Meal 84: Jamaica

I was surprised to read in my research for this meal that a lot of Jamaicans wish they'd never gone independent from the United Kingdom, missing the economic stability and lower crime of that bygone era. It turns out that this tropical island, which on the surface is about as different as possible from that European one, has a fair amount more in common with it than you would think, at least through the lens of food. The patty, for instance, is probably directly derived from the Cornish pasty. The saltfish in the national dish was introduced through English trading ships, as was the quirky and beloved starch-on-a-tree, breadfruit. Even sorrel, that cheery drink, came on slave ships from West Africa. That said, it's held on good authority that jerk meat is a homegrown creation, and in fact allspice, found throughout the cuisine as mostly a spice for savory dishes, is native to the island.

Our guest of honor was Lois, from Jamaica! We also dined with Heather, Sarah, Brian, Chris, Betsy, and Christen. Despite the fact that it looks like I was pasted in the front there, I swear I was actually there, it's the lighting.

Planter's Punch

There's plenty of disagreement over whether this drink comes from South Carolina or Jamaica, but either way, this drink is a sweet, tropical refresher. Tropical juices and grenadine (which I made from scratch by boiling down pomegranate juice and adding sugar) hook up with dark rum and a dash of bitters, and voilà. There are as many recipes as bartenders!


The word in Spanish for the flower, and the rich red drink it makes, is jamaica. So I’m not at all surprised that the island with the same name loves to drink what we call hibiscus and they call sorrel. It’s got all the color and staining power of beets, with a fruity sourness reminiscent of pomegranate without the sweetness. Accordingly, when making a drink from the dried sepals, you sweeten it after a boil and long soak, and sometimes even add other flavors like ginger and clove. I made this one fairly tart, and Lois said she liked it that way, so hooray. Just be sure to not spill any on yourself or the stain will likely not come out! Goes very well with rum, by the way.

Saltfish and ackees | Recipe

While jerk is by far the best-known Jamaican food up here, the undisputed national dish is a breakfast food that looks like scrambled eggs but is made from an oily fruit and a salty dried fish. It’s curious that, even though they’re surrounded by abundant seas, the national dish is made from long-preserved fish from Canada, but colonial legacies will do strange things. At least the fruit is quite native: ackees look a bit like oversized lychees, but aren’t very sweet. So long as you remember to soak the fish overnight, the dish is a cinch to whip together, and tastes quite a bit better than it looks or sounds. I’d definitely eat this salty, moderately greasy, and tasty plate as a hangover cure.

Patties Recipe

A Jamaican patty is flaky, tinged yellow with curry, and traditionally stuffed with an allspice-heavy, moderately spicy ground-beef filling. I did that, as well as a vegetarian version with chorizo. As I continue to struggle with pastry, I gave up rolling out big sheets of the patty dough, and instead rolled out individual rounds, which was tedious but worked ok. The patties baked up nicely and were really quite yummy.

Jerk chicken Recipe

Once you’ve whipped up the off-white marinade, heavy with onions and the classic thyme and allspice, you’ll wonder how it’ll turn into that super-dark coating that you think of when you think of jerked meat. Well, it takes patience: first for the long marinade, and then the slow grill, but darken it will. It turned out so damn well: I’m sure part of it is due to having used tender local well-raised chicken, but that long marinade just took it to beautiful, spicy, flavorful places.


Ever heard of the Mutiny on the Bounty? The ship was on a mission from the Caribbean to the South Pacific to bring back samples of the tree that grows this big, fleshy, surprisingly bread-like fruit that was rumored to be super nutritious, as cheap food for slaves. It turns out the scaly fruit is kind of a health dud, and the slaves originally refused to eat it, but it eventually became a beloved part of the cuisine of the islands. It’s easy enough to cook: just roast it whole over fire (like I did) or in an oven (if that's more convenient), and cut it open. So what’s it like? Well, it looks like one of those smooth-skinned avocados blown up to several times its size, and tastes something between a banana and an artichoke. They’re kinda hard to come by — this was the fourth Nosh for which I looked in West Indian markets for breadfruit and the first time I got them — so if you happen to see it, do yourself a favor and give it a try. I doubt you’ll develop a craving, but you probably won’t hate it either.

