Cape Verde: Not a Green Cape

As we move close to the end of the year, almost being December, I am learning that there are tons of countries I didn’t know existed.  One of those countries is Cape Verde.  I first thought it was an island in the Caribbean, boy was I far off.

Cape Verde is a tiny island off the west coast of Africa.  This country is made of 10 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean.  Cape Verde may be a small country but the cuisine we made tonight had large chunks of goodness.

This simple stew we made was called Carne Gizado.  There isn’t a whole lot to this dish but it pops with so much flavor.

The dish started being prepped the night before, marinating the meat.  I took cubed beef for stew (has to be better than normal since it was from Whole Foods, right?).  I dumped garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaf and vinegar on top of the beef in a ziploc bag.  Tonight I took out the meat and it smelled unbelievable.

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Tonight I prepped the rest by shaving (much more fun than peeling) the yuca, white potato, white yam and green bananas.  The baby bananas were too tiny and cute to pass up instead of normal green bananas.  Also mixed in was a chopped onion.

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After prepping there wasn’t much left to do other than throw everything in a pot and cook.  The onions and meat was first cooked on low with some oil. When they were cooked through I threw all the other veggies in on top.  I covered the dish with water and a few spices (paprika, salt and pepper).

A few hours and BAM we had Carne Gizado.

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The stew came out with a pop of flavor and way better than I thought it would be.  The second bowl I had after should speak for that.  Cape Verde is a tiny island I didn’t even know existed but I am glad I learned something new tonight.

-Matt

Switzerland: Fondue Party

For those of you who have had the pleasure of celebrating a birthday with me, you likely know that there is a very special birthday tradition in my family for my special day – fondue. As long as I can remember my family and I would gather my grandparent’s house and have a wonderful evening full of yummy food cooked tableside and presents (really, you can’t beat that).

When the weather started to turn to fall, Matt and I knew it was time to bring out the recipes and ideas we’d been saving for cooler weather. One of those was Swiss fondue. For me, fondue brings up memories of fun and family time gathered together eating tiny morsels dipped in cheese, oil, and chocolate. Much to my surprise, the only Swiss aspect of my family’s tradition was the cheese part.

For your reference, oil fondue is Japanese and chocolate fondue is French.

I wasn’t giving up the fondue with my DC family idea, so in addition to traditional Swiss cheese fondue, we looked for several other Swiss dishes and delicacies to snack on.

This was a hard task considering fish was not something we would be preparing, but diligent internet research came through for the win again. In addition to the fondue, we made a potato tort hash brown called Rosti. This potato dish commonly served in the German region of Switzerland has its roots in German immigrants.

I got to work on the potato thing. I usually am a master at making hash browns and breakfast potatoes but I made a fatal error in deciding to use our aluminum [is that the right word?]. After not flipping properly, I switched to a non-stick pan and was able to save the dish. This basically turned out like a giant hash brown or latke. It was good, but oily (my fault, possibly?), there weren’t any leftovers though so it much have gone well with the cheese.

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After we got the potatoes sizzling away, I started the cheese fondue on the stop top. After my grandmother passed away, I asked my mom to send me the fondue pots we use to eat out of at her house. So the two pots we used were antiques. Despite their age, they help up well to the cheese and the sterno.

Instead of opting for a fondue recipe, we took a short cut and purchased an already mixed packet of made in Switzerland cheese fondue. While we may have missed grating the cheese (I kid), the packets tasted just like I remember and had personally made from scratch in the past (who knew!).

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Typically only bread is served with traditional Swiss fondue so bread was all we served with ours. Honestly, the veggies and other dippers were not missed.

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Possibly the most exciting treat of the evening came from a Swiss bakery Matt found in Virginia. On one of his days off earlier in the week Matt drove out to the bakery and brought back two traditional Swiss pastries, St. Mortiz Nut Tart and Birenweggen.

The Birenweggen was rolled like a Swiss roll with cinnamon and nuts inside a thick and doughy crust.

