Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas on Lake Constance

In the Southern-German city of Konstanz, you can begin dinner with a light salad of mâche grown on the nearby Reichenau (also known as the Gemüseinsel, or "vegetable island"), continue with fried trout that was caught in the Bodensee that very morning, and pair it with a Konstanzer white wine. In the village where I'm spending Christmas, the butcher and his slaughterhouse are in the middle of the town, so you really know where your meat comes from and how it got to your plate. None of this requires an elaborate ideology or a well-advertised locavore movement. Nor does it require outrageous effort or an enormous investment of cash. It's just, well, it just happens to be normal to eat food that grows nearby, and when it's in season.

I write this because as attractive as I find the idea of eating locally, organically, and seasonally, I do wish it were less of a hassle. Grocery shopping and daily cooking are work enough on their own, without having to do a Master's thesis on the sourcing of pork butt before I even start the marinade.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bine aţi venit! (Welcome!)

I just wanted to extend a quick welcome to visitors who arrived here from the Foodie Blogroll.You can imagine my delight when I saw that I made it onto the "Most Recent" list.

Do explore my little blog, and leave me your comments. I'm also happy to get links to your own recipes if you think I might enjoy them.

In the next couple of days, I plan to post recipes for Moroccan orange salad, Indian baigan masala (stuffed eggplants), a lemony shrimp stir fry, and an African black-eyed pea curry (my simplified version of a ridiculously delicious Madhur Jaffrey recipe).

And, when the holidays give me enough time, I hope to write about Texas food fairs, as well as the ethnic eating and grocery shopping to be had around Dallas.

To end in another idiom: y'all come back now!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Medieval Romanian Cookery in translation: "Add in a foot of veal for inquiring"

One of the neat things about having a counter is that I can see how people reach this website. One reader, for example, searched for "medieval romanian cookbook" and, because I mentioned Nicholas Orme's Medieval Schools in a previous post, was offered this blog as a first-page result on Google.

This made me, of course, do the same search, which led me to a couple of websites, both associated with Society for Creative Anachronism activities. One offers some page scans from a 1997 edition of a seventeenth-century cookbook. (And yes, the seventeenth-century was still the Middle Ages in Romania. Long story.) The modern edition, by Ioana Constantinescu and Matei Cazacu, is titled, "O lume într-o carte de bucate: manuscris din epoca brâncovenească." For those of you who read Romanian, David D. Friedman offers a section on fish preparations here.

Headcheese and Brains

When a friend wrote recently on his blog, Food With Legs, about making brawn, headcheese, pâté de tête, whatever you want to call it, I wrote him saying that I knew the food well from my childhood as piftie. And there was nothing that could ever get me to eat it again.

I should probably explain that the Romanian version of headcheese not only involves odd pig parts suspended in gelatine, but the aspic is also garlic-flavoured. Now I love garlic, and regularly double the amount of garlic I put in every recipe, but the smell of the garlic-gelatine permeating the house as my parents cooked this piftie was really something else. I would carefully avoid the dining room, where the headcheese was put to cool, as long as it was there, and had a look of sheer disgust on my teenage face for as long as the piftie was around.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Making Greek Ricotta Dumplings, and then throwing a bunch of tasty ingredients on them

The New York restaurant Kefi is one of those places that's my idea of a good place to eat. Casual, perhaps a bit too loud (ok, so that part isn't so ideal), with inexpensive, moderate portions that are very, very tasty. Perhaps the most delicious dish I have had there is the small, warm bowl of sheep's milk dumplings, tomatoes, pine nuts, and spicy lamb sausage. So you can imagine my delight when I saw that blogger Peter Minakis put up a recipe for ricotta dumplings. It is based on the recipe Michael Psilakis, the chef of Kefi, features in his new book How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lentil, Apple, and Arugula Salad

This is a very simple salad that is great for lunch or dinner. It is both light and incredibly filling. Despite the fact that I made a double portion the last time I made it, resulting in my having to eat this one salad for an entire week, it still tasted good days later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alexandria, Astoria!

Saturday afternoon, I am in New York, and I'm restless. I know that I should go somewhere walkable, so as to exercise those muscles that have atrophied in the Western wilderness I now inhabit. And yet, I can't think of any place in Manhattan where the interest provided by the shops will be worth the walk in the cold. I reflect on how I never really figured out how to enjoy New York when I lived here, I never found those spaces in the city where I could really enjoy being a flâneur, those streets so full of interest that it was worth the bother of a forty-minute subway ride to get there. Except for the unequivocal joys of Flushing and Curry Hill, that is. It is heresy to say it, but here it is: I never found New York all that.

As I sat thinking, my muscles atrophying even more, I thought about the fact that the M60 bus that takes me to LaGuardia airport passes right by Astoria, and that I always have the urge, but not the time, to stop and explore. I decided to go, figuring that even if nothing else there was interesting, I could indulge my melancholy with a shisha pipe and a cup of Turkish coffee. I met my boyfriend at the M60 stop, and off we went to Steinway Street.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coupez les avocats en deux!