Ice creams: Grape-nuts | Mango

Turns out Jamaica has a pretty big ice-cream culture, so for my final act before selling my machine, I whipped up a few frozen treats.

I was surprised as you probably are to learn that Grape-nuts ice cream is one of the most beloved flavors in Jamaica. (Weirdly, it also is in Maine.) I can see why: there’s something about how the malt plays off the sweet and cream, and the crunch in contrast with the soft, that’s just really delightful. The mango ice cream, with a squeeze of lime, was pretty alright too, though I think the chunks of fruit were too big and got kinda icy.

Meal 81: Italy

In the estimation of many, Italy is the true heart of Western gastronomy. France gets so much of the glory, but it wasn't until Catherine de' Medici of Florence married French King Henry II and brought her chefs with her that their cuisine set on the road to such lofty achievements. A major flaw of going one-meal-per-country is that even the most culinarily interesting and diverse countries only show up once. Well, except for Italian food — thanks to the Holy See (aka Vatican City, a permanent observing state) and San Marino (a tiny but full-fledged member), we essentially get three shots at it! (Oh, I guess thanks to Monaco we'll get French food again. Score!) But even then, there's so much variety across Italy owing to a wide diversity of climates and geographies; to name just one important distinction, the North tends to use butter and the South olive oil as the cooking fat of choice.

One great thing about this project is that there's always a theme for a birthday party. Italy marks Laura's third birthday nosh, after Canada and France. In a shocking break with tradition, I'm the one who took the group photo, so Laura's included! Surrounding her are Erin, Lisa, Anna, Alicia, Jessica, Kirsty, Sarah-Doe, and Elsa. Note the utterly empty bowl that once held pesto pasta.

Antipasti | Appetizers

Our pre-dinner entertainment was tarot card readings (tarot was invented in Italy, who knew?), so we needed an appetizer that didn't require formal service. Fortunately, Italian food has perfected the art of pre-dinner nibbling with the antipasto, literally, "before the pasta." The spread gave me the opportunity to represent preserved foods from around the country.

For meats, we had San Daniele prosciutto from Friuli in the northeast, richly spiced cacciatorini salame from throughout the north and central regions, and a spreadable, fiery 'Nduja from Calabria. I can't even remember all the cheeses, but they included a fresh sheep's-milk ricotta from Lazio near Rome, a delicious, medium-flavored snacking cheese called bra from Piedmont, and a truly distinctive cheese called formaggio di fossa, so named because it's buried in a pit and allowed to anaerobically ferment for a few months, making for a really pungent, sharp, and crumbly cheese. I also roasted some eggplant, chopped it up, and doused it with olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt to make a Southern Italian salad-dip-like thing.

Pane tipo Altamura | Semolina sourdough bread | Recipe

(Sorry there's no photo. Imagine a round loaf of bread.)

I was going to make a ciabatta, until I discovered that it was invented in...1982! So I went searching for an older one, and given my love of sourdough and alternative flours, I ended up with this bread from Apulia, which is known in Italy as Puglia. (Why does English mangle it? Some Anglicizations make sense, like Florence for Firenze and Naples for Napoli. But Apulia, as well as Genoa for Genova, don't seem to add anything.)

Since Roman times, the semolina-based loaf from this particular town has received wide acclaim, and I gotta say it turned out great when I made my best imitation. Moderately spongy with medium holes, a substantial but not overwhelming tang, a bit of nuttiness from the semolina and a crispy but not overly-thick crust made this one of the favorites I've ever made. The only downside is how long it takes to make it: 40 minutes, then 2.5 hours, then 2 hours, then a relatively long bake — something that can only be made on a leisurely weekend day. This bread went great with the antipasti, and the second loaf I made held up admirably for several more days.

Aperol spritz

We're not big fans of Negronis and those other classic Italian cocktails, Laura and I find them too bitter. But this, the famous apertivo of Venice, won our vote: three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol, one part soda, with ice and a slice of orange. Aperol is indeed made of some bitter things, but it's milder and sweeter, and when paired with the dry bubbly, it's just lovely and refreshing.

