Saturday, March 26, 2011

Belgium, The Sequel

You didn't really think I could do Belgium without waffles, did you?  The website I linked to last time had a recipe, and we have a waffle maker.  Perfect combination!

For once, I had all of the ingredients the recipe called for.  At least when I halved it, which, can you believe it, is what I did.  I had even recently acquired a flour sifter via Kohl's cash.  Perfectly situated.

Originally the plan was to do this all in one day, but later decided that the waffles would be better as brunch the next day.  Mostly, you mix a lot of things.  I got smart and actually used an electric mixer for this one.  See?  I learn from my mistakes.  Sometimes.
My egg separating skills have improved dramatically.
Look at those peaks!
Shiney new sifter.  Now someone has to tell me how to clean these things after the fact.
I tried to get a picture of sifting in action, but it was too blurry.
After that it is really just "make in waffle maker."  While that was happening, I also made some whipped cream with the cream leftover from the mousse + sugar.

Look at me getting all of this use out of my mixer!
But, as almost always, some things went awry.  Horribly horribly awry.  Our waffle maker is supposed to beep when it is done, but it never does.  And sometimes the waffles turn out great, other times not-so-much.  I bet you can guess what this one did.
Does not look very appetizing.
Other side of the multiple personality waffle.
For the second one I put in more batter because I was worried that that was the problem.  Same thing.  Then there wasn't much left over.
Mini-waffle!
Set the table!  Oh wait, it is full of ROCKET.  Nevermind, then.  Set the coffee table!
Have you ever seen such a beautiful stack of waffles?
FYI, that really is sunlight coming in.  So exciting.
The waffles really weren't as bad as they look, but they weren't what you want out of a Belgian waffle either.  I blame this one completely on my waffle maker.  For once, I'm not convinced that I screwed it up.  Although it is possible.

Thanks for the advice that people have given me, especially surrounding the Bangladesh post.  I like that suggestion of how to peel a tomato, Sylvie, plus pointing out the chicken difference.  I like learning things I can take into my "normal" cooking.  I also got an e-mail saying that I should drain the pot if I make chicken with the skin on.  Makes a lot of sense, and will be taken into account next time.  I wanted to call these things out so that other people can learn from them as well.

In response to Amy on The Bahamas, I considered finagling a double-boiler out of what I had, but that would just give me one more thing to blame if things went wrong.  I don't do too well with uncertainty, in case you can't tell.  And as for the first Belgium post, can I hire you to come whip my egg whites for me (if you know what I mean)?  And I think you may be right about the duck fat.

Thanks, all, for reading!

Last time: Belgium
Next time: Belize

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Belgium

Location: Western Europe between France and the Netherlands
Area: Over 30,000 sq km, 140th in the world
         About the size of Maryland
Geography: Most Western European capitals are within 1000 km of Brussels
Population: Almost 10.5 million, 80th in the world
Capital: Brussels, which is also the seat of the EU and NATO
Major ethnic groups: Fleming and Walloon
Chief of State: King Albert II
Belgian Cuisine: The two things that get their own heading in Wikipedia are Frites and Beer.  I like where this is heading.

It was not hard to find out that the national dish of Belgium was moules frites - mussels and fries.  However, with the increasingly in-the-way dislike of seafood, that wasn't going to work.  I briefly considered just making them for Kevin, but I wasn't sure how expensive they were, plus it would be a lot of work.  I did know, however, that I wanted frites.  Delicious delicious frites.

The first time I technically had Belgian frites was the best dinner of my life - when the cooks from my former employer went to a friends house and cooked for us.  It was something we had purchased in an auction.  The entire dinner was amazing.
Blurry, but still delicious.
So there's one part, what about the rest?

There are Belgian recipes all over the internet, so there was no trouble finding one.  The real issue came with finding an authentic one.  Luckily, I found a site that was actually pulling the recipes from a Belgian cookbook, which therefore seemed legit.  There were a few options, but we ended up going with Ham and Belgian Endive Tart for a few reasons.  One, I had never made a "tart" (quiche) before.  Two, I kept finding references to endives.

I had never have endives before, at least not that I'm aware of.  But clearly I had to try them, otherwise I would apparently be snubbing the gift.

I couldn't just stop here though, no-no.  Also while searching I found this website, with a chocolate mousse recipe.  It also told me, kinda, how to make frites.  This is shaping up to be a real meal!

My only worry with shopping was finding the endives.  I couldn't find them at Harris Teeter, even though there was signage for it.  Luckily I asked, and they had some in the back.  What, am I at a shoe store or something?  Oh well, it was time to cook!

First I had to start the frites because the recipe says to soak them for an hour.  It was very vague, and also very similar to the recipe in my other cookbook.  Also, I have a french fry cutter.  We weren't sure if it would really work.  It is amazing.
Wrinkly

Step 1: Insert Potato

Step 2: Push Lever

Done!
Next up was some endive work.  But I really had no idea how to core and then cut one.  Luckily, the internet is awesome.  I took their (actually a different but similar site that is currently hiding) advice and kept chopping the bottom off and taking the leaves that came loose.  And avoiding the goo.
That is what they look like, for those of you who didn't know, like me!

