Cabbage and Kraslice: Two Kitchen Comforts of Traditional Czechoslovakia

Happy April and happy Saturday dear kitcheners. Thank you for your patience this week while I took a couple of extra days to get this post together. As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, Friday has become the new Wednesday around here and then it became Saturday, at least when it came to this post:)

Adjusting to the new normal, this was the first full week that our farmers market has been officially closed, so sourcing two of the ingredients for this week’s recipe turned into a little more of a treasure hunt than anticipated. This was also the first week, we had to wait in line at the grocery. Have you guys experienced this yet? It wasn’t too bad – just about a 20 minute wait each time, but it did feel strange. While I waited I thought about all the people who waited in soup lines during the Great Depression and the bread lines in Russia just two decades ago.

Last year at this time, I was buying homemade bread, local strawberries and spring lettuce at the farmers market.

Since the farmers market is within walking distance and open seven days a week, I hadn’t realized how spoiled I’d become when it came to shopping every few days for food for the Vintage Kitchen posts or for household staples. But now that it is recommended that we all shop a week or two in advance, it has taken a little bit (actually a lot!) of extra organization on my part. So thank you for bearing with me.

Today’s post takes us to Czechoslovakia, a country that as of 1993,  is no longer called that. Two decades ago, the country split into two parts, forming two separate nations and came to be known as the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I can imagine that on the official day a country declares a name change there is lots of celebrating going on and a renewed sense of optimism as to better opportunities ahead. In keeping with that notion, this week we are celebrating too. Today is Week 12 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, which means we hit the three month mark and are officially 1/4 of the way through our year-long global culinary adventure. How exciting!

Clockwise from top left: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs; Picadinho a Brasileira; Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper; Colombian Beef and Vegetable Stew; Rum Punch; Maple Walnut Tart

So far we’ve made meatballs in Armenia, talked about hometown pride with Viktoria in Austria, and danced with Harry Belafonte in Barbados. We have also cooked our way through the wildfires in Australia, the tornado in Nashville and the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

Clockwise from top left: Santiago Pork Roast; Fondue Bruxelloise;Sauerkraut Soup; Queen Mother’s Cake; Ceylon Curry; Viennese Chicken

There have been movie and book recommendations, a vintage playlist to set the cooking mood and a craft project designed to spark good memories. Together we have celebrated lunch time, cocktail time, dinner time and dessert time.

Clockwise from top left: We toured Austria with Viktoria; read The Hundred Year Walk in Armenia; discussed the history of Fondue in Belgium; discovered new old art in Brazil; danced to Calypso music in Barbados and met the Queen who inspired a cake in Australia

We’ve made food for cold weather, for hot weather, for mountaintop vistas and seaside beaches. We’ve fried and flipped, boiled and baked. It’s been action packed these past three months for sure.  The world is definietly not the same place that it was in Week 1, but I hope the Recipe Tour has been as fun and delicious for you as it has been for me.

Clockwise from top left: We saw the Comfort Tree in Canada; watched Liz Taylor light up the big screen in Ceylon, made floating paper lanterns in China, decorated Easter eggs in Czechoslovakia, discovered the effects of color therapy in Colombia; and learned all about tropical fruit from a Cuban farmer.

This week we’ll be exploring another beef based recipe, Czechoslovakian Sauerkraut Soup, a healthy comfort food that is not only great for balancing your digestive system but also adds a healthy dose of color and Springtime flavor to your table.

Czechoslovakian-style Sauerkraut Soup

On the cultural side, we are back in the craft studio, this time decorating Easter eggs in age-old Czechoslovakian fashion. Like the Chinese floating paper lantern project, this heritage craft is also laden with symbolism and positivity to help keep our spirits and our spaces filled with hope.

This time, we’ll start with the soup first, since it is a slow cooker of a recipe.  Requiring about 3 hours of cooking time and 20 minutes of vegetable prep, this so far was the easiest of the dishes to make in the Tour. Basically hands off (with the exception of the initial vegetable prep), the oven and the soup pot do all of the work here, leaving you free to do something fun (like Easter egg decorating!) while it cooks.

Featuring the humble, hearty cabbage (a fridge staple that stores easily for two weeks or longer) and quick roasted beef bones (a freezer staple that stores for months), this recipe is quarantine friendly, feeds a crowd and freezes beautifully. A better, more flavorful version of vegetable soup, thanks to the tangy addition of sauerkraut and earthy bone both, it is both a comfort food and a healthy powerhouse loaded with immune boosting vitamins and minerals.

Czechoslovakian cuisine, like Armenian food, was highly influenced and inspired by its nearby neighbors Germany, Poland, Austria and France, all of whom lent their culinary flair to Czech kitchens throughout history.  Predominately fans of an animal-based diet, the traditional Czechoslovakian home cook strived to master a dynamic range of rich flavors by combining starchy foods with a variety of vegetables and meat. Their cooler climate called for more durable produce and cold weather crops like winter greens, cabbages, carrots, onions, squash and potatoes.  The kinds of food that keep you feeling warm and fed on a cold winter day.

One of the challenges I encountered this week in the ingredient sourcing, was the beef bones and the short-ribs. Normally, I prefer to cook with grass-fed beef, which I usually purchase at the farmers market. Since the market is closed for the time being due to the pandemic,  it turned into a little adventure around town to see which grocery store would offer an equivalent. The first grocery carried no grass-fed beef. The second only offered grass-fed ground beef. The third store, finally was the ticket. In case you are struggling with this same scenario in your town, I am happy to share that Whole Foods carries  a variety of fresh grass-fed beef cuts. There, I was able to find the short ribs and the beef bones all in one spot.

The  most interesting twist on this recipe was the inclusion of both pickled sauerkraut and fresh cabbage. Sauerkraut is a centuries old food, first appearing on menus in the 1600’s, but this recipe makes it taste fresh, vibrant and modern. Hearty without being heavy, this soup is a delicious choice for springtime weather that yields warmer days but cooler nights. Pair it with slices of whole grain bread and butter or toast points and you have simple fare made from fridge, freezer and pantry staples.

Sauerkraut Soup

(Serves 8-10)

2 lbs short ribs of beef

2 lbs. beef bones

1 cup chopped onion

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 quarts water

2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes (one 20 oz. can)

8 cups shredded cabbage

Salt 7 freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons sugar

1 lb. sauerkraut, squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the short ribs, beef bones, onion, carrots, thyme, garlic and bay leaf in a roasting pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes until the meat is brown.

Transfer the mixture to a large soup pot. Add a little bit of water to the roasting pan to dissolve the caramelized pieces and then pour the pan juices and contents into the pot. Add the remaining water, tomatoes, cabbage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Skim the fat from the top. Simmer for one and one half hours. Add the lemon juice, sugar, sauerkraut, and more water if necessary. Cook for one hour longer. Serve with sour cream.

With Easter less than two weeks away, I thought it would be fun to pair this post with a craft that Czechoslovakians are famous for… decorative Easter eggs. Also known as symbols of rebirth and new life, eggs are a good way to add a comforting sign of hope to your home.

Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, this is a fun seasonal project that you can keep year-round if you blow the eggs out before decorating them. Heavy in symbolism, these delicate eggs contain all sorts of hidden meanings in their design and color arrangements.  According to Czech culture, green symbolizes nature and growth and is believed to offer protection from illness. So I chose that color scheme as a way to visually fight back against the coronavirus.

Traditionally, Czechoslovakian artisans used beeswax pens, etching needles or straw to make designs on their eggs before dipping them in naturally colored dyes. I used a pencil and markers to draw my designs since I didn’t have a beeswax pen.

I also reverse dyed my eggs (taking them from brown to white) using a 1 cup to 1 cup vinegar and boiling water solution. The eggs boils for 20 minutes in this vinegar bath and then, once rinsed under cold water they can be fully wiped clean of their brown color. Here’s what one egg looks like halfway through the 20 minute boil…

Traditionally in Czechoslovakia, red was the most popular color egg, because it was the easiest color dye to make (thanks to berries and beets!) and represented beauty, health love and vitality.

Over time and many experiments, a rainbow of colors added their own special sentiment. Yellow symbolized good fortune since it was the color of grain. Blue represented heaven, white equaled purity and black symbolized ceremony.

Regarded as a highly skilled art form known as Kraslice (meaning embellished egg), Czech-style egg design takes years of practice, patience  and a steady hand to master. Many are still hand-painted today but some are mass produced as well to meet demand in the global marketplace. Designs range from simple sprigs of flowers or branches to highly ornate patterns, detailed animals and interlocking shapes.

Examples of different designs and colors. Photo courtesy of the Association of Painters of the Czech Republic.

Most Czech egg designs feature balanced imagery that is has been laid out in grid fashion beginning with a horizontal line and a vertical line that intersects in the middle of each egg like a cross.

They look complicated but once you start sketching them out, they are actually fairly easy to replicate. Here are some templates designs to follow or to help inspire your creativity…

Last year I painted Easter eggs with gold metallic paint. This year, I am adding to that collection with the new Czechoslovakian designed eggs. It will be fun to see what next year’s designs will bring and to watch this collection grow year after year!

The gold and white eggs were last year’s Easter craft project. Now the Czechoslovakian style eggs will be added to the collection this year.

Cheers to Czechoslovakia for adding two new comforts to our kitchen in the form of soup and eggs! Hope this post keeps your belly full and your creativity fed this week:)

Join me next week for Week 13 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, as we make our way 2,800 miles south from the Czech Republic to Dahomey, our third country in the Tour that has been renamed due to changing history. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and eat your soup:)

An Interview of Botanical Interests in Cooking and Cuba By Way of Miami

Now that the days are getting longer and the temperatures warmer, it seems like everyone’s fingers are itchy for a little bit of gardening these days. This week, I’m happy to present a special botanical post to satisfy all the green thumbs out there.  In the kitchen, our around-the-world culinary escapades take us to Cuba, where we are making Santiago Pork Roast, a slow food recipe that takes two days to prepare from start to finish.

