Monday, May 23, 2011

Brazil, the Conclusion

A brief recap for the amnesiacs among us.  Here is Part One in whole.

We already have some rice and shredded kale.  The embassy recommended Feijoada, which is basically a lot of meat plus a little bit of other stuff.  No store remained untoched in my quest for all of the parts.  There is still a...
Last time for Brazil, I promise.
So what is that meat that I haven't introduced you to yet?  My recipe books calls it out as optional: one pork foot, eat, tail, tongue.  If that is optional, I'm not touching it, right?

Except then I saw it at the Commissary.  If it is staring me in the face, can I really walk away?  It is authentic!  Plus then I could write about it!  I would like to introduce to you: the pig's foot.
I told Kevin to react appropriately to it.
Tesla investigated.  Curie would have none of it.
*Shudder*
To prove to you what it is.
The real problem here is what in the world do I do with it?  The recipe doesn't tell me to cut it up.  It doesn't tell me if I should keep it in for serving.  I balked and put it in whole but took it out at the end.  Like a bay leaf.  Because they are so similar.

The rest of the recipe basically goes as follows:

Soak and then cook dry black beans (Done overnight)
Boil meat until cooked
Render bacon in oil
Add onion, garlic, and sherry vinegar to bacon and carmelize the onions
Add some black beans and mash them, cook for a few minutes with a bay leaf
Mix together, including some of the meat boiling liquid and some more beans
Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste

Unfortunately, I only needed about a half cup of most of the meats, which caused some leftovers.
It's mixed "meat"ia art.  *Sigh*  Kevin is a bad influence.
The foot kinda...sticks out a bit.
All of the meat that was left over.
 Don't worry though.  The ribs will be barbeque on Sunday.  The Canadian bacon went into breakfast burritos.  The ham hock was used for split pea soup and the beef will probably make some tasty fajitas.  Still searching for uses for the sausage and pork.  Oh, and the other feet.

Let's get down to cooking!
Chunks o'fat!
Mmmm, bean mash.  Like the Monster Mash, only tastier.
The almost finished product.
Cooked foot.
I didn't really have much time to take cute pictures during all of this, but luckily Tesla poses all of the time, so I have a bunch to choose from.  Born a model.  Where was Curie?  Probably off in her secret kingdom.  During the night, she shred the bottom of our new box springs to the point where she could explore in there.  But we can't climb in, so getting her out is difficult.  Luckily, with a quick Google search, a staple gun, and a new fitted sheet we have been able to patch the hole and move on with our lives.  No, she was not in there at the time.
I will hypnotize you with my adorable eyes.
Now let me sleep in your board game box!



For some reason it looks to me like the food on the bottom of the picture is floating over a white abyss of nothingness.  Just me?  Anyway...
The most disappointing part of this meal was definitely the Couve a Mineira.  There was potential, but making it first hurt.  By the time dinner was on the table it was cold and very limp.  Reheating it didn't do much.  It wouldn't get back to the old consistency and smell.  I plan to try this again the next time I have some leftover kale, but time it correctly.

The rice was good, and I would be willing to use this basic technique again.  I am most excited about cooking the rice in chicken broth.  It seems like such a simple concept, but I'm pretty sure that is what pushed this dish over the edge.  We have a lot of extra, so I suspect we will be using this rice in some of our upcoming meals as well.

Then there is the part that everyone is waiting for.  There are people waiting, right?  I believe Kevin summed it up with "You can't go wrong with this much meat."  It really was quite good.  There were a lot of different flavors in there, and every bite was unique.  If I were to make this again, I would not include all of the fat from the ham hock.  My only real issue with the dish was how heavy and salted it felt at times, and I think those chunks of fat made the biggest difference.  I also would have put in less salt to season.  This is what happens when you give in to your husband and his never-ending quest for sodium.

In the end, Brazil definitely gets a thumbs up.  Having a suggestion and store to go to greatly helped, and I learned a lot.  I am getting better at noticing issues early (like what to do with the fat) and making executive decisions (taking the foot out before serving).

Did the foot make a difference?  No idea.  Perhaps we will never know.  But there are more sitting in my freezer, waiting to be called out of hiding...

