Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 81

My journey began in August and took me on a virtual tour around the world. It was initiated by a desire to increase my own repertoire as well as to give my family/friends a taste of diverse cuisines and open up their palates. It did a lot more than that- there is no doubt that I have learnt a lot about cuisines and cultures worldwide but along the way I learnt substantially about blogging, taking pictures and downloading them. It has also honed my rusty writing skills considerably. I enjoyed every part of it and was delighted to be able to share food and information with so many of you. There is a following on the blog as well as on Twitter and many friends,acquaintances and fellow foodies read it as part of their daily regime. The response has been very encouraging and I intend to blog on...

For my research I used cookbooks, family recipes ( mine and friends)as well as the Internet. I was provided with great information from websites like the lonely planet, wikipedia, Food network, epicurious and recipezaar to name a few. My life was literally taken over-there were menus to be selected, grocery shopping, piles of dishes, and blogs to publish on time, it was more than I had expected on the outset, but worth every bit of effort.

I am very grateful to each of you that may have tasted my cooking, given me encouragement or followed loyally. Please continue checking for updates and I will do my best to keep it interesting...

On a separate note- It is Thanksgiving and much as I promised to stay away from the kitchen for a few days, I was back. This year we are sharing this celebration with close friends and I am bringing a Tarte Tatin and a Potato Gratin. So here they are....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 80 Texas (USA)

Texas the final frontier is here at last- and it is with a mixture of relief and joy that I arrive in the "Lone Star state" on day 80 of my journey around the world. Texans put their own spin on popular Mexican dishes like Tacos and Burritos but it is their barbecued briskets and baby back ribs that take centre stage. Today's menu consists of a Texas style Barbecued Brisket, the key ingredient being its own homemade sweet and sour barbecue sauce.

The first step was to rub the brisket with paprika and salt. Onion, celery and carrots were roughly diced and scattered around the brisket which was placed in a large oven- proof roasting pan. A couple of cups of broth were poured over, the pan covered and left in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 hours.

The next step was to discard the excess fat and shred the brisket( the meat was so soft - all I used was a fork). A little olive oil was heated and bacon rendered in it along with red pepper, onion and a jalapeno. A can of tomatoes and minced garlic were added in and cooked for another 10 minutes or so. The final step was to combine it with the shredded meat and homemade barbecue sauce and simmer on low for about 20 minutes.

The barbecue sauce was made with ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, dark brown sugar, chopped garlic, lemon juice, cider vinegar and oil cooked together over medium heat for 10 minutes.

The pulled meat and sauce was ladled onto toasted buns - the perfect way to end a long journey....

Day 79 South Western (USA)

South Western food is often confused with Mexican food and to a large extent it has its similarities, however it does have an identity all it's own; a fusion of food cultures of the Native American, the cowboys, the Spanish settlers and the Mexican give it so much more diversity. I could not pass up the opportunity to cook up a pot of Chili Con Carne so that's my dish for today. A hot and spicy bean and meat stew/soup is the best description for this dish that has gained so much popularity that a Chili cook- offs are almost a national sport.

To start off, I browned diced onions, peppers and garlic and added in the ground chuck, kidney beans that were soaked overnight and cooked (you can use canned beans). Oregano, chili powder and ground cumin were sprinkled liberally over it . This was sauteed over low heat till the beef was no longer pink. Tomato paste, a dash of Tabasco and canned crushed tomatoes were added in at this point. The pot was simmered on low for about an hour, and beef broth added in as necessary along the way.

The Chili was served over rice and topped with a garnish of chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped hot peppers, red onions small diced and grated cheddar. The entire contents of a pretty large pot were cleaned out....

Off to Texas next...

Day 78 Southern (USA)

Edna Lewis, the Grand Dame of Southern Cooking and Chef Scott Peacock were an unlikely pair, she being the granddaughter of freed slaves and he a young white man, but the two of them made magic in the kitchen and changed the way the world looked at Southern cooking. Today's menu is taken from their collaboration-The Gift of Southern Cooking. Southern Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie- dinner's on.....

The chicken goes through an elaborate ritual before it becomes edible in this version of Fried chicken and is worth the extra work. The day I bought the chicken, it was cleaned inside and out, cut it into large pieces and soaked overnight in cold water and Kosher salt. The next morning the chicken was drained and a full quart of buttermilk was poured over and left for a good 8 hours until dinner time. The chicken pieces were drained once more over a wire mesh and dredged in seasoned flour before frying to a crisp ( I used vegetable oil although lard was recommended).

The Sweet Potato Pie was made with prepared store bought pie dough rolled out and laid over a Pyrex pie dish. The pastry was docked (holes made) and the filling poured in. The filling was made with roasted sweet potatoes mashed together with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla extract, butter, salt, egg yolks and milk. Egg whites were whipped separately and folded into the mixture. The pie was baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Both recipes were fool-proof; the chicken was tender and crisp, the pie was like a prelude to the season.

Southwest coming up next....

Day 77 New England (USA)

Say "New England" and the first thing that springs to mind is a Clam Bake. In fact most of this regions culinary traditions stem from its abundance of fresh seafood. Clam shacks, lobster pounds and chowder houses are the backbone of these traditions, humble as they might appear.

