Beef Stroganov

I am once again using the Russian, Polish, and German Cooking cookbook, like I did during German week. When I first started looking at recipes in the book, I was surprised by how easy they all seemed. Not a lot of ingredients, nothing really fancy, and most meals seem to take less than an hour. I LOVE those kinds of meals! But since this is an intro book, I decided to also look online to see if I found anything else that might catch my eye. I read multiple “Russian Foods You Must Eat!” lists and almost all the recipes I had already chosen were on those lists. Score! 

Beef Stroganov made every.single.list, however, actual Russian Beef Stroganov is not the kind that most Americans grew up eating. For starters, they don’t eat it on a bed of egg noodles. What? Who doesn’t like egg noodles? Well, I’m sure Russians don’t have a problem with egg noodles in general but they definitely don’t eat them with their stroganov. Also, they don’t use cream of mushroom or use mushrooms. Um, que? These differences worried me.

I had nothing to worry about.

The Russian version, you know, the REAL version, was great! It was a little tart, I definitely wasn’t expecting that, but that came from the inclusion of tomato and mustard. The recipe called for tomato puree but I only had tomato sauce so I just did a 1 to 1 substitute. In hindsight, I should have done a 1 to .5 substitute because tomato sauce isn’t as sweet as puree. The recipe also called for Dijon mustard but I only had stone ground. Both are made with wine so I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference but I forgot how strong stone ground mustard is due to the mustard seeds. Like the tomato, I should have done a 1 to .5 substitute. Even with those minor hiccups, it was very good. 

I also made some homemade french fries, which were heavenly. Instead of egg noodles, Russians prefer their carb to be fried potatoes and who can argue with that? I love fried food but my family’s history of heart disease does not, so I limit myself. The fries were probably my favorite but that’s just because I’m a fatty and not because the stroganov was bad. 

I will make this again and will remember the proper substitutions. All in all, it took about an hour to make the whole meal (only 30 for the stroganov) so that was a huge plus. We’re having borscht tonight. 

I don’t have high hopes.

Recipe

Chicken K’dra and Eggplant-Tomato Salad

This meal took for-e-ver! Seriously, I was in the kitchen for almost two and a half hours, which is two hours too many for me. Thankfully it was Easter evening so the girls were exhausted from visiting family all day and I was able to cook in relative peace. It’s a lot harder to spend so much time in the kitchen when the girls are running around like maniacs and I’m trying to concentrate on a recipe. I mean, I still lost it a few times, like when I was chopping onions and the three year old decided to screech for no reason, causing me to jump and almost chop my finger off, but overall James handled them and kept them out of my way. 

By the time we finally ate, I was beat, but this was a fantastic reason to be exhausted! The chicken was scrumptious; just the right amount of savory and juicy. It just fell apart, probably because it simmered for almost two hours, but it was delicious. I could taste the butter but it was very sublime. The cinnamon scent was stronger than the actual flavor but the flavor was most definitely there. I don’t know how an entire cinnamon stick could leave such a slight taste but I guess that’s Moroccan magic. 

The eggplant-tomato salad could have been better. It was good but I think I added too much lemon because it was very acidic. The recipe called for two to three large tomatoes but my tomatoes were small so I still used three. I probably should have used two because combined with the lemons, it was very tangy. Or maybe I should have used another eggplant…whatever, mental note made. 

I also made poached pears in a rose water syrup. Ever since we had the Oranges in Rose Water I can’t get enough of the stuff and try to find new ways to use it. They were amazing, of course.

Two things to note from this meal:

1. I finally got the right amount of liquid right for a tagine! My last two attempts at tagine came out watery because I kept forgetting I wasn’t using a tagine and needed to adapt the recipe. Not this time! This time I remembered my limitations so I added a lot less water than the recipe called for and it worked! Third times a charm!

2. Both girls ate this meal! BOTH GIRLS ATE THIS MEAL! Sorry for the yelling but this is a big deal. The baby especially loved the salad and the three year old was all about the chicken and beans. You just never know with kids. I thought the three year old would be into the pears because they were sweet but she had no interest; the baby was shoving them into her mouth with both hands. 

Morocco week worked out very well for us. They were time consuming, for sure, but the effort paid off. This week we are going to Russia. 

I’m going to have to run a lot more this week.

Recipe 

Vegetable Tagine

I planned this meal knowing I would be exhausted and the girls would most likely be cranky. I was going to need something easy and fast and this dish lived up to both requirements.

