Thursday, January 20, 2011

Recipe: Chili with Chorizo and Cilantro

If I could figure out a way to stick chorizo in every dinner dish, I would be one happy girl. I suppose then it's no surprise that it somehow often ends up in my chili. 

I haven't found a definitive list of ingredients for my chili yet, they seem to vary every time. But the best by far is when there is some chunks of chorizo sticking up. Without further ado...

Chili with Chorizo and Cilantro
Serves 6 - 8
Eat with milk (if it's too spicy)

5 oz (150 g) chorizo sausage
1 lb (500g) ground beef/pork
1 onion in thin wedges
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tb cumin
1 1/2 Tb chili powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 can red/black beans
2 cans stewed whole tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1/2 cup cilantro - divided
1 cup beef broth (or dark beer) - divided
2 Tb 'Salsa de Chile Chipotle' sauce *
1 Tb chopped jalapeno pieces (from a jar) *
1 tsp salt

* Can substitute a little can of chopped green chiles in chipotle or adobo sauce

To serve:
cheddar cheese, grated
sour cream
dark bread rolls

Halve the chorizo the long way and slice into half-inch pieces. In a big pot, cook the pieces so they release a bit of oil, then throw in the meat and onion and brown on med-high heat. Add the garlic, all spices, and mix well into the meat mix. Add beans, tomatoes, chopped bell pepper, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup broth or beer, chipotle sauce and jalapenos. Bring to boil, salt and pepper, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook 1 1/2 hours, adding the rest of the broth/beer when too thick. Serve with the rest of the cilantro. If it's got a bit too much heat for you, the cheese and sour cream will bring it down a few notches. Drinking a glass of milk will do wonders as well.

How do you make your chili? Do you stick with one tried-n-true recipe, or mix it up every time?

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!
-- Jo

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Can't This American Make Apple Pie?

"Why Can't This American Make Apple Pie?"

This is not a rhetorical question, nor a joke with a clever answer, but something flickering through my mind all day. 

It all started last weekend. I woke up Saturday morning, had my weekend Irish coffee, checked the calender, and saw it: mother-in-law's birthday. Really? Crap. (Please m-i-l, don't be reading this!) We'd been so busy that I knew my husband had pushed any thoughts of gifting right out of his mind. It happens this way every year, what with the post-christmas gifting/celebrating burnout, January birthdays kind of get the shaft.

Well, I thought, plastering my best Betty Crocker smile on, I'll do what any American would do in this situation - bake an apple pie. For some reason (it might've been the bowl of apples staring me in the face), I thought the thick layer of kitsch spread over this whole situation might make it work. I marvelled at how able of a woman I was to have everything in the kitchen. Apples, yup. Flour, sugar, all the basics, of course. I dug in. No recipe, baby. I should know this. Pie crust, shmie shmust. It should be in my blood.

Elbow deep in flour my jaw drops. No butter. Seriously. The girl whose father's nickname is Mr. Butter hasn't got a knob of the stuff in the house! Good thing I live in Europe where we've got cute little corner-shops dotting every neighborhood. Off I dash, five minute jaunt (still marveling for some reason on how this is all going to fall into place). Here we are - the potraviny these shops are called (literally means 'food-stuffs'). Really. You're kidding me. Closed for lunch? Yep. Every day between noon and one, shut up tight. It's 12:13. We're supposed to leave by three.

Hah, I think, phooey to all those cute lil' European shops, lucky for me I've been cultivating my American good-neighborism (we just moved to this flat a couple months takes awhile). Text the neighbor. Nope. Outa town already. Still chipper (musta been that Irish coffee), I decide any home baker worth their salt could improvise their way out of this one.

 I won't post the recipe. I am much too embarrassed. It was, eh, okay. Eaters were polite enough to say it was tasty. When I pointed out there was no butter, that was the problem, they kind of murmured in agreement.

Where did I go wrong? It would probably be even worse if I confessed that I've worked in bakeries producing sweets on a daily basis. Okay, not pie, but is it really so different?

If you have any hope for this expat spreading some American-pie-goodness around the world (or at least Czech Republic, which is, after all, in the center of the world) I need your help.

Send me your best (or not so terrible) apple pie recipe. I'll try anything and everything I receive, until I can wake up on a Saturday and whip together one heck of a pie!