Even though there was no dearth of recipes to pick from, I chose to do a Lobster Pot Pie today, simply because I love it-besides it is an old Yankee classic. This dish can be done two ways: with a buttery crumb crust that makes it like a gratin or a puff pastry topping that melts in the mouth. I went with the second off course...

Before I begin, I confess that while most of the ingredients I used are commonly found in pot pies- I took liberties and deviated a little. Having tasted Michael Mina's mind-blowing version threw me off the beaten path just a little. To begin, I blanched the lobster tail and removed the meat. Fingerling potatoes were boiled, onions large diced, carrots and zucchini julienned and button mushrooms quartered.

Garlic was sliced finely, onion and celery small diced and sauteed in butter with a bay leaf, followed by the lobster meat and a little tomato paste and deglazed with white wine. The carrots were briefly blanched and all the veggies added to the pot. Fresh parsley and thyme were thrown in along with a generous helping of half and half. Seasoned with salt and pepper, the pie was baked in a heavy copper pot with a sheet of puff pastry on top. Very close to the real thing.. yummy!

Next destination: Deep South....

Day 76 Midwest (USA)

The cuisine of the Midwest reflects the predominant influences of its Swedish, Polish and German immigrants and is best known for being hearty; meat and dairy play a large role. Even though Midwestern cuisine is varied, I consider Chicago the culture capital of this region and searched primarily for a recipe that symbolizes its tradition. As I wavered between a great Meatloaf recipe and a Shrimp DeJonghe( shrimp Casserole), considered one of Chicago's oldest recipes, a deep dish Chicago style pizza brought the search to a quick and happy end. The dough was made from All Purpose Flour mixed with corn meal. Active dry yeast was dissolved in warm water with a little sugar and left in a warm spot to activate and bubble. The dough was mixed slowly starting with a cup of the flour, cornmeal, the yeast mixture and vegetable oil (I used my electric mixer with a dough hook) ending with the salt until all the flour was incorporated. The dough was placed in a warm place, in a well oiled bowl and sealed with plastic until double in size. It was punched down, placed into cake tins ( Note to self: get deep pizza pans)and left to rise for another 20 minutes or so.

Two separate fillings were made. The first was made with 2 spicy and 2 regular Italian sausages removed from their casing and cooked in a pan until no longer pink. The base of the pie was layered with mozzarella slices, followed by the sausage, home-made Marinara sauce, more mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The second was filled with blanched and seasoned broccoli and spinach with the marinara and the two cheeses, with a chiffonade of fresh basil thrown in for flavor. Unbelievably good!

The kids declared this the best meal of all hands down- need I say more?

New England is up next.....

Day 75 Louisiana (USA)

Louisiana cuisine is synonymous with Creole and Cajun cooking, one being from the city, the other from the country. Today's dish is a classic New Orleans style Creole Gumbo, which has been likened to Jazz. Just like the music, Gumbo draws inspiration and evolves from an amalgamation of the French, Spanish, African, American and Indian cultures and cuisines of New Orleans.
A Gumbo is a one pot meal that sticks to your ribs, is robust in flavor and is best described as a cross between a stew or thick soup eaten over rice. There are a variety of proteins to choose from - I used shrimp and Andouille sausage for mine. First off, a dark roux was made in a heavy bottom pot with vegetable oil and flour cooked over low heat till it turned a copper color. Diced onion, celery and green pepper were added and cooked down followed by minced garlic, salt, pepper, paprika , Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf. Once this is cooked well, chicken stock is added in along with sliced, pan-fried sausage, and shrimp sprinkled with a gumbo seasoning ( I bought mine at a specialty spice store). The stew was cooked for 40-45 minutes (or until the floury taste is gone). It was served over rice with chopped parsley, basil and scallion greens sprinkled over the top.
Midwest tomorrow....

Day 74 California (USA)

We are finally in North America, with California heading up the journey through its regional cuisines. The Golden State is, as we all know, synonymous with fresh produce and Chefs like Alice Waters and Thomas Keller were the first to capitalize on it's natural bounty. In fact fresh produce and healthy eating seem to be the hallmarks of Californian cuisine and to celebrate this I opted for a Cobb Salad which traces its roots back to the Brown Derby in California, is decidedly healthy and as fresh as it gets!

Legend has it that the Cobb Salad's creation was purely accidental, after a certain Bob Cobb found an avocado in his icebox and went to work on it adding random ingredients along the way. I actually managed to get a version of the Brown Derby Old Fashioned dressing and hope that it tastes like the real thing!
Iceberg lettuce and Watercress were the greens of choice. They were rinsed,spun and chopped . Eggs were hard boiled and sliced, bacon cooked and diced, avocados and tomatoes sliced, roast chicken was shredded and blue cheese crumbled. All of these were assembled on a platter and drizzled with the dressing as well as with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

The Brown Derby dressing was made with red wine vinegar, freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, mashed garlic, salad and extra virgin olive oil with a dash of English mustard.
A great salad for a party or buffet with a little bit of something for everyone.
Next up : Louisiana...

