Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 191! Vanuatu- Citrus Baked Fish in Coconut Cream - Up Next, Vatican City

After a brief world-cooking hiatus (forced upon me by life's ever-so annoying demands, like work), I'm back and jumping right into the first of the "V" countries with the beautiful South Pacific Island, Vanuatu. After this, I'll only have 6 countries left to go which fills me with a combination of excitement over continued possibilities and more than a little sadness over the impending end of this wonderful journey. But until then, onward with this island stop and citrus baked fish.

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
Located in the South Pacific, Vanuatu is an island nation, "Y" shaped archipelago of 83 islands. The islands share their maritime borders with Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. Mostly mountainous and volcanic, the climate is tropical and subtropical. The majority of the population are Vanuatu, with the remainder being Pacific Islanders and Asian. The primary source of income on the island is local aggriculture, fishing and forestry. First sited by European explorers, the island has probably existed for some 4,000 years, with pottery fragments dating back to 1300-1100 BC as evidence of human existence. With the discovery of sandalwood on the island, the islanders were exploited as laborers for many years. In 1906, French and British missionaries and settlers hoped to establish cotton plantations, but later switched to cocoa and coffee production. Finally, after years of dual governance by the French and British, the country established independence in 1980.

Vanuatu cuisine is typical of Pacific Island cooking, with fish, root vegetables, fruit and vegetables being the staples. Most islanders have back yard gardens, and food is plentiful. Papaya, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, sweet potatoes, taro, yams and coconut are all enjoyed. Kava, a non-alcoholic drink with mild sedative properties is the national drink and is mostly used at night due to its relaxing effects. I think I need some of that.

I used Branzino - aka Mediterranean Sea Bass
Layer orange and lemon slices on top
Pour some coconut milk around the little darling and season with salt and pepper
Wrap up in several layers of banana leaves so you have little packets - secure with kitchen twine
Serve with a salad, plantains or rice - the fish is so tender, the meat falls off the bones

Citrus Baked Fish in Coconut Cream (Recipe Adapted from Healthy Life)

2 medium whole fish  (I used Branzino, weighing about 2lbs. total)
½ tbsp. ground black pepper
1 lemon
1 orange
½ c. light coconut milk
Salt to taste
Banana leaves

Wash and clean fish and place on a softened banana leaf. Thinly slice the lemon and orange and alternate the slices on top of the fish. Sprinkle pepper and pour coconut cream around the fish. Wrap the fish well in about 3 layers of softened banana leaves and bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes or in an earth oven for about 1 hour.

© 2010-2012, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 190.5 Rosemary Shortbread

This easy Rosemary Shortbread recipe is undoubtedly my favorite cookie of all time. It comes from Joanne Chang's delectable baking book, Flour, which is filled with one amazing cake, cookie, bar and pastry recipe after another. Golden and tender, these simple cookies are not too sweet and veritably melt in your mouth. They have just the right amount of fresh rosemary, which lends them a sublimely delicate, savory flavor and fragrance - a more elegant cookie does not exist. I'm that sure.

I adapted the recipe by substituting sea salt for kosher salt, because I'm a salt freak, (an inherited trait shared by my brother and sister as well - thanks, Mom!). By using larger grain salt, you get little random crunchy bursts of saltiness throughout the cookie - which makes my tongue ever so happy. You can cut them in any shape you like with a good sharp knife, but I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter because I made these cookies-of-love for the men-folk in my house. Enjoy!

Just 8 ingredients needed
 Add egg yolk to creamed butter and sugar, along with rosemary
 Add sea salt - if you don't want that much crunchiness, substitute kosher salt 
 Make and 8-inch disk, refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm, but not hard
 Roll out cookies on floured surface - cut with a knife or cookie cutter of your choice
 Cool on the cookie sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer to wire rack until completely cooled 
 Serve - will keep for up to 4 days in an air-tight container

Rosemary Short Bread (Recipe adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour cookbook)

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat on medium speed for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder. On low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, and mix just until flour is incorporated and dough is evenly mixed.

Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, then wrap up and press down to form an 8-inch wide, 1" thick disk. Refrigerate about 20 minutes.

On a floured board (the dough is sticky!), roll out to a 12x10-inch rectangle. Use a sharp knife or cookie cutters to cut shapes, then arrange on an ungreased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet about 2-inches apart.

