Taste the World – Albania

Whew! I really struggled trying to write this post. It seems that all of my creativity has disappeared. The food this week was delicious, comforting, and challenging. My co-chef was attractive and entertaining. And yet – my brain is only stringing together boring sentences. For your sake, I’ll try to make this fast.
     Our Taste the World experiment took us to Albania this week. We actually spent several days on this country because we made two meals instead of one. The first meal consisted of Tav Ma Presh (a leek casserole), which we ate with smashed new potatoes and a common Albanian tomato and cucumber salad. The second meal required the majority of an afternoon to prepare because we just had to make Flija – a traditional dish with it’s own celebratory day!
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Tav Ma Presh is primarily made of leeks, along with some red peppers and minced lamb, beef, or chicken. It’s a hearty comfort food that reminds me of Shepherds Pie without the mashed potatoes. A lot of the recipes we looked at actually suggested serving it with mashed potatoes or just as a side dish for another meal. We tweaked the traditional recipe to utilize what we had on hand (ground beef and baby potatoes), and we both loved the result! We also wanted a tiny bit of spice so we added a few red jalapeños to our dish. You’ll find our recipe for this and the other dishes below.
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The cucumber and tomato salad was pretty basic but the addition of green onions and lemon juice made it a refreshing contrast against the rich and fatty Tav Ma Presh.
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Our attempt at making Flija was not entirely successful, but it was an interesting challenge nonetheless. March 18th in Albania is Flija Day and families invite their friends and relatives over for the day to prepare and eat Flija! A whole day for one dish? Flija takes at least three hours to prepare.
     Flija is a many layered “cake” made with a simple pancake-like batter that is baked in layers and brushed with a thin, creamy, yogurt batter. The finished dish can be eaten with either savory or sweet toppings. Flija is traditionally made outside, near an open fire. A large metal lid called a sac is placed over the fire and hot coals are piled on top to maintain the temperature. The sac is used to bake each layer of the Flija as it sits near the fire. The process is kind of difficult to explain clearly – I recommend watch one of the following videos to see how it is made traditionally.
 
To make our Flija, we had to improvise. We used my deep cast iron pan and baked each layer under the broiler in my oven. Mistakes #1 and #2. We also played with the recipe a little bit and combined several recipes that we found. Mistake #3. None of the recipes specified whether or not the pan should be preheated – so I preheated. Mistake #4.
     The bottom layers of our dish were burnt and crispy – a result of preheating and (I think) using cast iron. All of the edges were over cooked and each layer was denser and chewier than I think they were supposed to be – a result of being in a hot oven for 3 hours and the recipe we used.
Still – we were able to taste the potential in the edible parts of our dish. We’ll be keeping an eye out for a suitable pan and lid to attempt this dish again the traditional way. I’ve included our recipe below because I’m not entirely convinced the recipe was the problem. I’ve also included a few links to a few basic recipes in case you suddenly have an afternoon free and the desire to stand next to a fire or oven for most of the day!
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On to the recipes!

Tav Ma Presh

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 3-5 large leeks, green parts removed and cut into approximately 1/2 in. diagonal slices
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 T tomato sauce
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 2-3 red jalapenos – sliced
  • beef stock
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium high heat and sauté leeks until soft.
  3. Place leeks in a baking dish.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and cook the onions and the ground beef.
  5. Add the tomato sauce, red peppers, salt and pepper to taste and enough beef stock to cover everything. Bring to a boil.
  6. Pour the meat mixture over the leeks and bake for 1 hour at 375.

Serve as a side dish or with choice of potatoes.

 

 

Smashed New Potatoes

  • Servings: variable
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients 

  • baby potatoes – 6-12 per person
  • olive oil
  • salt
Instructions 
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Lay potatoes on an oven safe pan and drizzle with olive oil. Stir to coat evenly.
  3. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  4. Roast in oven for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. (Can also be cooked longer until skins start to get crispy.)
  5. Remove from oven and smash each potato with a fork.
  6. Pile potatoes on a platter and serve.

 

 

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Citrus Dressing

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients  

  • 3-4 large tomatoes – medium diced
  • 1 large English cucumber – quartered and diced
  • small bunch green onions – thinly sliced
  • 1-2 T good olive oil
  • 1-2 T lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Taste and adjust lemon juice and seasoning as needed.

 

 

Flija

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Difficulty: experienced
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Ingredients 

  • 5 eggs
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 3 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 – 8 oz package cream cheese – softened
  • 2-3 T butter – melted
  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • water – as needed
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to broil.
  2. Combine first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Consistency should be similar to a thin pancake batter. (Batter #1)
  3. Combine last four ingredients in a separate medium bowl. Add enough water to reach a very thin consistency. (Batter #2)
  4. Using a squeeze bottle or a spoon, spread a thin layer of batter #1 on the bottom of the pan as a base.
  5. Place pan under broiler until batter is cooked and starting to brown in spots. Remove from oven and spread a thin layer of batter #2 as the second layer.
  6. In a “star” pattern, add a layer of batter #1.
  7. Bake again.
  8. Repeat these two layers, alternating the star pattern so that the “cake” slowly grows evenly, until pan is full or batter runs out.
Serve with jam, cheese, spicy vegetables, or other choice of topping.
I’ve included a few “in progress” photos to help illustrate the recipe.
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Have you been to Albania? What was your favorite dish?