Děkuju / Thank You :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tea Party: Fruit

If I were asked when my very first cup of tea was had, I would remember pawing through my parents' kitchen cupboards when I was, oh, 12 years old I imagine, and coming across my mum's box of Celestial Seasonings. It was the bright colourful image on the box combined with the image of my mum sticking her special tea mug into the microwave before bed that made it so appealing. It was one step into the adult world that I so craved at the time.

I couldn't tell you what variety it was, but I'm sure it was something like exotic spiced mango passions, or sleep like you've never slept before. This gateway tea of course led to the greens, blacks, and now reds and whites of the world.

I hadn't thought of that first virtous herbal beverage in a very long time.

Until I moved to the Czech Republic. Or shall I call it the reigning kingdom of fruit tea? Walking down the tea aisle in a Czech supermarket is like entering the lushest of all orchards - images of cherries, strawberries, oranges, plums and all kinds of citrus beg shoppers to be taken home. At first, I was taken aback. This is not tea, I thought. Where is my oolong, or even a simple white variety? Aha, there is the white, packaged as white with pear.

After years of heading to specialty shops for a package of gunpowder green, I've finally started embracing fruit tea this winter. No bitterness found with over-steeping, or worries about how much caffeine has entered my body that day. Nope. Only warm, pure and innocent fruit tea.

For those not living in the land of fruit tea, there's a great how-to by Whole Foods on herbal fruit tea. Use their recipe as a rough guide. Any herb, combined with citrus zest and dried fruit will make a lovely drink. Think dried apple or plum and cinnamon stick pieces, or a berry mix with bits of a vanilla pod. Use this as an excuse to turn the oven on some cold wintery evening and fill the house with whatever aroma you fancy.

So what will it be? What variety will you come up with? 

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Recipe: Roasted Peppers and Chicken Drumsticks

Confession: despite my adoration for chicken legs, I seriously detest the skin. It doesn't matter if it's the crispiest of all crispy skin, previously brushed with butter and flour to achieve that perfect golden look. Maybe it's something leftover from childhood, when I was allowed to peel off the skin, balance it on my fork, and reach across to deliver it to my dad's plate. I don't really know if fathers enjoy eating their kids chicken skin, or if they do it to be a good example, or a lesson on not wasting, because of, you know, 'the starving kids in the starving country', and so on. I would be very curious to hear the chicken-skin-eating father's perspective. To this day, I pick mine off. Now I do so before cooking it. Weird? Maybe. It doesn't take long, and then whatever the marinade of choice may be actually has a fighting chance of getting into the meat.

I am simply not at that stage where I can plan to marinate the meat the night before, and then to actually remember to carry out said plan before retiring for the evening. With everything lining up at the 'short-term memory' door, this one never gets through. So, I choose to slice away the skin, smear on my spices, stick the meat in the fridge while I get everything else prepped, and call my 30 minute marinade sufficient. Ginger and lime are both particularly suited to this method. The lime plays a tenderizing role (for beef at least), and the fresh ginger plays a, well, gingery role. Check out the recent drumsticks.

Gingered Drumsticks
(Adapted from Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking)

5-6 drumsticks
1 Tb grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground ginger (from a spice jar)
1 Tb brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
grated peel and juice from 2 limes

Mix all ingredients together and toss your chicken in (skin-free if you like!), stick in the fridge for half and hour (+/-). Bake in the oven 425° (220°) for 40 minutes or until you think it's done, according to your oven's temperament.

While looking to busy myself during the marinade time, I decided to roast some red and yellow bell peppers. I've tried this a few times in different ovens, and I've found the best way is to use a combo of a gas range and an oven.

Jar-Free Roasted Peppers
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
oven and range
longish tongs

Put your gas flame on high, hold one of the peppers between the tongs, hold in hand with a pot-holder or thick towel, and roast over the flame (yes, you can do marshmallows afterwards). Turn four times, so there are some blackened spots, or until your hand grows heavy. Put in a small pan, and throw under the broiler for 5 minutes or so, and get started on the second pepper. By staggering the process on the two peppers, the timing works out nicely in the end. After the broiler, take pepper out (put 2nd one in) and place in a brown paper bag, or newspaper. Tightly roll up, and allow the pepper to steam off its skin. After 10 minutes in the bag, take out the first one, and get to work on a cutting board with a spoon and butter knife and teach yourself to scrape off the skin. First, cut down the middle, and slice the core/seeds out. Lay pepper flat, and slice into 3 big pieces. After this it is much easier to scrape away the skins.

