Saturday, November 27, 2010


Turkish food is quite similar to other Mediterranean food, with lots of meat, feta, yogurt, and fresh vegetables. Lamb and beef are common, but pork is not as most citizens are Muslim. When I was in Turkey, my mother and I ate almost nothing but döner kebab (the Turkish version of gyros) and were totally all right with that. Unfortunately, making it involves taking ground lamb and beef, seasoning the crap out of it, and slow-roasting it on a spit. So when I decided to make Turkish food it wasn't an option.

I built the meal around a boneless leg of lamb I had in the freezer and needed to get rid of before a Groupon for Springfield Butcher expired. I found a recipe for something called pink leg of lamb, which was supposed to be Turkish and looked manageable. I decided to alter the recipe a bit to make something more like Iskender kebab, which is a seriously amazing Turkish food (chunks of meat in tomato sauce with yogurt and melted butter). To round it out, I made fried zucchini (it's an informal goal to fry zucchini as many times as possible throughout this endeavor) with yogurt sauce, cigarette borek, olives and garlic with pita, and a basic rice pilaf with saffron. I also mixed up a little ayran, which is a yogurt drink that's super popular over there. I hate the stuff so didn't have any myself, but I made my friends Ben and Katie try some. In general, everything was tasty. I'd hoped the lamb would come out a little more tender, and was upset that the yogurt separated despite my efforts to stabilize it. I didn't follow the directions with the phyllo, but the cigars were still really good. I think my favorite part was the olives; I couldn't find pitted black olives at the olive bar and didn't want to use canned or jarred so I used kalamata. I had the leftovers sauteed with mushrooms and pasta, and they were incredibly flavorful.

Friday, November 26, 2010

United States: Thanksgiving Dinner

When I started this blog a bunch of people asked me what I would cook for the US, if I would even bother. And I wasn't sure. I thought about a Southern feast of fried chicken and biscuits, I thought about a barbecue with burgers and hot dogs. Then, because of a family situation, I had to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the second year in a row. And this is a pretty American meal. I kept it pretty simple, since it was just for the four of us. Also, my grandmother can make several more dishes, including gravy, and have it all on the table at the same time, when she says it's going to be ready, but I don't know how she does it.

Simple, in my family, meant a young turkey (12 lbs, give or take, on a rack of celery with an onion inside), stuffing separate, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans, cranberry sauce, and apple sauce, with apple pie for dessert. I made the stuffing and apple pie in the morning, since all they needed to do was heat up at the last minute. Last year the mashed potatoes proved stressful, but my sister vetoed my dad's suggestion of instant and made them herself from scratch. Even with low-fat milk instead of cream, they were delicious. The cranberry sauce came out of a can (the best kind!), the applesauce out of a jar (we didn't end up touching it), and the vegetables out of the freezer. The turkey, which I made following the directions on the package, was a little overdone; it cooked faster than I expected, but it wasn't that dry. And much better than last year's perfect breast and not nearly done dark meat.The gravy came from Trader Joe's. I was unimpressed, even after adding some pepper and poultry seasoning. The stuffing was delicious as always, and the pie came out well (not out of the pan well, though, as you'll see from the pictures). I used the America's Test Kitchen dough recipe, which is a little easier to work with, but I don't think the crust keeps well overnight. May have to experiment with other recipes. Dad and sister's take on the filling:
Molly: The nutmeg really adds a little somethin...
Dad: Nutmeg flavor?
Molly: Yeah, that.

Recipes (when I have them) and photos are after the jump. Tell me about your family's Thanksgiving traditions in the comments!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Belgian cuisine is heavily influenced by French and German cuisine depending on the area. Staples include meat, potatoes, and beer. Endives are a particularly popular, and mussels and french fries (moules-frites) are a common fast food near the border with France.

Until about 6 months ago, I refused to eat cooked seafood of any kind. Then I went to Granville Moore's in Washington, DC, one of the moules-frites joints that are becoming more common in the area. The fries were amazing, of course, and the mussels were served in a delicious garlic and white wine broth. Turns out there was nothing not to love, so I decided to make my own. I learned that the secret to Belgian fries is frying them twice, but since I was cooking on a Monday night after a long day I totally wimped out and bought extra-crispy frozen french fries that only needed to be fried once. I'm not proud of it, but they were delicious. The mussels were far more complicated. Not the cooking, that part was pretty simple. But I've never cooked any kind of seafood before, so I was a little neurotic about getting sick from bad shellfish. I got a bag of mussels from H Mart and the first thing to do was pick out the ones that were open. But you can also see if they close. So I was pretty sure the ones I took out were not going to close. Then I scrubbed off the remaining ones and removed as much of the "beards" as I could and threw them in the pan with the broth, then put the lid on. After a few minutes, most seemed to be open, so I dumped the whole thing into a bowl. The next thing to freak out about was that while most had opened considerably and a few hadn't opened at all, a few had only opened a little. I decided they were ok, but I was nervous until I realized I definitely had not gotten food poisoning.

The last part of the meal was endives braised in butter and lemon. They were good, and not as bitter as raw endives, but probably not something I'd make again.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Thai cuisine is based on strongly aromatic ingredients like chile peppers, ginger, and lemongrass. Each meal is supposed to be composed of sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and optionally bitter flavors. Regional cuisine is influenced by neighbors including Malaysia, China, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. Traditionally, one would serve more dishes than there are guests at the table. Staples include rice, noodles, fish sauce, and curry.

I'd certainly had Thai food before, but it's never been one of my favorite cuisines. I've never been able to find anything that excites me. So since I didn't expect to love this meal, my major priorities were nutrition and low hassle, which included easy ingredients and fast preparation. I left out the spiciness and bitterness, but I did serve three dishes for the two of us. The won-tons were easy (although the oil spattered like no other!) and tasty enough even without a dipping sauce. The curry (which was a last-minute addition after I realized I had half a can of coconut milk left over from Cameroon) was reasonably inoffensive, and if I make it again I might even use more curry paste. The noodles were downright tasty, and I'll definitely make something like that again. Blair agreed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mexico Bonus Round: Carnitas

When I was at H Mart the other week, I came across a package of pre-cut pork shoulder chunks for stew. My mind immediately went CARNITAS. Because I love carnitas, but let's face it, dealing with a giant hunk of pork is a chore. These chunks were small enough that making it was not nearly as much of a process as I thought it would be (as the recipe said it would be). I'm making quesadillas with them for dinner, but the preliminary word is that they are absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Cameroonian food is influenced by France, the former colonizer, as well as the rest of the African continent. Staple foods are yams, cassava, rice, and corn, and most people eat fish because meat is expensive. The national dish is called Ndole, and it's a spicy stew with bitterleaf, peanut paste, and some sort of meat or fish. I didn't make it because I found a recipe for a dish called Poulet Directeur Général, so obviously I had to make that. Bonus: it was delicious. So was the rice. Unfortunately, I learned an important lesson about the plantains: when they say ripe plantains, that does not actually just mean "the ripest Shoppers has." It means go shopping a week early and let a partially green plantain actually ripen so it's not icky.