Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Week 4: Bahrain

Bahrain is a small island country in the Middle East and barely a dot on the world map. I didn't even know it existed until 8 years ago, when I befriended a Bahraini girl at my university.

Last November, I had the opportunity to travel to Bahrain for work. The temperature that time of the year is perfect, still warm but not unbearably hot and humid.

Bahrain is considered one of the more moderate countries of the Middle East. But I admit I was still surprised to see many women dressed in burkas, and some women had only their eyes showing. It really made me feel out of place. I have been to a lot of countries where I am kind of the odd one out, but in the Middle East, I also worried about offending anyone with my Western ways. I made sure to dress conservatively in pants and long shirts, even though I would have preferred a tank top and shorts.

I took full advantage of time there to explore the city. I spent time at the beach, the mall, but I really loved going to the Souk (outdoor markets). The smells and colors hold your attention, and you lose yourself in the exotic and familiar. Windows filled with endless gold chains, watches, earrings, are next to shops selling open containers of spices. Both meant to rouse the desire of the window shopper. I ofcourse fell to temptation, and bought rose water, saffron, a woven tapestry and a traditional looking coffee pot.

The weekend in the Middle East is Friday and Saturday, so Thursday nights can get pretty rowdy. Saudis often drive over the bridge to Bahrain so they could get liquored up, since they can't buy liqur in Saudia Arabia, and drive around in their SUV's making a loud ruckus. Another reason why prohibiting liquor just doesn't work.

When I asked my friend for advice on what was typical Bahraini food, she said there wasn't a "typical Bahrain food". Food eaten there is similar to all foods in the Middle East, with only minor adjustments to the spices. So, I decided to make some Baba Ghanoush (also called baba ghanoog), hummos, tabbouleh, whole wheat pita, an aromatic festive bread with fruit compote and scented waters, and invite friends over to share the Mezze.

The last recipe -fruit compote with scented waters - I got from a book called Flatbreads and Flavors, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I am completely in love with this book right now. The last two weekends I have gone crazy making different flatbreads; pitas, Afghan Naan, and feleverai, to name a few. Not only does this book contain flatbread recipes from around the world, there are also entrees and appetizers that pair well with them, and of course I love their travels stories.

Baba Ghanoush, Bahraini Way
Source: Recipes Wikia
1 Large eggplant
2 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp of tahini
1/4 tsp of salt
1 Tbsp of lemon juice
125 ml of yogurt
3 Tbsp of olive oil
several pitted olives for garnish

  • Pre-Heat the oven to 200C or 400F place whole eggplant (pricked with a few holes to let the steam out) on a baking sheet and bake until the outer shell is crisp and the inside is soft and mushy (about 1 hour)
  • Let the eggplant cool, then remove and discard the skin and the green cap. Spoon the inside into a food processor or a blender.
  • Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt and yogurt and purée until creamy. Spoon into a serving dish and garnish with olive oil and olives.
  • Serve cold or warm with pita.
Source: Arrowhead Mills recipe (on back of box of bulgur)
I reduced the amount of parsley to 2 cups instead of 3 the recipe called for, because 2 cups is more than enough.

1 cup of Bulgur Wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup of olive oil
Dash of garlic powder
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups of chopped fresh parsley
4 green onions, chopped with tops

  • Pouring boiling water over bulgur wheat and salt, cover bulgur for 30 minutes and let sit.
  • Stir the next three ingredients into bulgur and chill for 2-3 hours.
  • Add tomatoes, parsley, and green onions and gently toss before serving.
Fruit Compote with Scented Waters.
Source: Flatbreads and Flavors, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

1/2 pound of unsulfured dried apricots (around 2 cups)
1/4 pound of raisins (around 3/4 cup)
1/4 pound of prunes (around 3/4 cup)
2 Tablespoons of sugar, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups of water
1 tsp of rose water
1 tsp of orange blossom water
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

  • Rinse fruit quickly, and place in a nonreactive bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix the sugar, water and rose and orange waters. Pour over the fruit and let stand for at least 24-48 hours, covered in a cool place or refrigerator.
  • Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, and sprinkle more sugar if you wish.
  • Serve at room temperature with flatbread or soft white baguette.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Week 3: Barbados

During my bachelors degree , I took a class that included a 12 day trip to Barbados. When I told people about this field trip, they often sarcastically remarked, what did you learn? Rum making 101? Although that was one of the side benefits of being in Barbados (we definitely studied bottles and bottles of Mount Gay Rum), it was actually a really intense course.

