Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bolivia

I've always had a strong desire to get to Bolivia. Perhaps this is due to my deep love of potatoes, or it might be the joy I get whenever I see a photo of llamas and snowy mountains. Maybe its my love of pan flute music. For whatever reason, Bolivia is at the top of my list of countries I regretfully have never visited. Our dear friend, Carl, however, had the fortune to study and travel in Bolivia during his wilder years. While I am eternally jealous that he has had this opportunity, I do my best to hide my inner rage whenever he dines with us. Also he has been our main source of knowledge for any South American cooking we have attempted.

The food of Bolivia receives little attention from the foodie community. The country does not have the extensive food culture of nearby countries like Chile, Brazil, or Argentina. Undoubtedly, this is a result of Bolivia's impoverished economy and geographic reality of being for the most part an extremely mountainous country where few crops successfully grow. Also, historically speaking, Bolivians have been on the losing end of just about every power struggle since the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Consider them as the Ireland of South America. Meat and potatoes are the country's staple foods. Judging by the recipes I've come across, the food and its preparation are extremely simple and are more concerned with providing sustenance than gourmet flourishes.

But don't get me wrong! The food is quite good. There's a lot to be said for a country that can stick to the basics and do it well. Bolivia has a cuisine that any Midwesterner can connect with that is rooted in the simplest of home cooking.

Sopa De Mani: Hominy Soup

Disaster nearly occurred with this recipe. I was going through internet sites and piecing together a recipe from a myriad of different ones and mistranslated 'mani' as 'peanut'. In Bolivia it translates to hominy instead of peanuts, and Carl was able to alert me to this moments before I was about to throw a bunch of peanuts in a blender. So catastrophe was averted and a delicious soup was the result.

32 oz can hominy drained and rinsed to remove excess salt.
2.5 quarts water
4 tbsp corn oil
1.5 pounds stew beef (I used round) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 potatoes chopped into 1 inch cubes
3 onions chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 carrots
3 eggs
2 poblano peppers (seeded if you want less heat) cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper seeded and cut into thin strips
handful of parsley for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot brown the beef over medium heat for five minutes in the corn oil. Add the chopped onions and continue cooking for another five minutes.
2. Add the water to the pot, raise to a simmer, reduce heat and cook covered for 1.5-2 hours or until the beef is tender.
3. While that's boiling away put the drained hominy, oregano, and garlic in a blender or processor and blend to a smooth paste pouring in a cup of water while it's grinding.
4. Once the meat is tender add the hominy paste, and remaining vegetables (except the parsley) and simmer covered for an additional 25 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are cooked.
5. Allow the soup to cool for 20 minutes.
6. Whisk the three eggs in a bowl. Add a ladleful of the warm soup to the eggs and stir. Add the bowl to the pot and gently heat until the soup is hot but not boiling. You do this to avoid cooking the eggs.
7. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is the protein rich super grain of the Andes. It can be found in just about any U.S. supermarket for way too much money and it tastes a bit like couscous. If you fall in love with the grain and don't want to buy it in small pricey quantities, I'd recommend looking for it at bulk stores like Costco or ordering online. You cook it in exactly the same manner as rice or other grains.

2 cups quinoa rinsed well
4 cups water
1 chile poblano seeded and chopped
1 red onion diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of chopped cilantro

1. Put the quinoa and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Raise to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Cut the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Remove the lid and rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water and until chilled. Drain this thoroughly and put it into a large serving bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss with the quinoa. Serve.

Papas Fritas: Fried Potatoes

There's an old controversy about who came up with french fries. I've heard it said it was the Belgians and not the French. Bolivians would find this line of argument to be strange. The people of the Andes have been enjoying fried potatoes for thousands of years, and the French and Belgians only came to know the glory of the spud well after its introduction to Europe in the 16th century. There's also a strange argument about the best way to fry potatoes. Some insist upon soaking them in salted water for two periods of 24 hours before cooking. The best way I've found is a bit more intuitive and is explained below.

Potatoes (I do about 1 big potato per person)
Corn oil for frying (about a quart).
Salt and pepper for garnish

1. Cut the potatoes into small sticks by using a fry cutter or do it by hand by cutting it in half, thinly slicing the halves horizontally leaving them in a stack and then cutting the stack lengthwise into long sticks. Amy prefers hers to be extra crispy so I cut them fairly thin. Feel free to cut them into whatever size you prefer.
2. In a wok or deep fryer heat the oil over high for ten minutes. Add the potatoes in small batches to the oil and cook for ten minutes each batch or until the potatoes turn a golden brown.
3. When browned remove the potatoes with a metal strainer and set them aside to dry on paper towels.
4. After all your batches have been fried and drained lay them aside in a large bowl to cool for at least 45 minutes. You could even freeze them for future cooking at this point.
5. Shortly before serving make them extra crispy by frying them yet again for about 3 minutes a batch being careful not to burn them.
6. Drain them again and serve.

Pique Macho

I have no idea what pique translates to but the name of this dish sure sounds manly. This dish resembles a sort of hash. The ingredients, though, are a bit different from what we generally throw into the standard hash.

1 lb cecina (semi-cured beef from the Mexican grocery) or just use thinly sliced skirt steak
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb sausage sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds (I used kielbasa, but traditionally this is made with low grade franks.)
1 large red bell pepper seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 eggs hard boiled and cut into fourths
12 large large black olives pitted and left whole
Juice of 1 lime
salsa golf for topping (recipe follows)

1. Set two skillets on the stove alongside one another. In the first skillet pour half the oil and begin frying the sausage.
2. In the other skillet pour the rest of the oil and add the vegetables.
3. Once the sausage is browned add the beef and brown for about 4 minutes.
4. Now add the vegetables to the meats. Pour on the spices, soy sauce, and about 1/4 cup water.
5. Reduce sauce til it is thick and remove from heat. Garnish with eggs, olives, lime and salsa golf. Serve on a bed of fried potatoes.

Salsa Golf :

It seems like a lot of countries have concluded that mayonnaise and ketchup go great together. Bolivia is no exception to the rule. We were feeling classy and had no mayo lying around so we made a garlicky mayonnaise from scratch to go with the sauce, but you can use store bought as well.

Simply mix 2/3 cup mayo with 1/3 cup ketchup and serve on top of the fries and pique macho.

Helado de Canela: Cinnamon Sorbet

We have no ice cream maker, but that didn't stop us from finishing this meal off with homemade sorbet. All you need is a metal bowl, a wooden spoon, and some basic pantry items.

