Polenta (Mămăligă) with feta cheese and cream

This “polenta” is a special dish that is very traditional in Romania. It can be used as bread in different meals or accompanying stews, stuffed cabbage rolls or even eaten with milk (instead of cereal, 😉 ). However, the recipe presented here is a delicious mixture of polenta, cheese and sour cream that is quick and easy.

What you need:

–          1.5l/51 oz. water

–          400g/0.88 lbs corn flour

–          ½ tsp salt

–          500g/1.1 lbs feta cheese (grated)

–          200ml/6.8 oz  cream

Bring the water  to a boil and start adding corn flour gradually, just a pinch at a time, while stirring constantly.  At the same time, reduce heat to medium temperature. Keep stirring until it becomes harder and harder to stir and the result is a thick mixture.

Pour half of the polenta in a tray, sprinkle the grated cheese over it (it should melt since the polenta is very hot) and pour the rest of the polenta over the layer of cheese. Leave to cool down.

When it has cooled down, pour the sour cream, evening it out –  this is the top layer and the final touch of this dish.

Home-made bread

Nothing compares to the aroma that fills your house when you have bread baking in the oven.

Making it requires:

–          1kg/2.2 lbs flour

–          75g/0.16lbs yeast (not the dry kind) –  you can use the dry kind, but then the measurements are different

–          2 eggs

–          1 tsp salt

–          1 tsp sugar

–          40ml/1.35oz sunflower oil

–          200-300 ml/6.7-10.2 oz. lukewarm water or milk

–          Sesame seeds/cumin/poppy

–          20g/0.7lbs butter

Start off by putting the flour in a bowl, add one egg, salt and sugar.

In a cup, pour some warm milk or water and add the yeast, mixing it well until the yeast dissolves.

Pour the yeast in the bowl over the flour, egg, salt and sugar and mix well. Keep adding water in order to make it all form a “cohesive” dough. This can become difficult if done in the bowl until the “end-result” so it is sometimes easier to empty the contents of the bowl onto a cooking board and work with the dough there.

Use your hands to shape the dough into a firm non-sticky ball (just add flour if it keeps sticking) and keep modeling it for about 10 minutes.

When it’s done, leave it in the bowl, in a warm place for approx. 1-1,5hrs so that it grows to almost twice its size. A neat trick is covering the bowl with a piece of cellophane wrap (or even a piece of kitchen cloth will do). It makes it warmer for the dough and it will “grow” faster.

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius/392 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare the trays. You can make the bread in either a rectangular or round type of tray, it just depends on how you prefer it.

Making braided bread is also an option and is not as complicated as thought. The picture below shows a braided bread with 3 strands; it’s based on the same concept as is braiding your hair. You take the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Out of each part, you make a roll of dough. You put the three rolls parallel to each other and then just knot them at one end and start braiding.

If you want it to look even more fancy, you can add a second layer of braids (like the top bread in the picture). It’s pretty easy: just roll another 2 strands and braid them together. When you’re done, put them over the previously 3 braided strands and gently press them together so they stick. You have to press them enough so that they do not separate while baking in the oven but don’t press them too hard, otherwise you flatten the dough too much.

up: 5 strands; down: 3 strand braided bread

At the end, beat the second egg and smear it over the braided dough – it will give it a nice shine while baking in the oven. It’s now ready to be put in the oven for approximately 1 hour. Check on it with the “toothpick test”, but an hour should more or less suffice.

Round braided bread with cumin seeds

Biscuit “salami” (Rum and chocolate biscuit roll

This is a very common dessert in Romania and it has many variations throughout the country. You can basically enrich the recipe by adding Turkish delight, raisins, nuts, almonds, coconut flakes, whatever you feel might work well with the rum-chocolate biscuit base of the dessert.

The recipe presented here is pretty basic and it’s really easy to make.

