Tuesday, October 18, 2011


So you may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. The thing is that I started this blog because I wanted something to keep me entertained for a year before starting a master's in geography and, well, I started grad school. School itself wouldn't be so bad, except that I'm still working full time, and I'm exhausted. I'm not willing to give up on feeding myself relatively nutritious food and buy all my meals, so that means that cooking has basically turned into drudgery. I frantically try to marinate a bunch of vegetables for a salad during the week and make a slop bucket of something to go with it, plus a savory breakfast to help me resist the siren song of bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel from the cafeteria in my office building. Plus get all my homework done, get a reasonable amount of sleep, and relax, have fun, and get outside to enjoy the fall weather. For the most part, even when I am home for dinner, I haven't had the energy to do more than slice some cheese and eat it with some crackers. It's depressing.

But I'm not conceding defeat. I signed up for regular produce deliveries. I'm not sure if that's a good idea (12 pounds of produce arriving at my place could definitely make cooking feel like a death march), but I can stop any time, and it's nice not to have to worry about getting to the farmers' market on Saturday morning for good produce. Over this past weekend I felt a cold coming on, and against all odds, instead of wanting to curl up on the couch with trashy tv, I had the urge to cook before I really got sick. It started with a dread of canned chicken noodle soup that led to making a relatively elaborate but delicious-smelling Italian broth, and continued with Greek spinach and chicken pie with feta (a variation of spanakopita), then mini quiches with sweet potato and fennel from my produce box. It felt so good that last night, when I hadn't really gotten sick but didn't have much to do because I'd prepared so well to get sick, I raided my fridge and the rest of my produce box and made a mango lassi, caesar salad from scratch, and Smitten Kitchen's roasted sweet potatoes with fall salsa. And you know what? It was delicious. I'm already plotting what I'll do with this week's box, and a fun brunch for this weekend.

I haven't totally dropped the international cooking either. Kenny and I have made a couple of really great meals (South Korea and Brazil) that I haven't gotten around to writing up and posting yet, and I have a few left over from the last few months (yes, I've been holding out). I'll get to those, and I'm thinking about a different approach for this blog during the school year. Planning a whole meal is, frankly, a lot of work. Work I don't think I have the mental energy for. Same with writing it up. So while I'm in school, I'll be cooking and posting about individual dishes. As the mood strikes, I may go back to a country and make a meal, but I hope that toning the obligation down will help keep my blogging motivation up.

Looking ahead: this week's produce box menu is inspiring a Portuguese kale and potato stew. Perfect for fall!

Aaaaaand a little food porn after the jump.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Traveling: Peru

I started this blog because I love to travel and experience new cuisines. Not having the vacation time or budget for nearly as much travel as I'd like to do, I decided that learning to cook food from different cultures was the next best thing. But last week, as a sort of last hurrah before I start grad school and get *really* busy, I headed off to Peru for a week of exploring! We spent about two days each in Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu, and all of it was amazing. We considered cooking in our hostel kitchens but decided we'd rather experience real Peruvian food cooked by Peruvians.

To answer the first question nearly everyone has asked me, YES we ate guinea pig (Cuy) and alpaca! Guinea pig has traditionally been a meal for special occasions (there's a version of the Last Supper in which the apostles are sitting down to a meal of cuy), but these days it seems to be primarily served to tourists. The first time we had it was in a fancy tapas bar (fancy enough that the fresh produce was safe). It was served as confit over a small pile of seasoned mashed potatoes in a cute little spoon. It was great - tasted almost like duck confit. The second (and last) time we had it was in a nearly-as-fancy (but much emptier) restaurant in Cusco, where it was served in full leg form, crusted in quinoa and fried. I thought it was vile. I managed maybe two bites before deciding that my soup had been enough lunch. Kenny ate a lot more, but I don't think he loved it either. We had alpaca twice, too, both times in Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu city). The first time it was marinated and grilled on a skewer with peppers and onions. It was good, tasted a lot like beef. The second time (in a nicer establishment) it was wrapped in bacon and covered in chimichurri. It was good, tasted a lot like beef.

Mostly I'll let the pictures (after the jump) tell the story, but here are some highlights:

-Real, honest-to-goodness Peruvian chicken is amazing. It's served with a loose mayo sauce, a loose mustard sauce, and a loose green hot sauce. I liked combining these and dipping my chicken in that.
-Chicharrones (fried pork) are even better. We had a life-changing experience sandwich in Lima at a popular sandwich joint in Miraflores (if you're going, ask me for details. you cannot pass this up!) with chicharrones (recommended by the waiter), roasted sweet potato slices, pickled red onions, and a little mayo on a perfect french roll. I'm still dreaming about the flavors. Even the ghetto chicharrones we had in Cusco were great.
-If you're a salad junkie who can't have fresh vegetables for a week, any salad you can eat is going to look amazing. That said, the one we had in Cusco (twice) included crispy fried garlic slices, which I'd highly recommend.
-Pizza is BIG, especially in Cusco. Someone told us it was a Friday and Saturday tradition, but they seemed to always be open. We mostly tried to resist, except when our hunger and the pisco sours we were drinking made a pizza look too good to pass up.
-Pisco sours are good, especially when they're made with simple syrup instead of sugar.
-Our cab driver on the way in told us about tiraditos, which was supposedly like ceviche but with sashimi-like strips of fish. He may have said more, but it was 3AM and we were exhausted. In any case, we were surprised to order it and find it covered in [olive] cream sauce. It was great (as was the ceviche), but a little overwhelming. I'd recommend sharing this among several people.
-We tried to be pretty careful about street food (and were rewarded with not getting sick with food poisoning until we got back), but we had some amazing meat on a stick in a little town called Ollantaytambo between Machu Picchu and Cusco, and a bunch of fantastic cream-filled churros in Lima.
-Guys, I saw the Milky Way!! And more stars than I'd ever seen before! Out the window of a minivan between Ollantaytambo and Cusco on possibly our only clear night there.
-My very wise sister was not kidding about the need for dramamine on the roads of Latin America.
-Climbing mountains is hard work. We rewarded ourselves with delicious empanadas we bought in town and carried up with us.
-The hard work was totally worth it. Seriously. Sore muscles, fear of heights and all.
-Some of the most random, unexpected moments were the best. A park full of fountains with lights and music in Lima, hot churros when we were cold and tipsy, a personalized tour of the express bus system from a friendly Peruvian who spoke excellent English, bright green parakeets in the trees near Machu Picchu, a sky full of stars out the window of a minivan.

