Monday, February 28, 2011

Bahrain

NOTE: There, at a future date, will be some clarifications to the Bahamas.  Not going to be doing that yet, though.  Want to keep you waiting.

Also, if you have problem posting comments, let me know.  If you are on the general blog, you should be able to click on the number of comments and it will bring you to a screen where you can enter more.

Bahrain

Note on history: In 1783, the al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians.
Location: Archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia
Land area: 760 square km, 187th in the world
               3.5 times the size of DC
Irrigated land: 40 sq km
Natural disasters: Drought and dust storms
Population: Over 700,000; 163rd in the world
Adjective: Bahraini
Religion: Over 81% Muslim
Capital: Manama (do dooo do do do...manamana)
US Embassy: The CIA factbook notes that the ambassador from the US lives next door to the Al-Ahli Sports Club
GDP Per Capita: Over $40,000; 19th in the world
Women's Rights: Women were granted the ability to vote in 2002

One of the best parts of this adventure is it makes me more aware of what is going on.  This has been especially apparent with Bahrain.  Before I got here, I was mistaken about where Bahrain was.  I think I was getting is confused with Bangladesh and Burma.  Now I not only know where it is, but I am more likely to read news articles on it.  It brings me a bit closer.

And yes, I tried e-mailing the ambassador, but I think they have some other concerns on their mind.

Most of the searches I did pointed to Machboos as being the national dish of Bahrain, so I decided to try to find a recipe for that.  I wasn't really sure what it was at first, but hey, I'm here to learn, right?

I decided to go with this version after some searching.  It seemed like the most legitimate one I could find, plus it would get me to try some new things I hadn't before.

First of all, the most important tool I had for this recipe:
Yay wedding gifts!
Part of the recipe calls for buharat spice mix, which I had to make.  Since it was going to make WAY more than I needed, I quartered the recipe.  There was a lot of converting.  Speaking of spices, that was the main theme in this recipe.
Cloves.
Cloves after grinding.
Inside a cardamom pod, which I thought would be very difficult to grind.
Up close and personal.
It was not difficult at all!
10 little spices, standing in a line...
It just kept getting prettier and prettier.
Mmmm spicy.
 By now my kitchen was full of wonderful smells.  Now it was time to do that do the chicken.
Marinate!
I used chicken breast, because we already had some.  The recipe did not specify.
There was also some chopping that needed to be done, and I had a lovely assistant.  It was Kevin's birthday, so I promised to not take any pictures of him playing video games.
Pepper that didn't end up being spicy.
I was unable to find black limes.  The person at Whole Food recommended I find an Asian market, but we ran out of time.  I don't know how much of a difference it would make.  Notice the ever-present onions, though.
He knows how to handle his ginger.
Peel!  It didn't really specify how much a slice was, so we kinda had to guess.
Mix it all together and what do you get?
Getting...
...more...
...full.
Have you ever "washed" rice before?  It is kinda weird, and bizarre how much stuff comes off of it.
And to drive the point home, some more pictures of Kevin being helpful.
Notice the flowers he got me for Valentine's Day.
Chopping cilantro.  This is called "coriander leaves" in the recipe.
Then we hit our ambiguity.  It tells you to put the chicken on a pan and grill it until golden brown.  We were thinking broiler pan, but weren't sure.  Luckily MyHungryTum was doing the same recipe, and came to the same conclusion!  It is nice to have someone back you up.
There was one ingredient that I was able to find at Whole Foods that was a bit "strange": Rose Water.  The person helping me knew where it was, though, so I added it to everything else.
Smells like roses.  Really.
Ready to simmer.
 Then there was some waiting.  Due to Kevin's birthday, Tesla was being adorable.
I see you!
And I might try to pounce you soon.
But I must always remain sneaky.
Okay!  We are done!  Rice has simmered, and the chicken has cooked (for not very long).  Let's set the table and taste some spice.
Cooked-on cinnamon.
The rice soaked everything up very nicely.
Nice serving platter, eh?
Ah-mazing.

I really liked it.  I thought it was very flavorful and interesting and different than what I would normally do.  I really liked making rice that way.  It was like eating the rice from a restaurant or something...I didn't think I could do that.

The only problem was that the chicken got very dried out.  I think this would be solved by using bone-in chicken, rather than chicken breasts.

This also made more rice than I have any idea what to do with.  Over a week later, there is still a lot of it left.  It is good as a side, but it will start getting dried out soon.  If you're going to make this, maybe do less rice?  Or more chicken?  Or at least bone-in chicken so there are more pieces?

Bahrain, I salute you and your delicious chicken.  Good leftovers too.  Like the leftover wrapping paper Tesla continued to play in.
Last time: (The) Bahamas
Next time: Bangladesh

Saturday, February 19, 2011

(The) Bahamas

Yes, that's right!  We are into the B's!  I feel like I need to do a retrospective on the A's or something because there were so many.  Definitely won't happen for every letter, unless we really want to think a lot about Qatar.

In no relevant order...

Best recipes!
Austria - Most for the wonderful Erdapfelschmarrn, but also the Wiener Schnitzel
Argentina - Yay empanadas
Algeria - A lot of flavor in the couscous dish
Afghanistan - Tumeric chicken is a good way to start this thing

Not-so-great recipes!
Azerbaijan - Grape leaves and Danielle do not mix.
Antigua and Barbuda - Overcooked.  :-(  Someone has to try this one and tell me how it actually tastes
Angola - Just kinda bland chicken
Albania - Who knew that veal could be that bad?

That's probably not what you came here for, although I would love to hear your opinions if you tried any of these or questions you have.  It is nice to know if people are reading.  :-)

The Bahamas
"Discovery": San Salvador, one of the island of the Bahamas, was where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the New World
Location: Chain of islands southeast of Florida and northeast of Cuba
Size: Less than 14,000 sq km, slightly smaller than Connecticut
Population: Little over 300,000, 177th in the world
Median age: 29.9, which is much younger than most others I have seen, only 5.9% of their population is 65 and older
Adjective: Bahamian
Capital: Nassau
National anthem: "March On, Bahamaland!"
History: Many pro-British loyalists moved to the Bahamas after the Revolutionary War.  Gained independence from Britain in 1973

The Bahamas started out like pretty much any other week.  I looked for recipes.  I picked one out.  However, I was a little worried about the authenticity.  I wasn't sure if I was actually finding recipes from the Bahamas or recipes of things people had eaten there.  Based on the information and repetition of recipes I found a recipe for Chicken Souse.  It is a spicy dish that I thought would be a little bit out of my comfort zone.  Then everything changed.  That requires a story.

Back when I hadn't been living here too long, before I had a job, Kevin recommended I go explore the city while he was at work.  He also recommended that maybe, just maybe, the embassies might be able to help me with this quest.  They were here in DC, right?  Maybe they had some ideas.

One of my adventures brought me near Embassy Row, so I decided to check it out.  It was the week of Angola, where I was having a lot of issues with finding something.  I thought I might as well go for it, and tried e-mailing the Angolan Embassy.  Yes, they have an e-mail address on their website.  An AOL e-mail address.  It came back saying that the inbox was full.  Well harumph.  Maybe I could stop by?

I had no idea how kosher this kind of thing was.  But as I was walking past a lot of them, they had office hours.  Maybe Angola would too?
Embassy of Angola.
A bit utilitarian...
 No luck.  No office hours, and it didn't look too friendly.  So I gave up on the whole thing.  Until this week.  Since I was worried about authenticity, Kevin recommended I once again e-mail the embassy.  I did.  And I didn't hear back.  I bought the ingredients for the other recipe.  Then I got this e-mail:

...Please find below a couple of authentic Bahamian recipes. Peas Soup and Dough is excellent any time of day, although many people eat it for lunch. It is a bit heavy for breakfast, but that's up to you. The other dish, guava duff, is like our national desert. Made properly, it will blow your mind. [The secret is in the sauce. Pay extra careful attention to that!]

Generally, the recipes you find online as "Bahamian" are someone's modification of a Bahamian dish. True Bahamian cuisine is very simple, full of big flavours and easy to prepare. We do NOT use fruit in our savory dishes - that is from the other side of the world. In terms of where to get the ingredients, you can find them in most grocery stores that have a Latin food aisle.

I hope this helps!

Please let me know.

Peas soup and dough
Ingredients:    2 oz. pork fat, 2 oz. onion, 3 oz. flour, 4 oz. tomato paste, 2 oz. diced tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, 10oz. pigeon peas, 8 oz. salt beef, 1 qt. water, salt Tabasco sauce
       Dough: (6oz. flour, water, ½ oz baking powder)

Method     :    Cut the pork into ½ inch dice and fry in the oil until brown.  Add the herbs and flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, add the paste, peas, salt beef and water.  Stir, bring to the boil and skim.
       Simmer for ½ hour, add the dough and continue cooking for 1 hour.  Season to taste.  Note: Canned kidney beans may be used instead of pigeon peas.

       Dough: (Combine the flour, baking powder and sufficient water to make a firm dough.  Knead well.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes, and then roll out and cut into one-inch squares).  (Serves 6)

Guava Duff

Ingredients:    (Dough) 4 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, ½ cup vegetable oil, 2 cups finely sliced guava

Methods:        Combine all dry ingredients and mix together.  Add oil.   Knead approximately 10 minutes until smooth and pliable. Place on a flat
surface and roll out to ¼ in. thick. Spread sliced guava over dough. Roll up into a long round loaf.  Wrap in foil. Cook in a double boiler for 1 hr.


       Sauce
       Ingredients:    1 lb. butter, ½ cup sugar, 2 8oz. tins sweetened condensed
                       milk, 1 cup finely sliced guava, ¼ cup brandy (substitute vanilla
                       extract for brandy)

       Method    :     Blend butter and sugar together approximately 15 minutes.  Add
                       condensed milk and guava and blend 2 minutes.  Add brandy (or
                       vanilla) and blend 1 minute.

                       Cut dough into slices.  Pour sauce over dough.  (Serves 8)

Khyle Quincy Parker
Press/Cultural Attache
Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas...


Holy crap.  Obviously I immediately changed my plans and went back out to the international store.  There was definitely some new stuff in there.

And yes, if you look these up, you can find these exact recipes online.  But I guess that means that that website is authentic.  And that was a lot of thats.

My first hurdle was the pork fat.  I found some pork fat back at the store and thought that was the end of it.  Oh what little did I know.

Yum.
Yay fa...wait, what?
Wait, what is that?  What is up with the other side of my fat?  No big deal, it is just PIGSKIN.  And not the football kind.  I was unaware that this was the full package.  After a bit of freaking out and investigation, I decided I probably had to cut the fat off to make this work.  I would like to point out that nowhere actually said this.  So this automatically got a lot more complicated.  And weird.
Scoring the fat.
Measuring the fat.
The back of the skin, once de-fatted.
Not sure if this was working out as intended.
Mmmm, cooked fat.
Add herbs and flour.
Okay, weird part number one done.  Except, as always, there was some ambiguity.  There were ingredients listed in the ingredients list that weren't then in the instructions.  As such, I had to improvise.  I decided that onions were herbs and tomato paste and diced tomatos were pretty much the same thing.

According to the ever-accurate interwebs, salt beef is called corned beef elsewhere.  So that is what we went with.  No hash though.
While the international grocery store was very good to us, we could not find pigeon peas ANYWHERE.  We decided to give up and go with kidney beans from Harris Teeter, our store of choice.  When walking through the international aisle...
Silly peas.  You were at the wrong store.
At this point, it is time to mix together and cook.
I also had to make the dough, which was really simple and easy to work with.  That is, after I had to keep putting water in.  Then I put too much and had to add flour...


