Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dish #13: Bahrain - Roasted Fish with Muhammar

The cuisine of Bahrain is extremely varied - so much so that it's very hard to find a dish to prepare that feels like it's truly from Bahrain.  Bahrainis take advantage of the many diverse cultural influences upon their society to borrow the best of all for their food.  While the purpose of this project is to cook the food of the world and experience a wide array of different culinary approaches, I actually don't mind that many dishes I could find for Bahrain were either directly taken from another country or the result of interpretations on foreign meals by creative Bahraini cooks.  Food is the easiest way to relate and interact across cultures, and it's been fun to see how prevalent this is in the dishes eaten and shared all around the world.

For Bahrain, I was going to make Shrimp Machboos, which is very similar to a Biyrani - a rice dish that is eaten all over the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.  However, when the day came, I wanted to go a different way.  My friend Brandy suggested that I try the below fish and rice dish from Cooked Earth, which appealed to me much more.  I added some (light) creamed spinach to it, because as I said in my last entry, I love spinach, and I feel like our meals can always use more greens.

This was a good dish, but I actually found that the flavors of the fish and the rice competed against each other.  They were both heavy on cinnamon and other spices in that family, which complemented the buttery white fish nicely, but were overpowering when repeated in the rice.  I was so happy that I made the mellow creamed spinach and could make forkfuls of all three ingredients, with the spinach neutralizing the effect of the other two.  If I made this again, I would prepare a plain basmati rice with the fully seasoned fish.

Roasted Fish (based on recipe from Cooked Earth)

Whole white fish (or filets), preferably grouper or mackarel (I used turbot)
1/4 t chile powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
1/2 t ground black pepper
3/4 t cumin
3/4 t fennel
3/4 t corainder
3/4 t cinnamon
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix all spices and olive oil together in a small bowl into a paste, then rub over fish filets.  Place filets on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until it flakes with a fork.

Muhammar (based on recipe from Cooked Earth)

2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
2 T butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used fat-free half and half)
salt to taste

1/4 t saffron (3-4 threads)
2 T rose water (I used regular water)
1/2 t cardamom
1 t clove
1/4 t cinnamon

Soak the saffron, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon in the rose water.  Let steep for at least 30 minutes.

Melt 1 T butter in a small saucepan and add rice, tossing lightly to coat.  Add 6 cups water and salt lightly.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer until most of the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Stir sugar through hot rice and add another 1 T of butter.  Add rose water mixture and stir to combine, then add the milk and let simmer until all liquids are absorbed and the rice is finished to your liking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dish #12: Bahamas - Bahamian Lobster Stew

As I said in my entry for Antigua and Barbuda, Caribbean food is a bit of a danger zone for me, because I don't like cooking with a number of the prominent ingredients (such as coconut and raisins).  There are a lot of countries in the Caribbean, so this is going to come up many times over the course of this project.  In perusing food blogs for this project I've noticed that a lot of other people who have "cooked the world" shared my dubiousness here.  However, I do absolutely love seafood, so I'm going to keep the meals I cook for these countries focused on that (much like I've noticed that my meal planning for a lot of upcoming African countries, whose cuisine also relies heavily on items I don't like, such as red palm oil and plantains, seems to center on fairly safe but still varied chicken stews and braises). 

Conch stew is a popular dish in the Bahamas.  I ate conch years ago and didn't love it, so I took the cue of many blog posts I read and substituted lobster.  I also added spinach, because I often add spinach to any soup, stew, or pasta dish.  It's delicious and filling and good for you. 

This reminded me almost of a Manhattan Clam Chowder, but with lobster and some extra spice that was just delicious.  I also loved the crisp zing that the lime brought to it.  This stew is a popular breakfast or brunch item, but I am a breakfast hater who is never hungry until 11 am or so, and I don't like brunch (just make up your mind and eat breakfast or lunch or both - and on the weekend, I think no such pretense is needed for bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys). I thought that this made a fine dinner.  In the Bahamas, it's often served with a bread called Johnny Cake, which I didn't make, but it sounds sweet and tasty.  Here's a recipe.

Bahamian Lobster Stew (recipe from The Bitchin' Kitchin')

2 uncooked lobster tails, chopped into chunks
1 medium yellow onion, diced
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
2 limes
1 1/2 t thyme
4 T vegetable oil
2 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T tomato paste
1 1/2 T ketchup
Sriracha hot sauce or red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups seafood stock

In a large pot, add the oil and allow to heat up for a minute.

Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Let the roux simmer for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn.

Add the tomatoes, onions, thyme, pepper sauce/red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add the potatoes, tomato paste, and ketchup. Stir and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the seafood stock and the juice of one lime to the large pot.

Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lobster, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or until the lobster and potatotes are both done.  Season with salt and pepper as desired, and serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the stew before eating.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dish #11: Azerbaijan - Fish Shashlyk

I chose to make a meal including a very typical Azerbaijani ingredient - fish.  I love fish, and ideally we eat it about once a week.  During my vegetarian years, I considered fish a permissible occasional cheat.  Fish can be prepared very simply but, with quality seafood and other ingredients, can be so flavorful and delicious.  We love salmon, sea bass, trout, halibut, and ahi tuna, just to name a few.  Fish is such a versatile ingredient, and I love to cook more than what we need to eat (especially with salmon and tuna) and then use it to top a salad for lunch the next day, or flake it and either mix it with bread crumbs and herbs and an egg to make a fish cake or patty, or add it to a stew for a filling meat-free meal.

