Sunday, April 24, 2016

Indonesia

Indonesia is an archipelago in Southeast Asia. It is the third most populous democracy in the world and the largest majority-Muslim nation. It is the 15th largest country by area, which makes it less than three times the size of Texas. It consists of over 17,000 islands, about 6000 of which are inhabited. Over 255 million people live there, making it the 5th most populous country in the world. The capital, Jakarta, is located on the island of Java. With over 145 million people, it is the most populous island in the world.

Read more at the CIA World Factbook and, of course, Wikipedia.

I know it has been a long time, but in case you have forgotten, I actually own a Southeast Asian cookbook. I have only gotten to use it once before, for Cambodia, with some great results.


In reviewing entries to try to figure out if I had used the book for more than that I realized that we haven't done many Asia countries recently. That will certainly be changing here soon!

Even with the book, though, it was hard to find a recipe we could do. Not surprisingly, almost everything involved fish. Fish as protein, fish sauce, fish accents. Brendan's allergy made that a no-go, so our options were limited.

We were also having some friends from Church over, so we had to be able to cook for a crowd.


I picked "Extraordinary Beef Satay" and "Indonesian Grilled Chicken." Getting the ingredients was more of an adventure than I had bargained for. I asked Chad, one of our guests, where I should look for ingredients. He suggested an Asian food store about 30 minutes away. I went and found a lot of things I had been looking for for other recipes, but not Indonesian stuff. I didn't find lemongrass, Asian basil, pandanus leaves, sweet soy sauce, red finger-length chilies, OR kaffir limes. I did find bamboo skewers and sesame oil though, so close enough, right? We trekked on with substitutions, but I would not dare say it ended up authentic.


Also, the day we were doing this I realized I was out of brown sugar. I was seeing a friend at the library, so she brought me some. Exchanging powder in baggies in public places? Thanks, Carrie!


This was our marinade for the beef satay. Soy sauce with brown sugar instead of sweet soy sauce. Lemon rind instead of kaffir lime. At least these were both substitutions sanctioned by the book!


That marinated for a few hours while I started the chicken.

I had to make a seasoning paste. I used green chilies instead of red and red onion instead of shallots (I couldn't find any!) Seeing as there were only four total ingredients, we were only 50% on track.


Amelia was on nap strike that day, so Kevin was on get-her-to-sleep duty. He modeled the ideal behavior.


That paste was stir-fried with lemongrass, Asian basil, pandanus leaves, sweet soy sauce, and tomatoes. Out of all of those ingredients, the only one I really had was tomatoes. Ouch.


The book suggested I look for pananus extract, which was nowhere to be found either. The substitution I found online was vanilla plus green food coloring. Seriously. Apparently it has a slightly sweet flavor and a very bright green color.


The chicken got simmered in this not-even-close-to-Indonesian concoction. I didn't have a cover for my wok so I used a pizza pan. I'm sure it was authentic.


It came out looking kinda ghastly green.


Kevin and Chad grilled the beef. I believe it was February but actually warm enough! Jennifer and I watched the kids be kinda weirded out by the green chicken.


Then they also grilled the chicken. Even though it was already cooked through, this dish gets grilled to give it a nice crispy finish.


I somehow didn't get a picture of it, but that white container contained Indonesian fried rice that Chad made. He even found a recipe that didn't involve fish! It came with a few different toppings to go on it.

The beef satay was really really good. The marinade brought out some great flavors in the meat. It didn't get cooked for a long time, so the sesame oil still had a great flavor and overall the combination was excellent. They cooked it just the right amount of time so that it was still a bit red in the middle too.

The rice was good too. Definitely different than Chinese fried rice. It seemed maybe a little more dry and crunchy? But rice mixed with veggies and flavors is generally a hit.

The green chicken was...fine. For all of the work with preparing the marinade, it didn't really have a lot of flavor. Seeing as over half of the ingredients were substituted, though, I don't think I can really blame the recipe. It wasn't bad, just not that exciting. Our kids ate it, but Jennifer and Chad's are slightly older and didn't really feel comfortable eating green chicken.

We liked the cooking method though. Having it already cooked and then grilling the skin gave it a nice crisp without drying it out. That is definitely a tip I could take away from this.

So Indonesia was a mixed bad in no small part because I couldn't find the right ingredients. Maybe next time I'll try a different Asian grocery store. Also, I'm not sure we could ever travel to somewhere like Indonesia with Brendan's allergy. Yikes.

Next time: Iran

Friday, April 1, 2016

India the Third

For India the Third we mix things up a bit. This is a Northern India recipe that comes to me via my former boss in Virginia. She's actually from Pittsburgh, but we will still take her word on authentic Indian cuisine. :-)
We may have gotten a little excited about Christmas and I have relatively few pictures of just Joey...
Not only that, but we were in Colorado! Nothing better than trying out a new curry recipe on the in-laws, right?
Kevin prepped by sharpening some knives.
First note: make sure you actually use a Dutch oven, or something that is intended to go on the stove top, not actually in the oven. It is very important.

