Sunday, September 7, 2014

Albania - Burek (with meat), Courgettes with Tomato, Albanian Salad - A to Z Project

After a four year hiatus after just one entry, the A to Z Project is finally off the backburner.

This "stop" is Albania.

My exposure to Albanian food information is extremely limited.  Currently the only cookbook I own with Albanian recipes in it is The Balkan Cookbook, by Jugoslovenska Knjiga, which I have owned for years but had not cooked from until this weekend.  I had been waiting to get back to my project before delving in.

I had a lot of trouble deciding which recipes to make.  Many of the Albanian dishes sounded tempting and I will definitely be going back to make others as time permits. 

After much internal debate, I decided on making Burek with meat because I was curious to see how it would differ from the Mince and Onion Pie I make from a recipe book from New Zealand (given to me by my New Zealander mother-in-law). 

For the Burek I used a fillo dough packaged as "Bourek Dough" from a local Mediterranean/"international" market here in L.A.  Although this dough was obviously different than the flaky pastry dough I make for the NZ pie, the dough was not what I found most different.  The Burek was put together in layers of fillo dough, cut into squares and then a mixture of yoghurt, eggs and mineral water was poured over the top and left to sit for 15 minutes before baking. I admit, I was kind of freaking out when I poured that over the top.  But it all worked out perfectly.  The top picture shows the Burek which my husband had with a yogurt-dill-garlic sauce.  [I got the recipe for it here, but didn't add the oil.]

Next up was the Courgettes with Tomato, which was simmered thickly sliced summer squash, tomato, chopped garlic, salt and pepper with fresh parsley. 

Lastly, I opted for the Albanian Salad.  Partially because it had Albanian in the title, but more importantly because I wanted to see how it compared to many other kinds of potato salads I have had.  Although I doubt it is considered a "potato salad" in Albania, it does have boiled potatoes in it and sounded similar enough to be a type of potato salad, at least to me.  

I thought this salad was delicious but I am assuming it will be even better tomorrow, once all the flavors really have time to meld together.

Because the salad was to be mixed with yogurt, I opted to take a shot of the chopped up ingredients in case they were masked too much by the yogurt.
 [pictured ingredients: fresh dill and parsley, potato, 
red and green bell pepper, onion, raisins and tomato.] 
Over the weekend, I have spent some time listening to some Albanian music, mostly with some help from the "Dude,where’s my Gomar?" blog.   

Here are some of the videos I found on youtube.
Elvana Gjata - Puthe
Miriam Cani - Labirint (Official Video HD)
Silva Gunbardhi ft. Mandi ft. Dafi - Te ka lali shpirt

Noizy – Noku VogĂ«l

SabinaDana ft. Dafi Derti - E kam pas

Albania Nature's Beauty& Traditional Music [HD]
Best of Albanian Music, Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine.

Tonight or tomorrow night, I'll be watching Albania, La Storia.  From what I recall of the description, it is a history of Albania from 1890 to 1990(?). 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jess & Herb's Chow Chow Pickles

Jess & Herb's Chow Chow Pickles

Shortly after I told my husband that I wanted to start pickling more things, he requested I make him some chow chow. 

To which he got a very strange look from me, as I'd never heard of it. 

He didn't want just "any" chow chow, either. 

He wanted me to make the kind he used to have when he'd visit his grandparents in New Plymouth. 

Since they live 6500 miles from us, I couldn't just go over and ask them how to make it (like I would have preferred). 

I have fond memories of his grandparents' house.  It was where I first unearthed a potato, which I still rave about quite a bit because I thought it was one of the coolest things ever. 

Still do. :)

I also loved having them show me around their garden.  They had a beautiful array of plants and flowers, and grew several different kinds of food.  I'm sure if I lived there, I'd have gone over to visit with them often. 

Jess was kind enough to email me their chow chow pickle recipe, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

And, thankfully, I didn't mess it up too badly because my husband has already almost finished one jar of it, and another jar is "magically" in the fridge ready to be consumed. 

And, a bonus, my grandmother is enjoying it, too!  She says it is good with tuna salad, but I haven't gotten the details about how she prepares that exactly. 

My husband eats his just spread on bread like an open faced sandwich. 

So that is how I tried mine today. 

Herb and Jess's Chow Chow Pickle recipe:  [Text in brackets are my comments]

4 cups cauliflower
4 cups pickling onions
4 cups green tomatoes
4 cups diced cucumber
1 1/4 cups salt [we used non-iodized salt]
2 litres water
1 cup plain flour
4 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup sugar
1 litre malt vinegar

Put the prepared vegetables in a large non metallic bowl.  Dissolve the salk in water and pour over the vegetables.  Leave to stand for 24 hours. 

Drain.  Mix together flour, mustard, tumeric, cayenne pepper and salt with enough vinegar to make a paste.  Gradually add in the remaining vinegar and bring to the boil in a large pan, stirring until mix thickens.  Add vegetables and boil for 5 minutes or until vegetables are heated through.

