Spain

July 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Spain is the next stop.   We’re in an easy country again – Spanish food has criss-crossed the world, partly as a result of the Imperial era of Spain where they more-or-less conquered much of the Americas, leaving an indelible footprint on the culture of the region.   It seems that while every major city has a Chinatown, they all have a Spanish quarter too.   And with tapas on the menu, that’s fair reason.

The  Plan

I want a paella.   It has to be quintessential Spanish dish, the epic finale to any great tapas spread.    A traditional paella is cooked slowly in massive dish with morsels of fish, sausage, chicken, bacon and vegetables nestled in a stock-enriched bed of rice.  Even better, traditionally dinner guests all tuck in and eat directly from the pan (the paellera).

Here’s the catch:   I don’t have paellera.  Even if I did, I wouldn’t have a stove wide enough to cook it.  Plus it’s my birthday.  So, we’re using a restaurant path and eating paella!

Ten of us ate at The Vintage Cafe, a cosy Spanish place in the rocks.

The  Event

The Vintage Cafe is small, comfortable and sends a stream of food to us over the course of four hours.  The kids were on their best behaviour, and kept in good company by  teetotalling-for-August Matthew, who graciously shared a bit of his Virgin Mary with Liam:  I’m so proud, his first tabasco source event and he loved it.

Food that rolled out included:

  • Marinated Olives
  • Roasted field mushrooms with ricotta and fetta
  • Flamed Portugeuse chorizo salad
  • Chorizo pizza
  • Garlic prawns with piri-piri sauce
  • Roast duck breast with figs and pepper sauce
  • Seafood paella with crab, prawns, chicken, fish, mussels and chorizo

All the dishes were good but the paella was the dish I came for and I wasn’t disappointed.   Two huge platters landed on the table and we picked our way through them.  The crab legs arched hugely over the top of giant prawns, with the reminder of the meat hidden away in the savoury rice.   Gorgeous.

The Dark Horse Shiraz from McLaren Vale was surprisingly sweet;  the Harvey River Bridge Shiraz was WA was much better.

The  Outcomes

Hugh: Awesome.  More sangria!

Kath:  The duck was excellent but….there were potatoes on the menu and we didn’t order them ?

Andy:  Fantastic.

Claire: Excellent!

Jayne: Brilliant!  Um, that last bottle of wine just vaporised in minutes

Matthew: Excellent.   But damn, why do I do this August abstinence to  myself!?

Chris: Yum!

Jacqueline:  The crabs were tasty – I like ripping the meat out.

Liam: The spices are awesome!

Me:  The paella – fantastic, loved it.

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Italy

July 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Ah, Italia!   Home of the Ferrari, pioneer of modern science, favourer of frequent squabbly elections (61 governments in 60-odd years), a source of entrenched dogmatic religion (take your pick from Catholicism or futball)… but above all, an epic place for food.  The place practically oozes with culinary cred, with its place names making one literally salivate.   Tuscany, Venice, Florence, Sicily…everywhere conjures up thoughts of food.

The  Plan

Now, while there is an abundance of interesting and novel food in Italy, it remains (probably) the country that exported more of its cuisine than just about anywhere:  much of the world knows and loves pizza, pasta, minestrone, focaccia, risotto, prosciutto & salami, cappuccino, and of course, Chianti and Lambrusco!

Hence:  while I’m sure I could dig up an exotic Italian dish, it’s time to ease in to a perennial world-stage common-as-muck (and arguably Italian-American more than than true Italian):  Spaghetti & Meatballs.   Belinda shared this one with me and it’s great.

NB:  if you don’t have fresh basil, don’t attempt the dish.   Dried basil is next to useless.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Meatball mix:

  • 500g of beef mince
  • 3/4 of a cup of breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon of corn flower
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil

And for the sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • 2 x 440g tin tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground pepper
  1. Mix all of the mince ingredients thoroughly together.  Make meatballs with around two tablespoons of the mixture.   Place on a lightly oiled plate.   Ideally, cover & refrigerate for an hour.
  2. Saute the onions in butter and oil until translucent.   Add the garlic and fry for one minute.
  3. Stir in the basil, and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, mixed herbs, white wine and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes
  5. Add the meatballs and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes.

Serve over fresh pasta.

The Event

Nothing to say: this is easy & reliable.   Best served with a side of home made garlic bread.   You’ll also need a chunk of salt to cut through the sweetness of the tomatoes.

The Outcome

Jacqueline: “10/10 as it’s one of my favourite dish”

Liam: “Me too!”

Chris: “Be honest.  This is a regular dish, not a true ‘around the world dish’.  Oh, and say to ‘add some cream’ to thin out the acidity of the sauce.”