I grew up on the Eastern Shore (the collective term for the southern 2/3rds of Delaware plus the small parts of Maryland and Virginia that are separated from the rest of those two states by the Chesapeake Bay) where fish was a staple of everyone's diet.  The little town where my parents still live, Leipsic,  has always been populated mostly by commercial fishers, and the town has waged many battles over recent years to fend off nearby real estate development and keep it that way.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the local rockfish (striped bass) population was beginning to rebound from many years of overfishing (unfortunately it's been overfished since and had to be protected again as of 2007).  I remember many times coming home from school and finding my mother in the backyard scaling a rockfish (or on lucky days, several rockfish) that one of our neighbors had given us, so that it could be filleted and cooked with a simple lemon and herb sauce or frozen for us to enjoy at a later dinner.  I loved the firm but light, delicious meat of the rockfish so much that I even wrote a poem about it when I was around six years old: "Put a fish/on my dish/I wish it'll be/a big rockfish!"

Azerbaijanis' favorite fish to use for Shashlyk, a broiled fish kebab, would be sturgeon.  Sadly sturgeon has been so popular (for both its flesh for fish fillets and its eggs for caviar) that it too is overfished, and the season for it in the Caspian Sea has been greatly limited.  In interests of sustanability, I went with cod as a substitute.  While I am generally very apolitical and do not subscribe to causes, my experience growing up in a fishing community gave me an extra sensitivity to this particular issue.  Fortunately, sustainability of seafood has gotten a lot of exposure over the last few years, and it's very easy to frequently eat a variety of fish and still not contribute to practices that are destroying wild populations and endangering the livelihoods of future fishers. 

I ended up eating this for lunch at the office for two days in a row.  It was great as a sort of free-form fish taco.

Fish Shashlyk (based on recipe from Food & Wine)

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 T onion powder
1 T garlic powder
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 pounds firm, full-flavored skinless fish fillets, such as swordfish or black cod, cut into 2-inch pieces
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, toss the onions with all ingredients from garlic to yogurt. Add the fish and stir to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Light a grill or preheat broiler. Thread the fish onto 8 metal skewers (or pre-soaked wood skewers), leaving a small space between each piece. Brush the fish with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill or broil, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and just opaque throughout, about 8-10 minutes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dish #10: Austria - Gröstl

Tonight, I wanted a simple dinner that would be ready quickly and wouldn't require a big shopping trip, but would still take care of my hunger and leave me content.  Luckily the dish I picked for Austria, Gröstl, fit that bill perfectly!

Perhaps the two most favorite foods from Austria are Wiener Schnitzel (a simple breaded meat cutlet, usually veal, garnished with lemon and parsley, and served with a simple salad or potatoes) and Apfelstrudel (a heavy dough filled with a spiced apple, raisin, and nut mixture, rolled up and shaped into a horseshoe, then baked).  These are both delicious; I cook veal or pork cutlets prepared that way fairly often and I love all variations of apple streudel, or really any baked apple dessert.  Gröstl, however, deserves some attention too.  I imagine it's a great dish to eat after a long day of skiing, because it is super-packed with protein and carbs, and it's very filling.  I like it with the traditional fried egg on top, because let's face it, a fried egg on top takes many dishes to that extra level. 

I just loved this hearty and simple dish, equally suited to both breakfast and dinner.  I threw in leftover baked salmon instead of the ham called for in the recipe.  We loved it!  

Gröstl (recipe from BBC Good Food)

2 T vegetable oil
5 strips of bacon, cut into small chunks (or lardons or cooked ham)
1 medium yellow onion, cut into small chunks
2 cups cooked potatoes, cold and cut into small chunks (I used a medley of fingerlings to give the dish some fun color)
1 t caraway seeds
1½ tsp sweet paprika
2 dashes red pepper sauce (I used sriracha)
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1-2 fried eggs, to top each serving

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the bacon and onion together for 5 mins until the bacon is golden. Lift out of the pan onto a plate, then add the potatoes and fry for 10 mins more until golden.

Add the caraway and paprika, season well, then fry for another min, stirring to release their fragrance.

Return the bacon and onion, taste for seasoning, then add the parsley.  Stir to combine.

Serve hot topped with fried eggs.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dish #9: Australia - Cottage Cheese Pikelets with Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

I really dislike cottage cheese.  It's a textural dilemma for me that I can't get past - probably the only food I could regularly come across in my diet that I feel that way about.  I have trouble even looking at cottage cheese, and I'm extremely unsqueamish about food.  I am not one of those women who has to wear gloves to touch a boneless, skinless chicken breast and still holds the offending object at the longest possible arm's length while hysterically scrubbing it under cold water before cooking it (yes, I do know people like that).  I'll touch and cook and taste any other food at least once.  I even like cheese curds, like you'd find on poutine, but I just cannot go there with the watery-looking lumpy curds of cottage cheese.  It's not even that I think it tastes bad.  I just can't bring myself to consume more than the tiniest nibble of it, and even that I have to smear all over a piece of fruit to disguise it from myself. 

However, I know it's so healthy, and my husband loves it, so we always have it in the house.  For Australia, I'm making Cottage Cheese Pikelets, which will give me my dose of cottage cheese without requiring me to suffer through eating a big plain spoonful of it.  I love pancakes, and Pikelets are similar to American pancakes - sort of a middle ground between them and blinis or crepes.  Pikelets are not traditionally eaten as breakfast in Australia, but rather as a tea time or afternoon snack, spread with butter and jam or topped with whipped cream.  I chose to take my Pikelets in a savory direction so that we could eat them for dinner.  I treated them like they were polenta cakes.

I topped my Pikelets with red wine-braised short ribs.  The short ribs have nothing to do with Australia at all, but I'm going to share the recipe below anyway, because it's awesome.  I've been making this recipe for years now, and it's easy and delicious.  Whenever I see short ribs on sale at the market, I snatch them up and start the two day cooking process.  The return on investment of time here is great, because we usually eat the short ribs for at least 3-4 days: one day with pasta or something like the Pikelets here, one day with potatoes or polenta, one day as a grilled cheese sandwich filling, and one day as a quesadilla or taco filling.