[I cut this recipe in half because it made more sense, given the number of green tomatoes we had on hand at the time.  I used a full head of cauliflower and am not sure how many "cups" that was.  All the veggies and the onion were cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  I boiled the vegetables until they were just fork tender.  Next time, I will cut the cauliflower a little smaller, per my husband's request, but I thought they were fine the way there were and so did my grandmother.]


Some of the raw ingredients.  The tomatoes were just picked off our plants only minutes before. 

The tomatoes, onion, cucumber and cauliflower - as used in the recipe.

One-half of my open-faced sandwich from today.  The other half was eaten before I got my camera out to take the picture.

This picture is for my husband's grandparents.  The mostly empty jar says it all - he loves their chow chow pickles! :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Veggie Bites

Veggie Bites

I'm not sure where or how I was inspired to make this snack, but I do know they have been in my head for a week or two.  I think I was having a craving for my sister's seven layer dip, but I'm really not sure.

I thought this would make a fun snack for us to enjoy while we waited for food to cook on the barbecue.

It would have, I think.

But they never made it outside.

They were eaten almost as fast as it took me to put them on the plate!

The veggies we used were cucumbers, radishes, carrots and zucchini.  [The avocado was used to make some guacamole.]

The veggies were sliced.

The avocado was smashed and mixed with a little black pepper, lemon juice and a bit of Tapatio (hot sauce).

Then I opened a can of chili beans and drained most of the liquid from them.  I pureed the beans in my food processed.

Everything was then stacked as follows (from the bottom up): cucumber, bean puree, carrot, guacamole, radish, bean puree and zucchini on top.

I made these using some of the thicker veggies I could find, but I think they would be better a little smaller in diameter.

We ate these stacks by putting the entire stack in our mouth at once.

They were good, and I especially liked the way the flavor changed as I was eating them.  The flavors each seemed to take their turn in the spotlight. 

I will definitely be making these again, substituting different veggies and other things such as salsa, hummus, cream cheese, etc., depending on what we have on hand, who will be eating them and what I think they might enjoy.

If you give these a try, I'd love to hear your substitutions!  :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

Today, my sister and I went to the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden.  It was really great to get some one-on-one time together.  The garden wasn't very busy, so we were able to just wander at our own pace and lose ourselves in conversation and enjoy each other's company.

The weather was very warm, and it was so lovely in the garden.  Unfortunately we arrived at a time when many of the plants were in the shade, so I skipped snapping as many shots as I might have if the lighting had been more favorable.  I also left my extra camera battery in the trunk of the car by mistake, which didn't help matters any.

It was reassuring to see so many bees today.  They were not swarming or anything, but we saw plenty of them.  Several different species. 

Lately, in my neighborhood, I've seen many more dead and/or dying bees than I have live, healthy ones.  So it was fantastic to see so many in abundance that were thriving.

Below are some of the shots I got.  Hope you enjoy them. 

Sapphire Dragon Tree (Paulownia Kawakamii)
Laurel Leaf Sumac (Malosma laurina)
Brazilian Pepper Tree
Brown Turkey Fig
Passion Fruit Flower
Passion Fruit on the vine
Such a cutie!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart [crostata di fichi e limoni]

Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart

Do you have a cookbook that you just love?

Love to look at it...

and to read it...

because it transports you to a world you wish you could live in?

I do.  It's The Renaissance of Italian Cooking by Lorenza de'Medici (a descendant of the famous family).

I rarely ever cook from this book.  That's because every time I pick it up, I get totally sidetracked.

I don't make a list of ingredients I will need from the market, or even get to a point where I choose a dish to make.

I go into a dream-like state, seriously.  

Sometimes it is the recipes, or the pictures of the food, that take me away to that magical, dreamy place.

Other times it is a picture of an Italian landscape, or a dining area I'd love to see in person.

Every time I pick the book up, it is some other page or reason that draws me in.

It relaxes me, just thinking about it.

If you have a book that does this to you, I'd love to hear about it. 

I made this tart a week or so ago.  As soon as I saw these beautiful Black Mission Figs, I knew exactly what I would make with them...  

....a Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart.

Shortbread crust, sliced lemons and sliced figs, with some syrup poured on top.

The lemons were boiled whole, after perforating the skin, then boiling three times for a couple of minutes each, changing the water in between each boil.

Why?  What's this process called?  I have no idea, only guesses.  If you know, please let me know :)

Then the lemons are sliced and put into some water with some sugar and boiled for 10 minutes.  I'm sure I did this part wrong, using too many lemon slices and/or too much water, or both, since my syrup was a bit thin.  That said, after layering the lemons onto the shortbread, with the figs over the top, some of the lemon syrup is poured over the top, and then the tart is baked.
The figs really turned the lemon slices a pretty color, and the rinds provided an interesting texture.  It was a little odd for the first couple of bites, since I don't normally eat lemon rinds, but after a few bites, I found it quite delightful.

The tart in the book had many more figs, but I just used the amount I had on hand.  I thought it was prettier this way too, being able to see the lemon underneath :)

Do you have a favorite kind of tart?  I'd love a suggestion for one to try next.

