I’ve finished cooking “I” cuisines

Did I miss any? If so, please comment below.

My international food project, started 21 years ago this month, has moved at a glaciar pace since then. But I’m glad to say that I am now done with cuisines that start with an “i”. Or at least I hope so – I keep discovering new cuisines that I didn’t know about when I reached their letter in the alphabet. Indeed, in addition to the cuisines below I caught up on A by cooking an Awadhi meal – only to realize that I’ve skipped Aceh.

The final “I” cuisines I cooked are:

Indonesian

Jackfruit Curry, Vegan Indonesian Fried Rice, Indonesian Broiled Cod, Fried Chicken and Beef Rendang

Iranian

Butternut Squash Soup, Split Pea and Barley Stew, Fried Fish for Nowruz, Chicken Kebab, Cubed Meat Kebab, Pomegranate Chicken and Braised Short Ribs with Orange

Irish American

Irish Stew, Corned Beef and Potatoes O’Brien.

Italian

Panzanella, Pasta with lemon sauce, Bucatini with four cheeses, Pasta in Mushroom Sauce, Gnocchi in a Gorgonzola, Pear and Walnut Sauce, Country Style Chicken and Steak Tagliata

Italian Renaissance

Onion Soup, Renaissance-style Fried Chicken and Braised Beef with Carrots

These join my previously cooked I cuisines:

  • Iceland: baked fish, chicken with saffron and pepper cookies
  • Imperial China: a chicken wing recipe from the 8th century, braised chicken from the 10th-13th and beef and walnuts from the 18th.
  • India: chickpea, red bean, and chicken curries plus chicken and tofu tandoori
  • Indo-Chinese: noodles and cauliflower
  • Iraq: lentil soup, two types of kibbeh, chicken in yogurt sauce, lamb shanks, rice, and farro pilaf
  • Ireland: Irish stew, beef & stout pie, potato biscuits, and bread and butter pudding.
  • Iroquois: ghost bread and three sisters stew
  • Israel: corn shakshuka, meatballs in tahini sauce, lamb shawarma, grilled chicken and olive oil cake
  • Italian-American: minestrone, fetuccini alfredo, baked zitti, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, vegan lasagna, chicken scarpariello and chicken parmesan.
  • Ivory Coast: grilled chicken, roasted lamb, stewed chicken and peanut sauce.

Update on Home Chef meal kits

After a couple of months of not doing almost any cooking, I’ve decided to transition into cooking by going back to meal kits. I started with Home Chef, not only because I had a good “come back” promo, but because they now offer a wider variety of meals, including some that require very little work. None are particular good deals – you can definitely save a lot by buying your own ingredients – and none are particular exciting. But if you want something tasty, familiar and easy to make, they work quite well.

These are the meals I got:

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Bolognese with Parmesan

As far as value goes, this may be one of the most overpriced mealkits out there. it included a package of fresh (they say par-cooked) spinach and cheese ravioli (I think the brand was Rana), sauce, cream and Parmesan cheeses, fresh spinach and the tray. You mix them together and put them in a 375F oven for 15 minutes. BUT the great revelation for me here is that you can cook fresh ravioli in the oven in the sauce. I imagine the same would be true of frozen ravioli, albeit for some time longer. I am definitely going to try this some winter night.

BBQ Cheddar Meatballs with Bacon Potatoes

These meatballs were very easy to make and should be easily replicated at home – when I get the craving for something with BBQ sauce. Basically, they involved mixing the raw ground beef with shredded cheddar, seasoned salt and BBQ sauce (the one provided was Sweet Baby Rays, which I like well enough, but I used Everett and Jones’ BBQ sauce instead, as I had some open already that I wanted to use up. Then, I put the meatballs in one side of the prepared tray, and the potatoes and bacon bits on the other. Easy peachy and a tasty enough meal. Then again, this should be super easy and cheap to make with your own ingredients.

Note, Home Chef allows you to substitute impossible meat or ground pork for the ground beef in this meal.

Chicken Thigh Shawarma Wild Rice Bowl with Tzatziki Sauce

This recipe was easy and quick to make, and combined both pre-cooked, pre-made and fresh ingredients:

All I had to do was combine the raw, cubed chicken with the pre-sliced onions and the seasoning and bake – and later add the pre-cooked rice and fresh spinach leaves and bake some more. It came with tzlaki sauce to pour over. I made this for my husband and non-vegan daughter and they both liked it.

Creamy Truffle Steak Penne with Cheese and Garlic Croutons

This was another quick and easy meal that combined fresh and cooked ingredients. It involved sauteing the raw steak, adding peas and seasoning, then adding cream, Parmesan and pre-cooked pasta, and finishing it with truffle butter and crushed croutons. It wasn’t my favorite meal – the flavors sort of melded together – but it was tasty enough and very quick and easy to make.

