Chile: Fruit Cake Christmas Bread

There is a certain staple in the DC late night scene that I was told about before I even became a DC resident; Julia’s Empanadas (Juliasempanadas.com) is located in several neighborhoods in DC and is open late on the weekends.

It turns out Julia’s Empanadas has a Chilean specialty, an empanada made with raisins, olives, and hard boiled eggs.

I’m not a fan of raisins, even in my Chilean empanadas, but I was able to successfully pick them out and enjoy the empanada. Matt doesn’t mind raisins so he munched through his without complaint.

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We couldn’t settle for just empanadas for our Chilean celebration so Matt picked up the ingredients for a Chilean soup, porotos granados, and a specialty bread, pan de pascua. We also had a delicious Chilean red wine, Casillero del Diablo.

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This best part of this soup was hunting down some of the ingredients we needed. In addition to pumpkin, corn and many different spices, the recipe called for Cranberry beans or Romano beans. We knew we could find these in Mt Pleasant or Columbia Heights and we struck gold at the Giant.

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Into a giant pot it went to simmer for a while. While it cooked, it smelled awesome. We couldn’t wait to dig in.

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I really liked this soup, it had a deep smokey flavor that made it seem like it had been slow cooked for days. Matt, I think, wasn’t a huge fan of the chunks of squash but he ate it a few times for dinner later in the week.

The last part of our Chilean meal was supposed to be a tasty Chilean Christmas bread, pan de pascua. We had high hopes for this bread, it sounded great based on the ingredients – dried fruit, nuts, and brandy. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty dry mess. That might have been a chef error, but we don’t need to go into details. (Editor note: I don’t like baking).

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Like most of our home cooked meals, nothing ever turns out quite perfect.

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We’ve learned a lot about cooking and cooking together through this entire experience. Luckily, we’ve also tried out some really great recipes that we’ll make for years to come (and I’m sure they’ll get better with practice).

 

-Bridget

Australia: Dessert from Down Under

Crocodile Dundee, kangaroos, Bridget’s friend’s husband.  These are the 3 things that I know come from Australia.  After  tonight I have learned there are 2 desserts and 1 drink that also come from down under.

Instead of making dinner tonight we baked a few desserts.  While making the desserts we drank an interesting ginger beer I found at a World Market called Bundaberg.  Bundaberg is a brewery in Australia that imports their drinks all over the world.  The one I found was a ginger beer that had great flavor.  Not only did it taste great but it was fun to open (a pull tab) and in a weird shape.

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“That’s not a knife! This is a knife!”  Ok, maybe I didn’t say this while cooking but I did many attempts at a shitty Australian accent.  Next up was the Anzac biscuits.  After translating the silly measurements Australians use and some of their words that make no sense.  For example did you know they call Rice Krispies, Rice Bubbles?  That’s just silly.

The Anzac biscuits were easy to make and looked quite unappealing to me.  When you tell me cookies that have rolled oats and coconut, I’m gonna pass.  They baked for about 20 minutes and gave off such an amazing scent from the oven.  I took a bite of one and wanted to eat 3 more cookies at the same time.  They were incredible and I didn’t wanna share with Bridget.

Koalas, rugby, vegemite.  Three other things I know that exist in Australia.  On to the next dessert we made: Pavlova. Pavlova is dessert that was made for a Russian dancer that visited either Australia or New Zealand. There is a battle for which country it originates.  Since we already had New Zealand we chose the winning country: Australia.

It only took us two different times to get this one to work but when it worked, we knew it was right.  I learned tonight how to make stiff peaks and why this was important.  The first attempt we learned that there is not second chances and we dumped that batch.  Then we learned how to make stiff peaks with the egg whites and slowly added sugar, vanilla and vinegar.  Poured it in a bowl with a giant hole in the middle and threw it in the oven for 1 & 1/2 hours on 250°.

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Pre-baked

When done we let it cool in the oven and made the whipped topping.  Threw a bunch of strawberries and walla! (not Australian word) we had Pavlova.

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So there you have it, you got to see how we enjoyed the desserts and a drink of Australia.  Sadly no kangaroo kabobs, eucalyptus salads or crocodile.  Crocodile Dundee and the late Crocodile Hunter would both have been happy here tonight. Mate!

