foods that I don’t enjoy.  The apricots were also just okay… they weren’t bad, but they weren’t spectacular either.  Since I was already overwhelmed by the tartness of the stuffed grape leaves, the tartness of the peaches was not a complimentary flavor.

Armenian_meal

At least my plate of food looked pretty!

Afghanistan: Halwa e Zardak

Halwa e Zardak–Rosewater and Cardamom Flavored Carrot Pudding (Recipe)

This recipe used a lot of carrot.  Two pounds of it.

grated_carrots

The grated carrot was mixed with milk, whipping cream, sugar and butter.  The recipe suggested it would take 1 to 1 1/2 hours on low heat for all of the liquid to be absorbed, but I did not find that to be long enough.  I ended up increasing heat to medium-low, and it simmered the whole time we were cooking (closer to 3 hours).  I think this is one of the most vibrantly colored foods I have ever cooked!

Halwa_e_Zardak_cooking_1  Halwa_e_Zardak_cooking_2  Halwa_e_Zardak_cooking_3

After reducing, I mixed in cardamom and our second new ingredient–rosewater.  To serve, it was topped with chopped and roasted pistachios and almonds.

Halwa_e-Zardak