Me:   This is a staple.  Make the meatballs large and it’s surprisingly filling.

Sweden

July 11, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Northern & Eastern Europe | Leave a comment

Bork bork bork.

We’ve decided to jump out of Africa and pop up to  Northern Europe.  Sweden’s our next stop.   Tonight’s all about Abba, Vikings, Pippi Longstocking, Ikea, pickled herring and elderflower.  Ikea is important – not only is it the place to get adult sized Lego, they also stock a variety of Swedish food.

The Plan

Chris opportunistically picked up a range of Swedish samples from Ikea – pickled fish, various types of breads & crackers, some elderflower cordial and some cheese.   I decided that we’d have a form of a smörgåsbord as a starter with the Ikea snack, followed up by (of course)  Swedish Meatballs, and finishing off with a Swedish cheesecake.

Entree: Smörgåsbord

  • Assortment of pickled herring (plain, sour cream, dijon mustard and with lingonberries)
  • Matjes Herring
  • Three hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • Assortment of Swedish bread, crispbread and crackers (Knackebrod, Leksands)
  • Elderflower cordial  (used as mixer with Vodka for adults)
  • Wãstgöta Kloster (Swedish cheese)

Simply assemble on a plate and make ad-hoc open sandwiches

Main: Kostbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

  • 1 (7 ounce) ground beef
  • 1 (7 ounce) ground veal
  • 1 (3 1/2 ounce) ground pork
  • 1 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped onions
  • 3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 small boiled potatoes, cold and mashed
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon epice riche
  • 4-5 tablespoons butter
  • Mashed potato, pickled cucumber (accompaniments)

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • beef stock
  • soy sauce
  • salt
  • white pepper
  1. Fry the onion light yellow in a little butter.
  2. Soak the breadcrumbs in the liquid.
  3. Mix everything well and add spices to taste.
  4. Make 1- to 1 1/2-inch meatballs with the help of two wet spoons.
  5. Put them on a plate coated with a little flour and fry them slowly on all sides in lots of butter (putting the meatballs in the freezer for a while before frying makes them firmer).
  6. Place the meatballs on a hot plate, fry the flour in the remaining fat and pour in the stock and the cream.
  7. Boil for a few minutes.
  8. Add soy, salt and pepper to taste and pour the hot sauce over the meatballs.
  9. Serve hot with mashed potates, pickled cucumber and preserved lingonberry or cranberry.

Desert: Ostaka (Swedish Cheesecake), pickled herring, elderflower,

  • 1/4 cup of almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 tbsp sugar (6 or 7 might be better though as I did not find this very sweet)
  • 1/4 cup of plain flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 500g cottage cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together and then add in the sifted flour, milk, cream, cottage cheese and almonds.
  3. Stir to combine and then pour into an oven proof dish
  4. Bake for 1 hour and then serve warm with whipped cream and lingon berry jam, or any berries available.

The Event

The IKEA themed smörgåsbord was great to assemble and very different.   The pickled herring was, shall we say, interesting but with a different reaction to each one.   The Matjes Herring elicited the most unfortunate and violent reaction from Chris who, retching, bolted from the table to spit her mouthful in the bin.  Huge amusement value for the kids.

The Swedish meatballs – with a Muppet interlude – were quite difficult to assemble, being very sticky.   The amount of cream made me shudder but in the interests of international gastronomy, I continued.  Putting them in the freezer was almost mandatory before cooking.   Be careful using too much stock, I made the sauce far too strong.

The Swedish cheesecake came out, well, a bit like custard.    It’s important to serve immediately as it comes out of the oven very fluffy but collapses quickly.

The Outcome

Jacqueline:  ”The fish is stinky!  I don’t like the meatballs.  But the cheese cake is good!  The Swedish Chef was hilarious!  Bork bork bork!”

Liam:  ”I liked the meatballs a tiny bit and I hated the fish.  I liked watching Mum & Dad spit the fish into the bin. I liked the Swedish chef alot!”

Christina: “<blewwegrghg>  OK, never again with the herring.   Meatballs – yep.   Swedish cheesecake – pretty tasteless”

Me:   The fish was, well, I guess, an acquired taste. The meatballs were surprisingly gravy-ish and really quite nice:  Italian ones are better though.  The cheesecake…yeah, a disappointment.   Overall though, 10/10 for a very different meal.

Sierra Leone

July 5, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Western & Southern Africa | Leave a comment

If you search Wikipedia’s page for Sierra Leone for the word “coup”, there are 17 references.    It’s also positioned 3rd last on the Human Development Index.  So, not an entirely happy country, which is seems to a sad and relatively consistent story for mot of the locations we’ve tried for  Western African cuisine.