 

The St. Moritz nut tart was a caramel pie-type dessert. It was sweet and salty and you couldn’t eat but a few bites at a time.

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Both we’re a great end to our cheese fondue and rosti.

Enjoying fondue as the Swiss enjoy it was a nice change but I think the next time we pull out the antique pots I’ll stick with my tradition, if anything because it’s a bit healthier.

-Bridget

Nicaragua: Old Indian

After spending the afternoon around Rockville and having an eccentric Taiwanese meal, we decided to relax at home.  We both wanted something easy to make and more of a “comfort” food.  I decided to go ahead with Nicaraguan, no other reason than I already had a beer from this country in the fridge.

The beer I had was called Toña.  This cerveza is a golden lager, brewed in Nicaragua, that is pretty weak.  The beer was just okay but went well with the dish we made. [Editor’s note: I really like this beer! One of the better ones from Central America!]

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For dinner we made a cuisine called Indio Viejo (old indian).  As soon as I saw this it reminded me of one of my favorite Cuban dishes, Ropa Vieja. (old clothes).  The dish, however, was completely different but tasty in its own right.

The consistency of Indio Viejo is somewhere between stew and thick soup, and the orange of the achiote gives it a beautiful color. [Editor’s note: It reminded me of the inside of a nacatamale]. The ingredients confused me a bit as again, it wasn’t anything like Ropa Vieja.  The main ingredient in this dish was corn, a large amount of corn flour or Maseca.

I bought neck bone meat to put in a pot of boiling water and vegetables.  The meat was boiled for a few hours and then removed.  I shredded the meat off the bone and put to the side.

Bridget fried tomatoes, onions and peppers in some oil.  She then tossed the maseca with the veggies along with one of my evil enemies: achiote.  The evil red seasoning that stains everything I own, hence Bridget mixing this part.  The mixture was put on the stove top in a large pot.

It simmered for about 20 minutes and I dumped the meat into it when done.  We apparently made enough Indio Viejo for an entire Nicaraguan village.  It looked like we were feeding porridge to the local orphan children when done.

The achiote gave it a redddish/orange hue and the corn made it look like a thick stew.  I steamed some rice and fried a green plantain to go with the meal.  The rice was unnecessary as the Indio Viejo by itself was filling and plentiful.

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The dish was quite delicious and way too much was made.  Indio Viejo was a simple dish that didn’t need a whole bunch of pictures, just a simple final “ta-da.”

-Matt

Taiwan: Shaved Ice Mountain (not a ski resort in Taipei but a dessert delicacy)

The day started out with us going to a place for Taiwanese in Rockville.   We made our way out there and found out our original destination for Taiwanese was no longer in existence.  It was now a chinese buffet.  Luckily I bring along a smart Bridget who knows how to Google and found another spot next door.  Good to know the area is home to another Taiwan cuisine restaurant: Taipei Cafe

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Nothing is ever more awkward than going to a restaurant where no one speaks English. From the moment we walked in until we left we knew we were in territory that wasn’t normal to us. Between the slurping at the table on one side and fish heads on another table, I knew this would be interesting.  I wasn’t 100% sure but I am pretty sure the staff laughed at us a few times during our stay.

The menu was quite large and we had no idea what we were looking for so I asked for a little help.  He made a few recommendations, sadly everything was seafood.  So I went basic with their Taiwan wonton soup and an appetizer of tempura.

The wonton soup was outstanding and like nothing I’ve ever had, especially from a crappy Chinese take out.  The wontons tasted freshly steamed before being plopped in to the soup.

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To go with the soup we also ordered an appetizer of Tempura.  We assumed the tempura was tofu.  We assumed this when we ordered it, ate it and after it was done.  The server later asked how the seafood tempura was.  Which was quite humorous because I told him from the start I was allergic to seafood. He gave me an odd look after he saw the dish was done and asked “So you enjoyed the seafood tempura.”  We both sat there quietly and not sure how to answer that.