Steak and Goat Cheese-Pecan Sweet Potatoes with roasted asparagus

While Home Chef seems to be concentrating on very quick meals right now, they do have some more traditional meal kits. For this one, I had to actually peel and cut the sweet potatoes, trim the asparagus and slice the shallot. Then I seared the steak on the stove and finished them, with the asparagus, in the oven. I boiled the sweet potatoes, mashed them and mixed them with the goat cheese and pecans, and made a sauce for the steak by mixing the pan drippings with demi-glace and shallot.

It was a pretty good meal, though I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes. The goat cheese certainly helped them. Note that at $26 per kit, this was a more expensive meal than the other ones (usually $20). This is usually the case for meals that include steak.

Steak Frites and Marsala Sauce with smoked almond and Parmesan salad

I got this meal but didn’t make it, as I ran out of time before the meat had to be used or frozen.


Note, you can use my referral link to save $35 off your first box. If I happen to be subscribed at the time (unlikely), I’ll also get a $35 credit for my next box.

Battle of the Snacks Day 5: Eti Pizza Kraker v Orion Mini Sour Candies

Winner: Japan

Sometimes, it’s hard to decide which snack we liked the most, while other times it’s a contest of which we liked the least. The latter was the case on our latest snack testing.

Eti pizza crackers were a pretty big disappointment. The crackers – similar in size to oyster crackers – were dry and had a very mild flavor. Maybe there was some oregano there, but we definitely could not taste pizza. Most of the pack went uneaten (though granted, we had just had dinner so we were pretty full).

Still, if we went to Turkey, we wouldn’t be buying this.

While this tiny candies were new to me, my kids recall buying little fizzy candies that came in soda can lookalikes when they were little. These Orien Mini Sour candies reminded them of them.

It seems that these are supposed to be effervescent as well, but we couldn’t notice any fizzy effect. Still, they had a non-unpleasant sour flavor.

El Torito’s Fiesta Packs Are a Great Deal – or at least were.

Update – My last two experiences at El Torito have been less than stellar.

Since I wrote this post the fiesta/party packs – at least at my local El Torito in San Leandro, California – have both increased in price and decreased in quality. The packs now cost $5 more, and the last couple of times we ordered, they were missing some of the sides, we originally got. I’m not sure if this is because the fiesta packs no longer include them or our El Torito was particularly busy now that California has reopened, and the workers were careless with what they packed in our orders.

The Fajita Pack

The fajitas pack is now $45 and our last order included the beef fajitas (and we felt we got less meat than in previous occasions). Still, it was very tasty. In addition to the meat, we got rice and beans, warm tortillas, guacamole and sour cream and chips and salsa. What we didn’t get was the corn pudding we enjoy so much.

The Tacos Pack

We ordered the taco pack once before and in addition to the stuff shown in the photo (meal, rice and beans, tortillas, chip and salsa and corn pudding) it came with sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce. This time, the last four listed items were unavailable. That made for very, very boring tacos.

That said, the beef for tacos is very tasty, flavor wise it’s better than the fajitas. The chicken, which we got the previous time, isn’t as flavorful and it’s a bit dry. They also offer carnitas.

Photo shamelessly stolen from El Torito website

El Torito, a California-based chain of Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex, for that matter) restaurants, is offering a great take out deal during the pandemic. For $30-$40 you can get a tacos, carnitas fajitas or combo (enchiladas, tamales or chile relleno) deals that feed at least four people. Given that an order of steak fajitas for just one person is $21.50, $40 for four times that amount is as good a deal as you are likely to get. Indeed, at $10 per person (or less, depending on how hungry you are), it’s the same or lower cost than the mid-priced meal kits I’ve used so much. For $20 more, you can add a pitcher of margaritas (not my thing).

The fajitas pack comes with large containers of beef strips and onions, Mexican rice, beans (choose between re-fried or de olla), corn pudding, salsa and guacamole, a stack of warm tortillas (your choice of corn or flour) and a huge bag of tortilla chips.

They tell you at what time the food will be ready when you order (or you can specify the time), and it’s very, very quick. El Torito offers delivery (sans alcohol) for something like $3, as well as curbside and in-restaurant pickup. The food is ready when it says it’ll be.

I used to be a huge fan of Chevy’s back in the day. Then it declined, and then the one in San Leandro closed, and then most of them closed. At some point, the remaining ones were bought by the same parent company from El Torito, which carried Chevy’s influence into El Torito’s kitchens.