5 cups water
1.5 cups sugar
2 short sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp starch
1 tbsp lemon juice

1. Boil the water with the cinnamon for 12 minutes.
2. Add the sugar and continue to boil for another five minutes.
3. Mix the starch with a small amount of water and pour it into the boiling mixture.
4. Boil another 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and toss into a metal bowl and put it into the freezer.
5. Every 30 minutes give the mixture a good stir. Continue doing this until it freezes and attains an ice cream gelato like texture (this took me about 3 hours).

In Conclusion

While many may turn their nose at the concept of piling beefy hash on top of fries and covering it all in mayonnaise ketchup sauce, I'm certainly not too proud to admit it's delicious. Thankfully, all of my guests were in complete agreement and a great feast was had by all. To top it off Carl managed to find a pan flute heavy Bolivian radio station streaming on the internet which we played throughout the whole meal.

While the food probably won't be scoring many Michelin stars anytime soon, there's a lot to be said for a big pile of comfort food. It all left me wanting to bust out my passport and again look for cheap flights to the Southern hemisphere. But it'll be a while before I can take that much time off. Ah well. Up next is Oman. Until then: salud!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Senegal


Let me just start out by saying that I hope everyone reading this that celebrates Thanksgiving had a wondrous meal! Ours was complete with two turkeys, some Milwaukee's Best and Tom catching his face on fire. Don't worry, he's alright. Just lost a few eyelashes while smoking the turkey on the grill.

Speaking of which, I apologize for the tardiness of the Senegal post. Thanksgiving took over our cooking interests for the week. But we are back at full force to bring you Senegal.

Senegal hails from western Africa. It was a former French possession, then it formed with Gambia to make up Senegambia for a whole seven years before it was it's own nation. A whopping 90%+ of the population practices Islam. During the 19th century, following Islamic practices was seen as a way to resist French colonialism.

The food of Senegal is similar to that of many other west African and Caribbean dishes. It is also apparent that this region had an impact on Cajun cuisine. What we prepared was very similar to the classic dish we all know as Jambalaya.

Thieboudienn

This meal was for a much smaller crowd, but that didn't stop us from making way too much. We could have easily fed a house of ten with this one pot meal. And much like our Guatemalan feast, this meal was absurdly cheap. This made us very happy because we really appreciate when food manages to be excellent and cheap Any type of white and firm flesh fish will do in this recipe and the vegetables can be changed according to your preferences. The only part of the meal that cannot be changed is the rice and the sauce. You absolutely need to use a medium grained rice to give the meal the right amount of gooey starchiness. And the sauce is the dominant flavor in each part of the meal. So don't be too intimidated by the length of the ingredients, because a lot of it can be substituted with whatever you have on hand. That seems to keep in the spirit of this giant pot of a meal.


4 tbsp corn oil
2 large onions chopped
1/4 pound some sort of smoked fish (we used herring)
6 tbsp tomato paste
2.5 liters of water set aside in a large bowl
1 bunch parsley stems trimmed off
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch scallions
1 small red chile
1 habanero left whole
3 pounds catfish steaks
1/2 pound pumpkin diced
1/2 pound yuca or cassava root cubed
2 parsley roots peeled and cubed
1/2 head green cabbage trimmed and cut into wedges
1/2 pound eggplant cubed
5 carrots peeled and cut into thin strips
2 lbs medium grain rice
Salt to taste


1. In a large and deep pot heat the oil over medium and add the chopped onion. Cook until browned. Add the smoked fish, tomato paste and 1/4 cup of the water. Simmer this for ten minutes.
2. While thats simmering puree the parsley, garlic, chile, and scallions into a thick paste with either a blender or processor. Our blender died so I used the processor. Cover the fish with this paste and let sit for at least five minutes.
3. Place the fish in the pot with simmering sauce and cook for five minutes. Add the rest of the water, salt it, and bring it to a boil and cook for a further ten minutes. Remove the fish steaks and set on a platter with 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. This renders a simple stock from the fish that the rest of the food will be cooked in. Cover the fish and set in the oven to keep warm while everything else cooks.
5. Add the vegetables to the boiling broth. Before adding the habanero cut a small opening into the top of the chile and add it to the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to boil for about 40 minutes to make sure everything cooks through. Taste the sauce as it boils and remove the habanero and set aside when the you feel the sauce is spicy enough. For Amy this had to be done after about ten minutes. But for the true taste give it about 20 minutes.
6. When the vegetables are cooked remove them from the broth with slotted spoon and put them on yet another platter. Cover these with a bit of the sauce and put into the oven to keep warm.
7. Reserve two cups of the broth and distribute this into two bowls. In one bowl pulverize the habanero and use this as a hot sauce for the meal. The other bowl you can hand to the weaker palates as a mild sauce.
8. Add the rice to the broth. Raise to boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Continue cooking until the rice is done (30 minutes). Check on the rice as it cooks stirring occasionally and add more water if it needs it.
9. When the rice is done remove it to a very large platter. Remove the fish and vegetable from the oven and set everything on the table. You're now ready to eat.

Traditionally this meal would be eaten off of one enormous platter with the fish in the middle of the rice and the vegetables around the sides. This is optimal if everybody plans to be extra traditional and eat everything with their hands. But nobody seemed up for that and we didn't have any plates with a 3 foot diameter, so we dished everything onto plates and used forks. This didn't stop the meal from being delicious.

Sesame Cookies


The most important part of this recipe, as silly is it sounds, is to remember to grease the wax paper. I failed to do so, and it ended up with us clawing bits of cookie with our hands off the pan. Although this provides something to laugh at, I think we can all agree that cookies are best enjoyed when you can actually hold one in your hands. They were, however, delightful. So do yourself a favor and grease up that wax paper. The other important part is the sesame seeds. None of the supermarkets around us seem to understand that sesame seeds are best when sold cheaply and in large quantities. I'm not sure who thought a tiny vile of seed should cost six bucks, but in Senegal I'm sure you'd be legally killed for such a transgression. I would recommend visiting an Asian grocer for procuring large amounts of the seeds. We bought a five pound bag a while back and are already halfway through it.

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup toasted sesame seeds

1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
2. Cream the butter and and sugar with a hand mixer until it is light and fluffy.
3. Add the egg vanilla and lemon and continue mixing for another minute.
4. Add the flour and sesame seeds. Mix gently and allow the mixture 1 hour to sit.
5. Preheat the oven to 350. Place greased wax paper on two large baking sheets. Add heaping tablespoons of the sesame dough leaving enough space between cookies for expanding.
6. Bake them for 7 minutes making sure to turn the baking sheets halfway through.
7. Remove the cookies allow to cool and set aside on a wire rack for whenever you're ready to eat them.

