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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Recipes from Estonia

OK, to start off this week's entry, here's a little poll for you:

When I think of beets, the first thing that pops into my head is:
  1. A healthy super-food
  2. Those purple things at the salad bar that I usually try to avoid
  3. Dwight Schrute
Did you say "Dwight Schrute?" Yeah, me too. If you didn't say "Dwight Schrute," you need to go watch a few episodes of The Office. It's in syndication.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, this week's menu features beets. I have never actually cooked beets before, because why would I. They grow in cans, don't they? They don't??

 Not one of my better photos, no.

Before we get into that let's talk about our destination: Estonia.

Estonia is one of those places that doesn't get a lot of air-time, because it doesn't really get itself into trouble and it tends to exist somewhat in the shadow of its other more glamorous European neighbors. Once a part of the USSR, Estonia is now one of the most prosperous of those former Soviet republics. In fact it's really quite the opposite of a communist nation; it ranks third in the world for press freedom and also ranks highly for economic and political freedom. It has a pretty cool history too; Estonia was once the home of the Oeselian pirates, who were much-lauded in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas. Because, you know, there really aren't many things cooler than pirates.

Sibulakula, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo Credit: Mariusz Kluzniak.
Don't worry, though, the cuisine of Estonia goes beyond hard tack sea biscuits and salted meat (I'm actually fairly sure there haven't been pirates in Estonia for a few hundred years). In fact the cuisine of Estonia is pretty typically European, with lots of fresh ingredients and much variety.

For this entry I relied entirely on a single blog, the fabulous NAMI-NAMI, written by Estonian blogger Pille. Her blog is full of really tasty looking Estonian recipes, and it was hard to narrow them down. When I finally did, I came up with this menu:
Sealihast Ahjustrooganov Majoneesiga 
(Oven-baked pork stroganoff with mayonnaise)
  • 1 lb lean pork, cut into thin strips
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
    9 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced (white, button or cremini)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Finely chopped chives
On the side:
Suitsulõhega Kasukas
(Layered Smoked Salmon and Vegetable Salad)
  • 7 oz smoked salmon 
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 large beets, steamed or boiled (I steamed mine)
  • 3 medium carrots, unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 cups good-quality mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs
With some bread:

(Estonian Soda Bread)
  • 7 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 3/4 cup + 4 1/2 tsp milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/8 cup barley flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
And for dessert:

Paks puuviljakissell
(Dried fruit soup)
  • 18 oz mixed dried fruit
  • 6 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/3 cup caster (baker's) sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 to 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • Cold water
I started with the bread. Here's how it's done:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix the ricotta cheese and sour cream with the milk, egg, salt and sugar.

Sift the barley flour and all purpose flour together with the baking soda. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Now add the oil and combine gently.

Grease a spring-form cake pan with butter and pour in the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Now for the stroganoff:

First preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a medium-sized casserole dish.

Heat the oil over a medium flame and lightly brown the pork strips on both sides. Add salt and pepper and transfer to the casserole dish.

In the same pan, fry the onions (adding oil as needed) until just soft. Scatter the onions and the sliced mushrooms over the pork and spread the mayo on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the meat and mushrooms are cooked through. Sprinkle the chives on top and serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.

 Now on to the salad:

Boil the carrots and potatoes until just soft. Don't over boil them! Drain and cool, then peel and set aside.

Meanwhile, boil the eggs. Cool and peel.

Roughly chop the smoked salmon and then scatter over the bottom of a large glass serving bowl. Grate the potatoes over the salmon, and then scatter the onion over that.

Spread about half of the mayo over the onions, then grate the beets over the mayo. Top with the grated carrots, then with the last layer of mayonnaise. Now grate the boiled eggs over the mayo.
And finally, the dessert:

Rinse the dried fruit and roughly chop. Transfer to a large saucepan and soak for two or three hours.

Put the pot on the stove and add the cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the fruit is soft. Now add the sugar and lemon juice to taste.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with water and whisk into the soup. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the soup thickens. Sprinkle sugar on top and serve.