You can taste this influence in the fajitas pack. The beef marinade now resembles Chevy’s, as does the salsa – while the corn pudding is practically identical to Chevy’s sweet corn tomalito. The chips are still not as thin as Chevy’s, but they’re thinner than other restaurants.

All in all I’ve enjoyed their meals, and I think I will give their other offerings a try later.

Battle of the Snacks Day 4: Ulker Alpella 3D White Chocolate v. Coris Whistle Soda Candy

Winner: Turkey

Today’s challenge put a white chocolate cookie bar against whistling candies. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the whistling candies were that, and as just candies they were failures, so the victory went to Turkey

Ulker Alpella 3D White Chocolate is a small pyramidal bar of multiple wafers covered with white chocolate. It was very tasty, though very sweet and pretty one dimensional. Still, it will satisfy your cravings for white chocolate.


According to Wikipedia, “Ülker is a Turkish multinational food and beverage manufacturer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Its products are exported internationally, to 110 countries.  Ülker’s core products are biscuits, cookies, crackers, and chocolates, although it has expanded to other categories.” Alpella is one of their chocolate snack brands.

The Coris Whistle Soda Candy consisted of a small package with all Japanese writing and three flat candies with a whole in the middle. Unfortunately, we didn’t look at the packaging carefully or we might have noticed that the singing birds had a candy in their mouths – but even then I’m not sure we would have realized we were supposed to do the same.

Apparently the point of these candies is to put them in your mouth, blow on them and they produce a whistling sound. I’m sure it would have been fun to try that. As it is, we just ate them and they were OK. They’re chalky, with a sour but otherwise hard to identify flavor.

Battle of the Snacks Day 3: Eti Wanted Karamel vs. Ninjapo Texas Corn Fried Chicken Taste

Winner: Turkey

Day 3 presented us with two very different snacks, and both were surprisingly good. But the Turkish one was so delicious that it was the clear winner.

Eti Wanted Karamel is basically a milk chocolate candy bar filled with caramel.

The chocolate part seems to be aerated chocolate balls, similar to Aero chocolate, dipped in a chocolate layer. It has a nice crunch and together with the caramel, it’s absolutely delicious. I finally get why Turkish treats may actually be a “thing”. This is probably the most delicious chocolate bar I’ve eaten, and I’ve been gorging on Ghirardelli caramel chocolate squares since Christmas.

These bars are made by a company called Eti which manufacturers lots of snacks. They seem to sell not only in Turkey, but in the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East and Africa. I’m sure we’ll be encountering more of their snacks in this box.

Ninjapo Texas Corn Fried Chicken Taste is another puffed corn snack, this time with “fried chicken” flavor.

As with the last one we tried, it was a little weird at first but it quickly grew on us. I can’t say it actually tasted anywhere near chicken flavor, but the savory flavor was very satisfying.

While we enjoyed both snacks, the Turkish chocolate was so good that it would have been very, very hard to beat.

Morning Coffee and Sour Cream & Onion Potato Ships Don’t Mix Well

just saying

Battle of the Snacks: Turkish vs. Japanese

For Christmas, I got my husband a package of dagashi or Japanese snacks. He went to Japan for work years ago, and fell in love with the place, but has never been able to return. A snack won’t make up for the lights of Tokyo or the majesty of mount Fuji, but it should at least remind him of the place.

The $25 box promised 30 snacks, but it was more like 20 snacks and several one or two bite candies. Still, it should give us at least three weeks of daily treats – and reviews!

My husband then reciprocated by getting me a box of Turkish snacks. My trip to Turkey was right after my year abroad in Egypt, and while I loved the country and the food, I don’t think I ever tried any snacks. I was traveling at a super small budget, and snacks didn’t enter into the question.

I don’t know if Turkish snacks were a big deal back then, but they apparently are now – at least in Amazon. Whether that’s because they’re particularly good and varied or relatively cheap, we’ll have to see.

The $28 box my husband got me is supposed to have over 1 1/2 lbs of snacks or at least 20 full size snacks. It came with a sheet explaining what they all were.

As you can see, this was true. At least from a price point, the Turkish box was a better value than the Japanese box – but Japan is a more expensive country. The question will be what’s the best value in terms of food and experience.

Our plan is to try one of the snacks every day and see which we like best. I’ll blog about them as well. I start with the first couple of days, and will add more blog postings as I go along.

Day 1: Ozmo Burger Chocolate Chip Cookies vs. Yaokin Unaibo Corn Potage

Winner: Japan

The burger cookies were super cute and very detailed. They would make great play food for dolls. Flavor wise, however, they were a bit lacking. They were a bit dry and they had a soft chocolate flavor, maybe with some hazelnut thrown in. Not something I’d be craving.

