Monday, August 29, 2011

Canada

Location: North of the US
Area: Almost 10 million sq km; 2nd largest in the world
         Slightly larger than the US
Borders: Canada is the world's largest country that borders only one country
Population: Over 34 million; 37th largest in the world
                  About 90% of the population is within 160 km of the US border
Net Migration Rate: 5.65/1000 population; 15th highest in the world
Capital: Ottawa
Life Expectance at Birth: 81.38 years; 12th highest in the world
Trade: Have a substantial trade surplus with the US, who takes about 3/4 of Canadian exports each year
Source: CIA Factbook

There are a number of things that I like about Canada and that make this post exciting.  One: I have been there!  Numerous times, in fact.  I can think of at least four.  Two trips with the family, once to see some plays in Stratford, and another college trip.  I can only find pictures from the last one, so that is what you get.
Blurry but spectacular.
Doesn't everyone look so happy in Canada?
Two: I have had some people from Canada hit this site (yes, it tells me your country).  Maybe they can tell me some Canadian foods they like.  Or I can get yelled at for getting something wrong.

Three: This is their generally accepted national dish.  What, didn't click the link?  French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.  Let me repeat.  French fries, gravy, and CHEESE CURDS.  When can I move there?

Obviously, that is not an entree.  So I had to keep searching.  Originally, I was looking for some elk recipes, since Kevin's dad hunts elk and we may be able to get the meat.  However, given the difficulty of shipping it, I went another direction.  Enter Jambon De Le Cabane A Sucre.  Doesn't it sound delicious?  I have my meal!  Hams make a meal for a family, so we invited some people over and made our own rag-tag gang.

The recipe starts with boiling a ham in apple juice (or maple sap) for three hours, which pointed to a non pre-cooked ham.  All I could find in the right size, however, was pre-cooked and spiral cut.  Harumph.  Not what I wanted.  Also, I cut the recipe down to a 4 lb ham, but that didn't work with the apple juice.  In order to cover it, I had to use more than proportionally half of what was called for.  Sometimes the ratios don't work out right and you have to improvise.
Boiling apple juice got pretty sticky.
Aftermath.  I even had to throw away the glaze that came with it.
 Ham and bacon are possibly the greatest meats ever created.  Just going to throw that out there.

Creating the glaze was a little bit more difficult.  Maple sugar was very hard to find.  Apparently, it is difficult to make it well.  Eventually I located it at Whole Foods for a ridiculous amount of money.  Seriously, you don't want to know.
At least you can tell it is authentically Canadian!
Kevin said it tastes like Maple Bars, to which everyone else said "What?"  Apparently those are the light brown donuts.  No one could understand why you would ever go for those when the chocolate ones were there.

I was also confused by "Hot, dry mustard."  I have seen hot mustard, and I have seen dry mustard.  Never both.  In the end, I went with my mustard spice.
It was very interesting watching the liquid take over all of the maple sugar.
This glaze got boiled and then poured over the ham.  I was worried it was going to dry out, because next I had to bake it.

A roast pan is a very nice thing to have.  It has come in handy more times than I thought it would.

Kevin had the job of cutting up our authentically Canadian fruit: pineapple.
And finally, the poutine.  Exciting, right?  I used Yukon Gold potatoes to be "truly Canadian" or something.  I also used canned gravy.  Wah-wah.  I would have made my own except I wasn't making beef.  I've never used the canned stuff before.  In fact, I didn't even know it came in cans before this recipe.
Kevin wanted you to know he worked on Canadian stuff too.
Nice and fried.
Appetizers, with the fresh peppers from the Farmer's Market that morning.
Except there was a problem.  That problem was cheese curds.

I was in Wisconsin recently and didn't bring any back with me.  Here I looked at Harris Teeter, the Commissary, and Whole Foods.  Nothing.  I started calling around.  Multiple grocery stores and two boutique cheese shops.  Nada.  This is appalling.  You can't actually be a gas station in Wisconsin without selling them, how is a major metropolitan city so deprived?

So I had to cut corners.  I had to make due.  Please don't be mad at me.  I know they aren't the same.  not even close.  But it was a substitution mentioned on the recipe.  I apologize.
Chopped.....mozzerella.  *Turns head aside in shame*
In retrospect, I should have used cheddar...