Pictures of food are after the jump. I'd really like to thank Jillian of I Should Log Off and my friends Kristin, Leo, and Elana for their excellent and helpful advice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dutch Comfort Food

Dutch cuisine has been influenced by French and German cuisine. Dinner is typically the main meal of the day (unlike Germany), and meat, potatoes, and a variety of vegetables are common. Apples are frequently used in savory main courses and side dishes. Most traditional dutch main courses are very heavy.

One cool and rainy Saturday seemed like the perfect day to have some warm, hearty comfort food simmering on the stove. I happened across a Stoofvlees recipe on Kayotic Kitchen, and the author said she liked to eat it with just fries. That sounded good to me! I made some modifications to the Stoofvlees recipe using the Kayotic Kitchen Hachee recipe. It was fantastic! Flavorful and hearty and satisfying. If I make it again, though, I'd throw the dutch oven in the oven instead of simmering on the stove - more than I'd prefer stuck to the bottom. I also made a salad with a warm bacon dressing to get some vegetables. It was supposed to be two meals, but was so delicious I polished it off immediately!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Uruguay: A total meat-fest

South America is known for its beef. The gaucho has perhaps an even more romantic connotation than our cowboys - cattle are a big deal. Consequently, one of the most common Uruguayan meals is meat grilled over a wood fire, perhaps accompanied by some herb-y sauce. On the other hand, everything the Barbecue Bible listed for Uruguay was meat rolled up with stuff inside it. I made my own recipe based on what I had on hand (using chicken instead of beef since the beef version took about an hour to grill), and it was delicious! It couldn't even compare to the beef, though. We were a little worried about the short ribs, since after starting them in the oven they didn't smell super appetizing, but after a little time on the grill with some mojo (in this case, salt water) they were falling-apart tender and meaty. The flank steak wasn't really tender, but it was also delicious and highly edible. I'm looking forward to making tacos with the leftovers!

Another note: I'd read that South American short ribs are cut differently than American short ribs, so I went to a Latin market in Del Ray and talked to the butcher there about what I wanted. It was definitely a different cut, and worked really well. He also sliced the flank steak extra thin for me so that it cooked in no time! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Democratic Republic of Congo: Bland isn't always bad

The lovely J of SoberSingleDC joined me for this one. She's vegetarian and I hadn't cooked anything African in a while, so I decided to make the Catholic Relief Services recipe for Saka-Madesu, or Greens and Beans, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'd planned on making some mashed sweet potatoes I'd had in my recipe file for a while to go with it, but the Congo Cookbook site wasn't working so I settled on Akara, or black eyed pea fritters. Congolese cuisine also seems to include a fair bit of grilled meat and meat stews, but those were obviously out.

The thing that struck me first about the recipes was that they didn't contain salt, pepper, or spices. Then it occurred to me that those things probably aren't readily available if you're poor in the DRC. Still, I told J many times over the evening that really, there was excellent pizza a mere few blocks away if this was as terrible as I thought it was going to be. I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipes - frozen spinach and canned beans - and I think the food came out fine despite that. Unfortunately, the fritters were not quite as functional as some I've made before. I think pulverizing the peas in the food processor was a bad idea (mashing coarsely with a wooden spoon probably would have worked better), as was not adding flour or eggs. J was flipping like a champ, but a lot of the paste melted away. They stayed together a bit better after I added some flour to the second batch, but I still wasn't happy with the texture. The stew was a pleasant surprise, though. Despite its only seasoning being a cube of vegetable bouillon, it was remarkably tasty. It probably helped that I salted the rice a fair bit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Experiences: Cooking Classes

I'll write more on each of these classes individually and include pictures, but I wanted to write something comparing the two, and more generally about classes.

When I was younger I thought cooking classes would be the best thing ever. I took a candy-making class at the end of high school and loved it. But the idea fell by the wayside during college, and afterward I realized that teaching myself to cook was going pretty well (and it's continued to go well). Also, cooking classes are massively expensive.

Then came Groupon. And Living Social. And BuyWithMe. And a host of other discounts on almost anything you can imagine...including cooking classes. So I decided to try a couple out.