We expected weird snacks in the Japanese box, and this one did not disappoint. Umaibo, I learned, are puffed corn snacks (similar to a large cheetos) that come in a variety of flavors and, indeed, there are several of these in the box. This particular one was “corn potage” flavor, which apparently is a popular Japanese soup. At first, the snack was a bit weird, but we soon really got into it and we found it very tasty. I would definitely buy more. And I’m planning to make this actual corn potage.

Day 2: Ülker Çubuk Kraker vs Green Apple Konjac Jelly

Winner: Japan/Draw

The Turkish treat were think pretzel sticks. They tasted exactly like think pretzel sticks. I did like how thin they were, but otherwise you will like this as much as you like pretzels.

As far as I can tell, this is a flavor jelly candy made from the konjac plant. It has a consistency a bit more liquidy than jello which I found very pleasant. I couldn’t quite tell what the flavor was before I looked it up (and I did an image search for “Japanese green jelly snack” to find it). In addition to being a popular candy in Japan, it seems that you can buy the powdered konjac gelatin to make your own decorative jellies at home. Beware, however, that is also a known choking hazard.

While I did like this snack, my daughter didn’t like it and my husband wasn’t very excited about it either. Fortunately, though, there is another one in the box because my vegan daughter might like it. Getting vegetable gelatin is hard, so this may be a good substitute.

Pampa Direct – Review

This online store for Argentinian products really delivers

Argentine products used to be hard to find in the US. For years, we had to make our own dulce de leche by boiling cans of condensed milk or cooking it from scratch. Making empanadas meant making the shells by hand, and if you wanted yerba mate or Argentinian sweets, you had to wait until someone brought them to you from a trip.

Slowly in the 90’s and then quicker in the 00’s, Argentinian products started to make their way into Latin markets in the US. For years, I was able to find them at Casa Lucas in unincorporated San Leandro, but this closed a few years ago. Fortunately, there are several Argentinian stores in the LA area, so I’ve been able to fill my needs when I go to visit my parents. The pandemic, however, has put a stop to this so I went looking for a place to buy Argentine products online. Enter Pampa Direct.

Pampa Direct sells a wide variety of shelf stable Argentine products, from candy and snacks, to all sort of Dulce de Leche products, wines and even mate gourds. Their prices are very reasonable, in line with those of the Argentinian markets in LA, and most amazingly, they ship from Argentina.

I made a HUGE order that included alcohol and it took about 10 days to arrive. Shipping is free in order over $50, and they have a free gift if you order at least $100. They also added some extras to my order, perhaps because it was so big.

Christmas Eve Dinner 2020: A Pandemic Christmas

Like responsible people throughout the world, we spent the holidays in 2020 at home and alone, just our little nuclear family. It was a somewhat sad Christmas Eve, as my father passed away this year and our family has been feeling the weight of the pandemic. But we were abroad last year, and it was very important for all of us to get some semblance of normality.

Still, I went back and forth between making a full multi-course dinner as I usually do, or just have a main and dessert. I sort of leaned towards the latter option as we haven’t been particularly hungry during the pandemic, so I wasn’t sure we could even go through a full meal, even with small courses.

Ultimately, I compromised and went with something in between, a multi-course dinner but without any real frills. I served:

1 – A macaron

Actually, this came earlier in the afternoon as we were all watching a movie in the living room.

2 – Brie and Apple Tart

Quite nice.

3 – Ravioli in a Truffle Sauce

Mushroom & truffle ravioli from the Pasta Shop, served in a taleggio cheese, truffled butter and cream sauce and topped with black truffle shaves and fresh Argentinian Parmesan cheese.

4- Apple Pie Granita

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A little bit sweet for a palate cleanser but lovely nonetheless

5 – Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust served with roasted shallots and carrots and Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast served with roasted baby potatoes and Brussel sprouts

I used this recipe from epicurious.com for the standing roast. I’m not bothering to copy it because while the roast came out great, I don’t think it was any thanks to the recipe. The mustard & herbs coating burned to the point of pulverization, and I’m not sure how much flavor it imparted on the meat. The roast, more over, was done by the time I took it out to add the shallots and carrots, so I had to keep it warm while these cooked – and then the shallots and carrots turned out too greasy. Still, what really matters is that the meat was great.

I served a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast for my vegan daughter. She was reasonably content with it, but did not think it was worth the $16 I paid for it. It reminded her a lot of the Field Roast sausages she likes.

6 – Granny’s Sponge Cake with Lemon Frosting

This cake turned out great, despite one of my daughters opening the oven in the middle of baking.

All in all, it was a good meal. We accompanied it with Martinelli apple cider and some delicious alcoholic apple cider I got from Argentina.

Marga’s Holiday and Party Recipes