At this point, I dropped my camera.  Smack!  On the ground and it will no longer turn on.  The weekend before Maura's wedding, too.  Harumph.  Not a good day for me!  So the rest of the pictures are from Kevin's.  He made me wear the neck strap.  I'm not allowed to have nice things.

Anyway, food is done!

Kevin, Tesla, Rachel, Jon, Sam, Bill.  I'm really good at taking pictures.
The ham was what was expected.  Delicious, yet dry.  All of the boiling and then baking to a pre-cooked ham left it a bit devoid of moisture.  Seems like the glaze could really be a good thing, though,

The poutine was good, but definitely had a lot of potential to be amazing.  Real cheese curds, homemade gravy.  It felt like the cheap knock-off "just microwave!" version of something amazingly greasy and unhealthy.

My recommendation: try both of these dishes.  Or, hey, drive up to Canada and try some stuff there.  Maybe elk.

Now excuse me while I try to find the toughbook equivalent for a camera.

Next time: Cape Verde

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cameroon

Background: Formerly two separate entities called French Cameroon and British Cameroon
Location: Western Africa, between Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria
Area: Over 475,000 sq km; 54th largest in the world
          Slightly larger than California
Population: Almost 19.75 million; 58th largest in the world
Capital: Yaounde
Noun: Cameroonian
Religion: 40% follow indigenous beliefs (CIA Factbook)  Wikipedia claims differently...
Cuisine: Varied, due to their "crossroads" location
Economy:
Because of its modest oil resources and favorable agricultural conditions, Cameroon has one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, it faces many of the serious problems confronting other underdeveloped countries, such as stagnant per capita income, a relatively inequitable distribution of income, a top-heavy civil service, endemic corruption, and a generally unfavorable climate for business enterprise.
Source:  CIA Factbook

Cameroon was one of those countries that I did not know much about.  I wasn't sure where it was, or what the situation there was like.  From what I had read, they have stability that some of their neighbors don't, but still lack infrastructure.  The things you can learn from the Factbook are really quite interesting.

The national dish of Cameroon is Ndole, which uses a bitter leaf that is indigenous to the area.  Peanuts were a prominent ingredient, so it was immediately eliminated.  Kevin wanted to try Suya, minus the peanuts.  That would have altered it more than I wanted though, so we ended up agreeing on Brochettes a la Camerounaise.  No new ingredients, but I don't normally cook "kebab's."

Being me, I didn't notice until I went to cook that there were no amounts in the recipe.  How do I miss such things?  And no picture meant I didn't know what the consistency should be either.  Watery?  Chunky?  Dry?  Time to make it all up!

I made the marinade early and let the beef sit overnight.
That seems like a goodly amount of onion, right?
I thought I had fresh ginger, but I was mistaken.  I had to use powdered.
Full up.
As you can see, using a mortar and pestle was not going to work.  Time for my handy dandy food processor.  The solver of all problems.
I guess this amount means I went with a tomato-based sauce

It looks a little more like a slushy than I would like.
That's that, really.  I added the meat to marinate overnight and then went on with my day.  Simple, yet frustrating in the lack of direction.

The next day I just had to make the skewers and broil them.  For an unspecified amount of time.  Luckily the internet helped with that.  15 minutes total, turning and basting in the middle.
We bought the skewers for when we went camping.  It was good to actually have the equipment.
Post-marinated beef.
I went with green peppers, because that seems to be our staple.
Half-way done, adding more tomato slush.
Not sure if you can see the steam, but these were HOT when they came out.
It was a really nice day out, especially for August in DC, so we decided to eat outside.  It was a nice change.

Yes, our plants are dying.  After you leave them alone for a week and a half in July to go on vacation it is hard for them to recover.
We realized there was one main thing missing, so Kevin took care of that.

