Week 6: A Peruvian Adventure

This week’s dinner was very special. My mom and my 91-year-old Grandma drove in from Cleveland for dinner. I feel so blessed to have these 2 wonderful women in my life, and grateful that they made the trip to visit us. It was great cooking for my mom, who spoiled me growing up by making all of my meals and snacks for me. There were even a few occasions back in high school when my friends and me would come home late at night and she would climb out of bed to make us some delicious Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. So being able to provide her with one top-notch meal doesn’t quite begin to pay her back for the 20+ years of keeping me alive, but at least it’s a start.

And my grandma is one of my favorite people I have the pleasure of knowing. I’m honored I get to call her my grandma! She is both hilarious and sentimental at the same time, and has always been there to give me the best life and fashion advice. She is super kooky and has absolutely no filter. But more than anything she has always given me infinite love and support, and I was so overwhelmed with joy that she came with my mom to my house for dinner. I took the two of them on a tour of Peruvian cuisine for our meal.

Papa A La Huancaina

Peru boasts about being the home of the humble potato. Contrary to popular belief, tubers did not originate in Ireland, but in Peru! There was no way we could have a meal without featuring Peru’s hometown hero, the potato. This dish is a cold potato salad with a spicy cream sauce. This is a very different way than I’m used to eating potatoes (usually mashed or baked). We found the recipe on organicauthority.com. To make the dish you boil Yukon Gold potatoes while making the sauce. The sauce consists of:

  • Crumbled queso fresco cheese
  • Vegetable oil
  • Evaporated milk
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Minced garlic and
  • Spicy Serrano peppers
Ingredients for the Papa A La Huancaina
garlic, queso fresco, limes, condensed milk and serrano peppers make the spicy cheese sauce

To make the sauce I blended the ingredients together, and kept giving spoonfuls of it to my grandma who consistently declared, “needs more spice!” so I kept chopping more peppers. I was worried about the sauce because my mom isn’t a big fan of cheese, so I was hoping the spiciness would help alleviate some of the cheesy taste.

Papa A La Huancaina
Papa A La Huancaina

The half moon shape cut potatoes are plated on top of a slice of iceberg lettuce that acts like a boat, and topped with parsley, the sauce and a slice of a hard-boiled egg. The potato dish was great, and everyone was happy with the sauce! Queso fresco cheese is mild to begin with, and my mom even added extra to her potato. Both my mom and me went back for seconds.

My grandma!
I am so blessed my grandma was able to visit me!

Ceviche

We wanted to do Peru mainly because we wanted to make ceviche. The beautiful colors and well-blended flavors of ceviche make it a unique dish that stands out. We wanted a dish that was light for the summer evening, but also a more distinctive dish than my mom and grandma were used to. Dan made up his own recipe and decided to feature fresh bay scallops and grouper in the meal. We followed some tips on making a great ceviche found on the Huffington Post.

Ceviche and Papa A La Huancaina
Ceviche and Papa A La Huancaina

What is really interesting about ceviche is the way you cook the fish. The fish is marinated in limejuice for no more than 20 minutes before serving it. The acidity from the limejuice actually cooks the fish! However, the bay scallops need longer to cook. We marinated them for roughly 3 hours. This meal was so refreshing and zesty. It was the perfect compliment to all the other elements of our dinner. The following is Dan’s Grouper and Scallop Ceviche recipe:

  • ½ pound bay scallops
  • ¾ pound fresh grouper
  • 1 sliced red onion
  • 3 chopped scallions
  • 1 cup of quartered strawberries
  • ½ tablespoon of fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1 dash of sugar or more to taste
  • 1 pinch of salt or more to taste
  • 1 dash of black pepper or more to taste

Marinade the scallops in limejuice for 3 hours ahead of time. Meanwhile, stir together the onion, scallions, strawberries, sugar, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl marinate the grouper in limejuice. We followed the tip we found online to use ½ cup of limejuice for every 1 pound of fish. When ready to serve mix everything together!

Ceviche
Delicious Ceviche

Cancha – Toasted Chulpe Corn

I wanted to make a good, simple side dish to serve alongside the ceviche so I Googled Peruvian Corn. Instantly a recipe for Cancha popped up which is described as being traditionally served with ceviche (perfect!) and similar to popcorn (double perfect!!) My mom loves popcorn! I knew I had to make this dish. I just needed to find somewhere I could buy chulpe corn.

Me and Dan took a trip to a lovely part of Pittsburgh known as the Strip District. In the strip you can find markets from all over the world: specialty cheese markets, Asian markets, fresh fish markets (where we bought the grouper and scallops for the ceviche) and also Latin American markets. La Reyna is a traditional Latin American market where you can buy a variety of foods, piñatas, an array of specialty prayer candles, and yes, chulpe corn.

