Throughout my travels in Europe and Asia, I’ve eaten many wonderful meals. Since it is not always easy to find restaurants in the states that serve these delicious foods, I have tried to replicate many of them at home. I’ve used a combination of recipes from the internet, cookbooks, or friends and relatives. Some dishes have been more successful than others.
Pea Soup (Netherlands)
My heritage is Dutch, so my mother made Split Pea Soup when I was young. I always liked it, as did my husband, but my girls did not really agree. I made the soup anyway, hoping my girls would eventually learn to like it (a couple of them do). When my husband and I visited the Netherlands, we looked for a restaurant that served pea soup – it tasted very familiar.
I don’t have a set recipe, but somewhat follow the recipe on the bag. I cook the peas in water along with a ham bone. After a couple hours, I remove the ham bone, cut off the remaining ham and add it back to the pot. I also add sliced carrots and onions, plus salt and pepper to taste. Its ready to serve when the carrots are very tender. I prefer it fresh, but my husband always liked the soup better the next day when it had thickened to the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Sauerbraten is a beef roast that has a sour gravy. In Germany, it is usually served with potatoes or potato dumplings, and cabbage or other vegetables. I found a recipe for a version of sauerbraten in an old cookbook. It was referred to as beef with sour gravy, but it was very similar to sauerbraten. I made it once when my girls were young and they all complained, although at least a couple of them would probably enjoy it now.
The main ingredient used to make to gravy sour is vinegar. Other spices are also added, making the gravy rich and flavorful. Most recipes I’ve found on the internet call for crushed gingersnaps. I think I’ll try to make it again now that my daughters are older.
When someone mentions Ramen, the first thing most people think about is the cheap packaged food that is the basis of poor college students’ meal plans. Although similar, ramen in Japan is different in many ways – and much tastier. When I visited Tokyo with my family, we ate ramen twice – and loved it both times.
I didn’t think it would be too difficult to make at home, so I looked for a recipe. I used a combination of a few recipes to come up with my own. Again, this is a general plan with the ingredients altered to your own taste. The ramen was a hit with my family.
My recipe starts with a rotisserie chicken. You can use any kind of cooked or raw chicken but I find this the easiest. Remove the legs and thighs – eat them for a different meal. Slice off as much of the breast meat as you can, setting it aside. Boil the carcass of the chicken for 2-3 hours, extracting as much flavor as possible. Carefully strain the broth, so you are left with clear liquid. At this point the liquid can be refrigerated for later use or you can continue making the meal.
The ramen I serve is made up of several parts – broth, noodles, meats, and vegetables. You may want to shop around to find better quality noodles or even make your own, but the cheap ones will work, if necessary. Heat the broth and add soy sauce to taste. Heat water to cook the noodles. Prepare your choice of other ingredients.
I usually put all the add-in ingredients on a plate so diners can choose their own. My favorites are soft-boiled eggs (halved), crispy bacon, chicken breast, sliced green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced mushrooms, and dried nori (seaweed). To serve, ladle some broth into a bowl, add cooked noodles, and then top with other ingredients.
Onion Soup (France)
I love French Onion Soup and eat it often when I’m in France. I’ve enjoyed it so often in fact, that I am starting to remember which restaurants serve what I consider to be the best soup in Paris.
Onion soup can be difficult and time consuming, but canned beef broth takes most of the work out of the recipe. To make onion soup, I saute 2-3 onions (sliced) until soft soft and lightly browned. I add a can of beef broth and water to taste (the broth alone can be too rich).
In individual serving bowls, I place a slice or two of french bread topped with grated mozzarella cheese. When the soup is hot, I ladle it over the bread and cheese. The soup can be eaten this way, but in order to make it more authentic, place a slice of Swiss cheese or some extra grated cheese on top of the soup and broil it or use a brûlée torch to brown it.
Traditionally, Gruyere cheese is used instead of mozzarella, but it may not be as easily accessible. Sherry can be added to the broth for extra flavor. In addition, the french bread can be toasted before putting it in the bowl. The recipe, and resulting soup, can be as simple or as complex as you would like.
Duck a l’Orange (France)
One of my favorite French meals is Duck a l’Orange. One Christmas, my daughter and I decided to try to make this delicious meal at home. We found a recipe online and another one in an old cookbook. We used parts of each one to make up my own recipe.
The online recipe, Canard a l’Orange was at whats4eats.com, but we made some changes based on other recipes. In addition to making an orange sauce, we stuffed the duck with oranges. Not only does this add flavor, but it keeps the duck from drying out while it is roasting. Instead of a roasting rack, we set the duck on stalks of celery, which also helped to add moisture.
The finished product was amazing! We served it with Parmesan mashed potatoes, maple glazed carrots, and roasted Brussels sprouts. I’m eager to try it again this holiday season.
Spanish Omelet and Paella (Spain)
I’ve written previously about the meal my daughter and I shared in Barcelona Spain with cooking teacher, Angels. We learned how to cook paella, Spanish omelets, tomato bread, and Catalan cream. Thankfully, Angels shares the recipes on her website. Since we returned, we’ve tried some of the recipes a couple of times.
A Spanish Omelet is made by frying potatoes and onions, and then adding them to lightly beaten eggs. The mixture is carefully cooked on one side, turned, and cooked on the other side. It is a simple dish that can be made for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and served alone or as an appetizer.
I had eaten Paella before we visited Barcelona, but I had never thought of cooking it myself. After our lesson with Angels, I felt confident enough to try it. The recipe is involved and includes a long list of ingredients, so it is not one to whip up at the last minute. If you have the time, though, the dish is satisfying and delicious.
Paella is meant to be made in a special pan, a paella, from which the dish gets its name. However, we have had success making it in a large flat frying pan.
When we prepared it this past weekend, we cut all the vegetables before we started cooking anything. We cleaned the shellfish and cut up the chicken. Once everything was in the pan, we were able to take a break to visit with our guests. Even though it is involved, with planning it can easily be made for a small dinner party.
Cooking Food at Home
I’ve had fun trying to recreate some of the special dishes from vacations abroad. I’m hoping to try to make Coq au Vin (Chicken Cooked in Wine) sometime. The Coq au Van that my daughter and I ate in Nice, France, was one of our all-time favorite meals.
Have you ever tried to replicate food that you’ve eaten in a restaurant here or abroad? Were you successful? Tell your story below.