Monday, April 25, 2011

Best Ever Egg Salad {with Tarragon!}

The morning after (Easter, that is.) Ahhh, egg salad. Here we come. 

I felt just compelled to share my classic egg salad recipe. I stumbled upon it a few years ago and it still pops up in my repertoire at least every other month.

Before discovering this recipe, tarragon was only known to me by name. What was it for? Did people still use it? Was it a British thing? I even romanticized it a bit. I must confess that one line from a homework assignment during my high school poetry class sticks in my memory. Something to the embarrassing effect of tarragon-haired starling on roller skates... Please don't tell anybody this.

Around the same time I found this recipe, my little sister had started her very first garden outside her very first house. I went to visit. She had assorted lettuces, tomatoes, and, yep, tarragon. Tarragon? Really? Isn't that a British thing?

So this is for my sister, who lives seven time zones away from me and I rarely get to see. I haven't asked what's going in her garden this year.

And by the way, I've since learned that tarragon is not so much a British thing as it is a French thing. I envy my sister's access to the fresh stuff, as the dried proves to be little in comparison. I've found that Marks and Spencer does have a fairly good quality dried one though.

If you've got the day off, enjoy your Easter Monday. The hubs and I will be running around with Saffi this afternoon. Just a quick puppy update - she's grown an incredible amount in the last month. She is just over 3 months and is already looking like a full-on dog!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's Easter! Coconut Chocolate Cupcakes

Happy Easter! Veselé Velikonoce! 

 If you live in the Czech Republic, you are in the handful of countries which celebrate Easter on Monday. In that case, you've got an extra day to make some use of all that Easter candy. In ode to the coconut covered bunny cake that was tradition when I was growing up, I tested out a Coconut Cupcake recipe (with great results I might add.)

These are perhaps the lightest, fluffiest sweet morsels to arrive out of my oven in awhile. I believe the coconut milk is to thank for this.

The original recipe called for it to be topped with a coconut frosting, but I opted for a chocolate one with coconut flakes. It wouldn't be too overpowering with a coconut frosting however, as we found the coconut flavour surprisingly subtle, allowing the vanilla to shine through.

The holiday aside, this recipe would be just as lovely anytime there is extra coconut milk staring out from the fridge.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Roast Leg of Lamb {with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon}

Easter came early this year. We wanted to celebrate a nice Easter lunch with my hubs' family, but feared the actual weekend might prove to be a time conflict. So last Friday the hubs picked up our pre-ordered leg of lamb from our local Halal butcher (it was the first time we'd tried anything from them, and if you are in Brno, I'd highly recommend!) He called me at work laughing that it barely fit in our little half-fridge. We wondered if it would even fit in the oven (it eventually did, with a bit of pressure to get the door to properly close.) 

Nothing is as intimidating as a 650 kč ($30) piece of meat meant to feed, in part, my mother-in-law who (as I later discovered) had never eaten lamb before. Add to this a generally negative view about lamb held by many of my Czech friends and students (most complain of a strong smell/taste that they just don't care for, and many have never eaten it as it's not available in regular butchers.) So I nervously spent those precious post-Friday-work hours figuring out what do with the thing!

I found these bloggers particularly helpful on the lamb leg front:

After a few hours of on-line perusal, and a late night run to the supermarket (once deciding an overnight marinade was the way to go), we busied ourselves with the midnight chopping, grating, and mixing of the marinade. It was worth it. The lamb cooked in two hours the next morning and was as tender as one could hope. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

The in-kitchen time needed was minimal by the time they arrived. We served it with a big salad of mixed greens with a basic citrus/olive oil dressing, and oregano lemon roast potatoes/parsnips. For those with room for dessert there was a hot rhubarb-strawberry compote to slurp up over some vanilla ice cream. I can see asparagus fitting nicely in the meal, but I've only just started to see local asparagus (Slovakia actually) this week.

Recipe: Roast Leg of Lamb
Eat with a robust red (Malbec or Syrah)
Time 2.5 hours

8 lb (3.7 kg) bone-in leg of lamb

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb dried rosemary (or 2 Tb fresh)
1 tsp. dried thyme 
2 Tb olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup red wine

2 cloves garlic, halved

1) Get started the night before so it can soak up the nice marinade while you slumber. Whiz together the garlic, herbs, olive oil and lemon together in a food processor (or by hand.) Set aside while you get to work removing some of the excess fat and the fell. It took me no more than 20 minutes to work a long thin knife under this thin pale layer covering the lamb. It's not really necessary, as I've read that this 'membrane' can assist in holding the meat together while roasting. Leaving it there, however, can add a strong flavour found unpleasant to some (although, in a large leg piece this should be barely noticeable. I was, however, cooking for guests who had never eaten lamb before and wanted to wow them. They also happen to be my in-laws. Hence the drive for perfection.) Myself, I would just as soon leave it on, but the choice is yours.