I also repeated the yogurt butter sauce from my Armenia entry to drizzle over the short rib-topped Pikelets.  While I am not a huge fan of plain yogurt or many yogurt based sauces, my husband insisted that I try it after he tasted the portion I offered to him.  He was right; the blend of flavors were perfect.

Cottage Cheese Pikelets (recipe from Ultimate Weightloss)

1 1/4 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour, sifted
1 t baking powder
1 Cup water
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil spray

Combine cottage cheese and eggs. 

Add the flour, salt and pepper, and baking powder until combined into a thick batter.

Preheat small non stick fry pan over medium heat.  Spray with the oil spray.  Add small dollops of mix to the pan and cook until both sides are golden brown.  They are ready to flip when air bubbles start to appear on the surface.

Place on a tray and keep warm in 170 degree F oven until all are cooked.

Serve warmed pikelets onto plates, pour over short ribs (recipe below), and serve immediately.

Red Wine-Braised Short ribs (based on recipe from Epicurious)

2 to 3 lbs beef short ribs
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T olive oil
2 T dried parsley
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 T garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup (about) vegetable oil
1/2 bottle red wine (I use whatever I have open to drink, which this time was pinot noir)
32 ounces beef stock

Heat large dutch oven on medium-high height.  Saute onions for 2-3 minutes, then add mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 more minutes.  Add small splashes of wine to keep mixture from drying out as needed.

In the meantime, season ribs with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, and let stand for 5 minutes at room temperature.  Then add ribs to dutch oven and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

Once browned, pour in 1/2 bottle of wine and beef stock and bring to a boil.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F and simmer ribs on stove top until oven is ready.  Then cover, transfer to oven, and braise for 2 hours.  Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, skim fat from top of braising liquid and then bring to simmer over medium-low heat, covered.  After one hour, remove the short ribs, which should be tender and falling off the bone.  Boil red wine and beef stock mixture until reduced by half, about 20 minutes, then return ribs to dutch oven, cover, and simmer for another 30 minutes or until tender to your liking.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dish #8: Armenia - Manti with Yogurt Butter Sauce

I had a dish lined up to make for Armenia that I knew I loved and couldn't wait to eat: Choreg, a traditional Armenian sweet bread often served on Easter, but enjoyed by people like me throughout the year.  I used to have an Armenian co-worker who would bring this bread into the office after Easter and some other major holidays (her mother made dozens of rounds of it for family and friends), and I would gorge myself on it whenever she did.  I just love when bread is fluffy and yeasty and smells like sugar and butter from a mile away.  It doesn't need any garnish or filling because it has so much flavor all on its own.  I also love sesame and nigella seeds on bread.  Clearly, this bread and I are a match made in heaven.  Unfortunately, my current dietary restraint has us star-crossed.  I won't be making Choreg any time soon, because I just can't control myself and only eat a little piece.

Instead, I'm sticking to soups and preparing Manti, a dumpling soup.  I love filled dumplings of all kinds: dim sum, gyoza, pot stickers, pierogi, empanadas, even apple dumplings that I ate during my childhood from the Amish market, warmed with vanilla ice cream on top, with the secret ingredient of 7-Up soda in the buttery, cinnamon-scented syrup.  I appreciate that this recipe short-cuts by using wonton wrappers for the dumplings instead of dough, because it keeps it lighter for me too, but if you search the internet for Manti you'll find lots of recipes using a heavy, savory dough that sounds simply delicious to me.

The recipe below calls for just a plain broth, but I added some carrots and onion.  I think you could add veggies however desired to make it heartier.  I also made big dumplings instead of little ones (didn't cut my wrappers into quarters, so my dumplings were four times bigger than they were supposed to be). This made dumpling prep quicker and easier, and I enjoyed the soup, but I think it would be better and easier to eat with the dumplings the size called for in the recipe.  The yogurt sauce is not included in my picture above, but I did make it, and it brought so much flavor to the dish.  I highly recommend dolloping a spoonful or two on top and then mixing it into the broth to give it some body and spice.

Manti (recipe from love&nourish)

1 lb. lean ground beef or lamb (I used lamb because I haven't yet in this project and I love it)
1 medium onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t allspice
1 T fresh chopped parsley
4 T tomato paste, divided
salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg. wonton wraps, cut into quarters
8 cups chicken broth

Combine the ground meat, onion, garlic, allspice, 1 T of the tomato paste, and salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill cut wonton wrappers with about 1/4 t of meat filling.  Dip your fingers in the bowl of water, wet the outer edge of each square of dough and bring up the sides, pinching together.  Leave the top of each manti open in the middle.  Place each manti onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, covered with another damp towel.  Keep unused wonton wrappers under a damp towel to keep from drying out.  Place each manti onto the parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake the manti on the center rack in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until crispy and golden.
While the manti are baking, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add 3 T tomato paste and stir to combine.  Add salt, pepper, and seasoning as desired.

Once the manti have baked, place in the pot of warm broth and stir to incorporate.  Take the pot off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes for flavors to meld. 
Serve in bowls topped off with a the yogurt butter sauce (recipe below).

Yogurt Butter Sauce (recipe from The Gutsy Gourmet)

1/2 stick (1 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 t sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
4 dashes red pepper sauce (I used sriracha)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, mashed

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the crushed garlic.  Saute for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and the yogurt.  Stir to combine and then remove from the heat.  Set aside to cool.  When ready to serve the manti, place a spoonful on top of the manti and broth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dish #7: Argentina - Bife A Caballo with Chimichurri

I was very excited to cook the food of Argentina.  I wrote my college thesis on Argentine gaucho poetry and political identity, and I got to live in Buenos Aires briefly on a research grant.  Argentina has a rich and fascinating history due to two factors: (1) being mostly ignored by the Spanish during colonialism because of its lack of silver to mine and (2) experiencing many waves of immigration from all over Western Europe and even Asia throughout its history.  Buenos Aires is a lovely, sophisticated city with vibrant nightlife, beautiful parks, quaint neighborhoods, ritzy shopping, and a deep history.  I personally prefer Buenos Aires to New York City or Madrid or Paris, cities to which it is often compared.  I would absolutely love to travel there again, so cooking a typical porteño meal is going to fill in as the next best thing for me.