Cancha
Cancha

The chulpe corn is sweeter than traditional corn and does not puff out when you fry it like popcorn does. It was very easy to make and my mom in particular loved it. She kept eating several handfuls. I was happy to give her our leftovers as well as the leftover kernels so she can make it when she’s back at home. We found the simple recipe on aboutfood.com.

Pisco Sour

As I’m preparing to make the national drink of Peru, Pisco Sour, my grandma keeps bragging about how her and her husband have a drink every night, him a glass of wine and her a glass of Scotch. My grandma also loves to reminisce about the time we traveled to Italy and we drank Limoncello liquore together (side note: I was only 17, my grandma is the coolest). So how was I to know that one glass of Pisco Sour, an 80 proof Peruvian brandy cocktail, would get her drunk? Oops!

Since I don’t own shakers, I made the Pisco Sour in a blender. It consists of Pisco, simple syrup, fresh limejuice and egg white. If you haven’t tired a cocktail with egg white, you must try it! It provides a great texture and flavor that enhances the overall drink. I found the recipe on food.com

Pisco Sour

I received the highest compliment when getting ready to serve dinner. I had my table set up outside and the Pisco Sours were sitting next to the Papa A La Huancaina, when my neighbor walked by. He looked at the table and said, “you guys must be doing Peru!” It turns out he used to live in Peru and immediately recognized the Pisco Sours and potato dish. I was so flattered that our dish looked authentic enough that he knew what we were cooking.

My mom and her Pisco Sour
My mom and her Pisco Sour

But back to my grandma, she was drunk but she handled it like a champ. When she called/drunk dialed her husband to check in she started the conversation by saying, “Hannah made a great meal, and boy am I drunk!” There’s something so endearing (and frightening) about a tipsy 91-year-old.

Leche Asada

Leche Asada is known as the “poor man’s crème brulee” and translates to roasted milk. However, about an hour into baking something that should have only been in the oven for a half hour, I was sure we would never get to actually eat it. I was so perplexed, we followed thre simple recipe found on Lima Easy exactly, and yet the liquid wasn’t turning into custard. Every time I opened the oven the ramekins were full of a very viscous substance, not at all creamy like it was supposed to be. I had the oven set for 175 degrees as the website directed but nothing happened. Eventually I turned the oven up to 350 and ta-da, the dessert was made!

Leche Asada about to go into the oven.
Leche Asada about to go into the oven.

It wasn’t until hours later that Dan realized what had happened. The recipe we were following was in metric; the temperature was supposed to be 175 Celsius! We pulled out a conversion calculator (aka Googled a conversion calculator app) and sure enough 175 Celsius translates to 347 Fahrenheit (that was a hand to forehead kind of moment). We all laughed about this and enjoyed the dessert.

After over an hour, they finally cooked!
After over an hour, they finally cooked!

Having my mom and grandma with me for dinner this week truly meant the world to me. I will remember this night for the rest of my life. I’ll remember watching my grandma scarf down the ceviche even though she had told my mom the night before she didn’t like ceviche. I’ll remember my mom sitting anxiously in the kitchen while we were cooking, wanting so badly to assist us in any way, and not used to having someone else take care of her. I’ll remember how we set up the table on the sidewalk and how both my grandma and my mom repeatedly said how it felt like we were in Paris… really, the small row house section of Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh feels like Paris?

It was so special having them with us tonight. The dinner was a success and the food was incredible. We all marveled at how even though there was so much food, we all felt light and not overly stuffed. It was a fantastic evening that I will always hold onto.

Week 5: Chowing in Cyprus

Cyprus is a small island off of Greece. Dan suggested this country and I thought it’d be a good idea to do an island so we can eat some seafood. We plunged right into the ocean this week, and we made an Octopus Stew! Dan said this was the week he was most excited for. This week we ate and cooked foods that were completely different than what we’re used to.

Being that Cyprus is such a small country and the cuisine is heavily influenced by Greece, it was difficult to find recipes that were uniquely Cypriot. Fortunately, I discovered a wonderful food blog, Aphrodite’s Kitchen. This blog is written by a Cypriot woman who grew up in Canada, but still had family in Cyprus. She was living in London as a lawyer when she craved a change and packed her bags and moved to Cyprus. The blog follows her adventures cooking both traditional and modern Cypriot food, so I found it a great resource for cooking our meals this week. She is an amazing food photographer (much better than the photos I’ll be putting out this week… it’s hard to make octopus look appetizing!) and writes eloquently. I recommend checking out her blog as well.

Tzatziki and Chips

Before this week’s dinner I was telling a friend from work about the meals we’ve been making. She asked if there had been any major disasters or screw ups with the food. I happily told her that everything had been going great. I don’t know if she jinxed me, or if it was just a matter of time before something went wrong but with this dish it happened.