2) Rub the marinade all over the meat. Generously salt and pepper. Place in a large plastic bag without any holes (my stress stems from experience, and wine all over the counter) and pour in the red wine. Squish it around the meat a bit, tie the bag shut, and place a second bag over for security. Place in the fridge overnight, or at least a few hours.

3) Heat the oven 425°F/220°C. Cut a few vertical slits into the meat and stick the 2 halved cloves of garlic into it. Salt/pepper a bit more if you wish, stick in a meat thermometer and set on a wire rack with a pan below to catch the drippings. Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300°F/150°C. Cook for another 1.5 hours, or until the thermometer reads from 135° (for medium-rare) to 150° (for medium/medium-well.) Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

4) To slice, hold the end of the bone upwards and cut medium slices in a downward motion, cutting across the grain. Eat immediately (as we found it cooled quickly once sliced, or keep warm in the turned-off oven.)

Recipe: Lemony Oregano Roast Potatoes and Parsnips
Serves 5
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

3 lb (1 1/2 kg) potatoes, cubed into large bite-size chunks
1 lb (500 g) parsnips, cut into large bite-size chunks
2 Tb olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
juice of half a lemon

Pre-boil the potatoes in a big pot of water for 15 minutes until a bit soft. That way, you can stick them in to roast while the meat is resting and it won't take so long in the oven that the meat'll get cool. Dump into a colander and shake the water off. Pour in a large baking pan. Add the parsnips and everything else. As soon as the lamb is out of the oven, increase the heat to 425°F/220°C.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Lemon Salad Dressing
Serves one big salad for 5 people

1 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb olive oil
pinch of salt and sugar

Shake together in a jar. Use immediately.

If you're wondering what to do with all the lamb leftovers, might I suggest:
- Nigella Lawson's Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad
- Wrapping it in pitas with tzatiki (yogurt and cucumber dip)
- Serving along side a saffron-infused couscous mixed with raisins and toasted almond slivers

We had enough to do all three in the following days. If you're going for just one, steer yourself towards Nigella's salad and I promise it won't disappoint. Yum!

Sitting around the table, we spoke a mixture of Czech and English to discuss the traditional focus of Czech Easter: the Pomlazka. This braided willow switch is made/purchased by most Czech males so they can run around the village willy-nilly whipping their female friends in return for eggs, sweets, and liquor. A few regions play fair and allow the girls to douse their attacker with water if it's after 12:00 noon (it starts in the morning.) But I've heard that this form of justice is not common.

To be honest, I'm not so keen on it. Most of my Czech female students complain about the pain, and the boredom, as soon as their male classmates are out of earshot. When it's a mixed group, the girls say it's quite nice to spend time with their mum and granny in the kitchen preparing treats while awaiting for the next group of men to descend upon them. As soon as I get a group of girls alone they let loose with their tirade filled with stories about the drunk neighbour who wouldn't stop hitting them and so on. The story told by Tanja of Czechmate Diary vividly brings this perspective to light.

Pomlazkas make nice decorations though, what with their colourful ribbons and all. My hubs family brought us a nice modest one freshly braided with the greens still intact. Their village, Němčičky, has got the record for the longest pomlazka in the country (take a peek at the pictures here, it got pretty long, enough to whip a whole line of girls!)

Whatever you eat, however you celebrate, have a happy Easter!

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Czech Chocolate Rum Bomb Cake

Sometimes one's body calls far a little mid-week chocolate bliss. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about.

I wanted something new. I started flipping through my single Czech cookbook (most Czech recipes come from my in-laws or, more frequently, from cooking magazines, which is for better or worse also the primary source of my Czech language learning.) I searched for something decadent. Yes, I'm using decadent to describe chocolate. I know it's overused, but really, this is exactly what I was looking for. What's more decadent than chocolate cake soaked in rum?

One thing I should mention is that I'm an English teacher. This allows me a certain insight really (or, at least, I think I'm getting some insight.) My job is basically to inspire and facilitate conversation. Anything that gets them talking is fair game. Sure, sometimes I learn secrets (and, oh, how I do love a good secret!) But more importantly, since my students are from all backgrounds, ages, and social statues, I believe I have a fairly good cross-section from which to formulate a 'general Czech opinion.'

Food and drink is a common topic in my lessons. When asked what beverages Czech Republic is well-known for BESIDES BEER, the answers focus on Slivovice (plum brandy), Bekerovka, Kofola, and then rum. Rum? Really? Yes. It's called Tuzemák and is fairly sweet (for a detailed review, see Liquorature's tasting notes.)

So, back to the cake. Paging through my book, a recipe turned up titled 'Rum Bomb.' Sure enough, there was chocolate in it. And a quarter cup of rum. I was sold.


Czech cakes tend to be a bit less sweet than American and (I'm told) British ones. My British colleague once confessed that Czech baking has little appeal for him. When he wants cake, he wants it so sweet his teeth fall out (he then added that his Czech wife adds plain yogurt on anything he bakes, to bring it down a notch.)