And in this post, you’ll also meet one of our blog readers, Jorge J. Zaldivar, a Cuban-American farmer who is dedicated to preserving Florida’s horticultural history in Miami via food and fruit. Welcome to Week 11 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

That’s Jorge on the left and Chef Daniel Boulud on the right!

There are quite a few readers of the blog who live in Florida and enjoy gardening and adventuring around their state. I’m hoping this post in particular will offer some new insight into their favorite hobbies. Jorge is a font of knowledge when it comes to botanicals and is anxious to share all that he has learned in regards to horticulture, cooking and connecting with others in this tropical landscape.

In addition to being involved in the farming of heirloom guava varieties, Jorge is deeply connected to promoting the tropical fruit community of South Florida in so many interesting facets. He operates PG Tropicals (creators of locally sourced artisanal products including tropical fruit jams and jellies), writes a food blog called Sub-Tropic Cookery which features the recipes and botanical adventures of vintage cookbook author Alex D. Hawkes (1927-1977), and previously sat on the board of the Rare Fruit Council International (RFCI) headquartered in Miami and the South Florida Palm Society (SFPS). I caught up with him to discuss his Cuban heritage, his passion for plants and his inherent interest in food history. He also recommends some of his most favorite places to visit in Miami and shares a few Cuban themed eateries in his town that all newcomers to South Florida must check out. Let’s see where he takes us…

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Jorge J. Zaldivar, I was born in Miami, Florida to two parents from Cuba’s Oriente province. Cuba had six provinces prior to the communist regime reapportioning and dividing everything. My mother’s side is from Manzanillo, the birthplace of el Son, one of the island’s most important musical genres.

A vintage map of Cuba circa 1947
No other country has originated a greater number of musical styles and genres than Cuba, this is due to the melange of interesting cultures, particularly African and their rhythms. My father’s side is from Banes, Cuba where the U.S. Airforce U-2 airplane was shot down in 1962. I currently live in Miami-Dade County and travel between home and the farm which is just North of the Florida Keys in Homestead’s Redland.
Redland, located at the entrance to the Everglades is South Florida’s farm country. It’s known for its red clay soil and unique agricultural products that do not grow anywhere else in the United States. Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar
Tell us a little bit about your Recipes Lost blog. What inspired it and what attracted you to the culinary explorations of Alex Hawkes?

While collecting cookbooks and hunting for Caribbean recipes, not only did I discover Time Life’s Foods of the WorldThe New York Times Int’l. Cookbook and various other titles, I found Alex D. Hawkes’, A World of Vegetable Cookery (1968). I noticed in the flap that Hawkes was from Coconut Grove, my very same zip code in fact. I made it my mission to learn about his story which has resulted in researching and writing his biography which is laden with stories and recipes from my hometown, many botanically inclined and filled with wonderful anecdotes.

American botanist and cookbook author Alex Hawkes (1927-1977) worked extensively throughout his life in the study of tropical horticulture including that of orchids, palm trees and bromeliads. He also traveled frequently around the Caribbean islands collecting authentic recipes. Photo courtesy of Sub-tropic Cookery.

His other titles are highly recommended such as his books on Rum (1972), Shrimp (1966), Caribbean and Latin America flavors (1977) and his coveted South Florida Cookery (1964). The Sub-Tropic Cookery blog was my dedication to Alex D. Hawkes and some of his recipes, this was done via my Recipes Lost project.

As a fellow Craig Claiborne fan, what do you like about his recipes and/or his approach to cooking?

Craig Claiborne (1920-2000) – longtime Food Editor at the New York Times and the inspiration behind the International Vintage Recipe Tour

As a cookbook collector the goal was to try and put a finger on this guy with loads of books and a New York Times column. Hawkes is more of my personal Claiborne but the two did meet and speak for an interview. He was mentioned in Craig Claiborne’s: A Feast Made for Laughter.

the-new-york-times-international-cook-book
The vintage 1971 cookbook that launched the International Vintage Recipe Tour.

In the end what I like most is how important the NYT Cookbook became. Of all his books the NYT Int’l Cook Book is my favorite aside from the work he did with Pierre Franey for Time Life’s Foods of the World. I have not pursued their books together as much as I should have. There’s always time for 60-Minute Gourmet and the many evolving themes of cookery.

It’s wonderfully fascinating that you are a part of the Rare Fruit Council International in Miami. How you are involved there? How did your interest in rare fruit come about?

I have served on the Board of the Rare Fruit Council Int’l. (RFCI) in Miami. As I began studying our history I fell in love with the story and am getting documents ready to formalize an archive for the Council. By becoming the official Historian it will allow members to notice that these documents are not just historical and sitting here. I intend to help spread awareness of the RFCI’s efforts to promote rare tropical fruits in this region and to put all this wonderful information to good use again.

I discovered the RFCI when I found their famous Tropical Fruit Cookbook, the rest is history. I am also the 2020 President of the South Florida Palm Society (SFPS) and Member of the Tropical Fruit & Vegetable Society of Redland (TFVSR) at the Fruit & Spice Park.

Tell us a little bit about PG Tropicals. Do you make all the preserves yourself? What inspires you about it? 

PG Tropicals is the partner that purveys fruit from Guavonia Guava Grove in Homestead’s Redland Agricultural Area. All of the preserves are made in small batches, generally to order which are purveyed to a portfolio of dedicated chefs and artisans committed to the same ideals I believe in. As we say “Keeping it local”, which comes with other benefits such as lowering our carbon footprints and positively affecting our community.

PG Tropicals’ platter of sliced fresh guava and Redland Guava marmalade

What is your most favorite tropical fruit and why?

This is as difficult as the infamous “What’s your favorite mango?” question. The reason I neglect answering this question is because the seasonality of fruit allows most divine fruits to shine at the proper time of the year. It’s just perfect in design right? Just imagine, it’s the peak of winter and you have had a great year sampling plenty of longan, lychee, sugar apple, guanabana, mamey, abiu, and plenty more to boot.

Tropical fruit display at Redland’s Fruit & Spice Park

When you haven’t tasted mango for some months and you find a bag in the deep freeze, victory. When your taste buds catch a glimpse of that flavor and your mouth lights up that’s when you notice how special each fruit is, and how mango although not the best, is certainly in a class of its own when you experience that taste again. I find it difficult to choose just one. I am also fascinated at how the fruit is seasonal, not all plants are ever bearing. It shows us some patience.

Did you study botany/agriculture in school or did you explore these fields of interest on your own?

I studied Elementary Education at Florida International University, I also DJed on the student radio station and had a quite successful classic 1970s disco / dance radio program. I am lucky to have grown up in a family that always had plants everywhere, whether the nursery they operated pre-Hurricane Andrew (1992), and our yards.

Under the palm trees in Miami, FL. Photo by Matthew Hamilton.
My grandfather left us a considerable number of palms and curious fruit trees. My father loves to grow plantains, sugar cane and citrus. His brother ventured more towards the ethnobotanical route filling in all the loose ends with medicinal plants and herbs in addition to various fruit crops such as mamey, avocado, Bixa (annatto), mango, guava, guanabana, canistel, mammee apple and many more worth exploring and enjoying. In Cuba, my family lost various acres of land which was originally given to my great grandfather for fighting in the war of independence against Spain. As my father has told me, “From here to the end of the block and much more.”

Would you ever consider moving to Cuba? 

I wouldn’t consider moving somewhere that is simply 90 miles, and a boat ride away from lunch or supper. More Americans lived in Cuba pre Castro, or pre revolution as we say. This is known because of the major interests and financial investments U.S. corporations had on their neighboring island. I would not choose to reside in Cuba until they hold democratic elections and acknowledge the nationalization of property that occurred. It is the largest mishandling and misappropriation of U.S. assets in history. As an American I cannot let that go unnoticed. It’s hard to be on one side of the Atlantic Ocean, is what I am trying to say.

How does your Cuban heritage influence your cooking?

I always wonder if Chinese people or other cultures around the world explore “international” food as much as we do here in the United States. What I am trying to describe is that I find it very humbling to imagine that aforementioned Chinese example, cooking traditional food and fare in China, without the need or desire to explore other cuisines. This is what I consider humbling, because these people may not know anything else, yet here in the U.S. where options are plentiful, I along with other cooks are simply trying to emulate the flavors that encapsulates these humble Chinese cooks and many other cultures around the globe.

I am enamored by finding my own Cuban flavor and trying to get it just right, in the eyes of my grandmother and those that have perfected these recipes for us to say, “that tastes Cuban.”I strive for perfecting the flavors of Cuba to ensure that our heritage is not offset by a few distasteful events in our island’s history. 

Photo by Tijana Drndarski

Who first taught you how to cook?

I learned to prepare Pan con Ajo aka Garlic Toast by mashing garlic with a pestle, then olive oil and salt is added to the mortar. This is to be slathered on Cuban bread, which is then optimally toasted. This is the teachings of my parents and grandmother. I recall my abuela’s / grandmother’s first apartment in Miami Beach prior to the cultural wave that took over and transformed it into that hyper busy city it is today. I recall sitting on the counter with her learning to peel garlic.

Tell us a little bit about life in Miami. If one of our readers was to visit the city for the first time, what five places would you recommend that they visit first?

1. Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead’s Redland, Miami’s bucolic countryside to visit the only botanical park in the United States that showcases several hundred species of rare tropical fruits that grow nowhere else in the continental United States. Please say Redland to appease the locals, as Redlands is a city in California! 

Fruit & Spice Park is situated on 37 acres and boasts over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts as well as plant specimens from around the world.

2. Los Pinareños Fruit Stand who has been open for business in Little Havana’s Calle Ocho (8th St.) for over 40 years. Situated directly adjacent to the eternal burning flame dedicated to the Cuban Bay of Pigs 2506 Brigade, on Cuban Memorial Boulevard & Memorial. The proprietors are from Pinar del Rio in Cuba hence the name “Pinareños”. A region famous for their Guayabita del Pinar rum made with guavas, among other things. 