Conclusions

The simplicity of this meal was wonderful. The cost was perfect. And the flavors were strong and tasty. The crowd this time was much smaller. We only had one friend over for the feasting and two stragglers arrived to eat leftovers. All agreed the food was good and mourned the fact that they couldn't actually hold the cookies. Amy and I are both pleased to find that we are enjoying all of the african dishes we've eaten. Which is a great attitude to have because there's a greater than 25 percent chance that whatever country we draw will be an African one. Thats not to say that its all gonna be the same food. Not surprisingly, Africa has just as much diversity of of food as Europe or Asia it just takes a bit more research for the lesser known cuisines. We look forward to pulling our next African country. Up next Bolivia! Until then, à la vôtre!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guatemala


I've been looking forward to Guatemala since the blog began. It is the first of the countries we've covered that I've actually been to. My love for this country began when I was in college. Two friends of mine and myself were planning to make a winter break trip outside the country, but we hadn't pinned down exactly where we wanted to go. Being college students, we didn't have much cash to blow. So, we decided to take a flight to the cheapest destination. That turned out to be a flight from Indianapolis to Cancun, Mexico. None of us wanted to stay in Cancun, so we took a bus south through Belize and into Guatemala. Despite the stress of figuring out the country's complicated chicken bus routes,, and the difficulties we would have in changing so many kinds of currencies at borders, I had such a great time that I made the exact same trip the next year with another friend. I could go on about my good times in that country all day.

But enough about that, this is a food blog after all. And Guatemala has a lot of great food. The majority of Guatemala's cooking is influenced by the country's rich Mayan heritage. Much like Mexico, the Pre-Columbian staple foods of beans, corn, and tomatoes tend to work their way into just about every meal. Unlike their Mexican neighbors and much to Amy's relief, the Guatemalans don't use nearly as many hot chilies in their cooking. This came as a shock to me as I crossed borders and immediately noticed that the salsas no longer burned my mouth. Although they cut back on the heat, the food does maintain a lot of flavor.

For this meal we decided to have more people than usual over for the dinner and relocated it to my larger former Apartment where our good friend Carl still lives. As a theme we settled on making it a Pre-Columbian thanksgiving of mostly indigenous ingredients in enormous quantities. What follows is one of the largest feasts that can be thrown together with about twenty dollars.

Refried Black Beans


Quite possibly the greatest food to feed a large group of people at little cost to yourself. Two pounds of black beans make a mighty six pounds of goodness. Nearly every market stall I ate at in Guatemala served me some rendition of this very basic dish. To truly save money make sure to use dried beans, but if you are pressed for time or just feel lazy, canned beans work fine as well.

2 lbs dried black beans
Thyme and rosemary
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp salt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the beans in plenty of water over night.
2. Drain the water and rinse the beans thoroughly. Sometimes I find rocks in mine.
3. In a large pot cover the beans with plenty of water again. Add the herbs. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the beans have become nice and tender.
4. In a food processor grind batches of the beans with a bit of water to loosen them into a smooth mixture.
5. Add the ground bean mixture to the pot and mix in the olive oil with a wooden spoon.
6. Bake the beans in the oven uncovered at 375 for 45 minutes and serve garnished with queso fresco or any other crumbly cheese.

Carrot and Radish Salad

Most vegetables I was served in Guatemala tended to be very simple preparations. This recipe took about 3 minutes to prepare. It provided a nice relief from the large amount of heavy food in the meal.

2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 lb carrots skinned and julienned with either a processor or box grater
1 lb radishes julienned in the same manner
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp salt

Combine everything, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Stuffed tortillas

I first had these at a street cart. They work just as well in my oven. And they were a great way to feed vegetarians.

For the tortillas:
24 fresh corn tortillas
1/2 pound queso fresco
1/2 pound queso chihauhua
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 eggs
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup oil

For the sauce:
3 tomatoes finely chopped
3/4 cup water
1 0nion
1 red bell pepper

1. Warm the tortillas in a 300 f oven for five minutes.
2. Shred the cheeses and combine with onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper.
3. Whisk the eggs with the flour.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Stuff the tortillas with 2tbsps of the cheese mixture into half moon shapes, dip them in the egg mixture and fry them quickly in the skillet until lightly browned. You'll do this in a lot of batches. Add oil as the pan dries out.
5. Combine the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and gently bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Mash the tomatoes into a smooth sauce or run through a blender.
6. In a deep oven proof baking pan, layer the stuffed tortillas with the tomato mixtures poured between layers.
7. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Serve.


Squash and Cheese Tamale


No recipe for this as of yet, but Carl was compelled to cook as well since the dinner was at his home. I'll have the recipe for this delicious banana leaf tamale soon!

Pulled Turkey in a Rich Pumpkin Seed and Sesame Sauce

Mayan food is not all simple tastes. No Pre-Columbian meal would be complete without the great indigenous bird that we are all familiar with. This old Mayan recipe provides a great departure from the standard roast turkey we're usually served at this time of year.

1 12 lb turkey
10 cups water
1.5 cups sesame seeds
1 cup squash seeds
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups tomatoes
1 cup tomatillos
1 tbsp arbol chiles ground
5 ancho chiles seeds removed
6 guajillo chiles seeds removed
1 red bell pepper
1 tbsp achiote paste
1 cup bread crumbs
Salt to taste
Rice and tortillas for serving.

1. Break down the turkey into breasts, wings, legs, and thighs. When cutting through the joints I found a pounding the back of my chef knife with a mallet helped me cut through the dense joints. Set aside the skin and back portions for making stock or discard if you're feeling wasteful.
2. In a very large pot bring the water to a boil and add the turkey. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat and cover. Cook over low for an hour and a half.
3. Strain out the turkey parts and set aside to cool.
4. Toast the sesame and pumpkin seeds at 375 in the oven for ten minutes, and soak the guajillo and ancho in warm water as the seeds cook.
5. Grind the seeds in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Drain the chiles and put into a blender. Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, pepper, tomatillo, achiote, arbol, and powdered seeds.
6. Process the mixture into a smooth paste adding a bit of water until a smooth paste is achieved.
7. Once the turkey cools pull the meat from the bones and toss the meat back into the pot with the water it cooked in.
8. Add the paste, bread crumbs, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered over low heat for another hour or until the sauce is thick and rich. Salt to taste and serve with rice and tortillas. This could probably feed 30 people!

Rompope: Guatemala's Spiked Egg Nog

Once again we drank our dessert. It was very heavy and was probably unnecessary given the size of the dinner. But since winter is around the corner I thought it would be nice to start the season off with it.

5 eggs...mmmm
1 12 oz can of condensed milk
1 coffee mug of dark rum
7 ice cubes

Combine everything in the blender and chill before serving. As you can see by the ingredients, this stuff is not healthy. Drink sparingly or you'll ruin your night.

