Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Everyday China: Sweet and Sour Chicken

I once had someone that had taught English in China tell me that Sweet and Sour Chicken was one of the more authentic foods that people in America consider Chinese. Who knew, right? Whether this is true or not, I know that I find it delicious. So how do you get it other than takeout? Very differently than I would have thought.

I originally found the recipe here, but now I notice it points back to another site with different proportions. I think I'll be using the original next time, and you'll see why!

The sauce is made by whisking apple cider vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, and garlic powder. My initial credulity was ketchup. Really? But ketchup originated in Asia. This is one reason why you can find it spelled differently different places, since it was being translated from a different alphabet. So I call possibly legit.

With the sauce ready, I took cut-up chicken and seasoned them then stirred them around with some cornstarch. The original recipe says that they toss it all in a bag. I will be trying that next time.

I also doubled this recipe, and noticed that the original has way more meat the the same amount of sauce. I will be trying that too.

You're supposed to dip the chicken individually into egg after the cornstarch. Ain't nobody got time for that. I did it in batches and then pulled them out with a fork.

Your coated chicken then gets flash-fried, just enough to get your crispy outside. I also had to do this in batches since they wouldn't all fit in the pan together. After a minute or two, the chicken sits on some paper-towels to get the excess oil off, then right into a baking dish. Next batch!

After all of the chicken has been fried, you pour on the sweet and sour sauce and bake for an hour. Yeah, an hour. Then you look at your mound of dishes. This is certainly the downside of this one.

I simultaneously cooked some rice in the rice cooker. The hardest part is waiting for this to be done. You can just taste it in the air the whole time.

Just thinking about this has me putting it on the meal plan for next week. So delicious. In addition to the changes I mentioned above, I'm also hoping to add some pineapple and maybe bell peppers next time. And maybe make a quadruple batch. This stuff doesn't last long around here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Honduras is in Central America bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. It is slightly larger than Tennessee and has almost 9 million people. The official language is Spanish and the capital is Tegucigalpa. It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America with the world's highest murder rate. Read more at the CIA World Factbook.

Sometimes it is really hard to decide what recipe to do for a country. There are too many options, or nothing out there are all. Then there are the countries where you do a search and Carne Asada comes up and you don't need to look anymore.

There were, of course, multiple versions of the recipe, so I did have to do some deciding. I ended up with this recipe from a blog doing the same thing that I am. Hello fellow world cooker!

Kevin's parents came to visit us in early September, so it seemed like a good time to plan this one. The weather was great and we had company, so why not make something delicious?

Flank steak is much nicer than the normal cut of meat I get so I really didn't want to mess it up.

This beauty got marinated in orange juice, garlic, and some other spices. The orange juice surprised me, but it was very consistent across different versions of the recipe I found. Maybe this is the integral ingredient?

One of the other ingredients was Worcestershire sauce. Did you know it has anchovies in it? I didn't until Brendan was diagnosed with his fish allergy. He has never had a reaction to this or Caesar dressing before so we don't think it is triggered by anchovies but we're usually still cautious. I put a little in, but less than what the recipe wanted.

The meat marinated in the fridge and I went to make the chimol that the recipes recommends, which is basically a fresh salsa like pico de gallo. Unfortunately I can't find the recipe I used, but it called for lots of coriander. I know that coriander and cilantro are used interchangeably at times. But when I put this all into my list I didn't make that connection. Instead I saw coriander, knew I had the spice, and didn't buy any. And fresh salsa without cilantro is...not fresh salsa. Instead we used the stuff Kevin and I had just canned recently.

Okay, time to grill the marinated meat! Steak on, sizzling, great! About two minutes later: nothing. We are out of gas. Whomp whomp.
We got no farther than this
We did the rest with the broiler in our oven. That was a little sad. Luckily it was still gorgeous out so at least we could eat outside even if not cook there.
It actually cooked up really nicely.
We ate outside almost every day over the summer. Do you know how much easier it is to clean up when you can just sweep everything off of the deck?

The carne asada was good. Really, truly good. But not spend-that-much-money-on-a-cut-of-meat good. The flavor was really subtle. I understand that you want that with good meat, but this didn't seem to bring out the best in the meat.

Again, it was really good to eat. And obviously we had some cooking problems. We didn't get the grill sear or anything else like that. I'm sure that makes a difference in true carne asada. Maybe fresh-squeezed, heavily-pulped orange juice would help too. But it is probably not something I will be making on my own again soon.

