Recipes from Lesotho

My first week of 2015 was Not Good. I won't go into any details, but it involved a leaky toilet, a bad blower motor in my furnace, a broken microwave, two ruined pots and a lost camera. Among other things.

If this is how 2015 is going to be, I think I'm going to spend the whole year in bed.

In keeping with the spirit of the new year, my first blog meal of 2015 was also Not Good, though I won't say it came anywhere near all the other things that were Not Good about the first week of 2015. In fact, Not Good is probably too strong a sentiment, really, and just reflects how bitter I'm feeling at the moment.

The country is Lesotho, which I'm betting you haven't heard of unless you were really, really paying attention in your high school geography class. It's pretty small, like, roughly the size of the state of Maryland small. It's in southern Africa, and as a nation it’s actually very young—younger than the US by almost a half century.

Malealea, Lesotho. Photo by Daniel Weber.

Fifty years after the US emerged as a democracy, Lesotho emerged under a king. His name was Moshoeshoe, which might be the coolest name ever, and he led this small nation until his death in 1870, when the British took over. Because that was what always happened to small, African nations in those days. The British controlled Lesotho until 1966, when it finally gained independence. Today it has a constitutional monarchy not unlike England’s, with a figurehead monarch and a prime minister.

As with all tiny, obscure nations, Lesotho has limited online resources to turn to if you’re looking for traditional recipes. Wikipedia’s entry for “Cuisine of Lesotho” contains a grand total of 101 words of information, and I think the author padded it a little. To sum up this already summarized version: the cuisine of Lesotho is a mix of African and British influences. Staples include potatoes, seafood, rice and vegetables. Here’s the menu I chose (I had to go with—gasp—offline resources):

Curried Meat
(from The World Cookbook for Students)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 lb stew beef, cubed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1⁄2 lb cabbage, shredded roughly
  • 1⁄2 lb squash, cut into chunks
Here's what I did on the side:

Stewed Cabbage and Potatoes
(from The World Cookbook for Students)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 10 oz potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • Water as needed
  • 10 oz white cabbage, shredded roughly
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • salt and pepper to taste
And to mop up the juices:

Mealie-Meal (Cornmeal Cakes)
(from Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students)
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
First, the beef:

Heat the oil in a pot and brown the meat on all sides. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Now add the curry powder, salt and vegetables. Let simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes until the squash is tender.

Here's how to do the mealie-meal:

First heat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the cornmeal into a pot with the sugar and oil. Add the boiling water and stir until blended. Set the flame on low and cover, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and porridgey (that should take 10 to 12 minutes). Now remove from the heat. Let cool.

Beat the egg yolks and mix in with the cornmeal. Stir to blend. Now beat the egg whites and fold those into the mix.

Drop the batter by tablespoons onto a cookie sheet, just as if you were making cookies. You want your patties to be about two inches wide and ¼ inch thick. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until they puff up and turn golden.

Now for the cabbage and potatoes:

In a large pot, sauté the onion in the oil, then add the curry powder. Stir for a minute or two, then add the potatoes and enough water to cover. Cook 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but not completely cooked. Now add the cabbage and keep cooking until the potatoes are tender. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

This was a good, hearty meal, great for winter but let's face it, not really very interesting. I used butternut squash in mine, which is really the only kind of squash I can tolerate. The whole meal was pretty filling, which is what you want if you live in a place where subsistence farming is the norm.
Moving on now, slowly, but really, still moving on ...

Next week: Liberia
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My favorite world recipes of 2014

You may have noticed that I've been slowing down a little, especially in the last few months of 2014. This is in part due to this job I have, where I have to write between 7,000 and 9,000 words every week (if I could devote that many words a week to writing a novel, I'd be able to pump one out every 10 weeks), and in part due to my older kids not taking swimming lessons anymore. I know that doesn't seem like it should have anything to do with anything, but I used to spend poolside time working on my blog posts, so without that I haven't really got a regular slot carved out for blogging. I know, I ought to be able to make one, but I just haven't managed.