This recipe is no exception. There is an understated sweetness, and at first, the rum was incredibly prominent. But after a day of mellowing out a bit it all blended together exceptionally well. 

The extra bonus is that this bodily chocolate craving came just in time for Kitchen Corners April Cook Off!
Be sure to check out Kitchen Corners on April 25th when a chocolicious winner will be declared!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Rasperry Crumble {Suck-Up} Muffins

Bakers and good neighbors everywhere tout the pie and the muffin as the ultimate shareable-baked-good. We make pies to share. We make muffins to give away. What are we really doing? Sucking up. That's right. Either after the fact, or as a preventative suck-up measure, we bake our way into people's good graces. And that's exactly what I found myself doing yesterday morning.

We live in a small block of flats which is cooperatively owned in what I can only describe as a condo-cum-dormitory manner. Any changes must be approved, and whoever is in charge is constantly monitoring the hallways. The 'whoever' in charge is usually some elderly couple. I don't know why. Maybe it's the time availability, or seniority. We are just renters, so understanding this Czech apartment system falls well beyond my priorities.

After six months of smiling and 'dobry denning'* the head woman (who, living in a once-matriarchal society, still has the final word in any apartment going-ons) any suspicion she'd initially held about the American wife has mostly disappeared. Her gruff husband however ignores me and gives my hubs a mildly hard time.

Then, we got a puppy. The most adorable puppy on the planet, that is. 

Our nearly-three-month Shiba Inu easily won over the house woman. This has not been the case with her companion. He announced just last week that the yard in NOT a place for dogs, as he's already stepped in poo. Meekly holding up our plastic baggies in defence did nothing.

So I declared Operation Muffin.

The hubs proclaimed these the best muffins I've made yet. I chalk that hefty comment up to the crumble topping. Who doesn't love extra butter and vanilla sugar?
And, I have to say, they might have worked. Unbeknown to us the woman was gone all morning, so when we brought them up Mr. Grumbly Gus opened the door (straight from a nap on the couch, I must say) and looked shocked, and then excited to see a plate of muffins before him. Hours later his better half brought the plate back and we graciously 'dobry denned'* each other.

We'll see if there's any difference next time we run into them when Saffi (Saffron) is doing her usual cute as all get-out bouncy romps in the backyard.
* Dobry Denning is a term I use to describe the custom in the Czech Republic where people constantly greet one another with the words "dobrý den" (good day.) This includes the obvious neighbors and vague acquantainces, but also every shop assistant, inhabitant of a large apartment building, some offices, and other assorted situations that are slightly surprising to this American.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rohlík on the Run: In the Shopping Mall & in Nature

More Rohlík on the Run!

This Spring he's been doing both a bit of shopping (in Olympia) and a bit o' tree hugging!

As always, looking for helpers in this Rohlík hunt! Email me or comment if you find some!

-- Jo

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Butternut Squash and Lentils

A quick and dirty post about a quick and dirty recipe.

Well, minus the dirty part, more or less.

Staunchly holding on to winter foods is something I've already admitted to. I can't help it. It's a simple and accepted way through which I can express my stubbornness (which is often dying to express itself in less than desirable ways.)

This recipe though, is a fully desirable manifestation of seasonal stubbornness.

I do admit, however, that it's time to say farewell.

So goodbye squash, adios chili con carne, á bientôt pomegranates, ahoj venison gulaš stews, sayonara spicy noodly soups, ciao chestnuts, aloha blood oranges, auf wiedersehen mulled wine (ugh, this last one is especially painful.)

See y'all later alligators!

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Pomegranate Almond Pastry Snake

It is most definitely spring here in the Czech Republic. Yet I find myself clinging a bit desperately to winter. In the last few chilly days I've been trying to wear out my winter gear, knowing that it will be put away for some time. I eye up the  strawberries in the market with suspicion, as I know that just because spring is in the air it does not make Czech strawberries grow this early. I can wait. I can be patient. 

I know they will come. 

In the meantime, I continue relying on my 'winter' fruits - imported fruit that cannot possibly be grown in this region any time of year - bananas, oranges, mango, kiwis, pineapple, and pomegranates. Bites of things I wouldn't dream of eating in the summer when Czech berries will be nearly throwing themselves at me. 

So I bought my last pomegranate of the season. I wanted to do something special with it, not just slowly pick at the lil' jeweled bits until my fingertips were all stained up, as usually tends to happen.

I wanted layers of pastry and maple syrup and nuts.

I rummaged around.

This is what I came up with.

The hubs really liked it, but to be honest, I had higher expectations. I imagined a sweetness akin to baklava. It's more of a mild breakfast pastry. Good with coffee, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and/or maple syrup, or maybe even a dollop of freshly whipped cream on top if you've got the time.
 Continue to Recipe...
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