Tortilla Chips
Before the tortillas were burnt.

We were making the tzatziki as a dip and Dan was making chips by baking tortillas. The tortillas were cut into triangles and seasoned with olive oil and salt and pepper. He’s made chips like this 100 times in the past, and they always turn out great. The chips were the last thing that needed to be made, and Dan tossed them in the oven as everyone was arriving. I don’t know if conversation with our friends, or the fact that the wine had begun flowing distracted us, but the chips got majorly burnt. What were once happy orange and yellow tortillas emerged from the oven scorched black. I hate burnt food! I am a snob, and I won’t even eat a bagel if it even somewhat looks blackened. Heck, I don’t even enjoy a burnt marshmallow when having s’mores! Luckily, Dan and our friend Justin say they like burnt food (hurrah for me, I’m always able to pawn the more burnt food off on Dan) so they still ate the tzatziki, but as for myself I only tried one bite with the least burnt chip I could find.

Ingredients for the tzatziki
Chopped cucumbers, garlic, dill, lemon and mint are mixed with Greek yogurt to make the tzatziki.

If it weren’t for the chip situation, the tzatziki would have been great. Doing this food experiment is also beginning to show me how different countries cuisines influence each other. If you read my first post about India you might remember we made an Indian dip, Cucumber Raita. Tzatziki is extremely similar and equally enjoyable and refreshing. They’re both mainly composed of Greek Yogurt and cucumbers. We got the recipe from food.com and made it the night ahead of time. Luckily, we had leftovers and I have been able to enjoy it since with store bought, non-burnt chips.

Tzatziki
Tzatziki dip.

Artichoke Hearts and Peas

This was a delicious side dish! I had never thought of mixing artichoke hearts and peas in the past. One of the reasons I chose Cyprus was from reading the Wikipedia page on Cyprus cuisine (I perform hard hitting investigating) and it mentioned that artichokes were a popular Cypriot food. I love artichokes. And when I saw the recipe on Aprodite’s Kitchen for Artichoke Hearts and Peas I knew I had to cook it.

The peas did a wonderful job of soaking up all the different seasonings and spices. I’m not typically a huge fan of peas, but the different flavors fusing with the peas made them more enjoyable than plain old peas. The splash of lemon at the end was especially flavorful, and it was a great dish for a cool summer night.

Artichokes hearts and peas
Artichoke hearts and peas

Grating tomatoes was a new experience for us, and we used this technique in both this dish and the Octopus Stew. It was really simple. You just cut a tomato in half, and use a regular grater and grate at the meaty part. The tomato skin gets discarded. It’s a really easy way to make a tomato sauce. I learned online that grating tomatoes is a traditional Greek technique. But it was such an easy way to collect the tomato juice and pulp that I plan on utilizing it again in the future when cooking with tomatoes. Typically I hate dealing with tomatoes! I am unskilled and very messy when it comes to chopping tomatoes. The juices always spray everywhere.

Octopus Stew

Yes, Octopus Stew! What an unusual and interesting food to cook with! I was really nervous no one was going to want to come over for dinner this week due to the “ick factor” of eating a whole octopus. But we managed to scrap together a few brave friends who were also willing to step out of their own comfort zone.

Ingredients for octopus stew
Olive oil, malt vinegar, cooking wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, onions, cinnamon sticks and cloves all make the stew.

It was really fascinating cooking with octopi. First, I was shocked we were able to purchase whole octopi at our local Giant Eagle grocery store! I thought we would have to go to the specialty seafood market. Next, it was really cool to watch them boil. When you put them in the water they are deflated like a shriveled up balloon with tentacles hanging off. But as they begin to absorb water they inflate and their tentacles move creepily. I kept screaming that they were alive! Octopus are very smart creatures, so who is to say they couldn’t survive being cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney? (Only half joking.)

Octopus cooking
The octopus begin to curl up and take shape as they absorb water

Our kitchen smelled like we were standing on docks and the boats had just come in and fishermen were unloading their catches. That is to say, very fishy… until we started making the sauce. We followed the traditionally Cypriot recipe found on Aphrodite’s Kitchen. The sauce is a mixture of grated tomatoes, lots of onions, cloves, tomato paste, olive oil, vegetable oil, cooking wine and white malt vinegar. There is also a teaspoon of sugar, which gave it a pleasant sweet taste.

Octopus stew cooking
Can you see the octopus head melding with all the over flavors?

In the long run, I was very satisfied with our octopus stew. I had been nervous that the octopus would be a strange texture and too chewy, but it actually was fairly tender and less chewy than anticipated. I wasn’t even (too) grossed out by eating tentacles! Everyone was able to have a whole octopus to themselves. It also wasn’t difficult to make, so if you’re looking for a unique dish for your next dinner party I would recommend trying this out!

Oxtapodi Stifado
The finished product, Oxtapodi Stifado, as it is called in Cyprus

This week was a lot of fun as usual. Every week I look forward to and anticipate these meals. But, I have some bad news. Dan is about to start his last semester of college, which is amazing! But unfortunately, our schedules are now completely at odds. He has night classes 3 nights a week and I work late on the days he doesn’t have class. This leads little time for Cooking Through the Countries. We’re not going to stop doing our dinners, but they will definitely slow down. I’m hoping we can do a dinner every other week, but realistically it might be somewhat less.

But the good news is I am developing and growing as a human being (it only took 25 years). Since Dan has so many night classes, I’m going to try and cook dinner for us at least one day a week. That’s something I wouldn’t have dared to do before starting this blog. In the past I would just bring us home Chipotle and call that my contribution to our household. I hope we have another dinner very soon!

Week 4: Our Belgium Bistro

This week our culinary journey has landed us in Western Europe. Last week we had to take a week off from Cooking through the Countries while we visited the beach in North Carolina. Every year Dan’s family goes to Topsail, North Carolina and I was able join them for part of the week. While we were there fresh seafood and shellfish surrounded us. My favorite food (next to cheese) is mussels. When traveling to new cities I like to seek out their best mussel restaurants (Belgo Noord in London and Beerbistro in Toronto) and devour a steamy bowl of these tasty little bivalves. After being at the beach and surrounded by seafood for a week I was craving mussels. And what country is better known for their mussels than Belgium? Motivated by a craving that wouldn’t be satisfied until I had downed at least a pound of mussels, I suggested we cook a Belgium meal this week. We invited our friends Hadley and Colleen over to join us for the meal!

Endives Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

Ingredients for stuffed endives
Orange slices, walnut, goat cheese and chives are all stuffed in an endive leaf

Originally our meal was going to only consist of Moules Frites, a dipping sauce and Belgian Waffles. However, while grocery shopping I decided we needed to change the game plan and add an appetizer. I did some quick “4th quarter” Googling of Belgian Appetizers and kept seeing the word endive pop up. What the fck is an endive?! Wikipedia quickly let me in on the secret; it’s a bitter leafy vegetable that hails from none other than Belgium. My Internet quest wasn’t quite over yet, I still had to do a Google image search to see what an endive looked like before I could successfully locate it on the shelves. (Thank goodness for smart phones!)

We found a recipe from myrecipes.com for stuffing the endives with goat cheese and walnuts. This recipe was so satisfying to make. First of all, it was easy. You peel the endive leaves and they are used as a little boat to hold the stuffing. Then all you do is fill each leaf with an orange slice, coarsely chopped walnuts, goat cheese and chives. I made an orange juice, honey and vinegar reduction to drizzle on top. This appetizer is absolutely beautiful and made me feel very elegant (pinkies out while eating it). One reviewer (aka my sister commenting on my Instagram photo) referred to it as, “Master Chef quality!”

Stuffed endive leaves
I’m so proud of how gorgeous this turned out.

I’m constantly second guessing my cooking abilities and if the food actually tastes good. But as I watched Colleen gobble a few down, I knew I had hit the jackpot. This appetizer is so easy to make and so impressive looking, I highly recommend trying it out!

Moules Frites

Moules

Remember how I hate to cook? How the major reason I’m doing this experiment is to break out from my comfort zone and begin cooking? Well, strangely enough mussels, or moules in Belgian, are a dish I’ve actually made twice before. Every once in awhile I get this itch to cook. And when I do cook, I prefer to make things I like. As I said earlier, I am borderline obsessed with mussels. I also think it is kind of cool that the mussels are alive when you buy them. Luckily, they just hide in their shells and you don’t have to see the eyes of a creature you are killing, instead you just drop them in boiling liquid.

We cooked the mussels in a white wine and saffron sauce. I found the recipe from epicurious.com. We strayed from the recipe in a few ways. Instead of using 8 pounds of mussels (I don’t have that many friends!) we used 2 pounds. We also added about 5 cloves of chopped garlic and reduced the amount of clam juice the recipe called for.

Ingredients of white wine and saffron sauce
White wine, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, clam juice and saffron make up the sauce. (I know the wine is Australian, but it was on sale!)

As you may have figured, I’m a bit of a mussel snob. If I’m not dining at a restaurant that specializes in mussels, I tend not to order them. I’ve been too disappointed by cracked shells and weak flavors in the past, that I stick to the experts. Well, I loved our mussels! The white wine and saffron created an amazing fusion and the tomatoes and scallions really elevated the dish. My only critique was we didn’t clean the shells well enough. Some of the mussels had a gritty sandy texture. Colleen had never experienced mussels before and she went back for seconds!

