Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite World Recipes of 2012

I was thinking that I would post a list of my favorite Travel by Stove recipes once I got to the 100 countries mark. But it's taking too long. Hey! I've got a better idea. I'm going to make it a New Year thing instead.

Since I started this project back in August 2011, I've made some really delicious food. I've made some real stinkers, too (maybe I should also post a list of the worst Travel by Stove recipes?) But for the most part, this little culinary adventure has produced a lot of keepers, and much of what I made actually earned a place in my family cookbook. Several of the recipes I've already repeated for special events and just for weekend family meals.

So here it is, in case you're looking for a list of delicious and unusual international recipes but you're not willing to take on the insane task of one complete meal every week (and take it from me, it IS an insane task).

This list is alphabetical by country, rather than in order by preference. It was hard enough narrowing down the list to 10, let alone putting them in order according to which ones I liked best.

Azerbijan: Parcha Dosheme Plov (Rice Pilaf with Chicken)

Plov is Azerbijan's national dish. It is made with rice, and it has a very strange and scary cooking technique that requires you to place it in a covered pot for an hour and pray it doesn't burn. If you get it right, it will be the most perfect rice you've ever cooked—fluffy and flavorful. Plov is labor-intensive but worth it.

For the recipe: Parcha Dosheme Plov (Rice Pilaf with Chicken)

Benin: Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rough (Chicken Meatballs with Red Sauce)

These chicken meatballs are cooked in a delicious peanut sauce that is reminiscent of a pad Thai, but African in character. Serve this dish over plain white rice and you'll be happy.

For the recipe: Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rough (Chicken Meatballs with Red Sauce)

Bhutan: Ema Datshi (Chilies and Cheese)

Ema Datshi looks like a train wreck but is gobsmackingly delicious. The traditional version is made with yak's cheese, but Bhutanese living in America will substitute a mix of Danish blue and feta to roughly approximate the traditional flavor. Depending on what chilies you choose, this dish can be mild or spicy and tastes particularly yummy served over nutty Bhutanese red rice.

For the recipe: Ema Datshi (Chilies and Cheese)

Brittany: Hazelnut Gâteau Breton

The texture of this dessert is somewhere between a cake and a cookie. It has a lovely crispy crust and is the kind of thing that I like to eat with a cup of coffee, and maybe with a little fresh whipped cream on top. It's a nice change from those overwhelmingly sweet American cakes.

For the recipe: Hazelnut Gâteau Breton

Burma: Burmese Rolls

These rolls take a little bit of time, but they come out crispy and delicious and are great with a sour dipping sauce. If you don't mind the extra calories, you could probably deep fry them to get a more uniform texture but I thought they were delicious just pan fried.

For the recipe: Burmese Rolls

Burma: Beh Thar Aloo Sipyan (Duck and Potato Curry)

Yes, I love Burmese food. In fact all the recipes I made from Burma ended up in my family cookbook, though the rolls and this delicious duck curry were my two favorites. The sauce was a little too oily for my tastes, so I actually cut back on it quite a bit when I make it now, and I also dice the potatoes up a little smaller. However you choose to do it, though, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

For the recipe: Beh Thar Aloo Sipyan (Duck and Potato Curry)

Cambodia: Sach Moan Cari Ang Chomkak (Grilled Curry Chicken on a Stick)

Cambodian food is just as delicious as Burmese food, and once again everything I made that week ended up in the family cookbook. These yummy chicken skewers were easy to make and had a delicious, unusual flavor. For the complete experience, you have to do this with mango salsa.

For the recipe: Sach Moan Cari Ang Chomkak (Grilled Curry Chicken on a Stick)

Central Canada: Poutine

Yes I know, this is gooey, junky, heart-attack on a plate stuff. But I am a real sucker for French fries and also for cheese, and let's face it, for gravy, too. I could not make poutine more than once a year because my waistline would most definitely not thank me for it. But for an occasional indulgence it is most definitely worth keeping in the recipe book, right there next to my favorite fried chicken recipe.

