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Posts Tagged ‘Romania’

I recently read the book 52 Loaves by William Alexander. The author, while at a restaurant, ate the best bread that he has ever encountered, which prompted him to bake a loaf of bread everyday for a year in order to achieve that perfect loaf of bread. I loved the story and his experiences (I highly recommend it!). One my favorite lines in the book was “Bread is life.”

I have a bread obsession too. When someone tells me that they gave up bread, I cannot imagine that world. Walking by the bakery section of my grocery store is like candy. Just a woof of the freshly baked bread makes my mouth water. I cannot resist not buying anything. The best day is when the bread is hot or warm… oh my!!

Bread has always been part of my life. Growing up in Romania, bread was served with every meal. My parents used to send me to the bakery and while walking back to our apartment, I could not resist and dig my hand in the soft inside of the bread. I would eat half of a loaf before getting home. My mom would always yell at me. Luckily I always bought two loaves.

A while back I had stomach issues, so my doctor recommended that I get tested for Celiac disease since apparently a lot of folks who are from Eastern Europe suffer from it. I was so grateful that my test was negative. That would have been the worst day of my life (it is bad enough that I am lactose intolerant!!). I wondered why that was though. In his book, William Alexander discusses the history of flour and how the process in the US has changed over the years, including the addition of these enriching ingredients. Can that be the culprit?

Since not much was available in Romania, my mom baked a bunch. Once in the US, she took out her recipe book and started baking the same cakes, cookies, sweet breads that she baked for years. But they never came out the same as they did in Romania. She finally realized that the four was different. Since then, she has found a flour that only the local German or Russian store sells… her baked goods are back to normal. It was very interesting.

A friend of a friend mentioned that her husband owns a bread delivery service and that he delivers via his bicycle. How cool is that!! Two of my favorite things in one! But after a minute I realized how dangerous that would be… I do not think that anyone would appreciate half eaten bread.

Julia likes Mo Willems books, so while at the library, I found Nanette’s Baguette. In the book, Nanetts’s mom sends Nanette to the bakery to buy a baguette. But on her way home, Nanette eats the baguette. Then both Nanette and her mom go to the bakery to buy a baguette and on the way home, Nanette’s mom eats the baguette.

I am glad to see that I am not the only one who finds bread irresistible!

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Every March 9, in some regions within Romania, folks celebrate the day by making măcinici. The măcinici are different depending on the region… they vary from a pasta-like dough to a bread-like dough. Growing up, my family always made the pasta-like dough (read more about the tradition in an old post).

Since having Julia, exposing her to my childhood traditions have been important and fun. We have also exposed her to the Jewish traditions, which I also love. Julia is curious and seems to enjoy them all, which makes it even more fun.

March 9 fell on a Friday this year. Making anything on a weeknight is challenging, but my mom and I decided to still make them… we could not break the tradition. My mom made the dough and I took a half a day vacation so we can get an early start. Making măcinici is time consuming.

As soon as we rolled the dough into a sheet, Julia insisted that she wanted to use the punch. The punch is not an easy tool… you really have to press it into the dough, wiggle it a bit to release the dough from the rest, and then lift and press the top to release the cutout. She tried a couple of times and got frustrated. My mom and I told her that it was even hard for us to do, but I am not sure if that made her feel better.

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My mom had an idea… she tasked Julia with moving the măcinici from our working area to the towel so that they can dry. Julia thought that it was the best idea! She was even counting them.

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At one point I looked over and Julia was arranging the măcinici in rows… it looked so pretty so we continued the pattern.

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As with any 5 year old kids, she eventually got tired of moving the măcinici over so she abandoned her post. My mom and I continued for a while. After about 2 hours and a few breaks, we were ready to boil them.

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The măcinici are pretty much considered fresh pasta, so just like fresh pasta, once they come to the surface, they are done. To finish them off, we added finely ground and chopped walnuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla and rum extract, sugar, and a pinch of salt. We boiled it a bit more until the sugar dissolved and then we were done.

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We truly enjoyed our hard work… the măcinici were delicious.

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A couple of months ago, my parents told me that they were thinking about going to visit my brother for Christmas… they live in Boulder, CO. I was so sad! I have spent every Christmas with my parents… only one time we were not together. And then I thought about the Christmas Eve dinner… my mom and I always make the traditional Romanian dinner together and I have never actually made any of the dishes on my own. I could not have Christmas Eve without the traditional dinner! I asked my mom to write the recipes for me so I could make them.

The dinner includes 7 dishes. It seemed a bit overwhelming to make all of them, especially since some are pretty time consuming. I decided to make my favorites… grâu, bob, and colțunași. I also debated about making the smoked fish dish, but decided on making a simple fish instead. And I did have a helper… sort of.

Grâu means wheat in Romanian. The dish is made with this wheat, which my mom found at a local Greek store. She experimented with a few over the years and the current one seems the best.

 

You have to soak it in boiling water over night, then you change the water, let it come to a boil, and then bake it in the oven for about an hour. Once baked, you add sugar, finely chopped walnuts, and poppy seeds. My mom also adds chopped walnuts, but I forgot to buy some so I did not add it. I actually liked it better without the chopped walnuts.