So far I've only made the two I've posted about on this blog and they both included lemon.  I really need to enjoy some lemonade with the next lemons that come my way :)  So, I'd love some non-lemon suggestions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Agua Frescas [Watermelon and Lime / Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango]

Agua Frescas [Watermelon and Lime / Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango]

It's summertime and it's time for cool, refreshing drinks!

Inspired by a couple of Gabriela's posts, starting with "Contemporary Aguas Fresca from Food52", I have become completely intrigued with agua frescas.  I've made them in the past, but with blinders on in regards to what I could put in them.  My imagination was limited to making only those I had tried before at various places around town - watermelon and cantaloupe ones. I've seen others, but it is normally almost impossible for me not to say "watermelon" when they ask me which kind I want :)  I've only seen the cantaloupe ones for sale once, but since then, I make them at least once a year at home.

I haven't made the contemporary ones Gabriela posted about yet, but I did make Gabriela's Agua de Jamaica -- and loved it!  I made it exactly as she suggested, and I'm glad I did.  I found her proportions to be very refreshing and they left the mint flavor in tact.  I'm sure I'd have covered some of that up with too much sugar, if I had been left to my own devices :)

For watermelon agua frescas, I rarely make them the same way twice since it all depends on the sweetness of the fruit.  Sometimes they don't need much sweetener, sometimes they do.  For the one I made most recently, the fruit wasn't the most flavorful.  However, rather than compensate with more sugar like I normally would, I opted to add lime juice to keep it a bit tarter.

I used the fruit from one normal sized watermelon (not the baby ones), strained, then blended with the juice of three limes, 1/2 cup sugar and 9 ounces of water.

The Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango agua fresca is new for me this year.  I had bought the mango for something else, but that's another story.  A story that needs passion....fruit, that is.  Which apparently isn't in season here yet.  I'm told maybe next week?

Although there are two mangoes in this picture, I only used one for this drink.

Fruit from the five prickly pears and one mango went into the blender, then strained through a sieve, directly into a pitcher.  Added 1/8 cup of blue agave sweetener and 18 ounces of water.  Mixed together.  Served over ice.

If you're a lemonade fan, Jessica at FoodMayhem posted, "Lemonade by the Glass".  I haven't tried hers yet, but only because my lemons keep getting put into something else before I get to it. 

How about you?

What's your go to drink to cool off in the summer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BBQ Sirloin Sandwiches

BBQ Sirloin Sandwiches

While shopping for some red oak wood chips we're going to need for an upcoming Santa Maria-style cookout at our place, my husband purchased some wine barrel wood chips.  Afterwards, he was inspired to make these barbecue sirloin sandwiches.  A simple dinner that allowed us time to sit around the grill -- talking, listening to music and enjoying all the birds our neighbor's new bird feeder coaxed into visiting.

Most of my input into this dinner occurred a couple of weeks ago when I put the rub together and prepared the sauce.  So I just put my feet up, so to speak, and relaxed. 

Here are some pictures of our sandwiches.  His had barbecue sauce, but the picture was taken before he put it on.
Mine (above), which - as usual! - has a lot of barbecue sauce, and a decent amount of mayo on it.  [Why mayo?  I have no idea.  It's like a pregnancy urge thing without the pregnancy!  Ever since I cut my dairy intake to less than 2%, my interest in mayo has increased.  I'm not sure why this is.  I think I've eaten more mayo in the past three weeks than I have in the three years prior.  If anyone knows why this might be -- please comment below.  Sincerely, it baffles me.  Much like my relatively sudden desire for stone ground mustard.] 

We both chose to use the Kansas City Classic Barbecue Sauce for our sandwiches, which were really good.  The meat was very tender, and we were both very happy with how it turned out.  The wine barrel smoke was definitely noticeable and added an interesting flavor.  We also thought the rub and the sauce went very well together.

Below is a semi-brief run down of how he cooked the steak (as relayed to me). 

Meat used: three sirloin steaks

Whacked with a meat tenderizer (to tenderize and so the rub would penetrate more)

Rubbed liberally with the Rendesvous-style rub (you'll have to scroll down to find the rub in the post)

Put the steaks in a marinating dish (which is covered), and then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours.

The charcoal was started and allowed to burn until medium heat and then arranged so the steaks would be cooked indirectly.

The wine barrel oak chips and some water were put in a foil packet, which was mostly covering the chips, and then placed directly on the coals.  [I will try to remember to take pictures next time]

On the grill, an open foil pocket was placed, with about 1/4 cup water inside. 

The steaks were put on.

Put lid over grill with the vent open, so it was smoking gently.

Cooked 20 minutes, then turned steaks over.

Poked hole in foil packet containing the chips so water drained out and opened packet up more, so mostly opened.

Water packet on grill still had water on it, so he left it.  Otherwise he would have added more.

Cooked another 10 minutes, with the lid put back on.

Then he removed the water pack from the top of the grill and broke open the wood chip packet and scattered the wood chips over the coals.  Then he turned the steaks again, put the lid back on and allowed the steaks to cook for another 5 minutes.

Removed steak from grill.  

Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, then cut it for the sandwiches.

Mine was gone in about 2.5 seconds, I think.