This was a good, hearty meal that came together easily. The stroganoff was creamy and simple, but very rich. I couldn't eat a whole lot of it, but the potatoes padded it out nicely. I really, really liked the salad. The salmon in it was very subtle and the vegetables were a nice compliment, even the beets, which I didn't expect to like so much. I was actually surprised that the mayo was enough as far as a dressing was concerned—generally I like some extra interest in a dressing, but in this case it wasn't needed. The mayo was plenty.

Now the soda bread I wasn't too crazy about (neither were the kids). It couldn't have been because of the ricotta, so I guess I'll have to blame that on the barley flour. It just made the bread taste a little bit too bitter for me.

We really liked the fruit soup, too. It's always great to find a dessert that isn't also full of fat. Three year old Henry was actually the biggest fan of the fruit soup—I think he had thirds. He asked me to make it again, too.

I bookmarked NAMI-NAMI and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go back there for more recipes, especially when winter comes back around. There's a lot of comfort-type food there and I can't wait to try some more of it. Thanks Pille!

Next week: Ethiopia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recipes from Eritrea

Africa is a big place, full of a lot of big countries and more than a few small ones. This week we're in another one of those small countries, and there's a good chance you might not have even heard of this particular nation.

Eritrea is in the Horn of Africa, north of Ethiopia, east of Sudan and northwest of Djibouti. At roughly 45,000 square miles, it has the same approximate land area as Ohio. There are about six million people living there.

Gash-Barka, Eritrea. Photo Credit: CharlesFred via Compfight cc

The government of Eritrea is one of those "See? We're a democracy!" types of governments. They have a constitution which allows for multi-party politics, and they schedule national elections whenever they think people might start to suspect that the government isn't really a democracy. However, the constitution has never been implemented, political parties other than the primary ruling party are not allowed to organize and national elections are always canceled before they can be carried out. The "president" of Eritrea is the same guy who has been in office since 1993, when Eritrea separated from neighboring Ethiopia.

Eritrea is strategically important in the region because of its mineral resources and Red Sea coastline. Because of this, it has a long history of squabbling with Ethiopia—the latter annexed it in 1962, which led to a war that lasted 30 years. Though Eritrea has been independent since 1993,  Ethiopia is still having a hard time letting go, and the two nations are constantly fighting over borders and accusing each other of various misdeeds.

The proximity and shared history of these two frenemies means of course that their cuisine is very similar. In fact the first two recipes I decided to cook for this entry turned out to be more or less the same as the recipes I found for Ethiopia. So I did end up changing my menu at the last minute, just so I wouldn't be featuring two almost identical meals within a few weeks of each other. Here's what I ultimately settled on:

Tsebhi Sega (Spicy Minced Meat)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp sunflower or other vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp berbere*
  • 3 tbsp tegelese tesmi (see recipe below)
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 6 large tomatoes, peeled**
  • 2 1/4 lb beef or lamb, minced***
  • pepper and salt to taste
*Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend. You can buy commercial preparations of it, which is what I used.

**For easier peeling, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until the skins start to split. Then take them out and put them in cold water for a few minutes. The skins should come right off.

***The original recipe says "shredded," which doesn't really seem possible with raw meat. So I just minced mine.

Which includes:

Tegelese tesmi (herb butter)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup water (more if needed)
  • 2 small onions, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp ginger, shredded
And on the side:

Alitcha Birsen (Lentils)
  • 5 tbsp sunflower or other vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 oz tomatoes, peeled and sliced*
  • 8 oz lentils
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 2 fresh red chilies, seeded and minced
  • 4 cups boiling water
Plus this bread recipe:

Hembesha (Eritrean bread)
  • 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom seed
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp oil or butter
  • 3 3/4 cup flour
  • Dash of white pepper, cayenne, ground ginger (optional)
All of these recipes came from, which I think is an Eritrean-run website, though it really is not very clear just from browsing the site who is in charge of it. But anyway …

Like Ehtiopia, Eritreans eat a lot of injera, which is a special fermented type of bread, kind of like a spongy pancake. I think I'm going to try making it for Ethiopia, but I have not had good experiences with injera in the past so I didn't want to make it for both countries. That's why this week I decided to do the hembesha instead.