For the recipe: Poutine

Christmas Island: Ayam Panggang (Lemon Chile Chicken)

I almost didn't include this recipe on my list because, if you remember, it didn't exactly come from an authentic source. It was based on a Cocos (Keeling) Islands recipe (Cocos is a Christmas Island neighbor) and tweaked a little in the hopes it would approximate a Christmas Island recipe served at Island Dreams Café in Sydney, Australia. The result was so amazingly tasty though I had to include it here. Next time I will do it with chicken pieces instead of bone-in chicken, just because it makes for simpler eating.

For the recipe: Ayam Panggang (Lemon Chile Chicken)

Costa Rica: Cajeta de Coco (Coconut Fudge)

Ah, yes, coconut fudge. This stuff was heavenly. It cooks up really soft, though (not like American fudge) and can't be easily sliced, even when refrigerated. So just put it in candy papers and then be prepared to gain five pounds. Coconut fudge is yum, yum, yum.

For the recipe: Cajeta de Coco (Coconut Fudge)

And just narrowly missing the top 10:

So there you have it, my favorite Travel by Stove recipes from 2012. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Recipes from Curacao

I tried and tried and tried to find goat meat. I really didn't think it would be that hard to do around here—this is the country, after all, and I know there are people out there who raise meat goats. In fact, when I was trying to find homes for my rotten-but-adorable shed-destroying hay-stealing panel-rearranging Nubian goats, I found a taker who suddenly and inexplicably changed his mind when I requested that he not slaughter them (hey, at least he didn't take them anyway, since that was clearly what he was planning to do).

Anyway I don't have that guy's number any more, and none of the goat farms around here are selling goat meat (at least not that I could find anyway), and Corti Brothers in Sacramento can only sell them by the half (and since I've never actually eaten goat before I don't know if I really want to make that kind of investment, and besides I don't have room in my freezer for that much goat anyway). So I had to not make the stewed goat meat from Curacao, even though I was dying to try it.

Before I tell you what I did settle on, first a little bit about Curacao. Curacao is, you guessed it, an island nation in the southern Caribbean sea, just off the coast of Venezuela. It is one of approximately 7 billion Caribbean nations, which is odd since there are only about 196 countries in the world. Oh sorry, I guess there are only 28 Caribbean nations. It really does seem like 7 billion, though.

Curacao was actually a territory until quite recently, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in October of 2010. Like many Caribbean nations, its history is tainted by the slave trade—in the 17th and 18th centuries it was a sort of base for distributing slaves: Dutch merchants brought slaves to the island under a contract with Spain, and then from there sold them to various other places in the Caribbean and in South America. Today, however, it has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, with much of its economic prosperity rising from the tourism industry. Curacao has beautiful beaches, caves boasting 1,500 year old cave drawings and coral reefs that attract scuba divers from all over the world.

Willemstad, Curacao. Photo Credit: Jessica Bee via Compfight cc

The cuisine in Curacao is called Kriyoyo and is similar to other Caribbean nations, with some Latin American influences thrown in. Stews are popular, and goat meat is a common ingredient. But alas, as you've already heard, I could not find any goat meat so I chose this dish instead:

Karni Stoba (Beef Stew with Green Papaya)
(This traditional recipe was featured on the British website "Good Food Channel")

  • 1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • Hot water to cover
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 lb green papaya, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
And on the side:

(from the Curacao Tourist Board)

  • 1 lb black-eyed peas, dried
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 3/4 cup yellow corn meal
  • 2 tbsp butter
And also:

Pan Sera (Hard Bread)
(also from the Curacao Tourist Board)

  • 1 2/3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp shortening
  • 1 cup water
Now first a quick note about the pan sera. The ingredient list you see above was actually scaled down to about four to six servings from its previous quantity of Enough Bread to Feed the Entire Nation of Curacao. And I am bad at math. Even with a calculator I am bad at math. So here's hoping I got it right. It did come out pretty tasty, but it was not in any way a hard bread. And also, I had to add the part where it says to put water in it, but I'll get to that later.