James was off work for Good Friday so we took the girls to Sweet Berry Farm. It took us an hour to get there but luckily the drive was through the hill country so we got to take in miles and miles of Texas bluebonnets. I can’t get enough of Texas in the Spring time, when everything is still cool and green. Give us another month and it will be scorching and brown but I’ll have my memories (and beer) to get me through it! The girls ran around for two hours, picking strawberries, petting goats, and having a blast. It was also pretty fun for us and I can’t recommend it enough to families with kids. 

We got home and had a play date with the neighbors for a bit. By the end of it, I was beat and like expected, the girls were over life. James got them into the bath and I started making dinner.

Since this was another tagine, I tried to keep the reduction of liquid in mind so as to not have another watery meal. I still added too much. The recipe said you could use a tagine or a flameproof casserole dish but since I have neither, I used my Dutch oven. I used about one and a half cups of veggie stock when the recipe called for two and a half and it was still too much. The recipe also said to keep it in the oven until the tomatoes browned but after twenty minutes, my tomatoes still weren’t brown so I took it out. I’m sure it was because of the stock so, duly noted tagine!

I served it along with an herbed couscous of mint, parsley, and scallions. The tagine was great, aside from being watery. It was filling without feeling gluttonous, if that makes sense. This dish is often served as a side dish but can be made the main meal. If I make this again, I will make it as a side dish. It was good for what we needed, fast and filling, but had I been really hungry, I don’t think it would have worked as well. 

Neither girl ate the tagine but they did like the “rice” couscous. Well, the three year old liked the rice after she took out all the “yuck’ a.k.a green herbs. She has her own vocabulary.

Recipe

 

 

Tagine of Lamb with Apricots, Prunes, and Honey

Apologies for the bad picture. This meal did not photograph well. 
Apologies for the bad picture. This meal did not photograph well. 

This was another easy, yet time consuming meal, like the Harira. It took about an hour and a half to cook but it didn’t require any attention so I was grateful for that.

Tagine can mean two things: a Berber dish or the clay pot in which it is prepared. There are two variations of the pot, a shallow version mostly used in North Africa and a deeper one used by the Bedouin. I’ve looked online and they’re pretty affordable and the smaller ones don’t seem to take up much space. I think they’re visually appealing and would definitely liven up a kitchen but as I’ve stated before, my kitchen is small so I have to keep my appliances and cookware to a minimum. Instead of a tagine, I used my Dutch oven for this dish. Tagine dishes do not require a lot of water because the pot’s cone pulls the moisture from the food and sort of steams it by having the moisture trickle done. Since I didn’t have a cone, I ended up using a bit more water in my dish that I think the recipe really needed. 

Another thing I’ve mentioned before (I repeat myself a lot) is that I’m not a big fan of lamb. The ground lamb in the Pide a few weeks ago wasn’t too bad but the gaminess was still there. And it’s the gamey taste in lamb that I really don’t like. Because of that, I was a little skeptical about this meal. The recipe called for two pounds of lamb shoulder. My grocery store only had lamb shank, lamb chops, and ground lamb. I could have gone to another store but I was running short on time. I told the butcher I needed shoulder and he said that maybe the shank would work since pig shank and shoulder were very similar. I mean, I wasn’t in 4H or anything but I’m pretty sure pigs and sheep are not related sooooo, I get his thinking but I’m just saying that it doesn’t really make sense…Regardless, I bought a pound and a half of lamb shank and hoped for the best. 

The cut he gave me had a lot of fat so I cut off as much of it as I could. Once I removed the fat and the little bit of bone, I was left with probably just over a pound of meat. This was fine, I didn’t expect the girls to eat any of this so a pound was enough for James and I. 

The recipe said to pour enough water to cover the meat, so I did. But I did not take into consideration that specific direction was made in the hopes of using an actual tagine and not a Dutch oven. It takes more water to cover meat in a Dutch oven than in a tagine. This resulted in my tagine coming out watery. So take note, if using a Dutch oven, maybe use enough water to only cover it halfway. Or even less. 

Even though it was watery, it was wonderful! The best part: no gaminess! Reading up on it now, it seems like the gamey taste of lamb resides in the fat so since I cut off most of the fat, that reduced the flavor. The meat was ridiculously tender; it literally fell apart in my mouth. I liked the sweetness of the apricots paired with the lamb; the prunes were just mush and were pretty blah. The highlight was definitely the absence of the gamey taste. I probably won’t make this ever again but at least I now know how to prepare lamb!

