Cook & Learn about the World: Albania Part 1 Albanian Shendetlie or Honey & Nut Cake

 Although I haven´t been doing much blogging lately, I have been trying out plenty of recipes, especially for this Cook & Learn about the World post,in which we´re taking a trip to Albania. Although I don´t really know much about Albania or it´s cuisine, it seems like it´s food is made of simple ingredients that can be found easily in any supermarket or kitchen cupboards! Unfortunately,many of the recipes have eluded me and I haven´t been pleased enough with the results in order to make it worthwhile publishing them. I tried Lamb in Yoghurt but it ended up tasting very strong mutton-maybe it was the cut I used- in scrambled egg, then I made a yoghurt drink, which ended up being thrown away as I didn´t like the salty taste of it.

However, some success was finally achieved when I made the simple Albanian dessert or cake, Shendetlie or Honey & Nut cakes.When it is first baked, the Honey & Nut cake seems more biscuit-like in texture and appearance but after it soaks up the sugar syrup, it takes on a more cake-like consistency. Those who don´t have a sweet tooth may find them a bit too sweet but me and my daughter loved them even though I´m not too keen on nuts. I followed this recipe from the blog My Albanian food, only tweaking it a little,for example making only half the amount of the recipe given and cooking it around 10 degrees less than the temperature given in the recipe so at 170 degrees instead of 180 degrees. I made my Shendetlie with whole walnuts which I roughly chopped although you can also used ground walnuts. Dicovering delicious treats like this is a great way to find out about a country´s culture and cuisine.

Although we are still in the middle of cooking and learning about Albania, here is a link to a page where you can find activities to do with your children so they can find out more about Albania: http://www.wartgames.com/themes/countries/albania.html and also : http://dinolingo.com/blog/2012/11/14/albanian-culture-food-festivals-clothes-and-so-much-more/.So far I have only read my daughter the folk story about Rozafa Castle, although I was surprised that it was a story for children! However, I would like to do some other activities with her to teach her more about this country and as I myself also know very little about it!


Eat More Variety Alphabet Challenge E: Eggplant: Stuffed Eggplant

It´s the start of a New Year and with it brings new promises, many of which I try to keep and often fail. One of those promises is to try and blog more,something which I have very little time for these days but somehow I´m going to have to find it, and the other is to eat healthier and attempt to get my kids to eat healthier and eat more variety of food.So I have returned to my Eat More Variety Challenge after my long absence to continue from where I left off,with the letter E. After brainstorming ingredients beginning with E, I decided to choose eggplant,even though it really begins with A if you´re from the UK like me! Eggplant is the American English word for aubergine and although I like it,it´s not something we eat a lot of and getting the kids to eat it is a whole other ball game!

Eggplants,or aubergines, have many nutritional and health benefits. They contain anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid which fuction as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds as well as containing fibre,potassium,Vitamin C,Vitamin B6 and phytonutrient so can help with heart health, blood cholesterol,cancer, cognitive function, weight mangement and liver health.

I discovered this recipe for Stuffed Aubergines when I was browsing my cookery books and thought it sounded yummy and it certainly didn´t disappoint. I made this for supper for my husband and I, thinking that maybe the kids might be persuaded to try it but I should´ve known better, despite the fact that they thought it looked a little like pizza, they wouldn´t even try a tiny forkful!!Another good thing was that it didn´t take me as much time to prepare as I had expected.

Stuffed  Eggplant orAubergine, based on the recipe in The Dairy Book of Home Cookery(Serves2)

2 medium sized eggplants/aubergines
1/2 medium onion
2 slices of bacon (think I´d increase this to 4)
1/2 green pepper
1/2 can of tinned tomatoes(around 200g)
25g butter
50g sliced mushrooms
50g white breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
50g Cheddar cheese,grated

1. Halve eggplants lengthways and scoop out the pulp, leaving 1/2cm thick shells.
2.Chop pulp and place in a saucepan.
3.Chop onion, green pepper and bacon
4.Add to aubergine pulp along with the butter and simmer gently till pulp is tender.
5.Add tinned tomatoes and stir in mushrooms.
6.Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs to thicken,season with salt & pepper.
7. Stuff eggplant shells with the mixture and spinkle with grated cheese.
8. Cook in preheated oven at between 200ºC/400ºF for 15 '20 minutes.


Cooking Spain Region by Region: Asturias: Casadielles (Walnut Pastries)

These have been on my to try list since I started cooking Spain region by region and arrived at Asturias and after trying the real deal while I was on holiday in Asturias, I knew I definitely had to recreate these delicious pastries.