Despite the number of recipes I did this week, the meal was actually really simple to put together and didn't take a lot of time. I started with the hembesha:

I know I don't have to tell you that I just dumped everything in my bread machine. If you don't have a bread machine, here are the traditional instructions:

First dissolve the yeast in the water and let stand until frothy. Then add the eggs and spices.

Gradually add the flour and knead for 10 minutes on a well-floured surface.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour or two. Punch down and knead again, shaping the dough into a round, flat shape about 3/4 of an inch thick. Put it in an oiled frying pan and let rise again until roughly doubled in size. Now use a fork or knife to make lines in the top of the bread (this is just for aesthetics).

Now put the pan over a medium to low flame and cover it. It will take about 10 minutes to bake on this side, but don't walk away because you will end up with a nicely blackened loaf of bread, which is what happened to mine.


 Once the bottom of the bread is a nice golden color flip it over and let it bake on the other side for about five minutes, until you get a nice golden color there, too. Remove from the pan and spread a little butter over the top. Slice it up in wedges like a birthday cake.

Next, the alitcha birsen. Don't blink or you'll miss it:

Fry the garlic in the oil until it starts to turn a nice golden color, then take it off the heat. Add the sliced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the lentils and continue to simmer for another couple of minutes.

Now add the water and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour or until the lentils are tender.

Now for the tegelese tesmi, which you need for the meat:

Heat the butter and water in a small pan. When the butter has melted, add the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer over low heat, without stirring, for 30 minutes until the mixture is clear. Now run the mixture through a sieve and let cool. Store in a tightly sealed Ball jar.

Finally, the tsebhi sega:

Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onions until they start to brown a little. Add the berbere and the tegelese tesmi (butter) and a little bit of water. Cook over a low flame for about 10 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic and tomatoes.

Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Now add the meat and keep cooking, adding a little bit of water as needed to prevent sticking, until the meat is done.

 OK, so as I mentioned I totally burned the bread. I sliced off the burned part, so it tasted OK, but there were definitely some smoky notes in it that weren't supposed to be there. The kids didn't like it at all, which is freakishly weird for my kids (they love bread of all kinds). I was disappointed because I wanted to taste all those spices, but they were sadly overwhelmed by the burned flavor. So I do think I'll need to try making this recipe again at some point.

The meat was wonderful, and so were the lentils. They made even better leftovers. I actually can't pinpoint what it was about those lentils that I liked so much because there was nothing terribly unusual about the ingredients, but they had a really nice earthy flavor that was a great compliment to the meat.

I do love the simple meals, especially when they are so tasty.

Next week: Estonia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Recipes from Equatorial Guinea

I usually cook these meals about a week and a half ahead of posting them. Occasionally, by the time I get to the writing part of the process, I've completely forgotten what I cooked a week and a half ago.

So that's partially a comment about the state of my brain and partially a comment about the food. Some of it just isn't that memorable, and I guess I kind of thought this week's menu fell into that category. Because I've just been sitting here for the last five minutes trying to remember what I cooked for Equatorial Guinea. I finally had to look it up in my recipe software.

Equatorial Guinea is tiny, one of the smallest nations in Africa. At 10,830 square miles, it is just a little bit smaller than Hawaii. Like Hawaii, much of its land area consists of islands. Unlike Hawaii, it also has mainland territory.

Equatorial Guinea is near the equator, but not on it. Most of its territory is in the northern hemisphere, with just one of its islands situated in the southern hemisphere. On paper Equatorial Guinea looks pretty good—as one of Sub-Saharan Africa's largest producers of oil, it is the wealthiest country per-capita in Africa. Of course it won't surprise you to hear that that wealth is very unevenly distributed, and on the United Nation's Human Development Index it ranks 136th, which puts it almost at the bottom of what is considered "medium human development." Less than half of the 650,000+ people living in this country have access to clean water, and the UN estimates that about 20% of the kids born there will die before reaching the age of five. And I'm going to stop before I get to the part about human trafficking because I don't want to completely ruin your day.

Port of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

So yes, this is another one of those African nations you've probably never heard of where the people suffer in virtual anonymity, because the rest of us are too busy talking about Iraq and North Korea. Now on to the food!