Thankfully, in addition to being bestowed with a rich source of gold, bauxite, diamonds and, er, coups, they have also have managed to export a handful of recipes.  This one I suspect originates from the altogether quite common groundnut stew of the region, but more than worth a try.

The Plan

It was hard to track down a recipe from Sierra Leone – I stumbled across Chicken Stew From Sierra Leone on, of all things, an Indian web site. I made some modifications based on an excess of spinach in the fridge (so, er, added spinach).

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole chicken, deboned and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
1 large potato, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried crushed chillies
1 teaspoon salt

A big bunch of spinach

250ml water
100g  unsweetened natural-style peanut butter
400g chickpeas
1. In a large frying pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium high heat. Add chicken and brown quickly. Remove chicken from pan. Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic, onion and potato to the pan; sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with cumin, coriander, black pepper, chillies and salt. Do not let garlic brown.
2. Mix in water and browned chicken, and any accumulated juices. Place lid on frying pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove lid and stir in the peanut butter and chickpeas. Ensure the peanut butter is blended in. Replace lid to simmer for 10 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning and serve.

The Event

This was very easy to cook.  I used palm oil which makes the chicken a very nice reddish colour.   The dish does need a lot of salt – it’s quite bland with out it.    The spinach was an excellent decorative effect at the end – a splash of green – as the peanut sauce really overwhelmed everything else.

The Outcome

Jacqueline:  ”It could use more peanut butter”

Liam:  “I need seconds.  Oh, and Jacqueline’s nickname should be Miss Peanut Butter”

Christina: “PB for short.   Yeah, this is a keeper.  Lose the potatos though – or cook them properly!”

Me:   No brainer, easy, flat out filling bowl food.  <tick>

Namibia

July 4, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Western & Southern Africa | Leave a comment

Namibia is a giant nation, cuddling up to Bostwana and South Africa to share that unique microclimate, the Kalahari desert.     While it’s a vast country (with second lowest population density in the world), it’s the Kalahari that captured my imagination when I was a child.   The Kalahari bushman must have been a school assignment for just about every child of the 80s.

It occurred to me that the kids haven’t seen The Gods Must Be Crazy.   Testament to just how long lived that film has been (released 1980) is that a) the video store still has it stocked, b) they have two copies and c) both were out!     We’re on the waiting list….

(Oh, it is also worth noting two other facts about The Gods Must be Crazy:  there have been no fewer than *six* sequels, and the lead character Xi was played by Nǃxau.    His name has an alveolar click  in it (as opposed to a palatal, dental, lateral or bilabial;  |, ||, ʘ and ǂ respectively.   Oh, to be able to swear in a Khoisan language… !mʘfʘǂ)

The Plan

The Kalahari bushmen live on worms, catapillars, ostrich eggs and whatever plants they can find.  We’ll settle for a ‘traditional’ Nambibian dish sourced from Celtnet..    It calls for ostrich and crocodile, which I’ve replaced with Kangaroo and Chicken.

400g kangaroo
400g chicken.
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garic clove, crushed
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
110g cashew nuts, roasted and crushed
juice of 1 lime
200ml coconut milk
4 fresh chillies, chopped (or to taste)
1/2 tsp soy sauce
palm sugar (or light golden caster sugar), to taste
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1.  Slice the meat into 1-2cm cubes and dust with salt and pepper.  Marinate in the garlic, soy sauce and lemon and olive oil for at least 2 hours.

2.  Thread the meat onto bamboo skewers.  The skewers should be soaked in water for a least 15 minutes first to prevent them from catching fire.

3.  Melt the peanut butter in a fry pan, and mix in the coconut milk. Add the lime and sugar and stir for 5 minutes.   Brush over the skewers

4.  BBQ the skewers for a few minutes each side.  Serve with boiled rice.

The Event

This turned into an impromptu BBQ picnic with Andy and Claire and Sophie.  That then turned into a long lazy afternoon in the sun, a firepit, rampant fire-bug behaviour…and then dinner.

Oh, and Andy screwed up the satay with way too much lemon.  Straight down the sink with that, and subbed in a plain old jar of marinade.

The Outcomes

Jacq: <shrug>

Liam: “I’ve had three!”  (there wasn’t enough to go around)

Chris:  “Alright.  Kind of like….er…satay sticks.”

Andy:  “Nice”

Claire:  “They’re nice.”

Me:  At the end of the day, they were just satay sticks.   I think making a lot more and not worrying much beyond the basic marinade would have been enough.

Bonus:  during the afternoon we discovered that Claire had not previously learned of the giant sabre-toothed kangaroo that roams the interior, menacing chicken owners and taking their young in the night.  Tis good to wind up immigrants.

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