Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 40 Poland

Polish Pierogi is the dish of the day. Not only was this my first attempt at making them, but the challenge was to make them exceptional. Both kids disparaged this velvety bite of cheese and potato, after trying a frozen version at the school cafeteria, which were, according to them in varying shades of green and grey. My job was to convince them that there is great error in their judgement, but the only way to truly prove it, was to bring on the hot pierogies...

The dough was prepared using a simple fresh egg noodle recipe. For the second time this week I regretted not owning a pasta machine. Instead I had to use elbow grease to roll them out as thinly as directed- 1/16th of an inch to be precise. The filling was made with boiled potatoes mixed with a few tablespoons of butter, extra sharp cheddar, salt and pepper. Sealed shut and cooked in batches in salted boiling water, the pierogies waited till dinner time.
Tossed briefly in hot butter with diced onions just before serving, were they good? The kids looked a little sheepish when they asked for seconds......

It's hard to believe that I'm already halfway around the world!

Heading out to Portugal next.....

Day 39 Italy

"When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool" croons Dean Martin and I am liable to join in, corny as it may seem, for the sheer love of Pasta. It is without doubt a contingency in our household, be it spaghetti with marinara sauce or Farfalle with olive oil and Parmesan, under any guise pasta always wins if we are casting votes. Today we start with a much anticipated Caprese Salad (kids love it) and finish with a (from scratch)spinach ravioli for our entree.

For the Caprese, Beefsteak tomatoes were sliced thickly. Fresh Mozarella was sliced and stacked alternately with the tomato slices. Extra virgin olive oil was drizzled liberally over this, along with a few drops of Balsamic glaze. A glaze is multi - faceted in comparison to a vinegar I believe, and helps transform this salad with its rich syrupy/spicy mouth feel.

This was my first crack at making pasta from scratch, not taking in to account the culinary school efforts in what seems like another lifetime. It was not the most pliable version I confess, but the stuffing and the sun dried tomato sauce worked like a charm. The stuffing made with spinach, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper was creamy and delicious. The sundried tomato sauce was made with rehydrated tomatoes, pureed and sauteed with garlic and basil. Drizzled over with olive oil and grated parmesan, it was wiped out within minutes...... and not without good reason.

Next destination : Poland.....

Day 38 Ireland

Irish lamb stew, a modest meal made from all that is available on a farm, is the pick of the day. The fact that it attained a place even in Escoffiers "Guide Culinaire" (a significant book about European Haute Cuisine) speaks volumes about this simple yet timeless classic. I called my friend Linda ( a bona fide Irish lass) to ask her opinion. She assured me that Irish stew is as authentic as it gets and even foisted a bread and butter pudding upon me.

The remarkable feature of this stew lies in its simplicity. There is no sauteeing/ frying/ browning involved. Simply place ingredients and seasoning in a cast iron pot with a tight lid and cook in the oven till meat is tender and succulent and vegetables are literally melting. The earthiness of the lamb is accentuated by the fresh thyme and parsley. The lack of excessive seasoning, I believe, helps retain the rustic taste of the stew .

The bread pudding is similar in nature. Layers of stale buttered bread alternate with a mixture of eggs, cream and sugar. Golden raisins are thrown in along with a generous sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. A tablespoon of vanilla helps keep all eggy smells at bay. Baked till crisp and crunchy on the outside, and topped with whipped cream, this could quickly become a habit in our house. Was it good? As Linda would say- Ta se go deas!

In Italy tomorrow......

Day 37 Hungary

If we were playing a game of "Marco-Polo" and you said "Hungarian" I would say "Goulash". There is no second guessing- Goulash is undoubtedly the dish that best represents this country's cuisine. A stew made with beef and flavored with paprika, it holds its own in the vast pantheon of gastronomy.