Bake on center rack in 325F oven for 15-18 minutes, or until gold brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 15 minutes (which lets them brown up a tad more without over-baking), then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

P.S. This dough freezes well. Cookies can be stored in airtight container for up to 4 days.

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 190! Uzbekistan - Chicken Osh/Plov - Up Next, Vanuatu

Here's a simple, satisfying family-friendly dish that's got lots of flavor and a nice little quick, thanks to the addition of crushed red pepper. The original recipe called for lamb, but as I was short on both time and cash, I opted to use boneless chicken thighs, which are a perfectly acceptable substitution for plov. The closest I can get to comparing this dish to American food is rice pilaf, although the cooking method for this traditional meal is quite unique and fun to make. Enjoy!

Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is the only country in that part of the world that is doubly land locked. It shares its borders with Kazakstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.The country was originally part of the Persian Samanid and the Timurid empire, the land was conquered in the 16th century by Uzbek nomads who spoke Eastern Turkic. Later, Uzbekistan was part of of the Soviet Union, until it gained its independence in 1991. Today, most of the population belong to the Uzbek ethnic group and speak Uzbek. Industry in this country is based on the production and mining of cotton, gold, uranium, potasium and natural gas. Although the country has made significant economic strides, many of its political and human rights policies (particulary as they related to women and reproductive rights) continue to be of concern in the larger global community.

Much Uzbek cooking has its roots in nomadic traditions. Local aggriculture, farming, breads, noodles and mutton round out the country's cuisine. Palov, Osh or Plov is largely considered the most widely eaten meal enjoyed in Uzbekistan, being eaten for breakfast, at family gatherings and for cermonies and celebrations. In addition, many soups, stews, noodle-based dishes and kebabs are eaten as well. Green tea is the most popular national drink.

Basmati rice is rinsed then soaked for 30 minutes
 Seasoning and Spices: Cumin, coriander, crushed red pepper, sea salt, black pepper and garlic 
 Thinly sliced onions and carrots
 Brown onions, add garlic, chicken and carrots. Add water, then make a well and add rice.

Chicken Osh/Plov (Recipe Adapted from
2 cups Basmati rice
1-1/2 pounds chicken, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions
4 carrots
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt


Zirvak - First Step
1. Rinse rice, then soak for 30 minutes
2. Cut chicken into cubes.
3. Slice the onions thinly and cut the carrots into strips. You should about the same amount of carrots, onions, and chicken.
4.Heat a large cast-iron or metal wok with the oil.
5. Fry the onion until golden brown.
6.Add chopped garlic and lightly brown. You can alternatively put the whole cloves into the rice when you cook the rice.
7.Add chicken and fry until cubes are lightly browned.
8.Add carrots, salt, pepper, all spices (adjust to your taste), and 2 cups of water. Turn down the fire, mix well, and cover for 5 min to allow carrots to soften.

Second Step
9.Push the ingredients to the outer parts of your cooking wok/pot creating a large hole in the centre which will be filled with liquid.
10.Carefully add your rice to the centre of the pot. Do not mix it with the rest of the ingredients. Try to fit most of it in the centre "hole".
11.Add another 1.5 cups of water, cover the pot and allow to simmer until the rice is cooked and water has been dried up. This will take approximately 30 minute.
12.Stir the entire mixture well and serve on a hearty plate or bowl. Top with spring onions. It goes well with a side-serving of salad, tomatoes, and bread. Naan or other type of flat bread would be best.

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 189.5 Braised Squirrel Aurora

Squirrel. Squirrel?!! Those little b*st*rds that chewed through the fascia board on our 140 year old house, got in the walls and partied for a week straight before we caught and "relocated" them? Yes, squirrel. And why not?

American Red Squirrel -
Photo Courtesy of Animal Galleries
Now, I can fish (although I've been known to cast out and catch my husband's hat - or shirt - or arm). And, nothing - I mean, nothing in the wild kingdom scares or grosses me out. Add to that, my long-held belief that overall, we as a nation are way too removed from the source of what eat - meat, vegetable or tofu.  Enter, Alex and his family - friends, avid hunters and adventurous eaters. After telling Alex that I'd been thinking about learning how to hunt small game, he mentioned that he just happened to be heading north, and offered to bring back squirrel. Which he did; Dressed, skinned and on ice. I asked Alex to tell me a little about himself, and this is what he sent me. It's so beautifully written that I've included his "essay" as is - no editing.