Day 73 Hawaii (USA)

A few years ago my family and I vacationed in Maui and were initiated into Polynesian culture with an elaborate Luau. An entire Kalua pig roasting on a spit, the distinct influences of Japan, Korea and China evident in the form of noodles, dim sum and sushi, a fish repertoire that is much more than Ahi Tuna or Mahimahi - all of this took me by surprise. I was expecting a whole lot of taro and pineapple, but quickly learnt otherwise. Today's menu pick is a Kalakaua Royal Crown Roast of Pork, which is named in honor of a certain Hawaiian royalty from eons ago.

Unfortunately, a crown roast has to be at least 14 ribs long in order to form a crown- way too much for my family dinner, but that didn't deter me. Instead of picking a different recipe, I picked up a smaller cut- a pork loin bone-in center cut roast. It may not look as extravagant but it tasted just as good.
The excess fat was trimmed off and the bone tips cleaned up. A slit was made along the thickest part of the meat to fill in with the stuffing( I had to improvise this part). A marinade was made with garlic and onions, basil and parsley leaves chopped finely, olive oil and lemon juice, pepper and salt( I finally got to use my pink Hawaiian sea salt). This was rubbed inside and out and the roast was left to marinate for a few hours.

The stuffing was made with onions, garlic and celery sautéed in butter. An egg, bread crumbs, chopped macadamia nuts, chicken broth, red wine, thyme, sage, salt and pepper were mixed in and this mixture stuffed into the cut made in the meat. I trussed it up nice and tight to keep the stuffing inside and roasted it at 375 degrees for about an hour, after which the lid was removed and the roast cooked for an additional half hour in order for it to brown evenly.

Moving west to sunny California....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 72 Mexico

Home cooks all over America tend to churn out Tacos and Quesadillas on a regular basis and this is no accident. Even though Italian and regional American cuisines are popular with home cooks there is something about the intense and colorful food of Mexico that titillates our taste buds and keeps us coming back for more. It has become familiar and easy with practise and the variety keeps us from getting bored. I personally love their chocolate and spice combination and decided on the Chicken Mole without any hesitation. Even the long list of ingredients did not deter me - I could almost taste it as I read the recipe !

Chicken breasts were cleaned, trimmed, seasoned with salt and pepper, fried in smoking hot fat and set aside. White onion, tomatilloes, ripe tomatoes, and garlic were rubbed with olive oil and roasted. Cumin seeds, pepper corns, fennel, cloves and cinnamon were dry roasted and ground . Pasilla, Guajillo and Ancho peppers were seeded, rehydrated and ground to a paste. Dried raisins, prunes and apricots were simmered in red wine. Corn Tortillas were charred over an open flame. Toasted almonds were ground and set aside. I also got out my homemade chicken broth and some unsweetened chocolate to complete the mise-en-place.

All the ingredients were blended to a smooth paste (except the chocolate and broth), poured into a heavy bottom pan with salt and simmered for about an hour on a very low flame. It had to be stirred frequently to prevent sticking. After that, I mixed in the chocolate and broth and poured the sauce over the chicken breasts . This was simmered some more until the chicken breasts were cooked through. Rich and decadent is the only way to describe this recipe, the sauce sweet and hot by turns with the aroma of spices in every bite. High maintenance? definitely- but well worth it!

Making my way to the US- Hawaii's up first...

Day 71 Canada

They say that when America sneezes Canada catches a cold. Funny eh? Stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic up into the Arctic Ocean in the North, Canada is a country torn between two distinct cultures- British and French. On popular demand( from the family) I am making Canadian BLT's and irresistible Butter Tarts, a Canadian specialty.

Canadian bacon or Back bacon is prepared from centre-cut boneless pork loin. What distinguishes it from other bacon is that it is made from the back and not from pork belly and is leaner than the bacon we are used to. Rye was the carb of choice, slathered generously with light mayo with a spoon of mustard whipped in and topped with Canadian Bacon, sliced Provolone or Cheddar, sliced tomato and Escarole leaves.
It's almost impossible to go wrong with a BLT, but it was the Butter Tarts that stole the show!
Frozen pie dough was cut into 5 inch circles and fitted into a muffin pan. The filling was made by beating together butter, brown sugar, corn syrup ( I would leave this out next time)and a pinch of salt. Once creamy, an egg and vanilla essence were mixed in. Raisins were soaked till plump, drained and distributed evenly into each shell. They were topped with a tablespoon of the batter and baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, till the tops were bubbly and golden and the kitchen smelled divine.

I was a bit concerned about finding a dish that truly captures the essence of this HUGE country, and put in an SOS call to a friend in Toronto a few days ago. A fellow foodie - she responded quickly with this recipe. This one's a keeper- simply yummy!

Next up Mexico....

Day 70 Trinidad and Tobago

The Islands of Trinidad and Tobago have a unique blend of African, Indian and Caucasian races. The culture and cuisine of the island nation is a reflection of this blend and my pick today - a Chicken Pelau although similar to a Puerto Rican Asopao (which is more like a soup) has East Indian undertones. Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent have played a significant role in enriching the cooking of Trinidad and Tobago with recipes like this Pelau.

