Country #13: Switzerland

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I apologize for the ridiculous delay in postings - I have been cooking, and have 3 new posts coming up, but due to Passover and then getting sick two weeks in a row, I haven't had the time or energy to write. Things should be calming down in the next few weeks, as we all figure out what we're going to be doing with our lives for the next several years, so keep an eye out for a LOT of new recipes (including a special non-traditional Passover section!).
Switzerland is a fascinating country in almost every way, due to its three main regions - German, French, and Italian. In 2008 we stopped in Grindelwald, Switzerland on our epic drive from Paris to Vienna, and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Interlaken (literally "between the lakes") is an area, obviously, between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, and it is in the German region of Switzerland. We went hiking in the Alps and saw the Swiss cheese huts and watched the preposterously happy people bike up and down the preposterously steep hills, as if unaware they were actually steep.


Country #12: Eritrea

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eritrea, a tiny country on the horn of Africa, is one of those countries that exists due to colonization. It became its own entity in 1890, when it was colonized by Italy, which created a bizarre sense of European superiority over the Eritreans’ “ethnic brothers” in Ethiopia. If you travel to Eritrea, you’ll find that most of the restaurants are similar to Americanized Italian - pizza, pasta, etc. Italy lost control of Eritrea during World War II, however, losing out to the Brits. After about a decade under British military rule, the UN federated it with Ethiopia. Eritreans, used to having some sort of autonomy, albeit colonial autonomy, quickly violated the federation and Ethiopia annexed it as a province. The next 30 years would be one of the longest liberation wars in Africa’s history, and after those three decades of fighting, the last of the Ethiopian forces were removed from Eritrean land. It was only in 1993 that the country became completely independent in a UN referendum.
Despite this seemingly unending conflict with Ethiopia, the two countries have left indelible marks on each other’s culture, especially the food. Many people can’t tell Eritrean and Ethiopian food apart; they both eat injera, a kind of fermented flatbread, with stews and meats. I didn’t attempt to make injera this time; I am pretty intimidated by it. One day I’m sure...
Another mark of both Eritrean and Ethiopian food is berbere, a spice mix that is frequently used in soups, stews, and as a rub for meats. Every area and family has their own special berbere that they prefer, but all have the same basic ingredients: cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, pepper, salt, and cayenne or chili pepper. Cooks who frequently make this type of food will have jars of berbere pre-ground in their spice cabinets, just as we have Italian seasoning and Old Bay.


Country #11: Ireland

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This meal taught me a few things:
1. Do not leave a pot unattended on the stove.
2. Guinness chocolate cheesecake can fix almost anything.
I planned to make an Irish feast for the Friday following St. Patrick’s Day, which is, as you can imagine, a big, big deal in Boston. It doesn’t matter if you’re Irish or Jewish - everyone love St. Paddy’s. And the best part about it is that the food is easy! Throw it in a pot, let it cook, and you have a meal that everyone will love.
It becomes a problem if your piece of corned beef brisket is too large for the crock pot and thus you split it into two, making one in the crock pot and one on the stove. Since my roommate was taking Friday off from work, I figured I would have her keep an eye on it, and when I came back from work I’d even have time to take a little nap.
My roommate is not a cook. I can’t fault her for that. However, she didn’t realize that when I left the apartment with the stove on, it didn’t mean that she could do the same. Her being home all day was in fact, the reason I could leave the house. Unfortunately, I came home at 6:00 to an empty apartment filled with black smoke, and a pot of carbonized beef brisket on the stove. Oops. After half an hour of frantic phone calls, I finally reached her. She went out and bought another beef brisket, I got a new pot, and we met back at home and made a second beef brisket. We entertained all the guests with brie, cheese and crackers, and toasted baguettes while the brisket tenderized in my brand new pot.
I will say, however - although I didn’t get to taste the original pot brisket that had simmered for many, many hours - the crock pot brisket was way more tender. If you have a crock pot, I’d recommend using it. However, the regular pot method might be just as tasty if it had a chance to cook for 6 hours or so. I... wouldn’t know. :-)