Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Croatia

Brief history: Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the close of WWI.  Later it was part of Yugoslavia until they declared independence in 1991.  It took four more years to clear out most of the Serb armies.
Location: Southeasten Europe, between Bosnia and Slovenia
Area: Over 56,500 sq km; 127th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than West Virginia
Natural Hazards: Destructive earthquakes
Language: Croatian
Biggest ethnic group: Croats
Population: Almost 4.5 million; 124th most in the world
Capital: Zagreb
Source: CIA Factbook

Croatian cuisine seems to be pretty varied throughout this relatively small country.  There were a lot of dishes to choose from, which was rather exciting.  Goulash was listed, but I have traditionally associated that with Hungary.  Rather than just looking at information about their cuisine, I decided to make my choice based on the recipes themselves.

Pasticada caught my eye.  It is specifically from one area of Croatia, but seemed to be quite popular.  I was able to find multiple variations of recipes for the dish, and it sounded good.  Additionally, beef pot roast is not something I normally make, and I would like the experience.  After looking through different variations, I settled on the one found here.  I liked the idea of the fruit with the vegetables, and it was more traditional in the prep.  Exciting.

Did you read the first sentence?  No?  Shame on you.  Is it possible to read a more glorious direction than this?
Day One: slit pockets into the meat and insert the bacon and garlic. 
Yes please.  It ended up being a little bit more difficult than it sounds, but still wonderful.
The meat was big, but thin.  It made cutting pockets difficult.
The bacon and garlic were overflowing.  I believe it was one of the first times I have ever expressed the sentiment that I might have too much bacon...

I also assumed that the mustard it called for was wet and not dried.  That would be a ridiculous amount of dried mustard.

Doing some of the prep the day before was actually kinda nice.  It meant that I didn't have to worry a lot about when I started - after dinner, before, didn't matter.

Browning the meat was a little difficult.  It is hard to flip something like that, and I didn't want all of the deliciousness to fall out.
Browned - at least somewhat.
There were a lot of veggies to cut up.  I went with carrots and celery as the soup vegetables - nothing too exciting.

I wasn't sure how much water to put in, since it didn't specify.  I didn't want it to dry out, and juiciness is good, so I put in a bit.
It had to cook for a bit, so I made some rye bread in the meantime.  I don't have pictures of the whole process, but there are a few of the beginning.


This is where the instructions started to confuse me.  It says stew for 2 hours.  It then says to add some stuff when "...the meat has softened and is tender...."  Is this supposed to be after the 2 hours?  In the middle?  I think I ended up doing it at around 1.75 hours.  I didn't want things to stew for too long if they were not supposed to.


Kevin has to get down all of the high things for me now...
I didn't have fresh herbs, so I used dried.  Yeah, I know.

And then I had my "wow, I don't know a lot" minute.  It says to strain the sauce, so I did.  I assumed the part it wanted was the liquid.
Kevin pointed out that it was probably the vegetables and other yumminess.
I had already poured some liquid on the meat.  Oops.  I then served this stuff on the side.  Which approach is right?  My guess is Kevin's.  Yours?
I had been "tasting" this meal ever since I first read it.  I didn't even ask for Kevin's opinion on this one - I knew that this is what I wanted to make.  So maybe my disappointment was because I had built it up so much in my mind.  It was rather bland.  The meat was tough and seemed overcooked.  I'm not sure where all of the vegetable flavor went.  Or the bacon.  Where were you, bacon?

It certainly wasn't bad.  Just not exciting.  I think a thicker cut of meat would help.  In fact, a little bit of research starts showing me that there is a different between a "round steak" and "round roast."  Maybe it would retain a little more of the delicious beef taste, while also allowing more room in the "pockets."  And I'm fairly certain I put in too much water.  I'm not sure what else to change given what I know, though.  The description is still delicious, and I'm sure an authentic Croatian cook would make a much better version that I did.

Next time: Cuba

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