-Matt

 

 

 

 

 

Portugal: Right off the Bone

You ever go to a restaurant and think “I am pretty sure they kill people out back?”  Well this was that restaurant.

Tavira (Tavirarestaurant.com) is a hard to find Portuguese restaurant hidden in an office building in Chevy Chase.  The decor was from the 1970s and hasn’t changed since.  The staff and other patrons all looked like they had been there since the same era.  Very surprisingly, the food was so. freaking. good!

The main reason we chose Tavira was because they offered a variety of dishes through a “Taste of Portugal” menu.  Not only was this  better for our taste adventure but Bridget didn’t have to make choices.  (Which if you don’t know her, choices aren’t her favorite things.)

To start we ordered a couple of Portuguese drinks.  I ordered a glass of Super Bock, a Portuguese brewed beer.  As you can see below it’s a golden lager.  Bridget ordered a glass of Portuguese red wine.  Both went excellently with dinner.

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Now we start our adventure of flavors from Portugal.  The ‘Taste of Portugal’ menu was a 3 course meal.  We each started with a different dish as our appetizer.  Bridget ordered Portugal’s national soup: Caldo Verde. This consists of shredded kale, onions, potatoes & olive oil, garnished with chouriço.

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I ordered steamed mussels that were in a tomato and white wine sauce called Mexilhoes na Cataplana.  The most fun about this dish was the copper bowl it was served in.  Very old fashioned and reminded me of something my grandmother would have at home.

For an entree we went different ways.  Bridget ordered the Frango a Piri-piri. This dish sounded familiar with the piri-piri sauce.  We realized this is the same sauce used at a local chicken joint called Nando’s.  However, Tavira’s sauce was so much better on the cornish hen that was served.  Also made were pickled veggies and fresh homemade potato chips.

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Most of the other items of the menu were fish but I found something that was landlocked and boy was I happy with this choice.  I ordered Pernil de Porco a Madeirense, a braised pork shank.  The pork shank was cooked like Ossobuco, an italian style of pork shank.  It was braised in a white wine sauce and sitting on a bed of white beans.  The pork was the best thing I might of eaten in this adventure and peeled off the bone with a fork.

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We were completely stuffed after these 2 courses but sadly had to get dessert (not so sadly.)  We both split the 2 desserts that were available and were happy with the choices.  We ordered a chocolate cake with ice cream, Bolo de Chocolate com Gelado, which I am not sure is very Portuguese. The other dish was a traditional Portuguêse caramel custard called Pudim Flan.

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After having trouble finding this hidden restaurant in the basement of a business center and not sure if we would make it out alive, we ate well and survived.  Portugal was a huge success and I kill for them if asked just to eat that pork off the bone again.

-Matt

 

 

 

 

Bahamas, Aruba & Anguilla: Oooh I Wanna Take Ya

So January 1st Bridget and I set our way out to our first country’s cuisine of Ireland.  The Irish breakfast we had was just okay and nothing exciting.  We made a challenge where we would eat cuisines from at least 75 countries in 2015.  As the year went on we struggled to find spots but made our way to getting to our goal.  And on this night, December 5th, we not only hit our goal but exceeded it.

We thought one way to celebrate this challenge we decided to visit the Caribbean.  In doing so we found meals from Bahamas, Aruba and Anguilla (sadly no Kokomo.)  Also, Kokomo is not a country as it’s a island near the Florida Keys (fun facts).

We started the night drinking a Bahamian beer: Kalik.  It is basically a Corona without being labeled as such.  Not my favorite beer in the world.

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For dinner I found a few recipes that would get us through this amazing Caribbean adventure.  The main dish was an Aruban cuisine called Bolitas de Jamon (ham balls).  They not only were fun to say in each language but were quite interesting to make.

Took ground ham, which I didn’t even know it was a thing, mixed it with bread crumbs, eggs, onions and spices.  Made some ham balls, threw them in the oven and bam you had Bolitas de Jamon.  The balls were mixed in sauteed apricot preserves for some flavor.  They not only fell apart but were crumbly in the mouth.

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While cooking the ham balls we made side dish that was an Anguillan cuisine, pigeon peas and rice.  The hardest part of this dish was finding pigeon peas.  White rice was cooked with thyme, butter, hot sauce and the pigeon peas in a pot.

