Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bolivia

Name: Named after Simon Bolivar
Location: Central South America, southwest of Brazil
Area: Over 1,000,000 sq km, 28th in the world
         Slightly less than three times the size of Montana (what a horrible comparison...)
Coast: One of only two landlocked countries in South America (thanks, Social Studies!)
Population: Over 10 million, 83rd in the world
Capital: La Paz, highest capital in the world
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic
Conventional Long Form of Name: Plurinational State of Bolivia
Diplomacy: In 2008, both the US and Bolivia expelled the ambassador to the other country.  These positions remain vacant.
Airports: 881, 8th in the world
Drugs: World's third-largest cultivator of coca; 3rd largest producer of cocaine
Source: CIA World Factbook

From the beginning, Bolivia was a country I was looking forward to.  And no, not because of a Jeopardy question this time.  Now, we're back to grade school and a certain Marianna.

The first time I remember meeting Marianna, we were riding the bus together to first grade.  And, somehow, we knocked foreheads.  So that became what we did from then on.  Knocked foreheads.  On the bus.  We were really smart.

This ended up developing into friendship (it's the next logical step).  Sledding in her backyard, and falling into the 5 foot hole her brother dug.  Calling her every day over the summer to jump on her trampoline.  We had some good times.

Marianna's dad is from Bolivia, and she has visited many times.  Because of this, it was a country I paid attention to from a young age.  How else would I remember the two land-locked South American countries?

So I went to her for recipes.  Something authentic and delicious.  I have to say, it was quite an amusing experience.

She said that I should look for Saice and gave this site as an example.  Her father makes it with fried rice, though, and her mother had the Spanish recipe, so there was still more to wait for.

Her sister translated what her mother had, and this is what I got:
Prepare a drowning of a dish of onions with red pepper, to taste, then cook the
peas separately drowned or tender.
Shortly before serving time, put the meat to boiling drowned, move with a spoon until it separates the meat, put one quarter teaspoon of oregano and serve before it dries with white potatoes and dehydrated with scrambled egg shaped and above meat sauce, chopped onion pen.
Awesome.  I love chopped onion pens and dehydrated.  She also included this, what I believe is her interpretation through multiple versions.
Ingredients for SAICE Tarija:
1 kilo of meat
3 medium onions
red pepper 1 / 2 cup
1 kilo of potatoes
2 garlic cloves
a cup pea
2 cups beef broth
Measurement converter (weights, volumes, temperatures ...)
About Saico Tarija recipe:
How do Saico Tarija step by step:
• Stir-Fry the onion and garlic, then add the red pepper cooked with a splash of
oil.
• Add meat and cook for a period of 5 minutes. Add all other vegetables and
simmer for 10 minutes more, add the beef broth before serving served with white
rice. 
My coworker suggested that I asked our designer from Mexico if she could come up with anything else from the Spanish.  Maybe she knew the nuances of cooking language?  Here is the original text:
Muela en los tres dientes de la máquina o el fregadero de pasta una cantidad suficiente para la familia.
Preparar un ahogamiento de un plato de cebolla con pimiento rojo, al gusto, luego cocinar los guisantes ahogados por separado o de licitación.
Poco antes de la hora de servir, poner la carne a hervir se ahogó, mover con una cuchara hasta que se separe la carne, poner un cuarto de cucharadita de orégano y servir antes de que se seca con papas blancas y deshidratados, huevos revueltos con salsa de carne en forma de y sobre, pluma de cebolla picada.
I was told that it really didn't make any sense.  It sounds like they took notes to help them remember, but didn't actually write out all of the steps.  So that path wasn't going to work.

I was able to get the fried rice recipe through Marianna from her dad, though, who is currently in Brazil.
Fry the rice using vegetable oil one cup with two spoons of oil. Once the rice looks brown it is done boil it two cups of water with one can of diced tomatoes.  Add garlic one teaspoon and a bit of salt
She doesn't remember it ever having tomatoes, but that is what I got.  I went with that and Melissa's interpretation, so now I was ready(ish) to cook!

