Korea: Japchae

I once got food poisoning from a Korean dish. Granted, it was a Korean dish made at a Spanish restaurant, but I still grappled with the idea of making Korean food. What if it tasted the same? Would all my work be for naught because I couldn't eat it? Would I barf all over Greg?

Fear not, friends. Japchae, while following the standard oil-and-sugar format of Korean foods, did not set me off. Rather, it was delicious! Japchae is not a National Dish of Korea, but does have a delightful history, as according to Wikipedia.com:

"Japchae was first made in the early 17th century, when the Joseon Dynasty was reigning in the Korean peninsula. When King Gwanghaegun hosted a big party at his palace, one of his lieges, Yi Chung, created this dish to please the king’s palate. The king liked this dish so much that he rewarded his liege by promoting him to the position of hojo panseo (hangul: 호조판서, hanja: , equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury)."

This recipe lends itself really well to change. Add more vegetables, add more meat, more spices...it's all good. And it's all very tasty.

Japchae (from The Seattle Times)
-6 ounces dangmyeon noodles (**NOTE: These are easily found in Asian grocery stores, and are very cheap. And they're HUGE. The easiest way to find them will be to check the ingredients for "Sweet Potato Starch").
-1/2 bunch (about 4 ounces) spinach, rinsed and trimmed
-2 cloves garlic, minced and divded
-1 tablespoon, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
-6 ounces beef rib-eye, cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick strips
-3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce, divided
-1/4 medium onion, sliced
-3 to 4 shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced (**NOTE: I used an entire package of dried "exotic" mushrooms that I rehydrated. This was fantastic, even though there were far more than 3-4 mushrooms).
-1 carrot, shredded or cut into thin strips
-3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
-2 tablespoons sugar
-Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
-Optional: I added about 1 cup fresh snow peas, and 1 small red pepper, sliced. This was awesome and I highly recommend it. Also optional: When the veggies were cooking, I added a healthy splash of rice vinegar, and a touch more soy sauce and sesame oil.

1. Cook the sweet potato noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to the package directions, about 4-6 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Be sure not to overcook the noodles, or they will lose their chewy texture! If you like, you can cut these very long noodles with scissors into 6-7" lengths for easier eating.

2. Blanch the spinach in boiling water. Rinse immediately under cold water, squeeze the water from the leaves and form into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Combine the spinach, half the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, and the salt in a small bowl. Set aside to let the flavors soak in.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Stir-fry until the beef is cooked, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic and transfer to a plate.

4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the onion, mushroom, and carrots (and other veggies, if you choose) and cook until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the green onions and stir-fry for another minute. Remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine all the ingredients, plus 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and sugar. Serve warm, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Serves: 3-4
Calories: Unknown. Wouldn't necessarily be bad for you, were it not for an undoubtedly high sodium level, and all the oil and sugar. Darn.

Finland: Omenakakku (Finnish Apple Cake)


How cute is the Finnish language? I love all the k's that get used, and I just love that "Cake" is "Kakku." Adorable.

This recipe is from the "Sundays at Moosewood" cookbook (the one that separates recipes by region, and sometimes country). I was unenthused about all recipes the day I decided to make this (which is the way of things when I make a dessert instead of a main course for a challenge). I was extremely wary of the recipe because while it is called a 'cake,' it does not have any flour or other 'cakey' ingredients. While the blurb about the recipe says it's "Half cake, half way to custard," I was still suspicious of how it would be half cake. I really thought the authors mistakenly left out the flour. I even scoured the internet for another recipe--and upon only finding one other recipe (!) for Omenakkku, which used flour, I was even more convinced that this recipe was wrong. Nonetheless, upon Greg's urging, I followed the recipe in the book.

And I am so glad that I did.

This is a phenomenal dessert. The area surrounding the apples is velvety and very nearly like a custard. The 'cake' portion has a complex flavor, both buttery and nutty, and is simultaneously dense and light. Greg was in love with this dessert. It is something I plan on making over and over again.

Omenakakku (from the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook)
-2 1/2 cups cold water
-Juice of 1/2 a lemon
-4 tart, firm baking apples (such as Greening or Granny Smith)
-3 eggs
-Pinch of salt
-1/2 cup butter at room temperature
-2/3 cups sugar
-2/3 cups ground almonds

1. Put water and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive sauce pan. Halve, core, and peel the apples, dropping each into the pan of water to prevent discoloration as you work on the others. Add enough water to mostly cover the apples. Cover the pan and bring to a boil quickly. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 3-5 minutes until just barely tender. Drain the pan and remove the apples.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10" pie plate (**NOTE: I used a 10" springform pan, which worked great for easily removing the slices of cake).

