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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Indonesia - Archipelago

I think one of the most stunning features about Indonesia is its archipelago. There are more than 17,000 islands, 6,000 of which are uninhabited. Knowing that, one can see how it would be possible, even in this day and age, to get stranded on a deserted island.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad fate, for a while. I like the idea that there are places on this earth that have yet to be explored. There is a wonderful mysterious quality about that, the possibility of undiscovered cultures and animals, maybe a long lost city.

But if it’s simply a vacation you want, than Indonesia has plenty to offer. There’s the multicultural city of Jakarta, the beautiful resorts of Bali, volcanic lakes of Sumatra, the jungles of Sumatra Kalimantan and Papua, and much more.

Indonesia seems to be a place that would suite me. Bali is high on my list for places I want to go.

If you want to watch a great movie about Indonesia watch The Year of Living Dangerously starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt. It’s about a rookie journalist who is covering the Indonesian civil war of 1965. The journalist has an affair with an American diplomat who helps him with his story, but in the end, he has to choose between the woman he loves and the story that will make his career.

Indonesian cuisine is influenced by India, the Middle East, China and Europe. Many of the most popular dishes are now common across the world, dishes such as satay, and sambal. We had satay for our Indonesian meal. It was familiar to all of us and we enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

India - A Passage to India

If you look, you will find many books and movies about India. Just last year, if you recall, the movie Slumdog Millionaire won best picture in the Academy Awards. I watched it in the theater with Christa (in the end, everyone applauded) and, later, when it came out on DVD, I watched it again with Kevin and John.

Earlier that year, the kids and I rented the movie Gandhi. I had seen it before, but it was a treat to watch with my children and to answer their questions. Why did someone kill Gandhi? Why did the British put Gandhi in jail? Why didn’t Gandhi wear regular clothes? They were mesmerized as they learned about one of the most admired men in history. There are so many lessons to be learned in this movie! I reminded my children that we don’t have to resort to violence. Look at Gandhi, he brought down an empire through persistence and courage, not with guns.

My mother’s favorite book series was Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. The novel is set in 1942 in a fictional city in a British province of India. In 1984, the Jewel in the Crown series was made into a television movie about the final days of the British Raj.

Another favorite is E.M. Forester’s book A Passage to India. It was also made into a movie, which I highly recommend. It is set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s.

In a less serious characterization of India, Elizabeth Gilbert goes to an Indian Ashram in her book Eat, Pray, Love. She was newly divorced, fighting depression and hoped to find herself through travel. She wrote that in India she, “wanted to explore the art of devotion,” and I suppose that if someone were to run away, in search for the meaning of life, or something, one would chose India.

One can travel to India without ever leaving their chair, it seems. But to be spiritually captured and never set free, to experience somewhere you’ll never forget, whether you love it or hate it, one must go there - I can only imagine - I was so close when I lived in Burma, but never did I set foot in India.

To find Indian cuisine is as simple as finding a book on India. Indian restaurants are plentiful, and to make my life easier, we got our meal from an Indian restaurant in Oakville called Coriander Green. We ordered Samosa, roti, butter naan, chicken tikka – chicken marinated in yogurt and cooked in Tandoor, Palak Paneer – spinach cooked with cubes of cheese, spices, garlic and butter, and Shrimp Masala – shrimp cooked with onions, green/red peppers, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and other spices.

Kevin and I loved the food. The kids weren’t as crazy about it, especially the Palak Paneer. I admit, the spinach and cheese didn’t particularly look good, but it was delicious and it put me in the mood to watch or read a book about India.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Iceland - Hot Springs and Cold

When I think of Iceland I think of three things: clean, cold and hot springs. It’s true that it has, and is, all these things, although the country has higher temperatures than most places with the same latitude. Did you know that in July 2008 it had a record high of 79.2 degrees Fahrenheit?

Iceland also has glaciers, waterfalls and active volcanoes, and it’s a great place to whale watch. However, it’s barren and rocky too and the majority of the population ( under 300,000) lives in the capital of Reykjavik, a city full of writers, poets and musicians.

I read that the quality of the food in Iceland is superb. The animals they eat drink clean water, eat fresh grass and breath fresh air. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us? We should stop buying meat from farmers who cage their animals in filthy, cramped conditions and pump them up with antibiotics. What’s that old saying? We are what we eat?

Icelandic food is mostly based on fish, lamb and dairy products. Traditional dishes include blood pudding, cured meat like ram and shark and skyr, a cheesy yogurt.

Our Icelandic meal was fabulous and something that I can see making again and again. It was a fish casserole made with white fish fillets, onion, grated cheese and breadcrumbs. It was easy to make and the kids loved it. In fact, I had left over fish and made the dish two nights in a row.

Serve it with boiled potatoes and a salad and you’ve got yourself an Icelandic meal.

Fish Casserole

2 white fish fillets, bones and skinned, and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2 TBSP grated cheese (I used a little more than that)
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBSP breadcrumbs
2 TBSP butter

Arrange the fish pieces in a greased casserole. Sprinkle salt and chopped onion over the fish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and cheese on top and dot with small pieces of butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 20- 30 minutes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hungary - Chicken Paprikash

My friend, Kimberly, was kind enough to come over and cook Hungarian Chicken Paprikash. It’s a classic Hungarian comfort food heavily seasoned in paprika and served over spaetzel, dumplings made with flour, eggs and milk. While Kimberly stood over the stove and sautéed the meat, she told me about her trip to Budapest last summer with her husband and two boys.

Hungarian cuisine consists of spicy dishes, hearty soups and stews and delicious desserts. Paprika, the Hungarian name for sweet pepper, is infused in many of their dishes. The spice it made by grinding dried sweet red peppers into a red powder. It has a slightly pungent taste and there are many different kinds of paprika, ranging from sweet to hot.

Later, Kimberly showed me pictures of Budapest and I learned about the city’s architecture and rejuvenating spas. Hungary has been described as Europe’s soul and maybe one needs only to view the Danube River or to learn its history to know that this characterization fits.

To learn more about Budapest, plus travel tips, restaurants and the many sights the city has to offer, check out Kimberly’s blog at

You may find that Hungary is a place you’ll someday want to visit – for it’s paprika infused cuisine, as well as its Nouveau and baroque architecture.

Chicken Paprikash

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces.
12 oz. sour cream
48 oz. chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
3 – 4 TBSP Hungarian paprika
2 TBSP garlic
1 TBSP salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ginger
2 bay leaves
corn starch
Olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pot and add chicken and garlic and sauté. Then add onion and enough chicken broth to submerge everything. You should have some broth left over to use for later. Stir in the paprika, salt, black pepper, ginger and bay leaves. Simmer to let the chicken and onions cook thoroughly.

When the chicken and onions are fully cooked, add the starch as a thickening agent, by mixing it into the remaining broth and pouring it into the pot. If you are out of broth use water. Remove from heat and let it thicken. Finally, mix in the sour cream and serve over the spaetzel.


1/2 cup milk
1/1/2 cups flour
3 eggs

Get a pot of water going at a high boil. Mix the milk, flour and eggs in a bowl. The resulting batter should be a little thicker than cake mix. With a sppon, drop small blobs of batter into boiling water and let boil for 20 minutes keeping the water at high boil. Then fish out the spaetzel.

The blobs will expand s they cook so don’t make them too large.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Honduras - Tacos Fritos

Honduras seems to be a place of change these days. These changes include expanding the tourist economy, becoming more involved with matters of globalization, especially when it comes to free trade agreements and being more environmentally responsible, like tackling their illegal logging problem. They are also fighting against gang violence and HIV/AIDS.

It sounds like they’ve got a lot on their plate (No pun intended). But speaking of which, for our Honduras meal we had Tacos Fritos. These are tortillas filed with beef or chicken and rolled into a flute. The rolled tacos are deep fried and served with raw cabbage, hot sauce and cheese with some sour cream topping. Serve them with black beans and you’ve got yourself a complete meal.

I learned about making these tacos when my Mexican friend, Ana, and her mother came to visit me last summer. They told me that these rolled tacos are great to make if you have left over meat. The one trick they taught me was that you should quickly fry the corn tortilla, on both sides, in oil (careful not to make them hard), then roll them with the meat inside. After that, you fry them again until they are hard and crispy.

The rolled tacos are easy-peezy to make and the kids love them.

Haiti - Needs Our Help

A friend of mine lived in Haiti in the 1970s. He lived in a hotel on a hillside overlooking Port-au-Prince and, later, on the south coast, in Jacmel. There, along sandy bays with tropical trees, local houses mixed with the colonial homes of a few wealthy Haitians. My friend reminded me that the whole island used to be called Santo Domingo and has a long history of slavery, oppression, poverty and civil strife.

I’ve never been to Haiti but it seems to be a place that can grab hold of you and linger in your heart and mind.

Haiti suffered from a terrible earthquake in January causing enormous damage to the country. It is the most improvised nation in the Caribbean and now thousands of people have died and millions are homeless. Many from around the world have come to its rescue and vowed to help the Haitians rebuild. I hope our determination to see this country back on its feet will not falter.

A list of organizations helping Haiti:

Canadian Red Cross
American Red Cross
Concern Worldwide
Save the Children
World Vision
Partners in Health

I read that a typical Haitian dish is brown rice with red kidney beans topped with red snapper, tomatoes and onions. So this is what I made and it turned out to be a nice meal.