Pasta fresca all'uovo con pesto alla genovese | Fresh pasta with basil pesto | Recipe

In a proper Italian meal, the primo piatto, the first plate, is generally pasta or soup. Uh, duh, pasta please.

I can't believe I'd never made pasta until now, and it was just as fun and satisfying as folks had told me it would be. With something so simple — it's just flour and eggs — the ingredients are extremely important. I used Italian Tipo 00 flour, which is milled super-fine, which helps it cook faster and also not require as much hydration (hence no added water beyond the moisture from the eggs), leading to a softer texture. The eggs came from the farmer's market. Making up the dough (pasta means paste, as in dough) was easy enough, the laborious part was cranking the sheets of dough through ever-narrower settings on the (borrowed) machine, carefully dusting each layer with flour to avoid them sticking.

Pesto means "pestle," as in the thing you use with a mortar to mash something. Fortunately, the Cuisinart has eliminated the tedium of mashing basil, garlic, grated hard cheese, pine nuts and olive oil with pieces of stone, so this classic Ligurian sauce came together in just a few minutes. Sharp from raw garlic, rich from abundant oil, and fresh and aromatic from basil, the pesto played so well against the soft, mildly eggy canvas of the fresh pasta. There was nary a noodle left after just a few minutes.

Involtini di manzo in salsa di tomate | Beef pinwheels | Recipe

In Northern Italy, meat is traditionally more abundant, and meat dishes are often straightforward hunks of flesh. In the poorer South, meat is treated as more of a luxury good, whose flavor is to be stretched by blending with complementary ingredients. Perhaps an illustration of this distinction is the two meanings of the word braciole: to northerners it'd be medium-thick slices of meat, to southerners it's meat slices pounded thin and stuffed. The latter, which is also universally known in Italy as involtini or "roll-ups," is what we had for a main course. I made it Sicilian-style with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, raisins and pine nuts (ironically, the pine nuts were far more expensive per pound than even the grass-fed beef), held together with a toothpick and browned all sides until cooked through. With the pan juices, I built up a tomato sauce, then put the involtini back in. The great thing about this dish is you can cook ahead of time, and reheat in just a few minutes. (It's also pretty yummy cold!)

Cassata ricetta mia | Sicilian layer cake, my way

A birthday party needs a cake, right? The cassata, probably Italy's most famous cake, is made with sponge cake soaked in rum, and layered with the same sort of creamy spread you find in cannoli. The recipe I found looked cool because it uses a layer of marzipan lined with chocolate to give the thing body; I half-managed to layer the pan with the rolled-out almond paste, but spreading with molten chocolate was a disaster and it all clumped up. I changed course by mushing it all into a layer of chocolatey marzipan, and used that as a layer of the filling. Another layer was sweetened ricotta cheese studded with chocolate curls. Candied fruit is a traditional part of the cake, but Laura doesn't like it, so I kept a corner clear for her. The cassata was rich and delicious, but be warned that whatever recipe you follow is going to be a whole lot of work.

Gelato di cioccolato | Chocolate gelato | Recipe

Drop the mic, put a cork in it, closing time, etc. I shall no longer search for a chocolate ice cream recipe, because there's no way anything could be better than this gem, which comes to us by way of the beloved goddess of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan.

What's all the more astonishing is that it's so rich and sumptuous, yet as a gelato contains no cream. So why's it so rich and tasty, and smoother than any frozen dessert I've ever made? Surely the blend of rich cocoa powder and melted semisweet chocolate rounds out the flavor, but the trick is in a dash of caramel that you whip up in a pan on the side and pour into the custard right as it firms up.

We went through roughly a bottle of Italian wine apiece, plus the Aperol Spritz. The recycling collectors must think we're lushes with very particular regional taste in wine.

