January 25, 2012

My trip to Transylvania: Part 2

Did I mention that we, Romanians, eat a lot during the holidays?  We eat so much that during the days following Christmas, all you hear on the news is how many people ended up in the hospital because they overate.  The problem is that it’s so hard to resist when the food selections are so amazing – anything from savory to sweet and everything in between.  My family’s Christmas table was no exception!  Everywhere you looked there was food.  There was such an abundance of choices on our Christmas table… it felt like food heaven.    

Here are some of the wonderful dishes that my mother and grandma Vicki prepared for Christmas: 

Salată de boeuf (Boeuf Salad) is a classic Romanian dish that is very common during the winter holidays.     

Salată de vinete (Eggplant Salad or Baba Ganoush) is traditionally made with roasted eggplants, onions and mayonnaise.

Salată de oua (Egg Salad) is made with hard-boiled eggs, ham, onions and mayonnaise. 

Pork roast with sausage, mashed potatoes, green peas and pickled red peppers stuffed with cabbage.

Ciorbă de porc (Pork Ciorbă) is a traditional tangy and tart soup, which is very popular in the Romanian cuisine.           


And, of course, let’s not forget about the Stuffed Cabbage, which is a must during the winter holidays, together with many wonderful desserts.  

Chestnut Torte

Cakes and cookies and anything else you could dream of.  

When I visited Adrian’s family, I indulged in more food therapy.  And one of the highlights was the Duck on Sauerkraut, which Adrian’s uncle Laci prepared.  This dish is a typical example of the foreign influences in the Romanian cuisine.  Combining the duck from the French cuisine with the sauerkraut from the German cuisine, we created this over the top mouthwatering deliciousness.  

Although, I love all these delightful and elaborately decorated dishes, my two favorite are: Salată de boeuf (Boeuf Salad) and Ciorbă de Porc (Pork Ciorbă).     

As I said before, Salată de boeuf (Boeuf Salad) is a classic Romanian dish that is very common during the winter holidays and also on special occasions.  Even though, it may sound French because of the word boeuf, which means beef in French, this salad has Russian origins and is inspired by the Olivier or Russian salad.  Whatever its origin, this is my favorite salad in the Romanian cuisine.  Not to mention that, more often than not, this salad is made with chicken breast instead of beef. 

Salata de Boeuf (Boeuf Salad)
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: 8-10 servings


·         ½ pound boneless, skinless cooked chicken breast, cooled and diced
·         5-6 boiled carrots, cooled and diced
·         6-7 Russet potatoes, cooked in their skin, peeled, cooled and diced
·         4-5 Kosher Dill pickles, diced and squeezed of extra juices
·         1 (15-ounce) can of peas, rinsed and drained      
·         Salt and black pepper
·         Vegetable oil
·         1 cup or more mayonnaise


In a large bowl, combine the chicken, carrots, potatoes, pickles and peas.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with 1 Tablespoon of oil.  Mix well.  Add the mayonnaise 1-2 Tablespoons at a time and stir well until the salad is nice and creamy.  If you don’t like it too creamy, use less mayo.  I like my Boeuf Salad to be creamy.  Place the salad in a glass or ceramic bowl and spread a thin layer of mayo over the top.  Don’t forget to decorate the salad as you like it, extravagant or simple; you can use roasted red peppers, parsley, black olives, pickles, you name it.   

Out of all these wonderful selections, I also love Ciorbă de Pork (Pork Ciorbă).  This tasty soup can also be made with chicken breast.  I love this soup because the acidic flavor works as a palate cleanser after days of rich, heavy meals.  In addition, a bowl of ciorbă will fill up your tummy and is the perfect choice for cold winter nights. 

Ciorbă de Pui (Chicken Ciorbă)
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: 8-10 servings


·         3 tablespoons vegetable oil
·         2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into cubes
·         4-5 carrots peeled and grated
·         1 big yellow onion, chopped
·         2 tomatoes boiled and peeled and then cut into cubes
·         1 yellow pepper, chopped
·         A small bunch of fresh dill, chopped
·         A small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
·         A small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
·         Salt
·         2 Tablespoons (or more) white vinegar
·         2 Tablespoons sour cream
·         1 egg yolk



In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots and a pinch of salt.  Sauté the carrots for about 5 minutes.  Add the onion.  Cook the onion with the carrots for 2 minutes.  Add the yellow pepper.  Cook for 1 more minute.  Add the tomatoes.  Cook for another minute.  Add the chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes stirring frequently until the chicken is cooked through.  Add water to fill up the pan.  Season with salt.  Bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the meat is cooked and tender.  Check the meat after 25 minutes. 

