Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 146! Romania - Prajitura cu Lamanie (Lemon Bars) - Up Next, Russian Federation

My husband and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Wait. What? Somehow 20 years sounds and feels so solid. We've lived a whole lot of life, easy and hard, and we're still here -- together. So, this is the kind of man I'm married to: He gets home from work, tells me to hop in his truck because we're taking a ride. Never one to turn down a mystery invitation, I eagerly oblige. We pull up in front of Sears, and I'm thinking "woowhoooo" we're shopping for a new weed whacker. As we're passing by the stoves, he nonchalantly asks me which one I like best. I point to my fav, and next thing I know, he's hailed the appliance dude, whipped out a wad of cash (he's a plumber and scrap copper is at an all time high) and the stove is mine. Just like that. I'm speechless, psyched and spoiled. I love you, Liam, you're the man. And you you're mine.

Now, a quick word about this recipe. I'm pretty sure that these Prajitura cu Lamie (Lemon Bars) are a modern day spin on an old school Romanian classic for a more traditional lemon loaf. If you're kind enough to  be reading this, and you're Romanian, I'd love to know what you think. I made a point to work from a Romanian website, but when I cross-referenced the recipe, I found many more that were more cake/loaf like. Regardless, this recipe is sublime. A shortbread crust and lemon curd-like topping tastes like summer in a pan. Sweet, tart and beautiful, it's the perfect treat for a warm June night no matter where you live.

Located at the cross roads of central and south eastern Europe, Romania sits on the lower Danube within and outside of the Carpathian arch, bordering the Black Sea. Romania shares its borders with Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria. Romania emerged when the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were united. By the end of WWII, many north eastern areas of Romanian territories were occupied by the Soviet Union, but with the fall of the iron curtain and the 1989 Revolution, Romania began transitioning toward a democracy and capitalist market. In 2007, Romania joined the European Union.

Culinary traditions in Romania have been influenced by Ottoman, German, Serbian and Hungarian cuisine. Soups, stews, meat and fish dishes are often given an extra twang and soured using lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar and fermented wheat. Plum brandy is a popular alcoholic beverage (which I'd like to try to make). Stuffed cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, mama liga (like polenta) all topped with sour cream are commonly served. Sausages and pork are the preferred meat, but beef, chicken and lamb are eaten as well. Vegetables include, but are not limited to: peppers, eggplant, kohlrabi, cabbage, mushrooms and leaks.



Prajitura cu Lamaie (Lemon Bars) - Adapated from


1-1/2 four
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter


3 eggs
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 1-1/2 large lemons)
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 Tbsp. four

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a 9x9 square pan.
To prepare the crust, mix four, confectioner's sugar and salt together.
Cut butter into the dry ingredients using two knives or a pastry blender.
Press mixture into prepared pan to form the crust.
Bake 10-15 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside (do not turn oven off)
To make the topping, beat the eggs and lemon juices in a small bowl.
In a separate bowl, sift together the sugar and flour.
Gradually add the four and sugar mixture to the eggs, mixing well. Stir or whisk until smooth.
Pour the filling over the crust and bake 15-20 minutes until set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar if desired and cut into squares. Store in refrigerator.

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 145! Qatar - Chicken Shawarma with Homemade Pita Bread - Up Next, Romania

There were a million other household chores I shoulda, coulda, woulda done today, but my family talked me into making homemade pita bread to go with the shawarma for our Qatari meal.  And honestly, making pita bread (which is mad easy) on a Sunday beats domestic drudgery any day. I was in the middle of cooking, my son Tim and and his girlfriend came home with the most adorable tiger kitten -- in a willow basket no less. I held my mean- mom "no way in Hell " ground for a good 30 seconds, until the kitten looked up at me - then I totally caved. We already  have a cat, a very large German shepherd and two turtles and fish, so what's one more, right? Sigh. I need a serious refresher course on how to resist cuteness in a basket.

