Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Austria

Area: About 83,000 sq km, slightly smaller than Maine
Location: Central Europe, borders 8 countries, and is landlocked
Population: 8.2 million, 92nd in the world
Suffrage: 16, lowered from 18 in 2007
International disputes: A large number of Austrians petitioned the government to try to block the Czech Republic's entry into the EU unless a nuclear power plant near the mutual border was closed
Official language: Germany
Austrian cuisine: Mostly taken from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  According to Wikipedia, they borrow from so many other countries as well that their cuisine is some of the most international in Europe
Some famous Austrians: Wolfgang Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schwazenegger

Lately, I have just been getting my country facts from the CIA Factbook, but I have decided to put some Wikipedia stuff back in.  It gives some more personal and interesting information, and has more freedom to talk on topics that don't fall under the standard CIA headings.  I like to go around these sources and pick out some standard stuff, as well as whatever I find of interest.  That being said, I find the Factbook quite interesting and a very good resource to find quick information about a country.

Anyway, we're here to talk about food, right?  Right!

As I mentioned last time, this was a week where I actually got to use my cookbook!  It not only had a recipe or two from Austria, but an entire "menu" with multiple options.  I didn't have to look long to decide what I would do.  How could I turn down Wiener Schnitzel?  The cookbook recommended that it be paired with Erdapfelschmarrn...aka fried potatoes.  This seemed like a good idea to me.

Similar to last time, I will not give you the full recipe.  I can tell you though that they were very simple.  Schnitzel is essentially breaded meat.  Typically, it is veal.  The recipe said you could substitute other meats, so we decided to use pork.  Flour, egg, bread crumbs.  Fry.  Add lemon slice.

The potato dish was similarly easy.  Boil potatoes.  Fry onions.  Add potatoes to the onion and fry some more.  So with this in mind, we set off on our journey.
Wow, you can actually read some of that better than I intended.
The recipe called for a pound of potatoes, which sounded like a lot, but really wasn't.  It didn't say whether I should skin them or not, so I went for the easier option.
Kitchen scale = awesome.
A little small for boiling potatoes, but that's okay.
A small problem with this recipe was that it didn't tell me how long to boil these.  It said "until just cooked."  How am I supposed to know when they are just cooked?  How long should that take?

While those were boiling, I had to pound the pork.  I quickly switched from my glass cutting board to a fake wooden one.
Pre-switch.
Comparison purposes...before.
And after.
Pile of pounded pork.
With the potatoes still boiling away, I decided to get everything else ready.  The potatoes called for caraway seeds, which really reminded me of rye bread.  I got to use my new mortal and pestle.  Christmas was good to me...and my kitchen.

At least this onion was interesting to look at.
I had a slight problem with the breading.  The instructions said "as needed" for flour and bread crumbs, so I had no idea what ratio to use.  I had to just...guess.
What were the others in the household doing at this time?
NCAA Football
Waking up from a nap in the hidey hole.
After some more waiting, I decided it was time to go for it with the potatoes.  When I cut into them, I began to worry that they were overcooked.
But the more I cooked, the more it looked like it would work.  Also, the skin just fell off.  It was awesome.  And at this point, I could actually start cooking everything.
Onions fried in butter >>> Onions fried in oil
All the ingredients for the potatoes.
Fry, pork, fry!
They have to drain on paper towel afterwards...
None of these steps took very long, and the dishes were complete very quickly.
The lemons add a lot to the look.
The bowl is a little big for this amount.
Served with Spanish wine because it was the closest thing we had to Austria.
In the words of Kevin, "I am very happy with Austria."

The weiner schnitzel was, well, breaded meat.  Not too too exciting, but it was difficult not knowing the ratios for the breading.  It was not bad by any stretch, though.  Filling and a nice entree.

The potatoes were amazing.  They were buttery and delicious.  The onions were kinda like bay leaves...they give flavor and get out of the way, which is exactly how I like them.  Kevin said he wouldn't have even guessed there were onions in this.  We separately decided that we wanted this into our regular rotation of food.  This may top the cake.  We think, overall, Austria is the best we have done so far.  Mostly riding on these potatoes, and the fact that the weiner schnitzel was as it should be.

And with that, I am caught up!  I haven't cooked next week's yet, so I'm not falling behind anymore.  This is exciting.  Now I just have to try to find some exotic ingredients...