Starting with the stew:

First season the meat pieces with the nutmeg, cumin and salt and pepper. Add the soy sauce.

Now heat the oil over a hot flame and brown the meat on all sides.

Add the onion, pepper, garlic and tomato. Add enough hot water to cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for an hour or so, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is pretty thick.

Meanwhile, boil the potato until just fork-tender. Drain and set aside. Steam the papaya pieces for about 15 minutes, or until soft (I just used my electric steamer).

When the meat is ready, add the potato, papaya and the tomato paste. Cook for another five or 10 minutes or until heated through. Serve over steamed white rice.

Now the tutu:

Soak the black-eyed peas for 2 hours, then drain and add to a pot with the water and garlic. Bring to a boil over a medium flame, adding more water as necessary until the peas are tender.

Add the salt, sugar and coconut milk and continue to cook for 10 minutes or so. Now gradually add the cornmeal (you may need to put in a little more water to make it the right consistency). Keep stirring until the cornmeal is done and is roughly the same texture as polenta (this should take 20 minutes or so). Add the butter and stir until well-incorporated.

Now put the tutu on a plate and smoosh it with another plate. Seriously. You should have a flat pizza-like object when you are finished. You may need to put a little bit of water on the plates to keep the tutu from sticking.

OK, and now for the bread.

Sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Now add the shortening and knead for 20 minutes.

Yes, you're right. It's ridiculous. No amount of kneading will turn this mixture into an actual dough. So one of two things has happened here—either I royally screwed up my calculations when I attempted to scale this recipe down (and I did redo them, just in case, though it is highly likely I screwed it up the second time too, because I am that bad at math). Or there is a key ingredient missing from the original recipe.

So I figured I could do one of two things: 1) add more shortening, which would hopefully make this bowl of soft crumbs turn into something workable or 2) add water. Now, I reasoned that it was more likely they forgot to include an ingredient than it was that they got an ingredient wrong (supposing the problem wasn't actually me), so I decided to add some water. I often see recipes that don't include water in the ingredient list, even though the recipe calls for it, so I decided that was my best option. Of course, my result wasn't actually hard, as in "hard bread." Not at all, so it's possible I may have been wrong. But I'm still going to use my version in this entry, until someone tells me otherwise.

OK so add the water, then knead for 20 minutes. Divide the dough up so that each piece weighs roughly 7 ounces. Roll into balls and then cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Now flatten each ball with your hand and score the tops with a knife or fork.

Yeah, I forgot to score them. But they were so screwed up at this point I'm not sure how much it mattered.

 Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle with flour. Transfer the breads to the baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees until done (this is a pretty low temp, so it might take a while). My breads didn't have very good color, so I would also recommend brushing the tops with oil so they have that lovely golden bread color.

Mine had no color. I would definitely brush with egg wash or butter if I made these again.

(Another note: the original recipe says to check for doneness with a toothpick, which is something I've never before seen in a bread recipe. This gives me yet more suspicion that I didn't do the whole pan sera thing correctly, but at this point I think I just have to let it go.)

OK the verdict: Martin liked the tutu, which makes one of him. I thought it was too sweet and even with the addition of the black-eyed peas was still way too much like polenta, which I don't usually like anyway. The kids were frightened by it so they just left it alone. I did like the stew, though. The papaya cooked up a lot like a vegetable and wasn't terribly sweet, so it added an extra layer of interest to the dish. Martin liked the stew a lot though I forgot to put the leftovers in the fridge before I went to bed so they tragically had to be washed down the garbage disposal the next morning. The bread was good though not terribly unusual, and I really wish I knew how close it came to the real thing. Probably not very. But it was, of course, pretty much the only thing my kids would touch since they never met a bread they didn't like and are also not terribly adventurous when it comes to food, which is ironic since I have another five years of these weekly meals left to finish.