We toured landfills, dairy farms, quarries, poultry processing plants, and dairy plants. Not exactly found on typical tourist itineraries, but what better way to really learn about a country.

The preconception that islanders are laid back, easy going and friendly definitely rings true in Barbados. My class partner and I interviewed the Environment minister and a doctor for our report on the Health and Environment of Barbados. They were incredibly friendly, and willing to allow two 20 year old's to interrupt their busy schedule for an interview.

Our small group of students stayed at McGill University's Bellairs Research Institute, in Holetown. Every night we had delicious Bajan food prepared for us by our chef. I don't eat fish (with the exception of tuna), but to my suprise, I really loved the flying fish. I also went crazy for the yellow and red speckled Bajan hot sauce. I don't remember not liking any of the food that I tried. It was a mixture of hot and sweet, and always served with piles of rice.

The three recipes below come from a cookbook I bought in Barbados. The cookies are almost like macaroons but a denser and not quite as sweet. The soup Callalo, which I made with swiss chard and king crab (with battle scars to prove it. I never realized how sharp the thorn like projections are on the legs) the contrasting textures of crab, okra and chard was really nice, and the seafood flavor wasn't overpowering. My husband and my favorite though was the chicken and banana with lime flavored rice. The mild heat from the brown crispy chicken combined with the sweet slightly caramelized bananas, was very reminiscent of being in the tropics.

Coconut cookies
Source: Jim Walkers Cooking in Barbados
¼ cup butter
½ cup castor sugar (or regular can be substituted)
2 eggs beaten
½ tsp of vanilla extract
1 ½ cup of flour
pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups of grated coconut

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla and beat well. Fold in the sifted flour and salt and then the coconut. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a lightly greased baking tray, and flattening them slightly. Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes until slightly golden on top.

Callaloo Soup
Source: Jim Walkers Cooking in Barbados
1 lb callaloo leaves, or spinach or swiss chard.
¾ cup or 4 slices of thin bacon chopped
5 cups of chicken stock
1 onion chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
3 spring onion chopped
¼ tsp of thyme
1 ¼ cups of crab meat or white fish fillets
8 young okra sliced
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1 green pepper sliced

Chop the greens roughly and cut the bacon into ½ inch pieces. Simmer these in the stock with the onion, garlic, spring onions, and thyme until the bacon is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the flaked crab or white fish and the okras and cook until okras are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with the green pepper slices.

Banana Chicken

Source: Jim Walkers Cooking in Barbados
2 Chicken Breasts, cubed
2 Tbsp four
1 Tsp salt
4 Tsp curry powder
Vegetable oil for frying
2 bananas, cut in half and split length wise
1-2 cups of cooked rice
2-3 limes

Mix the flour, salt, and curry powder and coat the chicken pieces. Fry the chicken in the oil in a large skillet over high heat until golden brown. Lower heat and cover and cook until tender about 5-10 minutes. Add banana slices and cook further for 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 lime to rice. Serve chicken and bananas with rice and garnish with slices of lime. Serves 4 people (or two hungry people)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Week 2: Austria

When Darien (my husband) was 7, his family moved to England and they lived there for 6 years. They made sure to take advantage of their prime location, by taking family trips all over Europe. I still get envious when he recounts how his school took class trips to France to practice their French or to Italy for school skiing trips. He also learned how to ski downhill not on a tiny mole hill, but on the great Austrian Alps.

One of Darien's fondest memories of his ski trip wasn't skiing (although he asserts that was still very memorable) but it was the Wiener Schnitzel. He loved it so much, he ate it every day at lunch, for the whole 10 days they were there. He also really liked this drink that was part coke and part lemonade.

