Monday, September 20, 2010

United States - Texas Barbeque in China

Who knew you could get Texas barbeque in China. Less than half a century ago it would have seemed like an oxymoron. It still does, in a way. Then again, Deng Xiaoping did go with Nixon to a Lone Star – not a Red Star – barbeque in the seventies where he saw a hot dog and wondered why Americans would want to eat the anatomical part of a dog. But Texas is so quintessentially American – the cowboy, Texas beef, big oil, big everything. In China, in the sixties and seventies, during the Cultural Revolution, one could get ten years of hard labor for whispering the desire for Texas barbeque. You most certainly would have been labeled a counter-revolutionary.

But that was then, this is now. To get rich is glorious. Consumerism is rampant. You rarely see Mao suits. Women are dressed in short skirts and heels. There are fewer bicycles and more Mercedes sedans. There’s a widening gap between rich and poor. You even see illicit movies for sale. China resembles the United States more everyday.

“Tim’s” was the name of the Texas barbeque restaurant. There were TV’s on the wall so sports fans could watch the game. Okay, so they didn’t have on American football, it was rugby or ice hockey, I think. I don’t pay attention to these things. But the point is, it was a sports bar!

We ate at a picnic style table and drank beer with our meal – Chinese beer – but still. Almost all the patrons were western. You could almost trick yourself in believing you were in the West somewhere, except for the waitresses that didn’t speak English.

After dinner, as if to do something counter-American, we went to a night market where we watched Chinese opera and ate scorpions on a stick. Someday I’ll be ready to go back to the U.S. – but not yet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

South Africa - Good-bye Canada!

It was American night for our South African meal at Christa and Neil’s house in Oakville. The invited guests were us, my stepfather, Chris, who was visiting from Florida, and a co-worker of Neil’s who was visiting from Minnesota. It was also Canada’s Victoria Day, the un-definable holiday that evoked shrugs but was faithfully celebrated with parties, fireworks and a day off from work and school.

We sat outside on the deck, while our dinner cooked, munching on South African treats: Dried peaches, dried guava smear, nuts, beef biltong (dried shaved beef), and beef drowors (dried sausage). Kevin and I sat back contently - our kids happily playing with Christa and Neil’s children – and we discussed China and our recent trip there. Chris, who had worked and lived in China for years, charmed us with his infamous Chinese joke that he tells almost everyone he first meets.

When he got everyone’s attention – even waited for Christa to come out of the kitchen and sit down – he began. He started out by giving us a quick review of China/U.S. relations. He explained that in 1972 Nixon made a historical visit to China that led the way for China’s opening up to the West. Shortly after Nixon’s visit, Deng Xiaoping visited the United States where he was invited to a Texas barbeque.

“Deng was fascinated by the food,” Chris said. “He asked Nixon what everything was.” Chris pointed to imaginary food and stabbed the air with his finger. “Zhi shi ma? What’s that? Deng Xiaoping asked. 'That’s a hotdog,’ Nixon said." Chris paused for comic effect. “Deng said, ‘We eat dog in China too, but not that part!’”

Chris beamed as everyone laughed. I laughed too even though I’d heard this joke a thousand times. Our kids had heard it a thousand times too. Once, at our house, Julia told this joke to some unsuspecting dinner guests.

When dinner was ready we ate inside in the dinning room. Dishes were spread out on the table like county fair pies competing for the blue ribbon. We each picked up a plate and piled them high with turmeric rice with raisins and Bobotie served with chutney, sliced bananas and diced tomato and onion sambal. It was all so delicious and John took so many helpings of the Bobotie that I was thankful Christa had made plenty. For dessert we had Melktert, or milk tart.

It was a lovely night, Americans talking about China while eating South African food and celebrating a Canadian holiday. It was the sort of thing I had come to expect living in the Toronto area. Christa pointed out that none of us were native to Canada, but we all felt connected to each other and to our surroundings.

I would leave Canada for China with the feeling I had that night: a mixture of quiet acceptance and warmth, a kind of peace and contentment. Thanks to Christa and Neil, and a country we once called home.

Recipes: Bobotie Ingredients
• 1 fairly thick slice crustless bread (white or wheat)
• Bay leaves
• 1 1/2 cups milk
• 2 teaspoons butter
• 2 onions, sliced
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 5 teaspoons curry powder
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 5 teaspoons chutney
• 1 tablespoon smooth apricot jam
• 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• 5 teaspoons brown vinegar
• 2 1/4 pounds ground beef, mutton, or lamb (raw mince)
• 1/4 cup green seedless grapes (sultanas)
• 3 eggs
• Pinch each salt and turmeric
• 1
Soak bread in milk.
• 2
Heat oil and butter in large pan and fry onions and garlic. When onions are soft, add curry powder, salt, chutney, jam, Worcester sauce, turmeric and vinegar and mix well.
• 3
Drain and mash bread and reserve milk.
• 4
Add bread to pan together with meat and grapes. Cook over low heat, stirring, and when meat loses its pinkness, remove from stove. Add 1 beaten egg, mix well, then spoon into a greased 11 x 7 inch baking dish and level the top.
• 5
Beat remaining eggs with reserved milk (you should have about 10 ounces) and the salt and turmeric. Pour over meat mixture and put a few bay leaves on top. Stand dish in a larger pan of water (this is important to prevent drying out) and bake, uncovered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until set.
• 6
Serve with yellow rice, chutney, sliced bananas and a diced tomato and onion sambal.
Yellow Rice
Yellow rice is eaten with the Cape Malay dish called Bobotie.

2 cups of rice 
¾ cup raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes, then drained 
1 teaspoon of turmeric 
a dash of salt 
2 sticks of cinnamon

Instructions on how to make it
Place all the ingredients, including the raisins in about 750ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. If there is still excess water in the pot when the rice is tender, pour it out carefully. 
Dot the rice with a few blobs of butter and give it a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar (come on Penny, a little sugar and a little cinnamon powder, mixed together). 

Cover and keep warm. 

South African Melktert (Milk Tart) Ingredients
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1 cup white sugar
• 3 egg yolks
• 1 cup cake flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 cups milk
• 3 egg white
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Coat a 9 inch deep dish pie plate with vegetable oil cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the egg yolks and beat until light and fluffy. Sift in the cake flour, baking powder and salt, and stir until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and milk. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks using an electric mixer. Fold into the batter. Pour into the prepared pie plate, and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top.
3. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Continue to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center is set when you gently jiggle the pie. Serve hot or cold.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Lately it has been a challenge to keep up with my Eat Planet blog because we recently found out that we are moving to Beijing, China! My husband was offered a job, through his company, to be Operations Director at a joint venture plant over there. We are very excited and we have lots to do since we are moving in the last week of July.

My husband and I were in Beijing last week - it has changed quite a bit since I was there in 1994 - and we found a house to rent and toured the international schools. We were impressed with everything!

Since I am very preoccupied I have decided to stop posting articles on my blog for now, but I will resume once we are settled in China. Living in Beijing will put a very interesting twist on cooking meals from around the world.

So I hope that you will rejoin me in a few months as I continue eating my way around the world (and since we plan on traveling quite a bit through Asia perhaps we’ll eat some of our meals while visiting countries).

Thanks to all who have been following my blog.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Madagascar - Lasopy

Madagascar is a place that most children can point on the map thanks to the animated movie “Madagascar.” It’s an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The fourth largest island in the world is home to 5 % of the world’s plant and animal species and many are endemic to Madagascar (and look plain weird). Did you know that the country has seventy varieties of lemur?

For our Madagascar meal we had the soup called Lasopy. It’s a vegetable soup that is flavored with meat bones. John, who enjoys cooking, made this soup for me all by himself. He did a great job. We loved it.