The first one I bought was for Company's Coming, which is taught by Jinny and Ed Fleischman out of their home in DC. It was a good deal - about half off one of their First Friday classes, and I could pick what I wanted to take. I chose a tapas class in March. Unfortunately, that month the first Friday class was actually taking place on the second Friday, which was during Lent (Ash Wednesday had been that week), which meant I couldn't eat meat that day, and the class was mostly meat. So I postponed it, and ended up taking an Italian class in June. I was a little cranky about the scheduling issues, but felt fine by the time I arrived at their beautiful Cleveland Park house and was handed a delicious cocktail and told to go nuts with the appetizers - a tuna dip and a goat cheese dip with crackers. The class was great. There were about ten of us, all stationed with our cutting boards and chef's knives around a long kitchen island. We all worked together, each taking over tasks such as chopping or mixing marinades, then dumping the ingredients into a pot, or onto the pastry to go in the oven. Someone got to man the grill when it was time to make the sausages. Then we all ate together standing at the counter. It was a fun atmosphere, and I got some great tips (which I'll share in the full entry on the class).

The second class I got was from Open Kitchen, which is a bistro and cooking school in Fall's Church (conveniently near my office). It's a much larger operation, with its own restaurant facility and more of a staff. Unfortunately, I had scheduling problems here too. Soon after I bought the voucher they were offering an Indian street food class, which looked amazing to me. I emailed to ask how to sign up, and waited. And waited. The date of the class passed, and a week later I got an apologetic email suggesting I sign up for another. So I signed up for an English tea class, which also looked pretty great. There was no way I could take three hours off from work in the morning, and the evening class ended up canceled due to lack of interest. Ok, I could roll with this. The next one was Peruvian food. Unfortunately, I had just made Peruvian food myself (I'd rather have done the class first), but I had two vouchers to use and they only offer one international class a month, so I decided to go for it.

Things didn't go very smoothly when I got there, either. I wasn't actually on the list, due to an email miscommunication with the manager. But that was ok, a couple of people didn't show up. Then she asked if I wanted to pay the rest of the balance now or wait until the end of the class. Um, rest of the balance? Now, I guess. Guys, I had to pay another $60! Admittedly, it was my bad to not look up how much the actual class cost before buying the vouchers. But she also mentioned (after seeing the look on my face) that I wasn't the only one with the misperception that I was buying a voucher for the class. Given that, I wish they had done a different format for the Capitol Deal: something like $15 for $30 toward the bistro, or $75 for a cooking class (what I ended up paying), the way companies occasionally do on Living Social or Groupon. Also, now I'm not sure what I'll do with my other voucher. Maybe lunch at the bistro?

Since there was nothing I could do short of saying screw it and leaving, I tried to calm down and make the most of the [very expensive] cooking class. I was presented with a glass of house wine and some bread with olive oil to take the edge off my hunger, and introduced myself to the group. This class was a little bigger - there were 12 of us - and set up in three groups, each with its own station including portable burners. Each group would make its own pot of each dish, with the chefs coming around to check on us and give us pointers. My group was fantastic - Amy was a lot of fun, and her boyfriend and Joe immediately bonded over their love of aquariums. We worked well together, and laughed a lot. With smaller groups, each person got to have a larger part in making the meal, which was kind of fun. And when it was time to eat, they brought chairs around so we could sit at our stations. Since we were running late, the chef just made dessert for us while we were eating so we could get out of there, but it was still 10:30 by the time it was over. The original 9:30 end time was already kind of pushing it for me, and I faded fast. I was so exhausted I couldn't each much at all! The other unfortunate thing was that although dessert was incredible (more than I expected), I just plain didn't like one of the dishes and the other two didn't thrill me. But to end on a positive note, the staff was very solicitous and seemed very concerned that we were having a good time. When I slipped out, the manager followed me to say good night personally.

To compare the two, I thought Open Kitchen did a better job taking care of the individual students (we had more to do and more interaction with the chefs), but Company's Coming was a better overall experience for me, and better organized. As far as cooking classes in general go, I'm not sure they're for me. On the plus side, you get to meet new people and try something new, and you don't have to do any cleanup. On the other hand, I think I'd rather spend the money on a nice dinner that someone else makes for me, or just cook for myself and have more control over the ingredients and what I make. What we made last night wasn't much better than something I could have made myself, although I did pick up a few tips at Company's Coming and a couple last night. I still might consider another class from a truly foreign cuisine - one that my kitchen isn't really set up for. Indian might be a good idea, since I haven't really built my spice collection around it.

Has anyone done a cooking class? Would you? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jordan: I couldn't pass up pomegranate-charred tomato sauce

Jordanian cuisine was influenced by the Arabs and Greeks. Small plates, grilled meats, salads, flatbreads, and an abundance of spices and herbs are common.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't go into this like "Let's make Jordanian food!" Actually, I found a recipe for "Palestinian Chicken" in the Barbecue Bible with a charred tomato sauce with pomegranate molasses and went, "I have to make that! But oh crap, Palestine is not a UN member. Oh hey, Jordan is right next to Palestine!" And then I did a whole bunch of research to make sure that the dishes would be valid (or at least not be invalid) for Jordan. So I don't know whether they eat Palestinian Chicken with Charred Tomato sauce in Jordan, but I do know that marinating meat in yogurt is common throughout the region, as is the use of pomegranate molasses in savory dishes. I added some tabbouleh for nutrition, authenticity, and good measure. And then I added some flatbread brushed with olive oil and zatar, thrown on the grill for a couple of minutes, just because I like it.

Apparently I'm not a huge tabbouleh fan, but the chicken and sauce were absolutely delicious! Flavorful, a little spiced, tart, garlicky, and sweet all at the same time. I've been fantasizing about what else I can smother in that sauce. Maybe a riff on mozzarella sticks, but with breaded and fried feta instead...