Conclusion:

This was both our largest and cheapest meal! I think that makes it quite a success. What really counts is the food was great and nobody was lacking. Amy and I just finished up the leftover turkey this evening. In fact, the meal proved to be way too much for most of us. About thirteen were in attendance and we could easily have fed another ten. Most of us ate way too much and went into the classic thanksgiving hibernation mode after the dinner. The next meal will be much lighter, and our stomachs will thank us. Senegal will be next! Until then salud!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dominica


Dominica, aka "Nature Isle of the Caribbean", was named by Christopher Columbus after he spotted the island on a Sunday (dominica in Latin, domingo in Spanish...you get the idea). This lush island contains volcanoes, which are still forming the land, the second largest boiling lake and rain forests. Like most other Caribbean nations, Dominica's history includes a long spell of European rule that they became independent of in 1978.

In 1981, a particularly interesting event occurred in Dominica wherein an American named Perdue and a Canadian called Droege, attempted a coup. Now, it failed miserably and was stopped by the FBI before the ship even left American soil, but the plan involved overthrowing the government, misleading many mercenaries into going to Dominica, and, oh yeah, it was initiated by members of the KKK. It was called Operation Red Dog formally, but the media called it the "Bayou of Pigs" after the most notorious fail at the time, the "Bay of Pigs".

Now, the cuisine of Dominica is very similar to many other Caribbean nations we'll be covering. They do have a national dish known as mountain chicken, which is actually made of a giant toad indigenous to the island. Sadly we weren't able to legally purchase any large toads in the Chicago area. We did, however, have access to a goat butcher which provided us with the centerpiece of our meal.


Pigeon Pea Pumpkin Soup


This soup is easy to make and gave us probably one of our last tastes of fall (*sniff).

2 small onions, chopped
1 clove garlic
8 oz. can of tomato puree
1 medium size green pepper, chopped
1 lb. of pumpkin, cubed
2 pints water
1 1/2 pints of chicken stock
1 lb. can of green pigeon pea (with their liquid)
salt
pepper

1. Throw a bit of butter in a large, heavy soup pan.
2. Add onions and garlic over moderate heat for 5 minutes to make them transparent, but not browned.
3. Add the tomato and green pepper and simmer for 5 minutes
4. Drop in the pumpkin, pigeon peas, chicken stock, and water.
5. Bring to a boil at a high heat, then reduce heat and cover for 20 minutes, or until pumpkin gets soft.
6. Puree the soup and season to taste.
7. Serve!


Shrimp Salad
We could not make an island country complete if we did not do some sort of seafood dish. This dish is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also has a wonderful blend of tangy, fresh and a little bit of spice in flavor.

1 lb medium shrimp shelled (reserve the shells for stock)
3 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
2 tbsps butter
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb fresh spinach (washed and dried)
8 radishes thinly sliced
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
1 mango cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 green bell pepper cut into strips
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
2 avocados
1 habanero seeded and thinly sliced (you may even want to run cold water over this for a bit to cut down the spice level)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Salt the shrimp and set aside for five minutes. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes being careful not to burn it. Toss in the shrimp and cook for 2-3 more minutes until the shrimp are firm and pink. Remove and dust shrimp with the paprika.
2. Make a dressing by whisking the olive oil, cumin, vingegar and soy sauce together. Salt and pepper it to taste. In a bowl combine the shrimp with everything but the avocado and spinach. Pour the dressing over the shrimp and vegetables and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes or until you are ready to serve.
3. When you are finally ready to serve. Slice the avocado thinly and gently toss with the marinated shrimp and vegetables.
4. On a large platter arrange the spinach in a ring and scoop the shrimp and vegetables in the center. Serve.

Goat Curry

Dominica is really into their lamb, goat and chicken dishes. Since we have not had a meal with goat yet during this project, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make a dish with one of our favorite unsung meats.

3lbs cubed goat shoulder (easiest to have a butcher do this with a mechanical bone saw)
1/4 cup corn oil
2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 can coconut milk
1/2 pint water
2 tbsp curry powder or make your own for less heat: 1.5 tsp turmeric, 1.5 tsp cumin, 1 tsp peppercorn, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp garlic powder
1.5 tsp allspice ground
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. In a deep pot, gently fry the onions in the oil until they are translucent
2. Add the goat and saute for five minutes.
3. Add the spices and saute for yet another five minutes.
4. Add the water and coconut milk and cook over low heat covered for 3 hours.
5. Squeeze lime juice in at end. Serve curry in small individual bowls garnished with the cilantro.


Yellow Rice and Pigeon Pea Risotto

I think the best part of this dish was the utilization of our shrimp shells from the salad to make the stock. It added a nice note to the risotto and tied the meal together perfectly.

1.5 cups short grain rice
1 can pigeon peas drained
5 cups shrimp stock
2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp butter

1. Make a stock by boiling the leftover shrimp shells in a large pot of water with a few carrots and an onion. Boil 30 minutes. Strain and reserve.
2. Melt half the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the rice and cook stirring frequently until the grains become translucent.
3. Add the turmeric and stir for another minute. Begin to add the stock 1/2 cup at a time maintaining a very low heat. Allow each half cup of stock to be absorbed by the rice before adding more. Stir frequently as you do this. This takes about 30-40 minutes so grab a beer and get comfortable by the rice. This can get very boring if you are by yourself so try and keep company around you as you tediously stir.
4. 2/3 of the way through this process add the pigeon peas.
5. When the rice is creamy and cooked to your preference (I like to have a bit of a bite to the center) add the rest of the butter and serve.

Ginger Beer

I must admit that when Tom mentioned he wanted to make ginger beer for this meal, I cringed a bit. The only exposure I've had to it in the past has been in commercially packaged 2 liters, which I have never enjoyed. Just remember this is a taste you cannot buy in the store, put the bias away and add rum if you like.

1 lb ginger chopped into 1/2 inch thick discs
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
1.5 cups sugar
1 gallon water
Juice of 4 limes

1. Boil everything except the lime for 30 minutes covered.
2. Pour into a large jug
3. Squeeze in the lime juice and refrigerate overnight or until ready (it gets stronger the longer you leave it)
4. Strain the brew and server chilled over ice.
5. We decided at the last second to make cocktails out of these and our good friend Carl ran to grab rum from the grocery. Pour in a couple shots of dark rum into each glass to make everyone a dark and stormy.



This being our first randomly picked country was in a way a cruel irony. Had we gone in alphabetical order, the Bahamas would have been next and we would have eaten Caribbean cuisine anyhow.