There is nothing complicated about this unpretentious earthy stew. Diced onions are sauteed with garlic, cubed skirt steak, marjoram, caraway seeds and paprika ( I used a wonderfully smoky Hungarian paprika). Cubed potatoes and beef bouillon are thrown in before it is simmered, resulting in bite sized meat and potatoes that are juicy and moist. It was the perfect antidote to the whipping winds on a chilly Autumn day.

Moving on to the land of clovers and leprechauns.....

Day 36 Greece

Those of us that are familiar with Greek fare have our favorites and the list is not a short one: Greek salad, spanakopita, stifado and souvlaki top mine and I could go on for a while. However, after much debate I settled on a Moussaka recipe that looked too good to pass up. Time consuming and complicated as the recipe appeared to be, I was a seduced by the photograph of the finished product. I only hope mine looks as pretty!
The mise-en-place was way over the top: Zucchini and Eggplant pan-fried in olive oil, a meat sauce made with sauteed onion, ground beef, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, oregano, parsley salt and pepper, Bechamel sauce with feta and cottage cheese, and boiled potatoes. It was assembled with potatoes at the bottom with a layer of meat sauce followed by the bechamel and finally the veggies. The layers were repeated thrice and topped with grated Parmesan.

Baked in the oven till it oozes cheese, the Moussaka has earned its reputation in our family.

Onward to Hungary....

Day 35 Germany

Deutchland has more than its fair share of legends; Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Kafka, Freud and Einstein to name a few...and the world would not be the same without them. I feel the same way about Bratwurst and German beer...

Since I am aware that any attempt at making Bratwurst would most likely lead to angst, heartburn and disaster, I picked the Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Tart).

Pastry dough is rolled out and baked partially. Bacon is diced and rendered. The bacon fat is used to cook the onions. Sprinkled over with caraway seeds, and pepper the onions and bacon are poured into the base of the tart shell before adding in a batter made of egg, egg yolk, and sour cream. The tart is baked once more till creamy in the centre and crisp on the crust. The caraway seed for those of you that are curious, is Persian cumin and although mild in taste, imparts character to this otherwise simple tart.

Next destination - Greece......

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 34 France

It's here at last- the much anticipated day in France. As tempting as it was, I tried to steer clear off Haute Cuisine and stick with classics like Boeuf Bourguignon and Crème Bruleè, foods that bring us unwittingly into a cafe on the sidewalks of Paris, where cigarette and red wine fumes mingle fondly with stews and steaks; where the wait staff is seldom sober and extremely friendly once you gather the courage to speak the five French words in your vocabulary.
To kick off the Boeuf Bourguignon, cubed chuck is seared in olive oil and set aside. Bacon slices are rendered and sliced onions and carrots are sauteed in the fat, before throwing in a couple of splashes of cognac and flambéing it. This helps caramelize the onions beautifully. The meat,veggies, beef bouillon, a good portion of a bottle of burgundy, tomato paste and thyme is slow cooked in the oven till the meat is tender and falling apart. Sautéed mushrooms sliced thickly and pearl onions are introduced at this point and a paste of flour and butter ( Beurre Manié) is used to thicken the stew. Served with a crusty french baguette it is well worth the effort and reminds us again why it is considered iconic.

Making a good Crème Bruleè is a great trick to master. Easy to make, and a great way to finish a meal, and unwittingly making one appear sophisticated and worldly wise. Egg yolks and sugar are creamed together. Scalded cream is added in along with vanilla or maybe a liquor of choice. This mixture is poured into ramekins and steamed in the oven over a tray of boiling water. The final touch is to cover the tops with sugar ( I used Demerara cane sugar) and torch them till golden, crunchy and molten all at once. The silken custard with the crunchy top is sure to get you whatever it is you are after, so keep this ace up your sleeve- you never know when you might need it!

Racing down the Autobahn towards Germany....