Rice with Red Beans and Fish

2 cups of long grain rice
1 cup kidney beans (or one can)
1 oinon, chopped
Hot green pepper, chopped
A strip if bacon cut into cubes
1 TBSP butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 TBSP vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Red Snapper or other white fish
Tomatoes, sliced

Cook beans in 4 cups of water for 2 hours or until tender. Drain beans but keep the water which will be used to cook the rice. (I skipped this part and used 1 can of beans instead)

Fry bacon until crisp. Add onion, garlic, green pepper. Add beans along with salt and pepper to taste. Add the water used to cook the beans and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 20 –25 minutes.

In the meantime, fry up the fish fillets in a bit of oil and slice a tomato. When the bean and rice mixture is done, top it with the fish and then a couple of sliced tomatoes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Guyana - Land of Many Waters

Guyana looks to be the largest of the three small South American countries that face the Atlantic and seem almost in the way of the two giants, Brazil and Venezuela. The three countries are Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana and they are pushed up together like children standing next to each other in a stair step fashion as if they’re siblings posing for a photograph.

Guyana may still have some old colonial charm but it’s mixed with a heavy reminder of the wicked side of occupation. African slaves were brought to Guyana in the 16th century and the treatment of these slaves was so dreadful it’s compared to Joseph Conrad’s book The Heart of Darkness. Even though it has a horrific history, political instability and an enormous foreign debt, the country has some of the most beautiful and unspoiled natural attractions and often called 'Land of Many Waters'. Hopefully, the government of Guyana will use this to attract tourism instead of depleting it further of its natural beauty.

Guyana cuisine has an East Indian influence, favoring curry and roti. Therefore, for my Guyanan meal I made curried shrimp. It was a flavorful and hearty meal with its mixture of shrimp and potatoes.

Curried Shrimp

1 lb shrimp
Lime juice
Salt and pepper
Thyme, chives and garlic to taste
2 TBSP curry powder
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP oil

Season shrimp and allow to stand 15-20 minutes. Mix curry powder in cold water. Put TBSP oil in pot, heat and add curry powder in water. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until thick. Add shrimp and stir to coat. Cook about 5 minutes, then turn off heat.

If you would like to add potato, cut a potato in thin slices and cook in curry powder before adding the shrimp. When the potato is tender, add shrimp and cook 5 minutes.

(I had trouble with the curry mixture sticking to the pan)

Guinea-Bissau - Fish Stew

There seems to be hope for this little country in West Africa. After civil war crushed the country’s economy and infrastructure it is now at peace after its 2005 elections. It may not be a place that’s on a traveler’s radar screen but it is the home of the rare saltwater hippopotamus and the beautiful Arquipelago dos Bijagos. These offshore delta islands offer a glimpse into a matriarchal society and you won’t be disappointed with its white-sand beaches and crystal blue waters. It is not a place, however, that is easy to get to and it will give you the feeling of being quite remote. The country, itself, will welcome you with a friendly greeting, if you’re resourceful enough to get there.

Since Guinea-Bissau is a coastal country I made fish stew for our meal. It consisted of white fish, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, green bananas, bell peppers and chili peppers. It was cooked by layering the ingredients in a large pot. It was good and easy to make.

Fish Stew

1 lb white fish fillets
1 onion, sliced into rings
6 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and sliced
3 potatoes, thinly sliced
2 green bananas, quartered
1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 cup oil
2 hot chili peppers, chopped

Place alternate layers of onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, fish and bananas in a saucepan. Season fish with salt and chopped chilies along with a drizzle of oil. Add enough water to just cover. Cook on medium heat. Shake the pot every once in a while to make sure the sontents do not stick to the bottom. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender and fish is done. It will probably take about 35 minutes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Guinea - Footi Sauce

Guineans are proud of their country but they have had to struggle through the difficult decades since independence and an oppressive regime. Things may be looking up these days but it still has a long ways to go before it will be marked as a tourist destination and it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it does have a lot to offer those looking for an African adventure. But if you do go, take care to stay away from the border areas of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

The meal I cooked for Guinea was a big hit with the family. It’s called Footi Sauce a la Nene Galle Diallo. It may not sound good but it has all those savory things we love: tomatoes, eggplant, onions and ground beef, mixed together and served on rice. It was tasty and a satisfying dinner for the kids.

Footi Sauce a la Nene Galle Diallo

1 can tomato paste
2 smashed tomatoes
2 small eggplants, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 chicken bullion cubes
1 lb ground beef
Okra, if desired

Combine first five ingredients, then cook meat in oil. When meat is cooked, add the tomato mixture and cook for 30 minutes. Cook the okras in the sauce and when finished cooking, pound the rest of the okras and then mix it into the rice. Serve sauce over rice.