Meal 71: Grenada

Until Hurricane Ivan wiped out most of the nutmeg trees, this little speck of a 133-square-mile Caribbean island country was the world's number two producer of the spice. It's become so important to the culture and economy of Grenada that there's a nutmeg on the flag. Beyond the focus on this spice, Grenadian food is closely related to that of its neighbors, with a strong focus on root vegetables and the greens that they produce. Our guests were Rachna, Lisa, Patrick, Linda, Sarah, and Megan. Thanks to the inevitable fall weather, it was our first indoor Nosh at this apartment. I'm glad I got all the cooking done before guests showed up, because the dining table is in the kitchen!


Like the rest of the Caribbean, rum is the main drink of Grenada. They make nutmeg syrup and even a nutmeg liqueur, but I couldn't find those, so I made some nutmeg-infused rum by smashing a few whole nutmegs and letting them sit in white rum for a few days. I threw together some ginger juice (blend ginger with lemon or lime and a bit of water, strain, add simple syrup and more water); the sorrel (aka hibiscus) juice was a bit more complex. That's all we'd had planned for mixers, but while taking our dog on a walk we ran into a sweet potato punch stand run by a Jamaican woman, who agreed that her drink would go well with what she termed "adult beverages." My favorite was half-ginger and half-sorrel, with dark rum plus a splash of the nutmeg rum.

Callaloo soup Recipe

Various spinach-like greens are used for this soup, the Grenadian version of which involves okra and some coconut cream. When I'd shopped for the DR Congo meal exactly a year prior, I'd found a green called "callaloo" at a market in Harlem. I looked for the same thing this time in Crown Heights, and couldn't. On further research, what I'd found before was probably amaranth, and that I could have used the dasheen leaves I saw everywhere and ended up using in the next recipe.

Not having seen anything called "callaloo" fresh, I bought two cans with that label -- which on further reflection were probably just canned dasheen! Be that as it may, this soup was actually, surprisingly, really tasty. The coconut cream and okra, though in small enough quantities to not overpower with flavor, made it so thick that, even after the addition of extra water, that it held a shape after being ladled out. But it was soft and had a lovely flavor of thyme and these intriguing canned greens. Though let's admit it, the salt in the cans probably helped a lot too.

Oil down Recipe

This is so indisputably the national dish that the official government website unhesitatingly declares it such. There's a logic to the weird name: throw starchy vegetables, salted meats, and dasheen leaves in a pot with coconut milk until all the oil from the milk goes down into the vegetables, i.e., there's no liquid left. It's traditionally made with breadfruit, which I've seen before in the markets but simply wasn't to be found in Crown Heights this time around, so I substituted eddoes, a root vegetable closely related to taro. That said, I was able to find the preserved pig tails, which actually added a lot of flavor (and salt!) to the pot.

I will note that this is a pretty poorly written recipe: some items in the ingredient list don't show up in the instructions, and vice versa. But it doesn't much matter, because from what I can gather this is really a "throw in what you want" sort of dish. In this case, I left out the dumplings and added half a pumpkin instead, and also put in more greens than called for.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting this dish to taste like, maybe sorta coconut-y with the nuttiness of root vegetables and squash, but this was different. Maybe it's the long cooking, and quite likely some of it is due to the generous dose of turmeric, but the flavor felt more like a subdued richness, almost in the direction of caramel.

Black bean and corn salad 

Lisa brought this refreshing salad of black beans, corn, onions, and tomatoes. The crunch of the vegetables and the tang of the citrus-y dressing were a nice foil for the soft, rich oil down.

Sweet potato pudding | Recipe

I really enjoyed this dish during the meal, but didn't much like the leftovers, and I just figured out why: it's a lot better warm. The aroma of the spices (including nutmeg, of course!) is released, the texture is softer, and the whole experience just more satisfying. It's a really simple recipe, just prepare all the ingredients, mix them together, and bake at medium heat (around 350) for about an hour and a half. I grated the sweet potatoes with a food processor, but maybe I should have done it by hand to get those thinner, wider shreds that a box grater provides, for an overall softer texture. And one final note: the sweet potato most commonly used in Grenada's neck of the world has a purple skin and a white interior, but I bet this would be as good if not better with the sweeter and more readily available yellow variety.

