Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 92! Latvia - Wild Mushroom & Potato Soup - Up Next, Lebanon

Latvian Wild Mushroom and Potato Soup
This was one of those days when my best intentions to prep, photograph, cook and write up tonight's Latvian Wild Mushroom and Potato Soup seemed destined to fail. First, I'd forgotten to charge the camera battery, then, my kids had "cooked" earlier in the day, and left crap all over the counter and the sink brimming with nearly every pot and pan in the kitchen. Chaos reigned supreme today, and while I didn't get all the shots I wanted, in the end, I got the Latvian Wild Mushroom & Potato soup made and it was down-right delicious - Victory!

Located in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, Latvia is bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus. Up until the 1800's, the Latvian people were indentured as serfs, except in Eastern Latvia where emancipation came decades later.

Traditional Latvian cuisine is based on locally grown food, relatively inexpensive ingredients such as dried peas, pork and bacon. Potatoes, wheat barley, cabbage, onions, eggs and wild mushrooms are all staples Latvians enjoy. For the most part, Latvian cuisine uses few spices and tends to be high in fat, originating out of historic necessity to eat foods that would sustain the body until the next (sometimes uncertain) meal.  Because the country is located on the East Coast of the Baltic Sea, fish is also enjoyed in the country.

Latvian Wild Mushroom and Potato Soup 

  • 1 lb. wild mushroom mix, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • Creme fraiche and freshly chopped dill for garnish

  1. Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pop.
  2. Chop wild mushrooms and saute in olive oil and butter until soft. Add white wine.
  3. Add potatoes, water, stock and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cook until potatoes are soft.
  4. Meanwhile, fry bacon in separate pan till cripy. Drain on paper towel, remove all but 2 Tbsp. fat and saute onions in grease.
  5. When potatoes are soft, puree about 3/4 of the mixture, then add back into soup pot.
  6. Add bacon and onions to soup and simmer.
  7. Add heavy cream, paprika and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Ladle into soup bowls and tops with a dollop of creme fraiche and chopped dill.
  9. Serve with salad and hearty bread.

Final Assessment:  This turned out to be wonderfully rich and savory soup that I think will be even better in the morning once all the flavors have married. Great to serve up on winter night. A+

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 91! Laos-Garlic Duck and Jasmine Rice - Up Next, Latvia

Laotian Garlic Duck with Jasmine Rice
Okay, so all you uber-foodies out there, don't laugh, but while looking for duck in the supermarket today, I came across a capon. Unsure as to whether or not this fowl was some kind of duck, I placed a culinary 911 call to my friend Ben, who knows everything there is to know about food. And, if he doesn't know, his cyber-snoop skills are so supreme that within 2 minutes, he'd replied that no, capon is not duck, it's a castrated rooster. Uhhhhh...okay, so not a duck. Not only that, he'd located a slaughter house in the next town over that carried fresh duck, quite possibly with its feathers intact. But, as luck would have it, "my" Market Basket didn't let me down. They had plenty of duck breast in stock, along with all the other ingredients I needed to make tonight's Laotian dinner.

Located in Southeast Asia, Laos is a landlocked country that is bordered by Burma, The People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Laotian cuisine is distinct from other Southeast Asian countries because it's influenced by several Thai provinces as well as Cambodia. Moreover, there is a significant French tradition found in Laos, especially in less rural areas, where baguettes and French fusion restaurants are common place.

Jasmine Rice

Two heads of garlic make the fragrant paste

Turmeric flavors and colors the dish a beautiful golden hue

Browned duck - say no more

Cilantro and lime put the final touch on the dish

Garlic Duck and Rice (adapted from Global Gourmet)

  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 2 whole heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons nam pla (fish sauce)
  • 4 duck boneless duck breasts or one 4-5 lb. duck, cut into serving sizes, excess fat trimmed
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • Lime wedges for serving

  1. Put the rice a strainer and rinse well, then soak in cold water to cover.
  2. Meanwhile put the garlic, pepper, salt, turmeric and nam pla into a food processor and process until the garlic is pasty and ingredients are well incorporated - scrape sides as needed.
  3. Place a deep skillet or flameproof casserole with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the duck, skin side down, and brown well, adjusting the heat and turning so that pieces are evenly browned - about 5-7 minutes if using duck breast, 10-15 minutes if using a cut up duck. Transfer to plate when done, and pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the fat.
  4. Add the garlic paste to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Return dug to the pan and stir to coat wit the sauce.
  5. Add 3-1/2 cups water to the pan with the duck and bring to a boil. Drain the rice and slowly stir into the pan. Bring the water to a boil again, cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the rice cooked through, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the duck and rice mixture sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.
Final Assessment: What can I say? Duck, jasmine rice, turmeric, garlic, cilantro and lime...heaven.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 90! Kyrgyzstan - Manti (Meat Dumplings) for Lunch - Up Next, Laos

Manti with red-pepper vinegar, sour cream and butter toppings

First I had cheesecake for breakfast, then I shoveled off the calories, moving mountains of mercifully fluffy snow with help from my boys, their friends and my faithful German shepherd, Buddy-Boy who supervised the job. Next, I set out to make Manti dumplings from the country of Kyrgyzstan for lunch - a perfect way to spend a blustery, blizzardy day!