Los Pinarenos. Photo courtesy of progresoweekly.us. Read more about this history of this fascinating market and fruteria here. 

3. Azucar Cuban Ice Cream Co. Since you are already on Calle Ocho (8th St.) drop by Domino Park across the street and get some of Miami’s freshest and most unique flavors of freshly made ice cream.

Azucar Ice Cream Shop. Photo by Sarthak Navjivan

4. The Kampong in Coconut Grove, is open by appointment only. This is the home of Dr. David Fairchild. The foremost food explorer that changed that American palate more than any other individual in modern history.

Facing Biscayne Bay at Dr. Fairchild’s Kampong. Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar
Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar

His thousands of plant introductions not only gave Washington D.C. their famous cherry blossoms, but our plates are indebted to his introduction of broccoli, soybeans and countless other staples the American diet simply couldn’t live without. (Drop by Ariete nearby or Chug’s Diner for some Cuban snacks.) 

American botanist, photographer and author Dr. David Fairchild (1869-1964)introduced over 200,000 exotic plants to the United States as well significant agriculture crops to our modern diets including kale, quinoa and avocados.

5. HistoryMiami Museum is certainly worth the visit in Downtown Miami. Go here before everything else, even though it’s last on the list! So it helps you understand the city you are about to explore.

HistoryMiami is Florida’s largest history museum in the state.

Also check out Edible South Florida for the most updated and relevant info to South Florida. They are the only FREE local print magazine available. I am their Goodwill Ambassador and highly recommend scouting out a copy while in town.

For new tropical home gardeners, what three trees, flowers or plants would you most recommend for their gardens?

Carica papaya
Psidium guajava

Plinia jaboticaba

From left to right: Papaya plant (Carica papaya), Guava tree (Psidium guajava), Brazilian tree grape (Plinia jaboticaba)

What is one tropical fruit everyone should know about or experiment with in the kitchen?

The most overlooked fruit by far is fruta bomba, papaya. Botanically Carica papayais one of the fastest growing plants in the tropics. It’s not a tree, just like bananas, which are botanically speaking herbaceous plants. Papaya, aside from being one of the healthiest and best things you can eat, is so versatile that a separate homage is needed.

Antique botanical illustration of Carica papaya by Berthe Hoola van Nooten circa 1863
The leaves can be used for a tea and eaten after being boiled. The seeds add a piquant taste to a salad dressing. The pulp can be made into juice and smoothies. Baked into a delicious Eve’s Pudding or pie. Papain, meat tenderizer is derived from this wonderful plant. Improved cultivars exist in various colors of gold and orange. The fruit is nutrient dense with antioxidants, among the best things one can eat. The ability to use it raw as a vegetable, pickled or in soups is also a fact that makes this much overlooked fruit truly utilitarian.
 

It’s available in most ethnic markets and should certainly be approached by more people in the United States with access to quality fruit. The imported or Florida grown varieties are excellent. A word of note in Cuba many regions call this fruit, fruta bomba (bomb fruit) because the word papaya is actually a vulgar term for female genitalia in some parts of the island. When you cut one open you’ll figure it out. Nonetheless do not fret because botanically the species of the Carica genus is papaya.

Although some people are reluctant to buy papaya because of the smell, it’s a must to try it. This recipe is the most accessible, and the lemon helps mellow it out. This “breakfast papaya” is from none other than Dr. David Fairchild’s files, which we have Alex D. Hawkes to thank. 

If you could only grow one fruit for the rest of your life, which would you select and why?

I cannot answer this question easily. I guess if it had to be my entire life I would choose coconuts, the fruits of the Cocos nucifera palm. That way I can die drinking coconut water. Didn’t think that was coming right?

Coconut Tree. Photo by Kilarov Zaneit.

If you could invite 5 famous people from history, living or dead, to dinner at your house who would you invite?

As silly as this would turn out and the criticism may turn out to be a blunder I would invite for the purpose of my personal story…

The dream dinner party! Clock-wise from top left: Dr. David Fairchild; Ann Seranne and Eileen Gaden; Alex D. Hawkes; William “Bill” Whitman; and Richard D. James.
1. Alex D. Hawkes
2. Dr. David F. Fairchild
3. William F. Whitman
4. Ann Seranne & Eileen Gaden (I know it’s two people but they are a team!) Eileen was the original Food “Blogger” Instagrammer IMO. 

5. Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) maybe he would DJ

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti

 What are two goals you hope to accomplish this year?

I want to continue expanding my rare plant collection, mainly grown from seeds. I also want to take every opportunity I can to lower my carbon footprint in everything I do. Composting, traveling, wastefulness, conserving resources, water management and many more ways to positively impact the planet. 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez

One thing that I really admire about Jorge is his passionate commitment to understand all aspects of tropical fruit trees and plants, from studying to growing to eating.  Horticulture is such a slow, steady, scientific  pursuit that requires much patience, time and thoughtfulness in order to achieve successful long-term results. It is inspiring to see the ways in which he is bringing information learned from past botanists and recipe collectors forward into the light of our modern day landscape.

Like the growth of a fruit tree, our recipe also requires a bit of time and patience in order to be successful. With just a few basic ingredients, it’s simple to prepare but does require 15 hours from start to finish. Most of the time is spent in marinating (12 hours) in the fridge and then roasting (3-3 1/2 hours) in the oven, so it leaves plenty of opportunity to do other stuff in your life while waiting for dinner to be ready. Maybe in that time, you can start planting the seeds of your own tropical garden:)

The recipe calls for a large roast 6-7 lbs., but you can also easily cut all the ingredients in half, and make a smaller 3lb version if you aren’t feeding as many people during these days of quarantine. Like Thanksgiving turkey, this makes a wonderfully delicious dinner that has all sorts of potential and possibilities when it comes to serving. I’ll talk about that in a minute, but first here’s the recipe, so that you can get to marinating already.

Santiago Pork Roast (serves 8-10)

1 loin of pork (6-7 lbs)
1 large onion, thinly sliced in rings
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic finely minced

Place the pork loin in a roasting pan or  glass dish and scatter the onion rings over it. Combine the remaining ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour this over the meat and cover with plastic wrap (Note:  you can also transfer all the ingredients into a plastic Ziploc bag and marinate it that way, which is what I did). Refrigerate 12 hours or so, turning the meat once in while.

After 12 hours, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the meat from the plastic Ziploc bag (if using) and place in a glass dish or roasting pan.

Bake, basting frequently about 3 and 1/2 hours or until the meat is thoroughly cooked.

(Note: if you are using a smaller cut of meat, you won’t need to bake the roast that long. The general rule of thumb when it comes to pork at this temperature is 20 minutes of cooking time per lb. When it is ready, the internal temperature will read 145 degrees.)

Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Filled with flavor notes of lime, ginger and garlic, this roast turned out to be wonderfully delicious. The caramelized sugar adds a bit of sweetness to the roasting juices, which makes its own rich sauce for drizzling. The onions, had an unexpected crunch to them and a sweet tangy taste that reminded me a little of pickled vegetables.

Traditional Cuban serving companions with Santiago Pork Roast are black beans and fried plantains. You could also serve it alongside rice, another staple in the Cuban diet. I wound up making sandwiches. Served on rolls, each one was layered with thinly sliced pork, mixed salad greens, mayonnaise, a drizzle of the juice from the pan and a pile of the roasted onions. It was delicious, I forgot to take a photo of them:) If you didn’t want to use rolls, bread works also – ideally, it would be a loaf of Cuban bread. Perhaps you could even follow in Jorge’s footsteps, and make garlic toast, just the way he made it with his grandmother.  Possibilities abound. Culinary creativity awaits! Cuban style pork roast is open to everyone’s interpretations.

A big cheers to Jorge for sharing his slice of tropical paradise with us. Cheers to all the agricultural accomplishments of the botanical gardeners that settled the Sunshine state and made it beautiful. And cheers to vintage Cuba for providing us with a new favorite roast recipe!

To keep up with Jorge, find him on Instagram, Twitter and his blog.

Next week, we’ll officially be one forth of the way through our Recipe Tour, as we hit the three month mark! Join us for Week 12, next Wednesday when we visit Czechoslovakia via the kitchen! In the meantime, keep your chin up and stay healthy please.

Color Therapy in Cooking and Colombia

The rainbow shades of Bogata, Colombia.

Crimson, ochre, emerald, fuschia, celadon, aubergine, tangerine – those are just a few of the everyday shades that radiate from the country most often recognized as hosting the happiest residents on Earth. Welcome to Week 10 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

This week we are in Colombia via the kitchen to make a bountiful one pot comfort meal bursting with vibrant vegetables, spices and herbs.  We’ll also be discussing color therapy in relation to cooking and how it can instantly lift your spirit and help calm your anxiety. Two factors that seem especially important these days when it comes to navigating quarantine, the coronavirus and the current state of our world.

All of the images in this week’s post (except the recipe-related ones) were taken by photographers in Colombia, each capturing the jubilant atmosphere of a country caught up in color. Get ready to be dazzled dear kitcheners. Joyful images of bright beauty await. Welcome to life inside a rainbow. Welcome to Colombia…

The Colombian flag flying high in Bogata. Photograph by Flavia Carpia
Parrots of Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia
The verdant mountains of Salento, Colombia. Photograph by Christian Rodriguez
Shopping in Colombia captures all your attention. Photograph by Michael Baron

As you can see, it’s pretty difficult to talk about Colombia and not talk about hues bright and bold. Everything from their buildings to their birds to their landscapes to their food burst with  colors impossible to ignore.

Cartegena,Colombia. Photograph by Ricardo Gomez Angel.
Colombia is home to 4,000 thousand varieties of orchids. It is even their national flower. Photo by Steve Seck

There are lots of theories that float around about why Colombia in particular, a country that has known poverty, hardship, and crime for most of the past two centuries, continues to remain recognized for glee and good nature.