When I lived in Argentina, I was a strict vegetarian.  In fact, I often observed a very simple vegan diet but did stray into consuming gummy bears (which contain gelatin) or cheese.  That pretty much sums up my perennial dietary weaknesses - my sweet tooth and my love for cheese.  There are large French, Italian, and German populations and influences in Buenos Aires, which means that the food there is more modern European-influenced than throughout the rest of Argentina or certainly the rest of Latin America.  One of my favorite supermarket snacks while I lived there, in fact, was a spanakopita-type spinach and feta pie.  I also loved soy milanesas (breaded cultets of tofu) with rice and ate huge fruit salads of mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana every day.  I mentioned previously that I would go to a restaurant in Palermo, the neighborhood where I was going to school, a lot and order a cassoulet of lentils and vegetables that was reminiscent of Feijoada.  I also would have simple dinners of grilled squash, potatoes, carrots, and zucchini bought from the farmers market near the Cathedral in Recoleta, the neighborhood where I lived.

All this detail on the food that I did eat should make it glaringly obvious what food I did not eat while in Buenos Aires: the world-famous Argentine beef.  I actually did eat it once, at a ranch in the famous asado style (think Fogo de Chao or any other AYCE Brazilian steakhouse but with a lot more wine and a wider variety of cuts and meats unusual to the palate of most people from the United States, like organs, offal, blood sausage, or goat).  Because I hadn't consumed any kind of red meat in almost two years at that point and also because I washed it down with a bottle and a half of red wine in the sweltering summer heat, all before going on a ridiculously bumpy and fast horseback ride into the forest, my memories of that meal and its aftermath aren't too pleasant to recall. 

However, I would always see bistro style dishes featuring steak that looked so straightforward, simple, and delicious.  I decided to cook the meal that I would order were I to return today to that little restaurant in Palermo where I always ordered the lentil cassoulet and a litro (or two) of Quilmes - Bife A Caballo (literally "beef on horseback"), which is a pan-fried steak with two fried eggs on top.  The recipe below calls for rib-eye steaks, but I used thin-cut New York strip steaks because they looked better at the market.  Along with that I prepared Chimichurri - a bold, bright sauce of parsley, olive oil, lemon, red pepper flakes, and garlic.  I could be very happy eating Chimichurri out of a bowl with a spoon (it's right up there with salt-and-peppered ricotta, peanut butter, and speculoos cookie butter for me as far as that goes).  This dish is usually served with french fries or rice, but I chose to prepare a simple green salad, which is equally typical of porteño restaurant presentations of this dish.

Needless to say, we loved this meal.  It was simple, hearty, and so good.  For my money there is no better sauce than a runny egg yolk broken over meat with some herbs, spice, and oil mixed into it.  So delicious!

Bife Al Caballo (recipe from Refogado)

4 T olive oil
2 1/2 pound rib-eye steaks, trimmed of any excess fat
2 large eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T dry white wine (I always use whatever I have open for this purpose, which is typically a Sauvignon Blanc)
enough olive oil or butter to fry an egg
Season the steak on both sides with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. 

Heat 2 T of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the steak and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, then remove from the pan and tent under aluminum foil to keep warm.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the same frying pan, along with the garlic, and cook for 1 minute, then add the white wine.  Lower the flame to low and cook for a few more minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry four eggs.  To serve, pour the sauce over the steaks and top with two fried eggs per steak.  Serve with french fries, rice, or a salad, with Chimichurri on the side to spoon over over the steak and eggs.

Chimichurri (recipe from Blue Kitchen)

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 T finely chopped garlic
2 1/2 T red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix all all ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dish #6: Antigua and Barbuda - Cod and Sweet Potato Bouillabaisse

Today's country is Antigua and Barbuda.  I will confess I am a little wary of the cuisine of Caribbean countries because of some ingredients that are prevalent in the dishes but not frequently consumed in our household.  The two main culprits that turned me off are coconut and raisins.  My husband dislikes both coconut and raisins in any form.  He will consume a dish made with coconut milk if I don't tell him it's in there, but it has to be heavily seasoned otherwise, in which case the flavor of the coconut milk is totally masked and it provides texture only.  Raisins are a total no-go.  I am okay with coconut, and I love raisins, but I don't like either cooked in a dish served warm, other than maybe a cookie.  I found recipe after recipe that called for me to include as much as 2 cups of shredded coconut. 

Finally I found a version of Ducana, a sweet potato dumpling, that substituted flour for the shredded coconut and omitted the nefarious raisins.  That sounded great and the suggested traditional accompaniment to it, Salt Fish (cod, a fish that is featured heavily thoughout the cuisine of Antigua and Barbuda, that is heavily salted and pressed to release all moisture for 24-48 hours, then rinsed, boiled, flaked, and cooked with a tomato-based sauce), looked tasty too.  I also found recipes that recommended serving buttered spinach with or without other vegetables, referred to as Chop-Up. 

I decided to follow all of these ingredient ideas but make my own soup-style version of the meal of Ducana with Salt Fish and Chop-Up.  I promise that my next blog entry, for Argentina, is going to feature a very straightforward and un-altered recipe where I don't turn the original dish into a soup or a stew!  For this dish, though, I opted to make a sort of bouillabaisse based on the flavor profile of Salt Fish, and I didn't follow the process of salting the fish over night.  Instead of serving it on the side, I tossed the spinach into the soup.  I also added sweet potato into the soup itself.  I gave a nod to the coconut featured in lots of Caribbean cuisine by using light coconut milk instead of seafood or vegetable stock.

