Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Algeria

(Originally posted here.)

No last minute runs to Whole Foods this time.  Hah!  I win!

Algeria

Gained independence from France in 1962.
Borders the Mediterranean Sea.
11th biggest country for land area, second largest in Africa.
Only 3.17% of their land is arable and .28% is permanent crops.
34.5 million in population.
99% Sunni Muslim
There are 90,000 refugees from Western Sahara in Algeria.
Cuisine: Fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences.
National Dish: Couscous

Sources: CIA Factbook and Algeria.com

I was really hoping that my international cookbook would have a recipe for Algeria, since it has "Northern Africa" as an area for recipes.  Nothing there, though.  I'll let you know how the cookbook works when I can use it.

Instead, I decided that wanted to make something with couscous since that was the Algerian national dish.  So I started looking.  I ran into some of the same problems as last time: I would find the exact same recipe, with the same misspellings, on multiple websites.  In the end, I decided to combine two recipes.  Crazy, isn't it?

This was the recipe I found multiple places, so it has to be authentic, right?
Algerian Chicken Couscous

But I liked the sound of this couscous better.  The other one was just plain, where this one had extra flavor:
http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-chicken-couscous

Aunt Bonnie, thank you for your help, but I had already picked this out by the time you sent your research.

I wasn't sure whether they would work together, but I thought it was worth a try.  Hopefully I am not ruining the national dish of Algeria or anything.

Kevin and I went shopping to the commisary to get the food.  There are benefits to marrying a man in the Navy.  :-)  Not a lot of couscous choices, though...

This dish called for a lot of produce, which certainly makes for a lot of color.
The yellow pepper was not harmed in the making of this dish.
It was also cool because the dish called for a turnip, which I have never worked with before.  I had to look up how to chop it.  Other things I have become a pro at, however.
Best way to cut an onion for sure.
Our red pepper had a green one growing inside!
I have become really good at chopping garlic too.  One, because it is my favorite seasoning.  Two, because I have a garlic press.  I highly recommend them.  Thank you Patrick Michael Truskowski for the Christmas gift from last year.  :-)
Peel the cloves...
...put them in the press...
...and viola!
I did most of this prep work ahead of time, which is good, because there was a lot of chopping involved.  It meant I didn't have to worry about other things simultaneously.
They may have chosen the veggies in this recipe based on color...
Now for this week's edition of "what was Kevin doing?"
Can't you tell?
He is simultaneously playing with the cat and watching the Broncos game.  Multitalented?  Yes, this also means we got a kitten.  His name is Tesla!
Too cute for his own good.
Anyway, back to the cooking.  Next step: spices!  There was cumin in this, which I like. It always reminds me of Indian food.  The spices combined smelled really good.
Fun with colors.
In Grenada, one of the spices we got was nutmeg.  But not traditional...we got whole nutmegs.  I got/had to shave it myself.  It ended in me wearing a bandaid for a while...

Hopefully no blood around?
Time to start putting stuff together and making the kitchen smell AMAZING.
Cinnamon and garlic make onions much better.

Celery is green!
Once more with chicken.
What about the couscous?  Well, there was a small problem.  How was I supposed to measure that amount of raisins?  I don't have a scale.  This Kevin had an epiphany.  "That's about the size of one shot glass!"  So that's what we did.
No really, we did.
Thanks for the shot glass, Laura!
With just the right amount of raisins!
Table set, complete with wine and Christmas place settings.
It soaked up some of the liquid as it set.

This meal looked and smelled amazing as we set the table.  And you know what?  Unlike last week, we weren't disappointed!  There was a lot of flavor and it was a nice one pot meal.  There was a bit too much cinnamon, probably because I combined two recipes which both had cinnamon in them.  Also, I would recommend cutting the zucchini smaller...it is too easy to eat around it this way.  And finally, don't have it with a flavorful wine...way too much.

Overall however, it was very good.  It made good leftovers too.  The chicken was very tender and you certainly couldn't say that it was bland.

Now on leftovers...

Obviously, most of this food makes a large number of servings.  We would like people to come eat this stuff with us.  If anyone is ever in the DC area and would like to partake in our culinary journey around the world, let me know.  We would love to have you.  I just need to know sufficiently ahead of time to start planning...

