Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Danielle Hetzel's Blog

So, apparently I don't say my name on here very much.  You know...Danielle Hetzel?  This has apparently led to some odd issues.  I have been doing some guest posts on my Church's blog.  The number one search result that brings people there?  Danielle Hetzel's blog.  Huh.  Apparently, right now, that search term doesn't bring them here.  Time to change that.

This is Danielle Hetzel's blog.  You hear that, Google?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Equatorial Guinea

Background: Gained independence from Spain in 1968
Location: Central Africa, between Cameroon and Gabon
Area: Over 28,000 sq km; 146th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Maryland
Climate: "Always hot"
Population: Over 685,000; 166th most in the world
Capital: Malabo
Geography: One of the smallest Africa countries; has a mainland portion plus five inhabited islands
Health: Tap water is not potable

Source: CIA Factbook

In my search I kept coming across one recipe that I wanted to try.  I tried to avoid it, given the unconventional ingredients, but I couldn't.  I was hooked on Guinea Fowl Paella.  That's right.  Guinea Fowl.  A new meat for me!  I searched high and low.  The international grocery store didn't have it.  Neither did Whole Foods.  My quest was done before it began.

According to the interwebs, quail is a decent substitute for guinea fowl, so I decided that that was my next best option.  I also then decided to make Succotash since there was at least some concensus that it was the national dish.  I was wary because Kevin doesn't like lima beans, but I figured I had to do something the right way.

I went to Whole Foods to buy the quail and low and behold...guinea fowl!  It wasn't there before!  My faith in obscure ingredients restored, I would have skipped home if I didn't have a baby and a full bag of groceries.  Plus, now I didn't have to make succotash that wouldn't actually get eaten.  Yay!

What is a guinea fowl?  According to Wikipedia they resemble partridges, but with featherless heads.  Yummy.  Here is what one looks like when you buy it from the store.

That's right, I got to harvest the breast meat.  I needed 500 grams, which is a little over one pound.  The breasts weren't enough.
So I kept cutting meat.  And more meat.  There really isn't a lot there.
In the end, I had to halve the recipe in order to get the proportions about right.  I should have made stock out of the bones, but unfortunately I didn't.  I was ready for that bird to be gone.

The rest of the recipe is relatively easy.  First you cook the meat, and then the onions and garlic.  You also do add the rice to the pan uncooked, as we have seen in some previous posts.

There were a number of spices in the recipe, which got me pretty hopeful.  Usually the recipes we've tried from Africa have had a tendency to be bland, so this was a welcome change.
Then everything just simmers for a while to cook the rice.  Tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and bell pepper get added as well.

We decided to teach Brendan a little bit about the circle of life while things cooked.
Dead bird nom nom.
I also decided that hummus was worth another try and followed this recipe.  Easy and good reviews?  Sounds like a plan to me.  I could work on it while everything else cooked since it was so easy.

Check and mate.  A delicious, flavorful, somewhat exotic African dish.  Kevin and I wholeheartedly approved.  In fact, it was a bit spicy.  Everything worked well together, there are some clear health benefits to the dish, and we got to try something new.  Win all around.

The hummus was delicious as well.  It worked to cool down our mouths after all of the spiciness.  Kevin said it tasted like the hummus you get from the store.  I agree.  I plan on making it again.  And again.  And probably some more.

It is so nice to have a recipe that wins.  If you want to try something new, go find a guinea fowl!  The meat seemed a bit tougher than chicken, but really not so different as to make you pause.  Baby steps: just what I like.

Next time: Eritrea

Friday, November 23, 2012

El Salvador

El Salvador - Pacific Coastline
Photo courtesy of user Rick's Pic (Montreal) on Flickr
Background: Independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839
Location: Central America, Pacific Ocean side, between Guatemala and Honduras
Area: Over 21,000 sq km; 153rd largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Massachusetts
Natural Hazards: Known as the "Land of Volcanoes"
Geography: Smallest Central American country, the only one that doesn't border the Caribbean Sea
Noun: Salvadoran
Population: Over 6 millions; 107th largest in the world
Capital: San Salvador
Economy: Third largest economy in the region

Source: CIA Factbook

As I have mentioned before, when I start my search, I always look for a national dish first.  This usually brings up some interesting results, as people don't have concensus for most countries.  The exception was El Salvador.  Every place I looked brought up one dish: Pupusas.  And since these are homemade tortillas stuffed with yumminess, I was more than happy to take their advice.

After settling on the website linked above and the cheese flavor, the rest of the ingredients weren't hard to find.  Even the Maseca was just at the regular grocery store.  Apparently making your own corn tortillas is more popular than I thought.
The recipe said to just mix the water and flour, adding more flour if needed, to make a "beautiful" dough.  I actually had to keep adding water.  It otherwise was not sticking together at all.  I noticed that the recipe on the back of the flour actually called for more ingredients, but I kept on with just the water and flour.  Plus water.  And some more water...
Six cups is a lot of flour...
The mix was not too hard to make.  A ridiculous amount of cheese plus some green peppers.  Cheese is probably the greatest food ever created, so I wasn't complaining.