Recipe

Harira

You might have noticed my absence last week, sorry! The girls were on Spring Break. Instead of spending my days planning meals and my evenings preparing them, I spent my days with my daughters running all over Austin and my evenings preparing simple, quick meals, and enjoying being a family of four. This project takes a good amount of effort, looking for recipes, grocery shopping, and of course the actual preparation, so it was nice to give myself a break from all that. I think the most labor intensive meal I made was Shepherd’s Pie and that was because I had to make mashed potatoes. I also made an Irish Soda Bread for that meal and it was THE BEST I’ve ever had. You can find the recipe here and I highly encourage you to try it. It’s really easy and I think it’s a recipe you’ll save for the future. 

This week we are in Morocco! The cookbook I’ve chosen is Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery. It’s not a very large book and I feel like it’s more of an introduction to Moroccan cooking but that’s okay. I just wanted some of the best, most popular dishes and these types of cookbooks are great for that. While flipping through the cookbook, I found a recipe for the Greek Chicken Filo Pie  and the Greek Chicken with Lemons and Olive. I think I mentioned before that the cookbook I used for Greek week ended up being more of a Mediterranean cookbook than specifically Greek, so I found this humorous. 

Harira.

It’s a traditional Moroccan soup that is typically served as a starter but can be a main course. It’s very hearty so I don’t know how you’d have any room for anything else if used as a starter. It’s mostly served during Ramadan as a break during fasting. If I were fasting and this was the one meal I ate, I would be okay with fasting on a regular basis. 

This was not a quick meal. Between prep and the actual cooking, it took me about an hour and a half. Fortunately it didn’t require a lot of attention once it got started. Aside from the maybe ten minutes I spent sauteeing the veggies and browning the meat, I wasn’t in the kitchen very long during this meal. This was nice because I was able to play with the girls in the backyard and finish putting up laundry. Multi-tasking is great!

This was a fantastic meal! This was the first time I cooked with canned diced tomatoes. Usually if a recipe calls for a can of chopped/crushed/dice tomatoes, I just use fresh tomatoes and chop/crush/dice them myself. Like, why pay for a can and more waste when I have this fresh tomato right here? Well, I’ll tell you: 1. ripeness 2. acidity 3. recycling.

Apparently canned tomatoes are canned when ripe, whereas store bought tomatoes are picked before they’re ripe and then artificially ripened before distribution. This is why you often times get tomatoes that don’t taste all that great. Canned tomatoes also have citric acid, which not only helps in fighting botulism but it also gives it a fuller flavor. I need to look into how letting fresh tomatoes sit in lemon juice for a bit before cooking affects the flavor of those tomatoes…SQUIRREL! I got distracted. And lastly, if you are worried about adding more waste to this beautiful earth with a can, you can recycle or upcycle the can. Problem solved!

I think the addition of the canned tomatoes made a huge difference in this stew. Technically it’s a soup but I felt it was a more of a stew. Anyway, it was very rich in flavor. It was a little salty, tangy, nutty; it was just great. I used beef instead of lamb because I really don’t like lamb and also, lamb is stupid expensive. I don’t think it made that huge of a difference but if I ever have Harira with lamb, I’ll let you know. 

So after taking a week off from this project, this was an amazing way to get back into the thick of things! Let’s hope the rest of Morocco week is this welcoming. 

Recipe

Stir Fry with Bok Choy, Shrimp, and Pork Meatloaf, Green Mango Salad, and Oranges in Rose Water

This meal was frustrating.

We invited friends over for dinner and they were set to arrive at 7 p.m. Knowing this and knowing I was making a lot of food, I started prepping early in the day by making the meat loaf at 4 p.m. I read over the recipes numerous times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Since it involved a lot of chopping and mixing, I figured a full hour would be enough time. And it would have been, had I given myself a full hour of just food preparation. But I didn’t. I realistically gave myself 45 minutes to prepare the mango salad, this stir fry, and the oranges.  What did I do with the other 15 minutes? I got all my ingredients together and took pictures.

Melissa, it took you 15 minutes to set up and take those crappy pictures? Yes, I get it, my pictures are nothing special but I prefer it that way. I could use my fancy Nikon, set up all the ingredients to look like they just all happened to get together and pose casually, and then edit the pictures to look magazine ready but that’s not how I cook and that’s not me.

To begin with, I have a very small kitchen. Even though we have a three bedroom house, our kitchen looks like it belongs in a one bedroom apartment. I don’t have a lot of counter top space and the natural lighting is basically non-existent. Setting up pics to get the right angle is difficult enough in a proper space but it’s nearly impossible in my kitchen. And my cooking is chaotic at best. I try to keep things as organized as possible to reduce stress but often times things are just thrown in whatever small, clean space I can find. My kitchen is well “used.”