Belgian Moules
Such delicious mussels!

Frites

Here’s a bit of trivia for you, French fries, or frites as they are called in Belgium, are not actually from France. They’re from, surprise surprise, Belgium! When Americans landed in the Belgian Ardennes and had delicious frites for the first time they called them French Fries because the inhabitants spoke French. Hand it to the Americans for misnaming things (ie Indians). Now onto the food!

Belgian frites
Frites

Daniel was completely in charge of the frites. We don’t have a fryer so he had to get creative. He used his own recipe. The following was the process he used for making homemade fries sans fryer.

  1. Peeled Russet potatoes and cut them into the shape of frites.
  2. Soak in ice-cold salty water for around 30 to 40 minutes.
  3. Strain out the water
  4. Heat a medium sized saucepan with Canola oil
  5. Once the Canola oil is steaming add your fries
  6. Fry for about 7 to 10 minutes
  7. Remove heat and let cool down. Add salt and pepper to taste

The first batch Dan did wouldn’t fry nicely, and instead just remained warm and mushy. He quickly dissected the problem. He had put too many potatoes in at once. So make sure to not overload your saucepan or else they won’t evenly fry. Once he did his second batch, they came out crispy and delicious. Check out the photo, they look like real restaurant quality fries!

Belgian Mayonnaise

Belgian Mayo
Belgian Mayo to eat with Frites

Eating at so many different Belgian restaurants has exposed me to their preference of using a Mayonnaise dipping sauce instead of ketchup for their frites. We found a recipe on food.com to make our own Belgian Mayonnaise. My favorite mussels restaurant in Pittsburgh, Point Brugge Cafe, has a mayo sauce that is to die for. They might as well call it crack sauce it’s so addicting.

Because of my love for Point Brugge’s recipe I have very high standards. Maybe my standards were impossibly high, because I was disappointed in the flavors of our creation. I think it tasted too much like the mustard and not enough like an actually mayonnaise. Everyone else said they enjoyed it.

Strawberry Belgian Waffles

Belgian Strawberry Waffles
Belgian Strawberry Waffles

This week, we cheated a little. We don’t have a waffle maker and have already been spending a little too much dough on these cooking projects, so we bought frozen waffles. But we did make our own strawberry mixture to top the waffles with. All we did was smash ½ cup of strawberries in a mixing bowl and then stirred in 2 tablespoons of sugar. We let that sit in the fridge until we were ready to serve and then spooned the sweet mixture on top of the waffles. We also added cut up strawberries and vanilla ice cream on top.

The ice cream mixed nicely with the strawberries. Colleen and Hadley were already fairly stuffed from the rest of the food so they passed on dessert. Luckily my new neighbor, Ally, was around so she swung by my alleyway bistro to join us for waffles. (when you live in the concrete jungle you need to find creative places to eat food outside, hence my alleyway has become my hot spot for eating this summer).


As usual I had a blast this week. Instead of venturing to one of my favorite mussel restaurants, I was able to produce a meal I was proud of with my own 4 hands (the 2 extra hands are Dan’s). And although it’s not cheap tracking down all of these ingredients each week, it is cheaper than sitting down at a restaurant to get my mussel fix. I also learned about a whole new food with our endive appetizer! Making these meals has quickly become my favorite part of my week, and I hope you’re enjoying reading my quasi diary/food blog as well.

Week 3: An Argentine Asado

This week we are hosting our version of an Argentine Asado. An asado is a celebration of food, drink and friends around an open flame. It’s the Argentine’s version of a barbecue. All the images and stories of asados I found online show a smorgasbord of meats being cooked. At least 5 different meats plus cheeses and wines are at a traditional asado. This week we were only cooking for three, my friend Haley joined us, so we kept it simple with one appetizer, one protein and a dessert.

Provoleta

Provoleta
Provoleta on the grill

I love cheese more than the average person. For years my picky diet consisted almost entirely of cheese: mac ‘n cheese, cheese sandwiches, cheese bagels and Kraft singles were the main foods I ate (surprisingly, I didn’t weigh million pounds). I still regularly snack on cheese. So when I learned that one of the most popular Argentinian appetizers was provoleta, a grilled block of provolone cheese, I was ecstatic.

When I was telling people about our meal beforehand everyone met me with the same quizzical reaction, “how are you going to grill cheese? Won’t it all melt into the grill?” All the recipes online assured me that provolone keeps it shape while it melts which prevents it from oozing into the grill. And thankfully, it worked out!

We followed this recipe and it was super easy to make. We got 1” thick pieces of provolone from the deli counter and seasoned them with oregano and red pepper flakes and grilled them for less than 2 minutes per side.