You can use any fresh vegetables and meat bones.

3 lbs veal bones
2 qts water
2 TBSP salt
3 carrots, peeled and cut
1 small turnip, peeled and cut
1 cup fresh or frozen string beans
1 cup tomatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 tsp black pepper

Simmer for 1 hour or until vegetables are tender. Remove the veal bones and puree the soup in a blender.

Serve thick and hot.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Macedonia - Tomatoes and Eggplants

Macedonia is mountainous and landlocked surrounded by the countries Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo. A former Yugoslav Republic that seems to be searching for its identity. A place where one can experience the best of old and new with Romans ruins, medieval monasteries, the 900-year-old tree at Ohrid along side modern shopping centers, bars and well-dressed men and women in Italian fashions.

The cuisine can best be described as a combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. They have a nice variety of fruits and vegetables in their dishes because the climate is warm and the land is fertile. Most meals are accompanied by a Shopska salad. It is made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, roasted red peppers and sirene cheese. I did not make a Shopska salad but we were impressed with the meal I prepared of Tomatoes filled with Meat and Stuffed Eggplant.

Tomatoes Filled With Meat

600g veal or ground beef
1 onion
4 eggs
Salt and pepper
Cooking oil

Tomato juice and rice

With a knife take off the top of each tomato. Take out the core.

Fry chopped onion and add meat, salt and pepper. When the meat is fried, add chopped parsley, beaten eggs and some cooked rice. Fill the tomato with this mixture and put in baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes.

Serve on cooked rice on a plate with tomato juice or ketchup.

Stuffed Eggplant

4 small eggplants (or 2 big)
Lemon juice
4 TBSP olive oil
White wine
1 Lb ground meat
2 onions
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
Cheese ( I used Pecorino Toscaro Fresco)

Cut each eggplant along its length. Scoop out the eggplants to make shells and reserve the filling. Salt the eggplants and set aside. After awhile dry them with paper towels and add some lemon juice.

Place the eggplants in heated oil; add some wine and fry for about 10 minutes. Remove eggplants and place them in a saucepan.

Heat oil and fry chopped onion, ground meat, garlic, eggplant filling and salt and pepper. Then add parsley and eggs. Fill the eggplants with the mixture and then top it with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Luxembourg - Mussels Luxembourg Style

Luxembourg’s name is too big for its size. It’s located in Western Europe and borders Belgium, France and Germany. It’s said to remind one of fairytales since the landscape is dotted with medieval castles and its history reads like a Grimm’s tale. The people seem to be set in their ways and mostly live in the countryside. The capital is old Luxembourg City; romantic and charming, the best of old-world Europe and new.

Luxembourg’s cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of France and Germany. Plus, one can throw in the influences of Italian, Portuguese and Belgian. I may have given the cuisine a better representation if I had cooked a meal of black pudding and boiled potatoes, and perhaps a pastry for dessert. But since my family has a love for mussels I couldn’t resist making Mussels Luxembourg Style. I served it with French fries and so it was very similar to our Belgium meal, only this time I made it myself.

Mussels Luxembourg Style

2 leeks
1 carrot
1 onion
1 or 2 shallots
Celery stick and some celery leaf
A bunch of parsley
5 bubls garlic
1/2 bottle Riesling
Pepper and salt
A sprig of thyme
2 tarragon leaves

Chop the garlic and the vegetables. Then with butter, fry the shallots and onion, then add the vegetables, thyme and tarragon. Add about 1/4 of the wine and cook until vegetables are tender. Then mix butter and crushed garlic together with some black pepper and set aside. Add the mussels to the pot and the rest of the wine. Stir.

When the mussels open add the garlic butter and mix everything together. Sprinkle parsley on top of the mussels when it is ready to serve.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lithuania - Cold Beet Soup and Meat Dumplings

Lithuania borders Belarus, Poland and Latvia and is the largest of the three Baltic republics. It gained independence with the Soviet Union just over a decade ago and once shared an empire with Poland. Now it’s said to be Europe’s best-kept secret and the capital, Vilnius, is referred to as the ‘New Prague.’ It sure seems to have come a long way.

Even so, I read they are still superstitious; even numbered flowers in a bouquet are for the dead, and it is bad luck to shake hands with someone across a doorway.

Cold Beet Soup ( Cold Borscht)

1 lb red beets
4 cups water
2 cucumbers, chopped into small cubes
2 scallions or chives, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs,, peel, separate white from the yolks and chop white finely
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups buttermilk
Fresh dill

Clean and peel the beets, cover with water and boil until tender.

Mash the scallions with the egg yolks and 1/4 tsp slat to release the onion flavor.

When the beets have finished boiling, remove them from the water and reserve the liquid

Clean, trim and peel beets, cover with water and boil until tender. Cool the beets under cold running water. When beets have cooked, grate them coarsely.

In a large mixing bowl, add buttermilk to the beet water and blend in sour cream; then add beets, cucumbers, egg whites, egg yolks and onions. Stir until well blended.

Place in refrigerator to chill. Serve with chopped dill as garnish.

Meat Dumplings


3 eggs
2 TBSP water
3 cups flour


1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Beat eggs, then add salt and pepper, chopped onion and ground beef.

Then prepare the dough. Beat eggs. Add salt, water and flour to make a soft dough. Roll the dough out and cut ut circles with a large glass, each circle about 3 inces in diameter. Fill each dough circle with a Tablespoon of filling. Seal the edges and twist over the ends.

Bring three quarts of salted water to a boil. Drop in the dumplings and return water to a boil. Dumplings are done when they float to the top.

Serve with hot gravy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Liechtenstein - An Evening with Friends

My friend, Sherry Isaac, was kind enough to volunteer to cook a meal for my Eat Planet blog. She chose to cook the cuisine from the country Liechtenstein since it had to be a country past the L’s. Plus, she was familiar with European food. She has Russia on one side of her family tree and Austria on the other and so she was raised on German fare such as perogies, cabbage rolls, streudels and lots of carbs.

I was delighted to have someone else do the cooking. We set a date and I invited Kimberley Scutt and Sharon Bernas. Kimberly has two blogs, Travel Addict on a Budget and Travelling Rubber Chicken. Sharon has a blog called Romance and Beyond. She wrote about our Liechtenstein dinner experience in an article called Eat, Drink, Write.

Sherry arrived at my house with cabbage rolls, Broscht, Ikra (eggplant salsa), Mashed potatoes, rye and pumpernickel bread, and a delicious Honey Ginger cake. Sherry put me to shame with her representation of Liechtenstein. I’m quite positive that I wouldn’t have been able to do a better job.

Liechtenstein is a very small country next to Austria and Switzerland and oddly, the world’s largest producer of dentures.. “It’s beautiful,” my friend, Christa, told me. She and her husband had traveled through Europe on their honeymoon and were impressed with the Switzerland-like country and its spectacular views. The little country also has the wealthiest royal family in Europe.

Our Liechtenstein evening ended with us quietly chatting in the dinning room while sipping wine. My kids sat at the kitchen table in the next room. They each had a plate piled high with Sherry’s Liechtenstein food. Later, Julia came up to me and said, “Tell Sherry that I loved the Borscht.” Julia loves beets so she was able to polish off a couple bowls of soup.

It was a night of delicious food, wine and great conversation. Whenever I think of Liechtenstein, I will think of our Liechtenstein night.