Flowers float and fall everywhere. This is someone’s front door in Bolivar, Colombia. Photograph by Regina Anaejionu

 

Colorful birds zip around the skies. Photograph by Andres Herrera.
Even a morning cup of coffee starts with a shade of sunshine. Photograph taken at a cafe in Bogata, Colombia by Dan Gold.
Cano Crisrales – known as the most colorful river in the world due to an array of multi-colored seasonal algae blossoms is located in the Macarena Mountain Range in Meta, Colombia

Some speculate that it’s because of its incredible biodiversity, or the fact that bicycling is the king of all roads and exercise, or that personal relationships are the most valued treasure. Others say that it is more psychological.

Where the flamingos meet. Parque Natural Los Flamenco in Camarones, Colombia.

In general, the simple joys of life in Colombia are revered – socializing, storytelling, dancing, laughing, cooking, eating, spending time together. In Colombia, senior citizens are considered the loudest voices, change is constant, attitudes are relaxed and expectations are low. All of these qualities yield more content behavior and a fuller appreciation of things that Colombians do have instead of things they don’t have. There is also carnival. Consistent year-round reminders to celebrate and extol their unique cultural heritage might just be one reason, the reason, why Colombians may be happier than most nationalities. Every month of the year in Colombia you can find at least a handful of festivals somewhere within the country each celebrating a wide variety of things – folklore, religion, history, etc. In total, Colombia hosts over 120 festivals a year, which basically boils down to a party every three days.

Every day is a good day to fly a pennant flag in Colombia! Photograph by Jorge Gardener

I like to think that it has something to do with Colombia’s food culture too. In addition, to happy spirits, Colombia is home to happy habitats for an immense range of plants and animals (close to 60,000 species). Being the second most biodiverse country in the world means having easy (or at least easier) access to a wide variety of naturally fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, shapes and consistencies.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

In Colombia you can find it all – forests, seasides, wetlands, mountains, flat lands, big cities, small towns, deserts, lakes, rivers, streams, remote outposts and everything in between. This is important for variety and interest when it comes to diet. Boredom is the number one killer of a good appetite, but when you are lucky enough to live in a place where such culinary abundance abounds, then naturally your day will be more enticing just based solely on the food you have available to feed your family, your friends and yourself.

Colombian corn. Photograph by Frank Merino.
Roadside cafe amidst color and character. Photograph by Frank Mercado.

The Colombian diet varies between regions but most commonly consists of a medley of rice, corn, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, beans, grains, dairy, fruit, coffee and chocolate. This week we are making Colombian Beef Stew, the most colorful dish of the Recipe Tour so far.

Colombian Beef Stew circa 1971

I’ve always thought of beef stew as a brown, lumpy semi-soup, a conglomeration that contains hours of cooked meat and soggy vegetables and bland, basic flavors. This is not the case of stew in Colombia. Based on the photos of the country peppered throughout this post should we be surprised that Colombian Beef Stew is a kaleidoscope of color too?

You’ll notice that this recipe includes traditional hallmarks of beef stew – meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions but it differs in the way it is cooked and offers some interesting ingredients that yield a wonderful array of complimentary flavors.  I loved it for its non-brown broth, dynamic appearance, and its inclusion of whole corn cobs. It also contains an interesting wheel of precise spice, which I found intriguing… 6 peppercorns (not 5, not 7!), one garlic clove halved (not minced nor crushed), dried oregano as opposed to fresh and cider vinegar (a third acid  – on top of tomatoes and onions).

Admittedly, it started out as one of those recipes I didn’t really have high hopes for based on my predilection for not really liking beef stew to begin with. Also, it called for whole ears of corn. Something I have never bought 1) in the grocery store or 2) in the middle of March. This recipe showed me what a corn evader I’ve been all these years. The farmers market in the middle of hot, humid, high summer is the only time I’ve ever purchased ears of corn, assuming that local, like tomatoes, would far surpass anything available from the trucked in variety at the grocery store.  This recipe made me reconsider all that. The corn was wonderful and just as comparable in taste as a mid-summer crop.

Most importantly though, I loved this recipe for its vivid arrangement. The days as of late have been grey and rainy around here, as if Lady Nature was just as forlorn about all the recent world events. But in the kitchen, in the stew pot, in this recipe, my senses delighted. There was the bright red of the grass-fed beef, the flamboyant orange of the carrots, the vivacity of the celery greens. The saffron bled a watery shade of marigold when mixed with water, the cumin smelled of wood smoke, and the sight of the tomato red cook pot itself  – an inheritance from my dear dad’s collection – brought instant joy. All of this is most revealing in a myriad of subtle ways.

Color works magic on our bodies whether we recognize it or not. Thanks to neurons, electromagnetic energy, pulsating frequencies, and the subconscious way in which we process information, our response to color when it comes to cooking and food is both revealing, comforting, therapeutic and ever changing.

It’s the reason why in times of stress or struggle we crave foods that are yellow, red or brown (think macaroni and cheese, red lentils, lasagna, beans or burgers). They are the comforting caretaker colors. Brown nurtures the spirit, red gives us energy and yellow offers optimism. All things your body inherently craves and needs in order to overcome sadness, depression, trauma or lack of control.  Blue foods are calming and signal self-care. Green foods signal health, vitality, and creativity while orange foods trigger happiness.

So while I was throwing carrots, celery, stew meat, cumin, saffron, corn and peas into a pot I was also adding comfort, energy, optimism, vitality and happiness to the mix. No wonder I loved this recipe so much! This sounds like a pretty good way to inherently fight back against the coronavirus, and the day to day uncertainty of navigating an international crisis while recovering from the effects of a tornado.

It also makes sense reagrding Colombia and why it radiates with joy. All their color balances all their emotions. Their bright and bold palettes soothe and comfort and excite and calm. Their colorful culture invokes passion and positivity.  It enchants and exhilarates. Happiness begets happiness. Color brings joy. Whether you are talking about a banana, a building, a bed of flowers or a beef stew:)

If things seem insurmountably bleak these days, I recommend pulling out the biggest cooking pot you have and filling it with some Colombian Beef Stew. It may not be the answer to everything, but it is a start to feeling better. Sometimes all we need to get us through is just a splash of color.

Colombian Beef and Vegetable Stew (Cocido Bogotano)

(Serves 6-8)

2 lbs boneless lean beef stew meat, cut into 1.5 inch cubes (I used grass-fed beef)

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

6 peppercorns

1 clove garlic, halved

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups plus 1 teaspoon cold water

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 ribs celery, sliced

4 ears of corn, shucked and cut into 2 inch lengths

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup diced tomato ( I used canned since it’s not tomato season quite yet!)

1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (Special Note: So far, I’ve found that Trader Joe’s is the best place to find this at the most reasonable price)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

Place the meat in a saucepan with the bay leaf, cumin, peppercorns, garlic, vinegar, salt and three cups water.

Cover and cook slowly for one hour, until the meat is almost tender.

Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, corn, onion and tomato.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Dissolve the saffron in one teaspoon water and add to stew, along with the oregano and peas. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are done. Serve in bowls accompanied with slices of rustic bread and garnished with celery leaves.

Cheers to Colombia for providing a much needed dose of color and joy to our lives this week and to the humble stew pot for managing to be both a homecooker and a therapist all in one!

Join us next Wednesday for Week 11 when we head to Cuba where we get wrapped up in the world of slow roasting and botanicals. In the meantime, take care of your yourself and your spirit.

Hungry Ghosts, Floating Lights, Chinese Fishes: Symbolism and Life in a Tornado

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says don’t curse the darkness – light a candle. I had no idea how appropriate that quote would come to be when I began pulling the threads together for the 9th week of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. If life had gone according to plan, this post should have gone out on Wednesday, March 4th. Our 10th country in the Recipe Tour would have been published four days ago, and I would’ve, as of today, been cooking and photographing the recipe for Week 11’s culinary destination.  Unfortunately, Lady Nature had other plans.

If you are just catching up on events of the past couple of weeks, shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning, March 3rd, a tornado blew through town and in three short minutes spun my city neighborhood around. These are some photos I took just after sunrise on the morning of the storm…

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is its mix of modern apartment buildings, historic cottages and pocket-sized parks. All of my loves are within walking distance… the farmers market, the grocery store, the fish market, the library, the garden center, the waterfront, the history museum, not to mention fun shops and a unique collection of wonderful restaurants.

Fantastically walkable, it is entirely possible to live car-free here and still have all your daily needs met. It’s quiet during the week, lively on the weekends and just a 15 minute walk to Music City night-life and all sorts of cultural activities. There’s a fox that lives near the yoga studio, plenty of squirrels to keep the pup entertained on her daily walks and so many blooming trees that it snows with flower petals every Spring.

A great mix of young blending with old as far as architecture, demographics and ideas, it’s a hot spot for food enthusiasts and bar hoppers and a proving ground for new concepts and good ideas. It is one of those neighborhoods that used to be industrial, but now is referred to as trendy, up and coming, and re-energized. To me and my husband, it is home, it is work and it is wonderful.

The day before the tornado, I was at the art store buying specialty papers for a craft project for Week 9 of the Cooking Tour.  It had taken almost the entire week prior to figure out an appropriate cultural tie-in to that week’s featured destination – China.

I wanted to write about something that focused on the beauty of the country and the culture, a topic that easily gets overlooked these days now that the coronavirus has captured everyone’s attention.  After days of searching and muddling all this over, inspiration finally came in the form of a folded paper project.

In the month of September in China, there is a celebration called the Hungry Ghost Festival. Similar to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, it is a celebration of family members who have passed away. Places are set at the table, complete with food offerings and empty seats, to acknowledge the presence of these past lives and the impact they had upon the family.  One of the components of the festival includes making and releasing floating paper lanterns on the water. These floating papers, each carrying a small candle, act as a directional signal for lost souls. The lighted paper lanterns help guide their way. When the candle burns out after the lanterns have been set afloat, it signifies that the lost spirit is no longer in need of direction. It has found its way home.

