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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recipes from Kalimantan, Indonesia

Look at that it's almost Sunday! This week I'm three days behind getting my blog post up. Damn.

Anyway yay, summer! I hope you're having as much fun as we are, and are only half as busy and stressed out as I am. Which is probably still more busy and stressed out than you ought to be.

I'm still finding time to blog, but only just. We've already spent some time at the beach and at a pirate festival in between all the time we've spent swimming. And we're only a week and a half in ... Whew!

Pulau Beras Basah, Bontang, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia.
Photo by M Reza Faisal.

And yet I still managed to take us all the way to Indonesia, at least in foodie sense. This week we're in Kalimantan, Indonesia, which is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea.

Kalimantan is home to one of the world's largest and oldest rainforests, which is somewhere between 50 and 100 million years old. Many of the drugs we depend on here in the US are manufactured using raw materials that come from this forest, which is also one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. Orangutans live there, and so does the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Dayak fruit bat and a myriad of other amazing creatures.

The food in this part of the world is quite popular in the rest of the world--in fact if you go to an Indonesian restaurant here in the US you're quite likely to find a lot of dishes on the menu that hail from the island of Borneo. Here are the ones I picked:

Sate Banjar 
(from Indonesian Dessert Recipes)
  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 5 curly red chili peppers (substitute red jalapenos)
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 whole tomato, sliced 
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
Asam-Asam Prawns 
(also from Indonesian Dessert Recipes)
  • 1 lb jumbo shrimp, peeled and deviened
  • 1 tsp tamarind, dissolved in 1/4 cup water 
  • 2 tbsp oil for sauteing 
  • 6 red onions 
  • 3 cloves of garlic 
  • 1/2 tsp pepper grains 
  • 4 items pecans, toasted 
  • 1/2 inch turmeric, roasted 
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, crushed 
  • 1 inch piece galangal
  • 5 pieces starfruit, cut into pieces
  • 3 large red chilies, sliced oblique
  • 3/4 cup water
Nasi Kuning 
(from Indonesia Eats)
  • 2 cups jasmine rice, washed and drained
  • 2 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup water (more if needed) *
  • 1 Indonesian bay leaf 
  • 2 lime kaffir leaves 
  • 1 pandan leaf (substitute 3 drops pandan essence) 
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, bruised 
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder 
  • 1 inch piece galangal, cut in 4 lengthwise slices 
  • salt to taste
* I added this ingredient--in my experience, this recipe doesn't have enough liquid in it for the rice to absorb.

First let's do the chicken:
Boil the peppers with the garlic and tomatoes until soft. Drain and set aside.

Now mix the brown sugar with the salt. Add the soy sauce and oil, then transfer to a blender with the peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Pour over the chicken and let stand for 20 minutes.

Thread the chicken pieces onto skewers and grill on your barbecue, turning occasionally. Baste with the residual marinade and continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Now for the shrimp:

Mix the shrimp with the tamarind water and set aside. Now heat the oil over a medium flame and add the ground spices, bay leaves, lemongrass and galangal. Cook until fragrant.

Add the shrimp and stir-fry until pink, then add the chili pepper, water and star fruit. (I didn't have any star fruit, so Martin cut some pineapple into a star shape and we used that. Probably the biggest cheat I've done so far for this blog.) 

Stir until the starfruit softens. Discard the bay leaves, lemongrass and galangal. Done!

I know, it's not star fruit. It's pineapple. Cheater!

Finally, the rice.

Mix all the ingredients together in a heavy stock pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is fluffy. Discard the lemongrass, galangal, bay leaves and lime leaves. Serve.

Mmm loved the rice! It had a nice lemony, coconutty flavor although I'm not sure the texture was quite right. It was pretty sticky. I confess that I had a hard time with this, I had to keep adding water because it's really not that easy for rice to absorb a liquid as thick as coconut milk. At one point while it was cooking, Martin lifted the lid and said (aghast) "Rice-A-Roni??" which is probably the most insulting thing anyone has ever said about anything I've cooked--but in the end it tasted pretty good and went nicely with the shrimp and chicken. I enjoyed all of these dishes a lot--they had lots of flavor and color.

My kids, as I'm sure you guessed, wanted to know where the dessert was and then picked unenthusiastically at their meals until I had mercy on them and let them leave the table. I don't know why I even bother to report to you what my kids thought of their food--I need some canned stuff that I can just cut and paste into the end of every blog.

Next week: Kashmir, India

Friday, June 13, 2014

Recipes from Calabria, Italy

So this week was supposed to be another non-country, but I've been a bit behind in my research. I used to be so on top of these things, and then I became employed. Sigh.