Nutmeg ice cream | Recipe

I love making frozen desserts that play on the flavors of the country we're cooking, so I was delighted to see nutmeg ice cream suggested as a Grenadian treat on several sites. The base custard of this recipe differs a bit from what I'm used to: rather than cream and milk in a 2:1 proportion, and use of yolks only, this goes for 1:1 and whole eggs. The result, made with milk and cream from the farmer's market, and nutmeg freshly grated on a Microplane, was a bit denser than my preferred texture, but held up very well when scooped directly on top of the warm pudding. Oh, and the flavor was great, a wonderful way to accent the mystery and complexity of a spice we normally don't give a second thought!

Our next meal is Haiti, which will coincide with fet gede, the Day of the Dead!

Meal 48: Denmark

Danish cuisine doesn't exactly have a high reputation, among gastronomes nor dietitians, so I had pretty low expectations for the meal. While Denmark famously produces a whole lot of dairy and pork, it has a historical reputation for sending the best stuff abroad and keeping the remainder to feed the populace. Well, I am happy to report that so long as bold, rich flavors are welcome, Danish food is actually pretty good! For this meal I tried to evoke the spirit, if not the reality, of the smørrebrød — literally, butter-bread, the open-faced sandwiches on rye that are the most distinctive and lovely part of the cuisine. While a really good host might have made them for the guests, we set bread, butter, and toppings on the table, and let folks just have at it.

We were pleased to welcome a whole bunch of first-time Noshers! Raven's the only one who'd been before; we were thrilled to welcome Jeremy, Lars (a real half-Dane!), Dada, Julie, Bijou (another half-Dane!), Jess, and Allison (a fellow countries-of-the-world food-schticker at 26dishes!).

Rugbrød | Sourdough whole rye bread | Recipe

My initial research a few weeks back made it clear that a fresh, dense-but-moist, whole-grain sourdough rye is a core component of Danish cuisine. I found several recipes in searching, but none really struck the intersection of seeming like something someone in Denmark would actually make, and speaking the sort of baking language I understand.

So what luck when I did the search again — specifying "rye chops" because I had the cut grains on hand — and found this marvelous recipe that just happened to be posted a day or two prior! If you already have a sourdough starter, it's no big deal, you just have to plan several days in advance so you can take part of your starter and feed it with rye, and then spend the required day and a half of rising and refrigerating, 2.5 hour bake, and another 24 hour rest before slicing.

The bread is just great. Rich, malty flavor with a very strong backbone of that hearty rye flavor, but what's most wonderful is the surprisingly light crumb and moistness you just don't expect from 100% rye. The only recommendation I can add to the recipe is to remove the bread from the pans before it cools too much; I made the mistake of cooling in the pan, and of the three loaves I made, only the one with corrugated sides released. The other two taste great but are no good for slicing.

Akvavit | Spiced spirits

Akvavit, from the Latin aqua vitae or "water of life," is an infusion of spices into vodka. I guess I could have bought some at the store, but what's the fun in that? Cobbling together indications from several sites, and ignoring suggestions to start with just a few spices, I threw in about a dozen, including cinnamon, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, cloves, anise, star anise, and dried lemon peel. I should have left it for a few weeks but only started a few days before the meal, so to give things a head start I toasted the herbs to release the oils, and also gave the bottle a shake every time I walked by the kitchen.

Nobody claimed to love it, and to be fair it was a pretty heady combination of flavors, but I was pleased for what I think passes as a Scandinavian complement from Lars: "Well, this is better than many commercial versions!"

Frikadeller | Fried meatballs | Recipe

Denmark creates a lot of dairy, but dairy cows aren't the best for eating. So what to do? Well, grind up the beef and fry it in butter! The recipe's evolved, and now you'll often see pork and/or veal either in place of or mixed in with the beef. The recipe that Allison provided calls for pork but I messed up and bought beef instead (probably remembering the history more than the recipe!) while at the Meat Hook. I then got pork, so it was a blend. And such a tasty one! As Allison says, "If pork is king in Denmark, butter is king." So, a royal dish indeed. And thanks to Jeremy for frying them all up!

Leverpostej | Liver pate | Recipe

Corinna, a colleague of mine, cautioned against setting up for sandwiches — not only would it take "a lot of preparation," but "you would have to make leverpostej." Tradition demands it! And since I don't pass up a good opportunity to bake with rye, well, I had to make this liver-based pâté.

