Week Number 2! Albania
Original meal date 12/12/17
My first week, Afghanistan, was a wonderful success and I was quite pleased with myself. I had triumphed over the intimidating recipes and created a meal I genuinely loved. Along the way in this journey I have had some truly fantastic meals. I have also had some...... opportunities to learn and improve. My Albanian meal was a bit of a combination of the two. I made a spinach pie that turned out great - crispy, delicious, savory, all around yummy. My lamb and yogurt dish was pretty good but there was some room for improvement. The cookies, well I'd rather not talk about the cookies. They were bad, just bad.
Let's start, for the sake of my ego, by talking about the good stuff!
Week #2 - Albania
Byrek me Spinaq - Albanian spinach and cheese pie
Tave Kosi - lamb and rice baked in a yogurt sauce
Sekerpare - butter cookies in lemon syrup
Byrek me Spinaq
It seems like most countries in this region of the world have a version of this spinach pie. I think most are familiar with the Greek version, Spanikopita. A flaky crust with a delicious filling of spinach, scallions and feta cheese. I was pretty excited about this dish and felt fairly confident that I wouldn't screw it up too badly. If you read the post about Afghanistan you know that I'm not big on making my own dough. Laziness? Yeah probably a little bit, but I just call it sanity. The package of phyllo dough sheets worked just perfectly for this and made it a quick and easy dish to put together. Since this meal I have made a few similar dishes, it's hard to beat the combination of flavors in this version though!
Tave Kosi is the national dish of Albania, pieces of lamb and rice baked a rich yogurt and egg mixture. I loved the idea of this and done correctly I think I would love the reality of it. My reality was a bit of an awkward mess but it still tasted pretty good. My main mistake was using a baking dish that was too small. The lamb ended up being crowded in there and the yogurt mixture was too thick and I didn't get enough of the nice golden brown crust. So if I were to do it again I would definitely use a larger casserole dish or my cast iron skillet.
Making lamb two weeks in a row was very unusual for me. My Afghanistan meal called for ground lamb and this dish called for lamb shoulder. I think I had made lamb once previous to this. It just wasn't something in my wheelhouse. But as they say, "when in Rome..." Well in my case, "when in Albania..." Or more accurately, "when pretending to be in Albania...." Oh you get the idea.
I said it in my last post, I am not a baker! I think my downfall when it comes to baking is my lack of patience and my inability to follow directions. One of the things I love about cooking is when I'm able to improvise and put my own spin on things. I almost never look at amounts, I just throw in as much of something as I want. I follow general instructions and guidelines but if I want to do something a little differently I do. As I'm sure you know, this doesn't work when baking. Apparently it's actually kind of an important element of baking - measuring, paying attention, following directions, yada, yada, yada.
I promise that since this attempt (this was December 2017 and it is now March 2019), I have greatly improved my baking skills. I don't think any Michelin star restaurants are going to come calling on me when looking for a pastry chef. But, fortunately for my family, it has gotten better. I will not be so bold as to write my own recipe for these cookies. I will, however, post a link to the recipe. Follow their directions. They know, much more than I, what they are talking about.
So my Albanian meal wasn't quite as successful as my Afghanistan meal. But one out of three successful dishes and one pretty good one is enough to keep me enthused. I'm not throwing in the towel after one bad batch of cookies.
A few fun facts about Albania:
Apparently there are no McDonalds in Albania. However, they do have Kolonat, who's red and yellow label looks sneekily similar to McDonald's. Also instead of KFC they have AFC (Albanian Fried Chicken).
Albanians nod when they mean no and shake their head for yes.
While today the predominate religions are Islam and Christianity, during Communist rule Albania was declared the world's first and only Atheist nation.
More Albanians live outside of Albania than inside it.
A few famous Albanians:
Jim and John Belushi
This week in our lives:
So it may have been the shame and guilt of serving my toddler son my terrible Albanian cookies, but the following morning (December 13th) we may or may not have eaten our way through the remainder of our advent calendar. I would call this a win in both the parenting and self control department.
With Christmas just around the corner, it was the perfect week for a visit from Santa! We had a party with some friends where the jolly old guy showed up and had a present for each child at the party. At the time Afton had just turned two so he didn't totally appreciate the concept of Santa. But I got this pretty sweet photo out of it!
Thank you for stopping by! Next is Algeria!!!
These were two of the recipes I found helpful while planning the Byrek me Spinaq:
And for the Tave Kosi: