Monday, May 30, 2011

It is only appropriate that I update you on the reason I have not posted a new recipe in... well... an embarrassingly long while. The reasons are twofold: first, my "real life" got pretty crazy, between planning for two weddings, getting into grad school (!!) and having to send in a marathon of forms, and a massive three-day event at work that we had to plan for. On top of all of that, my computer's hard drive died (yes, my less-than-three-month-old computer) and I had to pay an embarrassingly large amount of money to get my data back (though I know I'm lucky to have gotten it back). I'm still trying to organize everything, locate all of my photos and documents, reinstall all of my software... yuck. Anyway, because of that there will be a (hopefully very short) continued hiatus of 52 Weeks, 52 Meals, but rest assured that it will return very soon and we will definitely end the year with 52 meals, even if they weren't strictly cooked once a week. In July I will have a lot more free time and will be cooking up the wazoo. I have a Japanese meal planned with assistance from a Japanese food writer!
Thank you for your continued support and get ready for a big set of new recipes!

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. :-)

Country #10: Norway

Sunday, March 27, 2011

When you look at the Wikipedia page for “Norwegian cuisine,” the first thing that comes up is salmon. Everyone has heard of Norwegian smoked salmon, and it is now one of Norway’s largest food exports. When I decided to make Norwegian food in an attempt to come to terms with the continuing Boston winter, I wanted to make the most stereotypical Norwegian dish I could! Also, I may or may not have had a craving for lox. (Which, in my defense, is a craving I have almost every hour of every day, except for maybe the half hour just after I have gorged myself on the stuff.)

One thing to note is that this salmon, or gravlax, is cured, not cooked. As I learned in sushi class, one of the most common mistakes that people make when choosing fish to eat that will be uncooked is that they tend to choose the fish that they would eat when cooked - namely, many people would choose wild, unfrozen salmon over farmed, frozen salmon, because it is fresher and more natural. While this may be the case if you are cooking it, it is imperative that you buy either sushi-quality fish from a certified sushi retailer (in Boston, two places I recommend are New Deal Fish Market in East Cambridge and Sea to You Sushi in Brookline Village), OR you can buy commercially frozen, farmed fish from a reputable grocery store (such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s). Freezing fish kills parasites, which is crucial, and although wild salmon is generally preferable, the diet of farmed salmon is controlled, so you know that the fish has not eaten something weird from the wide open ocean.
So without further ado... gravlax!


Country #9: El Salvador

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This week’s recipe prompted the unanimous verdict that I need to start making a “Katya’s Favorites,” or list of the best things that I have made from the various countries. And the reason is Quesadilla Salvadoreña. More on that later.
When I studied in Spain, I took a class called Historia económica de latinoamérica (History of Latin American Economics). It was the best course I took there, and was incredibly detailed. One of the most important (and obvious) things that we discussed was diversification of exports, and how the lack of diversification among most Latin American countries (Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina being some of the exceptions) tended to really screw those countries over. For example, nearly 100% of Cuba’s economy was dependent on the export of cane sugar, and when beet sugar was discovered (a kind of sugar made from beets rather than sugar cane that was much cheaper to produce), it nearly put Cuba out of business as an independent nation. El Salvador had a similar issue in the 1800s, during which their main product was indigo. Then came the introduction of chemical dyes into the market, and El Salvador had to immediately switch to coffee production, which created a whole new series of issues in which former landowners had to sign their land away for coffee plantations.
I chose El Salvador this week for an unimpressive reason: I had a craving for fried plantains. I first tasted them when I was in Costa Rica during sophomore year of high school and have been addicted ever since. Whenever we went to Guanachapi’s in Waltham (an El Salvadorian/Guatamalan restaurant), we’d order their addictive plantains, but since moving out of Waltham, they are the main thing that I miss. So I learned how to make my own! The discovery of Sunrise Market (a cheap Latin market on Brighton Ave. in Allston) was a revelation.
The only thing that didn’t really work this time were the pupusas. I am clearly having dough issues and need to take some classes. Granted, this was my first time working with maseca, or Mexican corn flour, and the dough tends to be pretty dry and difficult to work with, but I look forward to getting better at it.
Now, the true revelation of this meal was quesadilla salvadoreña, which is not what we in the US know as a quesadilla. Technically, quesadilla literally means “cheesed,” i.e. anything that has had cheese involved with it. This particular quesadilla is a type of quick bread that for some inexplicable reason tastes like the most delicious cornbread you’ve ever had, despite the lack of cornmeal. Perhaps it tasted so amazing because I used double yolked eggs? All I can say is... wow. If you don’t make anything else I write about, make this recipe.


Country #8: China

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I apologize for the delay in posting; this post was many weeks in the making, and the past three weeks have been insanely busy. What am I talking about; who isn’t busy these days?
Other than a new post, I am also using a new computer! Super exciting. I have finally gone over to the Dark Side and gotten a Mac, which was partially in response to my Facebook post of “I am getting a new PC laptop and using it for mostly music and graphics, which should I get?” and 50% of the responses said to get a Mac. It is so pretty and shiny.
But you’re not here to read about technology! You are here to read about food. Delicious, flavorful Chinese food that makes you feel at home and on an adventure at the same time. To properly do a post for China, I decided to have a Chinese New Year party, that was slightly belated due to conflicted schedules. But the kitchen gods won’t smite me; I gave them too much of a feast for that! It took me three weeks to prepare, but I ended up making:
100 dumplings
50 spring rolls
Tea eggs
Beef noodle soup
Sauteed yu choy
New Years spiral moon cakes