Sherry Isaac has been published in Quick Brown Fox and New Mystery Reader. Her short story, "The Forgetting," placed first in the Alice Munro Contest in 2009. She is co-host of Prana Presents, a venue featuring the work of Toronto’s hottest new authors and poets. Check out, Wildflower, her monthly newsletter geared to emerging writers, visit

Cabbage Rolls
*1 lb lean ground beef, browned and well-drained
_ cup uncooked rice
1 egg
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
_ tsp each salt & pepper
10-14 cabbage leaves
1-24 oz can tomato juice
_ cup lemon juice
_ brown sugar
Combine ground beef, rice, egg, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Steam cabbage leaves to loosen. Place 2-3 tbsp meat mixture into each leaf, tuck in edges of leaf and roll. Secure with toothpick. Place rolls in Dutch oven. Combine tomato juice, lemon juice and brown sugar, pour over cabbage rolls. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes then reduce heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.
*Ground turkey or chicken may be substituted.

Borscht – Vegetable Soup with Beets
454 g ground pork (optional)
3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
_ cup water
_ head of cabbage, shredded
1-8 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Raw sugar to taste, approximately 1 tsp
Sour cream and fresh parsley for garnish
Brown ground pork over medium heat until no longer pink, drain and set aside. In a large soup pot, bring 2 litres of water to a boil. Add sausage and beets – cook until the beets have lost their colour. Add carrots and potatoes, cook until tender. Add cabbage and canned tomatoes.
In a skillet, heat oil and cook onion until tender. Stir in tomato paste and _ cup water until smooth. Add to soup. Add garlic, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes then season with salt, pepper and sugar. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and parsley if desired.

Eggplant salsa
1 large eggplant
1 medium onion, chopped
1 finely chopped green pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
6 tbsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes, peeled, chopped and seeded
_ tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste
In a 425 degree oven, bake eggplant for one hour, turning once. Skin should be blistered. Meanwhile, Saute onions in 4 tbsp olive oil until soft then add garlic and green pepper, cook another 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove to mixing bowl. Remove skin of eggplant and finely chop the pulp. Add to mixing bowl along with tomatoes, sugar and pepper. Pour remaining olive oil into skillet, add mixture and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Lower heat, cover and let simmer for one hour. Remove lid and cook another half hour, stirring occasionally until all liquid has evaporated and mixture is firm enough to hold its shape. Stir in 2 tbsp lemon juice then taste, adding salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Transfer to bowl with well-fitting lid and chill until ready to serve. _ _
Honey Gingerbread or Honey Cake
3 large eggs
_ cup sugar
_ cup honey
1/3 c vegetable oil
3 tbsp orange juice
1 _ tbsp sour cream
1 _ tsp orange rind, grated
2 2/3 c flour
_ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon
Heat oven to 325. In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar, oil, honey, orange juice, orange rind and sour cream. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to honey mixture, mix until just blended. Spoon batter into two 8 _ x 4 _ greased and floured loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and bake an additional 15-25 minutes longer until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans. _
Mashed potatoes, rye and pumpernickel bread.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Libya - Cuscus bil-Bosla

Libya is in Northern Africa along the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia. Even though most of its borders are potentially dangerous, and one must be a part of an organized tour when traveling there, it may be tempting for the adventurous traveler. The country has been sheltered under the Mu’ammar Gaddafi for the last thirty years leaving much of it unspoiled. But now it’s opening up, beckoning and alluring like a beautiful oasis in the dessert.

For our Libyan meal I made the country’s national dish, Cuscus bil-Bosla. It is couscous with lamb, chickpeas, tomatoes and potatoes. Julia loved it. She was very excited when I told her we were having couscous. Though we all enjoyed it we each had our own plate. However, it is their tradition in Libya to serve the meal on a common platter and everyone eats by helping themselves to this platter.

Cuscus bil-Bosla

675g couscous
1 TBSP oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP tomato puree
120ml water
1/2 tsp Kammon hoot
3 onions, thinly sliced
2 TBSP butter
5 lamb chops
150g dried chickpeas (I used one can)
2 potatoes, diced
2 green chillies, sliced
1/2 tsp hot chilli, minced
1 TBSP oil
500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, to taste

Add oil to a large frying pan and cook the meat and onion. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning the meat half way through.

Whisk the tomato puree into the water then add to the apn, along with the chickpeas and kammon hoot. Bring to a simmer then cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours, or until the beans are tender. (I used canned beans so I did not have to simmer for long). Add water as necessary and stir occasionally. Add the diced potatoes and continue cooking until the potatoes are tender.

Add butter to a pan and fry the sliced onions until they turn golden brown. Stir in the chillies and season with salt and pepper. Then add oil and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 3 minuites then remove the pan from the heat and stir-in couscous. Cover the pan and allow to stand for 5 minutes.

Arrange the couscous on a serving tray or plate, arrange the lamb chops on top then spoon the chickpea sauce over everything.

Kammon hoot

1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp mint
3 tsp cumin seeds
5 garlic cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
15 dried red-hot chilies

Cover chilies with hot water and let stand for 15 minutes until soft. Place chilies and remaining ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth using water that the chilies soaked in to thin it. The sauce should have the consistency of thick paste. If you place the paste in a jar and cover with a little bit of oil it will keep for a couple of months in the refrigerator.

I did not put all the spices into the dish because I knew my children would have a hard time eating it otherwise. I also cut the recipe in half and found that there was still too much.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Liberia - Sweet Potato Cookies

Liberia has a fascinating history and a unique link with the United States. It was founded and colonized by freed American slaves in 1822. They had the help of an organization called The American Colonization Society. They transported over 13,000 free blacks from the United States to Liberia, which isn’t many considering there were 4 million free blacks in the U.S. after the Civil War. The colonization had the support of president James Monroe; the new colonists named Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, after him. But there was fierce opposition to the society and the shipping off of free blacks calling it a slaveholder’s scheme. Today, only about 5% of the population is comprised of the descendents of slaves.

Liberia is on the west coast of Africa and bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’voire and the Atlantic Ocean. In 1980, a military-led coup overthrew the government and it began years of civil war. But in 2005 the country elected their first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and things are improving.

For our Liberian meal I made Dry Rice with Smoked Fish and Sweet Potato Cookies. We didn’t like the fish and rice dish but, surprisingly, we loved the cookies - even some of John’s friends loved them.

Dry Rice with Smoked Fish

1 1/2 cups of rice
225g smoked fish (or salted pork)
1 onion, chopped
2 litters boiling water
3 hot chilies (eg Scotch Bonnet), pounded to a paste
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bouillon cubes
2 tsp oil

Add rice and salt to the water and bring to boil. Then add flaked smoked fish (or chopped salted pork). Add bouillon cubes, pepper and chilli paste. Bring to a boil again, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Add more water if required. Serve immediately.

Sweet Potato Cookies

1 sweet potato, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup margarine
1 1/2 cup sifted flour
2 tsp salt
1 TBSP cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 tsp freshly grated ginger

Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy then add the egg and beat until thoroughly combined. Now add all the ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Form dough on a floured surface, and then knead and roll out until it’s about 1cm thick. . Cut with a pastry cutter then place on a well-greased baking sheet. Place in a 350 degree pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven, dust with icing sugar and set aside to cool.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lesotho - Chakalaka

Lesotho is nicknamed “the kingdom in the sky.” The country is mountainous and has out-of-reach villages with thatched huts and canyons and lies entirely above 4,593 feet in elevation. It’s landlocked and in the middle of South Africa, a little dot one could miss if they weren’t looking for it. Lesotho is relatively peaceful and politically stable, although resources are scare and the poverty rate is high. It’s remained mostly untouched by modern developers, probably because of the country’s harsh terrain.