Either way, we enjoyed having a taste of the tropics, as we lose our sunlight around 4:30 these days. This meal also provided us with our very first ceremonial end of meal drawing of a random country. Tom is very excited that it will be Guatemala: the first country we'll have done that he's actually been to! We've already bought the turkey! Until then...uh...cheers!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Azerbaijan

The first thing we figured out in our week of looking up food from Azerbaijan, is that the country's preferred adjective is Azeri. We also discovered that their pop radio stations streaming on the internet really love to play Celine Dion. Mostly, we determined that they have amazing food. Our only sources for recipe inspiration were this wonderful blog from an Azeri woman living in California, and Please to the Table, a mighty book of Soviet recipes published just before the superpower's breakup. Apparently Azeri food was wildly popular with the Soviets and after our dinner we understand why. Seriously, Azerbaijan proved to be a sleeper hit of a cuisine for us. The flavors were unique, strong, and delicious.

Amy and I were very dubious about the food as we researched recipes. We had never before had Azeri food. And there were no Azeri restaurants to test our palates at in Chicago. Many of the flavor pairings seemed too sweet or too strong. But, in the end, it all worked. And all in attendance ate very well!

Eggplant Rolls

Anybody who's eaten at a lot of Italian restaurants is probably familiar with eggplant involtini. This Azeri preparation isn't too different, and we found it was fantastic to serve at room temperature.

3 large eggplants
Paprika Mayonnaise (Add 2 tsp paprika to 1 cup mayonnaise)(preferably homemade)
1 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup chopped parsley
Olive oil
Toothpicks

1. Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, sprinkle slices with salt, and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 450 f. Drizzle eggplant slices on each side with olive oil and bake 20 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Remove when eggplant is browned. Set aside to cool.
3. Spread mayonnaise on each slice, then sprinkle walnuts and parsley over each slice.
4. Starting at the thinner end of each slice, tightly roll the eggplant and fasten with toothpicks.
5. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Pepper and Pickle Salad

October has now ended and the vegetables are getting more and more scarce at the local markets. Fortunately bell peppers were available in large quantities, and pickles never go bad. We made this Azeri salad as our goodbye to harvest season.

3 bell peppers seeded and cut into thin strips(we had orange and yellow, but red and green work as well)
1 cucumber roughly chopped
2 medium sized dill pickles (4-5 inches long) minced
2 cups pickled buttoncap mushrooms cut in half
2 medium onions thinly sliced
2 carrots cut into thin strips
1/2 packed cup fresh dill
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Add everything else. Toss together and set aside for at least an hour before serving. This can also be made the night before!

Dried Fruit and Saffron Pilaf: Plov

I had no idea pilafs could be such a centerpiece in a meal. The Azeris take their rice very seriously and this pilaf is a great example of this.

2.5 cups Basmati rice
2 sticks butter (don't worry this makes a lot of rice)
1/2 tsp saffron
4 eggs beaten
Dried fruit (we used Apricots and golden raisins)
1/2 cup freshly chopped mint
1 tsp salt

1. Rinse the rice well to remove starch and soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil soaked rice for 8 minutes.
3. Rinse and drain cooked rice.
4. Remove 1 cup rice and combine with beaten eggs and a bit of salt.
5. Heat a large casserole over medium heat and add 1/2 stick butter. When butter melts add the egg and rice mixture and gently heat for five minutes.
6. Add half the rice and another half stick of butter cut up.
7. Add the rest of the rice and yet another half stick of butter.
8. Cover the rice and set heat very low. Stir the mixture gently making sure not to break the egg crust at the bottom every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
9. Melt the remaining butter and combine with saffron. Add 1 cup finished rice.
10. Put the rest of the rice on a large platter. Sprinkle yellow rice on top of the white. Add the dried fruit and mint and crumble the egg crust over the top.
11. Serve with lots of stew.

Lamb, Pomegranate, and Hazelnut Stew

So complex yet so easy to make. This went great with the pilaf.

2 lbs lamb cut into 1.5 inch cubes
2 cups shelled hazelnuts
1.5 cups crushed walnuts
2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 tsp dried mint
1.5 cups chicken stock
1 stick cinnamon
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup corn oil
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped mint

1. Heat oil in deep casserole over medium heat. Add onions and sugar and cook ten minutes until the onions have turned translucent.
2. Add the lamb and turmeric and cook a further ten minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients except the mint and hazelnut. Stir, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for a further two hours. All of this can be done the day before.
4. 30 minutes before serving gently reheat the stew over low heat with the hazelnuts. Garnish with mint before serving.

Rose Water and Saffron Sherbet

Gotta be honest with this one. Most of us thought this stuff tasted like a cup of perfume, but a few loved it. I'm sure this matches a lot of peoples' tastes, but I won't be making it again. I must say I still have yet to find a Central Asian dessert I like. Generally I just don't have a sweet enough tooth.

3 cups sugar
2 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup rosewater
1/2 tsp crushed saffron
Water and ice for serving

1. Combine sugar and water and boil over high heat for 10 minutes until a thick syrup is formed.
2. Add the rosewater, saffron, and lemon. Stir and set aside during the meal.
3. At the end of the meal combine with equal parts water and a few ice cubes in serving cups.
4. Drink slowly as a dessert.

Conclusion
I love food that challenges my taste buds with new combinations of flavors that somehow work together. Azerbaijan's cuisine did exactly that. The meal was unlike any other I've ever made, and I look forward to making much more in the future. Due to the holiday weekend we had to schedule the dinner for a Thursday evening and were a bit more rushed in putting the meal together. Fortunately nearly all of the food kept well and could be made Wednesday night. This gave us plenty of time to drink and socialize while we waited for the pilaf to cook. Also none of the food needed any fancy plating and we were able to simply put it out buffet style in huge family portions. I will definitely be entertaining with mighty pilafs next time I'm in a pinch!

Dominica is next! Afiyæt oslun!

Going Random!


The polls are closed, and the decision has been made. We're going random with our country choices! Above we have our pig jar from which we will be pulling all future countries at random. After each dinner we will pull the next country. For those of you who worry about everything getting too out of order, I recommend checking out our new links on the side to countries by geographic region. They should help keep some sense of order to this madness. We hope you all enjoy the excitement of randomness in our future meals. Our next dinner will be the island nation of Dominica!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Austria


I don't know about you, but when I think of Austria, I automatically think of Julie Andrews spinning on mountain tops and the Von Trapps running away from the Anschluss to Switzerland. Admittedly, I've never watched this movie the entire way through. For those who have never seen "The Sound of Music" (or just bits of it), Austria may conjure up visions of the Viennese Waltz, skiing down the Alps and eating tiny sausages.

Now, given that last sentence, I know what you are thinking now.."Did they actually make little Viennese sausages?". We did not, however, we DID make large sausages. As this is the first country that has a deep appreciation for sausage, I feel the need to share our history with sausage making. Tom and I actually started our relationship over a plate of sausage that he ground up and stuffed himself. Tom explained to me how he used pig intestines for casings and what was in each sausage to make them different. I was a little grossed out, but more intrigued. A month later, it was my birthday and we made sausage together for the first time. If you ever get the chance to do it, and think you can stomach it, I highly recommend it. This meal provided us with the perfect excuse for busting out the meat grinder.