Much better!
The food was...meh.  The marinade didn't have much flavor in it.  We both ended up adding more spices.  It is entirely possible I was supposed to add twice and much of that stuff, or maybe half as much vegetables.  No idea.  I don't really know what else to say.  It wasn't that great, but I have no idea if it was even close to being right.  *Shrug*

You'll just have to wait until next time for something more exciting.  Except cats!
Curie is always excited about the outside, so we decided to give her a look.
She wouldn't sit still, so we put her back in very quickly.
Tesla will run out the front door every chance he gets, but is wary of the back door.  He did not come out.
Next time: Canada

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cambodia

Location: Southeast Asia; between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos
Area: Over 180,000 sq km; 90th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Oklahoma
Population: Over 14.7 million; 66th largest in the world
Capital: Phnom Penh
Ethnic Groups: 90% Khmer
Exports: Hong Kong is their top partner
Khmer Rouge: This regime, led by Pol Pot, is said to be responsible for killing around 2 million people, one-third of the contemporary population (mid 1970's).  According to Wikipedia:
They immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western.
Source: CIA Factbook, Wikipedia

I have been more excited for Cambodia than any other country in a long time.  First of all THANK YOU GOD that I am finally in the C's.  Seriously.

Secondly, for a recent wedding, Kevin and I were in Milwaukee.  We visited the art museum with his parents.  I think it is the most gorgeous and architecturally innovative museum I've ever seen.  Also, they had an exhibit on the Forbidden City.  I enjoyed it a lot, and of course it dumped us out into the gift shop.  In the midst of laughing about things like the "Chinglish" books and admiring the beautiful scarves, Kevin found the cookbooks.  They had some Chinese ones, but they also had one for Southeast Asia.  It looked beautiful and interesting and I immediately fell in love.
And Pad Thai on the cover?  Instant happiness.
Too bad I got this after Burma.  I went through and marked a bunch of Cambodian recipes that seemed plausible.  I plan on making the others at a later date.  The real question is whether I should write about them or not.

After the first narrowing down, Kevin picked.  We settled on four recipes: Fragrant Cambodian Chicken Wings, Stir-Fried Pumpkins and Snow Peas, Cambodian Garlic Pork (which required another recipe as a dip), and Sweet New Years Rice Cakes.  Phew.  And since I wasn't going to cook a four-course meal just for Kevin, we invited Rachel over to partake in the fruits of labor.

I knew that shopping was going to be an interesting adventure, so I looked for a new international store that would focus on this part of the world more.  Enter El Grande International Supermarket.  It had mixed reviews online, but it was on the way home from work which was one of my biggest criteria.  Walking in for the first time was almost as overwhelming as going to Ikea (but not quite).  You could buy whole sugar canes.  There were more types of cucumber than I knew existed.  I saw a number of ingredients that were in recipes I rejected because of the obscure ingredients.

Unfortunately, the store was organized by nationality rather than type of food, which made some things rather difficult to find.  Also, when I asked what one unlabeled food was, the employee had to go get someone who knew English to write it down for him.  It felt authentic, but wasn't very convenient.  I ended up coming out of there with: lemongrass, squash, and glutinous rice.  I was never able to find banana leaves or galangal.  I guess my search for a store will never truly be over.

Since I knew there was going to be a lot of work involved, I did as much early prep as I could.  The chicken wings had to sit in the spices for a while, so they were a natural starting place.
I had never worked with lemongrass before, but we did get to smell some in the Caribbean on our honeymoon.  In fact, our cab driver stopped on the middle of a windy road to pick some and bring it to us.
Running back across the road, because you really couldn't tell if another car was coming.
It was actually very similar to endives.  Take the outer parts off, then go from there.
They are super long.
Don't keep the end part!
There were a lot of spices and flavorings, and then I was supposed to mash them all together.  Since I don't have a spice grinder, I used my food processor.
Shallots.
Ginger.  This was my substitution for galangal.  The book has a lot of reference material and was clear to point out they aren't the same thing, but it was my only option.
Kevin's mom got me these gloves so I wouldn't burn myself anymore.  After we took the picture, we found out they weren't spicy at all.
There was also garlic!
I don't think the consistency was quite right, because the recipe said "until finely ground."  There wasn't as much grinding as pureeing.  Oil, turmeric, and some other flavors were added to complete the marinade.