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Bob is pretty much just fava beans. You sauté onions and garlic with some salt and pepper, then you add the drained fava beans, and sauté until all of the liquid is absorbed. My sister mentioned that she skinned the fava beans before cooking them, so I tried that. It was kind of a pain to do, but perhaps it did help with the digestion.

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Colţunaşi, which means dumplings in Romanian, is definitely my favorite dish from this dinner. I look forward to it all year. They are super tasty but also the most labor intensive. I have been helping my mom make them for years. The most labor intensive part is rolling the dough and actually pinching them. It would take my mom and I hours to make. We had an assembly type line in her kitchen… my dad would roll the dough, my mom would cut the squares and fill them, and I would pinch them. We would make anywhere from 200 to almost 300 of them. Crazy, no!?! :) Then one year, one of us bought my mom the pasta attachment for her Kitchen Aid mixer. That was the best gift ever! It cut our colţunaşi making time in more than half.

The dough is very simple… flour, salt, a bit of oil, and water. The filling includes finely chopped granny smith apple that is mixed with poppy seeds. To finish them off, you add some sautéed onions on top and mix them. I made 84 colţunaşi this year. I think that it took me about an hour to make them, so it was not too bad.

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The traditional dinner also includes two types of fish dishes. Both include lots of onions and a bunch of smoked and non-smoked fishes. I decided not to make them. Instead, I got some Mahi Mahi filets, but I was unsure exactly what to do with them. After a quick text with my brother, he told me to sauté some onion, add a few lemon slices to the pan, add the fish filets, pour a bit of white wine, put the lid on the pan, and cook them for a bit until done. And that is what I did. :) It was super tasty!

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Our friend Yokko joined us for dinner. She brought a Cauli Cream Spinach dish, which was tasty and it went really well with the rest of the dinner.

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I am proud to say that the dishes were a success! I must admit that I was kind of stressed out about making them. I was unsure if they would come out as good as my mom’s. I was also worried about ruining the dinner… that would have been a bummer, especially since my parents were not around either.

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Merry Christmas… or La Multi Ani, as we say it in Romanian. It was also the first day of Chanukah, so Happy Chanukah!! :)

 

 

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My first introduction to Clafouti was during my stay in France while in college. I was lucky and fortunate to be able to spend 3 months in Tours, France.

I have had this obsession with France ever since I was 8. It was due to the numerous Alexandre Dumas novels from my neighbor’s book collection. My sister and I spent countless hours reading them to each other. Since my family decided to leave Romania, my sister and I were not able to go to school during this time. The waiting period lasted for 3 years, so we had enough time to go through the entire collection. :) It is one of my favorite childhood memories.

Due to this obsession, I decided to immerse myself into the language as well as the culture. Once in the US and as I entered 8th grade, I was excited to find out that French was offered as a course. I continued to study it all the way through college. Finally, while in college, I got the opportunity to go to France for a study abroad program to study the language as well as the culture. It was the best 3 months of my life.

During my stay, my French mother baked a Cherry Clafouti for dinner one day. It was so delicious! I still think about it. I have attempted it several times, but it has never come out as good as hers. It must be because she is French! So jealous! :)

While grocery shopping last week, I came across a display of cherries. They were so beautiful and they were even locally grown. How great is that?!?! Of course the fairly large container ended up in my shopping cart. The silly part about this whole thing is that I cannot really eat a lot of cherries and Joel is allergic to them. HA! “They would be great as a cherry Clafouti”, I thought. So they became Cherry Clafouti… a Cherry-Almond Clafouti, that is.

I found the recipe on Epicurious. It is very simple. It simply requires whole milk, almonds, sugar, cherries, eggs, almond extract, salt, and flour. The interesting part about the recipe is that it requires you to make almond milk from scratch. I decided to use store-bought almond milk, to save time. Also, I did not want to use whole milk due to my lactose intolerance. The worst part about the entire process was pitting the cherries. Now I know why pitted cherries or a cherry pitter are ideal. :)

The Clafouti turned out great! It is not quite as custardy as I would have expected it to be. This, I am sure, is due to the fact that I used almond milk instead of whole milk. I also think that I used more cherries than what the recipe required. But since I spent all that time pitting them, how could I not?!?

“Bon appétit!”, as my French mother would say.

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Quince Jam

Growing up, my mom used to make lots of homemade goodies… cakes, cookies, jams. Food was scarce in Romania during my childhood. All the grocery stores were completely empty, with the exception of some canned stuff. If the store all of a sudden received a shipment of any type of food item, everyone in the neighborhood formed a line the day before and camped all night to make sure that they got that item. I never understood how everyone found out about it. It was a mystery to me. I remember a bunch of times when my sister and I stayed in line all day for things like bananas, oranges, eggs, and other things. A couple of those times, the item was sold out as soon as we reached the counter. We came home crying to my parents informing them of the bad luck. Several bakeries did exist around my neighborhood, but going to them was a treat. Everything was very expensive.