Next time: Brunei

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brazil

Location: Eastern South America on the Atlantic Ocean
Area: Over 8.5 million sq km; 5th largest in the world
          Slightly smaller than the US
Borders: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela
           Borders every South American country except Chile and Ecuador
Population: Over 200 million; 5th largest in the world
Capital: Brasilia
GDP: 8th biggest in the world
Airports: Over 4000; 2nd most in the world
Source: CIA World Factbook

If you want to learn more about the economy of Brazil, I highly recommend listening to "The Lie That Saved Brazil" from This American Life.  It not only teaches you about how economics worked there, but how money works worldwide.  Craziness.

Brazil was going to be exciting, and not just because of the mystery ingredient.
Although it helped.
It was because I have not given up on my embassy quest (see The Bahamas).  On the contrary, I e-mail almost every one I can.  Some don't publish their e-mail addresses.  Some bounce.  Most of them just don't answer.  Until Brazil.  They were more than helpful:
Please see the following link: http://www.dc.mre.gov.br/imagens-e-textos/revista-textos-do-brasil/english/flavors-frombrazil

This is a publication about Brazilian food. I hope that helps you find what you need. We have a lot of traditional foods that do not require fish! For example, the Brazilian national dish is called "Feijoada", and you don't use fish - but you should use a lot of pork. It's basically a stew of black beans and pork (bacon, sausage and pork loin). If you "google" Feijoada, I'm sure you will find many recipes - this one, for exemple:
http://www.maria-brazil.org/feijoada.htm

Most of the products you can find in any store in DC. For the black beans, you can use "Goya" ones, for example.

As far as the meat and other traditional ingredients, many of us from the Embassy go to this store:
http://www.brazilianportuguesefood.com/

They are located in 2700 N. Pershing Drive • Arlington, Virginia 22201. There you can also find "pão-de-queijo", "coxinha" and "rissoles" which are appetizers…you just have to put in the oven.
Wonderful.  There are so many awesome things about this that we need to break it down.  One, there is research.  Two, there is a recommended Brazilian dish.  Not only that, but my international cook book has a recipe for Feijoada.  And finally, a specific store where I can go get the ingredients.

There is even an entire chapter on Feijoada in that research.  It traces the history of the black bean itself, as well as the earliest mentions of the dish.  Contrary to popular belief, it does not seem to have come up through slaves, but popular and well-regarded restaurants.

My actual cooking adventure started with finding all of the ingredients needed.  Someone was selling a smoked ham hock at the Alexandria Farmer's Market, which was a good start.  A trip to Costco yielded the garlic and onions.  The Commissary had some beef, the needed ribs, and the mystery ingredient.  I went all of the way to Arlington (you laugh, but driving on 66 is awful) to try the store they mentioned.  It was very different than the other international grocery store I have gone too.  Much more fresh sausage, and more focused on one area of the world.  It smelled very good.

But I was still missing some ingredients.  Yes, more meat.  How many stores can I reasonably hit for one recipe?

Kevin and I were at Target anyway, so I bought the pork there.  On the way home, we hit my normal international store.  No dice.  There is an Afghan market within walking distance, so I added that one too.  Nada, at least for Brazil.  Harumph.  I have no desire to do this much shopping.

A quick stop to the Giant across from the two international stores (a trifecta?) gives me the Canadian bacon that is listed as an acceptable substitution for carne seca.  We are ready to cook!

But where is the pork?  We scour the freezer and fridge.  We look in the car.  We look in the shopping bags.  No pork.  Apparently we left it at Target?  Pull it together, Danielle - there is enough other meat to make up for it.  This is Saturday...one day until cooking.

On Sunday, after a particularly exciting ND Alumni soccer game, I pull all of the meat out to begin chopping.  Except...now where are the ribs?  You have got to be kidding me.  After all of that, I am missing two of the ingredients?  Unacceptable.  I need these things to be authentic!  What I really need is a wonderful husband.
Kevin's response:  "I am man, I bring meat.  It used to involve a bow and arrow.  I just used a bicycle and hippies."
That's right, I sent him to Whole Foods, despite his exhaustion from soccer in hot weather.  See, Bill, this is why I keep him around even though he doesn't like feta.