It didn't specify what type of beef to get, so I just guessed.  I also wasn't sure whether the red pepper was a sweet pepper or spicy, but I went with sweet.  The directions slightly confused me as to whether I should cook the peppers or not first.  Raw is easier.  I didn't peel the potatoes.  Sometimes, I am a rebel.
It's what's for dinner.
Not-so-great lighting!
Frying the rice was definitely interesting.  And no, it is not Chinese-style fried rice.  This you do while it is still uncooked.  I have some progression pictures to document the journey.
Beginning.  The Alpha.


The Omega.  Turning them often was key.
I did add the tomatoes, despite Marianna's trepidation.
We were having people over for Easter the next day, which meant two things.  (1) Cleaning.  (2) Trying Kevin's first batch of home brew before we had other people eat it.
The cats helped with laundry.
Pouring the first glass.
Awww, doesn't he look all proud?
This looks super un-comfy to me, but she liked to survey our cleaning from here.
There's more room for leftovers back here!  AKA i can haz bacin?
 With everything stri-fried, I added the beef...then the potatoes...then the broth.  It got a little crowded in the pot.

Over the top.  Literally.
Mixing it together was difficult in this size pot.  I felt like the same pieces were always sitting on top.  I also had to cook it for much longer than the directions said in order to get the meat fully cooked and the potatoes a little mushy.  It took some finagling to make sure it was even, but it really wasn't took hard overall.

I don't know how to rotate this one it is in here...oops.
It was delicious.  It was very similar to a beef stew, which made me feel like I did something wrong.  Is that what it is supposed to be like?  That's not how the picture looks...  The beef was tender.  Kevin really liked the rice a lot.  The only thing I did after the fact was add a little salt.  Both Kevin and I brought some of the leftovers for lunch yesterday.  In fact, I think my only complaint is that it made a ridiculous amount of food and that combined with Easter ham has pretty much filled my fridge.  There are worse things.

Marianna and family, feel free to let me know what I did wrong or how it could be more authentic.  I already recommend people try this, and if it could get any better then I say go for it.

I also enjoy that this is helping tie some things together for me.  Argentina also used beef, because it is a major product in South America.  Not only do I get to try new foods, but I can see how things relate.

And that concludes my first recipe debut.  :-)

Next time: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bhutan

Background: Bhutan has had a lot of changes and foreign influence over time, as both Britain and India have controlled their foreign affairs while they tried to control their internal ones.  They are transitioning away from a traditional monarchy.  If I am understanding the CIA Factbook correctly.
Location: Southern Asia, between China and India
Area: Less than 40,000 sq km, 136th in the world
          About half the size of Indiana
Name: Translates as Land of the Thunder Dragon, which refers to the violent storms from the Himalayas
Geography: Controls several key Himalayan passes
Population: Over 700,000; 164th in the world (consistent with the first modern census, not the government reported figures)
Median age: 24.2 years
Capital: Thimphu
Diplomacy: The US and Bhutan have no formal diplomatic relations
National Anthem: Translated, the title means "The Thunder Dragon Kingdom"
Labor: 4% unemployment rate, 35th in the world
           Severe shortage of skilled labor
Happiness!: Business Week rated them the happiest country in Asia in 2006

Source: CIA World FactbookWikipedia

For Bhutan, it was very apparent that their national dish was emadatse, a combination of cheese and hot peppers.  The problem was finding the "right" one.  I understand that recipes have variations.  How many different ways are there to make pasta sauce?  However, some of these even varied in their base.  One called for monterey jack cheese where another said feta.  One said 12 chilies where another said four.  Which one do I choose?

After consulting with Kevin, this was the recipe that made the cut.  It felt more authentic than the others, possibly because it didn't say that it was "Americanized."

But seeing as that wasn't a full meal, I needed an entree as well.  The goal was (1) see it in multiple places so I can reasonably find it authentic and (2) hopefully try something new.  That led me to Pork Fing.  Bean threads!

