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MEALvolution part 3: Celebrating special occasions abroad

Image by Lidya Nada

If you live in a foreign country long enough, you will eventually celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion abroad. There won’t be any family or friends around. You won’t have your go to restaurant. You’re unlikely to find all of the ingredients necessary to make your perfected recipes for such events. 

So what should you do? Adapt and expand your culinary horizons! Try exotic restaurants and cuisine. Research local ingredients and cook like the natives. You may adopt a new dish or technique that you can bring home with you. Then you can invite others over to sample your new style of cooking and lap up the praise of how worldly you’ve become. 🌍👩‍🍳👏

My husband and I celebrated our anniversary and his birthday this year while in Argentina. Might I add that he ages like a fine cheddar?🙎🏻‍♂️🧀😍 We went out to eat for our anniversary at a cool downtown spot and enjoyed steak, papas fritas and chicken cannelloni. For dessert, we stopped at a sweet place for helado and cafe con leche. Hubby surprised me with a huge box of Belgian chocolates on the way out.😍🍫 

I wanted to make something special for his birthday dinner. I was inspired to do a risotto because he really liked the one that I had at the fancy restaurant in Buenos Aires. I’ve made risotto out of a box a few times but I will be doing this one from scratch. I sourced a beginner’s recipe on Pinterest from The Spruce Eats and collected most of the suggested ingredients at the grocery store.

I studied their baking selections and ended up choosing vanilla cake mix and what I thought was white icing. I asked my kind friend who works there and speaks some English for guidance. She advised me to get a bag of what is essentially powdered sugar and said “you have to mix a lot” while making vigorous stirring motions with her hands. I tell you these Argentines take no shortcuts. There are no jars of ready made icing around so I accepted the challenge.🙋‍♀️🧗‍♀️

I shared my cumpleanos plans earlier that day with my landlord who sweetly let me borrow her electric hand mixer to make the cake. Hubby had to work on his birthday which was a Monday so I had all day to prepare. I translated the instructions on my translator app and did the best I could with what information it gave me.😳🧐🤪 I mixed the cake while my little napped and placed it in the gas oven. I kept a close eye on the temperature which and checked on it multiple times. I took it out around the 50 minute mark and it looked perfect! So far so good. 🙏 

There were no instructions on the powdered sugar package so I researched how to make icing and found a recipe  using powdered sugar and milk. I initially tried stirring it with a fork and it started to resemble super glue. I added more milk and put the mixer back to work. The texture was slowly becoming more glaze like but the taste was pure sweetness. I added cinnamon to give it some contrast with the vanilla flavor. After the cake cooled it was time to ice. I let my little assist me with this part. She “stirred” but mainly taste tested while I drizzled. 👧😋

Now that the cake is done it’s time to make risotto. Hubby is home from work and can entertain baby because this is going to need my full attention. I marinated three chicken breasts beforehand in an herb mix, water and oil for a few hours. I put them in the oven to bake for 30 minutes to go with the risotto. For prep, I chopped up my onion, grated the cheese and made chicken broth with water and bouillon cubes. 

I sautéed onion in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. I added rice and then spooned broth into the mixture every couple minutes while frequently stirring. When the rice was done, I added cheese and seasoned with salt and pepper. I served the herbed chicken on a bed of risotto. Afterwards, we sang happy birthday and each had a slice of the delicate, moist cinnamon iced cake.🎶🍰 I’m very impressed with that cake mix.👍 Throughout the process of cooking abroad, I have learned that the most important ingredients include equal parts inspiration, creativity and improvisation! 🎂❤️👨‍👩‍👧

You will need: 1/2 cup of chopped onion, 1 T of olive oil, 3 T of butter divided, 1.5 cups white rice, 5 cups chicken broth, 1/4 cup grated sardo cheese

To prepare:  Heat pot to medium and melt olive oil and 1 T of butter. Add onion and sauté until just lightly browned and fragrant. Add the rice and stir 1-2 minutes until grains are coated evenly. Add a ladle of warmed chicken broth and continuously stir until liquid is absorbed. Repeat process for 20-30 minutes until rice is al dente. Add remaining butter, cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: The recipe called for wine but I don’t usually cook with alcohol so I skipped it. Also, the store did not have chicken stock so I boiled 5 cups of water with 4 chicken bouillon cubes to make the broth. 

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Mood Ring Kitchen

I’m a self teaching home cook and aspiring foodie entrepreneur. I enjoy coming up with creative ways to prepare flavorful food such as snacks, desserts and everything in between. Cooking is a way for me to challenge myself and satisfy curiosities about different ingredients.

The hope is to produce something thoughtful, memorable or every once in a while maybe even wonderful. I enjoy following my “gut” and exploring new recipes that can be comforting, exciting and nourishing. Above all else, I enjoy exploring the emotions surrounding food and writing about those experiences. 😝👩‍🍳👩‍💻

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