When the meat is cooked, taste the soup and add more salt if needed.  Add the vinegar and bring back to a boil for 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with the egg yolk.  Off heat, add the sour cream and egg yolk mixture to the soup and stir well.  Sprinkle with cilantro, dill and parsley on top. 

Note:  Let the soup cool completely before you put it in the fridge. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)     

January 20, 2012

My trip to Transylvania: Part 1

Hi everyone and Happy New Year!  I apologize for dropping off the radar for a while.  I didn’t fall off the face of the earth; I just went home to Romania for the holidays.  But now I’m back in the U.S. and back in Pittsburgh, just in time to welcome the lovely white and fluffy snow. 

It’s becoming a tradition now, to be a real adventure getting home for the holidays.  This year, I wasn’t stuck on an airport due to snow (like I was last Christmas in Amsterdam for 17 hours), but that doesn’t mean that this time was any easier or less interesting.  On the contrary…  All in all, it took me three long flights, a French strike, a lost luggage, a car ride, and 31 exhausting hours to get to Romania for Christmas.  I guess it’s just that time of the year!  

Things seemed to be going smoothly when I left Pittsburgh on Thursday, December 22, at 2:00 p.m.  After a rather bumpy flight, we made it safely to Atlanta.  After getting from terminal A to terminal E, I managed to enjoy my 4 hour layover.  I didn’t have to rush through my dinner and actually got to savor a juicy Pulled Duck Sandwich with Five Spice French Fries at the One Flew South restaurant.  I wish I had a picture to show you this mouthwatering dish. Unfortunately, by the time I realized I should have taken a picture, my plate was empty…  Still, if you ever find yourself in concourse E in the Atlanta airport, stop by this joint and do try this delicious sandwich. 

The layover in Atlanta went by quite fast, and 40 minutes before departure I found myself getting on the airplane and comfortably installing into my seat.  Although, the flight attendants kept saying that the flight would be full, that was hard to believe since the plane looked so empty, at that point.  So, we waited and waited, and then we waited some more.  Little by little, we were long overdue to depart, over an hour to be precise, and the plane was filling up.  A few more minutes and the flight was full.  Later on, the person sitting next to me, a chatty and spirited Armenian fellow, informed me that we were waiting for passengers who were supposed to be on our Paris flight.  Apparently, people were late getting into Atlanta because the airport was closed for an hour due to a tornado.  It was then when I connected the dots: our flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was so bumpy because we flew through a storm, which later turned into a tornado.  Scary…  My conversation with the Armenian eventually dispersed somewhere over Halifax and Mid-Atlantic; and after nine long hours, a movie, half a book, and two microwavable plane meals, we made it to fabulous Paris and its overdue for a makeover Charles de Gaulle airport.  

I love Paris, but I hate that airport.  When someone tells you that the French are on strike, take that seriously into consideration.  I didn’t believe my parents when they told me that the French were on strike the week before I left for Paris.  And then, I got to Paris, and guess what, the French were indeed on strike!  The whole nine yards: banners, drums and a hell lot of noise.  Putting the strike aside, I found myself at Malev (the Hungarian airline), patiently waiting to receive my boarding pass to Budapest.  Although I was half asleep, I managed to sketch a smirk to the airline representative.  After several minutes of waiting, I dared to ask the representative: “Is there a problem?”.  His answer: “Actually, yes.  There is a problem.  You’re not on my flight.”  Suddenly, I was wide awake.  

And this is how my marathon between Malev and Delta began.  After a while, I felt that I was the ball in a tennis match, being thrown over the net from Delta to Malev and back again.  Unfortunately, neither airline company was assuming the responsibility to finish the point and issue my boarding pass to Budapest.  I was eventually put on stand by and thanks to a Good Samaritan who didn’t show up in time to check in, I got on the flight to Budapest.  With the whole ordeal in the Paris airport, I completely forgot to get some Ladurée macarons to calm down my nerves and my sweet tooth.  Maybe next time… I wasn’t worried, though; I knew that there would be plenty of sweets and savory food by the time I got home.  After all, it was Christmas and Romanians always tend to overdo it during such important holidays. 

I slept through the entire flight to Budapest and only woke up when we were already getting off the plane.  Of course my luggage didn’t make it, and we had to wait for another 5 hours to see if the next flight from Paris had my luggage.  By 1:00 a.m. on December 24, we were finally driving from Budapest to Arad, my hometown in Romania.  Three hours later, we entered Arad.  I love my beautiful hometown and I love it even more during the holidays when the Christmas lights give it a magical aura and make it so much more special.  I was finally home; just in time to welcome Santa!