Farmer's Cheese Spread


1/2 lb farmers cheese (unsweetened!)
1 tbsp capers chopped
2 tbsps chopped anchovie fillets (packed in oil)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp caraway
1/2 red onion roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Dark rye or pumpernickel bread for serving.

1. Combine everything except for the olive oil in a food processor.
2. Slowly pour in the olive oil with the blade running to form a rich paste
3. Toast bread and cut into thirds for serving.
4. Spread paste on bread and eat. I'd recommend drinking beer between bites!

Cauliflower and Green Pea Salad


1 head cauliflower
1 lb shelled peas (frozen are fine)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup stock beef or mushroom
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tbsp chopped dill
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Rosemary Mayonnaise for Garnish
(recipe follows)

1. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and blanch in boiling salted water for ten minutes. Drain cauliflower in a colander under cold running water. Then place the drained cauliflower in a large mixing bowl.
2. Blanch the peas in boiling salted water for five minutes. Drain under cold water and add to the bowl.
3. In a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients except the mayo and whisk together.
4. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and and allow 30 minutes to marinate or overnight in the fridge.
5. Portion out the vegetables for serving and add a dallop of rosemary mayonnaise to each portion.

Rosemary Mayonnaise

Seriously, it takes about five minutes to put together a good mayonnaise in a blender or food processor. And it tastes so much better than the strange substance sold in jars containing radiated eggs. I prefer to make mine in a processor because its much easier to scoop out.

1 egg plus one egg yolk (Be sure the eggs are cold when you start blending.)
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsps chopped rosemary
3/4 corn oil

1. Combine all the ingredients except the oil in the processor.
2. With the blade running add the oil in a thin stream very slowly until a thick and fluffy paste is formed.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.
**** Unlike store bought mayo, this stuff will only last about a week in the fridge. But that's ok because you can actually pronounce the names of the ingredients in this mayo and it tastes so much better. If you're feeding this to children or the elderly, try to use organic eggs. Our government's poultry standards allow for some pretty scary stuff to get into the mass produced eggs that can affect weaker immune systems. Last I checked Britain had the same problem.

Cabbage and Noodles: Krautfleckerl

1 head green cabbage cored and thinly sliced (about 2 lbs)
1 red onion thinly sliced
4 tbsp butter (about half a stick)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp carraway
1/2 cup beer
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb wide egg noodles cooked and drained
sour cream and dill for garnish

1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven and add the red onion.
2. Cook until the onion begins to brown. Add the sugar and carraway and stir to carmelize the mixture for about five minutes.
3. Add the cabbage and mix the contents of the pot well. Pour on the beer, lower the heat, and cover with a lid.
4. Cook the cabbage down for 45 minutes stirring occassionally. Now would be a good time to cook the noodles.
5. After 45 minutes uncover. The cabbage should be slightly browned. If not turn up the heat and stir it until it browns. Add the cooked noodles. Toss everything togeter. Add the salt and pepper.
6. Apply a tablespoon or so of sour cream and a sprig of dill to each portion. Serve.

Bockwurst

Good sausage needs at least three things: meat, fat, and salt. This recipe has all of it! Before starting, make sure you have a clean work surface, because this gets messy. You'll need a meat grinder with a sausage stuffing funnel. Or you'll need a food processor, a large funnel, and a lot of patience. Tom wounded himself while making these sausages, but fortunately our good friend Carl was there to help with the meat chopping. His hands are pictured below.

2.5 lbs of pork belly (skin removed) cubed
2.5 lbs pork shoulder cubed
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp mace
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 red onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1.5 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons salt
Pig Casings for stuffing soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes.

1. Run the meat through the grinding disc with the largest hole once.


2. Combine the remaining ingredients with the meat and mix well with your hands.


3. Run everything back through the grinder once more again on the largest setting.
4. Heat a skillet and fry up a small amount of the mix to taste for seasoning. Adjust to your preference.
5. Chill the sausage mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
6. Wash the casings in the sink making sure to run water through them. This can be disturbing, but with time you'll get used to it.
7. Load the stuffing attachment onto the meat grinder. Tie off a large length of casing and load the other end onto the stuffing funnel.
8. Run the mixture through the grinder into the casings. Be careful to move the casings as the meat comes out and don't let them get overloaded or they'll explode. If the casing does rupture, just cut what you've made, tie it off, and resume.


9. When all of your casing is stuffed, twist the sausage into links. Tie a small piece of twine between each link.
10. Gently poach the sausage for 15 minutes in water heated to about 180 degrees.
11. Remove the links, cut the twine, and gently grill, fry, or roast in the oven at 350 to brown the sausage.
12. Serve.

Apfelstrudel

2 pound of apples, peeled, cored and sliced
Filo dough
1/2 cup melted butter
2/3 cup raisins
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup ground walnuts
breadcrumbs
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. In a greased baking pan, start layering filo dough and brushing in between each layer with the melted butter. Use about 7-10 sheets of filo, depending on how flaky you would like the strudel.
2. Combine the walnuts and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle on the dough.
3. Place the apples on top of that.
4. Brush the apples with some butter.
5. Sprinkle the raisins on top of the apples.
6.Combine the cinnamon and sugar together and dust that on top of the apples and raisins.
7. Place another 7-10 layers of filo dough, with melted butter in between like before. Also, brush the top layer lightly with butter
8. Bake at 350 for 45-1 hour.
9. Enjoy by itself or with ice cream or whipped cream.

The Meal: Commentary

Austria was a little time consuming, but we have learned to make things in advance now. Believe it or not, in some of the earlier countries, we prepared all of the dishes from scratch after 6 o'clock on weekdays. This got to be way too much, as did making two meals a week. We realized that we could not make each meal as great as it could be because of time constraints and that simply would not do justice to an entire country's cuisine. We still may do two in a week when we are feeling ambitious, but for now, one a week will have to do.

Now on to the meal critique.

I made a mistake this meal by not using enough filo dough for the strudel. I had never used filo before and grossly underestimated the amount that needed to be used. Don't worry though, the recipe provided is definitely the way to go. The filling still was tasty and very apropos for the fall.

Our love for cabbage was once again proven when added to egg noodles. Everyone seemed to enjoy the sausage, however, I prefer sausages without cream.

All in all, I think we overindulged a tad. The food of Austria is not light fare. Everything is quite rich and filling. The meal paired well though with all the fine Austrian wine and cheap American beer we consumed. In fact, it may have paired too well, because I noticed my photography skills absolutely fall off the face of the earth, as you can see in the picture below.