So Juan de Nova island will have to wait, pending a reply from an email I sent a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, I figured this was as good a time as any to go back and revisit one of those Italian provinces. This week, it's Calabria, Italy.

Stilo, Calabria, Italy. Photo by Flickr user mrholle.

Calabria is the toe of the Italian boot. Now I've never been to Italy, but if I did go I think I would visit Calabria. Calabria has got some cool stuff--a beautiful coastline, some gorgeous countryside, lakes, national parks and important historical sites such as Reggio Calabria, an 8th century seaside town that has botanical gardens, beaches, a castle and a number of historic works of art. Yep, that sounds like my kind of place.

And you guessed it, the food is good too. The cuisine is typical southern Italian fare with a mix of meat, vegetables and fish--and, of course, pasta. Because of the hot summer climate in Calabria, there has traditionally been a need to preserve food, so you'll also find a lot of pickled vegetables and meat, sausages and cured fish.

All of my recipes this week came from a book called A Taste of Calabria by Salavtore Vona and Niall Allsop. I tried to go with dishes that were a bit different (pasta seems so cliche), and here's what I settled on:

Galletto alla diavola (devil’s chicken)
  • 1 chicken, cut up
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • olive oil
  • breadcrumbs
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 1 3/4 oz uncooked ham, finely chopped
  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine
On the side:

Risotto alle verdure (vegetable risotto)
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup rice
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 3 stalks asparagus, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups vegetable stock, hot
  • 1 thick slice cooked ham, diced
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
  • parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
And for dessert:

Buccellato Buccellato
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 1/2 toasted dried figs
  • 3 1/2 oz almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 3/4 oz walnuts
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 oz cooking chocolate, chopped fine
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 3 1/2 oz pistachios
  • 10 1/2 oz currants
And here's how:

First to make the chicken, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the eggs with the salt and pepper and mustard.

Dip each chicken piece into the egg mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs. Grease a casserole dish with a little bit of olive oil and then add the chicken pieces.

Pour a little bit of olive oil over the pieces and bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest piece reaches 165 degrees.

Meanwhile, fry the carrot in butter with the onion and ham.

 Season with salt and pepper, then add the white wine and Marsala. Reduce heat and let simmer until thickened. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then pour the sauce over and serve.

Now for the risotto:

First boil the spinach in salted water until it wilts. Chop fine and set aside. Now melt a tablespoon of butter in a large pan and add the onion. Sauté until translucent, then add the rice. Cook stirring for two or three minutes, then pour in the wine. Once the wine has evaporated, add the asparagus. Cook until tender-crisp, then add the spinach.

Add about 3/4 cup hot stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Add the ham and then start adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until each ladle is absorbed before adding the next.

When the stock is gone, remove the rice from the heat and stir in the rest of the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the parsley.

And now for that dessert:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour with the butter, sugar, a half cup of the Marsala and a pinch of salt. Wrap the dough in a clean towel and let rest for two hours.

Meanwhile, mix the figs together with the almonds, walnuts, lemon zest, chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon and the rest of the Marsala. Cook in a medium sized pan over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Now roll the dough out into a long rectangle just under a half inch thick. Spread the filling into the center of the dough, leaving about an inch on all four sides.

Roll up lengthwise and then join the ends to make a ring.

Poke a few holes in the top and transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the heat and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle the pistachios and currants over and return to the oven. Bake for an additional five minutes or until golden.

So, my kids thought they were getting a giant doughnut. Again. One of these days I'm going to have to make them an actual giant doughnut, just so I'm not always so cruel to them.

The chicken was tasty, and from a carrot hater like me that's really saying a lot. The sauce was sweet with just a touch of savory from that ham and the skin was super crispy, which is tough to accomplish with a baked chicken. I think I may be modifying my oven-fried chicken recipe to use this technique, because the results were really perfect.

I liked the risotto too but I'm picky about risotto because I actually make it all the time and I already have my favorites (mushroom risotto mmmm). This was decent, as risottos go, but I've had better.

The dessert was definitely different from anything else I've ever made, or eaten. My kids were not impressed, probably because the Marsala flavor was quite strong. Martin, however, was impressed by the Marsala flavor, because in his mind wine+anything=good. I was kind of so so about it. I didn't devour the leftovers while everyone else was at school/work so I guess I didn't love it. But I did finish the one serving I did have.

Next week--giant doughnuts! No, not really. Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Recipes from Jordan

I actually don't have time to do a blog post this week, either, which you probably ascertained based on the fact that it's the early morning hours on Saturday and I'm just now getting around to posting. I guess I can't get away with avoiding it two weeks in a row, can I? How come I don't remember the last couple of weeks of school being this crazy last year? Oh yeah, it's because of that whole job thing. I really need to figure out a way to make money without actually working.