The first step was to soak the dried pigeon peas( found at most grocery stores) overnight. Then the marinade was prepared with thinly sliced garlic and Habanero (use Scotch bonnet peppers if you can find them) ketchup, honey, fresh lime juice, salt and freshly ground pepper. The chicken breasts were cleaned and marinated in half the marinade, saving half for later.

The peas were cooked and drained and the remainder of the ingredients prepped. Onions, Poblano pepper, carrots and red bell pepper were diced. Tomatoes were skinned, seeded and diced. Fresh thyme and cilantro were chopped.

To begin cooking, the chicken breasts were seared briefly in a pan, caramelizing and giving the chicken a rich golden color. In a large casserole, butter and olive oil were heated and the onion, sliced garlic, carrots, peppers, Poblano pepper and a bay leaf were sauteed. The herbs were thrown in followed by the long grain rice, peas, tomatoes and currants. At this point, coconut milk and chicken stock were poured in. The seared chicken was placed over the rice and the pot covered and cooked on a simmer for about 25- 30 minutes.

To serve, the Pelau was spooned onto plates, topped with the chicken and poured over with the reserved marinade which contrary to the recipe, I cooked briefly( the actual recipe dictates that it should be warmed and served). Topped with sliced green olives, the dish is a great way to get the kids to eat their veggies :)

Heading north to Canada next........

Day 69 Jamaica

"Ole still, mi si wan big maskitta pan yu foot". If you are confused here's the translation: "Hold still, I see a big mosquito on your foot." There's something about Jamaican English (Patois) that makes me laugh every time. In fact I am fascinated by their culture, lifestyle and off course the food. Most of us have used a version of commercial bottled Jerk at sometime in our lives. I did too, until a close friend gave me a wonderful book and so began my romance with all things Jamaican.

Today's menu is Jerk Chicken Breasts with Rice and Peas. Jerk sauce is a wonderfully rich and spicy sauce made with yellow onion, thyme leaves, chopped scallions, garlic, soy sauce, cider vinegar, ground allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, sugar, salt, vegetable oil and a Habanero pepper blended to a fine paste. Chicken breasts were marinated in the Jerk and cooked in the oven for 275 degrees. The chicken was then removed and grilled over high heat basted with the leftover marinade repeatedly.

Even though this dish is called Rice and Peas it actually is made with long grain rice cooked with diced bacon, boiled kidney beans, garlic, coconut milk, sprigs of thyme, scallions and salt. Creamy and thyme scented with a bite from the Habanero - I believe it can be eaten all by itself.

Sadly I head off to Trinidad and Tobago...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 68 Guatemala

Guatemala, a country steeped in ancient history has me intrigued. On one hand it has its rustic town of Antigua nestled in between volcanoes and on the other hand the dirty, dangerous and "utterly forgettable Guate" as visitors describe the capital. I do not claim to be an expert on Guatemala or its cuisine and had to depend on my instincts when I picked our dish of the day- Jocon or pollo en Jocon a dish popular with the Mayan population of Guatemala.

Chicken breasts were seasoned, cooked and shredded. The broth was set aside. Meanwhile tomatilloes, cilantro, jalapeno, scallions and a couple of corn tortillas, soaked and drained were pureed together. Pumpkin and sesame seed were toasted and powdered in a coffee grinder. All the ingredients were combined at this point, blended till smooth and poured over the chicken. More broth was added to bring it to the right consistency and simmered for about 15 -20 minutes before serving. I served my Jocon with corn tortillas, but traditionally it is served over rice. Although the results were not terribly attractive to look at, it was incredibly moist and flavorful.

Away to Jamaica...lata...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 67 Cuba

Cuban fare is relatively well know and has risen in popularity lately owing to a surge of restaurants catering to diverse ethnic groups. On recommendation I stopped off at a few in New York and Philadelphia in my attempt to acquire a taste for it and failed or perhaps I ordered the wrong things. Either way, I was determined to cook myself a meal and decide once in for all. The black beans and rice have been done and a Ropa Vieja ( shredded Beef ) did not hold much appeal to me so I passed on their national dish and went with a Boliche instead which displays the classic Cuban characteristic I'm told, of being well seasoned but not spicy.

A Boliche is a Cuban Pot roast; a beef eye round roast rubbed with spices, stuffed with ham and slow roasted to keep it moist and tender. A paste was made with garlic, salt, pepper and oregano and rubbed onto the roast. Seville oranges were juiced and the juice poured over the marinated meat and left overnight. The next day I made a horizontal cut in the roast and stuffed it with cubed ham. The meat was removed from the liquid and the marinade reserved. It was seared briefly in hot smoking oil in a heavy casserole and coarsely chopped onion, peppers, tomato puree, sherry and reserved marinade were added and brought to a boil. It was roasted for about 2 hours, placed on a cutting board, sliced and served with white rice, poured over with the juices. Tender and juicy, the ham filling made a less expensive cut of meat so much more exciting. Even though this roast will never be a favorite, it was an eye opener - Cuban food is not half bad...