These squirrels were shot in Gilmanton NH. It's just south of Laconia and Belmont, about 5 miles south of the semi popular Gunstock Ski area. (It's also the town that the novel "Peyton Place" was written largely about. The book’s author Grace Metalious is still buried there.) There are forests there now, but 150 years ago, it was all clear farmland. They are in fact American red squirrels. These squirrels are widely distributed throughout North America. They survive mainly on pinecone seeds, and they are more common in the Northeast these days as pine forests have sprung up in areas that used to be hardwood forests. Their calls are quite distinctive. They chirp like birds and chatter at intruders.

To hunt them I used a Ruger 10/22 semi auto rifle, using 22 LR ammo. 22 rimfire is probably the most popular round used on small game, and nearly everyone learns how to shoot with it. When it comes to hitting the squirrels, it depended on where I found them and what they were doing. I found one in an area thick with pine, and it was only 5 yards away. Sometimes when alarmed they hold up against a tree and don’t move in an effort to remain invisible. If you see them then they are easy to hit. When you see them up high in the trees though, they tend to race from branch to branch and they are nearly impossible to hit.
Alex, on the move

In order to dress them, I first slit the bellies open up to the breast taking care not to puncture the intestines. The idea is to cool the meat as quickly as possible in order to avoid spoilage of the meat. Then I pulled out the internal organs. This procedure is standard for all game, with variations given to different animal types. (For instance, remove the feathers first when dealing with birds.) I then removed the heads and tails. Using the area near the open neck, I pinched the skin layer and peeled it back. From there I peeled back the skin and pulled it off entirely. Note that I am still somewhat of a self taught amateur, so my technique is not perfect. This is the first time I have dressed squirrels and I have yet to eat them.

I have been hunting of a sort all my life and I suppose I was no more “taught” how to hunt then I was “taught” to speak and walk. I used to accompany my uncle on small game and deer hunts starting at the age of three. At about eight years old my father and uncle taught me to shoot and I started hunting small game, mostly small rodents (including squirrels) in order to keep them out of my uncle’s garden. They filled me in on the basics. Shoot a deer here, you can find them in areas like this, don’t move a muscle when stand hunting, walk slow and the like. I taught myself the rest. I shot my first large animal, a turkey at age 17 and my first deer this fall.

Turkey is Alex's favorite thing to hunt
Far and away my favorite thing to hunt is wild turkeys in the spring. Most hunters would say deer, but deer hunting is a lot of sitting and waiting, and a lot of seeing nothing, even in a good year. Turkey hunting by comparison is more active. You call the male birds in using mating calls, and you hear them make their famous “gobble” as they talk back to you. You feel a lot more involved with the animal, which in my mind makes it all the more special. Oddly enough though, my favorite tool is my deer rifle, a bolt action Sauer 200 in 308 Winchester, with a Schmidt and Bender scope. It was a 16th birthday gift from my uncle, and I lovingly call it “Vera.”

I am one of those guys that see all animals as equal, equal to me and to other animals. I see no difference between a trout and a turkey, or a dung beetle and a deer. Therefore the things I will not hunt comprise a very basic list. I will not hunt anything protected by law, and that includes the two things that I would not hunt if otherwise. Those two things are bats and owls. Owls are my steadfast hunting buddies, as there is always one around when I’m out in the woods, and I find bats fascinating. Not that I’m not fascinated by the animals I do hunt, but bats are special to me for some reason. I can’t fully explain it.

If there was one final thing to say it would be this. There are a lot of folks out there who don’t exactly take kindly to what it is I do. They seem to think I “hate” wildlife. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love wildlife. I’d do anything to preserve it. I just express that love in a different way. The way I see it, I’m just doing what I see as a natural human activity, something we have done for millions of years. By doing it this way, I yearn for a stronger connection to wild. I don’t just observe nature. I’m a working part of nature.