We also had a visiting diner with us from Ball State. Thanks, Jess for joining us in our culinary endeavor, as well as reminiscing with me about good ole Muncie.

Only one more "A" country left. We are finally feeling like we hit a milestone! Until then, prost!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Australia


Australia is another of those countries where I tread lightly when approaching its cuisine, mainly because Amy and I have come to know a fair amount of Australians in our time. So, to all Australians we know, we hope we didn't screw up your cuisine, and if we did: sorry. For most American cooks Australia should not be too daunting of a country. Despite, being on the other end of the globe, the food is remarkably similar to what Amy and I grew up with in the midwest. This is probably because both our countries have a shared history of English colonization and large scale emigrations from Europe. Many ancestors of the Aussies, however, did not emigrate by choice, but were shipped to Australia as prisoners or debtors. The result of all this is a continent full of meat and potato eaters on the other side of the planet.

Our attempts at coming up with a quintessential Australian meal were a bit difficult. Of course there is a lot of amazing food in Australia, but it was hard to pin down what was specifically considered to be truly Australian and not just a good version of a foreign dish. This problem will undoubtedly come up again when we are planning for Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand. Our first thought for this meal was to get kangaroo or emu meat, but sadly the costs were sky high and the cuts available weren't very good. We then tried to go the purely seafood route, but realized that wasn't generally seen as strictly Aussie either. The meal we concluded on is an attempt at making several of the Aussie staple dishes as well as a few other dishes that are based on side items that I have eaten at the few Australian meals I've attended.

As we cooked, we made sure to play lots of Men at Work.

Vegemite and Australian Swiss with Toast


We were not able to find any vegemite here in Chicago. So we had to commit sacrilege and go with the British salty yeast extract spread, Marmite, as a substitute for Australia's classic vegemite sandwich. Nobody enjoyed the strange dark substance, but we Americans really have no history of spreading yeast extract on bread. Amy's friend Jodie tells us that a new vegemite is about to come out called cheesy-bite formulated for non yeast muncher palates that is blended with cheese product for a less strong taste.

1 jar vegemite (or marmite if you can't find it)
Cheese (we had an Australian Swiss)
Toasted bread

1. Toast the bread.
2. Cut the cheese...ha!
3. Open the vegemite and thinly spread on toast. Cheese is optional on the toast as well. I find everybody needed the cheese to get the yeasty taste out of their mouth. But maybe you'll enjoy it.
4. After a slice of toast each, we put this away because nobody liked it. If you do enjoy it, go ahead and keep eating it.

Potato Salad

This is one of those items, that while not a classic Australian staple, I am sure some Australians enjoy it. This particular version of potato salad is based on one I was served at an Australian embassy party when I was living in Hanoi. What made this salad different from our American standard was the inclusion of cheese and scallions and the exclusion of mayonnaise in favor of olive oil and mustard. I've been making my potato salads this way ever since.

3 lbs red potatoes
2 tsp English mustard powder mixed with 2 tbsps water
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2-2/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp drained and capers
1 bunch parsley chopped
1 bunch scallions chopped
1/2 cup medium grated parmesan or sharp white cheddar
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes until you can pass a fork easily into the center of the potato. Be careful not to overboil them or else you'll get mashed potatoes. This can take practice.
2. Drain the potatoes and immediately run cold water over them. Give the potatoes 20 minutes to cool, and then cut them into 1 inch cubes.
3. Whisk mustard, oil, vinegar, capers, and parsley together in a large bowl. Add the potatoes, salt, parsley, scallions, and cheese to the bowl. Gently toss the ingredients to combine. Allow to sit until they come to room temperature and serve.

Southeast Asian Cole Slaw in a Macadamia Sauce

This was the least Australian of our dishes. Basically we needed to eat vegetables, and I could not find a typical 'Aussie' vegetable dish. So I got creative and came up with this recipe. The cabbage salad is typical of many Southeast Asian countries, and Australia has a very large Southeast Asian population. We substituted macadamia nuts for peanuts, because the macadamia is actually indigenous to Australia.

1 cup macadamia nuts
1 tablespoon ground coriander
3 tbsps soy sauce
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 tbsps honey
1 tsp chili paste
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 head cabbage thinly chopped
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
3 medium carrots scraped and grated
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 bunch cilantro chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 f and cook the nuts 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
2. Combine nuts, honey, soy sauce, and coriander in a food processor and grind to a thick pulp.
3. Scrape the nut mixture into a saucepan and combine chili paste and coconut milk with ingredients.
4. Heat over medium flame until the mixture thickens into a thick sauce (about ten minutes). Set the sauce aside and allow to cool.
5. Now for the cabbage. In a large bowl combine the chopped cabbage with a bit of salt. Pound the mix with a masher to loosen the leaves and allow to sit for 10 minutes or until the cabbage softens.
6. Add carrots, onions, cilantro, vinegar, and sauce. Combine and serve at room at room temperature.

Shrimp on the Barbie

For many Americans, the mention of Australian cuisine elicits images of barbecued shrimp. This is probably the result of this very well made tourism video featuring Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee fame from the 1980's. At the end of the ad, Hogan puts an enormous shrimp onto the barbecue and invites you to 'come and say g'day' in Australia. Sadly, my shrimp weren't as large as Paul Hogan's, but lets face it we can't all be that awesome. The recipe itself, couldn't be easier.

1.5 lbs shrimp
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsps chopped ginger
Butter
Chopped garlic

1. Marinate the shrimp in the soy and ginger for 30 minutes
2. Skewer the shrimp and grill over high heat for about two minutes on each side. And remove.
3. Melt the butter and add the garlic. Serve the garlic sauce in small bowls on the side.


Meat Pie

The quintessential national dish of Australia: the meat pie. Ground beef seemed to be the agreed upon standard for this dish, but I'm still partial to filling my savory pastries with pork. Also, as you can tell by the picture, we still have no pie pans in the new apartment so we had to make do with a loaf tin. It still worked, and I'll be eating the leftovers of this savory log for the next several days.

For the Filling:

2 lbs ground beef dredged in 1/2 cup flour
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tbsps butter
2 medium yellow onions finely chopped
1 tsp English mustard powder
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp coriander seed (ground)
1 tsp pepper (ground)
4 cups stock (beef or chicken)
2 tsp vegemite (marmite in our case)

1. Heat butter in a large cast iron pan and add onions and garlic. Cook over medium high until translucent.
2. Add the beef and cook until well browned
3. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook over medium until the sauce forms a thick gravy (about 15 minutes).
4. Set the meat and sauce aside to cool.