I could launch into a speech about New Year's resolutions and swear to do better this year, but I don't want to make any promises because I'm mostly bad at keeping them. But regardless of how many weeks pass between posts, I do believe I will eventually get to the end of the alphabet. Eventually.

Anyway, I want to start the new year by remembering last year. I made some great food last year, and here's a list of my favorite 10 recipes:

Emilia Romagna, Italy: Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms

Simple dishes are sometimes the best tasting. This whole meal was brilliant, but my favorite part was the mushroom pasta. It had a simple, earthy flavor and was one of the best things I ate all year.

Honduras: Carneada

I had a hard time deciding which dish from Honduras was my favorite, because I loved all of them. So I chose the main course, because it was definitely the star of what was a really amazing show. It was juicy, full of flavor, and it went beautifully with the other items on the menu.

Hong Kong: Soy Sauce Chicken

It's rare that I make a dish that all six of us like, because my kids have very different tastes. But this soy sauce chicken was loved by all, so much so that I really wish I'd made a lot more of it. And it was really easy to make, too.

Israel: Bourekas

My Isreal meal was definitely one of the most time-consuming blog meals of the year, but it was worth it. I chose a lot of different dishes and these cheese-filled bourekas were one of my favorite things on a very full table. I ate way too many of them and almost couldn't make room for the rest of the food. Almost.

Jamaica: Coco Bread

I am pretty sure that coconut-flavored bread has made my list of favorites in past years, so this may be a bit of a repeat. It wouldn't be fair to leave it off the list, though, because my whole family adored this bread. In fact, it actually inspired tears in my older daughter, who could not believe I had the audacity to eat the leftovers while she was at school.

Kazakhstan: Kazakh Lemon Chicken

This chicken dish had very complex flavors and I thought it was really delicious. It's actually the only dish that made the top 10 list that wasn't loved by both me and my husband, though, because he really doesn't like olives. I didn't think his personal preferences should exclude an otherwise fabulous meal from the top 10, though, so here it is. Delicious, lemony and tender, mmmm.

South Korea: Korean fried chicken

My American fried chicken recipe is pretty yummy, but I don't make it very often because of that whole most-unhealthy-thing-ever problem. I don't think this fried chicken recipe was really much better in terms of health but oh my, it was delicious. In fact my chicken-on-the-bone hating husband declared that these were the best drumsticks he'd ever had. High praise!

Kurdistan: Xorsht Fesenjan (chicken with pomegranate molasses and walnut)

OK, so the photo really looks awful. Like, if you had to go by pictures you would probably put this chicken in the bottom 10 of the year. Flavor-wise, though, it was amazing. It had a really deep, rich flavor that was reminiscent of sun dried tomatoes, but only a little. Be prepared for big, bold flavors if you make this dish.

Kuwait: Kuwaiti Honey Cake

My eight year old liked this honey cake so much that she actually said she wants me to make it on her birthday instead of getting her a store-bought cake. What? She loves those sickly-sweet, butter cream frosted cakes so it was a shock to hear her say that. I loved this dessert too, it was very middle-eastern in flavor and had a great texture.

Lebanon: Djej w Batata Bil Sayniyyeh (Baked Garlic Chicken and Potatoes)

I love one-pot meals for their ease, but this one was really delicious, too. You really gotta love anything with a garlic sauce, and this was one well-executed garlic sauce. With the potatoes it made for a really delicious and complete meal.

Runners Up

Honduras: Corn Tortillas

OK I know it's just corn tortillas, and nothing could be simpler to make. But the difference between these tortillas and something you'd buy at the grocery store is like night and day. These tortillas have an amazing, smooth texture and they don't fall apart when you try to fold them up. Stuff them with whatever you want and they'll hold together, and they taste delicious, too.

Hong Kong: Soy Sauce Noodles

My whole Hong Kong meal was delicious and I thought these noodles deserved a mention for one very important reason: they were the first Asian noodles I've personally made that did not turn out sort of slimy. Because of this dish, I finally have conquered chow mien, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Kashmir, India: Saunf Aloo

These were beautiful, simple and creamy potatoes--an easy dish to throw together and serve with Indian curry. I love making curry on or off my blog, so this recipe is going into my book and will for sure be accompanying some of this year's Indian dishes.