Next country: Hungary

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Haiti, along with the Dominican Republic, is one of the two countries on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, making it one of the first post-colonial nations. It is currently considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

French and Creole are the official languages. The country is slightly smaller than Maryland, with over 10 million citizens. Port-au-Prince is the capital. Read more at the CIA World Factbook.

I have never been to Haiti, but feel a slight connection. In high school, one of my close friends and her family went there often to help on medical mission trips. More recently, my little brother Patrick has gone two years in a row to help do some work there too. I have art up in the house that they have brought back for me and I have heard plenty of stories. I would love to go someday and try to help and get to know the people as well.

I reached out for some help on what I should make for Haiti. Might as well go to the people that have actually been there, right? They agreed on three things: fried plantain, rice and beans, and Poulet Aux Noix (Chicken with Cashew Nuts). They also agreed they hadn't ever actually seen them served with cashews, probably because of cost.

With their approval I went with this version of the recipe, excluding the cashews. I also got some plantains to fry, but skipped the rice and beans so as to head off unnecessary stress. We've done those a few times.
Washing a chicken with a lime was different but kinda made sense to me. I don't know how much flavor it imparted, but it can't hurt, right?

This recipe had my least favorite thing: estimating. It told me the spices in a blend, but not the proportions. I just had to make it up. I had some fresh thyme and parsley growing on the deck so those made up some good volume, but from there used random amounts of everything else to make up the difference. Four tablespoons is a lot.

That marinated for a while and then got cooked in a Dutch oven - no liquid or anything added. After that, I removed everything from the pan, cooked some tomato paste for a bit, then put the chicken back in. It seemed like a bit more back and forth than was strictly necessary.

This tomato paste is great for when you just need a small amount!
 From there I added everything else, including the optional hot pepper straight from the garden!

Overabundant serrano plant for the win!

While that finished cooking, Brendan helped me slice the plantains and then sprinkle them with cinnamon. We (well, technically me) then fried them in some coconut oil.

 Once the chicken was cooked, I served it over some brown rice and let everyone dig in!

Kevin: "Cook this again!" Yeah, it was really delicious. The chicken was moist and tasty and just good overall. And I even think I could modify the recipe a little bit to reduce some of the back and forth to make it a more weeknight-friendly dish.

The girls really liked the plantains. I liked plantains when I was in the Caribbean but have never found that magic here. I don't know if it is the cooking techniques or the freshness of the produce, but it just hasn't been the same.

Well this has certainly increased my desire to go to Haiti. Yum!

Next time: Honduras

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Guyana is a country in Northern South America between Suriname and Venezuela - one of the smaller ones on the top right corner on the map that people seem to have a hard time remembering.  It is slightly smaller than Idaho.  It has been both a Dutch and British colony.  Three quarters of the population are Afro-Guyanese or Indo-Guyanese.  A lot of indentured laborers came over from India and made a huge cultural and ethnic impact.  Read more in the CIA World Factbook.

This Indian influence explains the recipe that stood out to me when I was looking through lots of lists: Chicken Curry.  Yes, a curry recipe that claims to be authentically Guyanese.  This I had to try.

The recipe didn't specifically say you had to start with a full chicken, just "3 lb chicken cut up into small pieces."  I decided I had to do this, though.  Despite the fact I've done it a lot, I still don't enjoy it.  I was also highly disappointed at the yield.  I always read that it is more frugal to buy whole chickens, but this one had so little usable meat on it.  I may have to rethink future purchases.

How you entertain the youth - the pots and pans cabinet.
10.3 oz!
A little disheartening, but the show must go on.

I took "grind garlic, one onion, and pepper" to mean that I could puree them in a food processor.  This then gets fried in a pan with some spices.

Garam Masala is a delicious mixture of spices that I use a lot in an Indian recipe I plan on doing for Everyday International soon.  I used to have a version from a local spice shop, and that one was a bit spicier than this one.  This is a bit sweeter - more cardamom and cinnamon perhaps.
The rest from here is fairly straight forward.  Add the meat and some chopped potatoes and cook.  Then add water and more onion and cook some more.  Voila!  Or whatever they say in Guyana.  The official language is English, so "Yay?"

Okay, anyway, time to eat!