Now, I can find palmnut sauce, green plantains, and homemade lard easily in New York. But who knew, in a city that loves its bacon and many other parts of the pig, that it would be so hard to find something as elemental as pork liver? After increasingly frantic calls on Friday to some of Manhattan and Brooklyn's best-regarded butchers, all of whom said "I could get it for you in a few days," I finally found a winner in the Meat Hook in Williamsburg, which also kindly ground both the liver and the fat for me. So note, if for some reason you want to make this dish, please call ahead to your butcher and make sure they're ready.

We didn't end up with any photos of the dish, which is just as well because it's roundly unattractive. But for those who enjoy pâté-like dishes, it's a treat to have one that's freshly made. One suggestion is to ignore the recipe's idea to serve warm; apparently it's most often served cold, which also makes it easier to slice.

Syltede rødbeder | Pickled beets | Recipe

I almost didn't make this, because the beets at the Fairway were shockingly soft. You want beets soft after cooking, not before. But while I was at the Meat Hook, the little produce area in the Brooklyn Kitchen half had these beautiful, local beets that I just couldn't ignore.

Now, a cooking secret for you. I don't know a reliable way to avoid getting stains when cooking. Even when I wear an apron, stuff seems to find its way onto my shirt. So when I'm working intensively with beets or pomegranate or the like, I just take my shirt off. Maybe it increases the risk of a burn on my stomach, but I know I won't stain the clothes! Anyway, so I boiled the beets, cooled them in an ice bath, slipped off the skins, and sliced them while still warm. I threw together a homemade pickling spice with bay leaves, mustard and coriander seeds, cloves, broken cinnamon stick, and probably a few other odds-and-ends I forget, and left it just overnight. Well, the flavors definitely melded, and the beets were very popular, both as a smørrebrød topping and also on their own.

Smør, Marinerede sild, Danablu | Butter, pickled herring, blue cheese

Much as I try to make things myself, sometimes you just gotta buy it. No way I was going to churn my own butter (though I've heard you can) or make my own blue cheese, and even though I tried to find fresh herring to pickle my own, I totally struck out and got some from Shelsky's down the road. Anyway, all of these were excellent smeared on the rye bread for some smørrebrød action.

Kold kartoffelsalat | Cold potato salad | Recipe

Be sure to use the freshest potatoes you can find, because there's not much seasoning in this salad so the potatoes are meant to shine. However, there is heavy cream and mayonnaise. Yum! I think I was more of a fan of the more vinegar-and-bacon direction of an Austrian potato salad, but I definitely see the value of this creamier kind.

Grønkal | Creamed kale | Recipe

Despite the name and appearance, there's no cream here, just a butter-flour-milk roux with boiled and chopped kale thrown in. I think there was too much sauce for the amount of greens.

Is | Ice cream

Turns out the Danes are the #1 per-capita consumers of ice cream in the world. I too the opportunity to clean out a bunch of ice creams I'd made over the summer: vanilla, mint, saffron-cardamom-pistachio-rosewater, and peach sorbet.


We had a great time, as Lars, Bijou and Allison regaled us with stories of Danish life and culture, and the soundtrack played local pop and other sounds.

Next week we head to a place that also has sourdough-based bread, and plenty of meat and butter — and that's where the similarities end, 'cause it's the little East African nation of Djibouti.

Photos by Laura Hadden, who finally found a rye bread she likes.

Meal 30: Canada

Laura is Canadian, Monday was her birthday, and we're at the beginning of the C's. That's a recipe for a Canadian blowout party! For eight hours we fried, drank, and sang our way through the Great White North. We went through the better part of twenty pounds of potatoes, five pounds of cheese curds, a gallon of gravy, and every last bottle of wine in the house. Let's be honest, this isn't a collection of dishes you'd likely find on a table in Halifax or Edmonton — by and large they eat roughly the same up there as we do down here, perhaps with more ketchup squirted on top. But by dint of history, marketing, and circumstance, there are indeed some dishes that are classically Canuck. Not surprisingly given the universal link between cultural identity and cuisine, many of the dishes come from the French Canadians, who have had a complex identity with and within Canada ever since becoming subjects of the British Crown after the French and Indian War in the eighteenth century.