One more picture to leave you with...
Tesla in a beer box!
Last time - > Albania
Up next - > Andorra

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Albania

(Originally posted here.)

Another post, another last minute run to Whole Foods.  This time it was for mint.  *Sigh*  Amy, maybe you should come visit me and I can send you to Whole Foods and you can be happy it is so close!

Kevin and I have a leftover problem in this house.  When we woke up this Saturday, we had two servings of beef stew, veal, almost an entire pot of chili, and multiple servings of chop suey.  This is fairly commonplace.  Therefore, I decided to make this Monday (last week, the 15th) so that we could eat leftovers on Sunday.  The holidays are going to screw with my schedule even more...

More on leftovers next time.

Anyway, onto some facts:

Albania

Size: Slightly smaller than Maryland
Population: About 3 million (2010 estimate)
Religion: Estimated to be about 70% Muslim, but all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and not allowed to reopen until 1990.
Cuisine: Heavily influenced by Greece, Turkey, and Italy

Sources: CIA Factbook, Wikipedia

This time, I wanted to make sure that the recipe was at least most likely authentic.  What I decided to do was cross-reference multiple sites.  If multiple places told me it was an Albanian recipe, that had to be true, correct?  Through multiple searches, I came up with:

http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/Jani_me_Fasul
and
http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/Gjell%C3%AB_me_Arra_t%C3%AB_Ellit

Both were on multiple websites.  The soup sounded like something I wouldn't normally have, and veal is always good, right?  Plus someone in the house doesn't like lima beans, otherwise I would have made that recipe...

The bean soup was going to take a while, so I thought I would start with that.
They get all wrinkly while in water...
There are ALWAYS onions, even though we don't like them...

Something just didn't seem right with all of this stuff, but I just followed the recipe.  It was now time to start the veal.
Veal and white beans...together at last?
At this point I started getting a little suspicious.  It seemed like there wasn't a lot of liquid in the soup.  So I looked for other versions of the recipe.  You know the one I found on multiple websites?  It was the same everywhere I looked.  That's right, apparently there is one Albanian person supplying this recipe, word for word, multiple places, not-entirely-clear directions and all.  Finally, I found one that varied.  But it called for chicken stock rather than water and seemed a bit easier to understand.  Oh boy.  Too late to turn back now.

Then I got to a direction in the veal I was unsure about.  It may be common in cooking, but I have never had to brown flour before.  Not flour with something, just flour, in a pot.  So I looked for other recipes to make sure I was interpreting it correctly.  Same problem as the previous recipe.  Apparently this Albanian cook gets around.  Except I didn't even find one variation.  I was stuck.  I had to do what I thought they wanted me to.
Flour!  In a pot!  On the stove!
You may be wondering, where was Kevin in all of this?  It was a work day, so for a lot of it he wasn't home.  When he did get there, I had a task for him...
Not-so-great nutcracker + Jumbo walnuts = needing Kevin's help.
He doesn't even like walnuts.  Then he was done.
More MarioKart, of course.
After the flour was browned, I added the butter, and it started smelling really good.  Who knew that those two things alone could create such a delicious aroma?  Add in the other ingredients, and the smell was wonderful.  I was really excited for this.
That looks browned, right?

Someday that table will get cleared...
Yummy smelling
I did end up adding some extra water.
Final verdict?

Not so hot.

The soup was pretty boring.  Maybe I should have added more chili powder.  White beans are pretty bland.  They have the texture of other beans, but no taste.  The soup wasn't offensive, but I would have never chosen to eat it on my own.  We threw out the leftovers.

The first few bites of the veal were good.  But then it got...heavy.  I couldn't not bring myself to eat a full serving.  It may have been the cut of veal.  But I felt like it just sat in my stomach and weighed me down.  I was sorely disappointed.

One reason this took me so long to write is that I wanted to tell you how the leftovers were.  It took me this long to bring myself to eating it again.  Same experience.  The first few bites are good.  Then it gets heavy.  I ate half a serving for lunch yesterday.  That's right, I opted for a hot pocket rather than veal for the other half.  That has got to be a sign of something.

Maybe these dishes are wonderful, and I did something wrong.  Not sure.  But these ones don't come recommended from me.

It still smelled amazing, though.

Previous: Afghanistan
Next: Algeria

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Afghanistan

Afghanistan
Photo courtesy of user Ricymar Fine Art Photography on Flickr
(Originally posted here.)

