Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 164! Slovakia - Mushroom Soup (Hubová Polievka) - Up Next, Solomon Islands

This recipe comes courtesy of a great Slovakian website,, that I discovered while searching for a meal to represent Slovakia. If you're into Central European cooking, this is a terrific resource that includes traditional food, photographs and descriptions that make the recipes easy to follow, not to mention lively writing and anecdotes from the author, Luboš Brieda. Luboš lived in Slovakia until moving to the U.S. when he was 14. Missing his country and it's traditional cooking, he started a blog dedicated to the dishes he enjoyed growing up. Although it was difficult to choose from the many recipes he has posted, I chose mushroom soup, or hubová polievka - because ever since my friend Ben took me mushroom foraging last week, I've been on kind of a shroom bender (and I mean that in the most legal way). This dish is easy, traditional and perfect for a cool fall night. I used fresh crimini mushrooms because I spotted them in the store and they looked gorgeous, but you can use dried or standard white button mushrooms if that's what's available. And, of course, this soup has bacon in it, and any one who knows me, knows I'm a bonafide bacon fiend. Thank you, Luboš!

The Slovak republic is a land locked country in Central Europe that is bordered by the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. Slavs first arrived in what is now present day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th Century during the migration period. Throughout history, regions of Slovakia belonged to various empires, such as Samo's Empire, which is the first known political unit of Slavs, as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czechoslovakia (with a few others in between). During WWII, a separate Slovak state briefly existed, and between 1939-1944, Slovakia was a dependency of Nazi Germany. From 1945-1991, the country was ruled by Czeckoslovakia, but by 1993, Slovakia declared itself an independent state. A beautiful country known for it's mountains, skiing, scenic lakes, valleys and rivers, Slovakia is also the world's largest producer of cars, claiming production factories for Volkswagen, Bratislava, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Kia.

Slovakia's somewhat temperate climate is warm in the summer and cold in the winter. Although there is no such thing as "Slovakian" food, the cuisine varies from region to region and is influenced by traditional customs and peasant cooking. Food tends to be simple, yet hardy and very easy to prepare, often using just one pot. Heavy on meat, especially pork,  potatoes, dumplings, thick sauces, cheese also dominate the culture. Cabbage, beans, corn, lentils, dense, chewy bread and seasonal fruits are all enjoyed in Slovakian homes and restaurants.

Crimini Mushrooms - But you can use dried or white just as easily

Potatoes give the soup texture and thicken up the stock

Mmmmmm....Bacon - no more need be said 

Sour Cream - I couldn't resist using this little Carnival Glass dish I picked up for a buck

Hubová Polievka - Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup -Hubová Polievka - (Recipe adapted from

1 ounce dried, or 8 ounces fresh mushroom, sliced (I used fresh crimini)
5 cups water
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 sliced smoked bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. sour cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel and cube potatoes and add to a large pot with salted water along with sliced mushrooms. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp. When done, pour off most of the fat and add the flour, stir until combined, then add to the pot with the potatoes and mushrooms.
Simmer until potatoes and mushrooms are soft, then add sour cream and stir to combine.
Season and serve along with good hearty bread - I used pumpernickel rolls.

Final Assessment: Delicious! A simple, hearty soup, that goes well with thick slabs of bread and butter. I'll bet it would be even better tomorrow once the flavors had a chance to meld...but there isn't a drop left!

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 163! Slovenia - Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake) Up Next, Slovakia

Lately I've been into savory cakes;  the kind my kids generally turn their noses up at, which is all the better for me, because I actually get to have more than one slice before it vaporizes. There are many, many wonderful recipes from the country of Slovenia, but when I came across this one for Castagnaccio (Chestnut) Cake, I knew I wanted to make it as I'd never cooked with chestnut flour before and the country has a long history of cooking with chestnuts, especially during times of war when foraging for nuts and berries meant the difference between sustenance and famine. Plus, the thought of olive oil, rosemary, golden raisins and pine nuts combined in a cake sounded so intriguing that I couldn't help but bi-pass all the other great recipes I found in favor of this one. I ordered the flour from Amazon, but you may be able to find it at Whole Foods or an Italian specialty shop.

