Monday, September 26, 2011

Central African Republic

Location: Central Africa (shockingly)
Area: Over 620,000 sq km; 45th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Texas
Geography: Landlocked
Population: Almost 5 million; 117th largest in the world
Capital: Bangui
Infant Mortality Rate: 99 deaths/1000 live births; 7th highest in the world
Official Language: French
Constitution: Ratified in 2004
Trafficking: "...source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forces labor and sexual exploitation."  (
Poverty: Considered one of the poorest countries in the world
Human Development Index: Ranked 179/182 countries with data
Source: CIA Factbook

And thus begins our second African country in a row.  And we are not over yet.

The national dish of the Central African Republic is Cassava.  "But cassava is not a dish!" you say.  If you didn't that's okay.  I didn't actually say that either.  Cassava is an shrub, the root of which is eaten.  So what should I do with it?

There were a lot of options out there, including making chips (American, not British).  The one that I ended up deciding on was Fufu, obviously going with the Central African variation.  It looked fairly simple and would be a good way to truly taste the cassava.

That does not a meal make, however!  Almost every recipe I found was very heavy in peanuts, and we know how that worked out last time...  Except there was one.  I got Kevin to agree, and we were into new territory.  Chichinga, or skewered goat.

Finding goat would not be an issue, as I have seen plenty of it sold at the local Middle Eastern places.  I had to go to the giant international store for other reasons, so I looked there.  The first thing I learned was that cassava was also called manioc or yuca.  Not yucca.  It took a few trips around the produce section to get the right thing.

Second, I learned about the crazy stuff you can get in the meat section.  Black chickens.  Pig uteri.  Uteri!  However, goat was actually pretty sparse.  They had one kind, and it was quite smartly labeled.
So fast forward about two weeks until the day I am ready to make this food.  Tesla and I were a little worn out after watching the ND - MSU game.
But we pressed on.  I went to go start the cassava.  Uh-oh.  It had gone bad!  There was some mold and it was a little squishy and...eww.  I was disappointed, but had to go on.

In retrospect, this may have been a good thing.  I quote Wikipedia:
Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and has been linked to ataxia or partial paralysis
Oh boy.  Thank you for going bad.  Paralysis was not on my list.

But I still had my goat!  I have eaten it before at Indian restaurants, but Kevin was new to it.  The instructions were, for once, fairly straightforward and simple to follow.  I cut out the tomatoes and onions because frankly, we weren't going to eat them.  I also approximated the amounts for the other ingredients.  You give me full disclosure and then I don't listen anyway...
There were bones and a lot of fat.  I don't think this was the greatest goat to use.
The proof that Kevin helped.  I promise we don't make the broccoli every day.
Better settings on the camera this time.  Woo!

Pimenton is paprika, by the way.
And then you cook it!  Apparently, the only thing not on here is the temperature of the oven.  We went with broil, I believe.
Short, sweet, and to the point.  Kevin even looked up the temperature goat is fully cooked at.  Isn't the internet amazing?
Once again, there was football on, so we ate in the living room.  This may be a theme throughout fall.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this meal?  Pleasantly surprised.  For being so simple and quick, it was quite good.  The meat had enough flavor that it didn't necessarily need a ton of extra spices.  Was it perfect or ideal?  No, but it was certainly a good base.

Kevin said the goat reminded him of antelope.  Who can't relate to that, right?  It was a little gamey, but otherwise you couldn't tell it was "exotic."  I think a better cut would have helped, but overall well done Central African Republic.

Originally when I mentioned Cape Verde, Kevin only knew one thing about it: hurricanes.  Apparently there are hurricanes classified as Cape Verde ones since that is where they originate.  Therefore, Kevin wanted to drink some hurricanes to celebrate.  We didn't do it last week, so we made up for it this time.

We went with this recipe. Upper left-hand corner.  I misread it at the store and didn't buy all of the right stuff.  We made it work.
The Cruzan is from our honeymoon, and we already had the Svedka and amaretto.  Everything else was purchased for this blog.
The mini-Cruzans we snuck onto our cruise ship.
We were missing the pineapple juice, so we used orange juice and replaced one of the rums with a citrus flavored one.

Expert bartender.

Tesla inspected the alcohol.
To quote Kevin: "It takes like New Orleans."  I haven't been there, so I wouldn't know.  It kinda reminded me of the college let's-mix-everything-we-have drink.  Not terrible, but not the best.  Better ingredients may have helped.

Next: Chad

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cape Verde

Blah.  Clearly I am having a hard time keeping up with this thing.  I was going to get two done over Labor Day Weekend.  Two!  Instead, because I couldn't find the right ingredients, I got none.  That is two fewer than two, for those of you keeping track at home.

Sometimes it gets overwhelming, thinking how much I still have to go.  Thinking about the grocery stores I have to find, the time I have the invest, the writing I have to do.  It can be hard to motivate myself to find the next recipe.  But the hardest, absolute worst, part is knowing that I could spend 5 hours and a lot of money and still end up with something that tastes awful.  It is really disheartening.