Provoleta
Gooey cheese ready to be devoured

Eating the provolone was the funniest part of the evening. Like I said, I eat a lot of cheese. So an inch thick large block of provolone is right up my alley. As I was eating it I was thinking to myself that I might even make a second one. Then Haley interjected my thoughts declaring that it tasted great, but it was a lot of cheese to eat in one sitting! Dan agreed saying he couldn’t finish it all. At first I was shocked by their reactions, until I realized I was the odd ball who has been constantly over eating cheese. It was like the years of stuffing my face with dairy goodness had trained me for this moment of devouring hunks of provolone. If you decide to make this yourself, I suggest serving small portions as to not overwhelm your guests’ stomachs with too much cheese.

Tenderloin with Chimichurri sauce

chimichurri ingredients
red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic and flat parsley are used to make chimichurri

Chimichurri is the Heinz Ketchup of Argentina. It is used throughout Argentina to enhance their meats. I bought a food processor just to make this sauce. We followed the recipe we found here. The main ingredient in the sauce is parsley, but it also includes fresh oregano, red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. The recipe called for 1 cup of olive oil, but Dan and me think that was too much. I honestly think we could have cut the amount of olive oil in half. When we taste tested it, the olive oil was overpowering. However, after letting it sit for a night and allowing the flavors meld together it tasted better the next day!

chimichurri
Chimichurri ready to be served

We chose a beef tenderloin as our protein because Argentina is known for their gauchos who wrangle cows across vast grasslands. The open grasslands lead to well fed and great tasting beef. It reminds me of the “happy cows come from California” marketing campaign… I wonder which country produces happier and tastier beef? Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to Argentine cows, but we did our best with the pound and a half we procured from Giant Eagle (leftovers anyone?).

Beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce
Nice and pink beef

Dan was the grill master, or asador as he would be known in Argentina, and cooked the tenderloin on very hot coals. Overall, the meat tasted very good. Neighbors seemed jealous as they walked by our alleyway cookout.

Dulce de Leche Empanadas

dulce de leche
delicious dulce de leche

Food science or witchcraft, I’m not sure which one it was, but somehow milk and sugar transformed magically into a gooey, rich, caramelized dessert. By far, dulce de leche is one of the most mouth watering sweet treats I have ever eaten! This is my favorite thing we’ve made throughout this entire experience. We made it two nights ahead of time, and I kept sneaking into the refrigerator to scoop out finger fulls. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make! We followed this recipe and simply mixed milk and sugar and cook it on the stove top for around an hour and a half. You just have to make sure you’re vigilant with stirring the pot towards the end to prevent from burning.

We decided to use the dulce de leche to fill empanadas. We followed the recipe that was provided by watching this Youtube video. I got to use my newly bought food processor again, so that’s already proving to be worth the money. Unfortunately, the empanadas were a tad thick and we didn’t have quite enough dulce de leche to adequately fill the empanadas, so they weren’t my favorite part of the meal. In the future I want to try making a savory empanada. I’m also planning on making the dulce de leche again soon, but this time just drizzling it over ice cream.

Empanda
Empandas getting ready to be baked

This week I had a lot of anticipation leading up to our dinner. All the articles I read about Argentine cuisine were so passionate that I wanted to be sure I did it right. I wanted to make it as authentic as possible. Having never been to Argentina, it’s hard to tell if I would have made them proud or not, but sipping on traditional Malbec red wine and laughing with friends seemed to capture what I understand to be the spirit of a true Asador. Side note, I think I’m really bad at drinking red wine. I get terrible wine lips where my teeth and lips get completely stained reddish purple.

Malbec red wine
We were fortunate to already be in possession of this high quality traditional Argentine Malbec

Week 2: Cuban Cuisine

Viva la Cuba! That’s right comrades, this week we ate cuisine that hailed from our “friends” from the south, Cuba! I want to start by saying that choosing Cuba was not politically motivated, but it also was not not politically motivated. I simply suggested Cuba because Dan is obsessed with Cuban pulled pork. But when I told my mom we were considering Cuba she encouraged it because of the current political climate. And I admit, hearing about Cuba every day on NPR influenced our decision to celebrate their cooking.

So just a quick note on the political situation (for those of you who possibly live under a rock), President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of a U.S embassy in Havana. The 54-year-old trade embargo is still in place, but this month the U.S Department of Treasury have begun issuing licenses to some companies to allow ferry travel between America and Cuba. Tourism travel is still banned to Cuba, so while we can’t go to Cuba, let’s bring Cuba to us! Cuban pulled pork sandwiches anyone?