Santa brought me a bunch of really cool kitchen stuff this year, including a bamboo steamer I  used to make these dumplings. In Kyrgyzstan multi-tiered steamers are called mantishnitza, and are made out of steal, not bamboo, but this was perfect to get the job done.  My Mom also gave an incredible Japanese 6" Santuko knife with a double bevel that I immediately cut myself on. I don't have good knife handling skills, but this mini samurai sword might just motivate me to hone them in a hurry.

Located in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous landlocked country that borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the People's Republic of China.

Food in this country is very similar to that eaten in Kazakstan and relies mainly on horse, mutton and milk products. Stews, skewered meat, dumplings and noodles are all staples. The fat- to-meat ratio tends to be high, producing delicious dishes that are best eaten hot.

Manti are considered a typical, local dish, but there is some dispute as to where the dumplings originated, some claiming they are Turkish or Tartar. Regardless, there seems to be consensus that their origin is somewhere in Central Asia. Hands down,  my family voted  these dumplings their favorite of all the "stan" countries I've cooked in thus far.

I used my Kitchen Aid stand mixer with bread hook attachment
to make the dough. If you don't have one, it's fine to mix by hand.

Manti - Meat Dumplings (Adapted from 5 different recipes - I picked what I liked from each to make my own version)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup water (or slightly more, added by the Tbsp. if dough is too dry)
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1.5 pounds ground beef or lamb (I used ground chuck, because it has a good fat:meat ratio)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • Garnish: Vinegar, sour cream and/or butter
1. Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and water, mixing well with your hands. Add more water if needed, to form a soft dough. Cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
2. Shred the onions and place them in a colander or sieve and set over a bowl to drain the juice and discard. Combine the onion, garlic, ground beef, potato, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and cumin; mix the meat well with a spoon until well mixed.
3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (keep covered in plastic wrap to avoid drying out). On a floured surface roll dough out into a rectangle shape, rolling dough as thin as possible without tearing it. Cut the rectangle into 2-3 inch squares with a knife.
4. Place about 2 teaspoons of the meat filling in the center of each square. Bring up two diagonal corners of the dough and press them together on top - do the same with the other two corners. Repeat until all are filled and sealed.
4. Place the prepared manti onto steaming trays or steamer basket so they don't touch each other to avoid sticking. Steam for 20-25 minutes.

Serve topped with vinegar, sour cream or butter - goes well with a salad as well

Final Assessment: These dumplings were delicious and easy to make. Like anything that involves making dough, it takes a little bit of time and makes a little bit of a floury mess on your counter top, but so what, it's all worth it when you bite into a tender and satisfying dumpling fresh from the steamer. A++ from the dudes in my family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 89.5 - Bacon, Egg & Cheese McCommerford - Have it My Way!

If you absolutely MUST have a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, why not make it at home where you can control the quality and ingredients without compromising the cholesterol? This version is 1/8th the cost and  takes 1/2 the time you'd spend standing or idling in line. And, fear  not, it's loaded with 100% of the calories, but has probably 50% less sodium than you'd get at a fast food chain, so you can satisfy your bacon jones while not increasing your blood pressure. It's a win-win.

First off, the round egg trick. You too can reproduce the perfect fast food molded egg with ease. All you need is a small microwave safe dish, bowl or ramekin. Crack the egg into it and nuke it for about 45 seconds - less if you like your yolk runnier.

Next, the bacon. While you can use microwavable bacon if you're in a rush, in my humble opinion, microwave bacon is way too salty and lacks the mandatory crispiness good bacon should have - even when sandwiched between an egg and cheese. My favorite bacon is organic, uncured because it doesn't have all the nitrites, preservatives, additives, sodium and God only knows what else added. Just gimme the pork straight up, please. As for the cheese, I'm not a fan of American cheese - in fact, I'm not sure it's even cheese at all, so I use sharp cheddar - Boars Head makes a good variety you can get at most delis.

Finally the bread. I like to use an English muffin or a bagel - either one is fine. Butter it if you like, or to slightly reduce the fat, don't - which ever you choose, it should be toasted to golden perfection to avoid the soggy-breakfast-sandwich factor.

Bacon, Egg & Cheese McCommerford (Recipe can be adapted by omitting the meat altogether or using turkey "bacon")
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 slices of bacon
  • 1 slice good quality cheddar cheese
  • 1 English muffin or bagel
  • Canola oil cooking spray
  1. Fry bacon till crisp and drain on paper towels. If you're rushed, use microwaveable bacon and cook according to package instructions.
  2. Lightly spray the bowl or ramekin with cooking spray. Crack the egg into a microwave safe small bowl. Mircrowave on high for 45 seconds (reduce cooking time by 5 seconds if you like the yolk runny).
  3. Toast English muffin or bagel. Spread with butter - or not.
  4. Place cheese on warm bread and top with egg.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 89! Kuwait - Arabic Honey Cake-كعكة العسل العربية - Up Next, Kyrgyzstan

Arabic Honey Cake كعكة العسل العربية
Holiday season is upon us, and my stove has been running 24/7, so rather than disrupt the baking flow, I decided to keep going. Besides, I love, love, love Middle Eastern pastry. Soaked in honey, rich in nuts and most often served with strong dark coffee, I'm betting that this Arabic Honey Cake will be even better tomorrow when the cake has fully absorbed the honey-caramel topping. And, because Middle Eastern pastry is so sweet and dense, one only needs a small amount to satisfy even the most extreme sugar craving.