We had about thirty people come and go throughout the afternoon and evening — including Laura's mom Eileen and sister Jen, who were visiting! It was a lovely day, and our first meal of the year outside. This time we took a break from fundraising for the World Food Program, and instead asked guests to support Laura's fundraising ride in the upcoming Five Boro Bike Tour benefitting CAMFED, an amazing organization that directly supports girls' education in sub-Saharan Africa. Please consider donating!

Poutine | Fries with cheese curds and gravy | Recipe

In Quebecois French, une poutine is "a mess." Never has a food been given a more appropriate name! Interestingly, the dish was only invented about 50 years ago, but has become so widespread that it topped a survey of Canadians as being their national dish. Anyway, French fries topped with cheese curds and smothered with gravy  is just as disgustingly awesome as it sounds. Let's deconstruct it:

  • Fries: Unlike Belgian fries, which I made with yukon gold potatoes to replicate the lower-starch bintje variety, a classic North American fry is made with a starchier potato like good ol' Idaho russets. (Though in Canada, Prince Edward Island is the famous spud-grower). I left the potatoes unpeeled 'cause I prefer them that way, soaked them in ice water for a half hour after slicing to draw out some of the starch, drained them and let them air-dry, fried for about 8 minutes at 325° to cook them through, let them sit for about 20 more minutes, and then finally crisped the for a few minutes at 370°. It's a lot of steps, but makes for a potato that's soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.
  • Gravy: To make chicken stock, I swear by the technique in Cooks Illustrated's The New Best Recipe, which eschews carrots and other aromatics and just has you concentrate on drawing as much flavor out of the meat as possible. This one I made with a seven-pound roaster (minus the breast, which I actually simmered as the stock was cooking and used for sandwiches). Making the gravy was super-simple, just throw in some butter and flour and whisk it good. (I also made a vegetarian version using a boxed broth.)
  • Cheese curds: These little lumps of joy taste like medium-mild cheddar, but due to their higher moisture content they melt fantastically. When they're super-fresh they squeak when you bite into them, but cheese curd options are limited in NYC, and even though I got the freshest ones I could find at Saxelby Cheesemongers, we didn't get that experience. But oh well.
The result: everyone who'd ever had poutine before said this was the best they'd tasted. Hooray!

Tourtière | Spiced pork pie | Recipe

The tourte is a long-extinct pigeon that was once the filling of this pie, traditionally served by French Canadians on Christmas Eve. The place is now taken by pork, but the combination of spices such as sage, thyme, and cloves give a beautifully comforting and old-timey flavor.

Pastry has always been my cooking weak spot, and I've been steadily improving, but I gladly put this job in Eileen's expert hands as you see above. Her expertise is not only in technique, but also in recipes. Rather than what's given in the linked recipe, the pastry we used for both the pie and the butter tarts is as follows. It's enough for two whole pies (or 24 butter tarts):

5 1/2 cups of flour 1/2 tsp salt Cut in 2 cups of Crisco Mix with 1 egg, 2 tsp vinegar and enough cold water to make 1 cup total of liquid

The dough holds up nicely when you work it, especially if you refrigerate it for a while. It's also delightfully flaky in that Crisco way.

Kraft Dinner

We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner But we would eat Kraft Dinner Of course we would, we'd just eat more. And buy really expensive ketchups with it. That's right, all the fanciest... Dijon ketchups! Mmm. —  If I Had $1,000,000 Dollars, Barenaked Ladies

Sure, the day-glo yellow of Kraft Mac & Cheese was a staple for many of us who grew up in the States. I can't even look at my parents' six-quart saucepan without smelling the tang of powdered cheese. But only Canadians sing about this easy-to-prepare boxed meal, or assign it a rarified two-letter nickname — KD. They are, far and away, the world's most avid consumers of the blue boxes, so along with time-consuming dishes of distinctive patrimony, Raven whipped up a big batch.