The pigeon peas and rice were a perfect compliment with the ham balls.  The ham balls broke apart as you ate them and mixed well in with the rice.

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Just when you think that was all we had for dinner, you have guessed wrong.  We went all out with Bahamian and made a Bahama Mama Carrot Cake.  I am not too sure how “Bahamian” this dish was but it was fun to make and eat.

I am no baker but this was very easy to make, plus I had a great sous chef helping. On top of the usual ingredients for a carrot cake (carrots, sugar, flour, eggs and baking soda) we also added crushed pineapple, vanilla, walnuts and many spices.

Thanks to the strength of Bridget she stirred up the ingredients and we poured it into the pan.  After baking on 350° for an hour we let it cool and made a sweet cream topping.  Covered the cake in this cream and had ourselves a giant Bahama Mama Carrot Cake!

We may not have been able to have a drink with a tiny umbrella while sitting on the beaches next to a blue ocean.  However, ham balls and Bahama Mama carrot cake were the next best thing.  Sadly we did not eat in our swimsuits, which I am sure most of you were hoping.

-Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panama: Conquering the Great Canal

Pretty much since my friend Malvi moved to DC we’ve been trying to try a relatively new Panamanian restaurant, Esencias, that opened of Georgia Ave in the Park View neighborhood.

After one failed attempt, in a torrential rainstorm, we added this spot to our must do list when Matt had a rare week of training during the day.

When we walked in we were greeted with a clean and modern space, quite a contrast to the streetscape we entered from. The first level of the restaurant opened up to a wide second level that provided the bulk of the seating for the restaurant. The main dinning room was decorated in Panamanian art and photos. The tables were covered in mola (traditional Panamanian indigenous art) inspired patterns.

 

 

We were luckily we had a “guide” with us to make sure ordered the most authentic dishes on the menu. To start we ordered carmanolas and ceviche en casnasta de platano.

 

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Carminolas are a bit like empanadas but the starch is yucca. These were stuffed with beef and served with a sweet tamarind dipping sauce. Even though they were fried, they were light and airy and we probably could have eaten three a piece. The ceviche was also good and the plantain cups added a nice crunch and balance to the salty, acidity of the fish.

Throughout this adventure we’ve found that often restaurants don’t have traditional drinks to accompany their dishes, so when we saw a few options on the menu we of course ordered some. Matt got a raspadura con naranja and I ordered a te de jamaica con jengibre. They were probably a tad too sweet for our tastes but tasty.

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For our main courses we let Malvina guide us and went with two plates to share among the three of us. The first was a Panamanian Plato Tipico and the second was Bistec Picado.

The beef is slow cooked in a tomato sauce and served with white rice and fried ripe plantains. The plato tipico came with a chicken tamale and arroz con pollo (saffron rice with olives, capers, peas, carrots and chicken). Both of these items were delicious and had deep flavor that you don’t always see in dishes served in Latin American restaurants in the US. The real standout of the plato tipico was the Panamanian potato salad – the tiny dish that is overflowing with pink pictured below. The salad was sweet yet savory. Malvina informed us that this potato salad is something traditionally eaten more in the city and not the country of Panama.

Malvina also mentioned to us that Panamanians get their culinary influences from all over the world, largely in part because of all of the different cultures that came to help build the Panama canal and stayed to make it their home.

 

We did miss out of a few dishes that we were told were a “must try” because Esencias only prepares them on Saturdays when the owner and chef does a Sabado Frito (Saturday Fry) – which means we’ll be making a trip back in the future.

Also because it was the middle of the week, the dessert menu was small. We ordered both dishes they offered, Flan and Cocadas. Matt isn’t a big fan of caramel (or coconut) but he indulged my love and even he couldn’t stop talking about how good the cocadas were. And they were. Tiny pastry shells were topped with shredded coconut mixed with honey and spices. If it hadn’t been for all the food we just ate we probably would have ordered more.

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Flan on bottom left, Cocadas on right

While we finished our dessert the owner and chef came and greeted us at our table. Speaking with her about her food and her plans for making holiday treats was a great end to our Panamanian dinner. We’ll be back and we recommend you stop by as well.

-Bridget