Anyway! Cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks? Not the way I'm used to starting a heavily-spiced dish, so let's try it! And of course onions. Always onions.


I read in one of the comments to mix the chicken and yogurt and some spices ahead of time to enhance the flavor, but I can't find it for the life of me now. That's what I did though.


The girls enjoyed a snack while mama had to make dinner instead of entertaining them. So unreasonable!

The nephew did not approve of my chopping technique.


I used a little mini food-processor/spice grinder instead of a mortar and pestle. The next few parts all went pretty fast and furious, so there aren't many pictures. I caught up again when the chicken/yogurt mixture got added to the onions, tomato paste, and spices.


Then that just cooks for a while! There's really not a ton to it, just a lot a lot a lot of chopping.


Serve over rice or naan!
This was pretty good. Definitely not what I have come to expect from a curry. More sweet than spicy. Now, I did not add the extra cayenne pepper because I was worried about the spiciness of the fresh peppers. However, those didn't end up having much of a kick, so that toned it down a lot. I think a little bit of extra spice would really up the complexity.

We're a pretty spice-happy family, so I think that is what I would change if I were to cook it again. More spice, less sweet. But it was certainly a nice change of pace and pretty yummy, especially if you don't like spicy but want to try some curry.

And then our India adventure comes to an end. It was fun, but we have to move on if we are going to actually make any progress.

Next time: Indonesia

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

India the Second

This is another recipe from Sadie, and therefore from the Kerala region. We went the vegetarian route this time and picked Aloo Gobi, a cauliflower dish. According to the description this food is in Bend it Like Beckham? I don't remember that particular scene but I now have some high school religion class memories coming back...


It said to cut the cauliflower into eighths, which still made some pretty big chunks. Eight of them, in fact. I think this part may have either been lost in translation or I had an abnormally large head of cauliflower.

I also apparently didn't take pictures during the process? As always, it started by sauteeing some onions. Then more coriander (but really cilantro), turmeric, and other spices. Seeing any similarities from last time?

There were also potatoes in addition to the cauliflower to get coated in the curry sauce. It called for Garam Masala as well and more cilantro added at the end. I'm seeing lots of trends.

Completed dish: very colorful.


The pieces of cauliflower that ended up breaking apart and therefore actually getting spices all over them were really yummy. That part worked really well. But the giant eighth-of-a-head ones? Not so much. Most of it was just plain cauliflower and not even perfectly cooked or anything.

The girls loved it though.

Emily likes eating Indian food and markers.
Amelia says cheeeeeeeeese.
I think this recipe is worth trying, just cut up your cauliflower more thoroughly. It had a decent kick but wasn't overwhelming by any stretch. A little bit closer to Indian food I have had here in the states, but still different enough to make it a good thing to try.

One more stop in India before I made myself move on!

Next time: India the Third

Saturday, February 13, 2016

India

Colorful Fishing Trawlers
Picture from the state of Kerala, India courtesy of user Thangaraj Kumaravel on Flickr.

India has an incredibly long and rich history which I could not do justice in this blog. Suffice to say there are a lot of influences in India and it influences the world. It is in Southern Asia and is the seventh biggest country in the world. It is slightly more than a third the size of the US. The World Factbook lists at least 13 spoken languages. It has the second highest population in the world at over 1.2 billion. Read more!

India is a country I've been looking forward to since starting this journey. I had some grand plans. Different recipes from different parts of the country! Sharing food with friends! Finding some amazing curries!

I got some of this done. I did multiple Indian recipes, but not necessarily from widely varying areas. Instead I asked some people I know that either lived in India for a while or had Indian ties to send me some recipes and I tries some of those. I would love to do more later but I eventually realized I had to move on or I would never get past it. So these definitely aren't representative of the whole country, but it's a start.

First up was Chicken Biryani suggested by my friend Sadie. She said she ate this in Kerala, a southern Indian state on the coast.
Rice from India. Good start.
Right from the start I didn't have curry paste. I had curry powder. I added water to it. Correct? I don't really know.

Also, cooking with kids is sometimes a bit difficult. The solution is to strap them to you!


Anyway, this recipe had a fairly standard beginning. Fry some onion and spices in butter. Was this the first thing people learned how to cook? Because it seriously seems to be global.


Okay! Turmeric, chicken, and curry paste as a go. This one really ended up being pretty easy.


Sadie sent me a recipe for homemade bread, but we just used some naan from Costco. This stuff is seriously amazing.


I got a little worried when it wanted me to add the rice and raisins but then only cook for five minutes plus ten minutes of sitting off of the heat. What kind of rice cooks that quickly?