We really liked this dish.  The sweet potato worked well with the tomato in the soup, similar to how butternut squash can go in lasagna.  The light coconut milk gave the soup body and a creamy texture as well as lent some sweetness to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, without having to add sugar.  The firm, mellow cod fish gave great substance to the soup, but this would have worked great as a vegetarian meal without it.

Cod Fish Bouillabaisse (Ducana recipe from I Cook The World and Salt Fish recipe from Kitchen Tested)

1 pound cod filets (can substitute mackerel or another firm white fish)
1 T olive oil
juice of 1 medium lemon
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
sprinkle of parsley

1 medium onion, cut into rings
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
2 T olive oil
28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
1/2 bag of baby spinach leaves
1 can light coconut milk
white wine
red pepper flakes (optional)
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Saute onion and garlic in a soup pot for 5 minutes.  Add a splash of white wine and scrape the bottom of the pot.  Add sweet potato chunks, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste and let cook for another 2 minutes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Pour in coconut milk, return to a boil, and then reduce heat and let simmer for 15 more minutes.

Season cod filets with salt and pepper.  Fry in a skillet 3-4 minutes or until tender, or bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 10-15 minutes.  Flake the fish into large chunks and add it to the soup pot along with spinach leaves (reserve a large piece of the fish to serve on top if desired).  Season to taste and serve hot.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dish #5: Angola - Feijoada Angolan Style

Today's dish is from Angola - Feijoada, a Portuguese stew of beans and meat.  This dish is popular in areas that were once Portuguese colonies, including Brazil, Macau, Goa, and many West African nations.  In much of the world, particularly Brazil, Feijoada is a typical special meal at home, due to how complicated and time intensive it can be to prepare.  It's also a common "daily plate" in restaurants (and inspires cassoulets derivative of it throughout South America - I ate a vegetarian one with lentils in the place of the meat at a small cafe several times a week when I lived in Buenos Aires).  In South American cuisine, the Feijoada is made with beef, pork, or a combination, usually including several types of either or both beef and pork.  Sausage, pork ribs, bacon, corned beef, pork loin, and tongue are all common ingredients, and the stew is light on vegetables, usually just including some onions and garlic.

Angolan Feijoada is in the same style as the classic Feijoada but is as different from the beef or pork Feijoada as my Argentine lentil version was.  Instead of using a varied medley of beef and pork products, it uses chicken thighs and sausage cut into thin rounds, and it introduces vegetables to the mix - cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes in addition to onion, garlic, and chiles.  It also uses white beans in place of the otherwise traditional black or pinto beans.  This is a refreshing difference and makes for a much lighter dish.

A lighter dish is what I needed right now.  We crash-dieted for our wedding in October 2012, and after the big day was finally past, we re-toxed from all the long-distance planning craziness and calorie restriction of the prior two months with an eating free-for-all.  We got an ice cream maker for a wedding gift, so I started making ice cream several times a week.  I put the big bag of cookie dough back in the freezer and dipped into it many nights.  I could go on... but I won't. Suffice to say, it's time to eat a little cleaner and lose that post-wedding weight (plus some) that I put on so that I can be ready to wear a bathing suit during my sister-in-law's bachelorette party weekend in the Hamptons in July.

I've spent most of my adult life going through phases where I eat great and am very successful at a healthy lifestyle - and then stress of life and schedule have led me astray.  I've lost (and then gained) 40 pounds or more 3 times in the last decade.  I'm not a fad dieter and I'm not clueless as to what works for me or what I should eat.  I know exactly what to do and when I do it, I am always successful at it - I just don't always do it.  Sometimes because I plain don't want to and eating whatever I like (and I like a lot of things) sounds great.  Sometimes because my calendar is just too full for me to devote mental attention to it and a pizza for dinner after I had a candy bar and tuna melt for lunch at 3 pm sounds like an excellent idea. 

Seriously, either way, who feels like stopping to enter the calorie count for a sushi dinner or a cheese plate plus four glasses of wine into Myfitnesspal all the time (and that's more convenient than it used to be - I remember years ago I used carry around a little notepad all the time to keep my food journal and then look up the calorie counts I hadn't memorized yet at home later)?  Or like going to the gym at 8 pm at night when your DVR is full and you've got a book to read and you just worked a 12 hour day?  Or at 6 am in the morning when your bed is warm and you can snooze a few more times and you're about to work a 12 hour day?  I suspect that only the people who make a career out of promoting diet and exercise to others and to themselves, whose bodies have to serve as a testimony to their professional abilities and commitment to their vocations, or those whose personal interests all lie in nutrition and fitness, can do that consistently throughout their entire lives.  And good for them, but that's NOT me. 

My usual diet most days of the week while I'm trying to eat well consists of a granola bar and egg whites or blueberries for breakfast; a Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine, or Healthy Choice frozen entree for lunch; a NutriGrain bar and string cheese or carrots for an afternoon snack; and soup or stew with toast spread with Laughing Cow cheese, strawberries or grapes, and nuts or pretzels for dinner.  Therefore, there will probably be a lot more soup or stew varities of dishes on this blog coming in the future; I will treat myself once or twice a week, and I'll try to make some of those treat dishes for the blog too, so it doesn't get monotonous. 

The Angolan Feijoada was tasty and perfect comfort food for what passes as a cold night in Los Angeles (it's been in the mid 30s to low 40s overnight recently).  Although red palm oil is very traditional in a lot of African dishes, I don't like the way it tastes, so I substituted olive oil.  I also used green chiles because that's what I had on hand.

I had originally planned to make a corn and rice bread to go with this, but it was a caloric no-go and I already had a loaf of plain bread made that needed to be consumed first.  The recipe looks good, though, and the use of cooked rice in it is interesting (I wasn't sure how that was going to work and was curious to see).  If you like corn bread and can fit into your meal, check it out at The Global Reader.

