Monday, January 31, 2011

Cuban Empanadas

I happened across a wonderful Cuban cookbook in the library last week.  The vivid pictures of Cuban food and landscapes made my decision to choose Cuba as our 48th country quite easy.
Our menu included Chicken Empanadas, Black Beans and Papas Rellenas.  I served them with fresh guacamole and salsa.
4 of our 5 family members quickly finished their first helping and went back for more.  But my son struggled to eat the empanada. He told me I tricked him when he saw the tiniest bit of guacamole on it. (He's not fond of any type of sauce.)  I don't think he touched his Papas Rellenas (he doesn't like potatoes either). Eventually, he finished most of the empanada and tried a bite of beans. It was enough to fill his bird-like stomach.  I figure, the more often I put new foods on his plate the sooner he will come to accept them.

Chicken Empanadas 

3-4 chicken breasts
1 cinnamon stick
1 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 onion diced
1 tsp chili powder
1 T sugar
1 Roma tomato diced
2 hard boiled eggs
1/4 cup chopped green olives (I used garlic stuffed)
2 T chicken broth

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sugar
7 T butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
egg wash

Fill a large pot with water and cinnamon stick, bring to boil.  Poach chicken breasts in water for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.  Remove from water and let cool.
Prepare dough.  Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Cut in butter until resembles a coarse cornmeal.  Add eggs and mix.  Add water and stir until it comes together as a dough. Form into a ball. Cover and let rest while filling is prepared.
Shred cooled chicken.  Saute onion in olive oil until soft.  Add paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper.  Cook 1 minute.  Add tomato, shredded chicken, olives, and  chicken broth.  Simmer until sauce consistency.  Remove from heat.
Take about golf ball sized portion of dough and roll on a floured surface.  Roll out to make about a 5 inch circle.  Place a spoonful of chicken mix onto center of dough.  Fold dough over and crimp edges with a fork.  Lay empananda on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough and chicken.  Brush tops with egg wash and bake on 350 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Cuban Style Black Beans

2 cans black beans drained
3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 green pepper, halved
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
cinnamon stick
1/2 onion
1/2 green pepper diced
2 hot chili peppers seeded and chopped
1/4 tsp cumin
olive oil

Pour beans into a saucepan with garlic, halved pepper, salt, cumin,  and cinnamon stick.  Pour just enough water in to cover the beans.  Bring to boil.  Turn down heat and let simmer.  Meanwhile, saute onion, diced pepper, and chilis in a saute pan until soft.  Add cumin.  Cook until fragrant.  Put onion and pepper mix into a food processor with 1 cup of beans.  Process until almost smooth.  Return to remaining bean mix and simmer, stirring frequently until sauce is thickened to desired consistency.

Papas Rellenas

Potato exterior:
2-3 large potatoes diced
1 stick butter
panko bread crumbs
3 eggs

Bring water, salt and potatoes to a boil in a large pot.  Cook until potatoes are soft.  Drain and mash.  Add butter and cool.

Make filling:
1 lb ground beef
1/2 onion diced
1.4 pepper  diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
fresh oregano chopped
salt, pepper
vegetable oil

Saute onion and pepper in a pan with olive oil.  Add garlic.  Cook 1 minute then add beef.  Brown beef until no longer pink.  Add cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook until most liquid has evaporated.  Let cool.

Mix 1 beaten egg into potato mixture and form balls of potato with your hands.  Press a spoonful of beef mix into center.  Cover beef with more potato.  Roll balls into flour and coat.  Tap excess flour off.  Roll into bowl with 2 beaten eggs and then roll in panko crumbs. Heat vegetable oil until hot.  Place a few balls in oil at a time.  Turn gently when browned on one side. Cook until browned all over, just a few minutes.  Remove from oil with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle some salt and pepper and serve hot.
This was my first time making anything like this.  I don't think I quite got the consistency of the potatoes correct because it was difficult for me to keep them in a ball shape, maybe they just weren't cold enough.  I ended up making a huge mess all over my hands and the counter, but they came out looking ok and tasted great.  I will definitely try to make these again.

For more information on authentic Cuban cuisine check out Eating Cuban by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs.
Also take a look at these Cuban recipe websites :


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Laos--"Best Dinner Ever!"

Laotian Or Lam Stew over rice with fresh veggies and Mango dessert
Country number 47, Laos, officially called The Lao People's Democratic Republic.  I learned that a typical Laotian meal can consist of a stew type dish, fresh veggies, soup, and a grilled dish.  I chose to make Or Lam (a stew), because it sounded like I could adapt the recipe and let it cook in the crockpot while I headed off to work.
I decided to serve Belgian endive and other assorted fresh vegetables as a side dish. I chose endive because of its slight bitter quality.  I read that in Laos they prize bitter foods for health. For dessert I prepared a simple dish of sweetened sticky rice with sliced mangoes.

My in-laws joined us in our Laotian experience.  My son who normally picks at his dinner like a bird, exclaimed, "Best dinner ever!"  after he tried the Or Lam.  Maybe he was just excited to have Grandma and Grandpa over but he did eat everything on his plate.

Or Lam
The original recipe that I found at Traditional Recipes of Laos was written by the Royal Cook of the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang in the late 1800s.  The stew which he called, Or Lam Sin Kuay, was made from the meat and skin of water buffalo.  The recipes states that there are many ways to make Or Lam and it can include many different types of vegetables and mushrooms.

This is my version.

1 lb. lean beef stew meat thinly sliced
2 shallots chopped
1 inch piece ginger root chopped
1 inch piece galangal root chopped
3 pieces of lemon grass stalk
4 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 cup shiitake mushroom tops sliced
6 cups water- more if needed
1 T fish sauce
1 eggplant sliced
2 scallions
2 hot chili peppers, seeded and chopped
1 bunch basil chopped
fresh dill chopped
1 T cornstarch (optional)
Juice from 1/2 of a lime

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Brown beef.  Add shallots, garlic, chili peppers, ginger, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, salt and pepper.  Cook over medium until fragrant.  Add water, shiitake mushrooms and fish sauce.  Bring to a boil then add eggplant slices.  At this point I had to rush to work so I threw everything in the crockpot, but it could also be kept on the stove and simmered for about an hour, or until the beef and eggplant are tender.  Remove eggplant and put in the bowl of a food processor.  Mix until thoroughly processed.  Return to eggplant to the stew.  Continue to simmer until liquid is reduced and sauce thickens.  If it is not thick enough, add 1 T cornstarch mixed with 1 T cold water and bring to boil again.  Add basil, dill, lime juice, and scallions.  Serve over hot rice.

Mango Rice Dessert

1 1/2 cups cooked short grain rice (the stickier the better)
3/4 -1 cup coconut milk- not light
2-3 ripe mangoes
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Put coconut milk in pan over low heat.  Add sugar and salt.  When sugar is dissolved add cooked rice.  Simmer over low heat until liquid is mostly absorbed.  Add cinnamon.  Peel and thinly slice mangoes.  Fill a small dessert cup or ramekin with hot rice and lay a few slices of mango on top.



Monday, January 17, 2011


Clockwise from left: Macedonian Sarma, Tavche Gravche, and Zelnik
This week we were fortunate to have my Mom, Dad and Grandpa join us for Country #46, Macedonia.  It's always fun to have my Mom helping me in the kitchen.
I chose to make 3 different dishes, Sarma (cabbage rolls), Zelnik, (spinach pie), and Tavche Gravche (beans).
It was interesting to see which dish each person liked the best.  The beans were the first to disappear, and the rest quickly followed.

Tavche Gravche:

I knew I would be pressed for time around dinner so I made the beans ahead of time.  I used canned cannellini beans instead of using dried beans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 cans white beans
3/4 cup onion chopped
1/2 shallot chopped                  
1/3 cup red pepper chopped    
1 clove garlic chopped            
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp paprika
1 T flour
1 cup water

Saute onion, red pepper, and shallot in pan with olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute another minute or two.  Add salt, pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes and mix well.  After 2-3 minutes add flour and cook about 2 minutes.  Then add drained beans and stir thoroughly.  Pour water into the pan and stir until a sauce like consistency.  Bring to boil.  If mixture gets too dry add more water. Turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the chopped parsley.  Transfer mixture to an oven-proof dish and cook on 350 for about 45 minutes or until bubbly and a nice crust has formed on the top.


About 15 large cabbage leaves*
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/4 red pepper
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup Kalamata olives chopped
1/2 cup fresh parley chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint chopped

*Many of the recipes I found called for pickled cabbage leaves which I could not find. Instead I boiled the leaves in a pot of water, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup of vinegar.  Boil them about 5 minutes until soft.  Cook rice according to package directions.  Saute onion and red pepper in pan with olive oil.  Add garlic and ground beef.  Cook until beef is no longer pink.  Add paprika, salt, and pepper and olives.  Mix in cooked rice, parsley, and mint.  Take 1 cabbage leaf at a time and fill with 2-3 Tablespoons of meat mixture.  Fold leaf in around mix and roll.  Lay in a baking dish lined with some extra cabbage leaves to prevent sticking.  Repeat with rest of leaves and filling.  Pour boiling water over rolls and bake in oven.  (I think this is where I made a mistake.  The cabbage was still slightly tough.  Next time I would cover the dish with foil so the steam could soften the cabbage more.) Bake on 350 until tender.


I discovered that Zelnik can be prepared using a variety of ingredients.  I chose to make a spinach leek feta Zelnik and it was delicious!

1 small leek chopped (white parts only)
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped
8 oz feta cheese
1 clove garlic
1/2  roasted red pepper
1/2 pkg phyllo dough
 2 sticks butter

Mix leek, spinach, feta, garlic and red pepper in a bowl.  Prepare phyllo layers: Brush one sheet at a time with melted butter and layer them on top of one another.  After layering about 10 sheets, spread filling over dough and roll.  Lay around the edge of a round cake pan.  Continue this process until all spinach mixture is used.  Brush the tops of the phyllo rolls with more melted butter.  Bake in 350 degree oven until crust is nicely browned about 20 minutes.  


