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?

Savory Gluten-Free Rolls

In the oven RIGHT NOW are some yummy gluten-free rolls! I never thought I would be putting the words “yummy” and “gluten-free” in the same sentence – but I’m pretty sure I’ve only had bad gluten-free bread in the past. I’m a believer now! These rolls have sold me – and they are sooo easy to make.

Savory Gluten-Free Rolls

  • Servings: 1 dozen rolls
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c warm water (almost as warm as you can stand to hold your finger in for about 20 seconds)
  • 1 tsp granulated sweetener
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one package)
  • 3 Tbsp agave nectar
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp  raw apple cider vinegar (any other plain vinegar works in a pinch)
  • 1 c sorghum flour
  • 1/2 c brown rice flour
  • 1/2 c teff flour
  • 1/2 c arrowroot flour
  • 1/2 c tapioca flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp Italian seasoning or 1 Tbsp each basil and oregano

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Oil a 12-cup muffin tin. Find a warm place to proof the rolls (the oven set at about 200 works, as does a food dehydrator set at the same temp.)
  3. Stir the warm water, sugar and yeast together in a small bowl. Set aside while you mix together the dry ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (leaving out the chopped garlic). Whisk together to completely combine.
  5. To the small bowl with the liquids – add the agave syrup, olive oil, and vinegar. Stir well to combine.
  6. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and quickly whisk together. Continue to whisk to get rid of any lumps and keep whisking until the batter thickens and becomes smooth.
  7. Quickly add the chopped garlic and stir until just combined. (Work quickly after all the ingredients have been added together, otherwise you might loose the little air bubbles that are being created by the baking soda and the vinegar.)
  8. Spoon mixture into the oiled muffin tin. Set in a warm place to rise for about 20 minutes.
  9. Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes (or until the tops are golden brown). Remove from oven.
  10. Allow rolls to cool for a few minutes before removing from pan (a knife may need to be run around the edge of each roll to loosen.)

Enjoy with butter, soup, or salad; or make each roll into a little mini sandwich!

Let me know what you think of these rolls! I just love them.

Raw Chocolate Torte

This is something you have to try to believe! Containing only raw ingredients and absolutely no dairy, soy or gluten – this is a dessert that can be enjoyed by nearly everyone (even those who are extremely restricted by their diets). Let me know what you think!

*Not my own recipe but I’m not sure where it’s from originally. If you know I would love to give credit where credit is due!*

Raw Chocolate Torte

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Crust:

  • 2 c pecans (or pretty much any other nut combo you can think of)
  • 8-10 medjool dates – pitted
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom

In a food processor, grind the nuts until they are fairly well blended. Add the rest of the crust ingredients and process until well combined. Press into a deep dish pie plate and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Filling:

  • 1 c raw cashew butter
  • 1 small avocado (yes – I said avocado)
  • 1/2 c + 2 T raw cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c agave nectar
  • 1/2 c melted coconut butter
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1 T vanilla

Rinse out the food processor. In the food processor, blend all filling ingredients until smooth. Scrape filling into crust and chill for 3-4 hours.

This is torte great on its own or served with berries! Enjoy!

 

Cilantro Dip

This. Dip. Is. Amazing. You will never want to use ranch again! Tzatziki sauce either. It’s great with veggies, all kinds of meat, over rice, with chips… pretty much anything you can think of. And if you just add some vinegar it would make a wonderfully creamy salad dressing. You will be eating this by the spoonful and licking the bowl (both of which have been done)!

I made this dip for the first time this weekend, in a gigantic sized batch. This recipe should give you similar results on a smaller scale!

*Please note that this dip is best if made at least one day before serving. The first time I made it I kept adding lime juice and salt, trying to get it to taste like something other than mayo. I put it in the fridge without really being happy with the flavor – but the next day it was wonderful!

Creamy Cilantro Dip/Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c sour cream
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1-2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 6 T chopped fresh cilantro (you can never have to0 much cilantro, so feel free to add more than this)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Taste and adjust the lime juice and salt if needed.
  3. Refrigerate over night if able.
  4. Allow dip to become your new addiction!

Serve with anything savory. I mean ANYTHING.

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!

Feed the Family #3 – Banana Pancakes

Meal number three – Thursday breakfast

Now – I know pancakes aren’t very earth-shatteringly original, and they don’t use up anything in the freezer (unless you’re my friend Sue – in which case your freezer is full of different kinds of flour), but the kids loved them! After I’d cooked up about half of the batter, I decided I should be “makin’ banana pancakes”. Nothing beats banana pancakes with home-made strawberry jelly!

Abby’s idea of “a little” powdered sugar.
Banana Pancakes!

 

Banana Pancakes

  • Servings: 6-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 5 T granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs – lightly beaten
  • 6 T olive oil
  • 2 1/2 c milk

Directions

  1. Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl to ensure most of the lumps are gone.
  2. Whisk in the wet ingredients, making sure to not OVER mix the batter.
  3. Preheat griddle or frying pan and lightly grease. (Add more oil as needed to prevent sticking.)
  4. When griddle is nice and hot, use a measuring cup to poor batter onto griddle to make preferred size of pancakes.
  5. Flip pancake over with a spatula when the edges are starting to brown and the bubbles that are appearing have started popping and staying open.
  6. To make banana pancakes – simply thinly slice a banana into coins and lay on the pancake AFTER the batter is poured but BEFORE it is flipped.

    Eat with plenty of butter and strawberry jelly… Or honey… Or powdered sugar… but ALWAYS plenty of butter!

 

Feed the Family #2 – Hearty Chili

Meal Number Two – Wednesday Dinner

I found a rump roast, dried and canned beans and a couple of forms of canned tomatoes. What does this make??? Chili!

Hearty Chili

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 2-3 c dried pinto beans – soaked overnight if possible
  • 1/8-1/4 c dried minced garlic
  • 6-8 c water (more if needed)

Cook beans until tender.

  • 1/2 of a large beef rump roast
  • few T oil – for browning meat
  • 1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
  • 1 can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans red kidney beans – drained and rinsed
  • 1 can peeled tomatoes, crushed before adding
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1/2 can spaghetti sauce
  • 1-2 T crushed dried red chili peppers
  • salt – to taste
  • cheddar cheese – grated (to sprinkle on top)

Directions

  1. After cooking the pinto beans, dice meat and brown in a little bit of oil.
  2. Combined all ingredients, including any liquids from the tomatoes or the cooked meat, in a large soup pot and heat until it is hot and bubbling.
  3. Serve Chili topped with grated cheddar cheese. Enjoy!

All of the kids loved it! (Even the little one with a loose tooth who started dinner by complaining about not being able to chew even a banana…)

*Please note that this chili was a way to use up some random leftovers and canned goods. Canned goods can be adjusted to utilize what you have on hand.*