Feijoada Angolan Style (recipe from CHOW)

13 oz canned white beans (I used cannellini beans)
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
14 oz chorizo sausage, cut into rings (I used 2 links of chicken sausage to keep the stew lighter)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small head of cabbage, shredded
6 chiles finely chopped (piri-piri would be authentic, could also use habanero, jalapeno, or any other chile depending on how hot you like your food)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch parsley, chopped
5 T red palm oil (could also use olive, canola, or vegetable oil)
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup water or chicken stock, plus more as desired for consistency

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. 

Heat 2 T of oil in a large skillet and fry the chicken pieces until browned, then remove and set aside. 

Fry the sausage rings until browned, then remove and set aside.

Add the onion, chiles, and garlic to the pan and fry until soft, about 6 minutes. 

Add the tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, beans, and bay leaves to the pan.  Fry for 2 minutes and add chicken stock to cover.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, adding liquid as needed to keep moist.  Return the chicken and sausage to the pot and add parsley and additional 3 T of oil. 

Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as desired and then cook for 30 minutes.  Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dish #4: Andorra - Broiled Trout with Trinxat

So far I've cooked with rice, pasta, and pasta that resembles rice (orzo).  For Andorra, it's time for some potatoes.  I made Trinxat, which consists of potatoes, cabbage, and bacon formed into a panacke and pan-fried - sort of like a hybrid of colcannon, which is a traditional Irish dish, and a latke.  Andorra is a tiny nation in Catalonia, nestled along the border between Spain and France, and it's land-locked, but they do have fish - trout.  Apparently Andorrans love to barbecue or broil river (or lake) trout, simply seasoned with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper and garnished with a lot of parsley.  I've always looked at the beautiful whole rainbow trout at Whole Foods, and even though they're from the ocean and therefore not entirely authentic to the spirit of the meal, I figured this was a good time to try them.

Broiled Trout (recipe from Mother Earth News)

1 lb trout fillets (3-4 whole rainbow trout)
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder and onion powder to taste
3 T olive oil
1 lemon, cut ino thin wedges
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (1 T dried)

Preheat the broiler and grease the rack of a broiler pan.

Cut the fillets into serving pieces, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the fillets on the greased rack, skin side up. Brush with oil.

Broil the fish for 5 to 8 minutes, about three inches from the heat, until they're brown. Baste with more oil. Turn, and baste the other side. Garnish with lemon wedges, and broil until brown.

Trinxat (recipe from Global Table Adventure)

1 green cabbage, cored and quartered
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 strips bacon, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes and cabbage in a large pot with salted water until tender. Drain thoroughly.  Roughly mash the cabbage and potatoes with minced garlic, salt, and pepper.

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium until crispy.  Remove bacon and let drain on a paper towel.  Reserve bacon grease in skillet.  Tear bacon into small chunks and stir into the cabbage and potato mixture. 

Heat skillet with reserved bacon grease on medium-high.  Press into the pan to make a flat cake. Cook until bottom is golden brown. Pass under broiler until top is hot and slightly golden.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dish #3: Algeria - Tli Tli B'djedj with Khobz El Dar

For Algeria, I made Tli Tli B'djedj, which is orzo coated with a sauce of chicken broth, tomato paste, chickpeas, and onion, topped with braised chicken and hard-boiled eggs.  We love all these things, so I was excited for this dish.  I've also somehow never cooked orzo before, so this was an opportunity to do so.  Instead of steaming the orzo separately like the recipe instructed, or boiling it like the package suggested, and then adding it to the sauce after, I opted to simmer the orzo in the sauce.  I think this gave the orzo a lot more flavor than just cooking it in water would have.  Orzo, which you can often find in rice pilaf, on its own is an interesting middle ground between pasta and arborio rice (used in risotto).  I liked it in this dish a lot, because the sauce coated it the way it would pasta, but it had the texture of rice.

I didn't have any ras el hanout spice mix on hand, so I approximated my own version.  Ras el hanout is a mixture of up to 50 different spices prevalent in Moroccan and North African cuisine.  It's sort of like a curry mix, so I followed that concept as a guide for making my own.  I used everything I had in my cabinet that seemed like it was in the right family of spices: anise, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, coriander, paprika, garam masala, mace, cinnamon, and clove, plus sea salt, cracked black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.

I also made Khobz El Dar, a semolina bread that is known as the "Bread of the House" in Algeria, where it is very traditional.  Semolina, the flour often used in making pasta, is another ingredient I've never used in cooking before now.  The recipe I used talked a lot about how difficult the dough was to work with due to its stickiness, but I skipped the trouble and used my bread machine to make the dough, which worked perfectly.  I then stretched out the dough in a 12" round cake pan, sprinkled it with some more semolina, and let it rise for another 15 minutes before brushing egg yolk on it and dusting it with sesame seeds and poppy seeds (a substitute for nigella seeds, which I did not have in my pantry), and then baking it until it was browned on top.  The bread was delicious, like a light ciabatta.  I really want to cook with semolina more, and I am going to try making pasta with it soon.

Tli Tli B'djedj (recipe from
1 whole chicken ( or 6-8 pieces bone-in chicken - I used 1 1/2 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs)
1 cup canned chick-peas
2 T butter
1/4 t black pepper
3/4 t cinnamon
2 T tomato paste
1 onion, minced 
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t ras el hanout spice mix
salt, to taste

4 eggs

2 cups orzo 
1 cup chicken stock, plus more as needed to keep from drying out
Cut chicken up into serving sizes (6-8 pieces).  Brown in a large pan with the butter, finely chopped onions, cinnamon, ras el hanout, and pepper.  Add 1 cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes. 

Add chick peas and enough chicken stock to cover, garlic, and the tomato paste.

Cover and cook on medium heat for 1 hour.

