Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Burkina Faso

Location: Western Africa, north of Ghana
Size: Almost 275,00 sq km; 74th largest in the world
        Slightly larger than Colorado
Population: Over 16.75 million; 61st largest in the world
Birth rate: Almost 44 births/1000 population; 5th largest in the world
Capital: Ouagadougou
Infant mortality rate: About 81 deaths/1000 live births; 10th highest in the world
Former name: Republic of Upper Volta
Borders: Unresolved boundary alignments with Mali, Niger, and Benin
Source: CIA Factbook

Sorry for the rarity of posts lately.  Summer is going to be a sporadic time with weddings and vacations and such.  Luckily I have still been cooking so far.

Often, when searching for recipes, I narrow it to a few and then send them to Kevin for his opinion.  In this case, it was down to Munyu Caf Couscous and Riz Au Gras.  I mention this specifically to point out that my husband got to choose between these, and he choose the Munyu Caf Couscous.  Not me.  He doesn't like peanut butter.  Maybe this will teach him to read the recipes a little more thoroughly in the future...

So we are off with the recipe, which I halved since it seemed like a ridiculous amount of food.  And for those of you wondering, an aubergine is an eggplant.  My first eggplant purchase, and fresh from the Farmer's Market!
I got the couscous at Whole Foods, where it comes in bulk.  I followed their directions, rather than the ones in this recipe, since I don't know if it is the same couscous you would get in Africa.  Instant vs real and all.

The meat of choice for the Munyu Caf Couscous was chicken.  It seemed legit, as they use it in other recipes too.  I had my normal issues and qualms with the tomatoes.  Why are they so hard to work with?

After that, it is mostly add to pot and cook/simmer.
Is this the right way to cut up an eggplant?  I don't know.
Now that is a glob of peanut butter.

 Bigger pot needed?
We made some naan (not from scratch).  Wrong part of the world, but oh-so-delicious.
 The cats like it when I get crocheting stuff for my birthday.
Curie was hiding in my bag.  Tesla does not approve.
Worn out from winding yarn.  And yes, that is the last season of Angel in the background.
After all of the simmering, Kevin is skeptical of the smell, but sets the table anyway.


Unfortunately, this dish went just about how expected for Kevin.  He had two or three bites and then couldn't go on anymore.  He ate naan.  Had some couscous.  Gave up.

For me, the first three or four bites were pretty good.  Then it got old very quickly.  Other than the chicken, everything else was a generic glob.  It was so covered in peanut butter that you other flavors did not come through.  I couldn't take it for long.  A snack-sized portion could have worked for me, but anything more became overwhelming and yet boring.  I do not recommend drowning anything in this much peanut butter.

Unfortunately, by some measures, this was one of the biggest failures yet.   Kevin made a frozen pizza!  This is the first time we have needed some kind of backup meal.  Before, we've always been able to soldier through until we have had enough.

As a reminder, Kevin picked this recipe.

Next time: Burma (Myanmar)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bulgaria

Background: The introduction in the Factbook doesn't read very well.  Losing side of both World Wars.  Became Communist under the Soviet influence.  Struggles with the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Turks.
Location: Southeastern Europe, between Romania and Turkey on the Black Sea.
Size: Over 100,000 sq km; 104th largest in the world
        Slightly larger than Tennessee
Population: Over 7 million; 99th biggest in the world
Birth rate: 204th largest in the world
Death rate: 13th largest in the world
Capital: Sofia
Drinking water and sanitation: 100% of their population has access...This seems to be a new stat for the Factbook.
Source: CIA Factbook

There were a lot of resources out there for Bulgarian food, which is not such-a-bad problem to have.  I found some nice listing sites, and was able to cross-reference things to make sure they were authentic.  I made Kevin pick some recipes, and then I compared our lists.  We ended up with two recipes from this site: Monastery Gyuvetch and Potatoes au Gratin.  Those were the only ones that Kevin picked without lamb or veal.  Again.  He did go for the olives though.