Katie, those cookie cutters sound awesome.  Did you know you can also get some that are like beakers?  You could have a science party!

People, come visit so that I don't have to only cook for us!

Last time: Australia
Next time: Azerbaijan

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australia

Size: Almost 8 million sq km - 6th biggest in the world
        Slightly smaller than the contiguous 48 states
Exports: World's largest exporter of coal
Population: 21.5 million - 54th biggest in the world
Capital: Contrary to popular belief, it is Canberra
Australian cuisine: Very global - not necessarily a defining style

Really, I have read Bill Bryson's book "In a Sunburned Country."  What else did I need?  Plus, Ryan studied abroad in Australia, so I just asked him for advice.  It all boiled down to one word: kangaroo.  He recommended I find some.  And make it rare...apparently overcooked kangaroo is not very good.  To make it even more appealing, Kevin ate some in France before and said it was very good.

So I looked.  And I found.

However, that is super-expensive.  Like whoa.  As much as I would like to do that, it seemed a bit ridiculous.  Plus, kangaroo isn't even the national dish of Australia, so it's not like I'm ignoring their biggest food.

Back to the drawing board.

Almost everywhere I looked there was mention of meat pie.  There is even a large dispute with whether Australia or New Zealand invented it as they eat it today.  It seems to get quite heated.  Anything that could cause that much argument about who did it first seems worth trying.

I wanted to find an authentic, but there were sooo many recipes it was hard.  Luckily, many of them were incredibly similar, so I didn't mind grabbing one from a site where anyone can post a recipe.  This is the one I decided to go for Australian Meat Pie.

I particularly liked that there were comments from people who said they made it for natives.  Plus, it didn't seem too hard.

Let me digress briefly into being a fashion blog.  I promise, it will be okay.

Passingly, I asked Kevin for an apron for Christmas and then forgot about it.  In the meantime, apparently he was scouring Grand Rapids for one.  And not just any apron.  One that I would really like.  One that we could really get behind.  This is what he found:
Yoda, Storm Trooper, Darth, and Boba.
I would say that he succeeded.  :-)
Back to food!

Really, the recipe isn't hard at all.  First chop on onion (because every recipe we make seems to start that way), then brown it with some ground beef.  Protip: defrost the meat more thoroughly next time.
This part took forever.
In the meantime, other than being able to watch paint dry with that amount of time, I also mixed together the other stuff.  It doesn't look very appetizing.
But, eventually, the meat and the onions were cooked.  Another protip: take out the puff pastry when you start so it can thaw...that may have extended our cooking time a bit.

Frozen puff pastry.
Gravy goo!
Meat plus stuff!
Kevin wanted me to take a picture of him to prove that he wasn't playing video games.  He was working on Quicken so our finances were right.  It is also time for a Tesla intermission.
You can't see the screen, so in theory it could still be a game.
We got him a palace for Christmas!
Now that everything is defrosted, it is time to put it together and make a pie.  Also, this has taken quite a while, so we need an appetizer.  In a very non-Australian move, we do some fruit salad.

There was a lot more space in this than was filled.
Apples, blueberries, blackberries, bananas.
After that, it is just bake and wait.  Because we haven't done enough waiting yet...

A while later...

And then later...
Voila!
Heavy egg wash in that part.
Served with carrots, orange peppers, and Yuengling.



Overall, I thought it was good.  It had a nice amount of flavor and was quite filling.  I think we could each only eat one piece with dinner.  I really liked the puff pastry.  I kinda want to use it more...

It was not exactly...healthy...though.  It kinda sits in your stomach.  As long as you don't have too much, it is okay.

It makes for good leftovers too.  Plus, I got to get a pie plate.  That's not bad, right?  This is another one that I think other people may want to try.

I get to use my cookbook for next time, so it should be pretty exciting.  :-)

Last time: Armenia
Next time: Austria

Monday, January 17, 2011

Armenia

Sorry to those of you who are subscribing to this and got e-mails about a bunch of posts you have already read.  I moved over all of the old ones, so hopefully that should be the only time that happens.

Armenia

Armenia prides itself on being the first formally Christian nation.
Location: East of Turkey
Bordering Countries: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia
Total Area: 29,000 sq miles, slightly smaller than Maryland
Population: Almost 3 million
Net migration rate: -4.16/1000 population
Military: Has occupied 16% of Azerbaijan since the early '90's.
             6.5% of their GDP is spent on the military, which is 8th in the world.
Cuisine: Often relies on freshness rather than spices for flavor.