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the orzo and eggs.  Hard boil the eggs, then peel and cut into halves.  In a bowl, mix the orzo with 1/2 cup water. Place in a steamer & steam for 15 minutes. Remove from steamer and separate the orzo with a little water.
Put the pasta in a large pan and slowly spoon in a little sauce at a time until the ozro is fully cooked and the sauce has been absorbed and coats the orzo.
Place orzo on erving plates and top with the chicken pieces and egg halves.

Khobz El Dar (recipe from

3 1/2 cups semolina
1 1/4 cups white bread flour
2 cups water
1/2 cup canola oil
2 1/4 t yeast
1 egg
2 t sugar
2 t salt
2 large egg yolks, beaten
2 T sesame seeds
1 T nigella seeds (I substituted poppy seeds)

Grease a 12" round metal pan.
Place the semolina, flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in pan of bread machine.  Then add egg, oil, and 2 cups of water.  Start machine on dough cycle.

When cycle ends, remove the dough with wet hands and place in greased pan.  Pre-heat oven to 375° F.  Gently push the dough until it completely covers the base of the pan, re-wetting your hands as necessary.  Sprinkle a handful of semolina over the top, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, 15-20 minutes.
Brush the top of the dough with the egg yolks and sprinkle the sesame seeds and nigella/poppy seeds over the top.  Using a skewer or toothpick, prick five holes in the dough, making sure to go all the way through - one hole in the center, and four evenly-spaced holes around the edge, 1" from the sides of the pan.
Cook in pre-heated oven until golden, 25-35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a kitchen towel.  Wrap the bread in the towel and cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dish #2: Albania - Tavë Me Presh with Pappardelle

Today's country is Albania.  I chose to make Tavë Me Presh, which is ground meat (beef or lamb) baked with leeks.  I found some lovely leeks in the supermarket down the street from our house.  We are really fortunate in Southern California to have easy access to amazing produce of all kinds. I do get nostalgic about the incredibly fresh and free range-by-default meat and poultry I ate all the time growing up that my parents would purchase at an Amish market in my hometown, but I sure don't miss the pathetically bland tomatoes and the withered little $4 avocados. 

I found no clear consensus on what to serve with Tavë Me Presh.  I think many people may just eat it on its own, as though it was a stew.  It wasn't brothy enough for us to consider doing that.  A number of bloggers who cooked Tavë Me Presh said that they found it heavy, which to us, it was not at all - maybe I am showing my American bias here, but something with no cheese, cream, or butter, that uses lean meat and a reasonable amount of oil, isn't likely to be heavy to me, unless I eat it by the gallon.  Others ate it with a salad, or after consuming a meze platter of meats, cheeses, peppers, and olives - but we need a starch.  Some people opted for mashed potatoes, which I was considering until I saw someone suggest tagliatelle.  That started the wheels turning in my head.  Maybe pasta is not the most authentic accompaniment to this dish, but I am determined to use my bread machine at every possible opportunity, so I decided to make pasta dough in it. 

Once the dough was ready, I rolled it out in my pasta machine and used the pappardelle attachment.  I chose to make pappardelle instead of tagliatelle because Brandy, my friend who is doing the A-to-Z challenge and inspired me to join her in the project, gave us the attachment as a wedding gift last year... so in a way, she doubly influenced this meal! 

I know I am taking some license here by making pasta.  However, I can easily see Tavë Me Presh as a ragout of sorts, so it does work food-wise, and there are Mediterranean influences all over Albanian cuisine.  Albania's Adriatic coast is only 45 miles from Italy.  It also worked great time management-wise, because I could work on the pasta while it was in the oven.  That way I didn't have a traffic jam in my kitchen where I was ever working on both components at the same time.  Making the pasta dough in the bread machine helped a lot with this also.

We both loved this dish.  It was simple but hearty and full of flavor.  The leeks were sweet and buttery, and the pasta was silky smooth from cooking in olive oiled-water.  Making pasta dough in the bread machine is amazing!

Tavë Me Presh (recipe from The Recipe Queen)

1/2 cup olive oil
4 leeks, cut into 1 inch slices
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 pound ground lamb or beef (I used 96/4 beef)
1/2 cup stock (I had chicken stock that needed to go, so that's what I used, with a couple of dashes of worchestershire sauce)
2 T tomato paste
2 red peppers, de-seeded and chopped (we don't like peppers so I left them out)
Salt and pepper for seasoning (I also added garlic powder and onion powder)

Pre-heat the oven on to 375° F.

Heat half the oil in a large pan and fry the leeks on a low heat until soft.  Transfer the leeks to a baking dish, draining excess oil.  Season the leeks.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan and fry the onions and ground meat until browned.  Drain excess oil.  Add the tomato paste, red peppers, seasoning, and stock, and bring to a boil.  Pour the mixture over the leeks, cover, and bake for 1 hour.

Pappardelle (basic pasta recipe and technique for making the dough in the bread machine from Robbie Ferguson)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 T water

Add all ingredients to bread machine, and set to dough mode. 
If dough is too dry upon completion of bread machine cycle, add water 1/2 T at a time.  If it is too wet, add flour 1/2 T at a time.

Start a pot of water to boil and season with salt and olive oil, if desired.

Roll the dough in flour, and place on a floured cutting surface (I use parchment paper underneath any dough I work with because I don't like getting flour all over my limited counter space).  Cut the dough into quarters.  Roll each piece in flour.  With floured hands, gently stretch/roll the dough into a rectangular shape, continuing to roll it in flour as needed.

Start pressing the pasta, one quarter at a time, through the pasta machine at the widest setting, gradually narrowing your settings until pasta sheets are long, thin, and semi-translucent (I have an Atlas Wellness 150 - which I highly recommend to anyone - and I start at 0, rolling the sheet through twice on each setting up to 7).

Cut each sheet into 2 short sheets (8 inches or less in length).  Attach the pappardelle cutter and run each short sheet through the attachment.