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you probably already suspect what the primary staple foods are in Equatorial Guinea. They are pretty much the same as in other nations in this region: tropical stuff like plantains, bananas, mangoes and coconuts and starchy root vegetables like cassava (known in the US as yucca) and yams. Because so much of the country is coastline, there is a lot of fish in the diet, and in wealthier households common western-variety meats are also eaten (beef, chicken, duck etc.) Because Equatorial Guinea was once settled by the Spanish, there is also a definite Spanish influence on many of the traditional dishes.

Like other nations where most of the people are poor, the Internet isn't really a good place to find recipes from Equatorial Guinea. So I am very sorry to say that my sources are questionable. I couldn't find any blogs or nationally-run websites or any of my usual go-to sources for recipes. Here are the recipes I did manage to find:

Pick a Pepper Soup
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 lb red snapper fillets*
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 habanero chilli, de-seeded and pounded to a paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground Guinea pepper (also called grains of paradise), optional
  • Pinch of dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
* Red snapper has been flagged by the Blue Ocean Institute as an overfished species. A more sustainable choice would be pollock or striped bass.

(From the World Cookbook for Students)
  • 5 tbsp red palm oil
  • 3 ripe plantains or 4 very green bananas, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 Maggi stock cube, crumbled*
*A Maggi stock cube is basically just a bouillon cube, so I very much doubt that brand is important. The original recipe also said you could use chicken OR beef (I used chicken).

I also had a dessert recipe called "Millet Porridge," which also came from the World Cookbook for Students. I forget what was going on that day but by the time I got to the part where I was going to cook the porridge I just couldn't be bothered. So this time we skipped the dessert.

Thankfully, at least as far as the bad-day-I-can't-really-remember was concerned, this was not a difficult meal to prepare. In fact the entirety of the instructions for the pick-a-pepper soup goes like this:

Boil the water and add all the ingredients, except for the oil. Return to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately one hour or until the vegetables are tender. There isn't a ton of liquid in this recipe, so you'll have to check periodically to make sure the mixture doesn't get too dry. If it does, just add a little bit of water.

Now add the oil and cook for another five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and serve over rice (I actually just served mine without rice).

So as I was putting all the ingredients into the pot, I realized I had no idea what I did with my Guinea pepper, which I'd ordered from about two weeks earlier. So I spent literally the whole hour that the soup was simmering trying to find it. I checked every likely and unlikely place I could think of, and then finally finished the search by blaming my kids and fuming about it for the rest of the evening. So I did this recipe without any Guinea pepper. I did find several other versions that did not call  for Guinea pepper, so I consider it optional anyway.

The next day, of course, I found the Guinea pepper. It turns out it was on a FedEx truck en route to my house. I still swear I can remember getting it in the mail, and I have Amazon Prime so really it should have arrived days earlier than it did. But yes, I was super annoyed that I didn't have it for the recipe, extra annoyed that I spent an hour searching for something that wasn't even in my house and ultra annoyed because I don't know what the hell I'm going to do with all that Guinea pepper now that blog night has come and gone.

OK with that entertaining little story out of the way, let's move on to the loco, which was my favorite part of the meal. "But wait!" you say. "Don't you hate plantains?" Why yes, I do. Which is why I used green bananas.

Here's how you do it: melt the palm oil over a medium flame and saute the onions until golden, which will be tricky to see because the palm oil will make them bright yellow. Remove and set aside.

Now melt the rest of the oil in the pan and add the plantains or green bananas. Saute on both sides until they are also golden, or goldeny-yellowy depending on how you look at it. Now return the onions to the pan and sprinkle the crumbled Maggi cube over the top.

So yes, super easy. And it was good, too, it really was. And healthy—so healthy that my annoyingly dieting husband who is losing weight so effortlessly that it's almost like a little fat-stealing fairy has come down from heaven to magically zap it out of him (and into me) actually took the leftovers with him to work (sorry, bitter). But not terribly memorable. I've made other fish soups that were equally good or better, so this one wasn't really exceptional enough to land in the family recipe book.