As soon as the tornado touched down, our power went out. Most of the neighborhood was sleeping at the time the storm occurred but woke up to one of three experiences – 1) their roof was blown off 2) all the glass in all their windows were shattered and blown, not out, but into their living space or 3) terrific gusts of wind could be heard rattling around outside. My experience was the third one – lots of wind, no broken glass, roof still intact. That night, the temperature had been warm enough to sleep with the windows open. It was also the night, Liz Lemon and Grace the Grapefruit spent their first time since last summer overnight outdoors on the balcony.

When I heard the high winds, I woke up to my pup sitting in the bathtub and discovered that the power had gone out. I didn’t know about a tornado. I didn’t know that a block away, buildings were falling down and people were scrambling to safety in their pajamas. I just heard the wind, much like in a hurricane, and thought simply that it might too strong for my plants outside. That’s how weird a tornado can be.  By some stroke of sheer luck, the tornado hit one block away. It left my street relatively unharmed except for scattered debris and power and internet outages. Two, three and four blocks away from my building was an entirely different story.

Shaken, saddened and shocked, my husband and I spent the morning in touch with family and friends, trying to make sense of everything. Immediately we were thrown back into feelings of life post 9/11 in New York City – a time when tragedy and sorrow hung around us like a heavy blanket for almost a year.  Just like 9/11, destruction was all around us. It was our environment. It was our view. It was where we lived. And now here we were again, experiencing a similar devastation.

The weather was beautiful the entire week following the storm – sunny, in the mid-60’s, and blooming. Spring had sprung in the neighborhood and the birds were excited to sing about it. Living without power and internet access for a week, in a disaster zone, while nature carried on in such a pretty way, was surreal and jarring to the senses.  On one hand there was so much destruction and on the other there were daffodils that danced in the breeze.

One of the things that helped distract from the scariness of the scene in front of me was the building of the paper lantern and all that it symbolized. The lantern, which gets folded and shaped into a lotus flower, only took less then 30 minutes to make but everything that it stood for carried me the whole entire week. For four nights we walked around by candlelight and flashlight until the power finally came back on on day five. Each day, I imagined that each flame and each beam of light was like a Chinese lantern floating on the water, guiding us in the dark towards something bright. It was a comforting reminder that it was okay to feel a little bit lost. That eventually we would find our way home again.

It’s been almost two weeks since the storm, and already our neighborhood is on the mend. Some of the buildings have been condemned and will be torn down, some of the restaurants are closed with hopes of reopening soon, and a good batch of broken windows have been boarded up. It’s not the same neighborhood as it was a month ago, but spirits are resilient around this place and I can only hope it will be a even better place to live and work sometime soon.

There are so many things to be thankful for in these past two weeks. We are alive. Our friends and neighbors are alive. Miraculously and inexplicably, no one died in our four block radius despite the chaotic scenes. People have been so kind and helpful and willing to lend support in any way they can. More volunteers showed up to help clean up then were actually needed. And donations of all kinds poured into town to the point where city managers eventually said thank you, we have enough now.

I’ll forever be grateful to the Recipe Tour and to China and to the Hungry Ghost Festival for helping me through this difficult, unexpected life event. The tornado was a scary thing. The coronavirus is a scary thing. But the Chinese lanterns taught me that in darkness there is also light. If you are struggling during these days of uncertainty and quarantine, I hope making your own paper lantern will help guide you through these dark and disturbing times. I hope this paper project, will offer you just as much comfort as it did for me during these past ten days.

It was my original intention to photo each step of the lantern making process, but somehow, in my addled storm state, I didn’t quite capture enough photos of the steps to make sense of the process.  You can find a step by step tutorial from the Chinese American Family blog here, which is the one I followed to make the lantern for this post. The only thing that I did differently was that I used two different colors of handmade paper – red to represent China and beige to represent calmness. Also, just an fyi, this project makes one floating lantern that is 8″ inches in diameter.

Whether it is September or not, whether you live near a body of water or not, whether you are going through a tough situation or not, a floating paper lantern has a place at your table always. I love the idea of floating one or two in a shallow dish of water as a centerpiece in place of a floral bouquet or a collection of candles. I love the idea that it symbolizes someone you hold dear. So much of cooking and eating and gathering together involves long-term memories, fleeting moments, passed down stories, and centuries worth of techniques and innovations all created by people who came before us. The paper lanterns are such a lovely way to honor those individuals, especially as they relate to the kitchen and to cooking and to the enjoyment of food.

Pretty, hopeful, and easily accessible, it is a fun craft project that takes little time and few materials. China has been known for their folded paper crafts, called zhezhi, for centuries and shares similar styles with Japan’s paper folding craft, origami. China’s paper making grew out of frugality and remembrance and is often burned during celebrations and festivals, like the Hungry Ghost. If you are concerned about open flames inside your floating flowers, you can always use a flame-less tea light for a similar effect. If you plan to make a fun night at home with your family, friends or roommates while you are self-quarantining, this paper project not only offers a fun activity but also offers an easily made decoration for your Chinese dinner party incorporating this week’s menu items.

Like exquisite Chinese paper crafts, traditional Chinese food also has its own creatively packaged presentation. The accompanying recipe for China’s post is one that features artfully cut foods that are cooked in an interesting and unusual manner. Like the paper lantern, this fish dish is a literal present, individually wrapped up in paper, fried in oil and then served to each diner like a gift.  In Belgium, we learned how to fry cheese into fondue but in China we are wrapping food in paper and then quickly submerging it in oil, where it steams instead of fries.  A wonderful recipe for anyone who likes to decorate their food with flair and flourish, this recipe is delicious, interesting and pretty to look at. On the menu, I’m pleased to present Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper served alongside a bed of Ginger and Pork Fried Rice.

Since this is two recipes in one, I’ll start with the easiest one first since it can sit in a warming state for a little bit while you make the second recipe. Ginger and Pork Fried Rice, is another one of those foundation recipes where you can add your own spin once you get the general hang of preparing it. If you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could swap the pork for mushrooms or add in additional vegetables like snow peas, carrots or broccoli. Because the fish in the accompanying recipe is very lean, the pork fried rice adds a satisfying bit of fat that is complimentary to the overall flavor. So if you are a meat-eater, I’d recommend making these two recipes as-is.

Ginger and Pork Fried Rice

(serves 4)

6 tablespoons peanut oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 lb (about 1 cup) ground pork (I used grass-fed, pasture-raised pork)

2 cups cooked rice (I used jasmine rice)

1/4 cup chopped green onion

Drizzle of sesame oil

12 lettuce leaves or 1 head of butter lettuce

Heat two tablespoons of oil, add the eggs and scramble to the soft stage, then set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat two additional tablespoons of oil and add the pork. Cook, stirring until the meat is thoroughly browned and cooked through. Add the ginger and stir, Add the rice, salt and pepper and cook, stirring rapidly to blend all the ingredients. When the rice is piping hot, mix-in the remaining oil, the green onion and the egg, broken up roughly. Drizzle a little sesame oil over the rice and toss quickly.

Keep the rice warm while you make and cook the fried fish recipe. Once you are ready to serve both the fish and the rice there are several suggestions on ways to present the rice. The first, simply scoop it into a bowl and serve as is. The second, scoop small portions onto individual lettuce leaves and roll them up. Or the third way, scoop out the center of a head of butter lettuce and fill it with rice so that it makes, essentially, a lettuce bowl that can be shared among your fellow eaters. I opted for number three, since our farmer’s market lettuce has been so beautiful lately.

The fried fish recipe is really easy to make. The most complicated part of it is wrapping the fish in the parchment paper. But if you think of treating it like how you would wrap a homemade empanada then you’ll be a pro in no-time. The trick to wrapping the fish in paper is to fold the edges over on themselves so that no steam can escape and so that no oil can seep inside. Although this recipe is called Fried Fish, the fish never comes in contact with the oil. The hot temperature of the oil simply steams the fish inside the wrapped package in just 3 minutes. You can actually hear the steam bubbling up against the paper as it bobs around in the oil. It is a nice auditory detail:)  And have no fear, if your packages don’t seal all the way, it is not the end of the world. The oil will fry the fish instead of steam it, but it will be delicious regardless.

Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper

(4-6 servings)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 lb boneless fresh fish fillet such as striped bass, flounder or sea bass (I used cod)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sake or dry sherry (I used sake)

12 thin slices fresh ginger

12 small snow peas

12 small strips of green onion

12 slices fresh mushrooms

Cut twelve 6″ inch squares out of parchment paper. Set aside. Cut the fish filet into 12 pieces of equal size. (Note: I cut the fish into rectangles which were about 1″x 1.5″inches  in length). Slice all the vegetable ingredients and place each in individual bowls so that they can be quickly accessed when you are ready to assemble the packages.

Brush one side of each square of the parchment paper with sesame oil. Next place a piece of fish on the oiled parchment (step 1), followed by a sprinkle of sake, salt & pepper (step 2). Place a snow pea (step 3) on top of the fish, then a piece of ginger on top of the snow pea (step 4). Place a sliced mushroom on top of the ginger (step 5) and then finish with a slice of green onion on top of the mushroom (step 6).

Next, scoot the layered fish tower down to the bottom third of the parchment paper square.

Bring the top  edge of the parchment paper down to meet up with the bottom edge, like you were folding an envelope, and then crease the middle section of the paper. Beginning on the left hand side start to fold over the edges of the paper like an empanada. Work your way around the package so that you end up on the right side with a small flap that you can then tuck inside the crease of your final fold. This makes much more sense once you actually do it. Here’s a little step by step to help illustrate it…

Repeat each step until you have all 12 packages assembled and wrapped…

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil to 180 degrees. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, drop the packages in the oil for 3 minutes or until the parchment paper is lightly browned. At this step, you’ll here a wonderful bubbling noise as the fish and vegetables steam inside the paper.