That's my list! I hope you tried some of these dishes too, and if not that you will have a chance to do so in 2015. They're totally worth the effort (and some were hardly any effort at all!)

Happy new year and I really do hope to have more posts up in 2015!
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Recipes from Lebanon

Yay it's raining in California! If it carries on like this, the drought might actually end sometime in the next couple of years.

Of course, I really dislike rain most of the time, but I'm not going to say so out loud. We really need the rain.
I was trying to come up with a good segue between rainfall in California and rainfall in this week's destination, but I can't really. Lebanon gets way more rain than we do, even in a good year. That's probably why it's had such a long history of human occupation—people tend to go where the water is.

Lebanon is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arab world, near Syria and Israel. There is evidence that humans lived there up to 7,000 years ago, which is a very, very long time ago—before human beings started actually recording history.

The earliest known occupants of Lebanon were the Phoenicians, a maritime culture that lived in the region for almost a millennium. Lebanon was later occupied by the Romans, and then by the Arabs, and the result of all that indecisiveness is that today it is a place of great ethnic and religious diversity.

Fun fact: Lebanon has such unique geography that you can go skiing in the morning and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in the afternoon. Which you could theoretically do in California, too, if the Pacific Ocean wasn't so damned cold.

Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo by Paul Saad. 

The Lebanese eat a lot of seafood, starches, whole grains and vegetables, and chicken is on the menu more often than red meat is. The Lebanese love garlic and lemon juice, which brings me to our main course:

Djej w Batata Bil Sayniyyeh (Baked Garlic Chicken and Potatoes)
(All of this week's recipes come from Mama's Lebanese Kitchen)
  • 4 lbs chicken pieces
  • 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into ½ inch pieces
  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of Lebanese 7-spice
  • Vinegar (optional)
To make this, you'll also need this recipe:

Lebanese 7-Spices
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
And on the side I made this, though I'm not entirely sure about its accuracy as a side dish (sounds more like a condiment):

  • 3 lbs green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2/3rd cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tsp Lebanese 7-spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
And for dessert:

Dates Fudge
  • 2 lbs date paste (or grind pitted dates to paste in a food processor)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb of walnuts
  • 1/4 lb coconut flakes
The first thing you will need to make is the Lebanese 7-spice, unless you happen to have some on hand, which I'm guessing you probably don't. It's pretty simple and you can make as much or as little as you want, though you will need at least two teaspoons for this meal. Just mix together the ingredients and you're done.

Now for the chicken:

The first step is to soak the chicken pieces in vinegar for two minutes, though this is optional. When done, rinse in cold water and pat dry.

Now cut a few slits in each chicken piece to allow the marinade to penetrate. Mix two tbsp of the olive oil with a pinch of salt and the Lebanese 7-spice.

Grease a metal roasting pan with olive oil and place the chicken inside. Salt the potato slices and place on top of the chicken.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees.

While the chicken is cooking, place the garlic in a food processor with ½ tsp of salt and the rest of the olive oil. Pulse for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the lemon juice and pulse for another 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven, then drain off the liquid from the bottom of the pan. Pour the garlic sauce over the chicken and toss to make sure everything is coated. Return to the pan and cook under the broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden.

Meanwhile, make the beans. First saute the onions in olive oil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they start to brown. Now add the beans, the salt and half of the 7-spice mixture. Mix well, then cover the pot and cook on low for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. When the beans are a dark olive-brown color, add the rest of the 7-spice and mix well. You can serve this dish hot or cold.

Now for the fudge, which isn't really anything like fudge:

First, melt butter over a low flame. Pour over the date paste and "knead" by hand. Divide into 28 pieces and then stuff each piece with a walnut half. Roll it into a ball and then dip in coconut flakes. Chill or serve at room temperature.

The chicken was really delicious, I mean really, really delicious. It was not too far removed from stuff I've eaten locally (have you ever been to the Stinking Rose in San Francisco?) but who cares. It was full of flavor and cooked perfectly, if I do say so myself. I liked the beans, too, and so did Martin, but the kids wouldn't touch them. In their defense, though, they won't even touch that bean casserole that everyone makes for Thanksgiving, either. They think vegetables are out to get them.