Anyway, I apologize.  That is my ranting and moaning for now.  I promise, I plan to continue.  I think I have just lost a little momentum.  But now, back to your regularly scheduled program!

Background: Uninhabited until the 15th century when they were used as a trading center by the Portuguese
Location: Islands off of the coast of Western Africa
Area: Just over 4000 sq km; 176th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Rhode Island
Population: Over 500,000; 170th largest in the world
Ethnic Groups: 71% Creole (mulatto)
Language: Portuguese
Economy: 3/4 of GDP is service-based
Capital: Praia
Source: CIA Factbook

Cape Verde was another country that I probably could not have pointed to on a map a few weeks ago.  My geography is improved drastically, as is my alphabetical country knowledge for Sporcle.

Since their heritage comes primarily from Portugal, Cape Verde's national dish makes sense.  It is Cachupa, which is very similar to Brazil's Feijoada.  So this week is a study in how two different cultures that had similar origins manipulate the same base.  We'll see what happens!

(Kevin and I went to a Brazilian restaurant for DC restaurant week and he got the Feijoada.  It was delicious.  Instead of being a typical soup, it came in a bowl but you were supposed to spoon it out and eat it over rice.  Live and learn!  Also, Brazilian mixed drinks are super sweet.)

There were a lot of different recipes out there, but I settled on this one because, hey, it is in the Smithsonian.  If I thought that that would make it easier to find ingredients, I was wrong.

When I went shopping, I unfortunately did not write down "midge cutchido" for the corn, otherwise the people at the Portuguese place might have been able to help me.  There were no dry stone beans, salt pork meat, or hard winter squash.  They did have the sausages and banana leaves that I had needed for the Cambodian dessert.  Go figure.  Even when I went to the big international store I couldn't find everything, so there are definitely some weird substitutions in here.  Sorry.  Let us begin.
Stack of dry ingredients.  Only one of which is right.
This is what I ended up with for the corn, because it was close to the description Kevin found on his phone.
Navy beans replaced stone beans because those were MIA at all of the stores.  And I didn't realize until too late that it wanted large lima beans.  Oops!  Anyway, I started the boiling, and there definitely was some froth.  And then I forgot the bay leaf.  Oops again...
Mmm, wet corn.
Beans are awesome.
Now for salt pork.  I know I used some in the Bahamas recipe, but that apparently wasn't what most people mean by salt pork.  It is supposed to be more like bacon.  Eventually I settled and found some stuff at Safeway of all places.  I don't think it was exactly what they wanted...

It was supposed to be lean.  The opposite of this.
I cut off a lot of the fat, but had to leave some just to get enough substance.
No Mystery Ingredient this time.  You have to buy a package, and the other ones just end up sitting in your freezer.  Or is that just me?

Now boil and wait.  This happens a lot, doesn't it?
For the sausages, I had to look up what chorico was.  It is not, as Google searches seem to assume, chorizo.  It means a blood sausage.  Unfortunately I didn't transpose the garlic part onto my list, otherwise I would have also looked for that.  Luckily, the Portuguese store had these Portuguese meats.
Because of my...mishap...I am using Kevin's camera here.  And I figured out later I didn't have it on the right setting.  There are going to be a lot of oops in this entry.
That says "Blood Pudding" in case you can't tell.
It was ambiguous to me as to whether I should cut this one up or not, but I decided to go with laziness.
At least this one specified uncut.
For some reason, the fact that the second part of the recipe was sequestered off confused me.  Now, rereading it, I'm not sure why.  Gametime panic?  The fact that everything was measured from the end rather than beginning may have done it.
I used tomato paste because it is easier.
It was a weekend which meant that football was on.  The boys were watching (and me every chance I got).

Curie does not like to pose for the camera.  Tesla will pretty much stop whatever he is doing, or at least continue being cute so that you can get good shots.  Curie was born on the streets...I guess she doesn't want her identity known.

The dish started taking shape as I added the tomato mixture to the bean and meat mixture.
A lot of squashes qualify as "hard winter squash" so I went with the one I could most easily find: acorn.  It also had a nice tie-in to home.
Silly bad camera settings...
The recipe didn't specifically say what to do with the cabbage, so I just put it on the plate with everything else to serve.
Ha!  I caught Curie in the background.
Everything is boiled and ready to serve.  In front of the TV, of course, to watch the ND game.
It doesn't really look like Feijoada here...
It was hard to strain out the meat and vegetables without taking some corn. 

Corn and beans.
With broccoli once again.
Despite their similarities, this dish was quite different from the Brazilian one.  The black beans and different meats gave more flavor that what we got out of this.  Having very clear instructions was also helpful.

This wasn't bad, but not our favorite.  The sausage was not as tasty as I had hoped.  Actually, Kevin said his favorite part was the corn-bean mixture.  That may be the first time he chose vegetables over meat in the same meal.  If I had had the true ingredients, I'm sure it would have made a big difference.  As it was, the dish fell a little flat.  There are so many other variations out there, though, that I'm sure you could find a delicious one.  Let me know if you do!

Tune in next time (which has already been made) for another African country, a meat we haven't used yet, and the part of Cape Verde we forgot the first go around.

Next: Central African Republic