When it comes to Wiener Schnitzel, what's not to like? A thinly strip of veal lightly battered in bread crumbs, and fried in butter and served with squeeze of lemon juice. Crunchy on the outside with a slight lemony tang, and tender meat on the inside.

Italy, Hungary and the Balkans have all had an influence on Austrian cuisine. Wiener Schnitzel is actually thought to originate from Milan, in the 16th century. Interestingly enough, chicken fried steak is thought to be an adaptation of Wiener Schnitzel from the Germans who migrated to Texas in 1885-1850. Since veal was not popular but beef was, the recipe was probably adjusted for the tougher cuts of beef available.

Of course for our meal this week, I had to make some Wiener Schnitzel, served along with a side of sauteed butter cabbage. For desert instead of making apple strudel, which is delicious but a little too predictable, I made some delicious Austrian Torte cookies instead. They are great eaten individually (they have a slight hint of lemon), or with a layer of jam (the recipe called for apricot but I used raspberry instead) in between two cookies, topped with chocolate glaze.

If you like white wine, I would recommend trying a Grüner Veltliner or a Reisling. Austrian Reisling's are finally starting to gain more recognition in the US, and are slowly finding their way on to a wine store's shelf near you. A really good Austrian Reisling worth trying is Cep Moser, either 2004 or 2006.

Wiener Schnitzel
Source: Food Network, Paula Deen

4 veal cutlets (about 4 ounces each), pounded very thin, scallopini style
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons water
2 cups plain, dry bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying
Lemon wedges, for service

Pat the veal cutlets dry with paper towels. Season them with salt and pepper. Set up a standard breading procedure in 3 shallow bowls or pie plates. Put flour in 1, eggs and water in another, and bread crumbs in the last. Beat the eggs and water together. Dredge each of the veal cutlets first in flour, then egg wash and then the bread crumbs. Transfer the coated cutlets to a platter.

Heat a large straight sided skillet, filled half way up with vegetable oil, over medium-high heat. Carefully, transfer the coated cutlets into the hot oil to fry. Since they are so thin, the veal will cook very quickly, about 2 minutes per side. Drain the cutlets on a paper towel lined plate. Serve with lemon wedges.

Austrian Torte Cookies

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 egg
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. raspberry jam
2 oz. (2 sq.) semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp. shortening

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add milk, vanilla, lemon peel and egg; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt; mix well. If necessary, refrigerate dough 1 hour for easier handling.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough 1/3 at a time to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a 2 inch diameter fluted cookie cutter, cut equal number of cookies. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 5 to 8 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute, remove from cookie sheets.

To assemble, spread 1/2 teaspoon preserves over bottom of cookies; place on top another cookie.

In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate with shortening, stirring occasionally. Drizzle glaze over assembled cookies. 6 dozen cookies.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Week 1: Australia

Of all the places I have traveled to, Australia is the one country I actually spent a decent amount of time visiting. Australia is a large and diverse country, and three months wasn't long enough to see everything, but what I saw, I loved.

This was my "escape from reality" trip. It was 2004, and I had just graduated from University and felt that this would be my only opportunity to taste freedom, before being chained to a desk for the next 50 years. I got a student work visa and an Around the World ticket -with plans to stop in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan- and left with a big backpack and a sense of adventure.

Arriving in Australia, I was immediately struck by how laid back and matter-of-fact the Aussie's were. On my second day in Sydney, I couldn't figure out how to use the pay phone, and I asked the guy at the front desk of my hostel to help me out. He said something along the lines of "I'm gonna make you feel like a right idiot when I explain this to you". Coming from the land of PC (politically correct), it initially comes off as rude and insultive, but you quickly warm to it (how do you stay mad at someone who calls you mate?), and it is almost liberating to be able to really speak your mind.