Apparently basmati. Other recipes we found had similar cooking times. Amazing! I still have some leftover from that bag, but I'll have to see when I need some more quick rice.

This time I realized that coriander meant cilantro and actually put in the right stuff.


We ignored the almonds because I wanted Kevin to eat it.


Everyone liked this one. The girls devoured it. Definitely a nice solid dish. It wasn't what I would generally consider "Indian" but again that is like saying jambalaya isn't American because all you've had are burgers. A little bit sweeter than I was used to and a little bit less saucy. There wasn't much that was spicy in there and there was no yogurt, so that accounts for a lot of it.

Pretty solid start to India. We're not done!

Next time: India the Second

Friday, February 5, 2016

Iceland

iceland
Photo of the Aurora in Iceland courtesy of Flickr user Moyan Brenn via Creative Commons
Iceland is an island in Northern Europe, northwest of the UK. It has been fully independent since 1944, and also had three hundred years of independence starting in the 900's. It is about the same size as Kentucky and has a population of over 300,000. It has very high literacy, longevity, and social cohesion. Read more at the CIA World Factbook.

I knew that Iceland was going to be difficult. An island nation does not mesh well with a fish allergy. When I saw that fermented shark, Hakarl, was the national dish it was off to a bad start. They traditionally made use of all parts of an animal, so I found a number of references to Svio, or boiled lambs head. I had to go in a different direction.

After some searching, I found an Icelandic Asparagus Ham Bake. It seemed kinda like making a frittata which was familiar enough but definitely had some new stuff going on too. It claims to be very popular in Iceland.

I used fresh asparagus instead of canned, so I didn't have any of those "juices" to add to the torn bread pieces. I'm not even sure I knew I could get canned asparagus.


I used my normal Costco wheat bread and the liquid from the mushrooms to create a mush. This was definitely something new. The eggs just made it more gooey.


Next was the cream cheese, mayo, ham, and veggies. I think around now I decided it most definitely wasn't a frittata. The eggs were not the main deal here. Also the asparagus didn't break up a ton, probably because they were fresh instead of canned. I did what I could.


After being topped with cheese and baked, this is how it came out. Hmm, back to the frittata estimation again? At least it doesn't look unappetizing!


No, starfruit is not a traditional Icelandic fruit. However, we have been letting Brendan pick out a new fruit or vegetable when we go to the store so we can all expand our palettes, hoping that if he picks it out he will be more likely to try it. That particular experiment has mixed results.

This "experiment" into Icelandic cooking, however, was not so great. The texture was bizarre. Soggy bread plus cream cheese really just didn't meld too well here. It wasn't inedible, but the leftovers got ignored. And ignored. In fact, none of it seemed to go well. Maybe canned asparagus is the secret? If so, that is not what I would have expected.

Everyone loved the starfruit though. That was a good choice, Brendan!

Next time: The saga of India begins.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hungary

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dennis Jarvis via Creative Commons
Hungary is a Central European country about the same size as Indiana. It is landlocked and the capital is Budapest. For more information, see the CIA World Factbook.

I knew what I wanted to do for Hungary before I ever got there. Goulash. I remember loving it when my grade school served that for hot lunch (although, in retrospect, it was probably "American Goulash.") My in-laws mentioned it when they visited Hungary. The World Factbook even calls their liberalizing their economy "Goulash Communism." There really was no choice here.

Best yet, my in-laws brought some paprika back from Hungary for me, so when the recipe called for Hungarian paprika I could definitively check it off the list.
And in Hungarian!
Somehow when I put this recipe into my meal planner (Plan To Eat...if you're interested, let me know!) it doubled the recipe, so I double-bought a lot of things. Like parsnips. Which is a fairly new vegetable for me.

Brendan helped by chopping these babies up. He just has a butter knife, but it worked quite well. He thinks it is pretty fun. My plan is to have him not have some of the normal "bachelor cooking problems" a lot of people have when they leave home. Chopping parsnips at 3 has to help, right?


Cooking the recipe was relatively straight-forward. Onion and paprika, then meat, then start adding some flavor.

It said, however, that it wanted the meat to turn white. I'm not sure what was up with that. Mine didn't. It was brown. Like beef normally does.



It had my favorite kind of instructions: vague. "You’ll probably have to add some more (2-3 cups) water too." And what is a celery leaf?

I did have a fresh green pepper from the garden. Yay veggies!


I did not make the csipetke noodles (they were optional anyway) but did homemade bread in the bread maker instead.

To give you an idea of how long ago this was, we ate outside.


The goulash was meh. Nothing great. It kinda felt like cooked meat in tomato-water. It didn't really gel together or anything like that. Nothing melded and the broth was really really weak. I don't think we ended up eating all of the leftovers.

I'm sure goulash in Hungary is delicious. Anyone that wants to fund my research on this supposition, I am all ears.

Next time: Iceland