At the Commissary, the person at the meat counter recommended a picnic roast when I said I needed pork shoulder.  They scoffed when I couldn't give them any more details.  Other than that part, the initial instructions were pretty simple.  I am starting to like my food processor more and more.  It was very good with the onions and the tomatoes.
Now I have just a little bit of this left and I don't know what to do with it.
A lot of butter tends to be a good sign of things to come.
And then there was a lot of simmering.  I also had to get the bean threads ready.  It was very similar to working with rice noodles.  You don't want to put them directly into a rolling boil, so you take the pan off of the heat before you put them in.  Then they only have to sit for a short amount of time.
I didn't realize at first that bean threads and cellophane noodles were the same thing.
It reminds me of a hay stack.
Then they get all gloopy.
And sticky.
The instructions told me to cut them into 6 inch strings, but that wasn't going to happen.  It was a big, tangled mess.  Instead, I used my hands and just tore them so they were a more reasonable length.  Otherwise it would have been a lot of frustrating effort for much the same result.

It was a nice day outside, so Kevin was enjoying the sun while the cats occasionally took time out from their mischief to look out the window.
Shhhh, I'm hiding.
We had recently gone plant shopping with Maura, so now we are on our way to some fresh herbs!
Even some flowers as well.
Supercat, sprawled in the sun.
And then it was time for the emadatse and all of the peppers.  At this point, I hadn't had your offer yet, Sadie.  Otherwise I may have driven to Michigan to get some gloves.  As it was, I didn't have any.
The peppers for both recipes...and this is even without the jalapenos.
The recipe tells you to remove the seeds under running water.  However, this proved pretty disastrous for me.  The water meant that all of the spice went into the air and I kept going into coughing fits.  Whenever Kevin would walk through the kitchen, he would get taken aback.  I eventually stopped that plan.  I still rinsed them afterward, but after they had been de-seeded.  By hand.

I can't remember what type of chilies we got.  The Commissary didn't label them very well, so maybe I never knew...
That is a LOT of peppers.
I decided to try Sylvie's advice for peeling tomatoes.  However, 5-10 seconds didn't seem to be enough for these.  The first one didn't work very well, and the second one was in for so long it started getting mushy.  Sigh.  Why do you dislike me so, tomatoes?  It was still better than doing it all by hand!
Cross-hatch.
This is the one that was left in for quite a while.  Ignore the mess in the background.  There was a lot of chopping going on.
Next is the ever present "stir it all together" step.  One of my favorites.
The chilies didn't really lose their vibrant green color.  I'm not sure if this was because I didn't cook them long enough, or it was the wrong type of chili, or something else.

Kevin doesn't like feta (weirdo), so blue it was.  I also recruited him to help chop some cilantro.
Mmmmm...cheese...
All mixed together.  I didn't expect it to turn yellow.
By this time all of the ingredients were in the pork, too.  All that is left is to set the table and chow down.


FYI, we also had some rice to go with the cheese dish.

Holy crap, was that cheese spicy.  I couldn't eat more than three or four bites.  Tiny bites.  With a lot of rice.  Kevin really liked it though.  He also couldn't eat a ton of it, but he has taken some for leftovers.  We still have a lot left too.

I think I could like it if there were fewer chilies.  In fact, I could almost guarantee it.  Halve the number of chilies, make sure there is plenty of rice...it was actually almost like a queso.  Mmmmm queso.

The pork was pretty bland and boring.  The chilies in there didn't seem to do much.  I think some spices could have really helped.  As it was, it certainly was not the talk of the meal.

Did I get a similar result from the peppers as last time?  No.  Much, much worse.

I was really good about not rubbing my eyes.  However, my fingers started burning constantly.  At one point I used my knuckle to rub my eye.  Knuckle.  I did not de-seed the peppers with my knuckle.  Grumble grumble.  I spent the rest of the movie we were watching with a cold pack on my face.  I had a hard time sleeping that nice because my fingers hurt.  Taking out my contacts was incredibly painful.

The next day, my fingers still burned.  I couldn't put in my contacts, so I wore glasses to work.  It still hurt the day after that, but I made myself put my contacts on.  It was awful.

All of this is to say buy gloves when you are cutting chilies.  It is not worth it otherwise.

Heed my warning!