Guatemala's up next.....

Day 66 Costa Rica

There is something to be said about the laid-back pace of island life , and this holds true more than ever for the idyllic life style of Costa Rica wedged strategically between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Home to diverse flora and fauna despite its minute size, this island tops the list of ultimate sun worshipers destinations. The Gallo Pinto is considered a staple and I believe, exemplifies the simple nature of island existence. It consists of black beans and rice cooked together to make a nutritious and no-nonsense meal. On a different note, I decided upon a Hearts of palm salad which made me nostalgic for island vacations and cocktails with umbrellas on the beach.

The first thing was to cook the beans till soft and then the long grain rice. Diced white onion was sautéed till caramelized before combining the rice, beans and salt. After sprinkling over with cilantro one is supposed to serve it with Lizano a popular hot sauce of Costa Rica which has a sweet and spicy taste with curry undertones. I stuck with my personal favorite "Pain in the Ass".

The hearts of palm were drained and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Red and yellow peppers and fresh parsley and onion were sliced and combined with the hearts of palm. The dressing was simply olive oil, lemon juice,and mustard whisked together and seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper. The veggies were dressed and served over a bed of romaine lettuce.

Next stop : Cuba

Day 65 Venezuela

Venezuela ranked as one of the top ten oil and natural gas reserves in the world and has a culture shaped largely by African, Spanish and Caribbean influences. Interestingly the name "Venezuela" literally translates to "Little Venice" owing to a tendency of the locals to build villages over water. This was off course in the late 1400's. Today it is considered one of South Americas most urban countries. Our dish today is a Pabellon Criollo or Creole Flag, as it resembles somewhat the Venezuelan flag and consists of the three most popular ingredients of Venezuelan cuisine; black beans, flank steak and rice, which brings it as close to a national dish as one can get.

The flank steak was seasoned with salt and pepper and a bay leaf, covered with beef broth and simmered ( I used the oven) for an hour and a half. Once cooked it was shredded and sautéed with diced onion, tomato, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.

The Beans aka Caraotas Négras were soaked overnight and boiled till soft. Onions were sautéed along with smashed garlic, diced red peppers and seasoned with cumin, brown sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Arroz blanco or white rice was cooked and set aside. To assemble the dish, the beef, rice and beans were arranged in rows and embellished with fried plantain slices. Best way to cook stringy flank steaks- sweetened beans and rice were the perfect accompaniment to the meat.

Moving on to Central America- first stop: Costa Rica....

Day 64 Uruguay

On the South Eastern coastline of South America is the relatively small country of Uruguay. Due to its elusive nature, most of us are not aware of its architectural heritage or its rich legacy of artists and poets. The same applies to the food; I, for one have never before eaten or cooked Uruguayan cuisine and the loss is mine entirely.Everyday I become al ittle more infatuated with the strange and wonderful cuisines of South America. I chose Crepas de Pollo for tonight's meal and was amazed by this dish of simple chicken crepes which is comparable to the best Lasagna.

Step one was to make the crepe batter with eggs, all purpose flour, salt, milk and clarified butter. It was combined in the mixer and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes, after which the crepes were made and kept warm.

Step two was to make a Salsa Blanca or Bechamel with butter, flour and milk, seasoned with salt and white pepper.

Step three was to make the chicken filling by sautéing diced onion, mushrooms and cooked shredded chicken ( I used left over rotisserie chicken) and seasoning it with salt and pepper. A little flour was added in followed by sherry, half and half and Fontina cheese and simmered till thickened.

The final step was to grease a large oven proof dish, fill in the crepes with the chicken filling and lay them out in a single layer, cover with the bechamel and sprinkle over with almond slivers, grated parmesan and cream. They were then baked till bubbling and gooey .....need I say more?

Next stop Venezuela....

Day 63 Peru

Peruvian cuisine is considered to be one of the world's most diverse; comparable to French, Indian or Chinese fare, where every region has it's own favorites. Although the origins are mostly Spanish, there is evidence of European, Japanese, Cantonese and even African influences in the different regions. My pick for today is Causa Rellena de Pollo or Potato Cake filled with chicken salad. Causa is a specialty that hails from the Andean highlands of Peru, however it was the Spaniards that introduced the interesting fillings and garnishes that make it so much more exciting.

Yukon Gold potatoes were cooked and riced. They were seasoned with salt, white pepper, and a chili paste from rehydrated Anaheim peppers ( in the absence of Peruvian yellow peppers) and set aside. To make the filling, cooked chicken and carrots were diced and combined with finely diced onion, parsley, cilantro, and dressed with a mixture of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. The final assembly was done by placing a cake ring over the serving platter, and filling it with a part of the potato, followed by the chicken salad and topped with more potato. I used sliced hard boiled eggs and olives for the garnish but could have used greens and Avocado to dress it up some more. Unfortunately my Avocado did not cooperate and remained rock hard. It was good anyway and tops my list of great picnic food.