These pastries are stuffed with a walnut paste with warming aniseed spice and served warm...they are a definite delicacy. In Asturias they were served to us in a rectangular shape'however I opted to make them in a pasty form although this might not be the usual traditional shape. I combined two different recipes and the end result turned out to be pretty similar to the ones I tried in Asturias. This recipe makes a lot of Casadielles...in fact I ran out of pastry and to save time I cheated and ended up buying some pastry squares or obleas to use up all the filling!!!Here´s the recipe: 

1 sheet or half a kg of shortcrust pastry
150g walnuts
150g sugar
1 teaspoon of aniseed
1 teaspoon of water

1. Prepare the filling by chopping or blitzing the walnuts in a food processor and mix with the sugar.
2. Add aniseed and water and mix to form a dense paste.
3. Roll out the pastry and cut into small circles, fill with nut paste and fold over to make a pasty shape. Don´t overfill as pasty won´t shut properly and filling will ooze out.
4. Press down with a fork on the edges.
5.Place in a preheated oven at around 180 to 170 degreest C for about 20minutes or until golden.
6. Serve warm.


Eat More Variety Alphabet Challenge: D: D for Date: Pork & Date skewers

Things have been really busy lately what with birthday parties, end of school ballet shows, graduations, courses and kids that seem to be going to bed later and later. Add all that to the fact that the limited free time I have, I prefer to relax and watch a couple of TV programmes....namely Great British Bake Off  with professionals and Poldark,which hasn´t left me much time for blogging. I decided to make these Pork & Date Skewers from BBC Food recipes awhile ago but haven´t got around to blogging about them until now.

They were fairly quick and easy to make and made a tasty change. We cooked them on the electric griddle and I don´t know if it´s because I bought the wrong cut of meat or I cut the meat too thick but as you can see the outer layer of the pork got a little charred. I also doubled the quantity of dates as 5 didn´t appear too be many so maybe the sugars in the dates also contributed to the charring. Unfortunately these weren´t a hit with my toddler,who usually eats everything, and my daughter(no surprises there though!) so I haven´t succeeded in getting her to try or eat any dates yet!!In the recipe given, the pork and date skewers were served with a couscous salad but I decided to serve it with a version of Nasi Goreng.


Biergarten Spanien, Ciudad Real Restaurant Review

 I´ve decided to resurrect my restaurant reviews although in the past this has almost seemed to spell the kiss of death to the restaurant as they ended up closing!!!However, I hope this isn´t the case this time.

The Biergarten Spanien is a fairly new restaurant and which is decorated and made to look like a German beer tent similar as to what you might find in the Oktoberfest. I love the central streamers and sign post that almost looks like a maypole. You can find German beer of course but it also sells Spanish and other beer....I´m not a beer lover myself so couldn´t really comment about the beer but you get a free tapa with your beer-ours was tiny sausages but a fairly generous portion).

My parents and I opted for the pork knuckle,sauerkraut and chips or mashed potatoes while my husband chose spare ribs with chips and my daughter had a children´s portion,of chicken nuggets and chips,which was huge. I hadn´t expected the food to be the best due to the low prices and I thought that it was probably a chain restaurant and sometimes chain restaurants aren´t as good  but I was pleasantly surprized as they served decent-sized portions, the food was hot and it was really tasty. Our pork knuckle was really tender and just fell off the bone. We then had a dessert for 2.50 euros. My husband,mum and daughter tucked into a brownie with a fruit coulis and ice cream but I decided to go for something more typically German and had the apple strudel with  fruit coulis.It was also supposed to come with a vanilla cream or custard like sauce but I didn´t see any evidence of it. However, it was still delicious.

There is also a little area for children to play although it is very small and consists of only a table or two and some chairs, where they can sit and colour.

All in all I enjoyed this new restaurant where you can try some German cuisine and would definitely reccommend it. It´s good food at a reasonable price.  We will definitely be going again!!


Cooking England County by County: Cambridgeshire:Huntingdon Fidget Pie

We´re kicking off the first "C" county with Cambridgeshire,again a part of England that is unknown to me including typical dishes from this area. Apparently as it is very flat, many airfields were built there during the Second World War and is still used for many army and RAF operations however Cambridgeshire´s economy is largely based on agriculture. It´s not surprising that one of it´s typical dishes is this Huntingdon Fidget Pie, which is packed with bacon & apples and was usually prepared during harvest time to feed the workers.It is a mystery how this dish got its name. I´d never heard of it before, let alone tried it but I´m so glad I have now. It´s definitely worth making  and it has become one of my favourite pies. The smell of it baking alone had me salivating! I mean, come on, bacon and apples in a pie.....what´s not to like?

I looked at various recipes including one in my Farmhouse Fare cookbook and one from the Essentially Catering website. I wanted to make as "traditional" a Huntingdon Fidget Pie as possible. I wasn´t sure if it was supposed to have a pastry bottom or just a pastry lid and whether to layer the filling as one recipe said or to mix up all the filling together due to the variations in the recipes. Also the quantities were huge, enough to make 4 pies so I ended up adapting the recipe from the Essentially Catering website. I had some frozen leftover shortcrust pastry ,which I had defrosted,and then I decided to chuck all the filling ingredients  in as this seemed a much quicker option than layering it.