It does take a bit of effort, but if you've got some putzy time in the kitchen, it is 100% worth it. Just imagine, warm, freshly fire roasted peppers on a goat-cheese covered baguette. Mmmmmm... But that'll have to be the leftovers. Considering we had the chicken prepped, we chopped up the peppers and mixed with rice.

Black Bean and Roasted Pepper Rice
1 1/2 cup of uncooked white rice
1 peppers worth of roasted strips, cut in pieces
1 can of black or red beans
2/3 cup corn
1 green onion
1 shallot
5 slices jalapeno pepper, chopped (from a jar...not so spicy)
squeeze of lime juice

Get your rice cooking (add nearly twice as much water as rice, bring to a boil, simmer with a lid 20 minutes). When it's almost done, add in the rest of the items, and let sit 10 min on very low or no heat, with lid.

 Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy! 
-- Jo

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Czech Food Icon: The Rohlík

Everyone has their own view of what defines the Czech foodscape.  After nearly four years of living and eating in this country, I feel I deserve to weigh in on the matter. Thus, I present to you the humble rohlík - a bullet-shaped bread roll.

Now, this bread roll is no ordinary bread roll. First of all, it's simply too skinny to slice in half, stuff with meat and veg, and call it a sub sandwich. So it looses most of its practical value from this American's perspective. Its oblong shape presented a challenge to me at first. The top is not flat enough to spread jam on it. It kinda slides off. Peanut butter has the staying power necessary, but you just won't find Skippy, Jif, or the rest of the gang in the Czech supermarkets.

Since I never found a suitable purpose for them, I pretty much stopped eating rohlík altogether (save for a three-day stay in the local hospital, where my upset tummy was given nothing but stale rohlík). Once I stopped looking for rohlík, I noticed rohlík started looking for me. Really. They started popping up everywhere. The first spotting was when a friend gave me a ride to the train station. She popped open the trunk for my bags and, lo and behold, there he was. A single rohlík staring at us from the trunk. No groceries, no bag it fell out of, it was just rolling there. She shrugged it off, but I knew this was the beginning of something strange.

The second sighting was kayaking on the Vltava. Amid peaceful canoers and rowdy party-rafters, there he was again. A rohlík slightly bobbing in the water, letting the current show him a good time. After these, and numerous other sightings, I decided proof was needed. I saw him while walking down the street, casually resting on the ledge of a building

A little while later, I saw a half-rohlík reserving one of the washing machines in the laundry café.

Nothing beats, however, the rohlík I spied one sunny afternoon. Someone had lodged the poor guy into the tram-stop sign! (Note: I was not that someone, promise!)

And then, passersby had the gall to look at me as if I'm the strange duck for taking a picture of it! That's when I knew that the rohlík is truly the quintessential Czech food item. They are everywhere! They originate in big bins in the supermarkets and bakeries, where people buy them up by the dozens. In the mornings, you can see students and working chaps carrying around clear baggies with 5 or 6 of them. I imagine their favourite spread is somewhere in their backpacks. It seems many here use the rohlík as a dipping rod, scooping up a radish/mayo/cheese spread or something similar. One expat site has posted a lengthy discussion among foreigners regarding what they put on their rohlík. Solutions spanned the basics (butter, honey, vegemite, nutella) to the more gourmet (salmon and goat cheese, or haggis). The main debate centered around to cut, or not to cut? I empathize. I too want to treat it like a sub, or baguette, and slice that sucker open. But I've learned my lesson. There's simply not enough room or surface area to make stuffing it full worth it.

If you've got pictures of 'rohlíks on the run', I'd be glad to post them...just send me an email!

The only question that remains: What do you put on your rohlík?

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Czech Recipe: Goulash (Guláš)

One Czech spouse. Check. One batch of freshly-made dumplings. Check. The only ingredient left for one cozy Czech evening is the guláš. Out of all the Czech dishes, guláš plays a special role in this country. Any pub worth its hospoda title is guaranteed to serve guláš. You know, I even feel confident enough to step that up a notch - any establishment whatsoever in this country serving food will have guláš on the menu (okay, okay, except pizzerias and kebab huts). Most pubs serve it on a mound of pillowy dumplings - around 4 slices or so. Some restaurants trying to distance themselves from traditional Czech food try to put a spin on it - like serving it in a big bread bowl with assorted garnishes on the side. Some places trying to tap into the rustic element will serve a venison guláš. Although, I'm told that since this is quite the money maker, some pubs advertise venison guláš, but it does not actually include any venison. (I've heard numerous stories of this same sort of affair, but dealing with horse sausage from the butcher. Apparently, some butchers of ill repute do not use horse meat...quite the scandal indeed!)