The brine: cracked pepper, salt, thyme, bay leaves and water
Combine in a sauce pan, cover, bring to a boil and cool to room temperature
 Add meat, cover and refrigerate for 6-8 (but no more or the meat becomes uber salty)
Cutting a squirrel to serving size pieces is similar to cutting up a rabbit or chicken - only tiny
Toasted almonds and lots of garlic are chopped and added to the sauce later on
 Green Spanish olives add a rice, piquant flavor to the sauce
 Slice a 1/2 a whole onion; grate the other half for the sauce (I forgot the pix of of the hot pepper
 1 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of chicken broth
 I used baby potatoes
Dredge squirrel in flour and brown in olive oil
Bring to a boil, then pop in the oven
 Behold - Braised Squirrel Aurora

To view the recipe and technique in its entirety, please Hank Shaw's most excellent website, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook,   Honest Food 

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day 189! Uruguay~Chivito Sandwich - Up, Next, Uzbekistan

At last, the declared dude-favorite of all the countries I've cooked in thus far! The manly Chivito sandwich wins the blue ribbon seal of approval from my husband and sons alike. Packed with three different kinds of meat, cheese and egg, this sandwich must be eaten with two hands while bending slightly forward from the waist over a plate or paper towel - or both.  The Salsa golf sauce, a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise my boys have always been partial to, puts the perfect finishing condiment touch on the Chivito, the national sandwich of Uruguay. Depending on the recipe, there are many slight variations of this street snack that include the addition of pickles, olives and peppers to name just a few, but I skipped those and kept to what seemed like the most consistent recipe combination. I did however have to opt for thinly sliced sirloin steak tips (props to my butcher for doing the work for me!) instead of pricey fillet mignon which is the authentic cut called for, since the cost was a total budget-buster. Ah well, necessity is the mother of invention.

Map Courtesy of Lonely
Officially the Republic of of Uruguay, the country is located in the southeastern part of South America, and shares its borders with Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America and was the original home to Charrua Indians who inhabited the beautiful land before European colonization. Montevideo, the country's capital was founded by the Spanish during the 18th century as a military stronghold and was explored by numerous seafarers. Between 1811-1828, the country was torn in a three-way struggle with the colonies of Spain, Argentina and Brazil, but finally gained its independence. This gorgeous country is known for pristine beaches, interesting cities, great food and vibrant night life. One of the most economically developed countries in South America, Uruguay was the first country in this part of the world to legalize same-sex and different sex civil unions and gay adoption. Right on.

Food in Uruguay has been influenced by the Spanish who first introduced cattle. Mediterranean influences are also infused in the food from countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Britain, Africa and to a lesser degree, ancient indigenous traditions. Barbecue, or Asado (mixed grill), is one of the country's most impressive and delicious offerings, along with the chivito (meaning 'little goat') sandwich, pasta, sausages and rich desserts. Dolche Leche (sweet and creamy) is used to fill cakes, cookies and to make custards. Grappamiel,  a popular drink that combines alcohol and honey can be found throughout the country - I'm really curious about what that tastes like!

Sliced tomatoes, onions and lettuce 
 Sliced fresh mozzarella 
 Onions, sauted in a little bacon grease
 Saute sliced beef and ham
 Use good crusty rolls like these that will hold up to this hefty sandwich
Salsa Golf Sauce - a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup is a popular combination in Uruguay
 Spread Salsa Golf on roll
 Layer lettuce, beef, bacon, ham, tomato, onions and mozzarella, then broil just until cheese melts
 My husband gives Chivito an enthusiastic two thumbs up!

Chivito (Adapted from

4 very large sandwich buns (large ciabatta rolls are good)
2 beef filet steaks, or 4 thin slices of grilled steak
8 pieces of bacon
4 slices of deli ham
4 tomato slices
1/2 thinly sliced onion (optional)
4 slices of mozzarella cheese
4 eggs
1-2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place a large skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon slices until crispy. Set aside on paper towels to cool.
  2. If using the filet steaks, drain the excess bacon fat out of the skillet. Slice each filet in halve crosswise, to make 2 thin steaks (4 total). Sprinkle with coarse salt, and use a mallet to pound the steaks even thinner.
  3. Heat the skillet over medium high heat until hot, and place steaks on the skillet. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until desired doneness. Remove to paper towels to cool. Add onions and saute until golden, remove to paper towels to cool.
  4. Wipe the skillet clean. Melt the butter in over medium heat, and fry eggs sunnyside up until desired doneness.
  5. Preheat the broiler.

Assemble sandwiches: Spread inside of buns with ketchup and mayonnaise. Place lettuce slices over bottom half of buns. Top with a slice of beef, 2 bacon slices, a slice of ham, a slice of tomato, and a slice of mozzarella.

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