His errands also opened up my schedule a bit.  The cookbook would not just let me get away with making one dish.  It called for sides of both Arroz Blanco (White Rice) and Couve a Mineira (Shredded Kale).  I almost considered drawing out a schedule again, but Kevin's errand made the decisions a little easier.  I would work on the other two first.

The Couve a Mineira was very easy.  I halved the recipe, since it originally called for two pounds of kale alone.  Here is my brief summary:

Trim and rinse the kale
Layer the leaves together and cut them into thin strips.  I found that it helped to also fold them.
Cook some onion and garlic in oil, and then add the kale.
Season with salt and pepper once the kale is softened. 
Again, only half of what was called for.  It was more than one bunch.
After trimming.  I'm glad I had a fairly large collander.
It was also difficult to get it to fit into the pan.
As the kale softened, it also wilted and didn't take up nearly as much space.  It started smelling really good.  I used kale for the first time just a few weeks ago, so I was glad to be using something unfamiliar but not totally new.  With that one done, now time for the Arroz Blano.

The recipe was much more similar to the Bolivian rice I made a few weeks back than to steamed rice.  I doubled this one, forgetting how much one cup of dry rice actually makes.  Oops.  Summary:

Soak rice.
Fry in oil until it is just turning color.
Add some onion, garlic, and carrots.
Add chicken stock until liquid has been absorbed.
Remove from here, cover tightly and let sit.
Add peas.
Not much that was photo-worthy, other than yummy things all mixed together.
The recipe specifically told me to wait until there were bubbles in the rice and DEAR GOD DON'T STIR.  I thought it was a little harsh...
Back to the main event, now that these are complete and I have my groceries.  Basically, Feijoada is bean soup with a lot of meat.  And I mean a LOT of meat.
Pile o'meat right there.
It was really ridiculous.
We should meet each of our meats individually, don't you think?
Exhibit 1: Ham Hock
Bought right from the Famer's Market.  Apparently it was larger than normal, so he recommended I only use half of it.
All cut up.
The hock is essentially the thigh of the pig, Wikipedia tells me.  As you can see in the picture, it was incredibly fatty.  I wasn't sure whether that was needed for flavor or not, so I kept it in.  Mmmmm, hunks of pig fat.
Exhibit 2: Linguica (of Pork)
Fresh and smelling wonderful.
I got this from the international store that the embassy suggested.  Wikipedia tells me that this is most popular in Portugual and Brazil, which bodes well for authenticity.

Exhibits 3, 4, 5, and 6: Pork ribs, pork, beef, and bacon
That is a lot of rib.
"Lean" pork
Beef.  It's (part of) what's for dinner.
These are the most typical ingredients, so I didn't separate them out.  Also, the bacon wasn't needed until later, so I didn't take a picture as I went to chop it up.  Rib and pork from Whole Foods, beef from the Commissary, and bacon probably from Harris Teeter

There was one more meat, our mystery ingredient.  But this post is getting quite long, don't you think?  Perhaps I should save that for another day...

I know, I'm a horrible person.  I just want to get another day's worth of use out of my Paint skills.  Plus I hate unnecessarily long blog posts.

Next time: Brazil, the Conclusion

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Botswana

Location: Southern Africa, north of South Africa
Size: Almost 600,000 sq km; 47th largest in the world
        Slightly smaller than Texas
Geography: Landlocked
Population: Over 2 million; 144th largest in the world
Migration: 4.82 migrants/1000 population; 19th highest in the world
          Large influx from Zimbabwe in search of better economic opportunities
Capital: Gaborone
HIV/AIDS in Adults: 24.8%; 2nd highest in the world
Nationality adjectives: Motswana (singular), Botswana (plural)
Language: Officially English, although only spoken by 2.1% of the population
Economy: "Two major investment services rank Botswana as the best credit risk in Africa."  One of the world's fastest growing economies since gaining independence in 1966.
Olympics: Competed in eight Summer games, never winning a medal (before 2012)
Sources: CIA World FactbookWikipedia

The information I found on Botswana painted an interesting picture.  They have one of the fastest growing economies, yet such a huge AIDs prevalence.  They are making big strides in education, yet still have a large population living in poverty.  Perhaps this turmoil and time of change explains some of the simplicity of the recipes I found.  I needed a total of six ingredients for two dishes, three of which were salt, pepper, and water.