This is what you need for approximately 5 rolls (each roll would be 3cm/1.2 inches in diameter and 30cm/12 inches long)- of course, you can make them any size you want:

–          800g/1.8 lbs normal (sweet) biscuits

–          350ml/10 oz. milk (preferably not skimmed milk, but use 3.5% milk)

–          10 spoons of sugar

–          220g butter/0.5 lbs margarine

–          8 spoon-fulls of cocoa

–          100g/0.3 lbs coconut flakes

–          Rum flavour (as much as you prefer) – you can also add some vanilla flavor

–          Cellophane wrap for rolling the dessert

The first thing you have to do is probably the most troublesome: you have to crumble the biscuits into a powder. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it can also have bigger bits and biscuit crumbles – but it mostly has to be powdered down in order to be able to form a paste with the syrup you’ll cook next. You can do it by hand or you can also use a coffee grinder.

Crumbling the biscuits

The syrup is made out of the milk, sugar and cocoa that you heat up in a pot (using whole milk makes it easier for the syrup not to stick to the pot). You slowly heat the mixture, stirring carefully until the sugar melts.

Next up,  you leave the syrup to cool off for a bit and add the butter. It should melt nicely in the warm syrup mixture. If it doesn’t , heat  the pot just a bit and you’ll see the butter will start to melt.

After the mixture has cooled down a bit, add the rum and vanilla flavor in the syrup, stir it well and pour over the biscuit powder.

Mix it well until it all becomes a cocoa-coloured mixture.  * if you prefer you could also add raisins, almonds, nuts, and other extras that you might like to have in the roll.

Pouring the cocoa-butter mix onto the biscuits

Mixing the syrup and biscuit crumbles

The dessert is ready, you only need to roll it up nicely and keep it in the fridge for about 3-4 hours before serving. Cooling in the fridge will allow the butter to thicken the mixture and coagulate it nicely.

For rolling the dessert you have to use cellophane wrap. Take out a rectangular piece, as large as you would want your roll to be. Put some coconut flakes on it and then put the biscuit mixture shaping it nicely into a roll. Then roll the cellophane wrap so that the biscuit roll is all covered in coconut flakes, fold it up and shape it into the circular form you desire and then store it in the fridge.

It’s easy to make and is absolutely divine, especially if served with a cup of milk! 😀

Mashed beans with onion and garlic

This is as easy as it can get!

You need:

–          500g/1.1 lbs beans (raw)

–          3 average sized carrots

–          1 parsnip

–          Salt, pepper

–          One mid-sized onion

–          3-4 cloves of garlic

–          1 tbsp olive oil

–          1 tbsp paprika

You wash the beans and then soak them in 2l of water for a couple of hours.  Afterwards, you boil them together with the carrots and parsnip until they are very soft( just like you would boil potatoes to make mashed potatoes).

When they’re done, mix them in a bowl with a mixer (you can also use a blender but make sure you don’t end up with soup rather than a paste).

Chop the garlic in fine pieces and add it to the beans and mix them well. The amount of garlic used usually depends on your own tastes and whether you like your flavours more garlicky or not.  Add salt and pepper to your tastes as well.

And last but not least, the final touch!  In a pan, put the olive oil together with the paprika, let it simmer and take all the flavor out of the spice. After 2-3 min, add the finely chopped onion (julien) and leave it until it becomes yellow-brown. When it’s done, put the fried onion on top of the mashed beans.

It’s usually eaten with home made crispy white bread, but you can easily serve it with whole meal bread, it’s delicious all the same!

Amandine Cakes – Chocolate sponge cake with rum and vanilla filling –

This cake is a very special one for Romanians of all generations. Everyone has grown up with it and once you’ve tasted it, you’re bound to adore it.

It’s a mixture of aromas with chocolate, rum and vanilla and it’s incredibly sweet and soft.

There are 4 important parts in making this cake: the dough, the chocolate cream, the syrup and the glazing.

