Armenian Baklava

A Pahklava (baklava) a coffee and good company.

Is all I need somedays.

Baklava, known in Armenia as Pahklava is made with layers of Phyllo pastry. Between the sheets is generous layers of butter, and chopped up nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds and cashews. The layers are also sprinkled with honey, cinnamon and sugar.

Originally knows as a richmans dessert, this dish originated around the 8th B.C by the Assyrians. It was baked in their primitive wood ovens and enjoyed occasionally as a kings meal. While is it popular is Armenia, it is also enjoyed by the Turkish, Greek, Iranians, Azerbaijans, Turks and many other middle eastern countries. I decided to do the Armenian variant for the weeks food challenge.

How blessed are we that food is no longer just a bare necessity for some, but something that you could get creative with and pose as means of enjoyment. This is what I felt when I made this. I placed the sheets, jar of honey, bottle of cinnamon, bottle of nutmeg and cup of pistachios on the table, took a seat, turned on my favourite show for binge watching and just sat there applying butter on the sheet, while filling it with honey, spices and nuts. It is a slow job, since the layers are so thin and needs a lot of sheets. But satisfying also, the kind you may get popping a bubble wrap. Well, until I realised by babies only nap for so long, and this definitely is a timely process. 

I ended up under baking the pakhlava, in my hurry to eat it before my little ones woke up. I skipped the part where the baked pastry is dunked in sugar syrup, for obvious reasons!  Still, it was very tasty. Who can go wrong with honey and pistachios right! And I was so glad I attempted making a it! Before my daughter was born, we used to spend evenings at this beautiful cafe’ where they serve middle eastern sweets and coffee. This is how I got introduced to baklava, with sweet memories. At the time, I had always been intimidated with how complex, yet rich and and elegant it is. So to attempt making it, and coming out somewhat triumphed is definitely a victory. Also, my son really like it. I am now a guilty mom who has shamelessly introduced sweets to a child who was not really interested in it. Oh well, at least it’s made with a lot of love. 

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Austrian Pancakes

Pancakes!

There is a day dedicated to pancakes, World Pancake Day. And surely, pancakes deserve a day for itself. It is cake, in a pan, made in under 5 minutes. You can be creative with toppings, with flavor, shape and size. It can be sweet or savory. But most of all, it is an ultimate comfort food. In our house pancakes are a favorite. Even when my son was unable to say words, he still would nod his head with a huge grin when I say its pancakes today. When he is unwell and loses his appetite, its pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s the only thing he will eat.

I have a full proof recipe for pancakes that I always follow as the base. To me, the secret is mixing the eggs really well to make it fluffy before folding in other ingredients. Also, the first thing I do before making pancakes is to add couple of table spoons of vinegar to a cup of milk. Viola – Buttermilk in few minutes. Buttermilk adds to the flavor so well. Okay, so pancakes – one of our favorite food in the world. But this post is not really about pancakes, it is about my food challenge of Austria.

Looking through recipes of Austria, I came across Kaiserschmarrn, a dish that’s a dramatic twist to traditional pancakes. This is a popular and local dessert in Austria, and for me this was the perfect opportunity  to try a new variety of pancakes.

We decided to make a day out with pancakes, at the park. We took hot coffee flasks and fresh berries. This pancake is more custardy and resembles torn up french toast. I made a plum sauce to go on it, and also sprinkled with a mixture of icing sugar with cinnamon. It was the ultimate comfort food.

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Australia – food down under

Dear Australia,

I have been anxiously waiting to cook your distinctive food since I have started my global food challenge. You cannot imagine my excitement when I reached you on my list. I have always loved cooking but it is only after coming here to Australia that my interest has peaked. You have such a wide variety of food to offer to all palates, which makes you so welcoming to people from all over the world. For me your food has been a savior, amidst our adaptation to moving continents. Your ingredients and food has been a solace that I have derived warmth and comfort from. I may be over dramatic and a little bit cheesy but that’s what you have done to me.

