Global Cuisine

thousandhillscoverJosh Ruxin did not write a book about food, although his story takes place against a backdrop of heart-wrenching hunger and Eden-esque abundance, tracing a journey from famine to feast.

He did not write a book about restaurants, although he tells how two American ex-pats created one of the hippest dining establishments in Africa.

He did not set out to write about good and evil, but his book describes one of the most horrific genocides in human history, and the astonishing efforts of both the victims and their persecutors to find forgiveness and redemption.

He didn't even write a love story, although A Thousand Hills to Heaven centers on two people who are very much in love—young Americans you might meet at a party, endowed with the same hearts, brains, and DNA as you or I—but who found the strength to work a thousand miracles in a land God forgot.

And he certainly didn't write a cookbook, but he concludes his story with six recipes that will make you want to head for your kitchen and light your grill to try them.

What he did write is one of the most extraordinary narratives of hope I have read in decades—a book that, just for reading it, makes you aspire to be a better person.

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southweststirfrySometimes it's all about conveinance and this meal definitely was. The best part, it was full of flavor but ready in minutes. The cheesy, salsa-flavored grits are the base for this simplistic vegetable saute.

By utilizing frozen veggies from the refrigerator and a couple of canned goods from the pantry, this meal was on the table in no time. It's also vegetarian, a good break from all the red meat we seem to eat around here.

In my house, "grits" has always been called "polenta" and there is nothing like real, stone-ground grits (polenta), but in a pinch, instant worked great. There is lots of flavor here, it's really a nice meal. Quick grits can be found near the oatmeal and other hot cereals or near cornmeal in the baking aisle...look for it.

Now, would my kids eat this? No. Too many foods touching each other but for me....the perfect lunch or dinner.

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mise-en-placeYesterday afternoon, I was lost in a meditative moment of nothingness while pleating dumpling skins around mound of shrimp filling.  A gentle fall breeze had been blowing through my kitchen window, transforming the room from a sweaty summer dungeon to an autumn playpen.

A podcast of This American Life was playing in the background and it would drop in and out of my consciousness as I prepped my food for the day.  My fingers danced through my mise en place bowls, filled with carefully prepped components of the dish I was focused on.  It all came together in perfect harmony, with me paying very little attention.

Do you want to know a secret?  Cooking is the easiest thing I do.  I don’t mean that in a nasty “Pah ha, I’m so awesome at my job” kind of way.  I just mean that, once I’ve made it to the actual cooking part of my job, I know that my mind (body, soul) knows what to do.  By the time I’ve arrived in the kitchen, I have spent hours working with the client to specify the preferred regional cuisine, protein specific, dietarily proactive meal of their dreams and formulated a procedure and plan to carry out said dream meal. 

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citrus-chicken-a.jpgGrowing up in a dual cultured household gave me the opportunity to enjoy varied foods, and to make up recipes incorporating my Mexican and Peruvian roots. If there is one thing that our house was filled with, it was warmth in the form of comfort food. With kids returning to school, fall is just around the corner and this is an easy recipe I enjoy with my family on sunless weekends. It incorporates my mother’s Mexican style of cooking with lots of citrus and flavor, and my father’s Peruvian technique of basically putting everything in one pot into the oven.

The idea of this recipe came to me while traveling in Peru in 2010. I experience my first “pachamanca” while visiting family in the high altitude villages 2 hours away from Lima. Pachamanca is a Quechua word; a language still spoken in Peru today. Pacha means: of the earth; and manca mean: pot. This form of cooking requires that all ingredients go into a large hole in the earth lined with hot stones. This includes Chicken, lamb, beef, guinea pigs, potatoes, etc. Once all ingredients are placed inside, it’s covered with more stones, and ultimately becomes a mound of dirt. Within a couple of hours, everything inside is cooked to a tender texture and wonderful flavors.

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german-mealYou really don’t need to be German to have fun celebrating Oktoberfest. And, you don’t need to travel to Munich to enjoy the food we associate with Germany and its festival that lasts several days, providing a gateway for summer to turn to fall. This year, the celebrating begins September 22nd and will run through October 7th.

My dad was German, so I’ve eaten plenty of roast pork, sauerkraut and huge boiled dumplings that my Hungarian mom became proficient at creating. But when Oktoberfest rolls around, I start thinking about sausage. And sauerkraut. With boiled potatoes. In my column, I shared a recipe for German-Style Potato Bake. Thick slices of red potatoes blanketed with a smooth, creamy beer-spiked sauce, tender bits of onion swimming through it. I’ve served the potatoes with grilled bratwurst and sauerkraut that’s simmered in beer. It’s delicious.

I decided I could combine the potatoes with sausage and kraut all in one dish. I used some enamel-coated cast iron individual serving-size casseroles that a friend gave me as a gift quite a long time ago.

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