Monday, July 23, 2012

5 Recipe-Countdown to the 2012 Olympics

In honor of the Olympic Games, Natural Sugar will be posting some of the easiest world recipes as part of the countdown to the opening ceremony this Friday in London!  Stay tuned the rest of the week for some approachable and impressive ideas.

Every two years, my family practically dies of anticipation for the Olympics!    WE.  LOVE.  IT!    We have a jolly good time watching the spectacle of music, art, light, sound and everything in between.  Not to mention, seeing each country’s athletes march around the stadium.  In my family, it’s frowned upon to only vote for one country.  So, we cheer many of them on.  Outside of the U.S., I cheer the most for my friends’ home countries like France, Finland, Great Britain, Turkey, Senegal and many more.  Good luck to everyone and may the games of 2012 be prosperous and fun and a showcase of the paramount competitors that our world has to offer.

Now, could it really be a party without delicious food?  I didn’t think so.  So, over the next few days, I will present some of my EASIEST and favorite dishes from around the world.  On Friday night, we’ll be having a small get-together to watch the opening ceremony and you better believe we’ll be eating well!  I hope you enjoy the games as much as I will!

5.  Kir   [France]

Our countdown begins with homage to France.  When I studied abroad in Albi, France, I found a beautiful, quaint restaurant called Le Castel.  I ate there on a regular basis with my French and international friends and even showed some paintings on Le Castel’s walls.  Every meal started with Kir (pronounced k-eer), which is an incredibly simple aperitif.  With only 2 ingredients, you can’t go wrong.  It’s sweet and light and a great way to start any evening, especially that of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.  Bon chance, la France!

1 oz. Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)
White Wine

*Other fruit liqueurs will work just fine.  

Fill your wine glass with Crème de Cassis and top it off with white wine.  It can’t get much easier than that!  Profitez-bien!

4.  Simple Finnish Voileipä   [Finland]

My friend Alla introduced me to this simple and tasty snack when I visited her in Finland several years ago.  Our days were so relaxed and calm, I wish I could vacation in Finland all the time.   Almost every morning started with this open-faced cucumber sandwich, called Voileipä (translates to ‘buttered bread’).  Don’t ask me how to pronounce it – you know what happened last time I tried speaking Finnish!  Sometimes Voileipä has hardboiled eggs, meats, fish and various vegetables.  This version is easy – just bread, cheese and veggies.

Crunchy, yet juicy and fresh, Voileipä will please all your taste buds.  Make it for breakfast, lunch or an appetizer for your Olympic opening ceremony viewing, like I am.  Good luck Finland!

Dark bread, like Rye or Pumpernickel
Butter, for buttering
Munster cheese, very thinly sliced
Cucumber, sliced
Tomato, sliced
Salt & Pepper

Toast a slice of good, dark bread in the toaster or oven.  When it’s warm and has a perfect crunch, butter it.  Place the slice of Munster cheese on top.  Add the cucumber and tomato and season with salt and pepper. 

3.  Pasties   [England]

Sorry, England, but you’re just not known for your food.  It’s the sad, but fair truth.  Despite its melting pot reputation, Great Britain boasts relatively few culinary delicacies that do not include words like “kidney,” “liver” or “pudding.”  But, years ago on a post-high school whirlwind tour of Europe (where we visited 17 countries in 10 days), I discovered something quite delicious right in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, in London. 

It was a rainy and cold afternoon and I was starving.  Then, out of the mist appeared a godsend – a walk-up shop selling warm, hearty and flaky Cornish Pasties.  They were so amazing that I even tracked them down 3 years later when I returned to London and I scarfed down several more. 

Somewhere between a calzone and an empanada, these Pasties have a warm savory filling and a buttery pastry crust.  My favorites are usually filled with beef, onion, potatoes and a strong cheese.  This is my attempt at recreating one of England’s simple delicacies just in time for the opening ceremony in London! 