I did like the loco though. In fact I think I'm going to make it next week to go with the leftover Sancoche from Dominica that I still have in my freezer. It was easy and tasty and would make a great side dish for any tropical sort of recipe.

So I do kind of feel like I got off easy this week. But that's OK because I've got a few marathon meals coming up, and I just cooked an Easter feast too so I'm beat. There, my excuses.

Next week: Eritrea

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Recipes from England

Finally, we're in my territory! I've been married to an Englishman for almost 9 years, so I can actually say I know something about English food.

Except wait … I don't think I've ever actually cooked an English meal. Unless you count, you know, Indian. How can that be? In the 14 years I've known Martin I haven't ever cooked any traditional English food. Wow, I'm actually feeling quite shamed and humble.

In my defense, though, Martin doesn't really pine for the food of his youth. We do traditional English roasts quite often, but being the excellent cook that he is Martin is usually the chef for those meals. He'll make an English breakfast every once in a while, too, and English scones. But shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie—we haven't done those, nor has Martin ever said he particularly wanted to.

And then, Travel by Stove arrived in England. Suddenly he was all over it. In fact, Martin was the primary author of my menu for this week, which was great because I didn't have to do any research.

It seems almost silly to go into too much detail about England, because everyone knows about England, don't they? England is the largest country in the United Kingdom. It is bordered by Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. It rains there. A lot. And when it's not raining, it's either sprinkling or pouring.

Photo Library-21
Stonehenge on a typical rainy English day. Photo by me!

I adore English history, an obsession that actually predates my relationship with Martin. So I could go on and on about medieval kings and queens and the Tudors and the Welsh wars. But in the interests of not boring the hell out of you I'm going to skip over all of that and just say that England has also had a rather grand history of conquering and taking over other countries.  In 1922 the British Empire controlled 458 million people, which was a full 1/5th of the world's population at that time. Its physical territory included nearly one quarter of the world's land area. Of course, it did all of this after it joined with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, so I suppose Scotland can take some of the blame.

Today Britain only has sovereignty over 14 external territories, some of which don't have any actual people living on them. In fact I've already featured about half of them on this blog: Akrotiri, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Dhekelia. Many of them were gigantic pains-in-the-butt, culinarily-speaking.

Anyway, now that we're in England I do want to say one thing about British food. I've visited the UK a number of times and have always had Americans warn me about the bland, boring food, which is completely unfair. English food does tend to be heavy (that's because it's cold and rainy there, and the heavy food just fits), but it's not bland or boring. I enjoy English food, particularly pub food, which makes me wonder even more why I've never bothered to try making it at home.

So that brings us to our menu, chosen in large part by my darling husband. Here's the main course:

Toad in the Hole
(This recipe comes from Delia Smith, who is England's equivalent of Martha Stewart except without all the decorating. Martin has a seriously old and falling apart Delia Smith cookbook in our kitchen that he consults any time he wants to cook almost anything.)

For the sausages:
  • 6 pork sausages (about 14 oz)
  • 1 tbsp flavorless cooking oil
For the batter:
  • 3/5 cup plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup 1% milk
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup water
For the onion gravy:
  • 8 oz onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tsp flavorless cooking oil
  • 1 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 level tsp mustard powder
  • 15 fl oz vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Served with Delia Smith's Perfect Mashed Potato:
  • 2 lbs red skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 oz butter
  • 4 tbsp whole milk
  • 2 tbsp crème fraîche
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
I also thought I needed an appetizer, so I picked this one (also from Delia Smith):

Stilton Soup with Parmesan Croutons
  •  4 oz Stilton cheese, crumbled
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 large potato, diced small
  • 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
  • 3/5 cup dry cider*
  • 2 1/2 cup chicken giblet stock**
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp double cream
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
For the croutons:
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz stale bread, cut into small cubes
  • 4 tbsp oil
* I used a hard cider, which is roughly equivalent to a dry cider. I have seen dry ciders at BevMo, so if you have one in your neighborhood this ingredient is an easy find.

** Delia has a chicken giblet stock recipe, but I wasn't too fussed about getting it exactly right. I didn't have any carrots or celery or parsley so I just boiled some giblets with onions and peppercorns and salt and my stock came out fine. I'm pretty sure you could use a canned stock if you were pressed for time, but shhhh don't tell Delia I said so.