Drop cut pasta immediately into boiling water and stir so that the noodles don't clump together.  Cook for 3 minutes or until al dente, strain, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dish #1: Afghanistan - Qorma Lawand with Naan

The first country in my A-to-Z cooking project is Afghanistan.  I chose to make Qorma Lawand, which is an onion-based casserole made with chiles, yogurt, a curry-like blend of spices (including cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, and allspice), and cilantro.  Qorma Lawand can be made with a variety of proteins.  I used skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into chunks.  The chicken is marinated in a pureed mixture of cashews (almonds can also be used), ginger, minced garlic, and water before the chicken and marinade are added to the caramelizing onions with the yogurt and some chicken broth.  Then the casserole is simmered until tender.

To go with the Qorma Lawand, I made naan, a leavened flatbread that is typical in a lot of Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines.  My husband really enjoys homemade bread and has been encouraging me to make it more often to build my skills at producing tasty bread.  He gave me a Panasonic bread machine for Christmas, and he eventually wants me to use the spent grains from his beer brewing to make loaves.  I used the bread machine to make the dough for the naan, and it worked great.  The recipe I used may not be the most traditional recipe (there are many minor variations on how to make naan, thanks to regional differences and personal preference as to the best way to make bread of any kind - which, as I have learned from studying bread recipes, can vary very widely), but I chose it because it called for yogurt in the dough.  We don't usually keep plain yogurt in the house, so I was able to use the leftover yogurt from the Qorma Lawand in the naan dough and not waste anything.

I served the Qorma Lawand over rice (I made plain long grain white rice in the rice cooker as I always do - we are not picky about rice and I like to be able to "set it and forget it" plus not take up a burner on my small stove) and with plenty of naan on the side to scoop up the sauce.  The nutty flavor the marinade brought to the sauce was different and made the dish into an interesting twist on a spicy garlic chicken dish I make often.  We thought the chicken was dry; in the future, I'd use boneless, skinless thighs instead of breasts to avoid that.  My husband's eyes lit up when he bit into a piece of the naan I gave him to taste; he absolutely loved it.

Qorma Lawand (recipe from Whats4Eats)

1/2 cup cashews or almonds
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced (I used ground ginger)
1/2 cup water

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf
3 yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 chile peppers, minced and seeded (I used green chiles)
1 cup plain yogurt
Chicken broth, as needed to keep sauce from getting dry
Salt and pepper, as needed
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Place the nuts, garlic, ginger and water into a food processor or blender and process to a puree. Put the cut-up chicken in a plastic Ziploc bag and season with salt and pepper.  Pour the puree into the bag and distribute the puree over the chicken, then seal.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to marinate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame. Add the turmeric, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaf and saute in the hot oil for about 30 seconds. Add the onions and chiles and sauté for 8 minutes.

Stir in the chicken and its marinade and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the liquid has cooked down and reduced.

Stir in the yogurt and 1/2 cup of chicken broth and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low.  Simmer for 40 minutes. Add chicken broth as necessary to keep the dish from drying out. Keep the heat very low to avoid curdling the yogurt.

Adjust seasoning and stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve hot with rice.

Naan (recipe from Taste of Home)
3/4 cup warm milk (I used skim)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
In bread machine pan, place all ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting.

When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into six portions; shape into balls. Roll each ball into a 1/4-in. thick oval. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Brush tops with water. In a greased large skillet, cover and cook dough, wet side down, over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Turn dough; cover and cook for 30 seconds longer or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.  Keep warm in a 140 degree F oven until ready to serve.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome to my blog

I love to eat - either my own cooking in my home kitchen (which my husband and I affectionately call "Cafe 749," because our address contains the number 749, hence the name of this blog) or meals at restaurants in our adopted hometown of Manhattan Beach, California, as well as in our travels around the US.  In addition to cooking, I enjoy baking, too - cookies, pies, and especially cakes.  I also love wine and beer.  I frequently take tasting trips to various California wine country destinations, and my husband is a hobbyist homebrewer of craft beers. 

My friend Brandy decided to start a food blog in 2013 to chroncile her eating, cooking, baking and drinking around the world A-to-Z (Brandy's blog). Brandy's goal is to work her way through at least 52 of the 196 countries listed in the World Atlas, by either cooking a dish or eating a restaurant meal from the cuisine of each country.  Inspired by her enthusiasm for this project, I'm joining her in my own "A-to-Z of Food."  I will use this blog to record my culinary experiments and experiences in cuisines from around the world A-to-Z in 2013. 

Part of why I was so motivated by Brandy's challenge is that I need a cooking re-boot.  I love to cook, and I do it every single day, but over the last few years I have increasingly struggled to come up with a great answer to a question friends ask me all the time - "Cooked anything interesting lately?"  Doing this project should ensure that I always have something new to say in response to that.

I also am excited to try lots of different cuisines that normally wouldn't figure into our typical meal planning.  My husband has great taste when it comes to food, and definitely knows what he does and doesn't like, but he also trusts me to know his preferences and will eat pretty much anything I put in front of him.  We both tend to like "square meals" - a protein, a vegetable, and a starch.  I cook a lot of stir frys, burgers and sandwiches, pasta dishes, and chicken braises.  We also love red meat and pork, but eat tofu and fish frequently.  Because we both like and are willing to try so many things, I'm excited to take familiar ingredients and prepare them in ways that are new to us.  I'll also be on the lookout for wines and beers that I can pair with my dishes.

The first country's cuisine I'm planning to cook is Afghanistan.  I'm going to be tackling Qorma Lawand, an onion-based casserole dish with yogurt, turmeric, and cilantro.  I'll be making mine with chicken, but it can also be made with lamb or beef.  I'm looking forward to eating this dish because it's basically a stew of caramelized onions combined with a fragrant chicken curry served over rice - I love all those components.  Stay tuned!