Pie Crust (I’m still using Ree Drummond’s recipe, but store-bought is fine)
Beef, sliced really thin
Salt & Pepper
1 onion, chopped into slivers
2-3 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 C. Cheddar cheese
¼ C. Horseradish White Cheddar (any cheese is fine – Stilton would be great!)
¼ C. Milk, plus more for brushing

*Pasties are meant to be eaten ‘on the go.’  I’ve seen some fancy ones, but I prefer the rustic look because you can actually see what’s in them. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Season the beef with some salt and pepper.  Then, in a large skillet, sauté the beef in 1 T. olive oil until it turns brown, but is not completely cooked.  Remove and let it rest.   Add the onions and the potatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Cook them until they are golden brown and have started to caramelize.  Add the meat back into the dish with the cheeses and milk.  Thoroughly combine.  Turn off the heat and set aside. 

On a floured board, roll out the piecrust to ¼” thick.  Cut it into squares that are 5” x 5.”  Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray and arrange the dough with at least an inch in between each pasty.  Place a healthy spoonful of the meat mixture on each piecrust.  Fold up the edges so you have a little package and brush them with a little milk so they come out golden brown.  Bake in the oven about 15-20 minutes until the piecrust has baked completely.  

2.  Torreja   [Mexico]

When I was little, I spent several summer vacations in Mexico with my family.  My clearest memory of them, ironically enough, is of food.  Each morning, we would have breakfast right on the beach as the sun rose.  I always chose Torreja (or French toast) despite being in Mexico.   I guess I was a 'Frenchy' at heart even when I was young.  This, along with freshly squeezed orange juice made for a perfect start to each day

What makes this version of French toast different is that after it’s cooked, it’s covered in cinnamon sugar, almost like a churro.  The sugar adds a satisfying texture that I haven’t found elsewhere.  This Torreja is sweet and buttery and finished with a delicate crunch. 

1 loaf of good, sweet bread (regular loaf bread will work too)
2 eggs
1/3 C. Milk
1 t. Cinnamon, plus more for dowsing
¼ C. Sugar
Syrup or fresh fruit, if desired. 

Slice the bread into 1" slices.  Thick slices are better, especially when you can find brioche.  I had trouble finding it this time, so I used regular loaf bread, which works fine too.  

In a bowl, beat together the milk and eggs.  Add 1 T. of cinnamon and 1 t. of vanilla.  Wisk to combine.  In a separate shallow dish, combine sugar and 1 T. cinnamon.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet.  Dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture on both sides.  Place it in the skillet carefully and let it cook until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the pan and drop it in the cinnamon sugar until it's completely covered.  Serve with syrup or fresh fruit.  

1.  American Sliders with Chipotle Aioli   [USA]

It took me a long time to decide which recipe to put down for the United States.  Finally, with the help of Sean and my mom, I decided on sliders.  These days, hamburgers are ubiquitous throughout the world, but sliders have not yet completely escaped the U.S. border.  They are considered finger food, and they’re easy to eat ‘in front of the game.’  So, I thought they’d be a good recipe to feature here, for the Olympic Games. 

My Chipotle Sliders have southwestern flair.  They are sweet and spicy and smoky and pair well with Hawaiian sweet bread.  Adorned with chipotle aioli, they’re a great alternative to the cliché hamburger.  Go Team USA!  Let the games begin!

1 lb. ground beef
1-1 1/2 Chipotle pepper(s), finely diced
1/2 t. Worcester sauce
1 Egg
¼ C. Panko or bread crumbs
¼ C. Parmesan
1 T. cilantro

1/2 C. mayonnaise
1 small chipotle pepper, finely diced
1 T. honey

12 Hawaiian Sweet Dinner Rolls, sliced laterally

In a large bowl, combine the beef, chipotle, Worcester, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan and cilantro.  Allow this mixture to rest in the refrigerator at least an hour, so the flavors can marry. 

For the aioli, combine the mayonnaise, chipotle & honey in a small bowl.  Set the bowl in the refrigerator until your are ready to eat. 

Turn the oven onto broil or 500 degrees. 

Then, form the meat mixture into small, flat patties about 2" wide with an indentation in the center.  **They will puff up when they cook, so it’s important to make them flat unless you want meatballs instead of sliders.**  Place each patty onto a sheet pan and bake about 7 minutes or until cooked through, flipping the patties once. 

When the patties have cooked through, place one patty on each Hawaiian roll.  Top with chipotle aioli and replace the top of the roll.  Serve warm.  

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