Moving on to Uruguay...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day 62 Colombia

Colombia has a bad rap for its long history of violence and drugs which puts it at the bottom of the list of potential holiday destinations. In reality its culture and food are as interesting as any other Latin American country and has even produced its own brand of talent, the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Leguizamo and Shakira. Best known for its coffee, Colombian cuisine also has a fairly large repertoire of dishes to pick from. Today I picked a Colombian Sobrebarriga, flank steak and a side of Papas Chorreadas.
The steaks( fat untrimmed) were placed in the bottom of the pot along with onion and tomato wedges,carrot,garlic, bayleaf, oregano, parsley and thyme. Left over chicken broth was used to cover all the ingredients and it was left simmering for a couple of hours. (I stuck mine in the oven). Once tender and cooked through, the steaks were removed, patted dry on paper towels, slathered with butter and tossed in fresh breadcrumbs. They were then stuck under the broiler till crisp and golden. The meat fell apart even as I served it, and the flavors were all there.

The Papas Chorreadas is a potato salad that goes hand-in-hand with the Sobrebarriga. Red potatoes are cooked and cut into halves. A mixture of tomatoes and onions is sauteed with salt pepper and a dash of paprika. Queso blanco and milk are added in and this wonderfully cheesy gooey mess is poured over the potatoes. This topping, I guess is what gives this dish it's identity.
Next stop: Peru....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 61 Chile

Pablo Neruda put Chile on the map and the locals are apt to call themselves País de Poetas or country of poets. Unfortunately their cuisine enjoys no such reputation and little information is available on the subject. They tend to depend on the staples of South American fare that are prevalent throughout the continent such as Empanadas, Asado and Humitas. Having said that, there is nothing mundane or stereotype about this recipe for Empanadas made with ground beef and a Creole style filling of olives, raisins and chilies.

Lean ground beef was sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil till all the pink was gone. Diced onion, crushed garlic, chilies, salt and pepper were added and once the onions were translucent, cumin, parsley, cilantro, and tomatoes were thrown in. Seasoned and sprinkled with a handful of raisins the filling was set aside till before dinner.

About half an hour before dinner the puff pastry dough was rolled out, circles were cut about 3 inches wide and filled with the meat mixture, an olive thrown in every now and then. Formed into half moons, sealed with the tines of a fork, and baked at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes , the little meat pies turned an appetizing golden brown and permeated my house with the scent of buttery pastry.It drew the family to the kitchen like paper clips to a magnet.

Onwards to Colombia tomorrow...

Day 60 Brazil

Most of us associate Brazil with Rio De Janiero,(which has rightfully earned its reputation as the culture capital of Brazil) miles of sun drenched beaches or for soccer fans- Pele. I personally think that it's best contribution to the world is the Caipirinha, Brazil's national drink, made with limes, sugar, water and the sugar cane brandy known as Cachaça. I could spend hours digressing but to stay on track, I chose to do a Vatapa de Galinha a Bahian style Chicken stew.

The Vatapa is the quintessential Afro- Brazilian stew, from the Bahia region of Brazil, and has a few ingredients that makes it unique and inimitable. Dende ( palm oil), dried shrimp and roasted peanuts are like a breath of fresh air when making yet another soupy stew with chicken and coconut milk. A thick paste of onion, garlic, ginger, a generous helping of cilantro, green pepper, tomatoes, the whites of scallions and diced Jalapenos was prepared and sauteed in olive oil . This is called a refogado and is the base of many Brazilian dishes.( picture Below) The chicken seasoned with salt and pepper was added to this and simmered till cooked through. At this point the chicken was removed, deboned and returned along with the shrimp, coconut milk, lime juice, salt, ground peanuts and a piece of bread processed with water which acted as a thickening agent. Simmered till thick and rich the sauce sank into the rice and gave a wonderfully creamy mouth feel.

Note: For those of us that do not have access to Dende; I was given a great alternative. Drops of olive oil mixed with Annato powder is what gave this stew it's golden hues.

Chile tomorrow....

Day 59 Bolivia

Bolivia landlocked between Chile, Peru and Brazil is considered the poorest country in South America. It also has the most, remote, isolated and rugged terrain that boasts the worlds hottest, coldest, steamiest or windiest spots on this planet not to mention its swamps and marshlands. No, it does not grab my fancy but I could not pass on it. A recipe for Pastel de Choclo con Pollo Boliviano AKA Bolivian style Corn Torte with Chicken filling seemed like something my boys would devour in minutes.

The Torte, to put it simply, is made up of two layers of Huminta (corn batter) with a layer of chicken sandwiched between them. The Huminta was made by processing thawed frozen corn kernels and adding in corn meal, baking powder,sugar, salt, eggs and egg whites, melted butter and grated swiss cheese. It is rich ( can be eaten by the spoonful once cooked- I believe) and creamy uncooked. Cooked chicken breasts were shredded and set aside along with the broth they were simmered in. Onions were sliced thinly and sauteed briefly. Peeled and diced tomatoes were thrown in as well as oregano,bay leaf, salt, chili paste (I made mine with rehydrated Ancho chilies)white wine and the broth. Cooked till all the juices are absorbed, the pie was finally assembled.