3. Separate the egg whites and egg yolks. Place egg whites in a cold metal bowl with a pinch of salt. Whip until stiff peaks form.

4. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in egg yolks and ground almonds. Mix in a spoonful of egg whites into the creamed mixture to lighten. Then, gently fold in the rest of the egg whites using a rubber spatula.

5. Place apple halves flat side down in pie plate. Pour almond mixture into the pan, over the apples, taking care to smooth between the apples (domes of apples will peek through).

6. Bake 35-40 minutes until golden-brown. Serve at room temperature.

Servings: 8
Calories: Unknown, but given the ingredients, I'm gonna go ahead and deem this a "splurge" item.

Sunday Morning Bliss Muffins

A.K.A. Apple-Walnut Spice Muffins. Or some other kind of name that conveys the warm, comforting, apple-crunchy-nutty-cinnamon-y-ness of these muffins. Whatever you want to call them is completely up to you. The person who comes up with the best name will be dubbed Ruler of Awesome Nomenclatures.

I woke up to howling kittens on Sunday morning. It was 6:30 a.m. and they were pissed that Food Lady wasn't even making noises that suggested getting fed. So, Food Lady (having gone to bed at an embarrassingly early hour) got up to satiate the beasts. Feeling a rumble in my belly and a pang of sympathy and love for my poor ailing fiance, I thought I would wake him with the cozy scent of freshly baked muffins and coffee. Really, is there anything better on a cold, dreary weekend morning?

I used this basic muffin recipe found on Allrecipes.com, but added in an apple, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. I really did want to make this recipe lower fat, but we didn't have the necessary ingredients to do so. But next time, I definitely will, as I hear the muffin recipe is quite forgiving of any changes you want to make to it.

Sunday Morning Bliss Muffins
-2 cups flour
-3 teaspoons baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-3/4 cup sugar
-1 egg
-1 cup milk
-1/4 cup oil
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon ginger
-1/4 teaspoon allspice
-About 1 cup apples, chopped
-About 1/3 cup walnut pieces

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Stir together all dry ingredients. Make a well in the center.

3. In a small bowl, beat egg with a fork. Stir milk and oil into the egg. Pour all at once into the well made in the flour mixture. Mix quickly and lightly with the fork--don't beat! Mix just so everything is incorporated. Batter will be lumpy. Gently stir in the apples and walnuts.

4. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray, or line with paper muffin cups. Pour mixture evenly into each cup.

5. Once you place muffin tray in the oven, reduce heat to 400 (the initial heat will make the muffins tent up). Bake 25 minutes, or until golden-brown.

-Servings: 12
-Calories: 181, Fat: 5.6g (for basic muffin recipe--not with anything else I added)

Notes: To make this recipe low-fat/no-fat, substitute 1/4 cup egg beaters for the egg. Then, in place of the oil, substitute either 1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt or 1/4 cup applesauce. They will still be yummy and moist, I promise.

Eggplant Parmesan

For someone who loves eating vegetarian food, I sure am not a fan of eggplant. I think it stems from when I was 19 and threw a dinner party for which I made ratatouille. I'd never made or eaten ratatouille before, but I was under the impression that eggplant was good. Any time I think about that particular eggplant, I shudder--blargh! Aside from Thai eggplants (which I am fine with), I just tend to avoid eggplant in general.

Now, I pride myself on how un-picky I am where food is concerned. The list of what I won't eat includes insects, octopus (they're so smart and awesome!), cuttlefish (ditto), oysters (tried 'em, hate 'em), brain, tongue, and other internal organs (eeeeeeeeeeew). The foods I'll eat, but I dislike, broadens slightly to include beets, eggplant, clams, and excessive amounts of mayo.

I also pride myself on trying to like things that I dislike and prefer not to eat. Being that Greg loves eggplant and brought it up recently, I thought I'd give it a shot. So, we made some Eggplant Parmesan.