This is what you need:

For the dough:

– 6 eggs

– 200g/0.45lbs sugar

– 40ml/1.35oz water

– 40ml/1.35oz sunflower oil

– 3 full tbsp cocoa

– 200g/0.45lbs white flour

– 1 tbsp baking powder

For the chocolate cream:

–          3 yolks

–          150g/0.33lbs powdered sugar

–          250g/0.55lbs  butter/margarine

–          4 tbsps cocoa

–          Rum (flavour)

For the syrup:

–          500ml/17oz water

–          100g/0.22lbs sugar

–          Rum and vanilla extracts/essences

For the glazing:

–          200g/0.44lbs dark chocolate (preferably no more than 60%cocoa)

–          50g/0.11lbs butter

–          50ml/1.7oz milk

First up, making the dough. Set your oven to 180 degrees Celsius/356 degrees Fahrenheit and let it head up. In the meantime, take  2 bowls and separate the egg whites from the yolks.

Take the bowl with the yolks and gradually add the oil while stirring constantly. You should get a mixture that resembles mayonnaise. Use a kitchen mixer to beat the egg whites in a foam – don’t stop until the foam is very firm.

Next up, mix the egg whites with the sugar, the water and the yolk paste making sure that you stir gently, with a wooden spoon and with up-down movements. Add the baking soda.

Take a tray, grease it with some butter and flour (so that the dough won’t stick) and pour the dough mix in. Put it in the oven and leave it for approximately 30 minutes. To check if it’s done, use a toothpick to prick holes into the dough. If no dough sticks to the toothpick when you take it out, then the dough is done and you can take it out of the oven and leave it to cool.

Preparing the chocolate cream

Make sure the butter you use is soft, just take it out of the fridge some time before you begin to make the cream so it softens. Put it in a bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until it becomes more creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix them with an electric mixer. When it becomes more homogenous, add the cocoa, the eggs and the rum extract.

Next up, when the cake (cooked dough) is cool enough, take a large knife and cut it, horizontally, in two equal layers.

Making the syrup:

Put the sugar and 2-3 tbsp of water in a pot and let it boil at low temperature, stirring so that the sugar melts nicely. Add the rest of the water (water that should be lukewarm), stir and add the rum extract.

Pour this syrup (slowly, with a spoon) onto the 2 cake layers. Make sure that is reaches every part of the cake.

When this is done, take the chocolate cream and spread it onto one layer. Afterwards take the second layer and put it on top of the cream.

Put the cake in the fridge and wait for about 2 hours so that the cream becomes more thick and clings to the cake.

Making the glazing:

When you have already taken the cake out of the fridge, you can start making the glazing.

In a pot, melt the dark chocolate with some  butter and just a bit of milk. Stir it into a semi-thick mixture.

Cut the cake into little squared pieces (approx 4cm by 4cm) and then pour the glazing over each piece.

And voila! It’s ready for you to enjoy!

“BOEUF” Salad

This recipe is said to derive from an old Russian recipe invented by a French chef working at the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow, in the 1800s.  The initial recipe was made with capers, veal tongue, truffles, smoked duck breast, lettuce, crabs, eggs, and a special mayonnaise sauce. Throughout history, most people have changed the recipe and have replaced expensive ingredients with more common ones that they could afford and also with ingredients that could be found all year long without difficulty.

As a result this next salad has become more and more popular and is now one of the dishes that is served in any Romanian home.

What you need:

–          1 kg/2.2 lbs potatoes

–          1kg/2.2 lbs carrots

–          1-2 parsley roots

–          2-3 parsnip roots

–          1 can of peas (optional)

–          50g/0.11 lbs olives (green or black, whichever you prefer)

–          2 eggs and 100 ml/3.38oz sunflower oil and a tsp of mustard (if you want to make home-made mayo); if not, then you need about 150ml/5oz mayo from the store

–          300g/0.66lbs pickled cucumbers

–          1 kg/2.2 lbs chicken or turkey breast (you can also use veal instead)

–          1 tbsp all spice

–          Salt, pepper

Peel and wash the carrots, potatoes, parsley and parsnip. Put them in a large pot together with the meat and 1 tbsp all spice and bring them to a boil. Be careful as to not over-boil the vegetables, you do not want to make them into a puree.