Feed the Family #8 – Beef Pot Pie with Easy Cheddar Biscuits

Meal number eight – Friday dinner

For dinner tonight I just thickened up last nights beef stew by throwing in a couple handfuls of flour as I reheated it. Then I made some easy cheddar biscuits that I baked in a dutch oven on top of my beef “stew” – to create an instant… Beef Pot-Pie!

 

Easy Cheddar Biscuits

  • Servings: 6-12
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 c butter
  • 1/2 c grated cheddar
  • 1/3 c milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Combine first four ingredients in a medium/large bowl.
  3. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and cheddar.
  4. Pour in milk and stir together until just blended.
  5. Lightly flour cutting board or clean counter and gently roll out dough to desired thickness.
  6. Cut dough to desired size and place on a greased baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and done inside.

 

(I pretty much just tore pieces of dough off and flattened them into biscuit shapes that mostly fit together to cover the pot-pie. Then I baked the whole thing in the oven at 400 for about half an hour. So that’s an option too.)

Everyone loved this impromptu pot-pie!

This ends the Feed the Family Challenge. My dad is home now so he and Rosie will be taking care of feeding the kids tomorrow! Rosie has plans for breakfast that involve using up a bunch of frozen berries and some spinach…

Keep an eye out for my next “mini series” – Why Fat IS Good For You!

Meal #7

Meal number seven – Friday Lunch

Success! This was easy and fabulously tasty… Chili Pie! My sister helped me make corn bread (she even found a good recipe in her Boxcar Children Cookbook by Diane Blain), and we topped a pie pan full of leftover chili with the corn bread batter.

Here is the recipe she used…

1 1/4 c flour
3/4 c cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c milk
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 egg
            Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, pour into a greased baking pan (or on top of some chili) and bake at 400 until a toothpick or a knife comes out clean.

It did take a while longer then expected to bake (the chili was cold and I think that was a big factor), but the end result was worth the wait! We topped each bowl full with grated cheddar cheese and the whole thing magically disappeared, so fast in fact that I almost didn’t get a picture of the end result.

Feed the Family #1 – Tuna Rice Bake

My challenge for the next couple of days is this… feed myself and four hungry active kids three meals a day while my mom is in Portland at Hannah’s debate tournament! Oh – and try to use up random food that’s in the freezer at the same time.

Meal Number One – Wednesday Lunch
I arrived at my parents house about an hour before the younger kids had to be at their friends house for a weekly play date. (That was bad planning on my part.)
I scrambled through the cupboards trying to find SOMETHING to feed them that could be thrown together quickly and keep them going for most of the afternoon. Solution? Tuna and Rice Casserole!

cooked rice leftover from dinner last night
4 cans of tuna
1/2 of a giant can of cream of mushroom soup
Italian seasonings
dried minced garlic
salt
grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400.
Throw cold rice in a 9×13 pan, break up any big chunks so it will heat evenly. Dump undrained tuna on top of rice and spread out to cover evenly. Sprinkle seasonings, garlic and salt evenly over everything. Plop cream of mushroom soup across pan and spread to cover. Throw in oven and cook until nearly hot. Pull out of oven, stir around to combine all ingredients and sprinkle top with cheese. Put back in oven until cheese is melted and casserole is completely hot.
Serve!
Encourage the one child that doesn’t like it to eat it anyways ’cause that’s all she’s getting and then rush kids to car and off to friends house!

Stay tuned to see how I respond to this challenge and what is unearthed from the freezer!

Creamy Italian Chicken on Rice

I love this dish! It’s simple to make and will easily feed a lot of people. This meal is almost as good as Mac n’ Cheese in the comfort-food-department. Although I’ve made this dish dozens of times – I apparently never took a picture of it.

Creamy Italian Chicken on Rice

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 3-4 c dry rice
  • 6-8 c water
  • boneless, skinless chicken pieces – 8-10oz per person
  • 1 medium onion – diced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 3-4 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1-2 tsp paprika
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp pepper
  • 1 – 26oz can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 16 oz sour cream

Instructions

  1. Begin by cooking the rice. Combine the dry rice and water (1:2 ration) in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce rice to a simmer and cover. Cook until rive is tender and all of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare the chicken.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350.
  5. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces and spread evenly in a greased oven proof pan. (Pan should not be full because you will be adding sauce ingredients.)
  6. Sprinkle chicken evenly with dried seasonings.
  7. Spread the Cream of Mushroom soup evenly to cover the chicken.
  8. Cover with foil to prevent browning and bake at 350 until the chicken is cooked through.
  9. When cooked, remove from the oven and stir in the sour cream to create a smooth creamy sauce.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  11. Reheat for a few minutes if needed.

Serve over cooked rice with lots of extra sauce! Can be served with steamed veggies or a big green salad.

Notes:

  1. The rice instructions written here are for short grained white rice. Adjust amounts as needed if another kind of rice is used.
  2. The rice and the sauce can help this dish easily stretch to feed more people.
  3. Veggies such as zucchini, red bell peppers, broccoli, etc. can easily be added to the chicken if desired.
  4. This dish can be frozen and then reheated BEFORE the sour cream is added.
  5. This recipe can be gluten free if a gluten free Cream of Mushroom soup is used.