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For our entree we ordered something large we could split.  I also wanted something that was very popular in Taiwan.  A Hot Pot is a large “stew” that contains a variety of flavors with meat and vegetables mixed in.  We ordered a pork belly hot pot with pickled cabbage.  Also mixed in were fish cakes and pickled eggs.

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We didn’t realize at first we ordered a second soup but our server did.  He giggled again at us as he said “Here is more soup” when he brought out the dish.  However, the hot pot was amazing and had so many flavors.

We weren’t sure if we would get dessert but then I saw they had something called Shaved Ice.  I didn’t know what we were getting but I felt that it wouldn’t be that strange since it was called Shaved Ice.  I asked the server to make suggestions on what 3 toppings to get and he said: Red Beans, Lychees and Taro Root.  Again, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what we were getting.

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This picture does not do this dessert justice.  The giant stack of shaved ice was surrounded by red bean, lychee and taro root.  The sweetness of the syrups, odd consistency of beans and root, as well as the large stack of ice was incredible.  Incredibly weird and odd.  Everyone around us was staring, we couldn’t stop laughing and we slowly ate this giant “mountain.”

After all the giggling around us and our shaved ice mountain fell apart, we were done.  We enjoyed Taiwanese and the differences with this cuisine and other Chinese foods.  I would come back but next time the mountain stays in the kitchen.

-Matt

Afghanistan: Almost Elephant Ears

Every Tuesday Bridget and I travel to U Street area for different reasons.  Tonight we chose to have dinner at a small spot called Local 16 (www.localsixteen).  While this place is well known in DC for its amazing rooftop deck and brunch, we had no idea they served Afghanistan cuisine.

Due to the amazing weather we first tried to sit in that popular rooftop deck area.  We got outside and it was packed, probably for happy hour, with loud people.  We made our way downstairs and thought we found a quiet spot, boy were we wrong. There was a large party near us with people that just laugh LOUD!  Luckily the food (and price) made up for this by far.

Local 16 had a complete Afghan menu that were all covered by the happy hour prices.

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Happy hour menu made the ordering process very easy, as we shared tons of stuff.  The fact mostly everything was just $5 we assumed it would be small plates to share.  Man were we wrong, as out came large plates for us to share.  There was plenty to take home for leftovers which no one complained about.

First thing we ordered were two types of Bolani, Afghan stuffed flat bread.  The bread was grilled in wood fire oven as well.  We ordered a pumpkin & onion as well as a potato & leek bolani.  Both came with a side of spicy cilantro and yogurt dipping sauce.  They were crispy while the inside was soft and full of flavor.  Bridget of course loved the pumpkin and I loved the potato.

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To go with the flat bread we also ordered two dishes that were similar to each other: Mantu and Ashak.  If I am close to being right (which usually I am not) what makes them different is the stuffing. Mantu is a dumpling stuffed with lamb or beef while Ashak has a vegetable stuffing. Mantu has a vegetable sauce on top (this time carrot) and Ashak had a beef sauce.  Both were delicious, so much so we had none to take home for leftovers.

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Mantu top picture and Ashak on bottom

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I know this looks like a whole lot of food (and it was) but I couldn’t help but order more.  I mean each dish was $5, how could I not.  Lastly we ordered Afghan meatballs or Kofta.  They came along side a bowl of rice that were mixed with raisins (Bridget’s FAVORITE!).  There was barely any to take home when done with this dish.

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As you can see below the table was covered in delicious Afghan cuisine.

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We were so stuffed by the end I almost (not really) didn’t want to order dessert.  There was something on the menu called “Gosh Feel.”  First off the name alone made me want to try it but then there was a description on the menu: ELEPHANT EARS!!!! YES PLEASE!   I asked our nice waiter (who I forgot to mention had a mohawk and a 12 inch rat tail) about the desserts.  He then proceeded to break my heart (and stomach) by telling me they didn’t have dessert tonight.

I was okay with this (not really) and moved on.  My stomach thanked me later for not being able to get dessert.  Afghanistan cuisine at Local 16 was outstanding and such a change of pace from other cuisines.  Maybe next time I can get me my Gosh Feel.

-Matt