Lesotho has a “rainbow cuisine” of many different worldly influences. Examples of Lesothoan dishes are spicy curries, chutneys, pickled fish, fish stews, venison, ostrich, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

For our Lesothoan meal I made Chakalaka, a vegetable curry stew, and Putupap, cornmeal porridge. Everyone loved the Chakalaka; it was flavorful and good for us. We weren’t as crazy about the Putupap. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste.


3 medium onions, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 medium green bell pepper, diced
Curry powder, to your taste
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Green chilies (optional)
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 tsp chili powder
1-2 TBSP oil, for frying
1/4 cup water

Fry the onion and pepper together with oil in a large skillet until onion is translucent. Add the carrots, tomatoes, water and all the seasonings to your liking and cook for about 15-20 minutes.


3 cups water, boiling
2 tsp salt
1 lb fine white corn meal
Cold water

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Pour corn meal into center of water to form a pile. Add salt, but do not stir.

Remove pot from stove. Put lid on and let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir, return to heat and simmer over very low heat until putupap is fine grained and crumbly.

Stir with a fork or wooden spoon, add cold water, and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Serve with tomato sauce or gravy.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lebanon - Lamb Kebob Pitas

Last year I saw the movie “Caramel.” It’s a Lebanese film made in 2007. It’s about four women working in a beauty salon in Beirut. The women struggle with universal issues such as aging and the search for love. The movie put a human face to a city that has been in political turmoil.

I don’t know much about Beirut, other than what I’ve read in the book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman. It chronicles the tension between Arabs and the Israelis and the obstacles to achieving peace in the Middle East. Also, my friend, Rex, described Beirut to me. He worked there for a short time when it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East.” He portrayed it as a delightful place with little shoreline cafes, good restaurants and hotels. It was known for being a place where one could go for a swim in the Mediterranean in the morning and go skiing in the mountains in the afternoon. “What’s happened to it since is a complete travesty!” he said.

For our Lebanese meal I made lamb kebab pita sandwiches with yogurt sauce, green onions, mint and hearts of romaine. It was delicious and it reminded me of the scrumptious street food of the Middle East. The kids loved it too.

Lamb Kebob Pita Sandwiches with Yogurt sauce and Salad

For the lamb:

1 large yellow onion
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
Freshly ground pepper
2 lbs boneless lean lamb from loin or leg, cut into 1 inch cubes

For yogurt sauce:

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt or other plain yogurt
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and coarsely shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

6 green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint leave, coarsely shredded
4 large pita breads

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Latvia - Baked Pork Ribs

Latvia borders Estonia, Lithuania and Russia and the cold Baltic Sea. I read that the capital, Riga, is the biggest and most vibrant city in the Baltics. I wouldn’t have thought to put Latvia on my must-see places, but now, I just might want to see this up-and-coming hotspot. Well, not hot, but you know what I mean.

Latvian food is influenced by German, Swedish and Russian cuisine. They eat meat at almost every meal and traditionally eat locally grown vegetables such as dried peas, potatoes and cabbage.

One interesting Latvian meal is pig’s snout that is a traditional Christmas dish. It’s served with beans and sausages.

Our Latvian meal consisted of baked pork ribs with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. The kids loved it. John’s favorite meal is ribs.

Baked Pork Ribs

3 lbs pork ribs
1 onion
Salt and ground pepper

Rub salt and vegetable mixture on the ribs and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. When done, pour pan juices over them and serve with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Laos - Bullfrogs

In the book “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert she and her soon-to-be-husband are in Laos and they get invited to dinner. They are at the house of Elizabeth’s Laotian guide, a young man with a pregnant wife living in a tin shack. Here is an excerpt from the book about that night:

“We all sat down on a bamboo mat and shared the meal, rolling balls of rice in our hands. In keeping with Laotian custom, we all drank from the same glass, passing it around the room from the oldest to the youngest. And here is what we ate: Spicy catfish soup, green papaya salad in a smoky fish sauce, sticky rice – and frogs. These were giant frogs – huge, hefty, meaty bullfrogs – chopped into big parts like stew chicken and then boiled, skin and bones and all.”

I wish I could tell you that our Laotian meal was half as interesting (no, I did not score some massive bullfrogs to eat). Instead, I made Lahp Tofu. I also wish that I could tell you that we liked it. We didn’t. I don’t know why exactly, we all like tofu. Maybe it was because it had a banana flavor. True, a little more appetizing than meaty bullfrogs. Then again, the frogs may have been quite tasty.

Lahp Tofu

Vegetable stock
Soy Sauce
1/2 banana flower (green beans or green bananas)
sticky rice
2 red chillies
Green onions

Heat oil in wok until hot, then add the tofu. Fry cubes, turning occasionally to ensure even browning until they are golden (about 4- 5 minutes). Remove from oil, drain and cool.

Place tofu cubes on chopping board and coarsely mince with a large knife or chopper. Put the minced tofu into a large bowl for mixing with other ingredients later.

Heat 2 TBSP of oil in a frying pan, and add garlic, fry until barely golden, then add water (or stock) and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

Squeeze out the banana flower, add to the minced tofu and mix lightly. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, then the fried garlic and some juice from the frying pan.

Sprinkle the ground roasted sticky rice over the mixture, and mix together by hand. Taste and adjust soy sauce if necessary.

Add the sliced chillies and chopped spring onions, mint and coriander. Lightly mix, then pile on a serving dish. Garnish with cucumber slices, beans and pieces of chilli or tomato.

Kyrgyzstan - Beshbarmak

Kyrgyzstan is a small mountainous country in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. It’s a country known for its hospitality (if you happen to get invited to a Kyrgyz home they’ll insist you drink fermented mare’s milk), but they also love to play and watch the aggressive game of kok boru. It’s not a game for sissy. You see, you ride on horseback, with many other competitors, and you try and grab a headless goat and throw it across a goal line. Sort of like polo, without the corpse.

For our Kyrgyzstan meal I made the national dish, Beshbarmak. It’s traditionally made with horsemeat or, mutton or lamb. Beshbarmak means “five fingers” which makes sense because you eat it with you hands. You will find this dish at any festive gathering – maybe even at a kok boru event.


1 medium sheep or a small horse (You read that right. However, I went to Whole Foods and bought lamb chops)
1 large onion
You can make your own flat noodles with flour and eggs ( or you can use lasagna noodles like I did)

Boil the meat with the onions until done. Boil noodles in the same water that the meat was in to give the noodles a meaty flavor.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kuwait - Big Family Meals

It’s hard to believe that the Gulf War was twenty years ago. Apparently, there is little evidence now that there ever was an invasion, except for the memories of it burned in people’s minds and extra security around the capital. But it still holds a reputation of being one of the more relaxed of the Muslim countries.

Kuwaiti dishes are influenced by Mediterranean, Persian, Indian and South Asian cuisine. Eating food is a big part of the culture and it is usually prepared in large amounts where it is common to invite neighbors and family to share the dishes.

For our Kuwaiti meal I cooked only enough for my immediate family (sorry neighbors). I made chicken with lemon with a side of cold spinach and yogurt salad.

Chicken With Lemon

Chicken pieces

1/2 – 3/4 cup oil (half canola and half olive)
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 TBSP thyme
1 tsp garlic powder

Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Marinade chicken for 1 hour or over night. Place chicken in baking dish and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Then broil 15 minutes or until golden.

Cold Spinach and Yogurt Salad

1/2 lb spinach
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp onion, finely grated
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
1 TBSP fresh mint, finely cut or 1 tsp dried mint

Wash spinach under cold water running water. Drain, then strip the leaves from the stems.

In a pot, bring water to a boil. Add spinach, reduce heat to low, and simmer, tightly covered, for about 10 mintues. Drain spinach in sieve, cool to room temperature and squeeze it completely dry. Chop finely.