For the Crust:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup lard
1.5 tsp salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until a large ball of dough forms.
2. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and kneed for five minutes. Wrap the mixture in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the dough and cut off 2/3 of the mixture.
4. On a floured surface roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and line a bread pan with the crust If it breaks as this happens fell free to smush it together, and tell nobody that anything bad happened.
5. Bake this bottom layer of crust for 15 minutes at 375 f in the oven until it is browned.
6. Roll out the remaining dough in a rough shape of the top of the pan also to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut two vent holes in the dough.
7. Trim the edges of the dough to fit the pan.
8. Fill the pan with the meat mixture and place the top piece over the mixture being sure to seal the edges.
9. Bake in the 375 f oven for another hour.
10. Allow 15 minutes to cool and serve with plenty of ketchup.

Anzac Biscuits (Cookies)

These are great old-timey cookies originally made in honor of Australia and New Zealand's overseas forces in the first World War. They are also incredibly easy to make. But the Anzac biscuits although simple in execution can easily become a tremendous failure. We learned this the hard way and had a trash can full of burnt cookie goo after our first try. So pay attention and you just might be able to make these truly amazing cookies.

1 cup oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1 cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsps boiling water
2 tbsps honey

1. Mix oats, flour, sugar, and coconut in a large bowl.
2. Melt butter and honey together in a small saucepan.
3. In a small cup dissolve baking soda into the water. Add this to the melted butter mixture and stir well.
4. Now add the butter mix to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well with a spoon (not your hands because that butter stings!)
5. After it is well mixed place on baking sheets in two inch flattened balls. Leave lots of space between the cookies because they expand quite a bit.
6. Bake 12-15 in a 325 f oven.
7. Allow cookies 10 minutes to cool before removing them from baking sheets. This allows them to harden.
8. Eat cookies.

In Conclusion


The big winning items of the night were definitely the shrimp and the cookies. The meat pie proved to be a bit much with everything else on the table, but I'm fine with eating the rest at work this week. Everybody left with full bellies and Men at Work ringing in their heads. It was a surreal experience that Outback Steakhouse only wishes they could equal. We hope Paul Hogan would've been proud! Up next is Austria and Sausage making! Cheers, mates!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Armenia


Historical foe of Persia, Rome, the Byzantines, and the Turks; Armenia is not just another former Soviet Republic. It is also the ancestral homeland of singer/songwriter Raffi, as well as the legendary docking spot of Noah's Ark! Not surprisingly, Armenian food is as rich as its history. The best way we can think of summing it up is to describe it as a cross between Turkish and Russian, but this explanation really doesn't do it justice. However, if you would like a taste of Armenia without spending a full night in the kitchen, we do know of at least one Armenian restaurant, Sayat Nova, in Chicago conveniently located on Ohio Street just east of Michigan Avenue.

However, if you don't live near an Armenian restaurant and you do enjoy making a meal for yourself and would like to explore other Armenian dishes, we recommend Sonia Uvezian's The Cuisine Of Armenia. We used this as our main inspiration for many of the recipes in this dinner.

Tomato, Bulghur, and Mint Soup


1 32 oz. can of whole stewed tomatoes
1 stick butter
1 cup bulghur
8 cups water
10 oz. spinach, cleaned and chopped
3 garlic cloves crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
A handful of freshly chopped mint
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add tomatoes and cook for five minutes over medium heat.
2. With a masher crush the tomatoes, add the bulghur, and cook for another five minutes stirring frequently to avoid burning the grains.
3. Add the water, spinach, and garlic. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
4. Cover and cook for 40 minutes over low heat.
5. When ready to serve thin the soup with water to desired consistency. Garnish with mint and lemon. Check for seasoning and serve!

Chilled Green Beans with a Walnut Sauce

2 lbs green beans trimmed and washed
2 cups walnut
1 large yellow onion finely chopped
3 tsp paprika (good stuff not the cheap crap)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Broth for thinning the sauce
Chopped parsley for garnish
Salt to taste

1. Boil the beans for ten minutes, drain, and immediately rinse in cold water.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients, except the parsley, in a food processor and blend to a paste. Add enough broth to form a paste like sauce.
3. Toss the beans with the sauce and chill before serving.

Rice Pilaf with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Almonds

1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup almonds
2 cups long grain rice (we used Jasmine)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup butter
Salt to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the rice, and cook over medium heat for five minutes stirring often.
2. Add the stock, raise to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
3. While this is cooking bake the sesame and almond in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.
4. Fluff the pilaf before serving and add the almonds and sesame.
5. Taste for salt and serve.

Eggplants Stuffed with Beef

1.5 lbs. ground beef chuck
2 roma tomatoes
2 large yellow onions diced
2 cloves garlic chopped
A handful of parsley
4 tbsp butter
Salt and Pepper
3 large eggplants

1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh with a spoon carefully being sure to leave enough flesh for the eggplant to keep its shape. Salt the shells and set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat, add the chopped onion and cook until translucent (not brown).
3. Add the beef and cook until browned.
4. Add the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for another five minutes and remove from heat.
5. Stuff the hollowed eggplants with the beef mixture. Arrange them in casserole dishes with a small layer of water to prevent the eggplants from burning.
6. Cook in a 400 f oven for 1 hour or until the eggplant is completely cooked. Serve!

Butternut Squash Dessert

2 lbs. butternut squash cubed
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
cinnamon
2/3 cup heavy cream

1. Combine squash with sugar and water and cook over low heat covered until the water is evaporated and the squash is tender.
2. Mash it!
3. Chill it!
4. Mix cream with some sugar and whip until it reaches your desired thickness.
5. Top chilled squash with cream and cinnamon. Enjoy! There's a lot of it!

The Result

The soup was unbelievably simple in execution and very pleasing to the palate. We plan on making this soup over and over again, as it is filling, delicious and tastes possibly even better as leftovers.

The pilaf was a hit in my book as well as with some of Tom's coworkers. The toasted seeds and almonds gave the rice a kind of crisp, bitter quality, much like baked pumpkin seeds.

At first, we were going to serve the beans as an appetizer while we were waiting for the eggplant to finish baking, but as it turns out they were much too strong of a flavor on their own. Once we plated them with the rest of the meal, we found that the beans complimented the other flavors from the pilaf and eggplant rather than dominating them.

When you first look at the size of the eggplant, it looks completely overwhelming in quantity. Once we started digging into it though, it was more like eating a stuffed cabbage or pepper. Tom likes to think of it as a meat pie inside of an eggplant, which just really means he's happy not to have to roll out dough.

The dessert of squash mash is something that is meant for a large group of people or several champion squash eaters. After all of the other courses, it was hard to eat, as it is also very filling. It seems as though it was not for everyone at our table, but it's hard to say if it was the full tummies or the tastes of the crowd. However, Susie, the dachshund could not get enough of it.

Australia will be later this week and then only 2 more "A" countries (whew!). Until then, kenats't!