In a well buttered dish the Huminta and chicken were layered and baked for about 60 minutes at 350 degrees. It took me a while to wrap my head around this recipe, having never cooked nor tasted a Bolivian Torte before. To make matters worse, my recipe did not come with a picture so I had to taste it in my head when I picked it- but it was everything I imagined and more.

Brazil's coming up ....

Day 58 Argentina

Argentina of Maradona fame is the eight largest country on the planet and is not insignificant in it's contribution to the world be it sport, literature or food. Although it has a culture that hails back to before the Incas, an influx of Spanish, European and descendants of African slaves has played an important role in making it what it is today. The cuisine is best known for its Asado (barbecued meat), Yucca, Empanadas and Yerba Mate ( green tea). I settled for the Asado which typically comprises of chorizo, organ meats, ribs and flank steak slow roasted over wood fires. Mine was less exciting( being just steak on a gas grill) but I made an authentic Chimichurri to give it oomph.
The skirt steaks were grilled seasoned with salt and pepper as they tend to do in Argentina. The Chimichurri is what gives it all the flavor; made by whisking olive oil and red wine vinegar till well combined, finely chopped flat leaf parsley, onion and garlic were added in along with red chili powder, dried oregano, salt and black pepper.

A grated carrot salad goes hand in hand with the Asado, I'm told. The carrots were dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, freshly ground pepper and a diced roasted onion. Sprinkled over with cheese just before serving, the salad adds a certain sweetness that complements the salty/spiciness of the Chimichurri.
Bolivia's our next port of call....

Day 57 Tunisia

Tunisian legend has it that the amount of love that a wife feels for her husband is measured by the amount of hot peppers she uses in her food . This may not necessarily work in our favor here in the West, but I saw evidence of it in my search for a recipe . Most dishes are flavored with a fiery Harissa ( a hot paste found commonly in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). Couscous is considered their national dish, but I found a recipe for Tunisian Chicken with Roasted Oranges that sent my salivary glands into overdrive and there was no looking back. To accompany it I am doing a Tuna salad or a Salade Michwiya.

The chicken breasts were rubbed with a Harissa paste made from scratch from a recipe found in my stash of old magazine clippings. Caraway seed, Anaheim pepper, coriander seed, garlic, olive oil and salt were ground to coarse paste, rubbed over the chicken and grilled. Oranges were quartered, sprinkled with powdered sugar and thrown on the grill. The grilled chicken was then garnished with the oranges and fresh cilantro. Nasal passages opened up as did tear ducts...

The Salade Michwiya is a colorful salad made with roasted tomatoes, yellow and red pepper, onion, dressed with a paste of garlic and Caraway seed. Arranged on a platter with boiled eggs cut into quarters and canned tuna, the salad was sprinkled with olive oil and lemon juice. Simple and satisfying it was like a twist on the Cobb salad.

Leaving Africa and heading out to South America. Argentina's up first....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 56 Madagascar

Madagascar aka Vanilla Island has long been a sanctuary to some unusual animals. Shockingly, 75% of those animals do not exist anywhere else on the planet and some are on the verge of extinction. Thankfully the locals eat a diet based on rice with Chicken, Beef and Fish as their proteins of choice. After much consideration I am leaning towards a dish called Akoho Sy Voanio or Madagascar Style Chicken in Coconut Milk, which served Malagasy style over rice showcases the strong Asian influences as well as the island flavors. It is a staple of Christmas celebrations in Madagascar.

Chicken breasts are ideal for this dish, as they cook easily and can be made bite-size. These were marinated briefly in the juice and grated rind of a lemon. Onion paste was sauteed in a little oil before the garlic paste and the chicken cubes are introduced. The chicken pieces should be almost fully cooked before adding in the ginger paste and finally the coconut milk and salt.

This dish holds it's own; I have never cooked without any kind of seasoning/ spice or herb before and expected it to be bland and tasteless but it was strangely flavorful - the sweetness from the coconut milk, the gentle heat of the ginger and garlic, and the hint of lemon make it mild yet quite memorable.

Moving on to Tunisia....
NOTE: Please check previous postings- I had to tweak the dates.

Day 55 Nigeria

It was practically impossible to find any interesting trivia on Nigeria, other than politics, sports and the latest news, none of which piqued my interest. In fact I almost decided against doing Nigeria, but was persuaded by a very appealing recipe for Jollof Chicken and Rice which originated during their French colonization and reminded me fleetingly of a good old fashioned Jambalaya.
Several variations of this dish have evolved over time in several African countries; the Nigerian version of the recipe calls for boneless chicken breasts pan fried and set aside. In the same pan, onions were sauteed along with the chicken juices and seasoned with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, and thyme. A small can of tomatoes was added in and eventually the chicken broth. Once it started to boil, the heat was reduced and the cooked chicken and rice were simmered in this flavorful soupy mix till cooked through. Amazingly quick and simple and very satisfying, I will probably continue to cook this for a long time experimenting with different ingredients along the way.

Madagascar is coming up next.....