Sites about Botswana usually mentioned seswaa, but didn't have recipes.  They said it was beef boiled in a big pot and then beaten by men.  No, really.  Finally, I found this site that has a decent explanation plus a recipe.  The actual instructions are pretty far down the page.  A lot of sites mentioned Mealie Meal so I wanted to try that as well.

A weekend filled with plays and busy-ness and then a lack of internet ended up foiling my original cooking plans.  But fear not!  I didn't lose a week, but took advantage of a weeknight.  Don't expect to see that happening a lot...

The hardest part of this recipe was finding the beef brisket.  When I saw it at Harris Teeter I would have had to buy about five pounds, which was a bit excessive.  The Commissary hid theirs under some of the other beef, but they couldn't fool me!  Unfortunately it was boneless.  I went with it, though, since I didn't want to run around to anymore stores.  That comes next time

I must warn you that I just realized right now the big mistake I made with this one.  The recipe says 1 Kilo.  I did 1 pound.  Sigh.  Well that would explain some things.  I really need someone to "proofread" me before I make any decisions in the kitchen.
All of the ingredients for the seswaa.  Well, minus water.
What one pound of beef brisket looks like.  If only I knew what one kilo looked like...
All together now.
With water and pepper.
And that's really it.  You let it cook on low heat for a long time, never boiling.  It doesn't even say it should be covered.  That meant I had a lot of time before I had to start the Mealie Meal.
Kevin filling up my bike tires with air.  Tesla can't seem to figure out why he can't climb to the top.
Ever-present around the open door.  The weather has been great for this.
Not a great picture of her, but she makes herself more scarce and out of the camera's gaze.  If only I had one of her jumping up on the freezer despite our wall of cereal, causing the door to open and food to fall out...That was fun.
So, Mealie Meal.  I was a bit skeptical about this.  It doesn't seem to be...well, much.  Cornmeal, water, and salt.
See the stack of stuff in the background?  That is what happens when you go to Costco without clearing a lot of food out of your cupboards first.
Water and white cornmeal
All mixed together.
And that's really it.  Heat and then let sit.

When the meat was done, it was time for me to pound it.  Yeah, that didn't so much happen.  There were no bones to separate it from.  The pounding was a bit futile.
Pre-pounded.  It looked the same post-pounded.
The Mealie Meal was still sitting, because of course I hadn't factored that time in, but we were ready to eat the seswaa.
Yes, our table was a mess.  This included all of our salad toppings and dip for the bread we bought at the Farmer's Market.  Plus some other things...
This was another pretty solid meh.  I am not that surprised.  Clearly I did not use enough meat.  And there were no bones to glean flavor off of.  Could I have added more salt and pepper?  Probably.  Would it have made much of a difference?  I don't think so.  It was a simple dish, and therefore changing small parts, like missing bones, make a huge difference.

But wait, there's more!  The Mealie Meal had directions that you should pull some off of the greater glob, roll it between your fingers, and then eat.  I decided to document Kevin's journey.
Completed.


 "Inoffensive."  Not much else to say here.  It didn't taste like anything.  Was it supposed to?  Unsure.  Overall, Botswana was inoffensive.  In general, there has been a streak of this in these countries.  It has been quite a while since I had to actually use spices.  I'm getting a little impatient for some!

Bill, thank you very much for your research!  You validated some of my choices and questioned some others.  We'll see what I can remember when I go to the store.  I like your idea of a guide by parts of the world.  Is this our newest business venture?  We'll, um, sell it!  Yeah.  Sounds good.

Everyone should get way more excited for next time.  Not only is it a big country that many people have probably eaten food from, but there is a mystery ingredient.  Something that if I had ever noticed it in the store before I probably would have said "Gross" and moved on.  I bet you can't wait!
My MSPaint skills are unrivaled.
Next time: Brazil