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Delicious

I absolutely love using a slow cooker. It takes away a lot of the stress of cooking. It’s so easy just letting it sit all day and slowly fill the air with mouth-watering fragrances. We followed the recipe we found here, but opted not to make the mojito sauce. It seemed unnecessary to make a second sauce, since it had been cooking in such a great marinade all day long. I was so pleased when it was time for dinner and the pork easily pulled off the bone. Success! We had some friends over this week to share the dinner with.

We set up a station so everyone could build their own sandwiches. We put out mustard, honey ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickle chips. A side note, I had no idea what pickle chips were. Well, I knew what they were when I saw them, but I didn’t know that’s what they were called. So when I tentatively and nervously approached a Giant Eagle employee to ask about the location of pickle chips I was so relived when they knew what I was talking about. I was afraid it wasn’t a real thing (am I too paranoid? Looking back on it, why would a recipe list a fake ingredient, I need to get a grip). I obviously have a lot to learn.

The pork flavor was incredible. The only downside, it was a bit messy and juicy. My friend Ryan complained about squirting on his pants, but don’t worry I don’t think it’s the first time that has happened to Ryan. Besides that, the meal was a blast. We set up a table outside and 6 people found creative ways to cram around a small 4 person folding table in a narrow alley way.

Arroz y frijoles

ingredients for the beans
Bell pepper, onions, cilantro, radishes and garlic all needed to make the beans.

Our side dish was arroz y frijoles or in English, rice and beans. We found the recipe here. The timing on our cooking was off and the long grain rice was slightly overcooked and a bit sticky for my liking. But remember, I’m not typically a fan of rice anyway. I did get some great tips from my friends for helping our rice in the future. Colin suggested making sure to thoroughly clean the rice with water beforehand to make it fluffier and Aaron said to add a splash of vinegar at the end to kill some of the stickiness.

black beans cooking
Watch those beans simmer

The beans were great and also looked beautiful adorned with radishes and cilantro. Beans always seemed like such a “poor mans” dish to me, but adding the various ingredients really helped elevate this typically simple side into a more sophisticated dish.

Mojitos

Mojito with hand picked boquet
I picked those flowers from around my neighborhood. I wish there was a better shot of the mojitos, but we drank them too quickly!

One thing I didn’t know about the Cubans was they invented so many great cocktails! They are known for their daiquiris, cuba libre and my favorite, mojitos. So Dan crushed up some mint, split some limes and topped it with sugar, Bacardi rum and club soda to make cocktails for everyone. We were able to cheers to Hadley, who kicks ass and happened to get a promotion and raise on the same day as the dinner (shameless shout out, I’m so proud of you)! So, instead of making a dessert this week, I figured handing out mojitos was a good “adult” dessert. Although, don’t get any crazy idea that any of us are real adults!


This week was another great success. Having friends share in the libations and food made it so much more special. Not to sound too corny, but it’s so important to be surrounded by friends who fill my life with laughter and love. And what’s the point of making so much food if I have no one to share it with? Needless to say, no leftovers this week!

Week 1: India

Our first week we’re experiencing foods from India! I said I wanted to escape my comfort zone, and I’m diving right in with these dishes. I’ve never eaten much Indian food because I let my pickiness and fear of unknown and exotic food keep me away. I am also very sensitive to spicy foods. My whole life I have avoided spices like the plague, even a splash of black pepper would prove to be numbingly painful for me. But recently I have begun adding a little Sriracha here and a bite of a pepper there to try and raise my spice threshold. This meal was a great help in getting used to more spice!

We were very zealous this week, and made enough food to feed a large family of boys… for two nights. We prepared five dishes for the two of us: Indian Saffron Rice, Cucumber Raita, Green Apple and Coconut Chutney with homemade chips, Chicken Tandoori and Kulfi for dessert.

Cucumber Raita

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Before and after shots

I prepared the Cucumber Raita the day beforehand. I got the recipe from allrecipes.com. I followed their recipe almost exactly with only the addition of ½ teaspoon of cumin at the advice of a reviewer.

I did a little bit of Googling to learn more about this side dish. First of all, I had to learn how to pronounce it! For those of you who, like myself, are also etymologically challenged here’s a great Youtube video on the pronunciation of Raita. I also uncovered that Raita is known for being paired with classically spicy Indian cuisines. The Chicken Tandoori was intensely spicy so the Raita offered a much needed cool down. I would take a bite of the Tandoori and would almost instantly have to eat some Raita.

I love cucumbers and the mint paired with cilantro were a great balance mixed with the yogurt. Neither Dan nor I had ever had cucumbers that were sliced using a peeler before, and that created a unique and compelling texture. Definitely a great summer dish!

Indian Saffron Rice

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Dan whipping up some rice

I have to be honest; I’ve never been a big fan of rice. I never saw the appeal, and it always tasted kind of plain and bored me. But this rice was delicious! It must have been the saffron. My experience with saffron is that it is a magical spice (and magically expensive) that even a pinch adds wondrous layers of flavors to any dish. Dan prepared the saffron following the recipe we found on allrecipes.com.