After the holidays, Sarah-Anne came back to DC with us to spend a few days.  On the day she was scheduled to leave, Ryan, one of my roommates from Madison, was coming up from North Carolina to visit.  Also, my friend Amanda from Madison was going to be in town.  Clearly, scheduling this dinner was going to be interesting.  Things with Sarah-Anne got too busy, so it didn't happen then.  Luckily, the food was part of the reason I was able to get the others over, though, so that was easy.

Armenia wasn't the hardest country to get a recipe for, but it also was no Argentina.  After some fairly extensive internet searching, I found this recipe.  It is often considered the national dish of Armenia.

While looking for this, I also came across a bread recipe that seemed authentic and not too hard.

But there was an ingredient I wasn't really sure how to get: whole wheat kernels.  After searches at a few local grocery stores, I did something I knew would happen eventually: I looked for an international grocery store.  So after a few months, and with Ryan in tow, I went on my first true multi-country experience.

Why did I not do this earlier?

I even found palm oil, which would have let me make a more authentic recipe for Angola.  Maybe even go back to that recipe at some point.  That store made me super-happy.

On to cooking!

The most noteworthy part of this recipe is how long it takes.  I started long before Amanda was supposed to get there.

For the chicken, I just used whatever I already had in my freezer, and it worked out pretty well.
Nice kitchen scale from my parents I got for Christmas.  :-)
Big pots are good things.
Really, it was very simple, first you boil, then you take out the floaties.
After all of the boiling.
This collander has legs, so you can stand it up on a bowl.  This was good for catching the rest of the water.
Yum...floaties.
I have a food processer, but I decided that I wanted the shredded chicken to be authentic.  As the comments on the blog where I got the recipe...make it taste better with elbow grease.  It honestly wasn't too hard...just the chicken was very hot.
Can't you see the hard work in there?
After that, there's not really much for a while.  Add wheat, boil for four hours.
In case you were wondering, here are the whole wheat kernels.

And then you...wait?  In this case we played some Pandemic, a board game I like a lot.  We also had snacks.
Upper left = Ryan's idea.
Fast forward a few hours.  The board has beaten us in Pandemic a few times, and we have moved onto social Trivial Pursuit.  It is time to start the bread.
I've started to use unbleached flour, which may explain why it isn't as blindingly white as expected.

Brought back some pizza memories...
This was much easier than the empanada dough.  I still recruited some help, however.

Part two in the "Manly Men Roll Dough" series.
Fold and roll.  Fold and roll.
With the bread in the oven, it was time for the last steps of the main dish.  For all of the work they mentioned this part being, I didn't think it was bad at all.
I like that the cinnamon roll made it into another picture.
Stirred and blended.
And time for the bread!  Timing was very essential when making these two dishes.  Also, preventing the cat from running across the kitchen island.
The missing corner?  There would have been cat-prints...
The egg wash made it shiny.
Time to do the final table setting, this time for four.
Still Christmas at this point.
We had some cheese left from our cheese board.
Kevin making quite the face.
Yes, our stockings are held on with blue painters tape...
Now the important part.  How was it?

I really liked it.  Without any spices added, it was a blank canvas.  Not bad, but not too much going on.  But you add paprika and garlic and cumin and butter...and you can pretty much make whatever you want.  I think you could try it with a bunch of different things.

I felt the same about the bread.  I really liked it a lot, and I feel like adding some garlic after the egg wash could make something great.  I only made two of the sheets, and I have the rest in the freezer.  Hopefully they keep, and I get a chance to try them out soon.

This also worked as leftovers.  It was quite fun to bring bottles of spices to work; both Kevin and I did it.  And we ate all of the leftovers.

I would encourage anyone feeling adventerous to go for it.  You can try your own combination of spices and see how it turns out.  And it really isn't hard to make.  You just need the time.

Now the question I have: what do I do with the rest of the whole wheat kernels I have?

I leave you with a picture from later in the week, since there weren't any Tesla pictures from that day.  This is from when we took down the Christmas tree so he wouldn't break any more ornaments.

Tesla says no!  The rest of these branches stay, or I go too!
Feel free to leave comments and subscribe!

Last time: Argentina
Next time: Australia