Global Cuisine

sweetsourshrimp.jpg Spicy and tropical flavors always transport my imagination to lush jungles or azure beaches belonging to more temperate climates. Mexican food in particular has that effect on me. At home whenever I want to add a south-of-the-border touch to recipes I reach for dried chiles.

Ancho chile powder, made of ground dried poblano peppers, lends a smoky and earthy flavor to recipes (think of the many famous mole sauces). Combine it with lime juice and oil and you have the perfect Mex-like marinade for meat or fish. In this case it's shrimp, briefly marinated and then grilled. Paired with a fresh salsa, it's a summery dish that serves well as a quick appetizer when friends stop by.

The grilled shrimp is spicy and savory whereas the mango salsa is sweet and tangy. It may sound a bit unusual to have fruit in a salsa, but it's not uncommon in Mexico and the Caribbean. Fruits indigenous to these areas are utilized in many different ways in recipe preparations.

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budapestChicken Paprikash, one of Hungary’s signature comfort food dishes, is made with the country’s quintessential ingredient - paprika. Perhaps not as famous as the better known Goulash, it is still found on nearly every menu and is a common recipe in most Hungarian homes. I was in Budapest for the first time a few months ago and loved the city, in fact I’m already planning a return trip.

Condé Nast Traveler recently published its annual Readers' Choice Awards and the "30 best cities in the world" list, which named Budapest, Hungary, as the second-best city in the world, right below Florence, Italy. It’s no wonder – a thriving vibrant city, rich in culture, a complex history, world renowned spas, and gorgeous architecture – there’s something for everyone in Budapest. Although it helped to have some friends who live in Hungary, I found the city easy to navigate and fun to explore, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a new travel destination.

After researching a few hotels, I opted for the relatively new Aria Hotel Budapest, a stately 19th century bank building transformed into a luxurious boutique hotel centrally located just down from St. Stephen's Basilica. After settling into my spacious and modern music themed “Leonard Bernstein” room, I headed downstairs to Aria’s Satchmo's Bar (which offers both lunch and dinner served either inside or outside on the terrace) to meet with Balázs Váradi-Szabó and learn about the hotel’s cuisine. Balázs, their incredibly knowledgeable food and beverage manager, explained that the current menu in many ways reflects the hotel itself – “classic Hungarian with a modern twist.” Patrons hoping to sample the famed Paprikash can expect a deconstructed version which can be found on their inspired menu as a warm appetizer - the “Hortobágyi éclair” features tender paprika chicken wrapped in a soft crepe-like pastry.

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currantsconesOn the quest to bake the perfect scone, I've baked batch after batch of flat, hard, and dry scones. But as the saying goes, the third time's the charm. On my third try I created the fluffiest, most tender, high-rise scone. I have a great love for scones. Some of my best memories have been made while eating scones over tea with friends. I love them spread with clotted cream and jam. I remember the first time I had a scone was at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens in London. A group of us had the full English afternoon tea treatment with cucumber sandwiches, pots of the best tea from India, scones, and other tea cakes.

Typically scones are made plain or with sultanas, which are what the British call raisins. But any dried berry or chopped dried fruit works well. I especially love currants, cranberries, golden raisins, or chopped apricots. Chopped nuts also work well. Spices such as ground cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom lend a festive touch. Lemon or orange zest in the batter adds a nice citrus fragrance. Whatever combination you choose, scones are always well received around the holiday time. They make an ideal offering for whenever family or friends stop by to visit. Best of all they can be whipped together in minutes.

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ImageSince I love pretty much all Mexican food, it would be hard for me to pick a favorite, but I particularly love any dish poured over with salsa verde, made of tomatillos. This fresh, slightly tart, and bright green sauce is so aromatic and flavorful, that you can't help but think of Mexico. Sometimes, though it's hard to differentiate between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes. Many foods that are popular in American culture are interpretations of Mexican foods. Just think of nachos, burritos, and chili. But no matter the actual origin of these foods, they all taste great due to the familiar Mexican flavors.

My favorite dish, enchiladas Suizas, isn't entirely Mexican either. But it's served at Mexican restaurants and is for all its worth considered authentic. As the story goes, Swiss immigrants brought their love of dairy products along with them to Mexico, where they opened dairies and began producing cheeses like the ones they knew back home. Somewhere along the line, the traditional dish of enchiladas, made with either red or green salsa, was reinterpreted using the Swiss cheese (Suizas means Swiss). The dish consists of corn tortillas wrapped around filling, then layered in a casserole, poured over with salsa verde, and covered with cheese. It's Mexican home-cooked comfort food at its best.

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jamieIf you have as many chef crushes as I do, here’s some good news: you don’t have to break up with your favorite chefs in order to lose weight, you just have to redefine your relationships…

And here’s a Jamie Oliver “recipe re-do” to prove the point:  Skinny Steak with Mushrooms, Bok Choy and Gingered Tamari Sauce.

From the moment Jamie burst on the scene–with dishes that were both simple and sophisticated, and a style of cooking that was casual and fun–I was a fan; never questioning his recipes, I just cooked. But now, 30+ pounds lighter and with an eye on the health of everyone in my family, I do question the ingredients and instructions for every recipe I make and, though I still adore Jamie and his dishes, I happily alter them.

Found in Happy Days with the Naked Chef, the original version of this quick and easy recipe calls for one 8-ounce sirloin steak per person. Without getting into the other health risks of eating too much red meat, it’s just an awful lot of fat and calories…32 grams of fat, to be exact, and roughly 500 calories–about a third of the calories I need in an entire day… And I’m not talking about the fat and calories in the whole meal,  just the portion of the plate that’s protein!

By reducing that super-sized portion of beef and using meat-mimicking magic mushrooms to fill out the plate you can still enjoy the taste and sensation of a beef dinner but with half the fat, cholesterol and calories.

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