I don't think that I cut the green peppers small enough, because they kinda stood out.

One day, I would very much like to get a tortilla press, but for now I don't have one.  I also don't have flat plates that I could use to press out a tortilla.  So I improvised.  Cutting boards are flat, right?
Now we have a method, we just need the raw material.  In working with the dough to make "plum-sized" pieces, I noticed it still seemed a bit dry.  I was wary to add more water though, since I had already gone well over the recipe's suggested amount.  I just went with it and formed my bowls.
The edges were cracking a lot...
It was also difficult to get two tablespoons of cheese mixture in the middle and still be able to close it.  The large green pepper pieces didn't help.
I was rather surprised at how it looked after being "pressed."  I had a very different concept in my mind.  I guess I expected it to retain more of a pocket-like structure with the cheese in the middle, but it actually got incorporated more than that.  It was also quite a lot of work to get it below .5 cm.  They look thicker in the pictures on the website...

When I read instructions and see "cook for four minutes on each side" I think "Hey, that won't take long!"  I never factor in that it is actually eight minutes for one tortilla.  One!  I think I only ended up making six or eight total.  With two pans.  It was quite tedious.

The also tended to...fall apart.  Some more than others.
Best one I made by far.
About average...
Kevin and Brendan didn't have much to participate in for this one, so they just hung out.
Dinner is served!
My homemade pupusas?  Not so good.  The dough part was grainy and too chewy.  The cheese part was, shockingly, really bland.  There was just really nothing redeeming about these.  The one I mentioned above as being the best-looking was also the closest to how pupusas should be, I think.  The cheese mixture created a bit of a pocket, and the tortilla itself was actually coherent.  But still not really edible.

Well then, didn't see that coming.  Definitely should have made the recipe a lot smaller.  Waste of so much cheese!  Here's to hoping the next one goes better!

Next time: Equatorial Guinea

Monday, October 29, 2012

Egypt

Sailing up the River Nile
Photo courtesy of user runintherain on Flickr

Sigh.  I took pictures.  And I didn't even drop the camera.  But then the memory card decided that it didn't want to work.  So I lost them all.  Such is life...

History: The first unified Egyptian kingdom arose circa 3200 BC.  The last native dynasty fell in 341 BC to the Persians.
More Recent History: Egypt recently had their first presidential election since the fall of the former president Hosni Mubarak.

Location: Northern Africa, bordering Asia
Area: About 1 million sq km; 30th largest in the world; Slightly more than 3 times the size of New Mexico
Geography: Egypt controls the Sinai Peninsula (only land bridge between Africa and the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere) and the Suez Canal (Sea link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea).
Ethnic Groups: 99.6% Egyptian
Population: Almost 84 million; 15th largest in the world
Capital: Cairo
Public Debt: 85.7% of GDP; 17th highest in the world

Source: CIA Factbook

Egypt's importance in global history could be demonstrated by looking in most grade schools and seeing how many projects and lessons are done on Ancient Egypt.  Personally, I remember doing a group project where we built an ancient Egyptian village out of sugar cubes and various other grade school construction materials.  I'm sure that many of you have similar memories.

Today, I learn most of my Egyptian news from podcasts, mostly PRI's The World.  Egypt's world influence continues even now.  The protests and regime changes in the Arab world did not stop nor end with Egypt, but it seemed as though their protests truly held the world at attention.

I have one personal source for information on Egypt: my friend Laura.  She studied abroad there for a full year in college.  When I asked her for a recommendation on a recipe, she immediately and emphatically responded with "Koshari."  I sent her a few recipes to make sure they looked right and this was one of them that got the stamp of approval, as long as I used elbow noodles.  So now we have a plan!

One of my international cookbooks also had some Egyptian recipes to help me round out the meal.  I picked falafel and hummus.  I know that hummus isn't necessarily Egyptian, but it is the right region and it was on the same page as falafel.  That counts, right?

Also, I apologize.  Usually the pictures help me remember everything I did, so this will probably be even more scattered than normal.

I had to soak the chickpeas for both the falafel and the hummus the night before.  Yay planning.  The falafel recipe told me that I would have to skin all of them after they soaked.  Really?  You want me to skin two cups of beans?  I looked up other recipes and they didn't include this step, so I ignored it.  My rebel status is cemented.

The falafel was going to take the longest, so I started there.  The first step is to blend them all.  Attempt one: food processor.  There were too many beans (Picture chickpeas falling everywhere.)  Attempt two: blender. I didn't put them all in, and figured I would add some slowly.  Blend!  It only works on the bottom ones.  Try again!  Still no go.  That's when I decide to use my spoon to push them down.