In a bowl, combine spinach, lemon juice, onion, salt and pepper. Toss the mixture and stir in the yogurt and mix thoroughly.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled. Sprinkle with mint.

Friday, March 12, 2010

South Korea - Bulgolgi

During the Vietnam War my dad, an Air Force Captain, was assigned to an Air Force base in Kwangju, Korea for a 13-month tour. I was a baby and my mother, who had never left the United States, insisted we join him.

Kwangju was remote and difficult to get to because of bad roads and primitive surroundings. It was only 250 miles south of Seoul but years behind. My mother was told by my father’s boss not to come and he made it clear that there was no authorized housing available for American dependents on the base and there was no commissary.

Many of my mother’s friends and relatives thought she was nuts for wanting to accompany my dad, especially with a baby, to a remote part of Asia. But South Korea was friendly with the United States and it eagerly promoted tourism. My mother discovered the presence of missionaries there and found that there was a good-sized community of American Presbyterians living in Kwangju and that they often provided housing to Americans staying in the area.

My father left for Korea to begin his assignment and to make the final arrangements for our housing. He then wrote to my mother and told her to “come on over” and my mom and I embarked upon our adventure. Since my mother wasn’t authorized to ship household goods, she had to figure out how to pack everything we needed for a year into 44 pounds of luggage.

The arrival in Korea, the reunion with my dad, and a sightseeing weekend in Seoul brought on a sense of euphoria for my mom who had dreamed of traveling since she was a little girl. But that ended abruptly when we flew over endless patterns of rice paddies and mountains and landed in Kwangju. Reality set in and it was time to begin making a life there.

The year in Korea turned out to be a rich and memorable experience (for my parents – not for me as much since I was a baby). The move there had set us on a course; it was the beginning of many more adventures living in different countries all over the world. It was Korea that gave my parents a taste of the life-style that made them decide to join the Foreign Service.

Though I don’t remember Korea, it shaped my destiny, it set me on a path for a life time of travel.

One of the dishes my mother made often from Korea was bulgolgi, a sweet marinated beef served over rice.

Korean Bulgolgi

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced rib-eyed steak (you can find it already sliced in Asian stores)
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Yellow onion, halved and sliced into moon shaped slivers
2 green onions including the white parts, finely sliced into small pieces
2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
2 pinches black pepper
1/4 tsp of ginger, finely minced

Whisk all the ingredients together in bowl except beef and onions. When most of the sugar has dissolved, add beef and onion slices to the bowl and massage the marinade with your hands into each slice of beef. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To pan fry, place a few slices of beef in single layers on a hot oiled frying pan and fry each side until cooked.

Serve with rice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

North Korea - Korean Noodles

It was a few months ago now, but I remember being horrified by the story of the two journalists who were arrested and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for supposedly entering North Korea illegally. Even if the women were stupid enough to walk into North Korea without proper papers, I thought the punishment certainly did not fit the crime. Luckily it had a happy ending. Bill Clinton got involved and negotiated the release of the poor journalists.

North Korea has been shut off from the rest of the world for half a century. People live in fear, where dictator Kim Jong II runs the country with an iron fist. It’s the place George W. Bush declared a part of the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iran and Iraq.

Many of us know veterans of the Korean War. It began in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded the south. The United States got involved and the war lasted three years and claimed more than 54,000 American lives.

I consider myself an adventurous traveler, but I don’t think I’ll be putting North Korea on my bucket list.

Korean cuisine consists of rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables and meats. Beef is the most valued meat and its consumption used to be forbidden until the Mongols came into power in the 13th century. Chicken, pork and fish are also very popular, as well as dog meat. Using dog meat, they prepare a spicy stew that claims to balance a person’s vital energy in their body. Being huge dogs lovers, this spicy stew would be out of the question for us – even if it does have health benefits.

For our North Korean meal I made a delicious Korean noodle soup. It’s a quick and satisfying meal and one that I have made on a couple of occasions. It was definitely a big hit with the family.

Korean Noodles

1 pound of Chinese dried noodles or vermicelli, cooked and drained.
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups beef broth
1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp Oriental sesame oil
Few drops hot sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup green onions, chopped

While the noodles cook, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the eggs and cook them in a flat sheet until they are set and the top is no longer shiny. Remove the omelet from the skillet and cut it in thin strips.

Heat the broth in a small saucepan.

For the topping, sauté, the beef in a medium skillet until it loses all pinkness. Add soy sauce, sugar, garlic, toasted sesame seeds, sesame oils and salt. Cook for 1 minute.

Divide the noodles among 4 individual soup bowls and spoon the beef sauce over them. Sprinkle each with 1/4 of the eggs and green onions and pour heated broth over.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kiribati - Coconut and Curry

Kiribati, once apart of the United Kingdom, is an island nation located in the Pacific. You might have heard about it in your history class. It’s the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II,

Tarawa is the capital and it is also an atoll, an island of coral that surrounds a lagoon. The land looks like a ring and surrounded by beautiful blue water on both sides.

Surprisingly, it is not a big tourist destination, even with its beautiful fish, coral reefs and warm beaches. It still moves at a slow pace and it’s taking its sweet time catching up to the rest of the world.

It was not easy finding Kiribati recipes. I finally made what I thought was a typical islander meal: fish cooked in coconut milk and curry, and sweet potatoes. The curry and coconut combination was a nice blend of sweet and spice.

Kiribati dishes include rice, fish and shellfish seasoned with spices and coconut and coconut milk. Taro, and sweet potatoes and curries are very common.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kenya - Safari Steak

Kenya offers one of the best safari adventures on the continent, and more. How about sunning on an Indian Ocean beach or trekking the glacial ridges of Mt Kenya? There’s a reason it’s one of Africa’s primary destinations. And, if we’re lucky while visiting, we’ll catch a glimpse of the magic of Africa.

Kenyan cuisine is influenced by East India and Great Britain, mixed with African dishes and tribal delicacies. Potatoes are a prominent feature and vegetable curry is very popular, as well as beef, chicken, goat and fish.

Ugali is the national dish, a cornmeal porridge. It is eaten by rolling it up in a ball and then dipping it into a sauce. It is inexpensive and easy to prepare, making it a common staple to most meals.

For out Kenyan meal, we did not have Ugali. Instead I made Safari Steak. It is steak served on a mixture of mashed potatoes and yams with a red wine sauce poured over it. It would have been tasty if I hadn’t gone to a bargain grocery store and bought low quality meat.

It served me right. I was too lazy to drive to Whole Foods to get quality organic meat.

Safari Steak

6 steaks
2 tsp oil
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup dessert wine
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 TBSP tomato paste mixed with 4 TBSP water
A mixture of mashed potatoes and yam
Bunch of parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan and season the steak with black pepper. Fry the steaks for 3 minutes per side, or until they are done to your liking, then place in the oven to keep warm. Lower the heat in the pan and add the wine and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, scraping the base of the pan to loosen any meat juices. The add the tomato paste mixture. Cook until the sauce is thick.

Mix the mashed yams and potatoes together and place the steaks on top and spoon the sauce over the steaks. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kazakhstan - Horsemeat

I hate to say this, but every time I think of Kazakhstan I think of Borat chasing his chicken on a New York subway. I know many people from Kazakhstan were upset about how the movie Borat portrayed them, but then again, the movie didn’t exactly show the U.S. in its best light either.

But to be fair, lets forget Borat and explore this country that few from the outside world know. You may be surprised to learn that Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Almaty, is very European with international shops, suburbs, fine restaurants, nightclubs and 24-hour supermarkets. The country’s capital, Astana, is a multi-cultural city that is racing to catch up with the rest of the world.

Then yes, you’ll also find remote open spaces, Soviet-era service and many dishes with horsemeat. In fact, when I was looking for recipes I was having a hard time finding a dish that didn’t have horsemeat. There was horsemeat sausages, horse liver, served with onions and peppers, horsemeat lard made from horse’s neck and salted horse’s hip and hind leg.

Julia, like most nine-year-old little girls, is crazy about horses – has horse posters in her room and takes horseback riding lessons. There was no way I was going to serve up horsemeat – if even I could find it.

Thankfully I found a beef soup recipe (perhaps the authentic version required horsemeat). It was fairly easy to make and tasty and certainly something we could all enjoy.

Kazakh Beef Soup

3 beef soup bones
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 16 oz. jar of Sauerkraut, rinsed and drained 1
1 onion, chopped
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cubes
1 TBSP hot chili sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup sour cream, optional

Place soup bones in a big pot with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to boil and cook uncover for about 1 hour to make a beef stock. Remove bones and col.

Heat 1 TBSP of oil in a large skillet. Sauté sauerkraut for a few minutes, then add just enough water to cover sauerkraut, cover the pan and let simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until sour taste is gone. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté onion until tender.

When bones are out of stock, add potatoes and boil until tender. Stir in sauerkraut, onions and any meat that can be picked from the bones, Season with hot sauce and salt. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jordan - Maklooba

Since Jordan is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the Middle East, it’s a great tourist destination. Petra, for instance, is one of the world’s most unforgettable sights. It’s a city of rock cut architecture, buildings created by carving natural rock.

Jordan is also a place to see Biblical sites such as where Jesus was baptized and where John the Baptist was beheaded. You can explore ancient Roman ruins and Crusader castles. Even today, you’ll see the classic Middle Eastern dessert scene of Bedouins with their flocks of sheep and goats.

But Jordan isn’t just a time warp. The capital city of Amman is modern, Westernized and glitzy and, while touring the country, you can do the typical beachy thing and go to Aqaba to snorkel in the Red Sea.

To me, Jordan sounds like the perfect place to go to experience the Middle East.

For our Jordanian meal we had Maklooba. It’s a popular Middle Eastern rice dish. It can vary from country to country but I’m hoping I got the more traditional Jordanian version. The main ingredients are rice, lamb or chicken, cauliflower and eggplant. The ingredients are layered in a deep pot and then cooked together. When it’s done, the pot is turned upside down on a serving platter.

I could not get it to mold. Despite that, the we all enjoyed the Maklooba.

Jordanian Maklooba

8 chicken thighs
Canola oil
1 tsp fresh nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin powder
4 saffron threads
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cardamom seeds
3 peppercorns
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
1 eggplant, peeled, cubed and salted
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cups rice

1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp all spice
4 saffron threads
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and Pepper
Toasted pine nuts for garnish

In a pan, brown chicken in oil. Once brown (but does not have to be fully cooked), add nutmeg, all spice, cumin powder, salt, saffron, cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and peppercorns.

Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Season with ground pepper. Cover and simmer until the meat pulls away from the bone. When done, set the chicken aside. Keep the broth – do not discard.

Fry cauliflower in oil until brown and then drain on paper towels. Repeat process with eggplant. Then set aside.

Heat oil in large pot and add onions and sauté. Then add chicken (bone and all – but I took the meat off the bone).

Rinse rice, then put in bowl and stir in spices into the raw rice.

Add cauliflower and eggplant to chicken, then put seasoned rice on top. Pour the left-over chicken water in the pot to just barely cover the rice. Bring to boil, then simmer and cover. When water is gone and rice is tender, dish is done.

Flip it, upside down, onto a serving plate and garnish with toasted pine nuts.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japan - Guirei, Japanese Restaurant

Japanese food is one of our favorite cuisines. We all love sushi and fortunately we found a wonderful little Japanese restaurant not too far from our house called Guirei, located on Kerr street. The chef is a delightful man who always welcomes me with a smile and knows me by name. Every time I bring my children he gives them candies and he will often give us a free desert or appetizer. But that’s not why I go. I go because the sushi is fresh and delicious. The best I’ve had in the area.

I’ve made my own sushi, and it’s a fun thing to do with the kids, but when it came time for us to eat a cuisine from Japan, there was no question that it had to come from our favorite Japanese restaurant. We ordered the Spider Roll, deep friend soft shell crab with avocado and sweet sauce, Agedashi Tofu, deep-fried tofu with dipping sauce, the Rainbow Roll, salmon, tuna, red snapper, avocado on a California roll, and a California Roll with avocado, crab meat, cucumber and tobiko.

Japan fascinates me. I would love nothing more than to travel there. When my parents lived in Burma, when I was in high school and college, I would visit them twice a year and I would fly into Tokyo to change planes. I’ve spent countless hours in that airport but never was able to get outside of it. In retrospect, I should have spent a few days there as I was passing through. Then again, I was usually by myself and was anxious to get to my destination.

But I have read many books on Japan and seen movies about Japan. Here are some I recommend:


The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden


Letters from Iwo Jima

Empire of the Sun

Lost in Translation

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jamaica - Jerk Seasoning

Go to Jamaica and get ready to experience the three Rs: reggae, reefers and rum. It’s a Caribbean island that sets itself apart from the others; it has a proud connection to Africa. There are certain things we associate with Jamaica (besides the three Rs), Bob Marley, Kingston, Jerk seasoning, and Blue Mountain coffee. And who can resist saying, “Jamaica, mon.”

But don’t worry, you’ll still get everything a Caribbean island promises: Warm sun, beaches and resorts. You just may learn something. Maybe it’ll be about bush-medicine or a little history about the triangular slave trade and the Maroons, who preserved many of the African traditions.

Jerk Pork

4 1/2 lbs pork loin, butterflied ( I used 2 1/2 lbs. If you use lesss meat, adjust the recipe accordingly)
Jerk Sauce (Whole Foods had several to choose from)
2 tsp thyme
1 cup black sesame seeds (I used white since that’s what I had)
Crushed pimento (allspice)
1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
Salt to taste
2 tsp crushed peppercorns
Cooking oil to brush pork

Season pork loin with salt, 1 tsp crushed pepper and 1 tsp thyme. Spread with jerk sauce and sprinkle with chopped green onion.

Roll the pork tightly, length-wise and brush with oil.

Mix sesame seeds with the crushed pimento, 1 tsp thyme, salt and 1 tsp pepper and roll pork in mixture to form a crust. Wrap tightly in cling wrap and let sit for 1 hour or overnight.

Roast 35 minutes at 375 degrees, or until done. It took my pork to cook longer.

Slice and smother with hot sauce. Serve with rice and peas, dumplings.

Jerk Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal
3 cups flour
1 TBSP all purpose seasoning
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP baking powder
1 cup canned corn
1 cup green onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar (or any type of cheese you like)
3 large eggs
2 cups milks or coconut milk
1 cup melted butter
1 TBSP thyme
1/2 tsp scotch bonnet pepper (or chili pepper if you prefer less heat)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line a 9 x 13 cm pan with parchment paper. Coat with butter.

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet in another

Mix wet into dry and place in pan. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Most say that real jerk seasoning is made only using scotch bonnet peppers. The use of these peppers to make jerk seasoning dates back to the Maroons. They created this rub to preserve the meat. They would then slow cook the meat on an open fire.

(I got these recipes from the magazine Jamaican Eats)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Italy - My Kitchen in Italy

Oh Italy. Sometimes I want to run off and live there. There are so many things to entice a woman about Italy – the history, the fashion, the food, the men! Wouldn’t you just love to say, “I live in Florence” or “I live in an old villa in Tuscany.”