Note: my companion for this endeavor was Elana, and although I don't have a picture of her doing it, she is a master cilantro-chopper. She also brought some delicious baklava for dessert.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eating Out: the Queen Vic (in which my scones are pwned)

Over the weekend I ended up at the Queen Vic on H St, NE for brunch. Even though it was Father's Day, there luckily wasn't a wait. We ended up eating downstairs, which was cool and dark with the Beatles playing. A great atmosphere for a muggy summer day!

We decided to split a plate of British pastries and a basic breakfast called the Full Monty. The Full Monty came with sausage, bacon, fried eggs, garlic toast, mushrooms, beans, and tomato sauce. Everything was very simple, and except for the bacon being a bit underdone (which is against my personal preference) it was delicious. The pastry plate came with a cheddar-scallion scone, a cinnamon scone, and something that may have been Welsh, which was flat with currants in it and sugar dusted over the top. It was all accompanied by butter and a couple of different jams. And it was all fantastic and immensely satisfying. I thought my scones were good, but I'm definitely going to have to try harder to create something that tender and delicious.

There was nothing fancy in this meal, but there was a lot of solidly excellent British (yeah, I thought that was an oxymoron too) brunch food. I can't wait to try the Queen Vic out for dinner!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Peru: Re-creating El Pollo Rico

Ever since an ex-boyfriend introduced me to Peruvian Chicken a few years ago, I've been in love. Not with the guy, obviously, but with the chicken. I've always loved rotisserie chicken, but the Peruvian version is a thousand times more flavorful. I even make a bastardized version myself on the grill, using boneless thighs. It's good (good enough that I usually pick leftovers out of my salad mid-morning because I can't bring myself to wait for lunch), but a totally different animal. So when I saw that America's Test Kitchen featured a recipe for Peruvian chicken, I had to try it out stat. Since not everyone has a rotisserie, they used a vertical roasting technique. In my case, that meant a beer can on Kenny's grill (mine's not big enough for that kind of operation). Test Kitchen also gave a recipe for spicy mayonnaise, which was good but not as flavorful as I wanted it to be. Still, the technique was sound - sound enough that I used it at my parents' house last weekend when I was making egg salad and found that there was no mayonnaise in the house.

This chicken was good. Really good. But not perfect. Next time I'd double the garlic and lime (and even the hot pepper, maybe), and cut the mint in half. It was a little overpowering. The other minor issue: whole chickens take a long time to roast, even on a grill that gets above 500 degrees. By the time it was finished, I was too sleepy to take more than a few bites, and this was definitely better fresh than as leftovers.

Oh yeah, we didn't just eat chicken. I used some tilapia I had laying around from the South Pacific Adventure to make ceviche (Kenny said good, but the lime flavor was too strong; I was too tired to eat any) and a quinoa salad with grilled asparagus and fresh mozzarella (also good, even as leftovers).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Not Quite Mongolian Barbecue

When I think of Mongolian food, I think of Mongolian barbecue first - meat, veggies, and sauces stirfried on a huge round skillet. I've also heard stories about amazing Mongolian lamb, and the climate doesn't seem particularly suited to vegetables. In the mood for lamb, I came across a recipe for Mongolian lamb with spring onions. It was meant to be boneless chunks of lamb stir-fried with chunks of spring onion, garlic, and chile paste, but I decided to use lamb chops on my charcoal grill and cook outside. I  marinated the lamb as I was supposed to, but added a little chile paste. For the onions, I left them whole and marinated them in olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, salt, and white pepper. None of it was especially strongly flavored, but it was all delicious. I made a rookie mistake with the grill, though: I didn't let it burn long enough before putting food on it, so there were more flames than I would have liked and the lamb was definitely overdone.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Algeria: high school revisited

My first experience with Algeria came though my senior paper in high school. We were supposed to draw a developing country out of a hat and write about 60-90 pages about the art, literature, culture, history, and music. Food, unfortunately, didn't really come into it except when we presented our papers to the class (for which I made apple cinnamon couscous). The first country I drew was Nauru, but when I told my teacher they didn't have a written language (which would make a literary analysis of a novel problematic) and weren't going to have an economy within the next ten years (they were dependent on phosphates from guano, which was about to be used up), he let me choose another. And I ended up with Algeria. My overall impression of Algeria, from writing these 90 pages, was that it was a lot like Morocco, but less friendly. Influenced by the French, but undergoing Arabization. This was supported by the recipes I looked at. Instead of the flatbread that's typical in the Maghreb, urbanites usually eat baguettes with their meals. Lentils, couscous, and lamb were all common ingredients. Stews (called tagines in Morocco) were common as well. Dishes could be spicy, and cumin and lemon were common seasonings. Luckily, the food was much friendlier than the culture seemed to be.

Craving something reasonably healthy and low-fat, I picked a lentil/orzo/lamb (or in this case beef) stew and a carrot salad. I invited my friend Katie to eat with me, and she brought a baguette. Of course, when you put a [single at the time] food blogger and a dating blogger together, they eat a lot and talk about guys. We got a little distracted by the conversation and forgot to take pictures of the finished products! So you'll have to imagine what a carrot salad looks like, as well as a loaf of bread. It was all pretty tasty. I've had stews I liked better, so I may not make this one again, but I'll be perfectly happy eating all the leftovers. And it was filling and reasonably nutritious. Katie said the carrot salad was like crack - she was a big fan!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Burkina Faso: Groundnut Stew

Burkinabe cuisine is pretty similar to most West African. Peanuts are a common source of protein, particularly since meat is not prevalent due to scarce resources. Typical meals consist of a vegetable stew or sauce ("relish") over a grain such as rice. Stews usually have a bit of a bite to them.