So there you have it, Curacao sans-goat. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and I hope you have a fun and safe New Year.

Next week: Cyprus

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recipes from Cuba

So I have one off topic thing to say this week before I get started: this holiday season, when your kids are driving you crazy, just remember that there are moms and dads out there right now who would give anything, absolutely anything, to have their child back in their home, driving them crazy again. So hug your kids often, and for no good reason.

Now I'm going to talk about Cuba.

Most of us already know a thing or two about Cuba, namely that it is a communist nation in the Caribbean and that its government is guilty of a pretty substantial number of human rights violations, including arbitrary imprisonment, extrajudicial executions and torture. It has the largest prison system in Latin America, with 40 maximum-security prisons, 30 minimum-security prisons, and more than 200 work camps. It also has the second-highest number of imprisoned journalists in the entire world, which should tell you something about its tolerance for political dissent and free expression.

Havana, Cuba. Photo Credit: joseba m. arginzoniz martin via Compfight cc

Lurking somewhere in the shadow of oppression and corruption are a few high points, including a literacy rate of 99.8%, an average life expectancy of 78.3 years (which beats out the US by one tenth of a year) and an infant mortality rate that is also slightly better than ours (the US ranks 34th in the world, and Cuba ranks 33rd). And, of course there is the food.

I like Cuban food. At least, I like what I've had of it so far, which I suppose is just the following three recipes. But yum, they were good. Here they are:

Spicy Cuban Mojo Chicken with warm Mango-Avocado Salsa

For the chicken:
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 red chili, stemmed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the salsa:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp grated lime peel
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp thick sweet soy sauce
  • 4-5 tbsp of chilled, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 firm, ripe mango, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
  • freshly chopped cilantro and parsley, to taste
On the side, Cuba's famous black beans and rice:
(from a site called Three Guys from Miami, authored by two native Cubans and a Cuban food enthusiast)
Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and Rice)

  • 1 1/2 cups dried black beans
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups onion, diced
  • 2 1/2 cups green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups long grain white rice
And for dessert:

Larry's Mojito Cake
(also from

Now before I give you the ingredients for said mojito cake, I just want to confess that I can't verify the origins of this cake as being unequivocally Cuban. I did find it on a Cuban recipe website, but evidently it originally came from a non-Cuban website called "Cookie Madness." Now, there is a Cuban cake called a "mojito cake," but this version has been improved upon so I don't know how Cuban it still is. But at the moment, I don't care because yum.

  • 20 oz can crushed pineapple
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-1 lb box angel food cake mix
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup limeade from concentrate
  • 4 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp rum extract
  • 8 oz tub Cool Whip, defrosted
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • Zest of lime
  • Mint leaves
Just a quick note, the person who originally posted this recipe listed "reduced fat" cream cheese and Cool Whip light instead of the full fat variety, but personally, screw that. I used the full fat, but if you prefer you can put the lite versions in instead.

Anyway, make the cake first because it does have to cool completely before you can add the topping.

First mix the angel food cake mix with the pineapple and the lime juice. Pour it into a greased 13x9 or 15x10 inch pan.

Bake for 18 to 25 minutes (mine took a lot longer than that, but my oven is possessed). Let cool completely.

With your awesome 1960s era mixer (or your modern one), beat the cream cheese together with the limeade. Add some of the sugar and taste (you may not need as much as the recipe calls for), adding more if necessary. Now add the rum extract.

Gently fold in the Cool Whip and spread the topping over the cake. Sprinkle with the shredded coconut and finish off with a little lime zest. Serve with mint leaves for garnish.

The chicken needs to marinade for between 1 and 3 hours, so let's do that one next:

First toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet until they darken and become fragrant (this takes just a couple of minutes, and make sure you stir constantly to stop them from burning).

Now put the cumin seeds into a grinder with the garlic, chili and salt and pulse until you get a smooth paste. Transfer to a medium sized bowl.