If you enjoyed my previous etymological musings here and here, you will love Matthew Driscoll's essays on the avocado, courgette, ginger, and turbot at Etymologiae cibariorum. If nothing else, you will learn how to make flavorful lawyer balls.

Cookbooks galore

When they said Dallas was great for shopping, I scoffed. I scorned. I'm not that kind of person, I thought, I'm, you know, deeper than that.

Of course, back then I didn't realise how great the shopping was, nor how much more fun it is to shop when you're driving around in a car. Nor did I quite understand that some of the shopping would involve.... books. I refer mainly to the spider's web that awaits me on the way home: Half Price Books. It has used books. It has remaindered books, often very good ones. (I just bought Nicholas Orme's Medieval Schools brand new for $20, for example.) It has a quirky little foreign language section, where I bought an Icelandic collection of medieval Chinese tales. And it has cookbooks. As if its low prices weren't enough, there is also a discount section where books cost either a buck or three. Moreover, being an educator will get you a discount card, and showing your public transit pass will get you an even bigger discount.

This is how I got each of these books for 85 cents plus tax:

I used to read my parents' copy of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Romewhen I was a teenager.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Going off road... and to the Gulf Coast

I realised yesterday that my sincere efforts to keep this a focused blog, a blog which would only deal with Romanian food and with nothing else, also made this an empty blog. A sad, abandoned, postless blog.

Which is a shame. Because I would love to write about other kinds of cooking experiments -- various curries, attempts at Middle Eastern dishes, my first Texas chili. And I would love to write about the strange and rich food culture of Dallas and Texas: the ethnic grocery stores, the plethora of food festivals, and the restaurants.

Salata de rosii - Tomato salad

Ridiculously simple, and yet this is one of my favourite dishes in the whole wide world. It is as good with breakfast (to accompany an omelette, for example) as it is with dinner. For some reason, I'm used to arranging it on a plate when I make it for breakfast, and more typically jumble it up in a medium-sized salad bowl when having it for other meals.

There's really nothing to it. Cut the tomato into wedges, arrange them around the plate, decorate with onion slices (yes, even for breakfast!), crumbled feta cheese (the fattier, the better), and olives. A drizzle of olive oil and a shake of salt and pepper, and you're done.

The hard part is really picking the tomatoes. Try to find some with taste. This kind of salad is not even worth making in winter with supermarket tomatoes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Israeli Avocado Salad

Don't think I can't see you shaking your head. Israeli? I thought we were going to get Romanian recipes. I bet they don't even have avocados in Romania!

Well, fine, I'm cheating a little bit. But I have three very good reasons for doing so:
  • I grew up with this recipe, as made by my father, so it's in the Romanian file of my food memory cabinet. (Sorry -- I am coming up with all sorts of grotesque explanatory metaphors today!)
  • Because it's an appetizer spread, it fits well into a traditional Romanian first course of raw vegetables, salamis, and spreads.
  • A ridiculous proportion of the Romanian diaspora in North America made its way to these fair shores via Israel. So Israeli food is fair game, as far as I'm concerned, especially when the dish fits so smoothly into a Romanian meal.
The recipe itself is simple. Mash an avocado, mix in the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to taste. Finely dice an onion -- preferably red, for reasons of colour and taste -- and add that too. Finally, dice a hard-boiled egg and mix it gently into the avocado salad.

Due to the added egg, this spread is doubly rich and creamy, but the onion keeps it from being too heavy or monotonous.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grandma's advice in the New York Times

Those of you who read this little blog (and it is, alas, a little blog) have seen me mention my Romanian grandmother. The truth is, I have two grandmothers, both Romanian, and both wonderful cooks. One excels at simple, light food, and the other is a master of the most elaborate concoctions, including desserts that would make any New York pastry chef weep and then launch himself off of a high rise. (I love simple, homemade North American desserts -- pies and crumbles and carrot cake and such -- but the stuff that's retailed is a disaster. We'll leave a discussion of the tasteless cakes I would have in Toronto and the abomination that is the NYC cupcake for another post.) Still, I refer to both ladies through the mythological composite, my "Romanian grandmother."

And this weekend, my Romanian grandmother made it into the New York Times Magazine food issue.

If you click on the fourth box, "Share," you will see the advice on portion control my maternal grandmother always gave me. Of course, my father was quick to point out that Romanians don't eat like this at all. We typically eat big dinners, and, as he put it, the only breakfast worth mentioning is the giblet soup served after an all-night bender. (Don't hold your breath waiting for that recipe to appear here.) I recognized the truth of what he said about dinner, but I've also enjoyed a breakfast while visiting the mountains near Baia Mare that included salami, ham, fried fish, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and cheese, all washed down with tuica (plum brandy). After eating all of this, my travel companion and I could do nothing but lie on the grass on one side of a mountain and look at the mountain opposite until lunchtime rolled around.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Some philological notes

Though I enjoyed writing about the Persian origins of chiftele in the last post, I suspect that etymological musings are a blatant infraction of the food blog genre. However, as I've been writing up the recipes below I've started to wonder about the origins of some Romanian food words. And if you know anything about Romanians, it's that they love etymology. (Romanians are not unlike the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a man who can prove that just about every word is descended from Greek!)