Day 33 Finland

Usually when I pick my menu choices it is from a healthy/intriguing/child friendly perspective. This time however, as I went through unfamiliar Finnish recipe websites and cookbooks in my search for a meal, I picked one simply because the name intrigued me. Lihaperunasoselaatikko I discovered, besides being a definite tongue twister qualifies as the Finnish version of a Shepherd pie.

Ground beef is browned over sauteed onions. It is seasoned with salt, crushed pepper and parsley and poured into an oven proof dish. The topping is made from boiled pureed potatoes combined with milk and seasoned with salt. I added some pizazz by piping on the potato puree. Simple in concept and easy to make, this homely dish is ideal for novices, and it even tastes great.

Ooh la la!!! I'm off to Gay Paree....

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 32 Denmark

Frikaddeleller is a word that rolls off your tongue, and sounds explosive, almost abusive. In reality it is our dinner- Danish meatballs made from ground beef , served over a salad possibly and most definitely a kids favorite.

Made from a combination of ground pork and beef, onions, egg, salt and pepper, they are not unlike a burger patty or perhaps a breakfast sausage. All purpose flour is used to bind the mixture and once shaped into meatballs or patties, they are fried in butter till golden and crisp on the outside.

My kids stuffed them into whole wheat rolls with lettuce tomato and onion and ate them like burgers.

On to the next destination: Finland ....

Day31 Czech Republic

The Czech Republic formerly Czechoslovakia, is landlocked and relies mostly on a meat and potato diet. Mushrooms grow abundantly in its many vast forests. So much so, that mushroom hunting is considered a national sport. Houbova Polevka Myslivecka or Hunter's Mushroom Soup and a Roasted Root Vegetable Salad were my healthy menu picks. Kolachy a suitable representation of a traditional Czech cookie was baked for dessert and tainted somewhat( but was well worth it) my healthy menu.

The salad was made with turnips, beet root, parsnips, red onions, and carrots roasted with sage, thyme, garlic, balsamic vinegar,brown sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper. A simple dressing made from the same ingredients with additional lemon juice and grated lemon peel was poured over just before serving. To make the soup, brown and white mushrooms were sauteed with onions and bacon. A roux was made with flour. Beef bouillon and wine ( It was not specified so I used a Pinot) brought it to the right consistency. I also added a tablespoon of light cream before serving to give it its smooth texture.

My first attempt at making Kolachy was thankfully successful. A dubious combination of ground walnuts, honey and egg was used as a filling for some and strawberry preserves was used in the rest. Both were equally good and left me wanting more. To top it all- the kitchen smells divine!!!

Moving on to Denmark....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 30 Bulgaria

Bulgarian cuisine is representative of East European Balkan fare. Rich in dairy products and vegetables, the foods can be mind- bogglingly diverse. To capture the essence of a cuisine I am not too familiar with, I picked a creamy Zucchini soup and Banitza.
Banitza a traditional baked pastry, is made by layering filo pastry sheets with Bulgarian feta (I used a combination of white cheddar and Greek feta) topped off with a pretty bizarre combination of egg and club soda. It is a popular dish at Christmas or any festive occasions when coins, charms or money is baked into the layers. I took no chances and stuck with the cheese and it paid off. The crisp filo and the soft cheesy egg filling make a great combination.

The creamy zucchini soup is a surprising pumpkin color due to the paprika and has not even a drop of cream, just zucchini and potatoes cooked with onion and garlic and a generous spoonful of dill. Gigantic zucchini were discovered by the boys in our vegetable garden, and after much imaginary warfare where they were brandished like clubs, the soup was finally made.
Next destination: Czech Republic.....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 29 Belgium

Belgian waffles or Gaufrettes is the choice of the day. It was with caution that I entered into this enterprise; it meant waking up at the crack of dawn in order to have them ready for breakfast at 7:00AM. This rich waffle is made with a yeast batter that has to rise for about an hour before it is poured onto the waffle iron. Typically the yeast in the batter is what makes makes them light and spongy and twice as fluffy with deep pockets.
In Belgium it is common to find them sold street side from carts or in cafes. They can be breakfast food when served with fruit, syrup and cream but can just as popular loaded with scoops of ice-cream. Breakfast was fun for a change!
See you in Bulgaria...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 28 Austria

Europe-the hub of culture, fashion, art and cuisine is here at last, and how better to begin this journey but to start with Austria, a name that conjures up images of Gothic cathedrals and the grandeur of vast orchestras playing the Viennese waltz in its Opera House? You get the point- I am excited to be here... Today also happens to be my eldest sons birthday and what better way to celebrate than with the Sacher torte?