Located on the northeasterly coast of the larger Arab Peninsula, Qatar is an Arab emirate in the Middle East. Its only land border is Saudi Arabia, the rest of the country being surrounded by the Persian Gulf. Ruled by the Al Thani family's absolute monarchy since the mid-19th century, Qatar was a former British protectorate, which gained its independence in 1971. Qatar is one of the regions wealthiest states, due in large part to its abundant oil and gas reserves, as well as its pearling market. Qatar claimed the world's largest per capita production of oil and gas and in 2010 was also rated with world's highest GDP.

Because Qatar is surrounded by water on 3 sides and has an abundance of sunny weather, vegetables, fruit and fish are readily available. Although the country's cuisine is based on traditional nomadic customs, Qatar's cuisine has an international flare and incorporates Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, Mediterranean and Mexican flavors into it's cooking. Seafood, lobster, crab, shrimp, tuna, king fish and red snapper are eaten and prepared regularly. Under Muslim law, pork is not consumed, and halal lamb and chicken must be slaughtered and prepared according to strict guidelines. Yogurt, coffee, cheese and olives also make regular appearances at the breakfast, lunch (the main meal of the day) and dinner table.

Homemade Pita Bread (Adapted from

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10 -15 minutes until water is foamy.
Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a bread hook.
Make a small depression in the middle of the flour and pour yeast mixture into depression.
Turn mixer on low and mix until blended.
Continue to knead with bread hook for 10-15 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
Grease a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl, turning until coated.
Cover bowl with clean towel and let rise in warm, draft free place for 3 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Once doubled, turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, and roll into a rope.
Pinch off 10-12 small pieces and roll into balls.
Place balls on floured surface, cover with a clean towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven and cookie sheet to 500 F and make sure rack is at the bottom of the oven.
Roll each ball of dough out with a rolling pin into 5-6-inch circles across and 1/4-inch thick.
Bake for 4 minutes until the bread puffs up, then turn over and bake for another 2 minutes.
Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet, and with the back of the the spatula, gently push down on the puffed pita breads.
Cool and store immediately in resealable storage bags.

Chicken Shawarma (Adapted from Middle Eastern Food)

For the Chicken Marinade
1-1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, thinly sliced
1 cup plain Greek style yogurt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cardamom pods, crushed (discard pod shells)
1 tsp. ground allspice
juice from 1 lemon

For the Sauce

1 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Greek style yogurt

For the Pita Filling

8 small loaves of pita bread or 4 large
thinly sliced cucumbers (I used English)
thinly sliced red onions
1/2 tsp. sumac (available in Middle Eastern markets)
thinly sliced tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients except for chicken, sauce and filling ingredients to make marinade. If it seems a little dry, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
Add chicken to marinade mixture, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
In a large heavy skillet, cook chicken over medium heat for 20-30 minutes until cooked.
While chicken is cooking, prepare the sauce. Combine all sauce ingredients, mix well and set aside. If the sauce is too thick, you may add a little more lemon juice or water until it reaches the desired consistency.
In a bowl, combine onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and sprinkle with sumac.

To Prepare the Pita

Stuff the pita with enough chicken on  pita that it fills about 1/4 of the loaf. Add vegetables and pour sauce over everything. Roll like a soft taco or burrito. You can also use a large pita loaf and roll it as you would a burrito.

Final Assessment:  Delicious. Traditional Middle Eastern flavors all tucked inside fresh pita bread. We had it for lunch, and we're having it for dinner...and if there are any left overs, we'll have it for breakfast too.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 144! Portugal - Barbecued Frango com Peri Peri (Chicken Peri-Peri) - Up Next, Qatar

Funny how things go. A few weeks ago I got a nice email from the Kalahari Pepper Company, wanting to know if I'd be interested in trying their Peri-Peri sauce in some of the African cooking I was doing. Never one to turn down free food of any kind (even if I don't know exactly what it is), I gratefully accepted. A week later, a package of mild, hot and extra hot Rhino Peri-Peri sauce showed up at my door. We immediately opened a bottle and tested it out. It was fragrant, spicy and a lovely orange color - perfect for dipping, adding to soups and stews and...marinating. By complete coincidence, while searching for a recipe for tonight's Portuguese meal, the first one I landed on was for barbecued chicken, marinated in Peri-Peri sauce. Turns out, Peri-Peri sauce is a regular staple used in both African and Portuguese cooking. I do believe the saucy Foodie Goddess was hovering over me today.