My friend Stacey sent me a link to the Catholic Relief Services recipe archive - a list of vegetarian recipes for Lent from all over the world. I intend to try many of them, but started out with the Burkinabe Groundnut Stew - perfect, since my dinner guest was vegetarian. Efi (said dinner guest) was very helpful when it came to chopping and eating, and although this may be the least appetizing-looking thing I've ever eaten we both thought it was delicious. I took to calling it puke with rice (the mashed sweet potato base gives the stew an orange hue), but have seriously enjoyed eating the leftovers. And it's *super* nutritious. We had some iced  hibiscus tea with pineapple too, but that was underwhelming.

Efi was a little skeptical.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The South Pacific: Cheating a little?

When I was in high school, we all had to draw a developing country out of a hat at the end of junior year and write our senior paper on it. Apparently my teachers hadn't done their research, because the first one I drew was Nauru. I'd never heard of Nauru, but I gamely went to the CIA Factbook and checked it out. It turned out Nauru was approximately the size of a postage stamp in the middle of the Pacific. It had no written language (problematic since part of the paper was to be literary analysis), and its economy was based on bird crap (ok, phosphates) that was supposed to run out within ten years. After I brought these findings to my teachers, they let me pick again and I ended up with Algeria.

But Nauru stayed with me. I later learned that the South Pacific has a number of inhabited postage stamps that are members of the United Nations. I looked for recipes from each, but Samoa was the only one for which I had any luck. Consequently, for this post I've combined Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The islands are relatively diverse ethnically, but as their climates are much the same, so too is their cuisine (as far as I can tell - if you have different information, please share it in the comments!). They're very tropical, and fruit and vegetables are common, particularly yams, breadfruit, cassava, taro, bananas, coconut, mango, papaya, and greens. Pork and fish seem to be the most common proteins, although I've also seen some chicken recipes. I found a great resource in The Pacific Islands Cookbook, available online here.

I decided to make banana rice, yam fritters, and a coconut tuna ceviche called poisson cru, or oka i'a in Samoa. The oka'i was only supposed to marinate in the lime juice for 10-20 minutes, so I thought it was important to use sushi-grade tuna. Kenny was my hero with regard to the tuna. After questing all day Saturday, I finally gave up and bought some tilapia on Sunday morning (the nice lady at Harris Teeter promised me I was unlikely to die from eating it raw), only to get a call from Kenny saying that he had found sushi grade tuna at Eastern Market and would bring it over for me. The oka i'a was delicious, so I'm pretty sure he saved the meal!

I was joined for dinner by James of Jimbaux's Journal, who wanted a cooking lesson. I put him to work chopping and grating and mixing, explaining everything I was doing and why. It was a great time, and he seemed to think everything was delicious! All photos are courtesy of him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eating Out: Oyamel (in which I eat my first insect)

Tonight was happy hour (which turned into dinner) with my new friend Elana. Since we were in Chinatown and my only Jose Andres experience was Jaleo, she decided we should check out Oyamel. I didn't love my first drink- China Paloma, which was tequila and grapefruit lavender soda - apparently I'd rather smell lavender than drink it, but it was way smoother than I had expected anything with tequila to be. I followed up with a cucumber-mint-lime agua fresca, which was delicious and refreshing. Elana enjoyed her classic margaritas.

When we sat down for dinner, we each picked a couple of small plates. Elana picked the Ceviche Veracruzana, described as "Lime marinated red snapper with fresh tomato sauce, capers, olives and piparra pepper air." She thought the strong flavors covered up the fishy flavor of the red snapper; I thought this made the dish, as I'm not really a seafood fan. The air was a little zesty for me, but all in all I enjoyed the experience. I thought the flavors meshed really well. I picked the Quesadilla de chicharrones, described as pasture raised Shenandoah Valley pork belly fried until crisp and served in a house made tortilla with chihuahua cheese and a sauce of five chiles. It also had some kind of bean, and while everything else was delicious (especially the pork and cheese combination), I felt that the bean could have been replaced with more pork and cheese. But the chile sauce was good - very mild. As for tacos, we started out with one with marinated chicken thighs, guacamole, and green onions. The chicken was absolutely delicious, but I thought it was a little heavy on the guacamole and would rather the onion had been sliced so I could have had some in each bite.

Finally, the point of this review: I ATE GRASSHOPPERS. A sauteed grasshopper taco is one of Oyamel's specialties, and I couldn't let the opportunity to try it pass. I was assured that they wouldn't have legs and would just be a little crispy. They were also smothered in tequila sauce. I wish I had taken a picture - it almost looked like heavily sauced carnitas. Although I was intimidated, knowing what they were, I manned up and took a bite. It wasn't as weird as I thought it would be, although that one bite was enough.