That’s it. I’m starting my life over and I’m going to Tuscany. Or maybe I’ll go to Venice, Rome, Sicily, or Milan! My heart palpitates just thinking of all the places I want to go in Italy!

I think I shall become an expert on Italian food. If I did I would cook with such passion. I could become a fat Italian mother who spends all day in the kitchen. Pasta, polenta, risotto, oh my! I would do that if I had a kitchen in Italy.

In my kitchen in Canada, I made an Italian feast. I took my recipes from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook Jamie’s Italy.

Fried Pizza

Pizza dough (I buy fresh dough from our local bakery)
Flour, for dusting
Vegetable oil, for frying
Buffalo mozzarella
Dried oregano (optional)

For the tomato sauce:

Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Fresh basil
1 14-oz can of plum tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make your tomato sauce. Heat oil in a pan and sauté garlic, then add half the basil, the tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Cook gently for about 20 minutes, mashing the tomatoes until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat your grill or broiler to its highest temperature. Pull off a piece of the dough and flatten it onto a floured work surface. Heat a frying pan over high heat, add vegetable oil

and fry each little pizza for about 30 seconds on each side. Remove with tongs and place on a baking sheet.

Once all the pizzas are fried, top each with tomato sauce, leaf or two of basil or dried oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and grill until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is brown and cooked through.

Jamie Oliver wrote that this is how the first pizzas were made. We love these pizzas and have made them a couple times since our Italian meal.

Spaghetti Trapani Style

1 lb dried spaghetti
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 1/2 oz almonds, skins on or off
1 clove garlic
4 large handfuls of fresh basil
5 1/2 oz freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lb. Tomatoes, halved

Cook your spaghetti. Warm the almonds a little in a dry pan, then smash them up in a pestle and mortar or in a food processor until it is a powder consistency. Put in them in a bowl. Smash the garlic and basil in the mortar separately and mix with the almonds, adding the cheese, olive oil and salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and mash them with your hands into the almond mixture until they are all broken up. Add a little olive oil and toss with the pasta. Top spaghetti with the sauce.

Pork Chops with Sage

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
Sea salt and black pepper
4 thick pork chops on the bone
24 fresh sage leaves
1 bulb garlic
4 slices of prosciutto
4 TBSP butter, finely diced
4 dried apricots
Extra virgin olive oil
6 thick strips of bacon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Boil potatoes for only 3 or 4 minutes, then drain them and allow them to steam dry. Lay your pork chops on a cutting board and using a small knife make a pocket into the side.

Set aside 8 of the largest sage leaves. Add 8 more leaves to the food processor with a peeled clove of garlic, the prosciutto, butter, apricots and salt and pepper. After it’s mixed, divide the mixture between the pork chops and put it into the pockets.

Drizzle some olive oil on the 8 large sage leaves. Press a leaf into some flour and then press the leaf, lour side down, onto each side of the pork chops (so you have two leaves on each chop). Leave the pork chops on a plate, covered with plastic wrap, to come to room temperature.

Cut the bacon into thin strips. Put them in a pan with the potatoes, the rest of the sage leaves and the rest of the garlic. Drizzle with some olive oil and put the pan into a pre-heated oven. After 10 minutes, heat up a frying pan and get it very hot. Add olive oil and your pork chops. Fry until golden on both sides, then remove pan of potatoes from the oven, and place the pork chops on top. Put the pan back into the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, or until done. Then serve.

Salad from Caprese

4 5oz. balls of buffalo mozzarella
2 handfuls of mixed ripe tomatoes
White of one spring onion, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Herb vinegar


A handful of fresh basil leaves
Sea Salt and ground fresh pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Make your dressing first. Keeping a few leaves aside for later, chop the basil and pound with a good pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar. Add a splash of oil and stir it in to make the basil dressing.

Tear the mozzarella onto a large serving plate. Chop the tomatoes into chunks and put them in a bowl with the spring onion, olive oil, a little herb vinegar and salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes in and around the mozzarella and drizzle the basil dressing over the top. Sprinkle with the reserved basil leaves and serve.

If you want the more complete recipes, and lots of other fantastic Italian recipes, I suggest you check out Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie’s Italy.

One thing I want to mention – that Jamie Oliver mentions in his book – is to eat consciously. Think about where your meats and dairy products are coming from, and buy organic fruits and vegetables. Make sure that the meat and eggs you buy, for instance, comes from free run farms, and try and buy local whenever possible. They will most likely be more expensive, so buy less. But the quality will be better, and healthier too. I hope we can send a message to farmers that we won’t tolerate the mistreatment of animals, or the environment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Israel - Yarushaleim the Golden

When I was preparing our Israeli meal I suddenly felt homesick. I said to Kevin and Julia, who were in the kitchen, “We should visit Israel someday. It would be so much fun. There’s so much to do and I could show you where I used to live. Did you know I could see the beach from my house?”

Julia laughed. “Like Sarah Palin could see Russia from her house.” She said it in a falsetto voice that made me giggle.

Kevin was reading the newspaper and I could see him stiffen. “Israel is dangerous,” he said.

“Why is it dangerous?” Julia asked.

I shrugged. “Well, I guess it’s because there are certain people who want to blow it up and wipe it off the face of the earth. But that shouldn’t stop us from going.”

Kevin gave me a funny look and Julia shook her head and said, “I don’t want to go if it’s dangerous.”

I started to feel impatient. I wasn’t suggesting that we spend a couple of weeks in Baghdad, for god’s sakes. I wanted to go back to my childhood home where I spent some of the best years of my life, the best fours years of my childhood anyway.

Paul Theroux warned against going back to the places you used to travel. “The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerous but irresistible,” he writes, “not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover years later and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and bruised old fruit.”

For me, the risk in going back to Israel is not getting blown up, but seeing it with different eyes, more critical and mature eyes. I may wonder why I thought of it as the object of my desire. On the other hand, it could be like seeing a long lost friend. If I go back, I will either be swept up with emotion or disappointment. I cannot imagine any other outcome.

We moved to Israel in September of 1976. My mother wrote back home how modern Israel fascinated us. She described the handsome sun-tanned soldiers wearing short shorts with machine guns slung over their shoulders, mingling in the crowds, and ads enticing tourists to come and have fun on the sea of Galilee, and the roadside sign on Haifa highway near our house saying, “Jerusalem, 74 kilometers.”

Jerusalem was magical. It was an hour drive from Tel Aviv. The last miles before we reached the city we would ascend up into the mountains – winding higher and higher and then we were there – Jerusalem stretched out before us. We stayed at the King David hotel, drove to the Mount of Olives for the fabulous, not-quite-real-seeming, panoramic view of Jerusalem, we visited the Wailing Wall where we put on skullcaps and shoved prayers in the wall. We visited The Dome of the Rock, the Garden of Gethesamane with its huge and twisted old olive trees, and roamed the markets in the old city and Bethlehem.

The first time we saw Bethlehem we all caught our breath and our guide said, “Look at that. It looks like 2000 years ago.”

Then we drove up the street and there was the “Holy Manger Souvenir shop.”

My mother thought the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem was tacky and commercialized. You would walk in and a guide would say, “Here’s where Mary bore Jesus and here is where she laid him afterwards.” Now, how could they possibly know that?

Israel was very special to all of us. My mother wrote home about how much we loved living there.

But Jerusalem held a special place in our hearts. She wrote in one of her letters, “There’s an Israeli song about Jerusalem that we want to learn – Yarushaleim the Golden. I don’t know the title but those words are in it. That’s the Hebrew pronunciation of Jerusalem. When you’re on the Mount of Olives in the late afternoon with the sun shining on the old city laid out in a panorama below you, you see why it’s called Jerusalem the Golden.”