I like the story it gives behind the Monastery Gyuvetch.  The history is well-defined and singular.  Authentic.
Down to the cooking!  First we start the potatoes, so they can boil.
It always amazes me how heavy potatoes are.  You don't need a lot.
Dicey
I halved the Gyuvetch, because wow...that's a lot of food.  I used stew beef, since that was the only way to buy the right quantity of meat from the Commissary.

Most of the steps weren't too complicated, mostly adding one ingredient after another.  Make sure to do the chopping beforehand!
Browning beef in oil.
Add the onions, beef stock, and paprika.
Rice tends to confuse me, but luckily Kevin was able to help.  Uncooked rice.  It should be obvious to me, but never is.
Mushrooms and the rice have been added.
Nice red tomatoes.  Which I did not peel, as per usual.
Tomatoes, salt, butter, sugar and olives.  I can honestly say I did not expect to string out that list of ingredients.
Estimating volume is another things that I am not very good at where Kevin excels.  Nice to have him around.
Fitting perfectly, ready to go into the oven.
There is enough time during the breaks between ingredients to handle the potatoes au gratin too.  Since it only needs to bakefor five minutes, oven timing wasn't a critical issue.
I'm not a big fan of swiss, and the only way I have found to buy whole-milk mozzerella is get it in blocks.  I am now using my food processor a lot more often.
Creating my bechamel sauce, and it doesn't seem weird to me.  How far I have come.
It took quite a bit to get it melted.
Topped with Parmesean cheese.
[Insert witty transition to cats here.  I can't think of anything.]
We ran out of dry food for them, and this is what happened when we finally replenished.  Actually eating out of the same bowl!
Tesla tries to be quite regal when he can.
Curie has a thing for Kevin, and tends to sit on his lap while we eat.  Every time.
The Farmer's Market had fresh fruit that made me go weak at the knees.
Peaches, strawberries, blueberries.  Wonderful
After everything comes out of the oven, you just put some parsley on and serve!

It is a good thing we had two pans that size.

This is what we needed.  This motivates me to continue.  The Monastery Gyuvetch was wonderful.  It had different flavors that blended well together, and it was just a balanced and delicious dish all around.  It also wasn't too hard to do.  Kevin's only feedback was that the olives didn't fit, which is odd since he loves them.  He ate the rest of them plain.  Perhaps it would have been better if they were cut up?

We ate 2/3 of it in one sitting, and Kevin took the rest for lunch the next day.  I didn't even get any leftovers!  Guess I shouldn't have halved it.  I guess I'll just have to make it again.  Yay!

The potatoes were okay.  I think a sharper cheese, like cheddar or blue, would have been better.  The mozzarella was too normal, too soft.  The fruit was great, of course.

Yay for another good meal!  When there are a bunch of blah ones, it really makes it hard to get motivated to go on.  Bulgaria, you have really helped me.

Next time: Burkina Faso

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Brief Recap (1-25)

The idea for this post really came from Kevin.  Because apparently he didn't read Azerbaijan.  But anyway...this format will probably work a little better anyway.  Reviewing after every letter doesn't work.  B's go (are still going...) on forever, where as H will feel like it barely happened.

Twenty-five is a good milestone for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly because it should be about 6 months.  Eek!  Half a year and it feels like I have barely gotten anywhere.  Such is the life of a...well, I'm not really sure what I am, to be honest.

There is no recipe to follow for this, so I'll try some things out and see what happens.  Ready?  Break!

Stats
-I have cooked from every continent except Antarctica (and that one is never going to happen).  Please note that some countries are tagged as both Europe and Asia as they identify with both.  I only counted them once below.
      Africa: 4; Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana
      Asia: 7; Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei
      Europe: 6; Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina
      North America: 4; Antigua and Barbuda, (The) Bahamas, Barbados, Belize
      Oceania: 1; Australia
      South America: 3; Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil
-There were four specialty posts, not including this one.
      Around the World in the Hetzel Kitchen, No Country for Anyone, Belgium, the Sequel, Brazil, the Conclusion
-I took me about 7 months to get here.
-While most of my meals have been cooked in Virginia, there have been special guest appearances in Denver and Grand Rapids.  That's three states so far.
-These countries represent about 8.14% of the world's population, according to my calculations and Wikipedia.
-My most popular non-meat ingredients were:
       Onion, or Onion Powder: 20!
       Potato: 6
-Assuming that meat is the base of the recipe, as it usually is, here is another breakdown.  It won't add up because some things (IE Brazil) had more than one meat.
       Beef: 7
       Bacon: 3
       Chicken: 8
       Ham: 1
       Lamb: 2
       Pork: 5
       Veal: 1
       Vegetarian (2): Andorra, Barbados