Remove each batch to drain on paper towels for a few seconds before serving.

The recipe recommends serving the fish in the package, which is fun for the novelty of opening up the paper…

but it looks much prettier if you unwrap them and serve them on a plate or on a bed of rice.

This is such stylish and bite-sized food, it would be a fun appetizer for a sake party or as an accompaniment alongside other traditional dishes for a mix and match Chinese feast. Served just as-is, with a scoop of rice and two or three pieces of fish, you’ll be surprised how filling and satisfying this meal can be, even with its petite portions. The fish and vegetables cook to perfection inside the paper pouch. The ginger adds a nice hint of spice. And both dishes retain all their flavors even if they sit at room temperature for a little bit.

I went on the search for Chinese sake for this post, but I couldn’t find any locally, so I paired these two dishes with a glass of room temperature Tozai, which is a Japanese sake from the Kyoto region. I’m not much of a rice wine connoisseur so I picked this one for its beautiful label featuring painted koi fish, and it’s suggestion of light flavor notes that included lemon, grapes and banana.

Again, like the paper lantern project, this was a fortuitous choice for this post, our most dramatic week of the Recipe Tour so far. Known as living jewels because of their shimmering scales and vibrant colors, koi fish represent luck and good fortune. A day after making these two Chinese recipes and toasting them with a glass of sake, the tornado arrived and somehow miraculously, thankfully, luckily left the Vintage Kitchen intact. Unrecognized by be at the time, I went into that difficult weak with symbols of luck, good fortune and bright light on my side. If I have learned anything from this culinary time spent in the kitchen with China, it is that symbols swirl around us all the time. Sometimes they even save the day.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the coronavirus. I wish you all the koi fish in all the world and all the bright light for in which to see them. Join me this Wednesday, for Week 10 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, as I attempt to catch up to our regular culinary travel schedule again. This week, culinary escapades take us to Columbia where I’ll be discussing nothing but sunshine and happiness and comfort food. Until then, be well and safe.

Eating with Elephants & Elizabeth Taylor: It’s Dinner and a Movie Night, Ceylon Style!!

Hope you are hungry this week fellow kitcheners! Tonight’s post is all about a feast for the eyes, the imagination and the belly. Welcome to Week 8 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Welcome to Ceylon…

Last week we were in Canada making a Walnut Tart and learning all about maple trees. This week we are traveling 8,400 miles east to the lost land of Ceylon, the first stop in our Recipe Tour that involves a country that no longer exists. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The landscape itself still exists but the country has been renamed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. This automatically adds a sentimental bit of nostalgia to our cooking endeavors this week. So what exactly led to such a big change in our world history?

An old trading map of Taprobane. Photo courtesy of lankapura.com

In a nutshell, this is what happened. Ceylon was a British ruled country beginning in 1815. Before that, the country was known by a variety of different names including Taprobane, Ceilao and my personal favorite, Serendip, which is where we get the word serendipity from.  In 1948, Ceylon established independence from Britain but it wasn’t until 1972 that they changed the name of their country to something that was more reflective of their unique heritage. They chose the name Sri Lanka which means Island of Resplendence, a positive, empowering moniker that let the world know they were ready to shine proudly, brilliantly, and independently all on their own accord. Tonight’s recipe dates to 1971, the year just before Ceylon changed names and took on a new identity.

Camellia sinensis – the base of all tea plants

Most tea drinkers today know about historic Ceylon because of the famous tea that came from there- a black variant steeped in antioxidants that boasts all sorts of health benefits. As a favorite known around the world, Sri Lanka’s current tea industry contributes over a billion dollars a year to their economy. Other local treasures hail from this island nation too. Important food exports include coconuts and spices. On the International Vintage Recipe Tour this week we are featuring all three of these noteworthy commodities – two in recipe version (coconuts and spices) and one in movie version (tea).

1930’s Map of Ceylon

On the menu this week we are making Ceylon Curry – a spice infused chicken recipe that involves a marinade, a slow simmer, and a freshly made batch of homemade coconut milk. For entertainment, tonight’s dinner is paired with a sweeping 1954 melodrama of a movie called Elephant Walk, which stars Elizabeth Taylor and takes place on a tea plantation in Ceylon.

Liz plays Ruth, an English bride who moves to Ceylon with her new husband. There he runs a tea-plantation first started by his father years ago, called Elephant Walk. Filled with excitement and anticipation at this exotic new life ahead, Ruth, upon arrival, quickly discovers a world very different than what she had anticipated, and a husband very much changed from his wooing days back in England.

Natural beauty and a luxurious environment make up her new home, but Ruth learns almost immediately it is not a peaceful paradise.  As it turns out the plantation was built, decades ago by her father-in-law, right in the middle of the migratory walking path to water made by the local elephants during drought season. This off-handed act of careless  disregard for the natural instincts of the elephants has created a hostile environment between man and animal, leaving everyone’s defenses constantly on guard.  To make matters more uneasy, Ruth’s husband (played by Peter Finch) is still controlled by his dead father’s arcane rules when it comes to running not only his business but also his personal life.

Busy with the management of the tea business by day and carousing with his friends at night, he has little empathy for Ruth, a stranger in a new land, and little desire to restructure his life in order to accommodate his new wife. Curious and questioning, Ruth is the only non-native woman on the plantation.  An intelligent, independent, feminine creature, she is set adrift among a sea of old-school men who possess a boy’s club- type mentality. Nothing seems to make sense to her once she arrives in her new home. She doesn’t have any direction, doesn’t understand her purpose and doesn’t understand her husband, yet she is determined to figure things out.  Trying to navigate this complex world leads to a growing kinship that develops with her husband’s business manager (played by Dana Andrews), who also happens to be the only person on the plantation that will talk to her about anything important, including the ostentatious ways of her father-in-law and the mysterious and powerful hold he still has on everyone at Elephant Walk.

While the plantation environment is glamorous and decadent, Ruth must continuously adjust her attitudes and behaviors in order to keep her marriage together. When she can’t stand the peculiarities of life in this strange world one more minute and decides to flee back to England, a cholera outbreak occurs keeping her quarantined within the boundaries of the plantation. I won’t tell anymore about the story so as not to spoil the ending but you’ll see from this trailer that lots of drama happens throughout the movie…

Filmed on location in Ceylon, it’s is a wonderful glimpse into the exotic culture and landscape of vintage Sri Lanka. Some of the scenes were filmed in and around an actual tea company, so we get to see a little bit about how tea is made (or used to be made anyway!)…

Tea leaf gatherers.
Tea equipment on the right, brooding husband on the left:)

and there are lots of scenes that feature the lush and verdant country landscape…

Vintage clothes lovers will appreciate beautiful Liz and her Parisian wardrobe…

Originally, Vivian Leigh was scheduled to play the lead role, but she suffered from a nervous breakdown at the start of filming. Elizabeth Taylor was called in to replace her.

as well as the safari clothes and tuxedos worn by the guys…

That’s Peter Finch on the left and in top right corner. Dana Andrews is in the bottom right.

There’s a party scene that involves traditional dances and a kitchen scene so immense in size and scope it would boggle the mind of any home cook.  There was even a dinner scene complete with curry and rice!

If you aren’t familiar, curry comes in lots of colors. In this scene in the movie it was green. In our recipe this week it is red. But also in my pantry, I have orange curry, yellow curry and brown curry. That’s because there is no such thing as a universal curry.  Curry is a conglomeration of different spices all blended together. There is curry on the sweet side, curry on the spicy side, curry that is mild, curry that is intense and curry that has been infused with different seeds and aromatics.  Each version is unique in taste and scent.

The curry I used for this recipe is a red Thai Curry that was made of finely ground paprika, lemongrass, salt, shallots, galangal, cumin, coriander, chiles, pepper, cilantro, garlic, lime leaves, basil and spearmint. But you can use any kind of curry powder you like for this dish.  If you have a spice shop in your neighborhood, I highly recommend getting your curry powder there since it will be most fresh and flavorful, yielding an optimal culinary experience.

While Elephant Walk immerses us visually in the sights of Ceylon, this week’s meal immerses us in the scents of Ceylon. Tonight’s dinner is two recipes in one. The first is for homemade coconut milk and the second is for chicken curry. Both are easy to make but the coconut milk is labor intensive. If you are short on time, just buy a can of coconut milk and add it to the curry.

I have never made, or even thought about making homemade coconut milk before, so I was excited to try it. Basically it involves cracking open two coconuts, scooping out the meat and then blending it with water in the blender. It sounds simple. It sounds easy. It sounds like a 10 minute project.  I warn  you now this step takes some time (about 45 minutes per coconut) and it takes a little bit of muscle to crack the coconuts open and to scoop out the flesh. It’s a messy endeavor even if you are a meticulously tidy cook and it involves tools.  You’ll need a hammer, a heavy chef’s knife or cleaver, a strong butter knife, a vegetable peeler, cheese cloth and a medium to large funnel.

I made everybody a bit nervous when I posted a sneak peek video on Instagram on Sunday about the tricky aspect of chopping open a coconut. (If you missed it, click here and scroll through the sneak peek videos until you get to week 8.) It took about a minute and a half to crack open each coconut.  I used the backside of the cleaver so there really was no threat that I would chop a finger or a hand off, but I’m truly grateful that everyone was so worried for my limbs!  I’m happy to say everything is still intact, fingers and hands, and I’m more knowledgeable for having experienced the procedure. The whole task just takes a little bit of bravery, some good firm wacks with the knife and a steady determination to see the project complete. Eventually victory comes.  I’m sure this is one of those skills that improves the more often you do it. Maybe by the year’s end, we will all be experts at cracking those coconuts.