Secondly, and most importantly, I do not lead a curated life. What you see is exactly what you get. This *pointing to myself* has not been edited. I don’t spend hours getting ready to just go to the grocery store. I don’t just post pics of my kids looking perfect and well behaved on social media (mostly because that never happens). I don’t feel the need to change who I am to fit into an idea of what is perfect and acceptable because, well, that’s a lot of work, and then people would be really shocked when they see what’s under all that perfection. So I take that same approach with this blog. Yeah the pics could look A LOT better but you see what I see and I see good food without filters.

Oh, hey, I don’t remember stepping on this soapbox. That’s so weird, it literally just showed up out of nowhere. Well I’m gonna step off and put that back in the corner…

So back to my story. I spent 45 minutes making the mango salad and then our guests arrived. Yay! Dinner guests are here and there’s no dinner! Thankfully our friends were very understanding and not hungry (they’d had a power bar beforehand) so I sat down, had a glass of wine, and then went back into the kitchen to peel and devein the shrimp. I need to buy a damn deveiner.

We finally sat down to eat at 8:30. Thank goodness for good wine and the Spurs game!

I wasn’t a big fan of the mango salad. If I were to make it again, I would use slightly more ripe green mangoes. I just didn’t like the hard, veggie taste of the unripe mangoes but everyone else said they did. And one of our friends actually got thirds so at least he wasn’t lying. I would also use less shrimp. There was so much shrimp you couldn’t really taste the serrano peppers and when you can’t taste serrano peppers, that’s a problem.

We had the oranges for dessert and they were delicious! I hadn’t ever had rose water before so I was surprised by how aromatic it is. This was a very light, fresh dessert and I’ll definitely try the syrup again but with different fruit. 

The best part of the entire meal was the stir fry. The meatloaf was very tender and crumbly. This was my first time making a pork meatloaf. James’ grandmother said that if I like crumbly meatloaf, it’s best to use 2/3 ground pork and 1/3 ground beef; I normally use all beef. I also really liked steaming it. It takes an hour to bake a meatloaf, same amount as steaming, but then you have a messy casserole dish afterwards. My clean up involved throwing away the foil and wiping down the base pot. I feel like the meatloaf made a huge difference in the stir fry. Rice noodles, bok choy, and shrimp are pretty basic ingredients for a stir fry but the addition of the meatloaf made it exceptional!

So aside from the hiccup of my bad time management skills, this meal was a success. The girls ate everything except for the mango salad. I didn’t even bother giving them any because I was worried that the mango would be too hard for them. Yeah, unripe mango is that hard. 

I’m going to buy a deveiner today!

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Steamed Mussels with Lemon Grass and Thai Basil, Coconut Rice, Bok Choy Stir Fry

I decided on this meal for two reason: mussels are yummy and when I was out shopping for Burmese week, I found some frozen mussels and I bought them. I needed to use those mussels. 

Up until last night, I had one experience with mussels. It was ten years ago and I had decided to make dinner for some friends. It was a Thai meal and I served shrimp lettuce wraps, steamed mussels, and Thai iced coffee. It was a great meal and the first time I had cooked for anyone other than myself and a boyfriend. That meal taught James and I the importance of owning a shrimp deveiner because we personally shelled and deveined two pounds of shrimp. It was a horrible experience and James had to go for a run afterwards because he was so frustrated.

By the way, we still don’t own a deveiner.

Anyway, my one experience with mussels had been good so I figured another try would also be successful. And it probably would have been, had I used fresh mussels.

But let’s talk about the sides first!

I made a quick bok choy stir fry because I have a lot. I bought some for a meal I’m making tonight but I only need one pound; I bought like two so I need to get rid of that. I made a sauce of garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar and sauteed the bok choy in it. It was really good, a little tart but the right amount of sweet.

The coconut rice was my favorite. I actually made it earlier in the week to test it out and loved it. The coconut flavor isn’t very strong but you can taste it. It’s sweet and buttery but not overpowering at all. 

The mussels.

Man, the mussels were not good. These frozen mussels were tough and had a weird taste. I think the problem is that I cooked them. The package didn’t say anything about them being pre-cooked so I assumed I needed to cook them. Well, you know what happens when you assume…I just looked into it and apparently all frozen mussels are pre-cooked because you can’t really freeze raw mussels! I probably should have looked into this beforehand. So had I just thawed them out and maybe boiled them for a minute, they would have been fine. The broth was good and definitely had a kick to it; we didn’t even have to use the hot sauce. 