I really wish someone had told ten-year-old me that mac and cheese goes so well with ketchup. I guess the Barenaked Ladies tried to, but I didn't catch the message. According to our friend from Calgary, Ophira Eisenberg, KD with ketchup and scallions is known as "Skiiers' Delight," and that's exactly how we enjoyed it.

Fèves au lard | Maple baked beans | Recipe

Truth be told, finding truly Canadian dishes was tough, and everything I was finding was so fatty and unhealthy. I begged Laura and her mom for advice on a vegetable dish, but none was forthcoming. What joy when I found this dish for baked beans made with maple syrup...they're not veggies, but they are healthier! In context of the meal, the pound of salt pork that seasoned the double-batch of beans was a mere condiment for healthsome beans. Whether you make it with the pork, or try the smoky vegan version, you won't be disappointed. It takes a long time, but with the firmness of the beans and the rich and subtle sweetness of the sauce that coats them, you'll realize that canned baked beans just pale in comparison. If there's one dish that I learned from this meal that I'd make again, it was these!

Caesar | Bloody mary with Clamato | Recipe

Who knows why Mott's decided to market a tomato juice with a bit of clam flavoring, but luckily for them, a bartender in Calgary discovered Clamato and fixed a bloody mary-type drink with it, garnished with celery salt, and the rest is history. This drink has a firm lock on the Canadian cocktail pantheon but is virtually unknown elsewhere. Luckily, you can still find Clamato in the U.S., but with Spanish labeling, since it's what you mix with beer and hot sauce for a chelada.


image credit: Raven Keller

Laura and I encountered the shotski at her cousin Ryan's wedding up in Whistler. Glue shot glasses to a ski, fill with shots of choice, get friends together, kneel down, put glasses to your lips, and toss it back on the count of three. I couldn't find Sortilege, so I made it myself by shaking Canadian Club whiskey with maple syrup (in roughly a 4:1 ratio) with ice and straining. The shotski was fun, and the drink was tasty. And now we have a six foot board with shot glasses emblazoned with Canadiana that we've got to store somewhere!

Butter tarts | Recipe

When I proposed to Laura, I placed the ring in a butter tart. When word traveled north of this deed, her aunts, uncles, and cousins were instantly inclined to like me. That's how important these gooey, crispy, addictive desserts are to her, her extended family, and millions of Canadians. Like the Caesar, this treat is way popular in Canada, served in diners and Tim Horton's and houses across the land, but barely seems to have made it down south. This heavenly combination of raisins, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, and pastry crust is overdue to invade! (The closest we've found is the Momofuku crack pie, but it truly pales in comparison.)

Ice creams | Recipes: Maple, blueberry


With all the cold that comes from living up north, you'd think Canadians wouldn't be into frozen desserts. But you'd be wrong! Turns out Canada has the sixth-highest per capita ice cream consumption, and I like making ice cream, so the deal was sealed.

The blueberry ice cream was made from wild berries picked in northern Quebec, which conveniently enough are available frozen at Trader Joe's. And oh, how tasty they are: they're really small, but bursting with a depth of flavor that's just lacking from the larger, commercially grown ones. For this I simmered the frozen berries with some lemonade (ha, it's what I had on hand) until it made a lovely thick sauce, and then mixed that in with a standard custard ice cream base. The maple was similar, but a lot easier: just replace most of the sugar with maple syrup, and make ice cream as normal. Both were fantastic; the latter is especially good scooped on top of a butter tart.


To go along with everything, Laura made up a list of Canadian musicians. Take a look, you'll be amazed at just how many great musicians come from up there. Probably has something to do with content laws that require one quarter of all music on the radio to be from Canadian artists.

Phew! That was a lot of fun, and quite a wipeout. Learned a few things about hosting for such a big crowd. One thing we did really right was making it over a long time period, so people could come and go and we were never too packed. A lesson for next time is to not make something that requires short-order prep like poutine; that occupied a lot of my time and had me on my feet for hours on end, although we did have the deep fryer set up where I could hang out.

Thirty meals down, 164 to go. Next up, Cameroon!

Photos by Laura Hadden, who refuses to disclose how many butter tarts she ate.