The dates fudge, mmm. It was dead-simple to make and tasted very Mediterranean, and my kids were not fans. When I say "dessert," they think I mean "cupcakes." I really have to break them of those way-too-American palettes that they have. But oh well, more for me.

Next week: Lesotho
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Recipes from Lazio, Italy

There's something about Italian food that resonates with me, and I'm not really sure why. My mom never did Italian when I was a kid, unless you count spaghetti (and I don't). Italian food is just comforting, even if you have no childhood experience with it. So I always like coming back to Italy, and I even kind of wish I'd broken up the country into smaller sections when I made my list, which would give me a good excuse to make even more Italian food.

Looking back, I've got some Italian provinces earlier in the alphabet I probably should have skipped to before tackling Lazio, but I guess I'm just kind of blindly plowing through the alphabet at this point. Anyway, Lazio is sort of the middle front part of the boot. It’s mainly flat and/or slightly hilly, and it has a nice long coastline.

The city of Rome is in Lazio, which means that all the cool stuff is there, like the Roman Colosseum and the Pantheon. It also has a lot of natural hot springs—if you’ve ever seen images of the ancient Romans in their baths, Lazio was probably the setting for that. For history lovers there is other cool stuff in Lazio, like Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana, which was the residence of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The Appian Way (one of ancient Rome's most strategically important roads) still runs through the region, too.

The Colosseum, Rome. Lazio, Italy. Photo by  Dennis Tang.
The food in this region tends to be simple and easy to cook, which is good for me personally. Vegetables grow well in the area so are a big part of the cuisine, and meat dishes are often very heavily seasoned—this harkens back to the days when the poor lived outside of the cities and often had only the lesser cuts of meat to cook with. For my main course, I chose a chicken dish:

Pollo Arrosto con Arancia ed Uvetta
  • 1 4lb chicken, cut through the backbone and flattened
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp salt
And then I did some pasta on the side, because of course you have to do that:

Cacio e Pepe
  • 1 lb fresh spaghetti noodles
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
  • 3⁄4 cup Cacio de Roma, finely grated (substitute Pecorino Romano)
And finally:

Roman Artichokes
  • 4 large artichokes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped fine
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
Let's start with the main dish. First, place the chicken in a large casserole dish. Mix everything but the salt together in a large bowl.

Pour over the chicken. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for 24 to 72 hours, turning occasionally.

Now preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Salt the chicken and place breast side down in the roasting pan. Let roast for 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Then flip the chicken over and roast for another 35 minutes, until the chicken is golden and a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175 degrees.

Now for the artichokes, which also take a bit of time:

First snap off the leaves about halfway around the outside of the artichokes. I actually found them to be so tough that I had to cut them off with kitchen shears. What you're doing is getting rid of the tough top parts and the stickers and leaving the meatier bottom parts.

Keep at this until you start to see the red tips of the inner leaves. Now take a very sharp kitchen knife and cut off the top of the artichoke, across those red tips. 

Now comes the hard part—scoop out the hairy choke on the inside of the artichoke, and all of those really small stickery leaves. This is really challenging. I found myself in there with a pairing knife trying to loosen up all the stuff that needed to come out, and I still didn't get it all out. When you think you've done an acceptable job, trim the stems.

Now place the artichokes in a pan, stem sides up. Mix the olive oil, salt and pepper with the garlic, mint, lemon juice and vinegar. Now, the recipe said that the liquid should go about halfway up the sides of the artichokes, which let's face it is a ton of olive oil and you'd basically be deep frying them at that point. I didn't use that much oil. My artichokes did come out a little burned at the tops, but I really can't afford to use that much olive oil in one recipe! So I just stuck with a cup—add more if you want. You will probably get better results.

Cover the pan and heat over a medium flame. You're going to get popping sounds like you get anytime you deep fry something, but you're going to let these go for 40 minutes or so, so keep checking to make sure they don't burn or stick.

OK now for the easy part:

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside, reserving a cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the pepper for 1 or 2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add ¾ cup of the pasta water to the skillet with the oil and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, and sprinkle with ¾ cup of the Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma.