In the meantime, I must say, cracking coconuts was a pretty fun experience all the way around. There was lots of laughing during this process, bits of coconut shell went flying all around the kitchen and there was even a little impromptu competition between my husband and I about who could crack a coconut faster. He won. By a significant amount of time. So I’d encourage you to make your own homemade coconut milk at least once, just for the experience of doing it. Even though it may sound daunting and isn’t 100% necessary to the total overall taste of the recipe (a canned version would suffice just the same) you might discover a new sense of joie de vivre and camaraderie in the kitchen.

Coconut Milk Made in a Blender

(Makes about 4 cups)

2 coconuts

4 cups hot water

Once the coconuts are cracked open. Discard the water inside. Get out your hammer. Turn each coconut half skin-side down on top of a few sheets of paper towels and bang away at it until the shell either 1) falls away from the coconut meat or two separates enough that you can slide your butter knife between the outside shell and pry the meat out. This is the messy part, as coconut chucks may go flying around around your kitchen from both the hammering and the prying.

Once you remove the hard shell there will be a softer brown shell attached to the meat which you’ll peel off with the vegetable peeler. The recipe calls for two coconuts, however, you don’t need that much milk for the recipe, so if you don’t 3 cups of leftover coconut milk hanging around in your fridge, then just use one coconut.

how-to-make-homemade-coconut-milk-in-a-blender

Once the coconut meat from one coconut is peeled, cut it into chunks, toss it in the blender and pour two cups of very hot water over the meat. Blend it on high for about 3-4 minutes until thoroughly blended.

Line a funnel with cheese cloth and set the funnel inside a large mason jar. Pour the mixture into the cheese cloth in batches. When it has finished dripping into the jar squeeze the remaining coconut pulp that hasn’t drained through the cheese cloth directly into the mason jar to extract as much liquid as possible. (Note: at this stage the leftover coconut pulp looks and feels a lot like flaked candle wax.) Then discard the pulp and repeat until you have emptied your blender and there is no more coconut meat to process. Two coconuts should yield about four cups of coconut milk. Refrigerate coconut milk until ready for use.

Ceylon Chicken Curry

(serves 6)

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken cutlets

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 one inch cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons curry powder

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

3 bay leaves

2 cardamom seeds (or 2 pinches of ground cardamom)

Cayenne pepper to taste (this is optional – I didn’t use it since my curry powder already ha some spiciness to it)

3 tablespoons butter

2 onions, chopped

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

1 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Cut the chicken into small chunks and place in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, vinegar, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic, ginger, two bay leaves (crushed), one cardamom seed or one pinch of dried cardamom, and cayenne (if using).  Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to 24 hours. (I marinated mine for about 12 hours).

Heat the butter in a dutch oven or a large saucepan and add the onion, the remaining bay leaf and cardamom seed (or pinch of ground cardamom) and the green pepper. Cook briefly (about 5 minutes) over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Then add the seasoned chicken and cook stirring occasionally, until the liquid is partly absorbed (about 5 minutes).

Then cover and cook 45 minutes over low heat.

When the chicken is tender, add the coconut milk and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes. Add the lemon juice just before taking the pan off the heat, but keep stirring until it has been incorporated. Then you are ready to serve it.

I suggest serving this curry over a bed of jasmine rice accompanied alongside a glass (or two!) of cold white wine – preferably a varietal that sits on the sweeter side.

As I’ve  mentioned occasionally on the blog before, I’ve been a big fan of curry for a long time and have tried handfuls of different recipes. This is by far, my most favorite to date.    The curry itself is so full of flavor, I can’t wait to try it with other types of curry powder to see how the tastes change. The coconut milk adds a brothy consistency that is lovely for sopping up with bread or extra rice and offers a creamy contrast between the spiciness of the curry.

Marinating the chicken ahead of time (a new concept for me!) makes each piece so tender. Just like a slow-cooked chili or stew recipe, it only tastes better the longer it sits in its juices. All in all, this was just a joy of a recipe. Even the tricky coconut chopping wound up adding a new theatrical element to the kitchen that was fun and unexpected.

While you are enjoying your dinner… the other thing I suggest is turning on the movie (you’ll find it on Amazon), and turning off your phone or any other ringing, blinging and beeping devices.  Just for the next two hours immerse yourself in all the sights, sounds and tastes of vintage Ceylon. By meal’s end, you’ll have experienced a brief encounter with a lost country through vibrant cinematic and culinary storytelling.

Cheers to vintage Ceylon and to magical movies and recipes that transport us! Join us next week as we head to China where we make an unusual dish that involves specialty papers and curious methods.

Treats from a Tree: Welcome To Maple Country

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Week 7 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Tonight in the kitchen we are heading to Canada, the big, beautiful neighbor that sits right above us in the United States and offers up all sorts of creative inspiration for the artistic mindset.

On the famous front…  it’s the new home of Harry and Megan, it’s the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, it’s the creator of cheese curd covered french fries and it’s the film location star for over a dozen favorite movies (Titanic, Gorillas In the Mist, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Seven Years in Tibet, Catch Me If You Can, Anne of Green Gables, Capote, Juno, Good Will Hunting, The Notebook, Legends of the Fall, A Christmas Story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Cutting Edge, and Fly Away Home to name just a few). It also shares an interesting fun fact with last week’s Recipe Tour destination, Brazil. Do you know what it might be? Here’s a clue…

Canada, as it turns out, is a natural leader when it comes to being a tree loving paradise. With over 318 billion on record (as of 2015), it boasts the second largest collection of trees in the world. In case you were wondering, Russia has the largest collection, then Canada, then Brazil and then the United States.  Among all those billions of trees lives one in particular that is so special it has its own name and a regular roster of visitors. Meet Comfort…

The Comfort Maple, Pelham, Ontario, Canada.

the oldest surviving sugar maple in all of Canada, possibly in all of the world. Named after the Comfort family of Pelham, Ontario who donated the tree and surrounding land to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the 1960’s, the Comfort Maple is believed to be about 500 years old. Included in a land sale purchased by the Comfort family in 1816, this lucky sugar maple has survived more than five centuries thanks to a calm relationship with Mother Nature and years of thoughtful care from generations of the Comfort family. Standing 80′ feet tall and measuring 20′ feet in diameter at the trunk, it’s amazing to think about all the life that has occurred in and around this tree. Now a designated living monument to history, this majestic heirloom has become one of the most treasured icons in all of Canada with people from around the globe coming to picnic under its branches.

 

Like the Comfort tree, the Canadian recipe we are whipping up in the kitchen tonight is also a national favorite steeped in its own time laden history. On the menu, we are making Maple Walnut Tart, a sweet treat of a dessert that features a sugary pool of 100% pure maple syrup  that has been dotted with walnuts and then tucked between two layers of pie crust. Although, it is traditionally called a tart, it is much more of a thin, shallow pie.

Maple Walnut Tart

Born out of necessity and enterprise, Maple Walnut Tart is a Canadian manifestation of Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) which was a popular dessert in France involving sugar, eggs and pastry dough. When the French started immigrating to Canada, sugar was an expensive, often unobtainable commodity. Luckily these new French Canadians had a local sweetener right in their own backyard – the sap of the maple tree. The sugar in their French pie was swapped for maple syrup and a new national dessert was born. Likewise, as a nod to further tweaks and adjustments, over the course of the past century, Maple Walnut Tart has taken on a menagerie of variations including additional ingredients. Eggs, butter, salt, cream, lemon peel, bread crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and even other nuts create signature desserts that nowadays are almost always baked open- faced, without a top crust.

That makes the vintage recipe we are making in the Vintage Kitchen quite unusual now, since it has a traditional top and bottom crust and very few ingredients. Containing just seven in total, it is made of a collection of everyday essentials that you almost always have on hand. Because of its simplicity, it reminded me a lot of one of those homemade desserts you might whip up on the impromptu when you are craving something sweet but don’t have all the necessary ingredients on-hand to make anything remotely decadent like a chocolate layer cake or fancy cookies or a berry pie.

The star of the show and the highlight of this recipe is of course the maple syrup, one of Canada’s most well-known foods. Producing on average about 10 million gallons a year, Canada is the leader in maple syrup production in the world. Interestingly, most of it comes from one province in particular – Quebec – which means if you are a fall foliage lover with a sweet tooth that’s where you should head come Autumn!

I was excited to find 100% pure maple syrup from Quebec at Trader Joe’s. Most of the maple syrup at all the other markets or grocery stores in my neck of the woods seem to come from New York State or Vermont. At $16.00 a bottle it was a splurge for the Kitchen but after learning so much about maple syrup production for this post I have a new found appreciation for it.

Did you know that on average it takes one sugar maple between 30-50 days to produce 40 gallons of sap? That 40 gallons of sap yields just one gallon of retail-ready maple syrup. The bottle of maple syrup that I purchased for this recipe was 25 oz in total, which is just a little under a quarter of a gallon. Basically this means it took one tree, one full week to make my one bottle of maple syrup. What a feat! Although I only needed one cup for this recipe, it makes me appreciate every drop:)

This is the first recipe in the Tour that I’ve had mixed feelings about. I’ll get to the recipe first so that you can see what is involved and then I’ll follow up at the end…

Maple Walnut Tart

(serves 6-8)

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped

Pastry for a two crust 8″ inch pie (I used my reliable family heirloom pie crust recipe which you can find here).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pastry and then set aside while the filling is being made.

Bring the maple syrup and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil for two minutes. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and add to the boiling syrup., stirring constantly for about two minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and cool quickly by placing the pan in the refrigerator (about 10-15 minutes).

Line an 8″ inch pie pan with the pastry, pour in the cooled syrup and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

Cover with the top crust, crimping the edges to seal, and cut a few slashes in the center of the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake for thirty minutes in the center of the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Originally at the onset of preparing this recipe, I thought the end result was going to be  more creamy and caramel-like in both consistency and taste.  In actuality though, it is much simpler – really just imagine walnuts drizzled in maple syrup and wrapped in pie dough and you pretty much have the general gist.