I’m not giving up on mussels though! I’ll just know how to properly prepare them next time.

Recipe, Recipe

Willkommen

Welcome to the new site! Or if this is your first time here, well, welcome to the new site! 

Also, I don’t speak German. You might think I do because of the title of this post but I don’t. The only reason I even know how to say “Welcome” in German is because I adore Cabaret. And they say the theater doesn’t teach anything!

I was previously using Blogger and while it was a nice platform, as I started really getting into this, I realized I wanted to be able to customize my blog. Blogger offered customization BUT you basically had to know code to get what you wanted and I do NOT have time to learn computer speak. I barely have time to learn human speak and my mastery of that is mediocre at best so computer speak and Melissa was not going to happen.

Obviously the look of the blog is a lot different but there is another very big difference: I am now separating my thoughts on the meal from the recipe itself. Previously everything was in one post but it made for very long, drawn out posts and people (i.e my cousin Robert. Hay Robert!) complained about it so I decided to change it. The Blog and Recipes are now on separate pages and once I figure out how to link the two posts together I will. I’m also slowly going through old posts and separating the two so if you scroll through old posts right now, you’ll find most of them are still in one post. I will get there, I promise! Some of the original content is being edited out because it doesn’t work as well in two posts but thankfully the same ‘ol Melissa charm is still there.

Also, no more having to login to comment! Wooot! Now everyone can come on here and tell me how they really feel. That’s the best part of the internet, right???

I’m really liking this new platform and once I figure out how to navigate it, this site is going to be A-M-A-ZING! 

No, it’s not. It will be a lot of the same BUT it will be organized and pretty and that’s all that really matters.  

So welcome to the new site. Look around, comment, share, and remember: life is a cabaret.

Chicken in Pandan Leaves and Coconut, Ginger, and Lemon Salad

This meal made my Top Five. It was a lot of work, not gonna sugarcoat that, but it was worth it. My kitchen was a total disaster and James kept joking that it looked “used” but I didn’t mind. Okay, I did mind. It took me about thirty minutes to clean up and I was exhausted afterwards but considering the great meal I got out of it, I wasn’t unhappy.

The chicken. 

So you don’t eat the pandan leaves. Just want to make sure that’s understood. The chicken itself was peppery and borderline spicy but with white pepper, it’s a different kind of spicy. It’s almost like a wasabi spicy, that chemically spicy. Still very good and I’m glad I also made some plain white rice to calm my mouth down a bit.

The salad.

Oh man, this was our favorite part! The Shrimp Sauce was very sweet. I was worried about the flavor because shrimp paste is soooo strong and with the ground shrimp, I knew it would only increase the flavor, but the sugar really toned it down. So yay! No shrimpy taste! The fun part was making different combination with the condiments. This meal had everything: sweet, sour, salty, what’s the other flavor? Umami? Yeah, umami! I think this would be a great dish for a dinner party because it’s a great dish to start conversation. 

The girls ate rice. I  didn’t even bother giving them this food because of the spice although the baby did eat a lot of peanuts and coconut.

Recipe

Pad Thai

You might have noticed I only prepared three Costa Rican meals, compared to the four to five that I have been making. The biggest reason for this was that I couldn’t find a lot of Costa Rican meals; apparently they don’t have a large diet. I know this can’t be true because, hello, there are more than two people living in that country, but it was hard to find a lot of recipes that were appealing and different from each other. Most of the recipes involved rice and beans, which is fine, but that can be boring after a couple of days. I had read that a big part of Tico diet is rice and beans so I expected that going into researching meals but I had no idea just HOW big. They’re like in every meal. I’ve stated numerous times how much I love rice and beans but even though that love is strong, it’s not every day strong. It’s more like once a week strong. Maybe even every couple of week strong. What I’m saying is that Costa Rican food has made me rethink my relationship with rice and beans. So if anything came out of last week’s cooking, it’s that rice and beans and I are now in therapy and working out some stuff.

We’ll be fine. I know we will.

Moving on.

This week we’re eating Thai food. I was and am super excited about this week! I haven’t had a lot of experience with Thai food but what I have eaten has been great so I know this week will make my belly very happy! Since I didn’t really enjoy looking up recipes online for Turkey and Costa Rica weeks, and because I know I’ll want to make more of this cuisine, I went out and bought a Thai cookbook. Today’s meal, however, came courtesy of my running partner. Last week I mentioned I was doing Thai food and she said she had some great recipes a friend had shared with her so, here is Usha’s Friend’s Pad Thai

Recipe