I'm not sure how authentic it was, but all in all, Oyamel was a very pleasant dinner experience - good service and tasty food. I'd love to go back and try more tacos!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Indonesia: Meat on a Stick

A shamefully long time ago now, I made a bunch of Indonesian food. It was a rare nice day in February, I had been reading the Barbecue Bible, and it just seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. Indonesian food is typically fresh and heavily spiced, as well as quite diverse. Sates, or small kebabs, are the most common street food. I made three of them: two beef and one chicken, as well as a fresh relish/salad and dessert. Overall, the meal looked gorgeous on a plate. And it was enjoyable. I'd say it was the most exotic meal I've cooked so far, with the most unfamiliar flavors and combinations. The highlight was the coconut lemongrass caramel sauce from dessert; I could actually have done without the caramelized banana it was served over. The chicken sates were my favorite. I finished the leftover relish, but for me it was more interesting than enjoyable, especially after the first couple of bites. It was very strong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kenya: spiced red beans

Kenyan cuisine is influenced by its neighbors as well as Indian traders who arrived in the area hundreds of years ago. Consequently, curries and grilled meat are both important. I think everyone's aware, by this point, of how much I love grilled meat. But I had planned to cook this meal on a Friday during Lent, so it had to be vegetarian. I was weirded out enough by the recipe for the beans that I put it off until Saturday lunch, but decided to stick with the vegetarian theme. (Speaking of vegetarian food, if you have any great veggie or vegan international recipes from countries that haven't shown up on this blog yet, please email them to 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com. I'd love to check them out.) I also decided to make the convenience version of the beans: a can of red kidney beans was ready to go immediately, as was a can of fire-roasted diced tomato. I used the other half of the can of coconut milk to make some coconut rice with which to eat the leftovers.

This is definitely not the best meal I've ever made. Coconut milk in savory dishes made for a pleasant surprise in Cameroon, but I don't love the mix of sweet and savory in this case. That being said, it's a quick vegetarian dish made primarily with pantry staples (the bell pepper really isn't necessary), and it's tasty enough if you enjoy the flavor combination. The chapati is pretty good, but I think I had the heat on a little too high, leading to a richly toasted flatbread.

Note: I gave Kenny the leftovers and he loved them. So try it for yourself!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Plantains and other disappointments

The first time I was in Puerto Rico, my aunt Sandra made the most amazing fried plantains. She called them spiders, and they're made by grating green plantains and dropping little handfuls into hot oil to deep-fry, then salting the crap out of them. Only slightly less amazing were her tostones, which are made by something like frying them twice and flattening them in between. I think there might be a salt water soak in there somewhere too. Whatever the process is, though, they're salty and crunchy and delicious.

Last week I tried a Salvadoran restaurant on Columbia Pike in Arlington. When I saw fried plantains on the menu I immediately thought of my aunt's tostones, and had no choice but to order them. What came out of the kitchen? A ripe plantain that had been sliced in half lengthwise and fried until slightly crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside. Not terrible, but not what I was expecting at all, and a huge disappointment.

Fast forward to Thursday night at Cuba Libre. I saw tostones on the menu and thought they must be delicious, since they had the same name! Unfortunately, what arrived were huge, bland, mealy patties with a slightly crispy crust and some salt on the outside. The sauce they came with was ok, but they were not what I remembered tostones to be. We didn't even finish them.

I love Latin American food, but the pupusas at the first place were only ok, and Cuba Libre was downright disappointing (how do you end up with dry braised short ribs?). Have I become a huge food snob? It's definitely possible, considering the way I turn my nose up at tomato sauce out of a jar and Domino's pizza. But I've had amazing pupusas (at a panaderia in Annandale in the H Mart shopping center. They were out of this world, I swear. Side note: I learned there that a panaderia is not an empanada shop, so don't be surprised if you walk into one and they don't have any empanadas no matter how perfect a snack you think they would be at that moment.), and I remember the ropa vieja I made a few years ago as being delicious (in fairness, the ropa vieja in the arepas at Cuba Libre was decent, if nothing mindblowing).

Does anyone know where to get amazing Cuban food? Or should I just turn to Cuban friends and make my own?

As a side note, does anyone have an opinion about my adding the occasional ethnic restaurant review to this blog?

Friday, April 8, 2011


I picked Barbados for several reasons. For one thing, I was still in an island mood after my amazing vacation in Puerto Rico. But for another, I was in the mood to grill some chicken and I was caught by note in the Barbecue Bible above this recipe that said it's for people who aren't into the spiciness of jerk chicken. DONE. Add an easy and fun looking fruit salad, and you've got yourself a meal (especially with some leftover garlic bread that's just pleading for the grill).

Here's what went wrong:
  • The papaya was not ripe. Grilling it did not help.
  • I didn't have as much time to marinate the meat as I'd hoped.
  • I gave myself a papercut on the bag of charcoal.
  • I burned my thumb on some actual charcoal.
  • The chicken spent most of its time on the grill aflame.
  • My computer got a virus from the about.com article on starfruit.
That being said, it was a pretty tasty meal, and even my charcoal-encrusted leftover chicken incited envy in my officemates. If I did it again, I'd let the meat marinate overnight, and I'd try to get some inside the skin (possibly with the flavor injector I've used all of once). Or I might just poke the other side with a fork to help the flavor penetrate. I'd also add a lot more salt and lime to the marinade. Finally, I'd grill it over indirect heat for longer to prevent the charred coating. The important fruit lesson here was that ripe papayas will give a little bit, which I guess should have been intuitive. But I was in a hurry.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