Needless to say, at first bite, the tart was pretty underwhelming. My first thought was there’s not enough ingredients (ie flavor components) to make this sensational. The maple was there but it mixed very soft and very subtle with the pie crust. The walnuts, didn’t really melt or dissolve when baked in the oven and therefore left a chunky consistency. This aspect actually  turned out to be a nice contrast though with the softer syrup.

I can understand now why different versions have been created with eggs and spices and additional flavor enhancers. Every modern day recipe for Maple Walnut Tart I looked at in comparison to this one included butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, brown sugar, etc in significant quantities. In full agreement, I think ultimately, what this recipe is lacking is a creamy fat component. Over the course of this next week, I’m going to experiment with some creamier accompaniments… a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, a few slices of apple and brie and see if that might just be all the pizzazz you might need to create a more satisfying dessert. I’ll report back on those findings next week.

In the meantime, I’m excited and anxious for you guys to try this recipe and see what you think. In my opinion, it tastes better served at room temperature on the third day. I’m not sure if it’s because I have sampled it a few times in order to get an accurate understanding of the tart or if this dessert is actually starting to grow on me, but it seems to be one of those recipes like fruit cake that gets better with time. After discovering all the labor that went into making the maple syrup on the tree’s behalf, I really wanted this recipe to be phenomenal right away, but maybe that’s the spirit of the syrup.  After all, it took  one entire week out of one tree’s life to make the sap! Maybe this recipe is slow to bloom in more ways than one:)

Lucy Maude Montgomery’s most famous literary character, Anne Shirley said… “Maples are such sociable trees. They’re always rustling and whispering to you.”

Perhaps this vintage recipe is whispering to us too.

Cheers to maple trees and to the incredibly long life of Comfort and to sugary sweet contemplations in the kitchen. There is always something to think about around here.

Join us next week as we head to spicy Ceylon, a true time-traveler of a kitchen feat since the country doesn’t exist anymore:)

 

Thoughts on Love, Dinner and New Discoveries Courtesy of Brazil

Happy Valentine’s week fellow kitcheners! Since love and romance are dominating the spotlight right now, it’s wonderfully fortuitous that the featured destination on our International Vintage Recipe Tour this week wound up being Brazil. It’s not good to generalize people or countries, but Brazil is known to be a passionate place.

Beautiful Brazil!

Consistently included in top ten lists as one of the world’s most romantic nationalities, it’s safe to say that Brazil is in love with love. And we are not just talking romantic relationships here. Brazilians are known to be equally passionate about their hometown  soccer team, their spouse, their favorite carnival and their kitchen.  Ah serendipity! On this week of hearts and roses and pink colored everything, a romantic holiday dinner awaits us here in the Vintage Kitchen.

Or so I imagined!

I was hoping that our vintage recipe was going to highlight a dinner food that matched the passionate place from which it came.  Surprisingly  that wasn’t quite the case. On today’s menu we are making Picadinho a Brasileira, a recipe that roughly translates to “Minced to the Brazilian” in Portuguese. A popular heritage dish especially in Southeastern Brazil, there are two main versions of picadinho – one a hearty beef stew with whole vegetables and the other a slow simmered light and fluffy ground beef cooked with wine and vegetables.

Picadinho a Brasileira

Our recipe this week involves the latter.  Not exactly one of the glamour foods usually touted on Valentine’s Day menus (steak, lobster, oysters, anything drenched in champagne or chocolate) ground beef always tends to get relegated to more humble, homey everyday recipes like meatloaf, burgers, tacos and casseroles. It’s never a dish you see people eating in romantic movies. It’s never the culinary centerpiece tucked in between candlelight and flower bouquets. And it’s definitely not the most tantalizing type of meat to photograph.

I don’t know exactly what I expected of Brazilian food at the start of Week 6, but I think I was hoping for something a little more exotic in the food spectrum, something that matched the passion of the people. A recipe that involved colorful fruit perhaps or a sea swimmer from the waters of the Atlantic. Picadinho a Brasileira is neither of those two things. But after making this recipe and thinking about it for a bit, I came to realize that it is in actuality, an absolutely wonderful and appropriate dish to share with your sweetheart or your gaggle of loved ones on Valentine’s Day. More reasons on that shortly.

Tonight we’ll dive right into the recipe so that we can talk about the unique aspects and attributes of it after all the steps are laid out. A super easy recipe to make (a nice reprieve after the confusing fondue affair of last week!) Picadinho a Brasileira is a one pot dish that slow simmers on the stove for almost two hours.  It includes half a bottle of wine, a satisfying amount of vegetable chopping and six eggs (something that originally sounded a bit unusual). It’s also low-maintenance thanks to the slow cooking so it conveniently allows time for you to do other stuff while its simmering away. Maybe that’s where you can fit some extra time for romance:)

Picadinho a Brasileira

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, coursely chopped

2 lbs ground beef (I used grass-fed)

6 eggs

2 ribs celery, including leaves, finely chopped

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped parsley

2 cans (17 oz. each) Italian style tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used Storyteller Red Blend)

Hot red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until golden brown, stirring frequently.

While the onions are cooking, place the meat in a large bowl. Add the eggs, celery, green pepper, parsley and tomatoes.

Combine everything together with your hands until it is thoroughly mixed. (Note: This step is a little soupy and a little sludgy not to mention both visually and tactile-wise pretty unappealing, but don’t worry, it gets better soon.)

Add the mixture to the onions in the pan and cook stirring until well blended and the meat loses its red color. Cook the mixture 15 minutes and then add the salt (I used about  1 1/2 teaspoons), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon) and one cup of wine. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer.  (Side Note:  If you are following the Recipe Tour over on Instagram too, you can see a  little video of this step in the Highlights section. Every Sunday, I post a sneak peek video of the recipe coming up, so if you are big into previews come visit the Vintage Kitchen Instagram page on Sundays!)

Now back to the recipe!

Add the remaining wine  and red pepper flakes (I used about two pinches), then partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, one hour or longer. At the beginning of the one hour of cooking, the picadinho will be very liquidy, but as it cooks over the next 60 minutes, it will dry out and all of the moisture will evaporate. At that stage it will look like this…

…a  mixture that mirrors taco meat but is much lighter and fluffier. Once all the liquid has evaporated the dish is done and is ready for serving.

Traditionally, you’d accompany Picadinho  a Brasileira with white rice or farofa (which is a Brazilian form of farina – something similar to cream of wheat). However, I wasn’t that excited about either option when it came to pretty plating,  visual appeal and a Valentine vibe. As you can see the picadihno has lost most of its vegetable color and is pretty much in the end just one shade of brown. It is not the most visually striking dish that we have made so far, but what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in delicious flavor.

Between the fruity notes of the wine, the citrus notes of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onions, combined with the fact that it looks a lot like taco meat, my first impression upon tasting it was to pair it with something in the corn family. Something like tortillas. Although this dish would be fantastic with such a companion, corn tortillas are not widely consumed in Brazil, so to stick a little closer to a more authentic meal, I chose corn grits since they are more similar to the consistency of farofa. Made with milk, Parmesan cheese and butter, the grits add color, a creamy texture and a complimentary corn flavor that blends all the ingredients in the picadinho together so well. I also added some freshly chopped onion, parsley and green pepper for a burst of fresh crunch and more color.

All sorts of other garnishes like sour cream, cheddar cheese, olives, avocado, cilantro, basil (basically anything you enjoy on a taco)  would also be delicious here, albeit not very Brazilian. But that, I discovered, was really the fun of this recipe. It is open to creativity, to interpretation, to personal touch. Which brings us back to why this recipe is actually a very good choice for Valentine’s Day. Let’s look…

  1. It has the ability to showcase your own creative flair and your personal passion for cooking. Wrap it up in pastry dough like empanadas, stuff it into pasta shells, serve it over potatoes or transform it into a patty melt. It’s yours to experiment with, to make, to mold, to accent and to call your own. It’s a love letter to your culinary ingenuity!
  2. For all the lovebirds that like to eat together, it’s a shareable meal.
  3. It’s family friendly, thanks to its basic ingredients, making it inclusive for all the ones you share your life with.
  4. It feeds a crowd, so if you wanted to throw a galentine party this Valentine’s Day it’s a delicious option for both entrees or hors d’oeuvres.
  5. It’s a food that stimulates the art of conversation and encourages new ideas, which means it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep the attention of fellow diners for at least a little while.

Picadinho a Brasileira may not be chocolate covered strawberries or lobster thermidor or a fancy special occasion food brought out once a year, but any Brazilian would tell you that love deserves to be extended, extolled and celebrated every moment, every day, not just on February 14th. Romance doesn’t have to be elaborate in order to be understood or received. A simple meal served to someone special is such a sincere act of love. The enjoyment that follows – tasting something new, talking about the experience and exploring some culinary curiosities leads to unexpected discoveries. This one dish opened up a whole conversation between myself and my valentine of a husband about spices that had us chatting and speculating the day away. Also, while researching this blog post,  I discovered some new favorites courtesy of Brazil…

Two new vintage books to read by Brazilian authors Paulo Coelho and Jorge Amado

and a new art book to explore…

And it also led to the discovery of two new artists. I love this 1920’s era portrait, untitled, but referred to as Woman with Lemons by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973)…

and the colorful botanical collage paintings of Brazilian-born artist Beatriz Milhazes…

So you just never quite know where your dinner will wind up taking you!  At the start of this particular cooking adventure, I thought this post was going to be all about a traditional romantic Valentine’s Day worthy dinner. An idea I understand now sort of bordered on the cliche side of things. But in reality, this seemingly unromantic Brazilian ground beef recipe turned out to be quite a little passionate catalyst that produced new loves in art, literature and conversation. That’s pretty romantic after all!

I hope this Valentine’s Day your hearts and bellies are full to the brim with thoughts and  foods that you make you feel happy, loved and inspired. Cheers to the holiday and cheers to foods that surprise and satiate us not only physically but mentally and emotionally!

Next week finds us making a sweet treat that hails from the land that Meghan and Harry now call home…Canada! Until then, happy cooking!