You, being so multicultural and diverse have adopted a cuisine that is so rich and mostly based on inexpensive everyday ingredients. Although, you have still managed to maintain certain iconic Australia dishes intact and yet so modern.

I chose to cook with beef as a main dish, as meat is the core component of your cuisine. I made beef and mushroom pies, a very wholesome and filling meal that creates a homely feeling and just begs to be shared. As for the ingredients –>mushroom, beef, onions, seasoning, beef stock, tomato paste, cornflour and pastry. 8 ingredients! As simple as that, but taste is incredible.

For dessert, I made a Tim Tam cheese cake. Tim Tam biscuit is iconic to you Australia and has been around since the 1960’s. I chose the Adriano Zumbo Red velvet flavor just to kick in the Australian-ness. Was it not only beautiful, it was such a hit among friends and of course my husband and son. All thanks to having a chef as a friend who gave some really good tips for the menu as well as the cooking.

I had some friends join in, who made classic Aussie dishes as well. We had a beautiful black forest pavlova, sausage rolls, more beef pastries, cheese and spinach scrolls, fairy bread and a potato salad.

So I would like to thank you Australia. You made a wanna be cook out of me and you have given me a sense of belonging through your cuisine.

Love,

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Argentina

The 8th biggest country in the world, founder of the dance Tango and where Lionel Messi is from: Argentina! I am not hardcore football fan, but I have been surrounded by Messi fans and it’s always exciting to cook something from a country that I sort of am familiar with. It’s also home to the famous Diego Maradona and Che Guevara.

As for the food, Argentinians absolutely love their food and celebrate it greatly. The food is a blend of Mediterranean, greatly influenced by the Italian and Spanish cuisines. Argentina is apparently a beef country, and beef is made in a number of delicious ways. I chose to make the popular Argentinian Empanadas. And for dessert I made Alfajores with a Dulce de leche filling. All three dishes are immensely enjoyed by the Argentinians.

The Empanadas is similar to a dish we make locally called pettis, which is a pastry with a tuna filling. Instead of the tuna, Empanadas has a spicy beef filling. I had a slight disaster with this dish as I cooked the beef thoroughly on the stove before baking it, duh. Hence, a slightly dry beef filling!

Alfajores, oooooh the Alfajores! This is a version of the biscuit melting moments, which true to it’s name just melts into the mouth. It’s a very soft, delicate and crumbly biscuit that is also very rich. Words describing it makes me want to jump up, run to the kitchen and bake it. It has became my all time favorite cookie. And the best part is that I used dulce de leche as a filling. I had no idea what this is before this day. Apparently it is condensed milk slow cooked over few hours. It develops into a thick pasty condense milk with an enhanced condensed milk taste. Talk about richness! The buttery taste of the Alfajores with the condensed milky filling was just absolute heaven.

All in all, not a bad cookout as the cookies made up for everything. Cant’ wait to do Armenia!

Antigua and Barbuda

Number of countries in the world – 195

I have only made food of 6 countries so far but it seems like a huge accomplishment. I have learned a few things along the way while enjoying this so much. For this week, I did Antigua and Barbuda. They are two beautiful low lying coral islands known for its beautiful beaches and resorts. They also boast a large variety of flora and fauna and is popular for its rainforests.  Fun fact about the country – Crab racing is held once a week. Must be really laid back people! They are positioned where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet and enjoy a Caribbean cuisine.

While Carribean cuisine is at the heart of their traditional dishes, it is also quite diversified. The local diet includes shawarma’s, kebabs and dumplings, obvious influence of Arab and Chinese. I chose to make a butter bread, ducana (traditional sweet potato dish) and stewed beef Antiguan way. For a while now I have considered trying my hand at bread baking. So it was the perfect opportunity when I learned that butter bread is popular as a Sunday treat.

I absolutely loved baking the bread! I loved it when the dough rose to double its size. The bread came out so soft in the inside. My son loved eating it so hands down, no more questions. This was a success.

The sweet potato dumpling, called Ducana was also tasty. It was a combination of grated coconut and sweet potato with sugar and spices. After the mixture was complete I was supposed to wrap it up in banana leaf and boil in water. But I settled with aluminum foil, and I would say it still worked.