Guláš is such the culinary mainstay that (according to wikipedia) guláš was cooked by a legendary heroine in folklore to save her children. I'm not sure if guláš truly has any childsaving powers, but it does warm the soul like nothing else. Here is the first attempt I've made, compiled from a few different recipes - both modern magazines and a few Czech classics that've been translated.

Recipe: Czech Goulash (Guláš)

1 lb (500 g) beef, stew meat quality
1 big onion
2 Tb sweet paprika
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) beef broth
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp marjoram
pinch cinnamon

To serve:
dumplings or dark bread
cucumbers or spicy pickled peppers
beer (a nice Pilsner)

Prepare the meat in large cubes, marinate in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper for 30 minutes (or overnight), or not. I actually don't think it'd make much difference if you were to skip this, but I did it anyways. Slice the onions into very thin half circles and fry the meat and onions until the meat is browned. Add the paprika and coat the meat and onions well. Add the garlic, tomato paste, broth and spices. Simmer for awhile. One tradition suggests adding little pieces of 1 dark bread slice, and when the bread pieces have dissolved, the guláš is ready. I think I did mine for about 20 minutes.

Don't worry about making too much, the leftovers are are even better after the flavours have sat together for awhile. When cooking, add more or less broth and paprika to your liking.

Are you Czech? Have you made this dish before? Do you know any other versions? My attempt tasted pretty darn good, but not a guláš-y as the restaurants. I'm not exactly sure what the difference might be from. What about in Slovakia? Is guláš made the same?

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!
-- Jo

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Czech Recipe: Bread Dumplings (Houskové Knedlíky)

One of the cornerstones of Czech cooking is dumplings - bread dumplings, yeasted dumplings, potato dumplings, fruit dumplings, dumplings with bacon, and on and on. So it seemed natural that my descent into Czech cooking begin with this mass of flour and carbohydrates. Most families here don't make dumplings anymore, as they are quite cheap to buy mass-produced ones in the shops. Some have told me they buy them from their local pub, which makes them from scratch. When I confessed my upcoming dumpling adventure to some, the men seemed impressed (thought I was being a good wifey to the Czech hubs), and the women said they remember making them with their mums years ago and I should definitely give it a shot.

Making dumplings is a great way to get over that after-work slump of forgoing the dinner plans and diving into a bag of microwave popcorn (I fully admit to having done this), because even though it takes awhile, it's pretty easy, and I felt like a kid in science class watching an experiment! These two dough logs blow up and get all slimy in a big pot of boiling water. Don't worry, the slime subsides by the time they're ready to eat :)

Eat with Czech Goulash
Continue to Recipe...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Czech Food 101

I've got a hunch that this fledgling lil' blog has already lost most it's Czech readership. I mean, really, posting about the Vietnamese food in Czech Rep before posting any actual Czech food?! (In my defense - I rarely get to the Vietnamese market, so such events are soooo exciting for me I'm compelled to share asap! And the topic of Czech food seemed so heavy, excuse the pun, I just didn't know where to begin.)

What It Is

It seems the biggest impression of Czech food to the outside world is meat and dumplings, with sauce, like guláš (goulash). But everyone has their own impressions. Czech men are most proud of their country's beer (after its women). Czech women seem most likely to tout their baking skills of various sweet biscuits, cukrový. Beyond the boarders, I've heard that the Polish regard Czech fried cheese (smažený sýr) in high regard. And those from further away are simply in awe at the mass amounts of meat consumed. (See Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: Prague episode).

Czech food fills me up. It is hearty - to the max. On cold winter days, previous expats who had a stay in the Czech Republic report serious Czech food-envy upon returning home. There is nothing better than a piping bowl of garlic soup and a perfect roast duck followed by apple strudel or, the restaurant favourite, ice cream with hot raspberries. Oh, and don't forget that glass of Czech wine, often overshadowed internationally by the height of the Czech Pilsner. The whites in this country rival the best Moselle valley vintages.

What It Is Not

Um, I know that in many respects Czech food doesn't seem healthy, but I don't get it...despite the dumplings and cream sauces, people don't look unhealthy. In fact, true to the stereotype, most women here are quite fit. Aha, you think gyms are the key. Nope. They are still a novelty rather than the norm. It's like the French paradox we Americans all wonder about, except even more severe, what with all the sausages and economical (read: fatty) cuts of meat being consumed. And they ain't got the focus on veg like the French, save for a few slices of cucumbers or pickles with every meal. And the heart-healthy red wine is absent too.