Dish one: waiting to be cooked.  Dish two: Cambodian Garlic Pork.
The instructions, and the picture, imply tiny pieces of pulled pork.  How do you pull it before it is cooked?  I don't understand!  I just chopped it up into tiny bits because I wasn't sure what else to do.  If I didn't cut it ahead of time, it wouldn't have cooked in the three minutes they called for.
Garlic, fish sauce, and some basic spices.
Fish sauce was in almost every one of their recipes.  The author said it is to Southeast Asia what soy sauce is to China.

That was really about it for the entree, so I could move on to soaking the rice for the dessert.  Yay!
Glutinous rice = sweet rice = sticky rice.  I had been unsure.
I didn't want the stir-fry veggies to dry out by prepping too early, so I got a much needed break from my feet.  Oh, and Kevin wanted me to tell you that he was cleaning during this time.
Tesla loves laundry day.  It is apparently relaxing.
Curie would rather sun herself.
When the time came to pick up cooking again, I began the fourth dish: the stir-fry.
The recipe says "pumpkin," but it also mentions butternut.  The internet tells me that a butternut pumpkin = butternut squash.  This is good, because there are no pumpkins out there in the summer.
This was another ingredient I had never used before, although I have eaten it.  The curve makes it annoying to cut all of the meat out.  Not the most efficient thing out there.

I had to keep cutting it in half, and then half again, then half again...etc.
There aren't too many more pictures of what I did for a while, because frankly Kevin was being way more entertaining.  I enlisted his help to open the coconut that was needed for the dessert.  The first step called for an ice pick, which we don't have.  After try a few very un-safe alternatives, he had an idea.
Sanitizing.  He was sure to make sure I had a picture of his thoughtfulness.
Aaaaaand...drill!
Woo!  We now have a hole in the coconut for draining.  Next we were supposed to hammer it on the seam to break it open the rest of the way.  Kevin can get into this type of cooking.
Whack!
I was more than a little concerned for Rachel's hands here.
It would not work.  No matter what he tried, Kevin could not get that coconut open.  We're declaring it defective!  We could have run to the store to pick some up, but Rachel had to pick Jon up from the airport later.  We had to move on, sans dessert.  Someday.  Someday.  *Shakes fist at sky*

At this point all that remains is baking the chicken, and stir-frying the meat and veggies.  The pork dish was supposed to have a lot of adornments to eat with it.  I missed the part where we needed lettuce to wrap it in.  Oops.  Kevin still made the plate pretty.
Who knew he had it in him?
These look very different from the picture in the book.  I blame it on the consistency, or something.
Snowpeas, squash, green onions, oil, and some basic spices.
This was the extra "recipe" that was involved in the pork dish.  A dip of salt, pepper, and lime.
I was (finally) time to eat!
The chicken wings were an appetizer, which is why they were mostly gone.

As you can tell from the picture above, the wings were a big hit.  They had a lot of flavor without being too hot.  They were easy to eat and sufficiently different from something you would find in the States.  I highly recommend them.  Kevin votes I make them again, and maybe I can figure out my marinade consistency problem.  Even better, the book says you can make a double batch and freeze half of it to bake at a later day.  Yay time savers!

The stir-fry was good but not particularly special.  With the highly spiced chicken, it was probably a good idea to have a side like this to balance it out.  There were ingredients I wouldn't normally use, but the rest was like when I stir-fry regularly.  Whether this means the dish isn't that exciting or I use authentic techniques regularly, I'm not sure.  Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

The garlic pork was similar.  I would not have been surprised to see an item like that on a very American menu.  The part that stood out the most was the dip.  It was so strong that you had to be careful how much you put on.  Overall, it was certainly tasty.  Having the lettuce to wrap the meat and veggies in would have made a difference.  Then it would become more of a finger food and had a completely different eating experience.  Figuring out how they pulled the pork could have helped too.

Obviously, I don't have a final conclusion on the dessert.  :-(  If I made it some other time (I now have that giant thing of rice...), do you want to know what happens?  Hopefully I can find banana leaves too, and not have to use aluminum foil like the book suggested.

The summer is (already), coming to a close, so hopefully I will get more consistent with posting soon.  We'll see how that goes.

Next time: Cameroon