The cake is constructed out of two chocolate sponges soaked in Kirsch and sandwiched with apricot preserves. A thick coating of chocolate ganache and a chocolate glaze is used to cover the entire cake. Then comes the fun part of icing the word "Sacher" in melted chocolate. By the end of it, the cake wasn't the only thing covered in chocolate and the kitchen was overflowing with dirty dishes but the birthday boy loved it !

Moving on to Belgium; a tiny country with huge supplies of fine chocolate and fantastic beer- why don't I live there?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 27 New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand have so much in common that it became almost impossible to find original Kiwi recipes. Both claim ownership to any recipe that has been passed down through generations. I settled on the timeless "Shrimp on the Barbie" and a Berry/Kiwi( no pun intended) Pavlova for dessert which is said to be around since the earliest settlers.
The shrimps were cleaned, deveined and rinsed. They were then tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and left for a couple of hours. Barbecued on the grill briefly , they were sprinkled over with parsley, and garnished with lemon wedges. Sauteed peppers and onions did well as an accompaniment.

The Pavlova is made from egg whites beaten till stiff. Continue beating while you add sugar in batches till glossy. Finally vanilla sugar, cornflour and a tablespoon of vinegar are added in. The real test of the Pavlova is to turn the mixing bowl upside down -if its not on the floor you are good to go! Bake at low temps for a couple of hours till it produces a hollow sound when knocked on. Cover with berries and cream and eat it all. It does not keep well besides you 'll keep going back till it's gone!

Heading out to Europe-in Austria next...

Day 26 Australia

Bunya nuts, Quandongs, yabbies, witchety grubs, kakadu plums, sanger and schooner may sound like gibberish to many of us, but these were words jumping out at me in my search for "bush tucker" (a common Aussie colloquialism for food). I preferred somewhat less alien words like Damper, Lamingtons, Anzac biscuit, amber fluid and mostly Bacon and Egg pie. This last one sounded like something one would eat out in the bush,but it was only when I started to cook did I realise that it is an euphemism for quiche. I guess "real men don't eat quiche " has a part to play in the story behind this. It was nevertheless very satisfying- kids licked their plates clean!

Dessert was Anzac biscuits, which date back I believe to the first world war when wives and mothers sent their men off to the trenches with these oat and coconut cookies. With good reason,I believe; these simple cookies are moist on the inside and have a crispness on the outside and without the cloying scent of eggs or vanilla there is butter in each bite.

New Zealand is coming up tomorrow.....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 25 Yemen

It is Day 25 and I am happy to be in Yemen. Yemeni Fatah is the main course followed by a luscious Bint-al-Sahn for dessert. The Fatah is not unlike a beef stew, but cooking it in onions, garlic, allspice, oregano, cumin and coriander makes it that much more aromatic. I used steaks cut into thin strips, and seared with the spices. A beef broth helps cook the meat and lends moisture to an otherwise dry dish. Hearty and with a melt-in-your-mouth quality it was served over couscous.