Leaves.

The goo one website warned me to avoid.
But I wasn't just here to cut, I was here to cook!  I haven't really carmelized many things in my life, so I wasn't really sure how to know it was done.  That is when you wing it/go with the suggested time.

Finished product.
While this was cooking, it was time to work on the rest of the ingredients.  I'm not really sure what they wanted with a "generous serving" of nutmeg.  Kevin always claims I don't put enough spices in, which is probably true.
That looks generous, right?

Ham = wonderful.
For the next part, I wasn't sure if I should mix the ham and endives together or not.  It didn't specify.  So I just layered.  And oh boy, it barely fit.
Endive layer.

Looks like it is going to overflow, and I'm not even done yet.

Now with parsley and color effects.
Now that you are baking, back to frites, right?  No, of course not!  Because I decided to do three things!

The instructions for the mousse were simple.  Melt, whisk, cool.  It didn't say which type of cream to use, though, so I did whipping.  Dark chocolate chips helped with the melting part.  It went in very smoothly.  Where I had trouble was the whisking.  I tried to do it by hand.  Don't ask me why.  I had to switch bowls a few times because they weren't big enough, and I don't think I ever got the egg whites where they needed to be.  But I mixed it all together nonetheless.
Swirls!
 Now(!) it is time for frites.  There really aren't exciting pictures.  They are...fries.  At least with this recipe.  And the most notable thing about cooking them is that they use a LOT of oil.  Ridiculous amount.  I went with Canola for this recipe, since it didn't specify.
I put them in too early, because it took a while to boil, and I had to wait much longer than planned for them to be done.  Which gives me some time to check up on the others.

Kevin is building a rocket.  Yes, a rocket.  That looks like an SR-71.  Yay wedding presents from Will!
Except it makes my table look like this.

Intent.
Tesla has much simpler interests.
Maybe they won't see me if I blend in enough.
Time to put the finishing touches on and set the table.
Quiche!



Quiche is not generally something in my food vocabulary.  When coming up with things that I can cook (spaghetti, chicken, pizza, pasta, etc) quiche never comes up.  It was definitely the first time I tried to make one, perhaps even the first time I have eaten one.

It was okay.  Seemed a little bland.  Probably not enough nutmeg/salt/pepper.  I wasn't sure how I felt about the endives either.  I was...unfamiliar with them.  I think it would have been better if I had mixed them with the ham.  Then I could have gotten a little of everything in each bite instead of it being very clear which part I was eating.  As a sidenote, it got better as leftovers, though.  Good stuff.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this adventure was to get better about new ingredients.  For some reason, if I have to cook a dish out of an ingredient I am unsure about (endives, okra, grape leaves), I often have a problem with it.  It isn't bad if it is a smaller part of the dish, like rose water or turnips.  But if it is part of the main focus, it bothers me.  I smell it and see it transform and I don't know if I am doing it right or what it is supposed to taste like.  It hasn't gone well.  I don't know if I am messing up or it is a child-like aversion to new/unknown things.  If anyone has any advice or a similar problem that they have learned to deal with, I would like to hear your thoughts.  Although "Get over it, you're a baby" probably won't go over too well.  "ur stupid" would probably be worse.

The frites were, well, fries.  They didn't have that extra oomph that actual Belgian frites I have eaten did.  Maybe they just don't want to reveal their secret.

Chocolate mousse?  Disappointing.  I absolutely love chocolate mousse.  This was chocolate.  It was not mousse.
It really ended up being syrup.  Probably good on ice cream.  Not the right consistency at all.  Is this because I tried to whisk it by hand?  Because I used whipping cream?  My guess is whisk failure.
Everyone should get excited, because Belgium isn't done yet.  There is going to be a part 2, a continuation.  It won't be much, but I can finish this one out and also respond to any comments or questions or just post Tesla pictures if that ends up working out best.

Next time: Belgium Part 2
Last time: Belarus

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Belarus

History: Formerly a part of the USSR.  Retained closer ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet states did.
Location: East of Poland
Area: Over 200,000 sq km, 85th in the world
          Slightly smaller than Kansas
Coast: None, landlocked
Environment: Southern part of the country contaminated with fallout from Chernobyl
Population: Over 9.5 million; 88th in the world
Capital: Minsk
Fertility rate: 1.26 children/woman; 215/224 in the world
Cuisine: Very similar to Poland and Lithuania, Belarusians were called "potato-eaters" in the Soviet Union because of their prevalence
Leader: Their president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has been called the last dictator in Europe.  As I was researching recipes for them, there was an article in the Washington Post where they interviewed him.  He sounds absolutely crazy.