You haven't heard from me in a while. Sorry about that. Life has been hectic, as usual, but more so. The highlight of the last couple of weeks was five glorious days in [mostly] sunny Puertro Rico visiting family and laying around doing absolutely nothing (oh, and kayaking in the ocean and hiking in the rainforest). When I wasn't doing absolutely nothing I was eating delicious food. Why am I bothering to write about this? I know Puerto Rico's part of the US, but except for the money and USPS infrastructure, it feels almost like a foreign country. Everyone's speaking Spanish, the driving is...special, and they have some great food. I got to try some greasy beach food and pina coladas on the coast, and my cousin Karl let me help make Puerto Rican style rice and beans while my Aunt Sandra made chicken with rice. I'll give the best recipes I can, but we didn't really measure anything so it will all be approximate. Make it however you want - it'll still be good. Pictures are after the jump as well.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cooking emergency

As many of you may have heard, my refrigerator broke over the weekend. When you stockpile enough food to feed an army at any given moment, as I do, this is a PROBLEM. Fortunately, with a lot of damage control (giant bag of ice in the freezer, my landlords inexplicably keep a mini fridge running on the back porch) it was not a tragedy. I got it back up and running on Monday (not fixed, but running and, more importantly, cooling), but while I didn't lose much, the vast quantities of meat in my freezer were thawed, meaning they needed to be cooked right away.

If I hadn't been so overwhelmed by the amount and variety of meat to cook in such a short time, this would have been an excellent opportunity to do something crazy for this blog. But I just didn't have the time or mental energy to put together a cohesive meal or find any exotic ingredients. So why are you telling us this, you ask. Well, it was kind of funny. Except for some [delicious, thanks to Kenny] barbecued country-style boneless ribs and a vat of chicken stock, nothing I made was 100% American. Peruvian-style chicken kebabs, Hungarian goulash, osso bucco, pork chops with Senegalese onion-mustard sauce, carnitas, and dijon-garlic chicken. None of it except for maybe the carnitas was necessarily authentic (Peruvian chicken is supposed to be rotisserie, the pork chops were supposed to be lamb, I didn't have the fresh ingredients to finish the osso bucco, etc.), but it was all delicious and made almost entirely from ingredients I had on hand (Kenny brought rib supplies, skewers, and sides to grill). My major goal in starting this blog was to become a better, more versatile cook, and there's no way I could have hacked such a diverse smorgasbord last summer without obsessing over every recipe and buying a lot of stuff. So I'm feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

If anyone wants recipes, I'll provide them where I can (or at least give you an idea of what I threw into the marinade). But I hope this will inspire you to pick a flavor or cuisine you enjoy and wing it yourself! I'd love to hear how it goes.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Bulgarian food seems to be pretty generic Mediterranean food, so when I found a couple of recipes in the Barbecue Bible that were supposed to be pretty stereotypically and even uniquely Bulgarian, I jumped at them. It helped that they were simple. One was a tomato and feta salad. It was pretty delicious, but I would say that lessons were learned. Kenny, who gave me the Barbecue Bible, loves to grill (I say he's a master, he says he's a hack) so we decided to grill as much as possible. Afterward, we decided that grilling the tomatoes had been a mistake (it compromised their structural integrity more than I would say is ideal), but if I do it again I should grill the onions too. I used the Greek-style feta in brine from Trader Joe's and oh my goodness was it good. Creamy, just like I remember it being in Athens (although I'm pretty sure Molly will say that marinating it in oil is the only way to go). We also made kufteh, or Bulgarian meatballs. Only the Bulgarian way is to make them more like burgers, but we ate them plain. Kenny liked them much more than I did; he was thrilled to take the leftovers home. All in all, a solid meal, but maybe not stuff I'd make again.

Friday, February 25, 2011


My impression from reading the recipes in my favorite cookbook (ATK International, of course) is that Irish food is hearty, not too heavily spiced, and big on potatoes. Since my friend Ben gave me a gorgeous dutch oven for Christmas, I definitely wanted to utilize it, so I went with some standards: Guinness Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread. My friend Becky of BeCouply joined me for the meal, and if I do say so myself, we both thought it was tasty! My dad even enjoyed the leftover bread, untoasted, for breakfast two days later. I'm making a couple more loaves for potluck contributions this weekend. One thing I have to say, though: the recipe says not to overknead the dough, and they are not kidding (apparently in Ireland, it was a huge compliment to say that someone had a light hand with the bread). Also make sure you don't use too much flour like I did the first time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


When I started this blog, I asked my friend Blair, who spent a summer in Cairo, if she would cook with me. She immediately got excited about showing me koshari (or koshary), which she pretty much lived on while she was there. Months passed and we never got around to cooking together, but then last week she sent me this article about how koshari was pretty much feeding the revolution. It's peasant food: filling and frequently cheaper to buy than to make yourself. So we found a recipe she said looked reasonably authentic, and whipped it up on Thursday. Blair describes koshari as Egyptian chili. It was tasty, and my favorite thing about it is that it's a complete meal you can whip up with pantry staples. It wasn't quite as cheap as Ramen, but close, and much more nutritious.

We ate the koshari with some wine my friend Kenny brought me back from Egypt. We expected it to be terrible, but it was actually reasonably drinkable.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Vietnamese cuisine is heavily influenced by Cantonese cuisine, with many French influences. Rice and noodles are both used frequently, as are fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs. When I wanted to make Vietnamese food, I called Kim of DCWrappedDates. He sent me a chao recipe that looked good to him and approved my proposal to make pho as well.

According to Kim, chao and pho are the two most common Vietnamese dishes. Chao, a rice porridge cooked in chicken broth, is generally eaten for breakfast. Pho, a clear beef soup with noodles and flavorful garnishes, is considered a hangover cure, and is a complete meal in and of itself. I'd had pho before at Pho75 in Rosslyn, and loved it. Chao was totally new to me.