Thoughts
I looked at all of the posts to decide my five favorites and five least favorites and then asked Kevin to do the same.  For good, I thought back to the recipes I still crave.  For not-so-good, it was those that we didn't even keep for leftovers.

Top Recipes (Number of Votes)
Afghanistan (2)
Austria (2)
Barbados (2) A vegetarian dish making the cut?  Kevin, are you okay?
Argentina (1)
Bahrain (1)
Bolivia (1)
Brazil (1)

All of the South American countries received at least one vote.  Other than that it is all over the place.

Least Favorites (Number of Votes)
Albania (2)
Azerbaijan (2)  A note on dolma.  Kevin and I went to a Turkish restaurant this weekend, and tried some.  We liked it.  It had different filling, but most importantly the grape leaves weren't as strong.  Perhaps soaking the leaves longer to get rid of the preservatives would have helped.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (2)
Angola (1)
Benin (1)
Botswana (1)
Brunei (1)

Africa did not do so well.  Hopefully things will start looking up.

Recipes I Most Wish I Could Redo
Antigua and Barbuda - This one had so much potential and a great description.  Someone please try this one out!
(The) Bahamas - I have actually received some additional information about this one since cooking it.  I have been waiting to put the updates in, but maybe I'll do that post soon.  We'll see, won't we?
Bolivia - I should also be getting some updated information on this one, so we can all learn a bit more!

Where will the next 25 take us?  I won't give everything away but can guarantee that we will get out of the B's (finally).  There are two more countries I have been to, and hopefully some more embassies will get involved.  I know that I am excited and you should be too.

Housekeeping
-I added a few more blogs to the blogroll - some cooking, some not.
-I wish I could do CSS so I could make this thing look better.  Alas.
-This summer is going to get interesting with weddings and visitors and camping and...we'll see how this goes.

And finally...a comparison to show how much has changed in this time:
Tiny kitten Tesla.
All big and grown up and with a "you can't tell me what to do" attitude.
 Next time: Bulgaria

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brunei

Background: The same family has ruled Brunei for over six centuries
Location: Southeastern Asia
Area: Under 6,000 sq km; 172nd largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Delaware
Borders: Malaysia
Population: Just over 400,000; 174th largest in the world
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
Per Capita GDP: Over $50,000; 9th largest in the world
Unemployment: 3.7%; 32nd smallest in the world
Drugs: Some drug crimes are serious offenses and carry a mandatory death penalty
Source: CIA World Factbook

Ambuyat is the national dish of Brunei.  The main ingredient is sago rumbia, which is something that returns foreign language sites on Google.  Not very easy to find.  Strike one.  Additionally, eating glue is not my idea of a good time.  Strike two.  And I didn't want to make it.  Strike three.  More searching!

I didn't have to look much farther than this site, and one thing quickly caught my eye.  Murtabak, or meat crepes.  According to Wikipedia, they are popular in Saudi Arabia, but Brunei is also mentioned.  A reasonable belief that they are authentic (because Wikipedia is never wrong), is good enough for me.  Let's move forward.

The focus of Murtabak is ground mutton, which we know from previous comments is not lamb.  It's "adult lamb."  However, I figured that baby mutton would have to be a good enough substitute.  As part of the adventure mentioned in Brazil, I went to the Afghan market.  There wasn't any ground lamb anywhere, but Kevin forced me to be social and ask.  The butcher made some fresh for me right on the spot!  We got to see it get ground...yum.  At least it wasn't like at the previous store where I saw some guy buy a goat.  Or maybe it was a lamb.  Not sure.  The skin was gone.  The eyes were not.

