R is for… Romania; Better late than never

Alo

Romanian Flag

A couple of weeks ago I cooked a Romanian recipe. I figured I’d blog about it within a few days, but then we had that hurricane that you’ve heard me talk so much about and I kind of shifted my focus. This week I’m trying to get Back to Basics (a Christina Aguilera reference because I worship her like the Goddess she is and I’m so freaking excited that her new album came out today).

One of the guests at the United Noshes dinner I attended a few weeks ago had spent time living in Romania and gave me one major piece of advice; they eat a ton of polenta. Well that was music to this carb loving girls years! I had been thinking about making a soup, but I really wanted to gorge myself on enjoy some polenta (mămăligă in Romanian) so I chose to make Varza Cu Carne de Porc, a pork and cabbage dish.

Polenta and veggies and pork, oh my!

Varza Cu Carne de Porc

  • A couple of tablespoons olive oil
  • 1.5lbs pork shoulder; cubed
  • 1 onion; thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic; crushed
  • 1 green bell pepper; thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium cabbage; shredded
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons caraway
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1lb sauerkraut
  • 1 cup water

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Remove pork from pot and set aside.

Add onions and garlic and cook until onions just begin to soften, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Add pepper and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage just begins to soften, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and all spices. Add pork back to pot, stirring to coat.

Add sauerkraut and water. Lower heat. Cover pot with lid and simmer for 35 minutes until pork is tender.

Serve over polenta.

Serves 4-6

Ready to go.

 FINAL VERDICT: B

This was a really pleasant dish and would be especially well suited to a cold, rainy day as it’s definitely hearty comfort food. It’s also always great to add to the list of one pot dishes so there’s less cleanup later.

I love the way caraway and cabbage taste together. The two flavors are natural partners, much like Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton dueting on the song, Just a Fool from her new album available today (yup I went there again). I also really liked the play of the fresh cabbage and the sauerkraut. The fresh cabbage retains just a bit of its coolness and crunch which cut through the tang of the nice soft sauerkraut. The only thing I’d do differently if I made this again is to double the spices.

Dinner!

poftă bună

*******

It’s Day #2 in my Ten Days of Thanksgiving inspired by Lisa.

On Sunday I spent all day at one of the Hurricane Sandy Relief hubs of Occupy Sandy. Yes, Occupy Sandy was started by Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but even people who disagree with OWS are commending them for their hurricane efforts and they have become the main relief organization in the city. If you call most local churches, synagogues, non-profits or community groups asking how you can volunteer they’re sending you to Occupy Sandy. During the brief new volunteer orientation you’re given, they do explain to you the principles OWS was founded on, but they also say, “It’s OK if you don’t agree with us, we’re just happy to have you hear volunteering for communities in need.”

My friends and I came to The Church of St Luke and St. Matthew at 520 Clinton St in Brooklyn ready to do whatever needed to be done including going out to the actual disaster sites. What we saw when we arrived was stunning. The church had been turned in to a massive base of operations. There was a communication center set up upstairs to field calls and emails and to communicate with those out in the field.

Downstairs were the kitchens where hot meals were being prepared and lunch bags with sandwiches and snacks were being packed. When Occupy Sandy began, the day after the hurricane  they were preparing 5,000 bagged lunches; they’re now up to 25,000 bagged lunches a day. The chapel on the main floor was home base for driver dispatch and donation drop off and pick up and though we had several jobs that day that’s where we spent most of our time.

If you ever need your faith in humanity renewed go spend some time at one of these hubs and witness the goodness of people. There were people there of all ages, races and economic circumstances. If you came with a laptop they needed your help up in communications. You’ve got a car, great they’ll send you out in the field; kitchen experience, head downstairs and have at it. If you show up they will find you a way to help.

One of the sweetest things I saw was the huge number of parents who came with their little ones. There were two main projects for kids. The really little ones were given crayons and paper to make cards for people affected by the storm. The slightly older ones were put to work making sandwiches and packing lunches.