Eggplant Parmesan (from Cooking Light)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 4 (8-ounce) cans no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (1-pound) eggplants, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

2. Place eggplant in a large bowl; add water to cover, and let stand 30 minutes. Drain well; blot dry with paper towels. Combine 1/4 cup water and egg whites in a shallow bowl. Combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese; stir well. Dip eggplant in egg white mixture, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture. (**NOTE: I forgot to coat the eggplant in parmesan with the breadcrumbs, so I just sprinkled it on when doing the layering in step 4. It worked awesomely, and I recommend the method)

3. Place half of eggplant on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and broil 5 minutes on each side or until browned. Repeat procedure with remaining eggplant. Set eggplant aside.

4. Spread half of tomato mixture in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange half of eggplant over sauce; top with half of mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers with remaining sauce, eggplant, and cheese.

5. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh oregano sprigs, if desired.

Serves: 8
Calories: 298, 38.8g Carbs, 19.2g Protein, 8.5g Fat

Verdict: Okay, so, I guess eggplant isn't bad when it's smothered in cheese. :) This was pretty damn delicious. Coupled with making my fiance happy, this recipe is a keeper.

Med-Style Stuffed Peppers

Sometime last winter, I made stuffed peppers for the first time. I was amazed (and horrified) that I'd never made them before. They were just so delicious. The original recipe I made was entirely vegan with the option to be vegetarian, and included fresh dill, so it was very fresh and summery tasting. This week, I thought I'd modify the recipe to be "Mediterranean-Style" including cheese, because hey--I'm a Wisconsin girl. I love me some cheese. By no means do you need to put cheese in this recipe (if, for example, you don't like cheese, or you want to feed your favorite vegan), but it certainly doesn't hurt!

Med-Style Stuffed Peppers (adapted from Carol Gelles' cookbook, "1,000 Vegetarian Recipes.")
-2 large bell peppers, halved and seeded (or 4 small peppers)
-1 1/2 c. fresh tomato, chopped
-1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
-2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-3/4-1 c. uncooked barley (**NOTE: I only had about 3/4 cup, which worked fine--I even had a little extra left over)
-1/4 c. fresh oregano, chopped
-1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
-1/4 c. sliced black olives (**NOTE: I diced mine up a little finer, since they came sliced in the can)
-1/4-1/3 c. goat cheese or feta crumbles (**NOTE: I used goat cheese, because it was on sale...it was creamy and nicely contrasting flavor-wise. I'd originally intended to use feta, but it wasn't on sale, so no dice).
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 tsp. pepper (I was a little more generous with this measurement)

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Put in the peppers and cook for 4 minutes to blanch. Drain and set aside.

3. While the peppers are cooking, prepare the barley according to package directions. I think that "Quick Cooking Barley" works best for this recipe's timeline (about 10-12 minutes cooking time). Set aside when done cooking.

4. In a large skillet, drizzled with olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons), saute onions and garlic over medium-high heat. Cook about 2 minutes, until softened. Add tomatoes, parsley, oregano and olives and cook until tomatoes are softened, 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat, and mix in the barley, goat cheese, salt, and pepper.

5. Divide the mixture in pan into fourths. On a pan coated with cooking spray or oil, place the stuffed pepper halves empty-side up. Fill each with 1/4 of the mixture.

6. Bake for 20 minutes, serve immediately.

Double Shot Mocha Cupcakes

Today is a coworker's birthday, and she and I have a fierce love of all things coffee. As such, I decided to make her a recipe I saw on Love and Olive Oil and have wanted to try for quite some time: Double-Shot Mocha Cupcakes.

It didn't occur to me until after I tried one (duh, I know), but these are vegan cupcakes. The frosting can easily be made vegan, too, by substituting margarine (or a strictly vegan kind of margarine) or crisco for the butter. I didn't make the frosting vegan, but I'm willing to bet it would still be great.

These cupcakes are amazing. They are not as heavily coffee flavored as I would've hoped, but they are moist and very chocolatey, so they get the job done!

Double-Shot Mocha Cupcakes
(from Love and Olive Oil)

-1 cup coconut milk
-1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or 1/2 tablespoon ground coffee (**NOTE: I used instant coffee granules dissolved in the tiniest bit of hot water, since I do not have a fine mesh sieve as in the directions below)
-1/3 cup canola oil
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-3/4 cup sugar
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1/3 cup cocoa powder
-3/4 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt

-1/4 cup cocoa powder
-2 cups powdered sugar
-1/2 cup butter
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-3 tablespoons brewed coffee (cooled)
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with paper liners.

2. In a microwave safe bowl, heat coconut milk until hot (but not boiling). Stir in espresso powder. If you don’t have espresso powder, put coffee grounds into a fine sieve. Pour coconut milk over grounds and allow to seep through. You will end up with a few grounds in your milk this way, but it won’t affect the final product.