I had to start this recipe the night before, which made things interesting.  I forgot and started watching Lawrence of Arabia.  Late night for me!

The dough is very simple, although I was confused as to why salt and pepper were listed in the ingredients but not the instructions.  Ambiguity, flour, baking powder, water.  A lot of water.
Kevin wanted to make sure I had a picture of him helping.
That ratio does not seem right.
It got super-sticky.
Like whoa.

And with that it sat overnight and we got to get some sleep.  We were up bright and early the next day to run a 5k and then get some massages.  We don't so much do "relaxing" around here very well.  At least the dough got to sit for a long time.
Except that it is basically soup.
Yeah, that's not gonna work.
I added some more flour.  And then more.  And then a bit more for good measure.  Then it sat for another 30 minutes or so, because otherwise it was unusable.
Looking much better.
Since we had been gone a lot that weekend, the cats were particularly cuddly.  At least that's what I like to tell myself, not that they're just bored or cold.
I know it is dark, but I have to show you my two boys cuddling.
They were even being particularly nice to each other.  Getting better all of the time.
Curie wouldn't pose, but finally stopped moving.  And our painting is crooked.
After the additional flour and sitting the dough worked much better.

It reminded me a lot of making pizzas.
The mess I was making.  Everywhere.  The cleanup was not fun.
The dough resting safely under the damp cloth.
Most importantly in this recipe, there are spices!  Not only that, but I do new things with them.  Oh joy of joys.
How beautiful to have everyone together again.
Cardamom shells.  Don't eat this part.
I could not find coriander seeds, just ground coriander.  I have looked before, too.
Now to the new things.  Personally, I have never had to fry turmeric before.  Anyone else?

All of our other dishes were either in the wash or full of leftovers, so I had to use the wok.  Brunei is in Asia, it works.  Right?
After it was all over.  Not sure what that did, but c'est la vie.
 For the rest of the filling, you just cook it like you would any ground meat with seasonings.  Murtabak = Brunei tacos?  Except it takes longer because of the wok.
So many onions.  EVERY.  TIME.
Finally done.  This is why Kevin never trusts my recipe time estimates.
Filling the dough should have been fairly similar to the empanadas.  Roll the dough, spoon some filling.  Here you also added some beaten egg.  Rather than baking them, though, you deep fry.  I had some leftover peanut and vegetable oil, so I used a combination of those two.  No reason other than frugality.
The first one seemed to be going so well.
But I made it too thin and put in too much filling.
It left a mess behind.
It was pretty ridiculous frying it.
Luckily I improved after that.
On the left you will find my first attempt.  On the right my second.  No one can say that I am not learning.
Now, I had heard of Top Gear before.  In fact, some episodes have been explained to me in great detail.  But I had never actually seen it.  While I was cooking, Kevin found the American version on TV.  So when I say that I got distracted, you will understand why.  And why we ate dinner on the coffee table.
Do NOT walk away to see something on TV while your plastic utensil is in the deep frying liquid.
See that top one?  Yeah, that might have been in a bit too long.  Dang Kevin and your distractions.
 This recipe has all of the right ingredients.  Meat and some veggies, with a lot of spices.  Not only that, but it is deep fried in some dough.  What more could you want?

A lot, apparently.  This one was definitely lacking.  It was hard to nail down exactly what was wrong.  The dough didn't fit very well with the filling on the inside.  They seemed like two separate entities.  And the filling itself wasn't as great as it should have been either.  I'm honestly not sure how to describe it to you.  Maybe all of that extra flour caused some problems.  Maybe mutton vs lamb really makes a big difference, or roasted coriander seeds make the dish.  Oh perhaps we just didn't like it.  It certainly wasn't repulsive or offensive.  Just disappointing.

I would really like one of these recipes to be so good I want to make it again.  That hasn't happened in a while.  While some have been very good (like Brazil) it wasn't something that made me want to add it to the regular rotation.  At least not lately.  I will continue my quest.

Katie, I will not be practicing sutures on the pigs feet.  Unless the zombie apocalypse is coming, because then it might be a useful skill to have on the run.  You can have them, though.

Next time: Bulgaria