Near our house in Israel there was a market square and almost every day after school I would run to the market deli and get a hummus and pita sandwich with red cabbage. When it came time to make our meal for Israel I knew just the thing I wanted to prepare: hummus and pita sandwiches with red cabbage and a side of tabbouleh.

I have had hummus and pita sandwiches since, of course, but not with the red cabbage. It didn’t taste quite the same (it never does), but it was good and I was surprised how much my children loved it.

Now, I need to find a way to take my family to Israel – perhaps even to that same deli in that market square in Tel Aviv – not in my mind or through my stories, but in person. I’m willing to risk being blown away all over again.


1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup fine bulgur
Leaves of one large bunch of Italian parsley
Leaves of one bunch spearmint (mint)
1/2 cup red onion
2 cups cherry tomatoes
juice of one large lemon
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the bulgur. Let stand for 30 minutes, uncovered, until the bulgur has absorbed all the liquid and is softened.

Chop the parsley, mint and onion. Add to the bulgur and toss to combine.

Have the tomatoes, place in a colander, and press lightly to drain off some of their liquid and eliminate some seeds, then add to the bulgur.

Pour the lemon juice and olive oil over the bulgur and vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before serving.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ireland - Irish Stew

I have always thought of Ireland as a place of beauty with rolling green hills dotted with castles and quaint stone farmhouses. I read that it holds a sense of timelessness and is said to be one of the most beautiful countries. A place once visited, is never forgotten, the old saying goes.

Dublin, the capital, has been called the greatest city in Europe, mostly because of the Irish locals, I believe. Going to an Irish pub for a pint of Guinness seems to be a time-old cliché, as Irishly typical as the leprechaun. But who goes to Dublin and doesn’t do that?

Ireland is a must-see place, despite the crummy weather – or maybe that’s part of the charm.

In the 16th century, Ireland’s cuisine was changed forever because of the introduction of the potato. Two of Ireland’s most popular dishes are the Irish stew, made with potatoes, and Boxty, a potato cake.

Irish cuisine also comprises of dishes such as boiled bacon and cabbage, and coddle, boiled sausages. They are known for their hearty breakfasts of bacon, eggs, sausages, fried potatoes and black and white pudding.

For our Irish meal I cooked Irish stew. It was once a peasant dish. Traditionally, only the cheapest and most readily available ingredients were used for the stew. It was made of lamb or mutton with potatoes and root vegetables.

The stew has evolved and there are now many variations.

I used beef in our stew and it still had a real sense of Irish-ness to it. I used Guinness beer and red wine. There was nothing peasant about it. But the recipe still included traditional ingredients such as potatoes, onions and carrots.

What’s not to like about Irish stew? It’s full of goodness and warmth, satisfying until the last spoonful. Like Ireland, it seems.

Irish Stew

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 lb well-marbled chunk beef stew meat, cut into one inch pieces
6 large garlic cloves, minced
6 cups beef stock
1 cup Guinness beer
1 cup fine red wine.
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP dried thyme
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
2 TBSP butter
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Salt and pepper
2 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Lightly salt beef. Working in batches (do not crowd) and beef and brown. Add garlic, sauté. Add beef stock, wine, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Melt butter in another large pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion and carrots. Sautee until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

After one hour, add vegetables to beef stew. Simmer uncovered until vegetables and beef are tender. Discard bay leaves. Transfer to serving bowls, add salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Iraq - War

I remember during the height of the Iraq War someone wrote an article called “Between Iraq and a hard place.” I cursed America’s stupidity for getting us in this war. Before the first bombs were dropped, I could see that Iraq would be a quagmire. Even as it became evident that we were not going to change thousands of years of ingrained tribal thought in a matter of months - with our bombs - the situation divided us - and brought some of us closer together.

We were anti-American if we opposed the war and when I spoke to our neighbors, friends and relatives I would occasionally say something like: Bush is such an idiot and if the other person responded in the same diatribe, than we would both breath a sigh of relief and we would hug each other like we were long lost comrades and we would give each other some reassuring anti-war, anti-Bush rant to reaffirm to one another that we weren’t all out of our minds.

Those were the days when us “anti-Americans” would go to Michael Moore movies and cheer. I must admit, there was a feeling of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, ironically. It was us verses them – the Bushies. Strangely, our troops were dying to unite a country, to bring the Shiites and the Sunnis together, to accept, to vote righteously, live the American way. While their government toppled, so did ours, in a sense, and our reputation with it.

How could we have thought we were so noble – any of us? We all clung to our idea of truth – what it meant in that moment. Were we delusional? Yes, in a sense. Even us – the anti-war group - because even after all that cursing and foot stomping and pointing it only left us worthy of one thing: the privilege to say we were right. But it has also left us empty and broken and we now carry around that awful feeling in the pit of our stomachs that we didn’t do enough to stop it and we ask ourselves: how are we ever going to explain this to our children? Us, Bush-haters, held the I-told-you-so prize but what has it given us? ( okay, Obama was elected, and that was something good that came out of this, but Sarah Palin is coming around the corner – here she comes!) The truth is, we’re still stuck, we’re still divided, our troops are still dying and our reputation is still lost.

We have paid a high price for this war. Not just in lives and dollars and in world opinion, but it has wounded us, it has made us bitter, untrusting, and the emotions of it still so heated that one dare not, even now, mention it, unless one is looking for a debate, or a slap. Some are saying, Obama said he would get all our troops out of that godforsaken place. He’s not keeping his promise! Paradoxically, I hear myself defending our president on this issue. “If we just pull out,” I say, “then what will happen to Iraq?”

Does anyone care anymore?

Even years after the war started, after the anti-war demonstrations, after the movie Fahrenheit 9/11, after Bush, we’re still between Iraq and a hard place.

Iraq cuisine is the essence of Middle Eastern food, in my humble opinion. Ironically, it seems that I could combine what we ate for Iraq and what we’re going to eat for Israel and we’d have an Iraqi meal! Their popular dishes include: kebabs, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, grilled meats and lamb.

For our Iraqi meal we had shawarma - grilled meat sandwich wrap - and chicken kebab with basmati rice. We could have eaten that anywhere in the Middle East. In food, at least, they agree.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iran - Kebab Koobideh

Being an American I don’t have a very good image of Iran. What stands out in my mind is the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981. It particularly hit home with my family and me because the hostages were American Embassy employees – like my parents. I remember having fourth grade fantasies that I would go over to Iran and somehow free those poor captives.

Since then, there have been other clashes with the West and my tainted image has only been reaffirmed. However, I would like to draw my own conclusions. I wish I could see Iran for what it is: the warm people, the beautiful mosques, the loud and dynamic city of Tehran, the ancient Persian city of Esfahan and the ruins in Persepolis. It is unlikely that I will see these places in person, at least not anytime soon. But I promise to try and learn about it, see it beyond my ingrained prejudices.

For our Iranian meal we had the popular Kebab Koobideh, minced meat made from lamb, beef or chicken. It’s prepared by mixing the meat with parsley, chopped onions, salt, pepper, turmeric and other seasonings. It is mixed together - an egg added to keep the mixture from falling apart - and then the mixture is pressed around a skewer.

We had both the lamb and the beef Koobideh from a little Middle Eastern restaurant in Oakville called Kebab Stop. We loved the Koobideh; it tasted like meatloaf only a bit spicier – though not at all spicy. The meat was tender, slightly juicy and we ate it with basmati rice and a salad. The kids loved it and even had the leftovers in their school lunch the next day.