3. Whisk sugar, oil, and vanilla extract in to coffee mixture. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and beat until no lumps remain (or very few remain).

4. Pour into liners, filling each with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Bake 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

5. For frosting, sift together powdered sugar, cocoa. Cream butter and add to sugar mixture slowly. Add salt, and coffee. Beat 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Daring Cooks Challenge/Syria: Mezze Table

I was excited to learn about this month's Daring Cook's Challenge: A Mezze Table. Mezze is found throughout Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, and is a form of the more commonly known term tapas (basically, a bunch of appetizers that can constitute a meal). The only part required part of the challenge was to make the hummus (their recipe, no subbing our own) and the pita bread, anything else we added was up to us.

SO! I very busily set to work deciding what type of mezze table I wanted. Since I have big plans for my Greek challenge, I went for Syrian recipes. Syria's national dish is tabbouleh, which works out well, given that one of Greg's favorite foods is tabbouleh (and when I heard "hummus and pita," I immediately thought "tabbouleh"). I also found a recipe called "Batata Harra," which are spicy potatoes. Honestly, I don't know where those potatoes have been all my life. I could eat them every day and be happy (fatter, but happy).

Pita Bread – Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook
-2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
-2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
-5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
-1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
-2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)

1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.

2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).

4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.

5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.
-1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
-2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
-2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
-a big pinch of salt
-4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste

1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.

2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Batata Harra (from DedeMed)
-6-8 Med/Lg Red Potatoes
-1 Cup Chopped Cilantro
-6 Cloves Minced Garlic
-1/2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
-1 Tsp Salt
-1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1. Chop the potatoes into cubes. Toss with olive oil and spead on a baking sheet.

2. Cook in oven on 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until tender.

3. In a pan saute cilantro, garlic and olive oil, add potatoes and toss, season with salt and pepper.

Syrian Tabbouleh (from Orange Blossom Water)
Bulgur Step:
-1/4 cup bulgur wheat
-Juice of 2 lemons
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Bowl 1:
-3 bundles parsley (leaves only, discard stems), finely chopped
-1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
-3 scallions, finely chopped
-1/2 white cabbage, finely chopped
-4-5 medium cucumbers, chopped into small cubes

Bowl 2:
-4-5 medium cucumbers, chopped into small cubes

For Last Step (Mixing):
-1/2 cup olive oil (**NOTE: Recipe calls for 1 3/4 cups olive oil, which I thought would be overkill in an epic sort of way. I found about 1/2 cup to be totally sufficient to lubricate the salad without it being oily).
-Lemon zest
-Juice of 1 lemon

1. Soak bulgur in the juice of two lemons, salt, and paprika for at least 2 hours in the fridge.

2. Finely chop the parsley, scallions, mint, and white cabbage in a food processor (trust me here--you do not want to do all that chopping by hand). Chop the cucumbers into small cubes by hand.

3. Chop tomatoes into small cubes.

4. Once your bulgur has soaked for 2 hours, you may add all the ingredients together as long as you are ready to serve immediately! To bowl 1, add tomatoes, olive oil, lemon zest, and salt. Taste to see if you need to add more lemon juice. Serve and enjoy!

Vegetarian Baked Ziti

I have a wonderful cookbook called, "1,000 Vegetarian Recipes" by Carol Gelles. I love how each recipe comes with a little story or description, and how each recipe is broken down into one or more categories of healthiness or vegetarianism: Lacto, Lacto-Ovo, Ovo, Vegan, and Heart-Healthy. I love how it comes with menu suggestions for various occasions (like "Dinner with the Boss"). On top of all of that, all of the recipes I've tried thus far have been pretty great.

I make a meaty baked ziti that is out of this world. It is so bad for you. I make it with tofu sometimes, and it's still great, but not as good as with meat (sad to say, but true). So, I decided to try an actual vegetarian's take on baked ziti.

Baked Ziti
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/2 cup chopped onions
-2 cups water
-14 1/2 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
-6 oz can tomato paste
-1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
-1 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1 pound ziti (or penne, as in my example photo above)
-3 medium roasted red bell peppers (or one tall & thin jar, if you're lazy or it's a weeknight)
-2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan
-1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
**NOTE: This recipe is fantastic for experimentation. You could add sliced black olives (or kalamata olives), spinach, feta, and crushed red pepper for a spicy mediterranean flavor, or mushrooms and broccoli florets for punching up the veggie count, or even cubed tofu for extra lean protein.

1. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions; cook stirring, until softened, about two minutes. Add the water, tomatoes (with liquid), tomato paste, parsley, oregano, and basil. Break up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.

3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Return to the pot, but do not heat. Stir in the tomato sauce, red bell peppers, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, Parmesan, and the sun-dried tomatoes.

4. Spray a 13x9" dish with cooking spray (**Note: the recipe called for a 9" dish, but there is no WAY 1 pound of pasta was fitting in a 9" dish). Spoon the pasta mix into the dish. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through and the cheese has melted.

Servings: 6-8
Calories: Unknown; sadly, the book does not give them. This doesn't have a "heart healthy" symbol by it, but it's not awful for you. To lighten it, use reduced-fat mozzarella (and slightly less of it), add more green veggies, and use sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil.

Germany: Chicken Stew with Caraway Dumplings (Huhnereintopf mit Kummelklossen)

Instead of watching the Superbowl, Greg and I had an "X-Men" and "X2" marathon. I decided that I should pay tribute to an X-Men character by way of my 50 Countries challenge. Given that most of the X-Men characters are from the U.S. and Canada (hello, Wolverine), my first thought was our dear friend, Nightcrawler, a.k.a. Kurt Wagner.

You all remember Nightcrawler, don't you? Anyone who does not admit that he is one of the coolest X-Men characters is lying--to you or to themselves. Nightcrawler is a cheeky, fun character who can teleport, is super-agile, has adhesive hands and feet, and a prehensile tail (spiked like a demon's, works like a monkey's). When X-2 came out, I was super excited solely because Nightcrawler was going to be in it. And he was everything I hoped he would be.

Nightcrawler is from the German state of Bavaria. In order to pay proper tribute, I really should've made a grand Black Forest Cake. Not wanting to buy Kirsch, and having leftover carrots and celery as I did, I instead opted for Chicken Stew with Dumplings.

NOW. All X-Men-age aside, this is a stew that brings back memories for me. My friend Emily's Oma made chicken stew quite a bit (from what I remember), and I benefited at least twice. The thing that I remember the most is finding chicken bones in my bowl of soup and wondering what they were doing there. It was also markedly less salty than the commercial chicken soups I was used to. While making this soup, I was flooded with the memory of going to Emily's Oma's house and smelling chicken browning in butter while we played an infamous "never-ending Uno game."

I made this stew mainly from one recipe, but with a few additions from another. The major recipe (caraway dumplings included) was from The Cutting Board recipe message board. The other was from Family Oven. I just adapted from both to fit my needs and tastes.

German Chicken Stew with Caraway Dumplings
-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
-About 2 1/2 pounds chicken thighs or legs (I used about 5 thighs)
-1 medium yellow onion, chopped
-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
-1/2 celery root (celeriac), peeled and cubed
-1 bunch of parsley roots (1-2 pounds?), peeled and cubed
-2 red potatoes, peeled and cubed
-4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
-2 stalks celery, sliced (I used 4 stalks because I loves me some celery)
-10 black peppercorns
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
-6 cups water, boiling
-2 cups frozen peas
-1 generous teaspoon salt
-1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
-1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Caraway Dumplings:
-2 large eggs
-1/2 cup unbleached flour
-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
-2 tablespoons caraway seeds
-1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1. In a large casserole or stew pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. When it stops sizzling, brown the chicken and chopped onion until golden, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes.

2. Sprinkle the flour over chicken pieces, turning over to absorb. Add the celery root, parsley root, potatoes, carrots, celery, and spices (except salt and pepper). Cover with the boiling water and bring to just below a boil. NEVER BRING TO A BOIL! Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is very tender and falling off the bone, about 2 hours (**NOTE: For me, this took about 1 hour).

3. Add the peas and simmer 10 more minutes.

4. While the peas are cooking, prepare the dumpling dough. When you are ready, drop tablespoonfuls of the dough gently into the stew. Be careful to not let them sink completely below the liquid (they will go down a little bit, of course). Cover and DO NOT PEEK for 20 minutes.

5. Serve immediately!

Verdict: As I'm mostly German (I think), this made me feel all cozy inside. Oh, Germany. You cut to the core of me with your delicious chicken stews. I feel bad that I don't make more of your national foods, Germany, but I fear for my heart's health. I promise I will make the remainder of my bag of spaetzle soon. I heart you, spaetzle.