I was feeling indulgent and a little reckless when I picked the Bint. It is a Yemeni cake more akin to brioche, being light and airy. The dough is made with flour, yeast, eggs and Ghee(clarified butter). After the dough has risen it is split up into eight parts and rolled out into flat rounds. These are set in a pile in layers and baked till golden. Served hot with honey and yes... more butter, it is irrestible and you are apt to "tear little pieces" as the recipe dictates and continue to stuff your face, even when your belly protests.
Long trip to Australia. Kangaroo on the menu perhaps...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 24 Vietnam

It was a cold blustery day here in Jersey, very conducive for this classic Vietnamese noodle soup. I made the Pho from homemade chicken broth ,which when brought to a boil and poured over paper thin slices of chicken, exudes heat sufficient to cook the chicken. Rice sticks were soaked in hot water, drained and tossed in the bottom of each bowl. This soup gets its balance of flavors from its toppings of thinly sliced onions, mint and cilantro, lime wedges and fish sauce. Slippery noodles and crunchy lettuce give it great texture. A very healthy and nourishing meal in a bowl, it can definitely be classified as comfort food.

Day 24 will always be extra special for me, not just because of the very memorable Pho but mostly because of of the surprise awaiting me in my mailbox. My blog got a worthy mention by the press in our local paper. It was very exciting to see it in print and I stood in my driveway with my sons just off the bus after the first day of school, drenched in the rain, reading and grinning like a cat.

To check it out, go to

Just as things start to warm up I make my last stop in Asia.....Yemen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 24 United Arab Emirates

Today’s specials are Beef Shawarma and Baba Ghanoush. Although the exact origins of these dishes are debatable,I consider them safe picks as they are definitely part of the stereo- typical Arab repertoire. That being said, there is nothing boring or mundane about them. In the Baba Ghanoush the humble eggplant takes center stage. Broiled over an open stove the smoky eggplant is peeled and pureed with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Sprinkled over with diced tomato, chopped parsley, a sprinkling of paprika and a drizzle of olive oil, it is truly earthy and wholesome.

Traditional Shawarma are pita sandwiches loaded with shaved meat from rotisseries of possibly gigantic proportions. Mine was a less impressive version made from steaks marinated overnight in a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cracked pepper, salt, garlic and onions. They were grilled, sliced into slivers and cooked further in the juices till tender and moist. The sandwiches were filled with the meat, slices of tomato and hot peppers if you are so inclined. I made a yogurt dressing to give it more oomph... Rhea and David enjoyed it.

Vietnam tomorrow. So much food so little time!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 23 Thailand

Today's destination is the exotic kingdom of Siam, famous for its sun drenched beaches, its boxing, its silk and even its transvestites but I believe that it is its legendary cuisine that has put Thailand on the map. Thai cooking has five fundamental flavors: hot, sour, sweet, salty and bitter, a combination created to titillate the taste buds in every sense of the term. I picked Spicy stir fried pork and the Pineapple fried rice that I had learnt from a Thai chef in Bangkok last summer. It has onions, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, cashew nuts and of course Pineapple. Flavored with curry powder, it tastes unlike any other fried rice. Any protein can be used but in my case I kept it simple.
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The Pork stir fry was made with slivers of pork loin cooked in (from scratch) red curry paste along with green pepper corns, Kaffir lime leaves, red spur chilies, palm sugar, salt and fish sauce. Sautéing in coconut cream turns it golden and additional coconut milk is subsequently added to bring it to the right consistency. The pork turns flavorful and tender which makes for a perfect partnership with the rice.

I'm on my flying carpet. Next stop: The United Arab Emirates.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 22 Tibet

It took a great amount of self persuasion to pick the Tibetan Momo as today’s menu, not because they melt in the mouth but because these dumplings are traditionally filled with Yak meat. I made do with pork since I do not have any deep seated desire to eat yak flesh. Also, ground pork with a healthy amount of fat is what makes them plump and juicy.The meat is combined with onions, ginger, garlic, chilies, cilantro, salt and a dash of soy sauce. (optional) They are filled into wanton wrappers and steamed in batches till cooked. They can be served steaming hot or pan-fried with a special chutney.