I believe it's best to live life with no regrets - no matter the impulsive decision (which I make daily -- habitually), and this is one of those split second choices I can confidently say I'll never regret. husband did not share in my enthusiasm - nope, he did not like the cake at all. This is an extremely dense, almost pudding-moist cake, with a creamy texture to which he took an immediate dislike.  Despite only having 8 tablespoons of sugar, it's also very rich, but not sugary thanks to the natural sweetness of the chestnut flour and raisins, so a small slice is all that's needed. And, while I thought the addition of rosemary scented and flavored the cake to sublime heights, he didn't didn't agree in the least. After the second bite, and a somewhat queasy smile, he politely pushed the plate away. I, on the other hand, loved that the earthy chestnut flavor was completely foreign to my palate. Should you try this cake, do try to let go of your preconceived cake-as-I know-it notions and enjoy this rustic, savory confection. I can imagine Castagnaccio with a sweet dessert wine or a cup of good strong espresso.

Located in the heart of Europe where the the Alps meet the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plains meet the Karst, Slovenia is bordered by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. Among one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, Slovenia is home to over 24,000 animal species. This beautiful country is the 3rd. most forested country in Europe and boasts some of the most pristine lakes, streams and thermal springs. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states such as the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg Monarchy. During World War II, the country was occupied by Germany, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, eventually emerging as a Yugoslavian state. Finally in 1991, the country attained full sovereignty. A deeply devout and secular nation, Slovenia has over 3,000 churches and chapels.

Owing to Slovenia's rich history and proximity to other countries, its cuisine is quite diverse and is regionally influenced (hence this cake that's also made in Tuscany) by neighboring borders. In general, animal fat, cream, butter and eggs form the basis for much of its cooking. Stews, porridge, pork, poultry, potatoes, beans, cabbage, mushrooms, wild greens (regrat) are all enjoyed. Chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts are frequently used in desserts along with strawberries, loganberries, blackberries, blueberries and honey.

Pine nuts, olive oil, sultana (golden) raisins and rosemary flavor the cake

Soak the raisins in warm water for a few minutes to plump them up

Chestnut flour has an earthy and unique flavor

Only 8 tablespoons of sugar sweeten this cake

A few strokes of the whisk gets all the lumps out of the batter without over mixing

Top batter with rosemary sprigs and drizzle olive oil

The cake is done when little cracks appear on top

Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake) - (Recipe adapted from
(Recipe can be divided in half and baked in a 9" pan to make a thinner cake)

1 lb. chestnut flour
8 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. sultana (golden) raisins
6 Tbsp. pine nuts
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
5-1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra fro drizzling
4 cups cold water

Soak  raisins for a few minutes in warm water.
Mix the chestnut flour, oil, salt, sugar and water - using a whisk helps break up any lumps.
Drain the raisins and mix into the batter, along with pine nuts.
Pour the batter in a greased 10"- spring form pan.
Sprinkle rosemary sprigs over the top of batter and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Bake at 400 F for 45 minutes
Cake is ready when the surface is covered with little cracks.
Cool and serve.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 162.5 - Buttery Pear Pine Nut Cake

This simple, rich cake has been the go-to cake in my family for as long as I can remember. It's one of those cakes that can be put together at the last minute, topped with whatever fruit you happen to have on hand with 100% guaranteed awesome results - no matter your baking ability.  It's so easy to assemble, that once you've made it a few times, you'll have the recipe memorized, which is when the experimentation and fun really begins. My mother makes it using little prune plums (which I believe is the original recipe), and I have made it with everything from peaches, to pineapple to today's choice, pears. When I use pears, I like to top them with a little cinnamon, a sprinkling of sugar and pine nuts. Happy Sunday!

Start with firm, ripe pears

Six ingredients  - easy, right?! (not shown, pinch of salt and vanilla)

Cream butter and sugar with a wooden spoon - no need for a mixer

Add eggs and mix well

 Core and slice pears, then fan them out on top of the batter

Squeeze half a fresh lemon on the fruit to keep it from discoloring (gives it flavor too)

Sprinkle with sugar and top with pine nuts

Now skip dinner and go eat cake

Buttery Pear Pine Nut Cake

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick sweet unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Italian prune plums, pears, peaches, apples or pineapples...or any fruit you like!
Fresh lemon juice
Pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
Add flour, baking powder and salt to butter mixture, and blend until creamy.
Spoon into 9-inch greased cake pan (batter will be very thick)
Smooth the top and arrange fruit on top.
Squeeze 1/2 fresh lemon on fruit (to keep it from discoloring)
Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Top with pine nuts (optional, if using pears)
Bake for 45-50 minutes (depending on how juice fruit is), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 162! Singapore - Singapore Noodles - Up Next, Slovakia