My first week I stayed with a really nice family who were friends of my Aunt, in Blue Mountains located about an hour from Sydney. Blue Mountains is a beautiful place, and named after the blue tinge it takes on when viewed from a distance. It's a great place for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

That first week I sampled kangaroo steak (best served medium rare), battered and fried salty pineapple, Vegemite, and a burger at Hungry Jack's (the Australian version of Burger King). The burgers are not anything different from back home, but the condiments make it special, and you may need to take a double dose of lipitor with this. If you get it "with the lot", it includes tomato, lettuce, cheese, beetroot, fried egg, bacon, grilled onion and pineapple.

The first time I ate Vegemite on toast, I am sure my face probably puckered a bit. It was incredibly salty and bitter, I learned quickly this is one spread where a little goes a long way. But when eaten thinly spread on toast and topped with scrambled eggs, it made for a pretty good breakfast.

The must try food in my opinion includes Vegemite (dark salty spread made from leftover brewers yeast), Tim Tams (cookies), meat pies, kangaroo, Milo (malt chocolate drink), anything on the barbie (BBQ) and of wash it all down with a nice glass of Australian wine.

After a week in Sydney, I flew to Alice Springs, which is in central Australia. From Alice springs, I took a three tour of Ayers rock (Uluru), where I hiked in Kata Tjuta National Park , and slept out under the stars on the desert floor. It was the end of winter in Australia, and I was freezing at night time, which made sleeping difficult. I was also slightly paranoid of snakes making their way into my sleeping bag, so I took plenty of Australian sleeping aids i.e. cheap wine, before going to sleep.

After "roughing it" in the desert, I flew to Cairns on the east coast. The start of the Great Barrier Reef. I got my PADI certification and enjoyed three glorious days of nothing but diving, eating, and sleeping on a dive boat.

My diving excursion pretty much bankrupted me, so I needed to find employment. Which for a backpacker is really easy, as long as you are willing to work hard and get dirty. Farmers are always looking for laborers, so I headed to Bowen in Queensland to begin my tomato picking career. Which was very short lived, I might add.

Tomato picking is back breaking,monotonous,energy sapping work. You wake up at 5:30 am, out on the tomato fields by 6:30 am, and you pick until 5pm. 6 days a week. There are no washroom facilities, the fields are your toilet (another reason to wash your veggies, if for no other reason than this)and lunch break is spent lying under the truck, trying to get a respite from the hot brutal sun. Three weeks felt like a lifetime, but it earned me enough money to live another month without working.

Australia is a wonderful place to visit. The food is great, but familiar with a lot of British influence (obviously). The people are laid back and friendly, the climate is nice, and the nature is diverse, abundant and breath taking.

My in-laws will be going to Australia and New Zealand in March, and what better time to introduce them to a bit of the food. I made them burgers on the grill, accompanied by the fixings "for the lot", an Australian potato salad, and for desert some sweet dumplings. Served with a cheap but good bottle of Yellow Tail Riesling.

Potato Salad, Australian Style
Source:In Mamma's Kitchen

6 large potatoes
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped click for note
1 teaspoon deli-style mustard click for note
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 hard-boiled eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently boil scrubbed potatoes until a skewer will penetrate to the center. Turn off heat, pour off water and fill pot with cold water. Leave until potatoes are quite cold. Lift from water and peel off outer skin.

Chop potatoes into even sized cubes and place into a bowl with onion, parsley and coriander.

Mix together mustard and mayonnaise. Add to potatoes with chopped eggs, and mix gently to combine.
Refrigerate until served.

Golden Syrup Dumplings
Source: In Mamas Kitchen

1 cup of self-raising flour (or add two teaspoons of baking powder to flour)
1 egg
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of milk

1 cup of water
1/2 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of honey
1 Tablespoon of butter


Sift flour into a bowl. and rub in the butter until it is like breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and milk together, and carefully mix with the flour to make a soft dough. Do not over-mix as this will make the dumplings tough.

Place the water, sugar, butter and golden syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Drop in teaspoonfuls of the dough, cover with a lid and simmer over a moderate heat for about 12 minutes or so until cooked. Remove from the heat and serve with warm runny custard or ice-cream.