Emily?  I really need to start labeling these right after they happen.
The food was alright.  That's really all that sticks out in my mind to say.  For having curry powder and garam masala it didn't have a big flavor impact.  I think I would have preferred the slightly spicier garam masala to the sweet one.  Maybe that would have packed more of a punch.

And with that we have made it through the G's!  Let's stay in the same region for another adventure.  Just a little north for...

Next time: Haiti

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Everyday Italy: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Kevin and I went to Italy in 2009.  More about that when I actually get to Italy in my regular country cooking.  While we were there we had lots and lots of good food.  Amazing food.  One thing that I particularly remembered was Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Fast forward to our first Valentines Day as a married couple and I wanted to make something delicious.  I looked through my favorite cookbook and found a recipe one for that same Italian dish.  Boom.  Decision made.  It was really good and became a regular item on the menu. (Unfortunately the chocolate cake that Kevin made on that Valentine's Day got knocked off of the counter by the cat.)
I highly recommend this cookbook!
Before each recipe it has a long description of what the recipe is and how they came to this version.  They try a lot of different things and then taste test them all.  I kinda want that job.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is basically spaghetti noodles in a bacon, cheese, and egg sauce.  The process is really what I find cool.
First fry the bacon then cook it in some wine.  This version uses white, but apparently there is some debate as to what is the most authentic.
While cooking the noodles, mix the cheeses, eggs, and some garlic.  You don't cook this mixture at all.  Once the noodles are done, you mix this in as soon as they are drained.  The heat from the noodles cooks the egg enough to eat.
It is really really delicious.  I have always liked my noodles drenched in a red sauce, so this was a delightful and exciting change.

The first time I made it I found it difficult to get everything timed correctly, which is important in this recipe.  The noodles need to be hot at the right time!  It definitely gets easier over time and I have got the whole thing down to about 20 minutes now.  A nice yet fancy weeknight meal.  Totally doable international food.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Everyday International

Writing a post about "authentic" recipes and cooking is a lot harder than I thought it would be.  There is a lot of research and ingredient sourcing fairly complicated recipes.  If you can understand the instructions in the first place.

Don't worry, I'm not planning on stopping.  I have multiple posts in progress, and Hungary on the menu plan.

It is just that cooking internationally-inspired food does not have to be this hard.  We have lots of dinners that are influenced by international cuisine and we love it.  I'm going to have some posts of these Everyday International foods to both encourage myself and hopefully give you some easier ways to join in the fun.

These will be a lot less vetted than other things.  I make no claims about authenticity, just about taste and process.

Italy, India, and Mexico will probably be some of the first countries we visit though this, but not the last.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Guinea-Bissau is a small West African country bordering Guinea and Senegal.  There has been a lot of unrest since they gained independence from Portugal in 1974.  Their conveniently-named capital is Bissau.  Read more in the CIA World Factbook.

We're catching up to life a little bit here, although this was still about four months ago.  I cannot for the life of me find the original recipe I used.  I did Bolo a Moda da Guine Bissau - basically, Cake in the Style of Guinea-Bissau.  This one is fairly close, but not exactly what I followed.

Oh well, we press on anyway.

This looks simple.  A five ingredient cake.  I can do this without anything special from the store!  Butter, flour, sugar, eggs, and milk.  Let's do this!

Did I not soften the butter ahead of time?  Was I supposed to?  The world may never know.

Brendan spent some time as photographer.  I apologize.
Add some flour and milk and we're done.  I seem to remember that there wasn't an exact measure for the milk, just "enough to make it like a batter."  My least favorite kind of direction.  I think I waffled a lot on whether it needed more or not.
More milk?
Looks like I added some.
All whipped and fluffy and how can this not be good?
Air bubbles.  There were supposed to be air bubbles in it.  Out of the oven it looked very encouraging.
Then, not-so-much.

Whomp whomp.
Yeah, the whole thing fell.  It almost halved itself and pulled away from the side of the pan and lost all fluffiness.
It used to be to the top of the crust-ridge.
It basically tasted like the end result looked.  Dense and spongy and almost not-fully-cooked.  Not very good.  We never ate more than one piece a person.  Maybe if I had used the recipe I found this time?  I'm not sure if my amount of milk made a difference, but I would guess it is very possible.  Does too much milk make it more likely to fall?

Our tour de Guineas is complete and we head off to another hemisphere for a while.  Pack some warm weather clothes.

Next time: Haiti