It's a beautiful, cool New England night -- even the air smells like fall. The sun is notably lower in the sky now, which means I have to cook a little earlier (and faster) to photograph in natural light. Luckily, this evening's meal of Singapore Noodles was both easy to prep and cook, so I got some shots off before the sun set. This was such a delicious and perfect dinner for the end of a long week, I wonder why I don't stir-fry more often? So now a little more about this beautiful and interesting country that's on my top 10 list of places I'd love to visit.

Located in South East Asia off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, Singapore is an island country made up of 63 islands and separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait to the south. Singapore's earliest recorded history dates back to the 3rd century, but it was first settled in AD 1298-1299. During the 18th century, modern Singapore was founded. In 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford negotiated a deal to make Singapore a trading station, which attracted merchants from all over Asia, the Middle East and the U.S. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, trade between the east and the west expanded even further, significantly increasing the population of Chinese, Indians and Malays. In 1941, Singapore was attacked and occupied by Japan during WWII, until Japan surrendered in 1945.  For a year, Singapore was a Crown Colony, but in 1959, it finally achieved with independence.

An extremely multicultural and diverse country, there are 4 major ethnic groups and accompanying languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The language of the indigenous people is Bahasa Melayu or Malay. It follows then, that cuisine in Singapore is equally interesting, yet hard to categorize, with South and North Indian, Cantonese and Malay traditions and influences. Following is but a small sampling of some of the food, dishes and spices that make Singapore so interesting: Vegetarian thali, naan, bri yani, spring rolls, noodles, dim sum, roasted meat, soup, chicken,rice, steamed seafood, coconut milk, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander  chillies, ginger, turmeric, galangal root (I have some in my freezer!), lemon grass, curry leaves, shrimp paste, peanut sauce, bean curd and satay. There's not one thing in this list I wouldn't love to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Shrimp cut into small pieces and beef sliced super thin across the grain

Shittake mushrooms, sliced thin (I added extra)

Scallions and green beans, sliced on the diagonal

Curry - with crushed, dried red pepper added (I didn't have Madras curry)

Onions, sliced thin and crushed garlic

Rice Vermicelli noodles, soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes

Dry vermicelli noodles on a clean tea towel while heating the wok

 Stir-fry shrimp and beef first, then remove and set aside

Stir-fry mushrooms, onions and curry

Add vegetables, noodles and soy sauce - and that's it!

Singapore Noodles (Recipe Adapted from The Complete Stir-Fry, Edited by Helen Aitken)
(Serves 4-6)

150 grams (about 1/2 package) dried rice vermicelli
Oil for cooking
250 grams (8oz) beef, sliced super thin, across the grain
250 grams (8 oz) raw prawns, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp. Madras curry powder (or regular curry powder with ground dried hot peppers added)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100 grams (3-1/2 oz) shittake mushrooms, thinly, sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
100 grams (3-1/2 oz) green beans, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 Tbs. soy sauce
4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  1. Place the vermicelli in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 5 minutes. Drain well and spread out on a clean tea towel to dry.
  2. Heat the wok until very hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl it around to coat the side.
  3. Stir fry the beef and the prawn pieces in batches over high heat. Remove from the wok and set aside.
  4. Reheat the wok, add 2 tbsp. of the oil and stir fry the curry powder and garlic for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and onion and stir fry over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion and mushrooms are soft.
  5. Return the beef and prawn to the work, add the beans and 2 tsp. water, and toss to combine. Add the drained noodles, soy sauce and spring onion. Toss well and serve.
Final Assessment: As I said before, I don't know why I don't stir-fry more often, especially when this meal was so easy and required very little prep. I didn't have Madras curry, so I used a mortar and pestle to grind some very hot dried red chillies, which I added into the curry. It gave the noodles just the right amount of heat. This might be the first time I used curry in a stir-fry, but it was excellent. I used shrimp and beef, but the recipe could easily omit meat or seafood altogether and add more vegetables. A great one pot  wok meal that my kids gobbled up with chopsticks.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 161! Sierra Leone - Corned Beef and Yam Cakes - Up Next, Singapore