Heat the olive oil over high heat and then pour over the paste. Stir briskly and let stand for 15 minutes or so. Add the orange and lime juice.

When the marinade has cooled completely, add the chicken. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.

Brown the chicken in a heavy skillet, the transfer to a casserole dish (I also poured the marinade over it before putting it in the oven, though the recipe did not specifically say to do that) and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until an internal thermometer reads 165 degrees. Remove and let rest.

Meanwhile, make the salsa. First whisk the olive oil together with the orange juice, lime zest, honey and soy sauce and transfer to a small pan. Bring to a boil over a medium-high flame and reduce for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove and add the butter (Confession: I only used about half as much butter as the recipe called for, because although I am vastly in favor of full fat cream cheese and Cool Whip I just thought that was way too much butter).

In a small bowl mix together the mango and avocado, and top each chicken breast with this mixture. Then drizzle the breasts with the sauce and garnish with the chopped herbs.

Now on to the beans.

In a two quart saucepan, cover the beans with the water and bring to a boil. Boil for three minutes, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for one hour.

Now drain the beans and rinse them. Add just enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain.

Saute the onion and green pepper in a large stockpot. Add the garlic and cook for another one or two minutes. Then add the tomato paste, beans, spices and vinegar. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Rinse the rice in cold water. When the water runs clear, transfer the rice to the pot with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 25 minutes or so, or until the rice is al dente.

Remove the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste.

I did not make this for my kids, because of the hugely misleading word "spicy" in the title of the chicken recipe. This was actually not at all spicy, though I suppose my choice of red pepper had something to do with that. I used a red jalapeno, so I think if I'd used one of my super peppers instead it might have been a bit spicier. But with the jalapeno it was still mild enough that my kids probably could have eaten it.

But who cares. It was yummy. The sauce was sweet and tangy and the chicken came out beautifully. I often find chicken breasts to be boring, but these were most definitely not boring. These were yummy, especially with the mango and avocado adding texture and interest.

The rice was good, too. It was not especially flavorful but sometimes side dishes don't need to be, and I thought it was a nice compliment to the very flavorful chicken.

And the cake, OMG. And I really hate using the abbreviation OMG. (Fun fact: did you know that the abbreviation OMG first appeared almost 100 years ago in a letter to Winston Churchill from Admiral John Fisher? It's true! Time Magazine says so.) Anyway, oh yum, yum yum yum, and yum. Pineapple, lime, angel food cake and a wonderfully decadent creamy topping. Martin and I each had two pieces. And after the meal, Martin sat back and declared that I need to start "making worse food," if I ever expect us to stick to any New Years resolution diet plans. Well, I don't know about that. Maybe we just need to do a better job of stopping after the first piece.

Next week: Curacao

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Recipes from Croatia

So the answer to your question is, no, you cannot put Pyrex under then broiler. That's what they mean by "no broiler," you know, those words that are stamped on the bottom of every Pyrex dish.

Oh, that wasn't your question? I guess I actually might be the only person dumb enough to try doing that.

So one shattered Pyrex dish, a lacerated thumb and a tetanus shot later, I am ready to tell you about my culinary journey to Croatia.

The second thing I want to say is that Croatian chefs must never leave the kitchen. It takes forever to prepare Croatian food.

Anyway, Croatia is an Eastern European nation, situated in the same general region as Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It spent a lot of time in the news in the early 90s, when the government declared independence from Yugoslavia, resulting in a four year war of independence. The war ended successfully—if you can call 20,000 deaths a success—and Croatia is now recognized by the European Economic Community and the United Nations. Today it is a popular tourist destination, 18th in the world, in fact, with most of the tourism trade taking place along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Croatian cuisine varies from county to county, which actually would make it a good candidate for one of those countries I've been breaking up into regions (like France and the US). So at some point I may move it to the bottom of my list and fill in all the various regions, though this will be after I get to the end of the alphabet, and who knows how bonkers I'll be by that time. My psychologists may be recommending I stay out of the kitchen.