Another omission is a bit of heat. The primary spice is caraway seeds and sweet paprika. The Czech palette seems so incapable of handling any serious chillies, that in 'exotic' restaurants the 4 little chili peppers representing fire level of the dishes usually tastes pretty mild to me. And by exotic restaurants, I refer to the Chinese places, which are mostly owned by Vietnamese. In fact, during my search for Pho, I had wandered into one sushi joint, and saw the Vietnamese owners in the kitchen slurping bowls of the stuff (the aroma clearly gave it away), yet of course it wasn't on the menu, only dried salmon strips on stiff rice beds. The Czech Republic is a great place to eat, well, Czech food, but not much else (except in Prague of course).


What others see Czech food as is all good and fine. Myself, I've found certain dishes that I absolutely adore. And for these dishes, I'll be hammering out definitive recipes in the coming posts to share with you.

Dobrou Chut'/Enjoy :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Vietnamese Market

I must confess - I have a deep enthusiasm for Vietnamese inspired food. I'm not sure what the root of this may be, as the closest I ever got to the country was a holiday in Thailand. Now, you might be thinking, eh, food wise, it's the same thing. But oh, it is so not. For me, Vietnamese food-love started about ten years ago while living in Seattle and frequenting a certain group of Pho restaurants on a bi-monthly basis to fill up on massive bowls of noodly goodness. While of course also indulging in the staples of spring rolls and bánh mi sandwiches, Pho remained my gateway drug.

After moving to the Czech Republic I was overjoyed to learn of its largest non-European immigrant population. Yep, you got it - the Vietnamese. And while there are a handful of social and integration issues here, I was really looking forward to some good food. But what? To my surprise I couldn't see any big windows with that sought-after word: Pho. At least, not outside of Prague, and not in the main city areas.

What I discovered was that there are some Vietnamese restaurants tucked away in some outlying city areas. In fact, I was in Karlovy Vary the first time I saw a sign for Pho. I don't think my husband has ever seen me so excited by a stairway descending into a dark doorway, opening into an dank and empty bar. But I was. And yes, I ate there. And it was pretty darn good. Fresh cilantro, lime, and all the expected sauces. I tried to graciously thank the proprietor in the best Czech I could muster up at the time. I felt he was doing such a great service by making the effort to gather together such hard-to-find ingredients. I know now that it's not as difficult as it seems, as many Czech cities have Vietnamese markets, which mostly sell cheap goods, but also some great nibbles and sauces.

Last week I ran over there to grab some cilantro, and I found a great big bag of shrimp for a fantastic price (along with some jackfruit chips as pictured, which held me over while this dish was simmering). For me, Shrimp + Cilantro = Red Curry. Always. It's simply the best way to highlight the cilantro flavour with the shrimp, but you can also make it with chicken, or tofu, or just increase the veggie amount.

Red Curry

1 garlic cloves
1 onion
1 shallot
2 tsp crushed kaffir lime leaves
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or minced chillies)
1/2 can coconut milk - divided
1 Tb red curry paste
1 Tb brown sugar
1 cup chopped veg (red bell pepper, carrots, eggplant, zucchini...whatev)
1/2 can red kidney beans
500 g (or 1 lb.) shrimp or chicken
1 Tb fish sauce (or a smidge less if you're using chicken)
1 can chopped tomatoes
handful of cilantro
1 limes worth of juice

Rice (jasmine or regular ol' white)

Finely chop the first 5 ingredients and saute in a big pan/wok 3 minutes. Add in HALF of the half can coconut milk and the curry paste and brown sugar. Mash paste into the bottom of the pan until all is mixed. Toss in the veg, beans, shrimp/meat, fish sauce and the rest of the coconut milk. After a few minutes add the tomatoes. Let simmer until shrimps are pinky all the way through, 5 - 7 minutes. Longer for chicken. If it starts looking dry, resist the urge to add more coconut milk. Stick that in the fridge to make coconut rice pudding some other day. Instead add a cup of chicken or veg stock (have a cup of boiling water ready and a corner of bullion cube nearby for when this moment arrives.). Top it off with the splash of lime juice and cilantro (I put TONS on and it's still not enough!). Eat with rice.

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!
-- Jo
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