Unlike the United States where most of our culinary traditions focus on special holidays, very specific preparation, utensils, process and form are the norm in many, many foreign countries. In Sierra Leone for example, tonight's meal of Corned Beef and Yam cakes, would likely have been prepared by women, using  a large pot, supported by three stones over a wood or charcoal fire. In fact, when I first started cooking in African countries back in 2010, I dug such a fire pit so I could try to replicated this process, which I highly recommend no matter what you like to cook - to see it, click here. Families in Sierra Leone generally congregate around a large dish of food, which almost always consists of rice, a small amount of fish or meat and sauce or gravy for dipping. After washing their hands, each person eats from the area directly in front of them or the middle of the platter, using their left hand only. Reaching across the platter is considered bad manners, as is using ones right right hand. Moreover,  a lot of conversation is considered disrespectful to the food. The oldest male gets the best piece of meat, followed by younger males. The balance is left for the women and girls.

Located in West Africa, Sierra Leone is bordered by Guinea, Liberia and the Atlantic Ocean. Orignally inhabited by the indigenous Sherbo, Temme, Limba, Mende, and Komo, the island was first discovered by Pedro da Cintra, a Portuguese explorer in 1462, during which time it became a transatlantic slave trade center. In March, 1792, Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company for formerly enslaved African's. In 1808 it became a British Crown Colony and by 1896, a British protectorate. Finally in 1961, the two regions merged and gained independence. The country is made up of 4 provinces, Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western, which are comprised of 14 districts and 149 chiefdoms.There are approximately 15 ethnic groups, each with their on distinct languages and customs, however religious tolerance and intermarriage between Muslim and Christian faiths is widely accepted.

One cannot talk about Sierra Leone's history without mentioning the 1991-2002 Civil War that killed and/or mutilated more than 75, 000 people. The country's long history of diamond, bauxite and gold mining has long been a source of exploitation by those who mercilessly profit from the country's natural resources and exploit its people. This corruption, mismanagement, economic collapse and the dismantling of the educational system all contributed to one of the bloodiest and most tragic civil wars in the world's history.

Sierra Leone's tropical climate ranges from savannas to rain forests. Cassava, palaver sauce, red palm oil, onions, peppers, fish, meat stews, okra and ground nuts are all grown and consumed in this country. As mentioned above, rice is the staple starch in nearly every family, and large amounts of meat and fish are not common at the dinner table.

Peel the yam, sweet potatoes or potatoes, boil until soft and mash

Prepare the egg-milk mixture and the bread crumbs

The recipes calls for tinned corned beef, but I used fresh and minced it (my son works at a deli!)

Combine ingredients and add 2 Tbsp. of the egg mixture to bind everything
Brush cakes with egg mixture - don't attempt the dip method - I did and they fall apart

Get your oil good and hot and fry four at a time, turning once, until golden brown

Serve alongside hot sauce...I love this Peri-Peri sauce fromt he folks at Rhino

Corned Beef and Yam Cakes (recipe courtesy of

1 pound potatoes or yams
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
7 ounce can corned beef (I used 1/2 lb. fresh)
2 cups bread crumbs for coating
Oil for frying
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
1 tsp. finely chopped parsley

Peel potatoes or yams.
Boil in salted water until tender; drain and mash.
Add pepper or cayenne, chopped onions, parsley and corned beef.
Add milk to eggs and whisk.
Add 2 Tbsp. of the egg mixture into the yam mixture and blend well.
Scoop up about 2 Tbsp. yam mixture and form into flat cakes.
Brush with egg mixture, then coat with bread crumbs.
Fry in hot oil until golden brown, turning once as needed.
Drain on paper towels.
Serve with peri-peri or hot sauce of your choice.

Final Assessment: These were absolutely wonderful. They could easily be vegetarian by leaving out the corned beef and I honestly don't think you'd miss it all. I love the sweetness of the yams and the addition of cayenne gives them a great kick. Like any croquet, they're best fried in good hot oil so they don't float around soaking it all up. Once deeply golden brown, all they need is a little sea salt and a good sized dipping dish of peri-peri or hot pepper sauce. Served along side rice and a vegetables, they make a great meal. Except we just ate them as soon as they were cool enough to handle and called it dinner.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved