I love nougat and found a recipe for a Nougat Tart on a wonderful blog oldaussierecipes.com. This is a simple recipe calling for the use of short crust. Take some time to go through this site because there are some lovely pieces of culinary history here. I was particularly moved by the story about ANZAC biscuits and their place in the history of Australia and New Zealand during World Wars I and II. Wartime cooking is of great interest to me. It is always inspiring for me to see how cooks did so much with so very little during times of rationing and deprivation.
A few months ago I wrote a poem about rationing in England during World War II. It’s called The Ration Book Holder.
Potatoes nudged from their allotment bed
Spurtle and pop in the bacon fat
Shielded from family use since last Sunday’s dinner
By my mum.
Seems a treat in war time
But we’ve always eaten this way Sundays
Mum refuses to change our routine
Fighting Hitler with each ordinary moment
1 week’s rations
4 ounces ham
1 stone beef
1 ounce cheese
2 ounces butter
2 ounces loose tea
2 hours queued
3 bodies to feed
Happy to get it.
Our backyard bomb shelter roof
Feeds us and delights us
Planted with mint and parsley, daffodils and geraniums
By mum, who idles in sunlight
Shows no fear.
Each daybreak she enters the battle
Kettle murmuring on the hob
Letter on the table nearby
Laughing at a joke on the wireless
Unbreakable is she.
I’ve received a number of beautiful and encouraging e.mails from people of many different countries in the past couple weeks. Many have thanked me for shining a positive light on their country through cooking. E.mails from Angola truly touched my heart. Almost all have prompted me to continue with my plan to cook dishes from every country in the world. Thank you.
Have you ever researched a current list of countries? It is comical how many lists you will find online that differ from one another. Who knew this part of my cooking experiment would be a challenge! My decision is to use the World Atlas list. Not on that list: Greenland, Kosovo, Taiwan, Western Sahara. I’m adding them, as well. That brings the number of countries to about 198, give or take a dispute.
Australia is next on my list. Choosing just a couple dishes from which to learn something about this vast region will also be a challenge. Suddenly, I’m craving pavlova.
Later today, I am making ravioli from scratch with a group of women who are either Italian-American by birth or marriage. This is going to be a fun day and I plan on sharing it on this site, when I finally cook my way to the country of Italy. I’ve been cooking sauce for two days wanting very much to please the palates of these ladies. Fingers crossed.
My job is such a stressful one and cooking is a refuge for me. There are days when the only thing that keeps me centered is the thought of being in my kitchen creating something comforting, reliable and delicious when I get home from work. An excellent tonic for my nerves though not my waistline.
On to Australia.
If you really want to know the difference between a soup and a stew, this dish will do it for you. A stew is basically a hearty soup, a dish that can be served as a main course. Armenian Cabbage and Potato Stew will stay with you, especially served with noodles and bread. We are so fortunate in Los Angeles to have the very best Armenian bakeries outside of Armenia. Extraordinary Armenian baked goods are available here, including tahini bread, lamajun (a lot like Armenian pizza)), and flat malt bread. That is really all you need for this stew, which is a real marriage of the great flavors of cabbage and potato. Wars have been won on this sort of dish!
ARMENIAN CABBAGE AND POTATO STEW
8 cups homemade vegetable broth*
3 to 4 large Russet potatoes; diced
1 small head of cabbage; chopped
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 medium onion; sliced
3 garlic cloves; chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped parsley (flat or curly)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
*I’m always hesitant to talk about vegetable stock with other cooks. People can be touchy about this subject. I really dislike store-bought stock. Making your own is so simple. I know plenty of people don’t like making their own stock, so if that’s you, I have found one store brand stock that is not awful. Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegetable Stock is tasty. It is a little on the sweet side, so keep that in mind if you use it. Which reminds me, if you are using a store-bought stock, always taste it before you put it in your recipe, so you know how to adjust your seasoning.
Add the olive oil to a Dutch Oven or soup pot and heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until translucent. Add the potatoes, stir, cover, and heat for about 10 minutes. Pour the 8 cups of stock into the pot, add the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, oregano and tomato paste. Stir, cover, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes. Add the chopped cabbage, cover, and cook on a low heat for about an hour. Stir occasionally.
The aroma just makes you think of the fortifying foods we crave on gray days.
Armenians serve this stew with medium or wide egg noodles. Or not! Your choice.
A rustic, warm and filling dish from Armenia’s farmland. This is often served with potatoes that are roasted or mashed. It can be poured over mashed potatoes for a hunger-satisfying cold night meal. Over rice would be great, as well. I love dishes that invite a lot of personalization. Use any type of mushroom you like, add onions, green pepper rather than or with red pepper. Leave out the cream. Use a splash of wine. This recipe feeds 2 people as a side dish.