It wasn't hard finding, at a high-level, what I wanted to make for Belarus.  Everywhere I looked seemed to be one suggestion: potato pancakes.  I had never had these before, and I knew it was something that Kevin had had growing up.  But in researching, I found that it should be a side, an addition, not the main course.  As a result, I ended up with these two recipes from this page: Draniki and Machanka.  That's potato pancakes and pork stew, for those of you who didn't look.

But to make everything a bit more complicated and way more fun, I wasn't cooking this at home!  We were on vacation to Colorado with Kevin's family, so we did everything out there.  I think you will see that we had a lot of help, and a few more people than normal to feed.  Plus some awesome views from the cabin we were at for a few days.
Skiing on day one.  Beautiful mountains in the background.
Chapel for Ash Wednesday service.  We decided we should convince Karen to get married here.
Day two, during lessons.
Day three.
SKY mountains...notice the word spelled out.
I didn't get any pictures out of Kevin's house, which is unfortunate.  There are mountains out there too.  I did, however, get a picture of their beautiful kitchen.
Two ovens!
While I was cooking, there were a lot of people in and out of the house.  That meant that I got a lot of help, and also had a lot of distractions.  And photographers.

We doubled both of the recipes so that we could be sure to have enough for everyone.  We weren't really sure what cut of pork to get, nor how big of pieces to cut it in.  Improvisation!
Stew-sized pieces.
I wasn't sure if the pork should be cooked in anything, so I didn't.  Just cooked it by itself.  I was a little worried because it says "crisp," and rightly so.  It never got crisp.  It just...cooked.  Maybe that was what was intended.  I'm not sure.

It also didn't specify if I was supposed to saute the flour in anything, but we decided that the butter was most appropriate.  It was a slightly weird concoction.
Looks kinda like frosting.
 Unfortunately, I forgot to double this part and had to do it over again.

It was a little weird working in someone else's kitchen where I didn't know where anything was.  Luckily I had plenty of help.  Not that Kevin necessarily knew either.
Indecision.  So many options!
Kevin trying to convert metric into English.  Again.  The internet ended up helping.
With the sour cream it got very, well, creamy.  And the recipe was a little vague on the multiple times beef stock was mentioned.
At this point the kitchen was getting busy, and I was feeling pressed for time.  There was a lot of running around and starting to get worried.  The pork was supposed to simmer in some spices, but the recipe didn't say which ones to use.  And we hadn't really started on the potato pancakes yet.  Time to call in the troops!
Note: all women in the kitchen.
Mother, son, grandmother.
That's a lot of potato.
Since there weren't any spices listed, we had to do some research.  The internet is an amazing thing.  We went with a good amount of paprika and black pepper.  I considered adding garlic, but decided not to.
In order to expadite the process, we used a food processor to chop up the potatoes.  The others took charge of mixing it all together while I continued to handle the pork. 

There were so many potatoes that they added another egg and some more flour.  I think they were bigger than the recipe was expecting.
The perfect amount of potato.  For the food processor.
Look, no video games!
It looked really creamy.  This is after I added the "sour cream," which I think meant the flour mixture.
The only step left was for Kevin and me to fry up the pancakes while the stew was in the oven.  He was a really great help.  So was everyone else in the family.
We put the finished ones on a plate in the oven to keep them warm.
It took a while to cook them all, and Kevin's pan was much better than mine, but we eventually got through it.  Definitely a team effort.  And while we were cooking, a wonderful table was set.
Had to expand it to fit everyone.
The stew got a little film that stirred away very easily.
Potato!  Pancakes!
Karen, Pama, Papa, Kevin's Dad, Kevin's Mom, Kevin
I guess I had to be in there too.
I was very worried for this meal.  I had a lot of people to impress, and no back-up other than order pizza.  I don't think anyone was disappointed.

The soup was very creamy, and the spices ended up working.  It was very similar to stroganoff with the sour cream in there.  Someone mentioned that it would be good with mushrooms, and it was also said that it would be good with egg noodles.  Everyone seemed to really like it.  I think my only complaint was that pork isn't my favorite.  It reminded of Albania, even though that was veal.  It may have been because I cooked it, though, and didn't like the smell of it raw.  Nobody else said anything.

The potato pancakes were also yummy.  I had never had them before, although everyone had.  If mine could live up to the ones previously eaten, I was living large.

Overall, I would definitely recommend that you make this dish.  It was filling and slightly different than I would normally make, and you have a lot of flexibilty with the choose-your-own-spice addition.  Belarus, your president may be insane, but I would eat your food.

Since Tesla didn't come with us, instead there are pictures of adorable children.  If you were at the wedding, you may recognize some of them.
Nick wanted to be cute.  It worked.
Sibling love, at least for a little while.
Natalie was headed to a slumber party afterward.
Sorry for the really long post.  Let me know your thoughts!

Last time: Barbados
Next time: Belgium