Now, more than ever, I wish I had pictures to show you.  You could see the spoon with a large chunk taken off of it.  You could see splinters in among the not-so-blended chickpeas.  You could see that we didn't-so-much have falafel for dinner that night.

Lesson learned.  Next time use metal.
Just kidding.
Maybe.

One down (for good), two to go!

The chickpeas for the hummus were still usable though, which was good.  They also (if I am remembering correctly) fit in the food processor.  I processed them with some tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and water.  I also added a bit of salt and pepper, as it prescribed.

After blending, I topped it with some paprika and olive oil.  They recommended serving it with radishes and olives, but instead we had some pita chips.  Who would go the healthy way?

For the Koshari, I couldn't actually find brown lentils.  There were red and I think green, but no brown.  I just figured that regular, no-color-specified lentils were brown, then.

There really isn't too much to write about this without pictures.  You cook the lentils, rice, and noodles.  Fry the onions and garlic, then add all of the other ingredients to make a sauce.  I do remember reading some comments that it needed a little more flavor, so I added some extra red pepper flakes.  A LOT of red pepper flakes.  I also know I used a red onion because I had already chopped that up for the falafel before the disaster.

The lentils, rice, and noodles become the base for the dish, and the rest is a sauce on the top.  And I don't need a picture for this part, because it actually looked like the picture with the recipe.  No joke.  I remember thinking that when I served it, too.  Hey, I did something right!

The hummus was...okay.  It felt like something was missing.  It almost felt like it needed to be roasted or something.  The flavor was very flat.  Normally I love hummus.  Does anyone have a good recipe that they recommend?

The koshari, however, was quite delicious.  It was filling and flavorful.  Maybe a bit too much.  The spice ended up being more that I would normally like.  I could still eat it though.

I think the change I would make would be to double the sauce, as I saw some people suggest in the recipe comments.  The ratio just seemed a bit off - too much starch, not enough sauce.  And for a vegetarian dish, it went over pretty well.  I think I'll be serving this one during Lent.  And even if you change the sauce, the idea of a lentil-rice-noodle base is pretty cool.

So thank you, Laura, for your suggestion.  If I'm in Egypt some day, hopefully I can find a street vendor who will serve me some.

Next time: El Salvador

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ecuador

Ecuador - 148
Photo courtesy of Flickr user PatrickMMoore
Background: Part of the northern Inca Empire until 1533.
Location: Western South America
Area: Over 280,000 sq km; 74th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Nevada
Elevation: The earth actually bulges around the equator.  This means that Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo (6267 m) is actually the highest point on the earth when measured from the earth's center.
Population: Over 15 million; 67th highest in the world
Capital: Quito
Source: CIA Factbook

Now that we've gotten the hang of this parent thing (maybe. a little.) it was time to tackle the next country.  Ecuador, here we come!  After some research and some delicious-looking options, I decided that seco de carne con tamarindo was the way to go.  Something familiar (beef and spices!) with something new (tamarind and achiote!).  Plus, the instructions were fairly simple and easy to follow.

I wanted to use something better than the meat already cut up for beef stew at the store, but couldn't find anything else appropriate, so that is what I ended up using.

Achiote (also called Annatto) was very easy to find at the local Hispanic grocery store.  Did you know that it is often used for the red coloring?  I could certainly see that!


Any recipe that lets me blend everything in the food processor instead of having to chop it all up scores some points in my book.  As long as you get it to the point where it will fit, you're good.
This is probably a good time to mention that I halved the recipe.
The tamarind juice/pulp was a little different than the achiote.  At the Hispanic store I found tamarind soup mix and a tamarind drink, but not the pulp.  When I looked up substitutes, it called for about 5 different citrus fruits mixed together.  One day, Brendan and I took a walk and ended up walking around Whole Foods for the heck of it.  What do we find there?  A new product!
This seems to be the closest I am going to get.  It doesn't say how concentrated it is, but I just went with it.  It was really thick and goopy.  The coloring was very dark - almost black.
All of the pureed ingredients together ended up almost overflowing the food processor, so it is a good thing I halved the recipe.  That dark color remained, which isn't how it looks in the pictures from the original recipe website...
I used a summer wheat beer for the next step, and brown sugar rather than grated panela.  This was certainly one of the easiest parts of an already easy recipe.
It had an interesting consistency when boiling.  I could stir it very easily and it didn't seem to be too thick.  However, it looked like tar when boiling.  Bubbles would push up one part of the surface and break through there.  The entire thing got very uneven.  I tried to take pictures, but it was hard to show.
Well, anyway, after the boiling we were done!  I served it with rice and asparagus.  Not the most authentic, but delicious.