So this week it's Jordan, and to be honest, I really can't remember a whole lot about this meal because it was so danged long ago now, and these days my brain only maintains information for maybe a day or two. I seem to remember that it was good, but not fabulous.

So with that glowing recommendation, let's start with the usual who-where. Jordan is an Arab nation located on the banks of the Jordan River. It borders Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel and the Dead Sea, so it's really almost exactly in the middle of all the recent noise in that part of the world.

I won't come right out and say that Arab nations are bad places to live, but Jordan ranks as one of the better in terms of economy and democratic reforms. However it still performs pretty abysmally when it comes to things like civil liberties and corruption. Still, that doesn't stop the tourism--at least 10 percent of Jordan's economy comes from that industry. People flock to Jordan to see its cultural and historic sites, to have fun on the shores of the Dead Sea and for Eco-tourism in places like the Dana Nature Reserve. Oh and there's a ton of nightclubs, too.

The Temple of Dushares, Jordan. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

Cuisine: I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that Jordan's cuisine is similar to the cuisine of neighboring nations. Food is very important culturally--every meal is a celebration and guests are always lavished with meals, regardless of how wealthy or poor the hosts may be.

So here are the recipes I chose and yes! It's all coming back to me now.

Chicken Mansaf 
(from The Middle East Kitchen)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • 1 large onion, finley chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chili powder (optional)
  • 1 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Parsley to taste, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
On the side:

Mujadara (lentil spice rice with carmelized onions) 
(from Chef in Disguise)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 1 cup lentils
  • Water as needed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large onion, cut into strips

And this really oddly-named thing:

Ka3ek bel semsem 
(also from Chef in Disguise)
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp powdered milk
  • 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • Sesame seeds
  • Anise seeds (optional)
OK, here's how to make this meal: First put the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 35 to 45 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through, drain and set aside, reserving about a half cup of the broth.

In a large pot, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat for two or three minute or until fragrant.  Now add the yogurt and spices. Stir until blended, then slowly whisk in the beaten egg. Add a little bit of stock from the boiled chicken (you don't need to use the whole half cup, just use enough to give the sauce a nice creamy texture, not too thin).

Add the chicken pieces and cover the pot. Cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until warmed through. Serve over basmati rice (I served it with the mujadara) and top with the nuts and parsley.

Now for the the mujadara:

Put the olive oil in a large pan and saute the onions over medium heat until they turn a rich caramel color. Drain, reserving the oil.

Wash the rice and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, put the lentils in a pot and add water until it's about an inch above the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are tender. Add the rice, spices, reserved oil and salt to taste. Now add a little more water and bring to a boil.

This is an imperfect science, by the way. You want the water to be about a half inch above the contents of the pot, but you'll need to keep checking to make sure that the rice cooks all the way and doesn't burn at the bottom. The idea is to cook until all the water is absorbed.

Fluff with a fork and top with the onions.

Finally, that bread with the really weird name:

Proof the yeast in 3/4 cup water with the sugar. Let stand until frothy.

Now mix the flour together with the salt, powdered milk, eggs and vinegar. Rub the wet ingredients into the flour the way you would rub butter into pastry. 

Now pour in the yeast mixture and knead for 10 minutes until you get a smooth dough (the recipe says it should be "slightly sticky"). Add a little more water or flour if you need to.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

Cut into four parts and roll each one out until it is an elongated rectangle. Roll up lengthwise so that you get a snakelike piece of dough and then shape into a ring.

Beat the eggs and add the vinegar, then paint over the dough with the egg mixture. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds and anise seeds (if using).

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. The dough should rest while the oven warms up. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let sit for five minutes and serve warm.

Now that this has all come back to me I will say that I did like the mujadara. I think it was the caramelized onions that made the dish, but it was quite flavorful and a nice change from just plain boiled basmati. The chicken was good too, but it needed something. I'm not sure what. The flavor was really mild, which in itself is not a bad thing (I've been trying to convince my husband of this fact since I started this blog--he seems to think every blog meal must be an explosion of wild exotic flavors or it's no good). But this particular mildness almost bordered on bland. Maybe just a little extra seasoning, because it definitely had all the components of good flavor.

The bread was good, but it too needed a touch more salt. Maybe they're just not that big on seasoning in Jordan? Anyway my kids were excited for a second because they thought I was making giant doughnuts. But bread of almost any kind is rarely disappointing to them so they weren't too irritated with me when I broke the news that it wasn't actually a dessert.

So whew, I got through that post and I would go curl up in my bed and sleep for a few days if it wasn't for the fact that it's Saturday morning and I still haven't finished all my work for this week. Sigh. Time to start playing Lotto.
Calabria, Italy

Next week: Calabria, Italy

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