We plated the chicken on top of the rice. My favorite was mixing the marinade on the chicken with a mouthful of rice. This is a big step for me. I’m going to reveal something that will make you rightfully judge me. I’m one of those freaks who don’t like to have my foods touching each other. I told you, I’m going way out of my comfort zone, and it feels and tastes great! Look mom, I’m growing.

Green Apple and Coconut Chutney

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It might not be the prettiest, but it       tastes damn good!

This is a classic example of a dish that in the past I would have refused to try because it looked “gross.” All of the ingredients mashed up in the blender, stripped of their natural beauty and transformed into a mushy puddle fit for a baby. But in fact, I loved it. I made this dish by following the recipe from (again) allrecipes.com. I particularly enjoyed heating up the popping mustard seeds on the stove and the way my fingers smelled like ginger for the rest of the night.

Dan baked chips using cut up Habernaro Lime Flour Tortillas from Trader Joe’s. My only complaint was that Dan used the habernaro tortillas. My mouth was already on fire from the onslaught of spices, and I couldn’t even find relief from the chips!

Tandoori Chicken

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The main course and the star of the meal was the tasty and healthy Tandoori Chicken. We showed our amateur status on this one when on the night of our dinner I received a text from Dan at 6:00 pm saying, “shit we were supposed to marinate the chicken overnight!” So, we rushed it. Dan threw together the marinade and we let it soak for only 2 hours. I had been fasting all day in preparation of our big meal and those were the hungriest 2 hours of my life. But well worth it!

Dan’s first reaction to the bite of the chicken was, “fuck that’s good!” (excuse his language). And I agree. Admittedly, the spice was a bit difficult for me to handle, but I managed. I had to swap out my water for milk mid way through the meal to try and combat the spice, and Dan stripped off his shirt since he was sweating so much (hubba hubba for me).

He got the recipe off of allrecipes.com and opted to bake it in the oven. He thought if we had grilled the chicken it would have been too sloppy and we would have lost a lot of the marinade. It was great.

Kulfi

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Kitty mug for me and Kokopelli mug for Dan. A family secret: always eat ice cream from a mug, so much easier than a bowl.

Kulfi is an Indian ice cream. I have another confession to make: this was my first time using a blender. And here’s another shocker, the lid of the blender didn’t fly off and splatter food all over the kitchen ceiling (I think I’ve seen one too many children’s sitcoms in my lifetime).

Making the kulfi was one of the easiest dishes to make, but the one I was most impressed with. Seriously, I made ice cream! Let me repeat myself and be more clear, just by blending up a bunch of ingredients and throwing them in the freezer I created ice cream from scratch. I’m convinced this must be witchcraft.

I got the recipe from the extremely helpful allrecipes.com and added pistachios in the blender and chopped up pistachios on top. From what I can tell, it’s the cardamom spice that makes it uniquely Indian. I highly recommend making this at home. Like I said, it’s easy and also extremely delicious!


I know I said everything tasted amazing, and I truly believe it. But I am also coming to believe that things just taste better when you put your two hands together, do some chopping, blending and sweating to create something all on your own. There’s something immensely satisfying with beginning with a heap of seemingly unrelated ingredients, and turning out a complete meal. I am very proud of this first dish.

An Unlikely Venture

I’m one of the least likely people to ever start a cooking blog. I’ve disliked cooking for as long as I could remember. I find it too time consuming, utterly boring, my eyes are blinded by tears when cutting onions and frankly my food never turned out very well. I also grew up as a ridiculously picky eater. For years it was only white bread and Kraft cheese for me! Nothing with any spice or if it contained too many green things I would turn my nose up at it!

But now I’m in my mid twenties, and well… I still hate cooking. But I am becoming less picky, but still uneasy around quinoa and other hip, healthy and organic foods. But I’ve been extremely fortunate because I’ve been blessed with a fantastic boyfriend, Daniel, who is by nature a born caretaker. In his role as a caretaker (and me as someone who likes being taken care of), he has kept me well fed and from starving for the past 4 years. And in the past 4 years of him cooking every meal for me, he’s become pretty awesome at it.

So recently an idea struck me. An experiment that will help me explore cooking, branch out my pallet and also spice up our relationship (pun intended). Every week we are going to choose a different country from around the world and together make a meal from that country. Yep, instead of watching television and constantly asking, “is dinner ready yet?” while Daniel does all the cooking, I’ll be donning an apron myself, chopping, sauteing and trying like heck not to slice a finger off.

I’ll post the recipes, photos and results here along the way. I hope you come on this culinary journey with me! First stop, India! Coming soon!