Last time I posted that I was thankful for all of the amazing people around the country who were doing all they could to help us out. Today I am grateful for my own community, right here. I’m thankful that people can put aside politics and any other disagreements and just help. I have always believed that New York and New Jersey are filled with amazing people who will always be there for a neighbor in need and Sunday’s experience just hammered that home. So thank you to my neighbors, I am awed and humbled by all that you’re doing.

If you are able to please send items like cleaning supplies, first aid, adult diapers, flashlights, batteries, blankets and baby needs to:

Church of St. Luke and Matthew
520 Clinton Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238

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Summer “Pasta” (Zucchini Ribbons with Sauteed Veggies and Mascarpone)

Last night I made one of my absolute favorite meals, zucchini “pasta” with seasonal veggies and mascarpone cheese. If I had to list the top 10 dishes I make, this meal would very likely be on it. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it also speaks so much to how I see food. It uses local seasonal ingredients I bought at the farmers market and it makes the veggies the star of the show. I limit meat consumption not only by eating plenty of vegetarian meals, but also by making dishes where the meat is the guest star and not the main act. This whole recipe uses only 1/4 pound of pancetta for the whole dish (and certainly could be made totally vegetarian). This recipe also represents so much of what I believe about healthy living and eating. Now, take a deep breath and put that frozen “Jenny Craig monosodiumdycalcitride glucolaurelatepathos may contain rat poison, but it only has 2 grams of fat and 100 calories” meal down and listen to me; I used 1/4 pound of pancetta and 2 oz of mascarpone. I used very small amounts of two fairly fatty foods to add a ton of flavor. So I used a little and got a lot, got it? Plus this meal was fresh, natural and had a ton of nutrients from all the vegetables and I’ll take a little real fat over fat-free chemicals any day!

Zucchini “Pasta” with Seasonal Veggies and Mascarpone

  • 4 medium zucchini (I like using 2 green and 2 yellow because it looks prettier)
  • 1/4lb pancetta (optional if making vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion; sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 oz mascarpone cheese

Using a vegetable peeler make thin strips of zucchini, working down all sides until you get to the seeds. Set ribbons aside and cube up the inside, seeded part of the zucchini (You could just discard them, but I think that’s a waste of food and they’re delicious). Set aside.

Cut pancetta in small cubes, then in large saute pan cook over medium high meat until pancetta is crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon remove pancetta to a plate covered with paper towels. Drain then transfer to a serving bowl. Do not discard the fat from the pan, if there is too much fat pour some out to leave you with a couple of tablespoons in the pan. If you’re keeping the recipe vegetarian skip and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the next step.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is boiling add salt and zucchini ribbons and cooks for about 5 minutes until ribbons are tender. Strain through colander then set aside in serving bowl with pancetta.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and cubed zucchini to the pancetta grease with some salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt since pancetta is salty, if you’re not using pancetta you can be a little more liberal) and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 more minutes.

Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes just begin to soften and lose their shape a bit, about 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the tomatoes to turn to mush.

Gently toss the sautéed veggie mixture into the “pasta” and pancetta. Stir in the basil. Gently fold in the mascarpone until it’s all melted and the veggies are coated.

Serve with an extra dollop of mascarpone and more basil on top.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Tips:

I think this recipe might look prettier if you didn’t mix the sauce into the ribbons in a big serving bowl and instead put the “pasta” in your individual bowl and then piled the veggie/mascarpone mixture on top. I put everything in one bowl because space is at a premium in my apartment.

If you keep this vegetarian I might try adding some parmesan cheese for a salty kick. Or if you find mascarpone too bland without the pancetta, you could replace it with creme fraiche, which is a totally different flavor, but adds a great tang.

H if for… Haiti; Facing Fears and Failing

Alo!

