Thursday, December 30, 2010


My little sister Molly spent a summer teaching English in Senegal. We had planned to cook Senegalese food together over Christmas, but since I had my annual deathcold I had no motivation to leave the couch and the cat and she probably didn't want me near food anyway, she did all the work. Here's what she says about Senegalese cuisine and what she made:

"The national meal of Senegal is ceebu jen, or "fish rice," which is basically fish and vegetables served over rice in a fish sauce.  Since I don't eat fish and am still traumatized from being served ceebu jen day in and day out, I instead suggested yassa poulet ("chicken yassa"), another classic dish, for the blog. Senegalese cuisine is very West African with some French influences.  Meals are eaten by hand (or sometimes with a spoon) from a communal platter, often with a side of crisp French bread.  According to Muslim tradition it's considered rude to eat with one's left hand; given that toilet paper is extremely uncommon, the left hand serves another purpose..."

Anyway, this meal was delicious. Thanks, Molly!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Costa Rica

Costa Rican cuisine is relatively typical of the Central American region, with some notable exceptions. Spicy food is less common, although food tends not to be entirely bland. Cilantro, sweet peppers, and onions are common flavoring agents. Rice and beans are common, as are potatoes and plantains.

According to a video we watched in my introduction to sociocultural anthropology class, tamales are an important Latin American Christmas tradition. Women get together and spend hours making hundreds of tamales. They're made of cornmeal batter filled with meat or vegetables, wrapped in corn husks and steamed. The Costa Rican version uses banana leaves tied up and boiled, but as I came down with my annual plague on Saturday I was in no condition to seek out a Latin market to find them. The Costa Rican version also uses rice and potatoes as filling along with shredded pork. I thought they were tasty, but could definitely have used more seasoning. I added a bunch of chili powder, paprika, salt, and cumin to my leftover pork. I probably won't make tamales again, as they take hours! To accompany the tamales, I made a black bean soup with boiled eggs (boiled in the soup, incidentally) and a heart of palm salad. The soup was a little bland, but a liberal addition of salt and pepper made it better. It might have been better with dried or fresh beans, but I took the easy way out (and cut off several hours) by using a can. I also forgot the garlic. I think the salad was my favorite part of the meal, although I'm happy to have soup leftovers now that I'm sick.

Christmas cookies parts 2 and 3: Lebkuchen and Pavlovas

Lebkuchen, or German spice cookies for Christmas, are so popular that they're sold from October to March. I first encountered them in Nuremberg in late January 2006, on one of the coldest days I've ever experienced. They're not my usual cookie - they're not that sweet, and chocolate doesn't need to be involved - but when I found the recipe in my America's Test Kitchen International Recipes book I had to make them. They were a little intimidating - I've never baked with nuts before, and these had to be toasted as well as ground. Fortunately, I already had all the spices I needed, and they came out perfectly. I took the last few home for my dad to try, and they were gone before lunchtime.

After the Roshky and Lebkuchen, I was looking for a Christmas cookie from a country outside of Europe. I found a fruity Mexican concoction, but it looked like a lot of work, and I was busy and sick. Then I hit upon a recipe for Pavlovas, named for a ballerina many years ago. No one's sure whether they come from Australia or New Zealand, but everyone agrees that they're delicious. You make a cake of meringue, then top it with freshly whipped cream and fruit (I used blackberries). I don't have pictures of the final product because I made individual ones for my coworkers (yes, I did whip cream in my office's kitchen) and cameras are verboten, but they were delicious. A little sticky, but the possibly overwhelming sweetness was balanced out by the cool whipped cream and tart blackberries.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Armenian cuisine is fairly typical of the Mediterranean and Eastern European regions. Fresh ingredients are usually more important than spices, and common elements include lamb, bulghur, rice, yogurt, apricots, nuts, zucchini, and stuffed fruit and vegetables.

I planned to make zucchini fritters, a pilaf with bulghur, and apricots stuffed with beef. I was pretty sure this meal was going to be an epic disaster. Here is a list of the things that went wrong before I even started cooking:
1. I got home later than expected and had about an hour less to cook than I had hoped for.
2. Trader Joe's did not have bulghur and I scraped my car on a pillar in the parking garage (pretty sure this was divine punishment for stopping there on the way home instead of parking at home and walking the two blocks over).
3. I didn't think to label the ziplock bags of meat in my freezer and accidentally thawed pork instead of beef (hello, cultural inaccuracy).
4. Shoppers didn't have apricots to stuff with said pork, so I turned to zucchini. Unfortunately, they also only had tiny zucchini. So I figured I would just have to deal.

I assured my friend Anika that there was excellent pizza only a few minutes away if it all proved inedible, but ended up being pleasantly surprised. The pilaf turned out pretty delicious with rice instead of bulghur, and the fritters were excellent. I didn't keep the leftover stuffed zucchini (the recipe didn't say to cook the rice beforehand, so I didn't...and maybe I should have? It was crunchy and I did not find it delicious), but we each ate one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas cookies part 1: Roshky

I love Christmas cookies. My family has a bunch that we always make: snickerdoodles, chocolate sugar puffs, thumbprints. But what actually inspired this series was the recipe for Lebkuchen (coming up) in my new America's Test Kitchen International cookbook.  When I asked around on Twitter about international Christmas traditions, my friend Katie said that her family makes roshky, a Slovak delicacy. Or rather, she said, her grandmother and mother make roshky, and she stands around feeling helpless. I read this and thought to myself, I'm a great baker, this should be no problem. Oh, hubris.

I don't love walnuts, so I only made the apricot one and cut the recipe way down (I used one egg and proportional other ingredients). The major issue was the dough. I'm not that good at working with dough that needs to be rolled out. When I read "roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface," I thought let's use wax paper, that'll be much quicker and easier. False. The dough was incredibly sticky (I probably should have kneaded it beyond what the hand mixer could do) and I'm pretty sure I lost about half of it on the wax paper. Instead of getting a cute little tightly rolled spiral log, I couldn't roll it over more than twice. I lost enough of the dough that apricot filling was everywhere. I was pretty sure they were going to be the worst cookies ever. Miraculously, though, the dough did rise a bit while I let them sit, and the cookies taste pretty good (not because of anything I did, I'm sure). Before I try this again, though, I plan to obtain a pet Slovak, preferably of the grandmother variety.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Help - holiday cookies

I'd like to do a post on holiday treats, focusing on Christmas cookies. But the only recipe I have is for Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen are awesome, but I'd love to do a couple more. Send your favorite international recipes to 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com!