Day 54 Morocco

The destination of my dreams- I have a romantic fixation with the culture and heritage of this North African country. Call it the "Casablanca syndrome"if you please, but one day I hope to find myself in a corner of a crowded Souk in Marrakesh or Tangier, breathing in it's spice laden air, tasting local delicacies or smoking a hookah perhaps! Meanwhile back on planet earth I had a menu to plan, but it was easy. The quintessential Chicken Tagine was a no-brainer.

The Tagine was relatively easy. I started with a roasting chicken cut into pieces. Red onions were diced and sauteed followed by garlic and ginger pastes, and finally the chicken. According to instruction, I used a large pot so that all the chicken browned evenly. Cinnamon powder, saffron strands soaked briefly in water, chopped parsley and cilantro were thrown in. This was simmered in chicken broth and seasoned.I also added in some chopped preserved lemon peel (bought on a trip to Dubai a while ago). The last step was to add in a can of drained and rinsed chick peas.
As I looked for a good Tagine recipe, a Classic Casablancan Coucous recipe caught my eye and it was hard to resist the temptation. The couscous was made in minutes with the box instructions, but it was the toppings that made it so delectable. I had the last of my garden zucchini and eggplant and cut those length wise along with onion, red peppers and tomato. A few slivers of ginger and smashed garlic along with a couple of sprigs of rosemary were scattered over. Then a generous drizzle of olive oil, honey, salt and pepper and into the oven where they roasted till golden. This is spooned willy nilly over the couscous and served.
The final verdict- best Cous cous recipe! Jessica and David ate dinner with us and agreed.

Nigeria - next up....

Day 53 Mauritius

We are officially in the beautiful island nation of Mauritius, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where the last Dodo ( extinct bird ) was sighted. Strong French,Creole, British and Indian influences are seen in their culture, as in their food. Seafood and curry seem to be ingrained in their cuisine, so I decided upon Prawns ( or Shrimp as we may know it) in Almond Sauce, which gives us a taste of both.
The base of this dish is an almond sauce which is made by sauteing ground almonds and minced green chilies briefly in a little butter and finishing with a touch of light cream. Once the shrimp is cleaned and deveined it is rubbed with curry powder and garlic, cooked briefly in mustard oil and set aside. Next, strips of red and green pepper are sauteed and combined with the shrimp. The final step is to combine the shrimp, veggies and sauce and season to taste. To me it felt like the ultimate East meets West dish with its creamy sauce (very European) and curry undertones ( Asian influence).

Morocco's coming up next...

Day 52 Kenya

Kenya on the East coast of Africa has so much diversity that there is no single tribe, language or dish that is truly representative of their cuisine. However there are a few dishes eaten throughout Kenya - such as Ugali, Nyama choma and Sukuma wiki, which are a porridge, a roasted goat and cooked greens respectively. I considered the roasted goat but since lugging a headless goat onto an open fire did not seem to be an option, I settled for a vegetarian stew or Dengu. Served with Chapati (a remnant of Indian culture in Kenya) a type of unleavened wheat bread, this meal is hearty and very healthy.

The stew is made with whole green lentils (Mung Bean) soaked overnight and boiled with just enough water to cook it. Diced onions were sauteed with a green chili and smashed garlic in butter until fragrant, at which point the tomato paste was added, followed by the lentils and diced red and green peppers. Stirred ever so often to prevent it from sticking, it was ready within minutes.

The Chapatis were made from wheat ( from the Indian store).The dough is kneaded with a pinch of salt and water until elastic and smooth.They should ideally be rolled out thinly, sprinkled generously with dry flour to prevent sticking and toasted lightly on both sides till puffy with brown spots. Served hot with or without a dab of butter they complement lentils very well.
Mauritius up next.....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 51 Ethiopia

They say that when you eat Ethiopian food you end up eating the tablecloth. In reality the "tablecloth" is a kind of bread called Injera, the backbone of Ethiopian fare. It is a sourdough, pancake- like bread onto which the various stews and vegetables are served. Each person then tears off a piece and uses this to scoop and form the food into a roll before eating. Today I picked Awaze Tibs, Injera, and Ethiopian Style Collard Greens.

Injera is typically made with Tef a kind of flour indigenous to Ethiopia. In it's absence I used buckwheat flour which is similar in color and texture. Mixed with a little all-purpose flour, eggs and milk the batter was made and kept aside. Crepes were made- I tried to make them larger than I would normally to give it the "Tablecloth" look.

Awaze Tibs is made from thin slices of beef or Lamb cooked with onion, garlic, chilies and ginger. A unique spice mix called Berbere was used to season this dish which is a cross between a stew and a stir fry. I made my Berbere from scratch with ground ginger, garlic, cinnamon, dry basil, cardamom, chili powder and paprika which gives it its characteristic rich color. It is finished with a healthy dose of clarified butter.

I also cooked up Ethiopian Collard greens with sauteed onion, garlic, ginger, chilies, red bell pepper, salt and pepper. First the thick stems were removed, the leaves were blanched in boiling water and then they were chopped finely and cooked.Chicken broth is used to add moisture and flavor to the greens while cooking. Very healthy and tasty too.

Next up: Kenya....