Haitian flag

I have heard multiple times that Haitian food is delicious so I was really excited to cook “H.” I decided to go with two dishes; Griot, a fried pork dish which is probably Haiti’s most famous and Pikliz, a quick pickled cabbage condiment that served alongside most everything in Haiti.

The ingredients for these two recipes are all quite common save two; sour orange juice and Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) peppers. One of the great pleasures of doing this international cooking project in New York City, and one of the greatest pleasures of living in New York City is that you can get your hands on pretty much anything. I got lazy though. It’s been a really busy few weeks and I just didn’t feel like traipsing the city to get my hands on sour orange juice; instead I used Rick Bayless’s tip of 1/2 cup orange juice and 1 cup of lime juice. Then came time to decide what to do about the hot peppers.

As a spicy food lover I’m always eager to eat a fiery dish, but cooking with one of the hottest peppers on the planet struck fear in my heart. I’m a huge klutz and I could easily visualize myself sitting in the emergency room after thoughtlessly rubbing my eye with a hand that had just held the cut peppers. “No,” I thought, “I won’t let fear hold me back. I will be extra careful and take all the necessary precautions. Bring on the peppers.”

I purchased two Habaneros (there were no scotch bonnets) and a pair of rubber gloves, and blasted the theme from Rocky on my iPod… well ok maybe not that last part. All the Pikliz recipes I found called for 6-8 thinly sliced Scotch Bonnet or Habaneros. 6 to 8! As much as I love spicy food that just sounded insane so I decided to go with just one thinly sliced pepper.

Pikliz

My first mistake was buying rubber gloves instead of latex. The gloves were big for my little hands which made the process arduous. I thinly sliced about 3/4 of the pepper, but by the time I got to the upper 3rd, where the seeds are I was annoyed by the gloves and figured I wouldn’t want to use the seeds (the hottest part) anyway so I quit and threw the thin slices of Habanero in with the rest of the ingredients to “quick pickle” over night.

For the Griot I couldn’t seem to get a consensus on what to do with the peppers; some recipes called for one pepper minced, others used half and some wimpy americanized recipes called for just a couple of dashes of hot sauce. Then there were a few recipes that said to just cut the stem off the pepper and throw it in whole thereby making the dish hot, but not lethal. I went with that one. I did actually cut a few slits in the pepper and, once it was inside the bag I used to marinate, squished it a bit hoping some oils would seep out.

Griot

The vinegar in the Pikliz neutralized the heat in that pepper. As for the Griot, as soon as I transferred the mixture to a cooking pot I could tell there was no heat. Habeneros are so strong that I’d be able to smell the heat. I decided to remove the pepper, thinly slice it and throw it back in to pot. I’d thrown out the rubber gloves after cutting the first pepper so I instead covered my hands with plastic baggies. Again this made chopping cumbersome and again I only chopped as far as the seeds, fearing to do more and again there wasn’t enough heat.

So hear’s a question; can cooking be a metaphor for my life? Is the lesson hear that I should be more open to risk, more willing to take chances? Nah! I think the lesson here is; buy better latex food prep gloves!

Even with the lack of heat, these dishes were both great so I’m going to give you the Pikliz recipe and the recipes as I intend to make them next time.

 Pikliz

  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers thinly sliced
  • 4 whole cloves (or a large pinch of ground cloves)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups white vinegar

Place all ingredients in an airtight container.

Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Pikliz will last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks since vinegar is a preservative.

Griot

 
  • 2lbs pork shoulder cut in to 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large bell pepper; sliced
  • 1 large onion; diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic; chopped or crushed
  • 1 scotch bonnet or Habanero pepper; finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 cups sour orange juice (or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice)
  • 1/4 cup oil for frying

Place all ingredients except oil in a large sealable plastic bag (or bowl) and refrigerate several hours or over night.

Preheat oven to 375.

Transfer mixture to a dutch oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours until the pork is very tender.