Momo chutney is versatile and can be eaten with anything- sometimes I slather my roast chicken sandwich with it, or throw a spoonful over my noodles. It is a paste of onion, red chilies, garlic, tomato, pinch of salt and sugar and lemon juice, made by simply combining all the ingredients in a blender. It is then cooked briefly in very little oil and served at room temperature.

I had time to do a chocolate tart- this is what happens when you read recipe books in bed......
Coming up next: Thailand
You guessed it - Thailand!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 21 Syria

After a week of indulgence, I decided on a simple yet substantial Syrian Fattoush. A peasant salad consisting of romaine lettuce, red peppers, black olives, tomatoes, capers and hard boiled eggs with bits of toasted garlic bread, dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar, tarragon and fresh parsley. It was quick and left room for the Ataiyef...

These are traditional Syrian pancakes eaten mostly on festive occasions, served with Shira which is a golden syrup prepared with sugar, lemon juice and orange blossom or rose water (I had to make do with a few drops of orange essence) simmered till it coats the back of a spoon and then chilled. The pancakes are filled with ricotta cheese, sealed by pinching sides together and deep-fried. Wicked and dripping with calories but irresistable, they are dredged in the syrup and sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts.

Tibet is coming up......

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 20 Sri Lanka

I was a bit worried about Sri lanka, a tiny little teardrop in the middle of a vast ocean. Would it really have a cuisine all its own? I was in for a surprise... The hoppers were unlike anything I have made before and the shrimp curry took me far away - to a picnic on a beach. It is nothing in comparison to a Malay or Indian curry which is heavy on the shallots and spices, but made quickly by dry roasting fresh shrimp in chili powder, lemongrass, ginger and garlic. A squeeze of lime and a handful of Kari leaves ( indigenous to South East Asia) infuse it with flavor. Lastly, it is simmered in coconut milk, which gives it body and adds sweetness to balance out the heat.

Appam or Hoppers are pancakes made from a fermented rice flour and coconut batter.Typically they are shaped like bowls and served with a curry of chicken or shrimp. I have never tasted one, let alone attempted to make one, so I feel fairly victorious with the doesn't look half bad! Tastes good too.

It's a long haul to Syria. See you there....

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 19 Singapore

It was mind boggling trying to pick the menu- there are way too many favorites. I finally settled on a Nonya Fried Rice and Ayam Panggang which translates to Spicy Barbecued Chicken. The fried rice is simple and has an assortment of eggs, shrimp, chicken and veggies. I used leftover rice- it’s the best kind for fried rice. Being less sticky, the texture of the finished product is definitely better. Garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, salt and pepper add a depth of flavor to this simple yet delicious fried rice.

For the barbecued chicken I used a whole bird quartered and cut into smaller pieces. It sat in a marinade of crushed garlic, ginger, lime juice and salt for several hours. It was then grilled and rubbed with a chili paste. This fiery paste is made up of birds eye chili peppers, tomato, palm sugar, salt, garlic and lime juice. This paste is stir-fried and used like a barbecue sauce. The chicken was cooked on the grill once more for a couple of minutes on each side. The result is a chicken, crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. This I'm sure will become a mainstay in our household.
Next port of call- Sri Lanka......

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 18 Russia

The iconic Bef Stroganoff was the pick of the day- perfect for the cooler fall weather. Strips of Beef tenderloin are sautéed in butter and set aside. Onion and button mushrooms are caramelized in more butter and sprinkled liberally with flour. This helps thicken the beef broth that is used to make the sauce. Once it is simmered, the broth turns velvety and smothers the beef which is reintroduced at this point.It is seasoned with salt and pepper, Dijon mustard and a dollop of sour cream. Simple and robust, served over egg noodles, it was a welcome change to the Asian repertoire.

I snuck in a Lemon Tart to round off the meal. The sweet crunch of the pie crust did well with the burst of citrus in the filling. Yummy!!!

A few pounds heavier I head over to Singapore....