And for dessert, Martin had to have spotted dick. Don't laugh. They really do eat a dessert in England called "spotted dick," and no one laughs about it over there.

Spotted Dick
(This recipe comes from Epicurious. You may be wondering why I did not choose Delia Smith's recipe. The answer will become clear to you later on. Annoyingly, painfully clear.)
  • 1/2 cup mixed currants and golden raisins
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cold finely chopped rendered beef suet* (or substitute butter)
  • 8 tbsp whole milk
  • Custard sauce**
* Do you know what suet is? If you're American, I bet you don't. Suet is the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys of a cow or a sheep (in this case, a cow). I didn't even bother to ask anyone at Safeway if they had suet, because I feared the expressions on their faces, and they're starting to know me by name there. I did find several other versions of spotted dick that called for butter instead of suet, so I felt safe making that substitution.

**You don't have to make custard sauce for this. Delia herself says you can never make it taste as good as what comes out of the can, so just buy canned custard.

OK, so here goes, starting with the soup:

First make the croutons. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, put the bread cubes in a large bowl with the oil and toss until all the cubes have plenty of oil on them. Add the Parmesan and toss some more, until all the bread cubes are coated.

Spread the cubes out evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until they start to turn golden. Keep an eye on them because they will very quickly go from perfect to burned. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Now melt the butter over medium heat, then add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until soft.

Stir in the flour, whisking until smooth. Keep whisking and gradually add the cider. Then add the stock and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for a half hour.

Add the milk and the crumbled Stilton and heat until the soup is just about to boil. Adjust seasonings and add the cream.

 Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and puree. Serve with the croutons.

Now for the toad, which doesn't actually contain any toad in case you were worried.

Sift the flour over a large bowl, then make a well in the center and add the egg, salt and pepper.

Now mix the water and milk together in a separate container. Slowly whisk the egg into the flour and then gradually add the water/milk mixture. Keep whisking until the batter is smooth and lump-free.

Put the sliced onions in a bowl with about 1 tsp of the oil and the sugar. Toss until lightly coated then spread evenly onto a baking sheet. Place them on the top shelf of the oven and roast until they become a deep brown and start to blacken around the edges.

Meanwhile, put your sausages in a metal roasting pan and roast for about 10 minutes.

OK here's where Delia's instructions get a bit tricky. She says you need to remove the roasting pan from the oven and place it over direct heat until it's really hot, adding some oil if the sausages haven't released much of their own. Once the pan is hot, you can pour the batter over and around the sausages. Now, I was using a pyrex pan so I didn't do this, because last time I put a pyrex pan near a direct flame it shattered and I had to get a tetanus shot. So I just cranked up the heat in my oven as high as it would go and let the pan sit in there for about 10 minutes, then I added the batter. That seemed to work fine. If you do it this way, make sure to drop the temperature back down to 350 degrees after you add the batter. Now bake for 3o minutes, or until the batter is puffy, golden and crisp.

To make the gravy, add the Worcestershire sauce and mustard powder to the stock, with the rest of the oil. Add the flour and heat over a medium flame. Now add the onions, continuing to whisk, and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 5 minutes and adjust seasonings as necessary. Pour over the toad and serve.

As for the potatoes:

Boil the potatoes (Delia says to steam them, but jeez, talk about complicating the issue) until tender and drain. Sprinkle with salt, then add the butter, milk and crème fraîche. Beat until creamy and fluffy. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

OK, now for the spotted dick. I originally used Delia's recipe, you know, in keeping with the whole Delia theme. I got to the part where she says to spread the filling over the dough and then roll it up like a jelly roll when Martin wandered into the kitchen and proclaimed, "That doesn't look like spotted dick."

"What do you mean?" I said with shock. "It's Delia's recipe."

"Oh no," he replied. "Spotted dick looks nothing like that." He then proceeded to look up spotted dick on my iPad and found the Epicurious recipe. "Spotted dick looks like that," he said.