Toss to combine, then transfer to plates and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and additional black pepper to taste. 

I loved loved loved this meal. It was really simple, and the fresh spaghetti was really good with just that little bit of cheese and black pepper. I also really enjoyed the artichokes, but artichokes are my favorite vegetable so I'd really have to screw them up in order to not enjoy them. The chicken was really good, too. It came out nice and juicy and had great flavor. It was an easy meal and tasty too, with that Italian food comfort on the side.

Next week: Lebanon
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Recipes from Latvia

I'm pretty sure that the weather has something to do with how much I enjoy blog meals. Caribbean food, for example, really is better on a hot day. And Eastern European food is better on cold days.

Sadly, it was nowhere near a cold day when I did my Latvian meal. We still haven't had any really cold days here in California, but it was most definitely not cold a few weeks ago when I did this meal. I actually am starting to wonder if alphabetical was the way to go with this endeavor, or if I maybe should have done this geographically.

Latvia would definitely be a February meal, or maybe early March. It's in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, bordered by fellow cold nations Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus. In July, it reaches scorchingly hot temperatures in excess of 67 degrees. In February it drops all the way down to 16 degrees. My husband would probably love living there.

 Cēsis Castle, Latvia. Photo by Graham.
Latvia is another one of those nations that got swallowed up by the Soviet Union and then spat back out again after the empire dissolved in the early 90s. During World War II it was also invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany, which is an interesting factoid because it's not something you really hear discussed when people talk about World War II. Through all of it, Latvia maintained its uniquely Latvian culture and language, and today it's actually a prosperous little nation, though it is still cold.

Anyway it makes complete sense that when you live in a freezing cold environment, you eat a lot of rich foods. That's what helps you achieve a layer of insulation to protect you from the elements, right? There's a lot of fat in Latvian food (and not a lot of spices), and typical menu items include potatoes, pork, eggs and cabbage. Here are the recipes I chose:

Breaded Pork Chops
(from Latvian Stuff)
  • 6 pork chops     
  • 3 tbsp light cream
  • 1 egg     
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • Butter and oil     
  • Salt and pepper     
  • Flour
Kartupeli ar Dillēm (Boiled Potatoes With Dill)
(from Saveur)
  • 2 lb small Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 6 tbsp fresh dill, minced
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Latvian Rye Bread
(from The Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte)

For the starter:
  • 3 tbsp coarse rye flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 tsp sugar 
For the bread:
  • 5 cups coarse rye flour, sifted
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Caraway seeds to taste
Grey peas with bacon (Pelēkie zirņi ar speķīti)
(from Cooking Latvia)
  • 7 oz pigeon peas
  • 4 strips smoked bacon
  • 1 small onion
  • Salt
Jåñi Cheese
(also from The Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte)
  • 2lb, 3oz skim milk dry cottage cheese*
  • 169 oz whole milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized)
  • 3 1/2 oz sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt
  • Caraway seeds
  • 3 1/2 oz butter, melted
* I bought milk that wasn't ultra-pasteurized, which is something you need to make cheese. But I think the cottage cheese needed to not be ultra-pasteurized, too.

Yes, this was a lot. Let me just start by cautioning you against ever trying to make cheese and bread on the same day. It's really quite a stupid move.

First we're going to make the bread, because that takes days. Literally. You need between 28 and 36 1/2 hours to make this bread.

First you have to make the starter, which you do a day and a half before baking. Now, I never have any luck with this sort of thing. I've tried a couple of times to make sour dough starter and had no success whatsoever. So I did not have high hopes for this, either.

What you're supposed to do is add the 3 tbsp flour to the buttermilk, then add the sugar and cover. Let ferment in a warm place for eight to 12 hours. I'm assuming that when you're done, it should be frothy. Of course, mine wasn't.

Now heat up the water and add 1/4 cup of flour. The water should be almost (but not quite) boiling. You're trying to form a medium-thick porridge, so keep gradually adding flour until you get the right consistency. Now add the starter and mix well. Cover and let ferment in a warm place for another 8 to 9 hours, or until the mixture gets sour.