Remove pork chunks from pot and place pot over medium heat with the lid off, allowing the mixture to reduce (there’s not much liquid so this won’t take long).

Meanwhile heat oil in medium saute pan and, working in batches, fry pork chunks until crispy and brown on all sided being very careful as the hot oil will splatter. This can also be done in a deep fryer.

Toss pork back in to pot and serve over rice with Pikliz on the side.

I need more pepper, you wuss!

THE FINAL VERDICT: A-

This recipe would’ve totally earned a solid A had I not been so conservative with the peppers. It was delicious.

The Griot is flavorful and the texture of the pork chunks almost reminds me of ribs; browned and crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. The vegetables in the Pikliz remain bright and crisp and the vinegarey bite cuts through the richness of the pork when eaten together.

Obviously next time I make this I’ll add more hot peppers, but other than that I wouldn’t make any other changes. I love recipes like this where you get so much flavor for so little work.

Bon Apeti!

**Remember Haiti is a place that needs your help! Please consider opening your hearts and your wallets. Two organizations I would recommend are Partners In Health and Fonkoze so check ’em out.

D is for… Denmark; A Taste of (my second) Home

Hej

Danish Flag

Fun fact: Restaurant Noma in Copenhagen is currently considered the number one restaurant in the world. Another fun fact: The renowned chef/owner of Noma, Rene Redzepi, is exactly one day younger than me.

I’m thinking of writing to him and asking if I can get a meal on the house. Since we’re practically twinsies not to mention the fact that I’m quite the Dankofile (yeah, I totally made that word up) I figure it’s the least he can do, right?

After graduating from college I spent six months living in Copenhagen and I fell absolutely in love with Denmark. I made great friends and have travelled back often to visit over the past decade. but surprisingly I’ve never made Danish food so the 26 Dishes project seems like a great place to start!

Today I’m making Frikadeller, Danish pork meatballs, which are a classic Danish dish. Keeping things traditional I’m serving them with potatoes, pickles and braised red cabbage, (though I’m using a red cabbage recipe I’ve made for years, but it’s very similar to Danish braised cabbage so whatevs).

I could write a novel before I get in to the recipe about why I love Denmark so much, but instead I’ll just show you in pictures that I’ve taken throughout the years. Enjoy!

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Frikadeller

  • 1/2 cup cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, cream or half and half
  • 1 medium onion; grated
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Soak cracker crumbs in milk

Combine all ingredients except butter and mix well

Let mixture rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes

Form mixture in to approximately 2 inch meatballs, wetting hands in between to keep meat from sticking, and flatten slightly

Melt butter in large frying pan over medium high heat

Cook meatballs about 5 minutes a side until cooked through

Frikadeller can be cooked in batches

 

We are Danish meatballs. We are the happiest meatballs in the world.

FINAL VERDICT: B+

Like most traditional Danish food this meal isn’t fancy or nuanced, but it is hearty and tasty. I loved these because they tasted really authentic and reminded me of being back in Denmark. The pork is often mixed with veal, but I stopped eating vel when I was about 9 or 10, marking my first foray in to conscious eating. Even with just using pork and frying them in loads of butter, these frikadeller are surprisingly light.

Another reason to love Denmark is that they have some of the strictest food and agricultural standards in the world so, as with all my meat recipes, I really hope that you buy high quality, hormone and antibiotic free, ethically sourced pork such as Niman Ranch. And if you want to be truly Danish. make sure to wash down your frikadeller with lots and lots of beer!

 

Now that’s a Viking plate!

BONUS RECIPE:

My mom found this recipe in the NY Times about 300 years ago.

Braised Red Cabbage

  • 1 medium-size red cabbage, about 2 pounds
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 whole cloves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup orange juice

In large pot over medium high heat melt 2 Tablespoons butter

Stir in onions until and saute until soft

Add cabbage, cloves and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes

Add orange juice.

Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes

Stir in 1 Tablespoon butter and serve

Velbekomme!