So here are the recipes I chose. First, an appetizer, which I picked almost entirely based on the fact that it contains cheese:

Zagorje Cheese Štrukli
(This recipe comes from Croatia Traveller)

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds dry curd cottage cheese or ricotta
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 4 cups heavy cream
And for the main dish (also from Croatia Traveller):

Dalmatinska pasticada (Dalmatian Stewed Beef)

(No, this is not stewed Dalmatian, though I know you wouldn't put it past me. Smile Dalmatia is a historical region of Croatia, and as you probably guessed the Dalmatian dog is said to trace its ancestry to that part of the world.)

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef round
  • 6 to 8 slices smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 3/4 cup cooking oil
  • 3/4 pound soup vegetables, chopped (I used carrots, celery and parsnips)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 fresh figs, slivered, or dried figs
  • 3 pitted prunes, slivered
  • 1 apple, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
On the side:
(This recipe comes from Lily Elric, a cookbook author who was raised in Canada by Croatian parents. Her recipe was published at Perfect Entertaining.)

Potato Paprika Saute

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • 8 red or white potatoes, sliced
  • Salt to taste
And for dessert:
(From, translated from the original Croatian)

Palacinke (Cheese Filled Crepes)

For the crepes:
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sparkling mineral water
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • oil for frying
For the Filling:
  • 1/2 pound farmer's cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
For the Topping:
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
So I started this meal at like 2 in the afternoon, and I think it was probably 7 o'clock by the time I finished. Croatian food is a lot of work. If you want to cut back on the effort a little, maybe just go with the stewed beef and paprika potatoes, and skip the appetizer and the dessert.

OK, starting with the beef:

You are supposed to do this first step the day before you serve it. I, of course, being me, did not do that. Instead I just put it in the fridge for a few hours.

Anyway, cut the meat all over with little half-inch or so pockets, then stuff the pockets with the bacon and garlic. Rub salt and pepper into the meat.

Now mix the mustard with 1/4 cup of cooking oil, and rub that over the meat. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat a half cup of cooking oil over a medium high flame and brown the meat all over. Remove and set aside. Add the vegetables to the same pot and cook until soft, then return the meat to the pot.

Now here's where the directions became a little unclear. They say to stew the meat for two hours, "adding water and wine as needed." To me, stew means cover completely with liquid. But the recipe doesn't say how much water to use, and it only calls for a half cup of wine. If I put enough water in the pot to completely cover the meat, this would make for really watered down wine, and that seemed a little pointless. So I didn't cover the meat completely with water. As it turns out, I probably should have (and you probably should, too).

So anyway, stew the meat for two hours. Then add the tomato paste and fruit and keep cooking until the fruit is soft. Then add the rosemary, thyme and bay and cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Take the meat out of the pot and let rest, then slice. It will look really funny because of those bits of bacon—spotted, almost like, you know, a Dalmatian.

In this photo you can't really see the bacon, but in person the difference in color was pretty obvious.

Strain the sauce and pour over the meat. In my case, a lot of sauce was necessary because my meat was really dry—a side effect of not having been completely covered by liquid.

OK, while the meat is stewing you can get to work on the appetizer. I originally thought I was making some kind of pastry, but this is really more of a pasta, served in a ridiculously rich sauce. Don't make too many of them, because you won't be able to eat them all—or you will be able to eat them all and will have no room for the main course.

Mix the flour, one egg and the oil with "a small amount of salted water," which for me was somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups. At this point I was already really not understanding why Croatian recipes seem to all have such vague instructions.

Knead the dough (you can use a bread machine) until smooth, then shape it into a ball. Spray the surface of the ball with cooking spray and let stand covered for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, mix the cheese with the rest of the eggs, and add salt and a half cup of melted butter. Mix until smooth.

For the next part, you will need a really big work surface, such as a large kitchen table or spacious island area. Sprinkle the surface with flour and then roll the dough until it is paper-thin (Remember the roti from Christmas Island? That thin.) Now spread the cheese mixture evenly over the surface.