When they’ve boiled, separate them from the water they’ve boiled in and when and sufficiently cooled down, chop them up into cubes. By the way, the leftover water in which the meat and vegetables have boiled makes for an excellent chicken soup – you can just add some noodles or dumplings and the soup’s ready!

After you chopped the vegetables up and put them in a bowl, chop the rest up: the meat and the pickled cucumbers.  Add the mayo, salt, pepper and mix them all up.

You can decorate it with olives.

MAYO: If you want to make the mayo yourself, this is what you have to do: Separate the yolks from the whites, you only need the yolks. Put them in a bowl and add a bit of mustard (a tsp). Start stirring slowly with a wooden spoon and slowly adding a pinch of oil, just a bit at a time. You have to continually stir until you see the mixture thicken and become more and more of a paste similar to mayo’s density.

Be careful to not pour too much oil at a time, it will ruin the mayo. It’s a pretty lengthy process and you have to be patient.

To make the mayo even tastier, you can take a cup, fill it with a pinch of sugar and 1-2 tbsp plain vinegar (preferably not balsamic). Stir until the sugar has melted and pour it over the mayo. Be careful to not make the mayo too thin, though.

Aubergine/Eggplant Salad

This is the most exquisite salad that’s part of Romanian cuisine. Any self-respecting Romanian cherishes this dish so it seems only fair to dedicate post #1 to the queen of our Romanian hearts (or stomachs), the eggplant/aubergine salad!

Step 1: cooking the aubergines

"Grilling" them outside might be a good idea to prevent the smell from remaining in your kitchen

You can cook (or better yet fry) the aubergines in many ways. You can

use a pan and the grill-mode of an oven, you can use any kind of grate

placed on the stove, or you can even use an outside grill. You just need to place

the aubergines on the heated surface and wait until they become moist and                 wrinkled on the side which is in direct contact to the heat. Turn the aubergines         on each side until they have the same texture on all sides.

What happens is that due to the hard peel of the eggplant, the inside warms up           and gets cooked under pressure. At some point small cracks may appear and            water is sure to drip from inside.

Not to worry. Just continue cooking them until they’re all moist and soft on the        inside (check by slowly pressing on the peel). However, if you choose to                       cook them on a pan or a tray, make sure you’re not sentimentally attached to it.It   may easily get damaged.

They're look great, almost done

You may find different methods and suggestions regarding this step. Some prefer to cut the green part of the aubergine so it cooks better.
Experiments with this idea proved that there is some inconvenience to
this method. One is that excessive juices from inside the eggplant may
drip while cooking, if the green part is not cut at a right size.
Second is that while cooking you may find it difficult to grip the
aubergines when you want to turn them. Here is where the green part
comes in handy, giving you the possibility to manipulate the
vegetables while cooking.

Step 2: peeling the aubergines

Once you have your aubergines well cooked, you need to peel them.

This process may be somewhat uncomfortable due to the fact that the inside
of the aubergines is very hot and cools down very slowly. What you need to do is peel            them under the tap with cold water flowing on your finger so you don’t get burned.

You will find that the peel comes off rather easily and the process is shorter compared to      the cooking. However, don’t hurry. Make sure you get every little bit of the peel off.

If  there is peel in the salad, you will have some bitter bites when you eat it.

Step 3: the chopping

Use a cutting board and a good long knife. What you need to do is to chop the cooked, peeled aubergines very finely using swift movements of the knife. If the aubergine is properly cooked, you will discover that chopping them is not problem.

You will stop chopping once the aubergine has turned into a homogeneous creamy paste, which you place into a pot or bowl, and continue with chopping the second aubergine and so on.

Step 4: mixing ingredients.

You can either chop the onion finely or you can use a grater. If you use a grater be sure to use a sieve in order to drain most of the water from the onion. You don’t want your eggplant salad to be too moist. Second, use the recipe for home-made mayonnaise (you can find that in the next post) to make as much as you need for the salad, and mix all of the 3 ingredients, add salt, and finally mix it well.

Enjoy!