1 1/2 cups brown mushrooms, halved
2 garlic cloves, sliced
4 rashers of smoked bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup red pepper, sliced into 1 inch ribbons
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, pepper, sweet paprika to taste
1 cup heavy cream
Add the olive oil to a saute pan and warm on low heat. Add the garlic and slightly increase the heat. Once the garlic is translucent, add the bacon and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Try to keep the heat on the medium-low side in order to slowly render the flavor from the bacon. Stir, then add the red pepper and cook for another five minutes. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper and paprika. Stir and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the cream and cook for another 10 minutes. It’s done!
From the poem “Mysteries of Existence” by Armenia poet Alicia Ghiragossia
What is the mystery
that it can be locked
in a minute of waiting
a second of absence
a split second of need?
How can time stretch
when existence burns
How many eternities
have I still to fold up
and put aside
until I see you?
Where are you?
And, so, to Armenia.
Nearly a year into I Cook the World and I am still on the letter A. My gastronomic experience is about to change. Has changed. Demands on my time have made it so difficult to make the time to research, shop, cook, photograph, and write about food from every country on Earth. So, in my desire to continue this project, Randy (the husband) and I have decided to sample as many of the world’s foods in restaurants. Southern California has an extraordinary array of cuisines including regional specialties I might never be able to master. I could spend a month sampling regional cuisines of Mexico, alone. What we can’t find in a restaurant, we might attempt at home. The experience brings together two elements of life I love, food and travel. I’m looking forward to learning even more about Southern California as we travel to restaurants we find in research or from suggestions from friends and food lovers. I would love to hear from you about some of your favorites.
Eating the food of the world from A to Z in restaurants isn’t a new idea to me. I’m sure it has occurred to many food lovers in Southern California. We are the world’s most ethnically rich dining region. This is a real opportunity for me. We do cook and eat at home a great deal. However, our food preferences are very simple and can be loosely categorized as a California – Mediterranean Diet . We make easy dishes using fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, cheese, and pastas. We love using fresh herbs from our garden and the very finest spices. There are times when a tomato from our garden with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh parsley and Maldon’s sea salt is lunch or dinner. We love fresh bread and tortillas.
I found the most fantastic writing on the food of Argentina on the blog Idle Words. The writer’s name is Maciej Ceglowski. I love his entry Argentina on Two Steaks a Day. I’m not completely in agreement with him about dulce de leche. He doesn’t like it. I like it, in moderation. A couple of weeks ago I was looking through my cupboards and found a jar of chestnuts from last Christmas. I decided to mix the chestnuts with 1/2 cup of dulce de leche, which I purchased at Surfas recently. Placed both in a small saucepan, warmed on a gentle flame while stirring, then placed in a ceramic container in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Hit each individual serving with a little sea salt. Very tasty. I think a sprig of English mint would be fantastic with this little dessert. Dulce de leche is the centerpiece of one of Argentina’s most beloved desserts, Alfajores. The recipe is from a site I like very much, Baking Bites.
As an Italian-America, I’m very interested in the massive influx of Italians into Argentina and Italian influence on the country’s cuisine. The Unification of the Italian states, subsequent high taxes, cholera outbreaks, World War I and World War II are some of the reasons Italians left their homeland to live in other countries. Unification brought political turmoil and a cruel levels of taxes that nearly killed small business and agriculture in Southern Italy. Wikipedia has a decent entry on Italian Argentina. Italians began immigrating to Argentina in the mid-19th century. At that time most of the Italians coming to Argentina were from northern Italy. Later, southern Italians followed to work in factories and farms. I found many pasta recipes listed on sites for Argentinean cuisine and Italian dishes on the menus of Argentinean restaurants.
MALBEC ARGENTINEAN BISTRO
TOLUCA LAKE, CALIFORNIA
After doing research on Argentinean restaurants, I settled on Malbec. I read the menu online and there were a number of dishes I felt I would really like. I also believed Randy would be very happy with the wine list. I was right. Malbec is in Toluca Lake on Riverside Drive, which means street parking available on most days. We snagged a movie star parking space right outside the restaurant, with no meter. Lovely. The interior of Malbec is a sleek, modern design and the music is cool jazz. The place is popular. Two parties of 8 had reservations for lunch and a party of 8 guys, from a nearby company, dropped in without reservations as we were ordering. A few two-tops were occupied throughout Malbec, as well. Despite the busy lunch, the service was spot on. Drinks were refilled and our waitress checked on us frequently, taking the time to answer many of our questions about the food and wine.
We settled on traditional choices: 1 beef empanada, 1 ham and cheese empanada, chicken grilled with herbs and garlic, and skirt steak. A restaurant named for the grape most closely associated with the wines of Argentina should have a great wine list. Malbec does. The majority of wines (about 50) on the list are from Argentina with a dozen available by the glass. Randy ordered a glass of El Portillo Malbec Rose. You can read all about Randy’s wine experience at Malbec on the Now and Zin site. He refers to me as Mrs. Now and Zin. Oy.
I say this in all honesty, the empanadas at Malbec are the best I have tasted in many years. The dough is very light, not greasy, with just a whisper of sweetness. Malbec uses excellent quality meat in its empanada. The beef is moist with a rich, piquant flavor. The ham and cheese empanada is a familiar mix of warmth and comfort. I can imagine being cheered by this little treat on a cold, gray day. Again, the use of quality ingredients makes these empanadas shine. The empanadas are served with a small salad and are definitely enough food for a lunch. However, we didn’t stop there.
For an entree, I had Pechuga con Limon y Hierbas, a pounded double chicken breast flavored with lemon marinade, rosemary, garlic, parsley and prepared on a woodfire grill. The combination of the rosemary and wood on this chicken is exquisite. Simple. Perfect. Mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables accompany the meal. Randy ordered the Entrana al Chimichurri, grilled skirt steak marinated in light chimichurri sauce. An organic mixed green salad accompanies. The meat used at Malbec is the very quality and you can taste it. Clean, moist, rich, satisfying. Randy ordered it medium and the kitchen turned it out perfectly.
Malbec makes a wonderful chimichurri, the sauce which is probably Argentina’s most addictive export. At every other Argentinean restaurant in Southern California I slather chimichurri on my chicken, beef, and empanadas. I didn’t feel remotely tempted to do this at Malbec and now I realize I was supporting and/or masking the taste of low quality ingredients at other restaurants. I managed to dip a few pieces of bread in the sauce before the empanadas, though. Malbec also makes their own red pepper sauce. Very nice. Some heat but not overpowering.
Wow. Quite a lunch. We had no room for dessert but will return for the dulce de leche crepes, which we hear are crazy wonderful.
Arctic cuisine is either disappearing or becoming the next big thing according to my research. Actually, it is doing both.
Yesterday I wrote an entry on this blog about wanting to explore clay pot cooking of the indigenous people of the coastal Arctic.
I Cook the World entry from July 23, 2010:
Argentina is next on my list of countries but I stumbled across an engrossing article today that has me rethinking the next entry on I Cook the World. I read excerpts from an article in the American Anthropologist Journal entitled TheArctic Cooking Pot: Why was it Adopted? by Karen Harry and Liam Frink. The article explores the use of clay cooking pots by the aboriginal people of the coastal Arctic. Yes, I am THAT geeky! So, am going to research appropriate ingredients, buy a clay pot and make a recipe that might have been made by this method on the Arctic coastline. All suggestions welcome!
Empanadas will have to wait.
I expanded my search beyond the coastal Arctic to include the entire Arctic region. Arctic cuisine of the indigenous people is absolutely disappearing. I’m referring to food preparation that is time intensive, such as pickling, fermentation, and drying. Indigenous people made great use of the food available to them in this region of the world. The ocean, seas, and rivers brought them fish, seals, walrus, whales. They hunted reindeer, bear, elk, caribou, muskox. Clay pots used to cook or boil water by some of the people were unfired or under-fired. They were quite porous and easily shattered. An article in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory presents the possibility that Arctic potters used seal oil and seal blood to give these unfired pots some structure and staying power. These pots were used for cooking directly over an open fire. I’m not a potter so I don’t know if the constant exposure to direct flame would strengthen these pots or weaken them. My guess is the combination of oil, blood, and clay strengthened slightly through heat.
I found an article entitled Alaska’s Vanishing Arctic Cuisine by Zona Spray, which gives a thorough description of the food and cooking methods of this dying way of life. If you register with the website you have free access to this article for 24 hours. Spray also describes how cooking pots were created with clay and feathers and used in one region of Alaska.
How is Arctic cuisine also on the rise? Apparently, some chefs are embracing what they refer to as Arctic ingredients of the wild and the deep. Their belief is that food from the Arctic is pure and fresh with flavors unique to the region. Lamb flavor is mild and vegetable flavor intense and concentrated. An article entitled Arctic Cuisine: Next Frontier in Food makes for light reading on this subject.
I’ve decided not to make a dish using the traditional ingredients in a clay pot over an open fire. I couldn’t do it justice. I am simply happy to have cast a small light on rapidly dying methods of creating food in this cuisine. I believe that is one of the most important roles in food anthropology. I am also quite happy to have learned there are professionals and home cooks using the ingredients of this region with great passion and creativity today.
By the way, Expedition Restaurant in Russia is serving up truly creative Arctic cuisine. If you are in the mood for elk aspic and reindeer hearts, this is your place! Check out the menu.