Located in the Northeastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia, Kuwait is bordered by Saudia Arabia and Iraq and sits on the Persian Gulf. Kuwait boasts the 5th largest oil reserves in the world, and is the 11th richest country in the world as well.

Kuwait's cuisine is influenced by Indian, Persian, Mediterranean and Najdi traditions. Lamb, chicken and fish are most often eaten, but pork is forbidden in the Islamic country. Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and red onions are typical salad vegetables. Like many Middle Eastern countries, cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and paprika are commonly used spices. Rosewater and tamarind syrup are used to scent and sweeten pastry as well.
Butter, eggs, sugar and flour make the basic batter
The cake is baked for about 12 minutes
to a lovely, spongy consistency
Almonds, honey, sugar and cinnamon are boiled to a
beautiful golden-caramel color, then poured on the
hot cake, which is returned to the oven for
another 15-20 minutes

The cake absorbs the honey-nut mixture perfectly
while the sugar creates a sublime caramel topping

Arabic Honey Cake (Adapted from

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. flour


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Butter a 10-inch spring form pan. Preheat over to 400F. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until it whitens. Add the melted butter and mix well. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to the batter, mixing gently. Pour in the prepared pan and bake 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the topping. Melt the butter on medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour the topping gently on the cake and return it tot he oven for another 15-20 minutes. Let cool and then serve with coffee.

Final Assessment: This is a rich, delicious and filling cake. We served it with coffee after dinner and it was perfect. I think it'll be even better tomorrow morning :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 88! Korea - Bulgogi (Barbecued Beef) Lettuce Wraps, Kimchi with Spinach & Bean Sprouts - Up Next, Kuwait

Bulgogi, Lettuce Wraps, Spinach & Bean Sprouts with Kimchi
Tonight's meal is made possible by the generosity of some old and new friends. First, a big shout out to old friends, Jack and Robin Bloomer for their friendship and for introducing me to several awesome people who have helped me learn about and prepare meals from their countries of origin since I started this adventure.

The most recent new friend is Jean Wahlberg. Born in Korea, Jean was kind enough to endure 45 minutes of questions about her favorite meal, ingredients and cooking techniques during a Christmas party. She suggested I make Bulgogi, Korean barbecue and serve it with a spinach and bean sprout side dish, rice and kimchi ( spicy pickled cabbage in this case). She also told me how to make lettuce wraps to accompany the meal, which were a huge hit in my house. I'm 99.9% sure my rendition wasn't even close to hers, but her instructions were perfect and the meal was fantastic - you rocked it, Jean!

Korea's original and ancient name was Chosun, meaning "the land of morning calm," however since WWII, the country has been divided into two zones, North Korea a communist country and South Korea a democracy which has caused continual conflict as North Korea continues to attempt to reunite the two countries under communist rule. 

In fact, today's news reported that South Korea held a nationwide civil defense air raid drill to prepare the country in case of an attack from North Korea since an artillery exchange three weeks ago. It's a complex history, that could fill hundreds of pages, so this brief synopsis should by no means be taken as definitive or precise.

Korean cuisine relies on rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables and meat as staples. Seasoning such as sesame oil, bean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes and fermented chili paste are used throughout the country to flavor dishes. If I had to choose a country to eat in daily, Korea would rank in my top five.
Rib Eye, sliced paper thin

Marinade with toasted sesame seeds and PLENTY of garlic

Blanched spinach and bean sprouts,  tossed with
Soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, scallions & a little sugar

Spinach topped with toasted sesame seeds and scallions

Kimichi - Spicy pickled cabbage 

Bulgogi lettuce wraps, topped with bean paste & garlic

Umm, Umm, gooooooood!

Bulgogi - Korean Barbecued Beef (from Jean Whalberg)
  • 1 - 1.5 pounds rib-eye steak, sliced paper thin
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced as thin as possible
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  1. Combine all liquid ingredients, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add meat, onions and scallions, stir well until meat is covered with marinate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
  2. In a wok or frying pan, cook meat at medium high heat in batches until cooked through. Serve with rice and Kimchi
Spinach and Bean Sprouts
  • 1 lb. spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 scallions, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Toasted sesame seeds to taste
  1. Blanch spinach and sprouts. Rinse and gently squeeze out excess water.
  2. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, scallions.
Final assessment: D-licious! The meat was melt in your mouth good, and the marinade was the perfect blend of salty and sweet. The spinach was excellent and added color to the plate. And, the Kimichi - it was spicy and perfect with the rice and meat. A++ from the family :)