Stewed beef or chicken is a favorite in our house now. I slow cooked the beef with a number of vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, celery and potato).

Next country on the list is Argentina! See you soon.

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Antiguan Sunday Butter Bread
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Ducana – popular Antiguan sweet potato dumpling
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Caldo de Res  –  Beef stew

 

Angolan please

Angola!

I was slightly nervous to make this dish, as I have a very close friend who is partly from Angola. I wanted this dish to be as authentic as I could. I spent few days trying to figure out a recipe that I can work with that is not too difficult but also showcases some level of their traditional food. Keeping this in mind I chose to make Muamba de Galinha, Camarao Grelhado Piri Piri and Cocada Angolana.

Muamba de Galinha (a chicken and vegetable stew), is the national dish of Angola according to wiki. I was supposed to use red palm oil according to the recipe, which is also what gives the dish its authentic taste and look. But, I didn’t want to invest in red palm oil when I probably will never use it. So, looking up alternatives I found that ghee (clarified butter) gives a similar taste. Other than this, it was a really easy recipe. Two things I have learned; marinading overnight makes a huge difference and slow cooking does amazing things, not just in making the meat so soft but also in enhancing the taste of everything.

Camarao Grelhado Piri Piri (grilled prawns) was also expectedly nice. I used chili powder instead of habanero as in the recipe. The adventure here was that I got to dehead and detail the prawns as we decided to go with fresh prawns.

For the last, but definitely not the least – Cocada Angolana. Again, a very simple yet really tasty dessert made out of coconut scrape. It was intensely sweet but had a great combination flavor of the spices and the taste of coconut. If you are a coconut lover, as I am, you just cannot stop eating this. I chilled it in the fridge for few hours which just enhanced its flavor so much.

I am thoroughly enjoying doing this challenge, especially because I am learning so much.  Can’t wait to try out the carribean cuisine for the next country, Antigua and Barbuda.

Andorra: Meal Review

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The principality of Andorra is a tiny country located high in the mountains between France and Spain. It was interesting to learn a totally new country, one that I had not even heard of before. It first reminded me of Pandora, an exotic extraterrestrial country promising of some great secrets. Then I came across the fact that Andorran’s  average life expectancy is officially one of the highest in the world. Maybe, afterall they may have some great secrets.

It is also the world’s 16th smallest country, of which a large part is mountains. Andorra is a co-principality which means it is ruled by two princes, the leader of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell. With just over 70,000 people, Andorra is considered the world’s 14th oldest country.

As for Andorran food, it is derived from Catalonia which is an autonomous community of Spain. The food is also largely influenced by its close neighbor  France. Food is mostly imported to Andorra, despite which popular ingredients include a lot of fresh vegetables, legumes, cheese, wheat, fish, and meat. The national dish of Andorra is Escudella which is a stew cooked with pork, chicken, and vegetables.

I chose to cook a grilled fishBread with garlic & tomato: Pa amb Tomaquet, Spinach Salad with Raisins and Pine Nuts and a dessert called Creme Catalana which is the Catalan version of Creme Brulee.

I could not find trout so I got a sea bass fillet, which was a good substitute as it is also a light fish with a moderate flavor. I also did not have pine nuts for the spinach salad so instead of it, I used toasted walnuts.

The meal turned out to be very simple to make, the type of meal you could cook up in 30 minutes. The method was pretty straightforward which made for a very delightfully simple but fresh meal. It was really just tossing around a few really fresh ingredients that complemented each other really well. I enjoyed cooking this as well as eating it, so did my toddler who was very anxious to start dinner.  This is one meal I would probably cook many times in the future.

As for the Creme Catalana, I made a mistake in overheating the oven when I was caramalizing the sugar on top which somehow curdled the dish. It was very tasty, with a hint of lemon and taste of cinnamon but the texture was completely ruined. Well, it’s definitely a lesson learnt.

Can’t wait till next week, as it’s Angola. It’s where one of my closest friends is from, so very excited to cook a meal from there. Keep tuned!