Known as Africa's hottest chili pepper, the Peri-Peri is grown in and exported from Botswana and Mozambique for the Kalahari Pepper Company. Not only that,  but a portion of the profits from the sale of Rhino Peri-Peri, goes to Save the Rhino International. Any time I come across companies that put out a great product and give back to the community or a cause, I'm thrilled to do business with them. Thank you Kalahari Pepper Company!

Settled since pre-historic times, Portugal is a southwestern country on the Iberian Peninsula. The country is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. The Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are part of Portugal as well. In 29 BC, Rome integrated Portugal into it's empire as the provinces of Lusitania and part of Gallaecia. As a result, Portuguese culture and the language were strongly influenced by Roman settlers. Portugal claims to be the oldest nation state, and established itself as a global empire thanks to numerous maritime explorers who amassed territories in Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America (all of which are now independent countries).

Portuguese cuisine is somewhat similar to Mediterranean cooking, and tends to be rich, spicy and filling.  Once Portugal's colonial possession, African culinary traditions, particularly spices such as Peri-Peri, black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and saffron are evident. Olive oil, garlic, coriander and parsley are all frequently used as well. The Portuguese people consume the highest amount of seafood in the world, and the country is  known for its culture of fishing. Chicken, linguica and pork also provide sources of protein. Tomatoes, onions, beans, cabbage, potatoes and kale are commonly eaten vegetables. Cheese, pastry, egg-based custards and wine also dominate Portuguese cuisine.

Barbecued Frango com Peri-Peri (Chicken Peri-Peri) - (Adapted from Lagos, Luz&Sagres Portuguese Recipes) - Serves 4-6

2 whole chickens
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup salted butter
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Half a bottle of Piri-Piri pepper sauce
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 piece fresh ginger, grated
1 Bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt

Clean the chickens (removing any excess fat or giblets inside the cavity and thoroughly rinse, then drain and pat dry.
Place the bird, breast side down, on a cutting board and with a large, sharp knife, cut it through the center, but don't slice it in half.
Spread the bird out, then with a mallet, BEAT IT UP!! A few good smashes should do it! You want to be able to open the whole chicken flat on the grill.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a blender and pour half the sauce over the chickens in a large non-reactive pan or bowl. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for 4 hours (20 hours max if you want a spicier version). Refrigerate remaining sauce.
Place chickens, skin side up, on the grill of a gas or charcoal fire. Brush the chickens with some of the remaining marinade and cook until ready, continually basting the chickens, being careful not to have the flame so high that the skin burns before the inside is cooked. Give the chicken at least 15 minutes per side on a medium-low flame, turning often - you may need more time if the chickens are large. Poke a fork in the thickest part of the meat - when the juice runs clear - they're done. And don't worry, you can toss them back on the grill if need be!

Final Assessment: Oh yeah! Spicy, sweet, smoky, rich and tasty! I actually put them back on the grill after to cook another 10 minutes as the meat was just a little too pink for my liking. As long as you keep the flame or charcoal to a medium temp, you won't burn the meat. I only marinated this batch for 4 hours, but I may try over night next time. Awesomesauce!

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 143! Poland - Pączki - Polish Donuts with Rose Jam Filling - Up Next, Portugal

Somewhere in my travels, I recently read that donuts were the new cupcake. Need I go on? While I love a good cupcake, they've always seemed a little precious - so much ado about a little cake that generally has way too much sweet and fussy frosting for my liking. But oh, the simple donut; where to begin? Just thinking about donuts conjures up memories of Mike's Donuts -- a real-deal, old-school coffee shop located on Mission Hill in Boston, where my husband's family has lived for decades, and where our sweet children were born. Family owned and operated, Mike's is a meeting place for neighborhood folks and passers by on their way to work or school. Steaming hot coffee and racks of sugared, filled, plain, frosted or glazed donuts fill the shop with the heavenly scent that only a coffee-donut-sugar combo can create. Close your eyes for a minute and let your olfactory memory take you there - got it?