It was at about that point that I realized I'd forgotten to use self-raising flour on Delia's version of the spotted dick, so I trashed the whole danged thing and started over. Partly because it wasn't the spotted dick of Martin's childhood, and partially because it was going to be ruined anyway.

So here's how to do the Epicurious version:

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Transfer to a food processor and add the suet or butter. Pulse until you get fine breadcrumbs. Now transfer to a large bowl and slowly add the milk, stirring until well-mixed. Knead until you get a slightly sticky dough.

Mix the fruit and zest into the dough and shape into a ball.

 Transfer to a buttered pudding mold (I used a very small cake tin).

Now butter a piece of waxed paper and put that on top of the cake, butter side down. Put a piece of heavy foil over that, crimping tightly to seal.

Now, I was all stressed about having to make the stupid spotted dick twice, so I seem to have missed where it said to cover it up. It really didn't seem to matter though, except for the part where Martin wandered into the kitchen (again) and said, "Aren't you supposed to cover it up? It will be soggy if you don't cover it up." Of course, by the time he gave me this helpful piece of advice the stupid thing had already been steaming for 2 hours. So if the spotted dick was soggy, we were going to eat soggy spotted dick. I wasn't going to make three of them. Fortunately, though, it really didn't seem to suffer.

Anyway after you cover (or don't cover) the pudding mold, put the whole thing into an electric steamer. Steam for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (adding more water if needed) or until the cake has risen and is cooked through, which will be a lot harder to tell if you did actually remember to cover it with waxed paper and tin foil.

When the cake is done steaming, transfer it to a wire rack and let cool for five minutes, then transfer to a plate. Serve with the custard sauce.

OK so here's how we liked it:

The Stilton soup was good, at least what I actually got to eat of it was. I originally just made it for the adults, but the kids felt slighted and complained that they wanted some too, so just to make the whining stop I gave in (yes I know, never give in to a whining child). Anyway it went pretty much exactly as I predicted: they didn't like it and I had to throw their portions in the trash, and meanwhile I hardly got to eat any. Sigh. What I did taste was good, though, it was really just a very sharp take on traditional leek and potato soup.

We only used a few of the croutons for the soup but the kids gobbled up the rest of them just on their own.

Martin had high praise for the toad in the hole, with the only criticism being that I didn't make enough batter. Now it did look exactly like Delia's picture, so I'm thinking that Martin's mum used more batter than Delia does, which means that batter quantity is subjective. Next time, though, I'll use more batter because I would have actually also preferred a higher batter-to-sausage ratio.

The sausages I chose turned out to be surprisingly spicy despite being labeled "mild." I attribute this to the near impossibility of finding actual pork sausages in a California grocery store. Most of them appear to be some sort of blend of chicken or beef. So the ones I bought were really the only pork sausage going at my local store, though Martin did assure me that his mum would make toad with whatever sausage happened to be available, and chicken wouldn't have been totally out of the question. Still tasty, though. Really tasty, and if I did it with chicken it would have also been a lot healthier.

The kids love sausages and Yorkshire pudding, so they were all over the toad even though it was a little overly spicy for kid-palettes. As soon as I said "onion gravy," though, they all went "EW!" So then Martin strained off the onions and gave Dylan some of the gravy and he did enjoy it, though of course it was all a lie because if he'd known it had once had onions in it he probably would have died from the horror.

The mashed potatoes were super-yum, actually a little decadent with the crème fraîche. I really liked them. A lot.

And as for the spotted dick, it turned out great. Of course I hate custard (nothing that texture should be edible) so I had to kind of eat around it. Everyone else though gushed and asked for seconds. Sadly it was a small pudding so there was barely enough for all of us. But I was pleased that after all that work it ended up being a hit.

I do have to say, though, I am glad that I don't normally have a national from my country-of-the-week wandering randomly into the kitchen as I cook these meals, because I don't know how much of the whole "that doesn't look like [traditional dish of my childhood]" thing I could take on a weekly basis. But it was still fun, and I liked being able to at least partially duplicate some of the food Martin had when he was a kid. Who knows, maybe I'll try tackling a shepherd's pie at some point. Just not a steak and kidney pie because, you know, ew.

Next week: Equatorial Guinea

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