These are not quick dishes to make. The broth for the chao, which I made from scratch as per the recipe, took about 5 hours and required me to disassemble a whole chicken. I'd be interested to try it again with packaged chicken broth and see whether I notice a difference. But I enjoyed the finished product, and Kim said it was spot on. Pho is supposed to cook all day (at a minimum) to infuse the broth with a robust beefy flavor. It's a great way to use less-tender parts of a cow like tripe and oxtail. Obviously I didn't have all day to sit on a pot of soup, so I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe, which was ready in about an hour and only used beef tenderloin. It was good (especially the sliced beef), but Kim said it was definitely an American version of the recipe: many of the flavors were there, but it didn't have the meatiness you get from the real thing. I also accidentally got wheat noodles instead of rice noodles, but they seemed fine; I just cooked them according to the package directions instead of the recipe.

I had a great time eating with Kim. He was super helpful toward the end when the last-minute prep got hectic, and it was great to find out how authentic (or not) the finished dishes were. If you know a cuisine and want to get involved with my blog, send an email to 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com. I'd love to have you!

Friday, February 4, 2011


Mauritius (not to be confused with Mauritania) is a small island in the Indian Ocean. Its economy is doing relatively well for sub-Saharan Africa, and the government advertises the island as an excellent tourist destination, especially for honeymooning couples. Because of its location, the influences on its cuisine are diverse; the major ones are French, Indian, and Chinese.

I decided to go for a curry. My only real experience was with Burmese curry, which I liked a lot. This was different in that most of the flavor came from packaged curry powder from the international section of Shopper's instead of a paste of onions, garlic, and fresh ginger. I went for the Asian style curry powder, but I'm sure it would have been better to make it from scratch. All in all, I didn't love this. It was hotter than I wanted it to be, and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have eaten it without the recommended sour cream. But for all that it was hot, I didn't find it that flavorful. Probably just a function of the recipe, and I will say that what coworkers I could get to try the leftovers all said it was very good curry. Still, I won't be making this again.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Butchering a chicken: a plea for help

I told a couple of people I was going to write up and post the entry on Mauritius today, but I think my adventures of this afternoon will make for much better reading and viewing. This week I'll be cooking Vietnamese food with Kim, a friend from college. In preparation, he sent me a recipe that involved making chicken broth using a whole chicken, so I figured I would knock out that step this afternoon. Problem: I've never butchered a chicken. Why would I, when I can buy oh-so-convenient cut up chicken pieces at the grocery store? But this recipe specifically stated that I was supposed to use the back and giblets (except the liver), which don't usually come in the nice convenient packages. Although the chicken is currently cut up and simmering in a pot on the stove, the process was not smooth. Pictures are after the jump (only of the chicken, not of my freak-out as no one was here to take those, but they're still funny), but it occurred to me that butchering a chicken is something every 25 year old aspiring home chef should know how to do, especially when they feel as strongly about economizing and making things from scratch as I do.

I want someone to come over and teach me to butcher a chicken. I'll provide the chicken, and make dinner with it after. You bring yourself, knife skills (preferable), poultry shears (if you don't have the aforementioned knife skills), and your favorite bottle of relatively inexpensive wine. Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or at 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com if you want to help a girl out!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Sorry for the delay in posting. I started a new job and got bronchitis at the same time, which hasn't been great for my motivation. But I have a food-packed week planned, so expect more frequent posts from here on out!

Belarusian cuisine is influenced primarily by climate; the growing season is relatively short and wheat does not grow well. Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots are relatively common, and meat is relatively scarce (probably due in part to the poverty of the country). Culinary influences include Russia and Jewish immigrants from Germany. Salt and onions are the primary seasoning agents; I was afraid the meal would be bland. I settled on babka, a meat and potato bake, and pskovsky, a warm vegetable salad. They weren't that difficult to make and were ready around the same time. All together, it took about an hour and a half to make, although I probably could have done it faster with better time management skills (and better potato-grating skills!). I did take some liberties. The babka recipe only called for "meat," so when I found veal at Shoppers I decided to go for the tenderness (sorry, Molly), and doubled the amount. I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that saved the dish. I also cut the number of potatoes in half in both recipes, partially because I got really tired of grating potatoes. Finally, instead of switching over to a casserole dish to bake the babka, I just used my cast iron skillet, in which I'd fried the meat and onions. I think it was a good decision.

When everything was ready, I really thought I was going to have to order pizza or something. It all looked incredibly bland (my first bite supported this) despite a ridiculous amount of salt. The potatoes on top of the meat were gray and dismal-looking, and barely cooked. I seriously wished I'd put cheese on it. But the meat and onion mixture was tasty and flavorful and the potatoes were edible with yet more salt (I put the leftovers back in the oven for ~15 minutes at 425 with a nice topping of shredded sharp cheddar cheese because I hate throwing out food. I expect them to be pretty good). I forgot the sour cream, but am not sure it would have helped. The vegetables were pretty bland. Next time I'd probably salt the water they simmered in, but the topping was good. I might make it again and just eat it on peas or pasta or something. I'd also add some garlic.

Has anyone ever been to Belarus? Is this a good representation of the cuisine? I was wishing I'd made the mushroom croquettes with bacon I'd found a recipe for, but didn't really have time or energy for more than two dishes. On a related note, I'm going to have to do Moldova and Ukraine sometime; does anyone have suggestions? Chicken Kiev is actually Russian, I think.