So while searching for a recipe to represent Poland, I came across numerous recipes for Pączki - Polish donuts, many with rose jam filling. To make the rose jam, I clipped a variety of roses I have in my back yard. A little water, a little lemon juice, lots of sugar, some pectin and presto:  sticky, sweetly scented and pink rose jam. I used all the pectin recommended in the recipe, but the next time I make it, I'll use a little less so it's not quite so thick. Any roses will do, but be sure to use roses that haven't been sprayed with chemicals. As for the donuts, it was very hot and humid today, so the dough did not rise as much as it would have on a cooler, dryer day. No matter, although they're not especially healthy, they were beautiful, delicious and, let's face it,  sometimes you just have to summon a heaping dose of denial and let yourself indulge in a good donut.

A central European country, Poland is bordered by Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, the Baltic Sea, and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave. Poland's existence dates back to the adoption of Christianity in 966, but the Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025. In 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed, until 1795 when the lands were partitioned again. Poland regained independence in 1918, but in 1939,  Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, triggering WWII. Following revolutions in 1989, communist rule was overthrown and Poland finally became a unitary state, made of of 16 voivodeships. Despite wars, economic hardships and political changes, the country has maintained cultural wealth and rich traditions.

Culinary traditions in Poland have evolved over the years to due to many changing circumstances. However, food in this country generally shares similarities with other central and eastern European countries. Much Polish food takes time to prepare and involves numerous steps. Beef, chicken, pork and some fish are primary sources of protein, while a variety of winter and root vegetables are used in soups, stews, and fillings for dumplings. Cream and eggs are used in abundance, as are a wide range of sweets and cakes, some topped with lovely poppy seeds. Pączki - polish donuts with or without filling, are traditional eaten on Fat, or Shrove Thursday, the last Thursday before Lent begins which welcomes the winding down of Carnival season (as Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras).

Rose Jam

Pączki - Polish Donuts 

Rose Jam (Adapted from

1 cup rose petals (free of any chemicals or pesticides)
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 pkg. powdered pectin and 3/4 cup water

Pick clean, chemical-free roses.The color roses you chose will determine the color of the jam.
Pull the petals from the roses and clip off the white ends.
Pack a one cup measuring cup with rose petals.
Put petals in a blender, add water and lemon juice.
Blend until smooth, then gradually add sugar. Run blender until sugar is disolved.
In a pan stir pectin into water. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Pour into rose mixture, 1/8 cup at a time with the blender running on low, until you achieve the desired consistency.
Pour into clean glass jars, cover and refrigerate. Will keep for one month.

Pączki - Polish Donuts (adapted from a recipe on

1 1/2 cups warm milk (no warmer than 110 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast (remember to proof yeast before you begin)
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick, sweet unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
4 1/2 - 5 cups all purpose flour
1 gallon oil for deep frying
Granulated sugar for sprinkling, optional
Confectioner's sugar for dusting, optional
Fruit jam for filling, optional

1. Add yeast to warm milk, stir to dissolve and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment  cream together sugar and butter and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and salt until well incorporated.
2. Still using the paddle attachment, add 4-1/2 cups flour, alternating with yeast-milk mixture and beat for 5 or more minutes until smooth. If the dough will be slack and have a sheen to it, but if it looks too sticky, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour, but no more.
3. Place dough in a greased blow, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk (1 to 2-1/2 hours). Punch down and let rise again.
4. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Pat or roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as you can, gathering scraps and re-rolling to cut and use all the dough.
5. Heat oil to 350 degrees in an electric or heavy skillet. Place donuts top-side down in the oil a few at a time and fry 2-3 minutes and fry until golden brown. Flip them over and fry another 1-2 minutes until golden brown. Be careful not to let the oil get too hot as it will burn the outside of the donut before the center is fully cooked.
6. Drain on paper towels and roll in granulated sugar will still warm.
7. To fill donuts, poke a hole in the side of the donut (I used a chopstick), fit a pastry back with a medium sized tip, and pipe filling into the center of the donut.

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