Now you need to make a leaven. To do this, mix a third of the flour with hot water and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Let cool to about 95 to 105 degrees, then add the starter. Mix until smooth.

Sprinkle some flour over the the dough and let rise in a warm place for 10 to 12 hours. Now start kneading, adding flour, until you have a nice elastic dough. It should be firm and not sticky. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until it increases in volume by 1/3 or 1/2.
Transfer to a loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 2 hours. The bread is ready when you knock on it and it sounds hollow.

Because my starter never got frothy, I added a small amount of yeast to mine. Cheating!

Now for the cheese. First put the cottage cheese in a food processor and grind it up. Now, this is supposed to be a dry cottage cheese, which is hard to find in the US. So I just tried to drain off some of the liquid after I ground it up.

Now heat your milk until it gets to 194 to 203 degrees. If you've ever made cheese before, you know how important it is to get this right because the temperature of milk affects what kind of cheese you end up with. Pull up a stool and sit there with your wooden spoon, and stir and stir and stir. It will take a long time. When it finally reaches the right temperature, add the cottage cheese to the milk. Keep heating until the temperature reaches somewhere between 185 and 194 degrees.

So now you should start to get a clear whey separating to the top. This did not happen for me, and I think it was because the cottage cheese I used was flash pasteurized, though I could be completely wrong. At any rate, the cottage cheese alone was not enough to convince the mixture to separate, so I ended up adding a little bit of vinegar. That did the trick, but I don't know how much it ended up changing the final product.

Once you have a good separation, poor off the liquid and transfer the solids into a clean, damp piece of cheesecloth. Hold the corners together and roll the cheese back and forth across a wooden surface to remove any excess moisture.

Now place the cheese in a bowl and, using a wooden spoon, mix with the sour cream, eggs, salt and caraway seeds.  Return to a pan with the melted butter and cook over  low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until melted and shiny (the temperature should be about 167 to 176 degrees). The higher the temperature and the longer the heating time, the harder your cheese will be.

Now transfer the cheese back to a damp cloth. Tie the corners of the cloth together and place under a weight in the fridge. The cheese is ready to slice when it has cooled.

Now for the easy stuff, starting with the peas. If you're using dried peas, cover them with water the day before (sometime during the process of making the bread). Then add salt and cook the peas until soft. I used canned peas so I skipped this step.

Now fry the bacon and add the onions. Cook until soft. Add the peas to the pan and fry for a few seconds. That's it. I know, simple compared to those last two recipes.

OK, the potatoes. Are you tired yet? First bring 8 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork (about 12 to 15 minutes) Meanwhile, mix the sour cream with the dill, butter, salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes and remove the pot from the stove. When the potatoes have drained, return them to the pot with the sour cream mixture. Cover the pot and give it a good shake. Transfer to a bowl and add salt and pepper, if needed.

Finally, the pork chops. Start by beating the egg together with the cream. Then mix the bread crumbs with the salt and pepper. Take a meat mallet and tenderize the pork chops on both sides until about a quarter inch thick. Now dip in in the egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs.

Heat some oil in a frying pan over a medium flame. Fry on one side, then add a tablespoon of butter and flip. When both sides are golden, the chops are done.

So this was very good meal. It would have been more delicious if it was cold outside, because it was very heavy, what with all the pork and the bacon and the stodgy bread. I did like the bread but I think the failure of the starter impacted it--it was quite heavy and didn't really rise completely. The cheese, well, hmm. I don't know what it was supposed to be like so I can't really comment on whether I got it right. It was very soft, like a queso fresco. It also had those caraway seeds, which I don't love. It tasted OK with the bread but I don't think either of them were really worth all of the effort.

Loved the pork chops and potatoes, and of course the pigeon peas because I like pigeon peas in almost any form. And you can't really go wrong with bacon, can you?

It was a very challenging meal and I'm glad I tackled it. I might not be attempting cheese again for a while, though, and I almost certainly won't ever be attempting any home made starter again. But those pork chops and potatoes, give me a nice February evening and I'll do that one again.

Next week: Lazio, Italy
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