If you want to find out more about Macedonia and it's cuisine check out these sites:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chilean Pastel de Choclo or Shepherd's Pie

Chilean Enchantment
For our 45th global culinary adventure a we chose the country of Chile.  My husband's friend Juraj, gave us recipes for his favorite dishes. These are the foods he eats when he returns home.  I love finding recipes this way. For our first taste of Chile he suggested, Pastel de Choclo which is similar to Shepherd's Pie, Sopaipillias, Chancho en Piedra (a tomato sauce),  and a bottle of Santa Ema Reserve Merlot from Chile.

Personally, I don't think Shepherd's Pie is anything special, but the Pastel de Choclo was a taste sensation.  I was surprised by the seemingly random ingredients like hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken, beef, corn, and raisins, but their flavors complemented each other perfectly.
Pastel de Choclo adapted from

1 lb ground organic beef
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup raisins
1 onion peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 T water
Salt and pepper
2 hard-cooked large eggs, sliced
1 chicken breast thinly sliced and sauteed
3 cups corn kernels, frozen or fresh
3/4 cup whipping cream

Soak raisins in hot water until plump about 10 minutes.  Hard boil 2 eggs and saute chicken breast slices.  Preheat oven to 450.   Heat oil in saute pan.  Cook onions until softened.  Add garlic, paprika, cumin and water.  Add ground beef to pan and cook until no longer pink.  Add olives and raisins and remove from heat.  Process corn kernels and cream in food processor.  Add salt and pepper.  The original recipe said to divide beef mixture into individual oven proof crocks which I do not have, so I spread the whole mixture into a casserole dish.  Then layer the sliced eggs and chicken on top.  Spread out the corn and cream mixture until it covers the entire top. Bake on 450 for about 15 minutes.  Then raise temperature to broil.  Watch carefully and broil until tops are browned, about 4 minutes.  Serve with Santa Ema Reserve Merlot from Chile

Sopaipillias, fried dough, were a whole new experience for all of us.  In Chile they are served as either a bread with a tomato based sauce or a pastry with a sweet sauce.  The dough is a simple mixture of  flour and zapallo squash which I had never heard of.  I found out on that it is similar to a Hubbard squash.

 Sopaipillias-- based on recipe from

1/2 a Zapallo squash or Hubbard if you can't find Zapallo
About 5 cups of flour --I used more than the original recipe, but maybe my squash was bigger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
10 T melted butter
oil for frying
Making Sopaipillias

Peel the squash and chop into large chunks.  (This is much more difficult than it sounds!  If you have any squash peeling tricks let me know.  'Cause this step took me about a 1/2 hour)  Once this is done boil squash in a large pot of water, until soft.  Drain and mash.  Add butter.  Mix flour and remaining dry ingredients.
Mix dry ingredients into squash.  Knead until it forms a nice dough consistency, keep adding flour if it is too sticky.  Let rest for about 15 min.  Roll out with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick.  Cut rounds using a circular cookie cutter or the top of a glass.  Put them on a plate and poke with a fork.  Heat oil in a deep frying pan until hot.  Carefully place several rounds into oil and cook until golden brown on each side about 3 minutes.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.  These are best eaten immediately so have your sauce or powdered sugar already prepared and eat them as soon as they have cooled slightly.

I made tomato based sauce called, Chancho en Piedra, to dip the sopaipillias into.

4 tomatoes
1 clove garlic
2 T olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes and garlic and place in food processor bowl.  Add olive oil, salt and pepper.  Let sit for 10 min.  Process mixture until a saucy consistency.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

I ran out of time to make Leche Asada a baked milk custard dessert.  That will have to wait until our next adventure with Chilean cuisine.   I want to thank Juraj Vlahovic and Mitzi Chiple for suggesting and finding these recipes for us to enjoy.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Delicious Danish New Year

Our New Year's celebration began with a traditional Christmas feast from Denmark.  We had Roast Duck with Red Wine and Prunes, Braised Red Cabbage, and Ris a l'amande (rice pudding with almonds and cherry sauce).  I found the recipes at  Here are the specific links to each recipe:  Roast Duck and Braised Cabbage  and Rice Pudding with Cherry Sauce
I would definitely make the duck again but with a few changes to the recipe.  I had never made a duck before and the recipe didn't state some basics of roasting ducks.  Later, I found out that it is important to dry the skin, score it, and prick it all over before putting it into the oven.  I would also sprinkle the entire skin with coarse sea salt and pepper.  I just found a great blog which has pictures of each step in the preparation of a duck. Visit The Hungry Mouse for step by step instructions. I wish I had seen this on Thursday, oh well.  I'll know for next time.
I made a few slight adjustments to the rice pudding but overall it was great.  It called for a vanilla bean which I did not have so I used 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract.  I also added 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp cinnamon.  It's interesting how many different variations of rice pudding there are. It appears most countries have their own special version of it.  My kids seem to like them all.


For general information about Denmark and Danish cuisine check out