One of the most frequent things that my mom made, as far as jams go, was quince jam. I have never found quince jam in Rochester or anywhere else for that matter. I do keep an eye out for it whenever I travel. I think that quince is not very well known in America. Somehow it was abundant in Romania. Also, it is definitely an acquired taste as far as eating it raw. I personally do not like it raw. Its flesh is very hard and tart. It does however make a good fruit for jams. The jam does remind me of my childhood. I can picture my mom in the kitchen shredding the quince, making the jam, and then canning it. It was definitely a chore, but the outcome was always well worth it.

During one of my phone calls with my mom a few weeks ago, she told me that my dad found quince at a local market and bought a bunch of it. She further told me that she got inspired and made several jars of jam. I was so excited since I have not had it in a very long time.

The jam was exactly as I remembered it. It was sweet and somewhat thick in consistency, similar to a marmalade. The first spoon of it took me right back to my childhood. Yes… I did say a spoon of it. There are certain jams that I can just eat by the spoonfuls. Growing up, jams were desserts (at least at my house), so eating a spoonful of it was normal. Joel always shakes his head every time he sees me doing that. I guess he will never understand. :)

I also like to spread it on a piece of freshly baked bread. It’s definitely heaven!!

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My co-worker Thuan and I talked about having an international food dinner a while ago. The requirement was that the food had to be authentic and home made. Shortly after our talk, I received an invite for the dinner. His friend Beth loved the idea as well, and sent the invite. I was very excited that it was actually happening (thanks Beth for organizing it!).

After consulting with my mom and sister, I decided to make Salată de Vinete, Gustare, and Negresa.

Salată de Vinete is an eggplant spread, which my mom has been making for years and I really like. The dish is very simple to make. It only requires roasted eggplant, roasted green pepper, onion, oil, and salt and pepper. My mom always decorates it with tomatoes and parsley leaves, so it was only fitting to do the same this time.

Salată de Vinete

Salată de Vinete

Another typical Romanian dish is Gustare, which means appetizer. The dish includes sliced tomatoes and cucumbers sprinkled with some salt and pepper, some feta cheese, and usually some kind of meat, such as pork.

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Preparing the ingredients for the Gustare.

Growing up, this dish was included on the menu of every party that we attended. Also, during our trip to Romania a few years ago, every house that we visited served it to us, which really surprised Joel. :) I did explain the popularity of it to him many times, but I guess it still surprised him.

After my failed attempt at making the Negresa a few weeks ago, I decided to make it again, but follow the recipe this time. So I included the required 2 sticks of butter and voilà… the cake was perfect. :)

The dinner was a success! All the dishes were delicious! I was surprised about how many different countries were represented. We had dishes from Romania (of course), Vietnam, Turkey, Korea, Italy, Portugal, Thailand, Poland, and US.

Kofte (beef patties seasoned with Turkish herbs. We have a similar dish in Romania, except that it is made with pork.)

The dishes included:

~ Thai Beef Salad
~ Kofte
~ Borek (a Turkish take on Spanakopita)
~ Pierogis and Kielbasa
~ Chicken Parmesan
~ Korean BBQ Pork
~ Vietnamese Egg Rolls
~ Portuguese Malasadas
~ Vietnamese Fried Rice
~ Kugel

Portuguese Malasadas

Portuguese Malasadas

The dinner was so much fun! It was great meeting some of Thuan’s friends. Delicious food and nice company… what more can you ask for?

Vietnamese Egg Rolls

Vietnamese Egg Rolls

I think that we should definitely have another dinner soon. I am sure that Thuan agrees with me. :)

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Măcinici

Măcinici… “What is it?” you ask. It’s a sweet, soupy, cinnamony mixture of goodness. It’s a Romanian tradition. Every March 9th, people across Romania make them to celebrate Saints day. My mom has been making them for years. I have vivid memories of being in our kitchen watching my mom making them and waiting patiently for them to be done. (I guess I have done a fair amount of that over the years.) Although, the tradition escaped our minds for a few years once we moved to America. I don’t know what we were thinking! The tradition is back and here to stay. :)

The recipe is simple but time consuming, typical of a traditional Romanian dish. You make a simple dough using flour, water, and a little salt. You roll the dough, and using a special punch, which my mom brought from Romania, you make numerous figure 8s.

You also have to make 42 figure 1s, which according to my mom, represents the Saints. Also, if you add up the figure 8s and figure 1s, they equal 9, which is why the dish is made on March 9th. Ha!

Next you boil the dough in a fairly large pot of water (at least that is what we do, since we always seem to make a lot of them).

Once the dough is al dente, you add sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla extract, rum extract, and lemon zest. YUM! The dish is a little better the next day, since the flavors have a chance to blend together and the liquid becomes thicker.

Apparently there are different ways to make Măcinici depending on what part of Romania you live in. For example, in Moldova (the north east part of the country), they are made as small bread-like rolls. While that sounds appealing, I think that my mom’s recipe is the best way to make them. Perhaps I am partial since it reminds me of my childhood. :) I look forward to next year!

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