Ingredients (for 2-4 people)

125g shortcrust pastry
112g streaky bacon (as I couldn´t get this I used smoked bacon)
80g onion,chopped
112g cooking apple(I used Reinetas),peeled, cored and cubed
4-5  fresh sage leaves,chopped
Pinch of salt & pepper
                                                      1/4-1/2 cup of water
                                                      Beaten egg for glazing

1.Preheat oven to 200ºC.
2. Chop bacon and mix with chopped onion and apple.Season with salt,pepper and sage.
3.Place filling in pie dish.
4.Roll out pastry for pie lid and place on top of the pie,crimping the edges and sealing well.
5. Cut a cross in the middle of the pie and fold back edges of cross to make triangles and exposing the filling. Add water.
6. Brush with beaten egg and bake for around 25 minutes until pastry is golden brown.


Cook & Learn about the world: Afghanistan:

 So welcome to a new regular post I´m going to be blogging about frequently: Cook and Learn about the World. Inspired by the Global Table Adventure blog, I decided that I wanted to also cook the world so my family could try new cuisines and dishes from different countries, eat more variety and hopefully encourage my daughter to be less of a fussy eater while at the same time learn about these countries and cultures and become more tolerant and open-minded. And after the recent attack in London, it couldn´t come at a better time.

The first country on the list is Afghanistan and I was excited to try this cuisine as I´ve never eaten Afghan food before. I turned to Global Table Adventure´s Afghan recipes and decided to make the following recipes:Burani Bonjon (or Spicy Braised Aubergine with Seer Moss(Garlic Mint Sauce);Kabeli Palau(Twice-cooked Basmati Rice with Chicken & Carrots)and Firnee (Cardamom & Rose Water Custard). I chose these particular dishes as they were the ones that I liked the sound of the most but also because I thought that my children might like/eat these better than the others.Although I used Global Table Adventure´s recipes for Afghanistan, for other countries I might use other recipes I find in addition to those of Global Table Adventure.

The first dish I made was the Kabeli Palau(Basmati Rice with Chicken & Carrots). I made the slightly quicker version using chicken breasts and chicken stock(yes, with an Oxo cube!) and even though I made the "quick" version, this recipe did take quite a lot of work but in the end it was so worth it.The rice with tender chunks of chicken lightly spiced is reminiscent of Indian cuisine(one of my favourites!) and the crunchy yet sweet carrot and nutty garnish just finishes off the dish perfectly. I´d definitely reccommend trying this dish.It was a real hit with everyone except my daughter who only ate the rice(and that was with loads of ketchup!!)

The second dish I made was Burani Bonjon(Spicy Braised Aubergine)& Seer Moss(Garlic Mint Sauce) I made this as a side dish. Unfortunately I didn´t make all these Afghan dishes on the same day as it would have made an ideal side dish for the Basmati Rice with Chicken & Carrots. I knew my daughter probably wouldn´t try this dish with it being a vegetable dish but you can live in hopes....I think my 18mth old had a little bit although I think he spat the aubergine out. This was tasty without being too spicy and the garlic mint yoghurt sauce was a great accompaniment to it...very garlicy. I had to use dried mint as didn´t have any fresh so I think the mint flavour was lost a little. Again, I´d definitely reccommend trying this dish.
 Finally, I made Firmee(Cardamom & Rose Water Custard). Both of these flavours were pretty new to me,especially the rose water...which I managed to find in a Morrocan food shop. The recipe itself is pretty easy to make(just make sure you add warm milk to the cornflour not cold otherwise it won´t thicken..I realised this later on but corrected the problem and managed to thicken it up!!)I couldn´t find peeled pistachios so peeling the pistachios was probably one of the things that took up most of the time in this recipe and then grinding it and the cardamom...luckily I had my trusty Thermomix! Unfortunately, we weren´t very keen on this dessert as it has a very strong, perfumed taste despite me only making half the recipe and using half the amount of the rose water.Neither of my children tried this dessert either.

My view:I really enjoyed the food from Afghanistan and would love to try more dishes now including the other recipes featured in Global Table Adventure. However, dessert was a little disappointing.I´ll definitely be making both the rice and the aubergine dishes again in the future.Delicious!!

My children´s view: Not such a success with the kids. The rice was the most successful especially with my 18 mth old and we mananged to encourage my daughter to eat it with copious amounts of ketchup and by saying that it was a special "paella".

Now for the learning part, you can find educational activities about Afghanistan on both Activity Village & Enchanted Learning,however you have to pay to become a member to obtain these activities.I found the following page with various educational activities about Afghanistan and printed out the Afghanistan flag for my daughter to colour.However, we haven´t done anything else so I was a little disappointed that she hasn´t learnt more about this country. I´d love to know of any books aimed at children about Afghanistan or any other activities....please feel free to share them with us. I´d also love to hear if you make any of the dishes too!

Just adding on this quick. I´ve found a book about Afghanistan at my local library(and even better it´s in English!) which looks like a great way to teach my daughter a bit about Afghanistan. It´s called The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A.de Eulate and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. I´ve only just borrowed it from the library so we haven´t read it yet but it appears to be a lovely story about an Afghan girl, a dream and a song for peace and it is also beautifully illustrated.
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