Here's another strange instruction: "Brush the dough with 1/2 cup melted butter." How you're supposed to do that after you've already added the filling, I have no idea. I just brushed my dough with butter as I rolled it up.

Which brings us to the next step: Roll up the dough like a jelly-roll, then cut into 20 evenly sized pieces.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and, working in batches, add the pieces to the pot and boil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease an ovenproof dish. Not Pyrex though. Metal. Arrange the štrukle in the dish and pour the cream and the rest of the melted butter over it.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden.

Here's where my mishap began: 30 minutes later my štrukle was nowhere near golden. So I thought, "I'll just put it under the broiler." Which would have been a fine idea, except that my štrukle was in a Pyrex dish. They did brown beautifully and I was able to serve them, but when the dish cooled it became brittle from having been under the broiler. When I went to pick it up to wash it, it cracked and cut my thumb up in about a half dozen different places. So not only did I have to buy a new Pyrex dish, I also had to get a tetanus shot. Fun.

Anyway, here's how to do the dessert:

In a small bowl, mix two eggs with the salt. Slowly add the milk and flour until you get a pretty runny batter, similar to the consistency of heavy cream. Now add the sparkling water and lemon peel.

 Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add the batter, using a ladle. When the pan is about half full, tilt it until the batter fills the pan evenly.

Cook on both sides until a light golden color. It helps if you have a husband who likes to make crepes on Sunday mornings, because turning them over is hard. Martin can flip them, which is something that would result in a lot of kitchen-floor-flavored crepes if I tried to do it.

In case you're wondering, I digitally removed all the dirty dishes. Also, I used Photoshop to clean the window.

Combine the cheese, egg and sugar to make the filling.

Spread some of the cheese filling over each crepe and roll it up into a tube. Four-year-old Natalie did this for us, so between Natalie and Martin I hardly had to do anything.

Line the crepes up in an ovenproof dish.

Mix the last egg with the sour cream and spread that over the top of the crepes. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

And finally, the potatoes. By this time you will be ready to collapse from exhaustion. Hang in there, the potatoes are the easiest part.

Heat the oil over a medium high flame and add the paprika. Swirl to combine, then immediately add the potatoes. Toss to completely coat.

Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender. Add salt and serve.

(Note: I had to add a little bit of water to the potatoes to slightly steam them and stop them sticking to the pan.)

So by this point I was almost too exhausted to put the food on plates. But somehow I did, and here's what we thought:

The štrukle was tasty, but just as rich as you probably suspected it would be. They were really just like very rich raviolis, topped with butter and cream. Good, but you can't eat too many of these, especially if you follow them with a meal.

The beef, as I mentioned, came out really dry. If I did this over I would definitely increase the amount of wine called for and I would also add a lot more water to the pot, enough to completely cover the roast. Smothered in the sauce, though, it did taste pretty good. Martin particularly liked the sauce and was actually a little appalled to see me wash the solids down the sink after straining it. They were really just mush at that point, but he thought the sauce would have been much improved if I'd just pureed the whole thing instead of straining it. Martin did not really like the beef, though, but it was more of an objection to the way it looked than anything else. He didn't know about the bacon, so when he sliced it and saw those pink spots he thought something had gone wrong with the cooking process and there were raw spots in it.

The potatoes were nice and basic and went well with everything else. The crepes, though, were probably my favorite part of the meal. They were only mildly sweet, as is typical of non-American desserts, though with the cheese and sour cream they were pretty heavy. I liked them but I was already so full from everything else that I only ate one. My kids devoured them, though. They love crepes of any kind.

I did find the food to be much stodgier than I prefer, though, which I think is pretty typical of Eastern European food in general, at least as I've experienced it. But it was different enough to be fun, despite all that hard work. Regardless, I'm hoping I won't be coming back to Eastern Europe until after the holidays—it's just way too much work.

Next week: Cuba

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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