Let's start with a story...

Last week when I was here, I made Coq Au Vin and it required me to skin chickens legs and thighs.  I vowed never ever again.  Not the most appetizing, nor easiest, thing to do.  So when I found the recipe I was going to make for Afghanistan, I was determined to buy the chicken already skinned.  However, at the store, they didn't have an skinless, bone-in chicken.  I was going to have to break my vow after only one week.

Kevin and I got home and I had asked him to help me with the skinning part.  A few steps into the kitchen and I remembered - I didn't have naan.  Another thing I looked for at the store but they didn't have.  Kevin graciously offered to skin the kitchen while I rode my bike to Whole Foods.  We had just come from was the bike shop, so I had had this bike for less than 30 minutes and was anxious to get to use it.  What a great guy!
How I left Kevin...
So I rode my bike to Whole Foods (about 3 or 4 blocks away) while Kevin worked on the skinning.  It worked out really well.  Of course Whole Foods had the naan!
Yay new bike!
Anyway, story-time is over, onto some facts.

Afghanistan

Capital: Kabul
Official Languages: Dari (Persian) and Pashto
Population (2010 estimate): 28.4 million
National Sport: Buzkashi ("It is similar to polo and played by horsemen in two teams, each trying to grab and hold a goat carcass.")
Food: Generally non-vegetarian, neither too spicy nor hot, heavy Indian influence

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan; http://afghanistan.saarctourism.org/food.html

After looking at a few sites, this is the recipe I decided to go with.  I will write more about how I am going to find recipes in the future, as well as how to at least try to make sure they are authentic, next time.

http://www.afghancooking.net/afghan-cooking-unveiled/2009/12/braised-chicken-in-yogurt.html

Amy: Going to the library is a great idea!  For our wedding, Kevin got me an international cookbook, but (understandably) it doesn't have all of the countries.  I will probably get some from the internet, and some from cookbooks.

With the chicken being skinned, I set off on the rest of it.  Let me tell you, puréeing onion is really weird.
It looks like lumpy cream of wheat or something!
Neither Kevin nor I really likes onion very much, so I used less than the recipe called for.  I was a little worried at first, because it didn't seem to cover the chicken like the recipe said it would.
I apologize...it is hard to take a good picture into the pot...
I was excited that this recipe used tumeric, since we had bought some cool, fresh, spices on our honeymoon.  We went to Grenada, which is known as the "Isle of Spice."  It certainly lived up to its reputation.
Grenada!
Fresh turmeric is very yellow.
Spices are pretty.
All of the spices gave the dish a very distinctive color.
Woo yellow!
In the meantime Kevin helped with the rice and went off to play some Mario Kart.  I definitely think he deserved a break after all of that.  :-)
Rice cookers are AWESOME.
I'm sure he's winning.  He always does.  Not that I'm bitter or anything...
At this point, I think I made my biggest mistake.  I did a packed cup of cilantro.  I think it should have been a loose cup.  There was a lot of cilantro in there, and it seemed to dominate when you looked at it, rather than being sparse.  Oops.
Cilantro galore!
In the end, it made for a nice table, though, especially with the naan.
Adorned nicely with Kevin's milk.
Food!
Overall, it was very good.  It wasn't spicy in terms of hot, but it definitely had a lot of spice in it.  The yogurt made it creamy and the sauce was really good to mix with the rice.

My biggest mistake was definitely the cilantro.  Also, when I bought the chicken, it was the right weight.  However, skinning it probably took off too much weight, and we were left with not-enough chicken.  If you need to skin it, remember it will weigh less afterward.

I was excited for it as leftovers, since spices tend to sink in over night.  However, it was a little disappointing.  It still tasted good, just not better.  The cilantro was even worse...kinda looking like wilted spinach.  We also stored it with the rice, which may have caused some of the problems.  I don't think it was the recipe's fault.

Overall, I would definitely recommend making this, just don't make my mistakes.  It wasn't the best Afghan food I have had, but since I am not an expert Afghan cook, that doesn't surprise me.

Aunt Bonnie: I have seen the movie Julie and Julia, but not read the book.  That is kinda where I got the idea for writing about it, but not doing it in general.  And what kind of food does Tim make?

Next up: Albania
Previous: Around the World in the Hetzel Kitchen