Nice and workable.
When the soup was ready for the dough, I wasn't sure whether I should stir them in or not.  Generally, when doing things like dumplings, the dough stays on top.  So I decided to let them sit there.

There was a dough convention in the pot.
Break time, and time to catch up with Kevin and Tesla.  Except they were doing the exact same thing as last week, so I didn't take any pictures.  Lame, right?

As this boils, it was onto the duff!  I had never worked with guavas before, but was happy to find them at the store.  In cans.  I didn't know that they were stuffed with seeds, and that led to some problems...
Lots and lots of guavas.
They looked real, as if at one point they had actually been on a tree rather than in a lab.
Cut off the ends.
Squish!
Roll it out and cut it up.
Uh-oh.  That is not three cups.
With all of the seed mush, I ended up with a lot less than I had planned.  Guess it wasn't lots and lots of guava...

Then things got frustrating.  If you read the recipe for the dough, it seems like something is missing.  No liquid other than the vegetable oil.  Not enough at all.  I couldn't even get it all to be damp, none-the-less dough-like.  I added more vegetable oil.  And a little bit more.  Things weren't working.  I went and watched Kevin play football for a while because I just didn't know what to do.  Things weren't looking so good.

After the break, I went back and worked it some more.  I eventually got it to resemble dough slightly, but never completely right.  Rolling it out was an interesting adventure.
Stick, kinda grainy mess.
Somehow I got it rolled.
Not very smooth.
Plus guavas.
All rolled up.
The other thing unique about this recipe was that it called for a double boiler.  Which I didn't have.  So a quick run to the Bed, Bath & Beyond in Chinatown after some Smithsonian visits was in order.  But they were all small.  Really small...
That's what fit.
That was all left.
Not much can go in there...
All that is left is to make the sauce, which was supposed to be the most important part.  It had a ridiculous amount of butter in it, which is usually a good sign to me.
Heart attack, anyone?
Whipped.
Plus guava.
The duff was still cooking when the soup got done.  Kevin and I decided to eat the main course and then wait until later for the duff.
There was a bit of a thin film on top because of the lack of stirring.
Kevin and his milk.
Add salt at the end.
Looks much different after being served/stirred.
So how was the soup?  I am...torn.  When I ate it, I had absolutely no problem with it.  I kinda liked the dough.  However, there was something that I didn't find appetizing.  I think it was the texture and how it looked.  Also, I was really disappointed about all of the duff problems I was having, and I think that colored my opinion.  I could see potential in this, but the combination of factors was not working for me.

Time to fast forward to the completed duff.
It is completed, right?
That would be a no.
The duff definitely wasn't done.  It was still "dough."  The only thing I knew to do at this point was look to other recipes.  All of the other ones I found either steamed it or baked it.  I'm beginning to wonder if this recipe meant a steamer, not a double boiler.  I already had one of those!  Not wanting to give up, we decided to try baking the part that didn't fit before.
Here's what ended up coming out of the oven.
Actually baked!
When I asked Kevin what to say about the duff, he said "It was yummy."  I think that is accurate.  It was yummy, although not as mind-blowing as I hoped it would be.  However, with all of the changes and short-cuts we had to make, I'm not that surprised.  I definitely think that steaming would have been better, as baking it made it more crispy.  I think it is something I would order in a restaurant to see how the pros do it.  I bet in the Bahamas it would be amazing.

Overall, I think the Bahamas had some potential, but the directions didn't give enough information to really follow through.

So that is my first adventure with an embassy.  I'm trying it again, although I think my next country has some other things to worry about...

Side note: I don't fully know how Blogger works.  Does it let you know when someone comments after you, so you can see their response?  I'm looking to you, Katie.

Until next time, eat good food!

Oh, and yes, we made Simpsons jokes.

Last time: Azerbaijan
Next time: Bahrain