Also, it's my blog, and I'll write what I want to.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chiftele din dovlecei cruzi - Zucchini fritters

One of my great moments of enlightenment occurred when I realised that the kofta in malai kofta was closely related to the Romanian chiftea. Originally a Persian word, kofta generally refers to a ball of ground meat. In its various incarnations, the kofta is mixed with spices, herbs, onions, and a variety of vegetables. Variations of the word and corresponding food are to be found all over the Middle East and the Balkans. In Europe, the kofta owes its popularity to the Turks, who not only introduced their köfte to Balkan cuisine, but do a pretty good job of popularizing tasty köfte kebab, or şiş köfte, in Döner stands throughout Germany.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Salata de vinete, variation

A while ago, I made the claim that when it came to eggplant salad, the roasted eggplants had to be mixed with raw onions "or else." This was not as reckless a statement as it might seem, seeing as, at the time, I had spent almost twenty-nine years on this earth, most of them eating salata de vinete, and in all these years, I had never liked anything as much as eggplant salad with chopped, raw onions.

Imagine the shock I had a few months ago when I tasted an eggplant salad that did not, indeed, have raw onions, and lo, I found it good. Yea, even better than the eggplant salad of yore. So, this week, when my fridge broke down and I had to do something with the now-melted roasted eggplant I had stowed away in my freezer, I decided to try something similar: I lightly fried the chopped onion in the oil until it was translucent, and then added all of it to the eggplant.

The result is salata de vinete that you can eat for breakfast without worrying about your breath. (Though, I had it for lunch with raw green onions dipped in salt, but that just meant I was able to consume two kinds of onions rather than one!) It is also, and this should be noted as a possible strategic error, a salata de vinete that my boyfriend seems to enjoy more, and eat more eagerly, than the raw onion variety.

Note that it is also possible to mix a raw egg into this to make it even more creamy. I'm too scared of salmonella to do this myself, though by some magical effect, I'm not too scared of it to eat the result when someone else has mixed raw egg into a recipe.

Fursecuri cu stafide - Raisin cookies

This is the first batch of cookies I've ever made, and, not surprisingly, only the unsurpassed deliciousness of Romanian cookies could motivate me to bake. Although I'm sure this recipe could be found in one of my Romanian cookbooks, I have it via the time trusted method of calling up a grandmother. In this case, my grandma Nadia gave me the recipe from memory with exact weights, but since I don't have a kitchen scale, she hung up the phone so as to measure the equivalents in volume of the flour and sugar. When she called again, she asked me, "Do you have a mug the size of the "Yale Grandma" mug you gave me?" I said yes, and with the approximations she had worked out, was able to make a pretty convincing first batch of cookies. Accordingly, measurements below are given in metric and in "Yale Grandma" mug units.

The first step is to soak about a cup of raisins in rum or cognac or whatever you happen to find in your liquor cabinet. The raisins I was using were particularly dried out, so I also nuked them a little bit:

The next step is to mix three whole eggs with 200 g of sugar (one Yale Grandma mug full up to about two centimetres from the top). Then mix in 200 g of butter. Then mix in 200 g of flour (one full Yale Grandma mug) and a pinch of salt. Add the grated rind of one orange:

Mix well and add the drained raisins:

Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil (or whatever you like to use) and place small little mounds ("the tip of a spoon" according to Nadia) about 5 cm apart. They will spread and flatten out. I was able to fit eighteen on each sheet:

Put them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. Baking only takes 10 minutes, until the cookies are reddish-brown at the edges:

This recipe makes quite a few cookies (I'm waiting to pull the seventh pan out of the oven, so it's already well over a hundred). This is why it's nice to be able to just take the tinfoil off the pan and start the new batch as the old one cools. The cookies are not very sweet, as the taste comes mainly from the orange peel, raisins, and liquor. Since this recipe makes so many cookies, you may wish to freeze some of the batter to bake later, but I find they tend to disappear pretty quickly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Roast Cauliflower Salad

This is a quick dish, inspired by the fact that I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge, a roasted red pepper in the freezer, and some lettuce. Googling around for cauliflower salad ideas, I also chanced upon this post from Yulinka Cooks, which makes me think that Eastern Europeans have some sort of special love for cauliflower. I happen to adore the vegetable in all its forms: it can be crunchy, nutty, juicy, or smooth. It's also delicious in lots of Indian preparations, but alas, this is not an Indian food blog. So:

This cauliflower has been tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted on a pan at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. I think this was a bit hot, and I had to rescue it before it got burnt, but I really enjoyed the "almost burnt" flavour. (It tasted a bit like breadcrumbs sauteed in butter.) I defrosted a roasted red pepper and cut it into strips, thinly sliced half an onion, and piled it all on top of lettuce.

For the dressing, I mixed about 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, and two or three tsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and drizzled it on top. This made a wonderful evening dinner. The sharp onion was offset by the smooth pepper, and the roasted cauliflower gave the whole meal consistency.