Brendan gets to sit in his swing during mealtime, so he usually ends up enjoying it too.
Kevin and I had the exact same thought with this meal: there was too much of something.  There was one flavor that overpowered and really filled your mouth.  Given what we know, I'm pretty sure that was the tamarind.  And I don't just mean it was more powerful than everything else in the dish.  I mean it was kinda like drinking straight lemon juice.  The flavor was tangy and sour and overwhelming.

After a few bites, neither of us could eat anymore.  I'm pretty sure we weren't using the best kind of tamarind juice.  There have to be better options that the goopy concentrate.  From what I was reading, that is the case.  I'm sure that would have made all of the difference here.  In theory, I think I like this dish.  In practice with what I had, not-so-much.

Next time: Egypt

Friday, September 14, 2012

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

Fishing off Atauro Island, Timor-Leste
Fishing in Timor-Leste.  Picture courtesy of United Nations Photo on Flickr.
Conventional Name: Timor-Leste
Location: Southeastern Asia; eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago
History: The Island of Timor was colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  After being occupied by Japan for a while, they declared independence from Portugal in 1975.  Nine days later, they were invaded and occupied by Indonesia.  After various bouts of pacification attempts and violence, Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state in 2002.
Area: Almost 15000 sq km; 160th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Connecticut
Adjective: Timorese
Official Languages: Tetum and Portuguese
Religion: 98% Roman Catholic
Population: About 1.2 million; 159th largest in the world
Capital: Dili
Children Under the Age of 5 Underweight: 40.6%; 4th highest in the world
GDP Spent on Education: 16.8%; Highest in the world

Source: CIA World Factbook

Timor-Leste (more common and accurate name for East Timor) is currently enjoying "one of its longest periods of post-independence stability" according to the Factbook.  Unfortunately, this period just started in 2008.  It does sound like things are looking up, though.

Let's see...last time we talked I was waiting "patiently" for this pregnancy thing to be over.  Since I didn't know when the baby would come, I stopped buying food to make international recipes because I didn't want it to spoil while we were busy keeping another human being alive.  This time, I have a baby to present to you:
Brendan Thomas!
This was over two months ago.  He's much bigger now and I'm actually able to steal some time away to cook and write blog entries.  Good progress...

When he was about 2.5 weeks old, Kevin's mom came out to help us take care of our place and Brendan while Kevin went back to work.  This also gave me a brief respite to cook some food from Timor-Leste, so let's get started!

Finding a recipe was not easy at all.  They are such a small and new country.  Plus, it doesn't seem like there is much in terms of cuisine to separate them from the surrounding Indonesia.  Therefore, I ended up finding a recipe from someone who is making a similar journey to the one I am.  She made Chicken Basko Meatballs.  These are meatballs with a few unusual (for me) ingredients served over ramen noodles.  Plus, it gave me another stab at getting meatballs right.

First, I am supposed to gather and caramelize the shallot and onion.  So far so good.
Next, I had to blend some ice and the ground chicken.  I didn't have pre-crushed ice, so I just did that in this process with the food processor.  It truly was quite loud.  I had Kevin bring Brendan in the other room.
Tapioca flour was one of the ingredients that was new to me.  It can be used as a thickener similar to corn starch, apparently.  I hear that I should use it to make pie crusts.
All of the ingredients were put in the processor to make one uniform mixture.  I have to say, I really like mixing things this way.  It really saves a lot of time.

While I did this, Kevin's mom made the ramen noodles.  This was something else new for me.  Yes, I had the Maruchan version that keeps college students alive.  I had never bought them separately though.  It took some searching in the store and I'm still not entirely sure I got the right thing.  The packaging was certainly amusing, though.


We just cooked the noodles in chicken broth, since this says you're supposed to cook it in soup.  I figured it couldn't hurt, right?

These meatballs are supposed to be boiled, which helps them keep their shape WAY more than frying them does.  I definitely thought that that was a positive.  It was also very different than what I am used to.
Dad and Brendan, hanging out while food is finished.
That's really about it.  Not much to this recipe, when the food processor does most of the work!


I did not like this food.  I don't know why.  It wasn't really a particular taste or smell.  I think it had something to do with the texture.  It all just caught in my throat.  Maybe boiled ground chicken just become rubbery?  I don't know.  I couldn't explain it.  Having some of the noodles actually helped a little, which I also can't explain.  The noodles were okay, but very salty.

The others didn't seem to mind the food nearly as much as I did.  It must just be a personal problem that I had with this combination of things.  Perhaps I would actually like them better fried.  It is also possible that I would like them better while not sleep deprived.  We will probably never know.

Fear not!  We have now gotten to the point where I can cook international food without an extra set of hands in the house.  I've already got the next country done and another in the works.  The countries will just keep on coming.

Next time: Ecuador