Next time: Bolivia

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Benin

Background: Benin was the first African country to successfully transfer power from a dictatorship to democracy
Location: Western Africa, between Nigeria and Togo
Area: Over 1000,000 sq km, 101st in the world
          Slightly smaller than Pennsylvania
Coast: 121 km, Difficult access due to sandbanks
Population: Almost 9.5 million, 89th in the world
Birth rate: Over 38 births/1000 population; 15th in the world
Life expectancy at birth: 59.84 years, 188th in the world
HIV/AIDS: 1.2%, 39th in the world
Health: Very high risk of major infectious disease
Official language: French
Literacy: Only 23.3% for women over the age of 15
Capital: Porto-Novo
Disputes: Many border issues with neighbors, including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria
Cuisine: Staples include corn and yam.  Fruit is easy to find, but meat is expensive

Source: CIA World Factbook

It wasn't very hard to figure out the national dish of Benin: Klui-Klui.  Essentially it is fried peanut better.  Kevin doesn't like peanuts but that wasn't going to stop me!  I found a recipe that was, above all else, simple.

It was a bit harder to find stuff to go with it.  Most of their recipes seemed to be quite minimalist and focused on getting a lot of value out of a little bit of stuff.  This makes a lot of sense with some of their stats above.  Finally I decided on Benin Red Sauce.  It was similar to the other things I had found, plus it had the option of adding meat.  Otherwise a husband protest was a sure possibility.

I decided to begin with the Klui-Klui so it had some time to sit and separate.  Not 24 hours, but at least I could see how it was progressing.
I wasn't really sure how much to use.
Peanut mush!
Looking at the manual for my food processor, it recommended pulses for things like this.  But it didn't really make peanut butter.  The consistency was very grainy and very dry.  But I put it in a bowl and let it sit out the next few rounds.

The steps for the read sauce, at least those that I have pictures of, are fairly simple.  Fry some vegetables, add some more, mix everything else in, let it boil.  The harder part was just getting there, mostly with chopping a lot of tomatoes.
Dear commissary, I'm sorry if someone else came looking for tomatoes that day and couldn't find any.  I had them all.
Post - chopping.
This was the collateral damage.  Take out the stem, take off the sticker.  Plus, it makes it easier to count how many you have already done.
The recipe did not say whether I was supposed to skin the tomatoes or not.  Choosing the lazy route, I went with no.  However, this made it very hard to squish them.  You would think that would make me change my course, but not-so-much.
Potato mash(er)!  Except it was more like potato masher that just slightly squeezes some of the juice out.
Hot peppers again.  I made Kevin try them so I knew how spicy they were.  He started coughing and made me go get him milk.
Those tomatoes do not look squished enough.
During this time, I also made some chicken.  I decided to go with a basic "boil, seasoned with some salt and pepper."  See, this is something I have learned from this adventure.  Otherwise I would have fried it.  Things are looking up!
This week I can actually show you Curie, because I got her to sit still.  Things between her and Tesla are still interesting.  They can fall asleep inches away from each other, but as soon as he tries to play she goes all crazy cat.  He has a lot of scratches on his nose right now.  Apparently we have a stubborn household...
Beautiful kitty.
He is trying to woo her with his piano playing.  And no, we did not set this photo up.
This look means he's about to get, or just got, bopped in the head.
I let the concoction sit longer than it called for, but it wasn't really getting saucy, just runny.  Plus, the tomatoes weren't breaking down like promised.  The skin and large chunks were not helping.  But eventually I had to serve it anyway.

The other pictures of Kevin didn't turn out.  But look, he is wearing a collared shirt!
We'll give this one a hearty meh.  There wasn't much excitement.  There were no herbs or spices, and it wasn't even that spicy by the end.  As Kevin put it, it seemed filling but bland.  Fitting for people who don't have a money and are trying to get their sustenance.

I'm also assuming it didn't quite turn out right because it didn't say it had to be served with anything else (chicken, rice, etc.)  I'm not sure how you would eat the one I made on its own.  I wonder if starting with canned diced tomatoes would have helped.  It could have saved my from some of my problems.

As for the Klui-Klui, the mush never separated.  It was very far from being peanut-butter like.  So that one ended up being scrapped.  That's right, two weeks in a row with the dishes that didn't even make it to the table.  I need to get out of this trend!

Also, I still ended up with stinging eyes this week due to the peppers.  Maybe I should use gloves.  Except all I have are winter ones.  Wouldn't that be interesting?

Last time: Belize
Next time: Bhutan