Friday, June 29, 2012

Recap #2 (26-50)

Wow, it has really been a while.  Apparently life gets in the way of stuff like this.  Luckily I am starting this writing before the baby comes.  Maybe I'll finish it before the baby is born.  Maybe.

Note: Now, as I am about to post this, I can tell you that it is looking pretty good that it will get posted before the baby comes...

Stats

-This time, there were no countries in Oceania that I cooked.  That will change next time.  I did do the other 5 continents (Antarctica as always excluded).      
Africa: 11; Burkina FasoBurundiCameroonCape VerdeCentral African RepublicChadComorosCongo (Democratic Republic of the)Congo (Republic of the)Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti...wow, that was a lot      
Asia: 4; Burma (Myanmar)CambodiaChinaCyprus      
Europe: 4; BulgariaCroatia, Czech RepublicDenmark
North America: 4; CanadaCosta RicaCuba, Dominica      
South America: 2; ChileColombia
-There were two specialty posts, not including this one.

            China Day 2 and China Day 3
-I took me about 12 months to get here.  Don't judge.

-I didn't hit any new states to cook in this time...just Virginia and Colorado.  That means only three total (with Michigan)
-These countries represent about 24% of the world's population, according to my calculations and various sources.  China definitely makes an impact.
-Breakdown of the base (usually meat) of each meal.  It doesn't add up perfectly, because sometimes there was more than one.  Plus, I cooked multiple dishes for China.
Beef: 10      
Bacon: 1  
Chicken: 9
Duck: 1
Goat: 1
Ham: 2        
Pork: 6      
Sausage: 1
Shrimp: 1
Vegetarian (2): ChadCosta Rica

Thoughts

I had a really hard time voting with this set of 25.  I had 6 favorites listed and only 4 least favorites.  I finally made myself decide, but it definitely wasn't easy.

Top Recipes (Number of Votes)

China (2)
Cyprus (2)
Bulgaria (1)
Burma (1)
Central African Republic (1)
Czech Republic (1)
Djibouti (1)
Dominica (1)
Kevin and I were a bit more varied this time.  This is why it is always good to get two opinions!  It was also difficult to remember how we felt about something that we ate a year ago.  Oops.  Last time we liked a lot from South America and not much from Africa.  It looks like things are changing!

Least Favorites (Number of Votes)
Burkina Faso (2)
Chad (2)
Congo (Republic of the) (2)
Cameroon (1)
Chile (1)
Congo (Democratic Republic of the) (1)
Croatia (1)
Well then, that's a little more uniform.  Unfortunately, while Africa had some highlights for us, it also had some low points.  The biggest thing I have to keep in mind it to not just future African recipes based on these past experiences.  I will find different recipes, improve in my cooking, extend my palate.

Recipes I Most Wish I Could Redo
Cambodia - If only to get the coconut part to work.
Chile - Again, I think this was an ingredient problem, not a recipe problem.  It wouldn't take too much for this to work out pretty well.

Housekeeping
-I noticed that some pictures and links are broken on old posts, plus the formatting got weird.  I hope to clean some of this stuff up.
-I am also going to make it a project to clean up the tags on my posts.  Some are unnecessary, others are confusing.  I started removing some of them already.

Next 25

I really can't make too many promises, because obviously our lives are changing drastically.  However, I have no plans to stop.  I don't know when the next summary post will be, but it will contain one country I have visited, and we will continue our tour of Africa.  Actually by the time the next set is done, I will have gone through almost 50% of Africa, but only about 40% of the world's countries.

This time, I was the one that grew, not Tesla:
Camping last Memorial Day.
Due date picture (yesterday).  I think the smile will get smaller with every day...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dominica

Location: Caribbean, about halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago
Background: Last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by the Europeans, due to the resistance of the natives.
Area: 751 sq km; 189th largest in the world
        Slightly more than four times the size of Washington, DC
Terrain: Rugged volcanic mountains
Highest Point: Morne Diablotins 1,447 m
Natural Hazards: Flash floods and destructive hurricanes
Population: Over 73,000; 200th largest in the world
Capital: Roseau
Diplomatic Relationship: The US does not have an embassy in Dominica, but instead the ambassador to Barbados is accredited to Dominica
Economy: Traditionally based on agriculture (bananas), but moving more toward ecotourism
Source: CIA Factbook

Dominica was one of the stops listed for our honeymoon cruise, and neither Kevin nor I knew much about it.  In fact, we were even pronouncing it wrong...not like the beginning of Dominican Republic, but Do-mi-NEE-ca.  We signed up to do a cruise excursion of "river to ocean kayaking" so that we could see some of the island and do something active.  We didn't really know what we were getting into.  It was gorgeous.
The view from our ship.
There was a law there that vendors had to be across the street from where the boat docked, which made for quite an amusing scene.
They came and picked us up from the ship and drove us up to where we were going.  It was a little ways away, so we got to see some of the inner island.  It was a great experience.  Our cab driver also gave us some stories and information on the island...some more amusing than others.
There was a ridiculous amount of running water for such a small island due to the mountain.  In fact, they told us there were 365 streams and rivers - one for every day of the year!  That is a lot of water.
This was their best coast guard ship that got sent out to save another ship during a storm.  It ended up on the wrong side of the seawall.
Traffic and roads there are a little treacherous.  Nonetheless, our driver got out at a blind corner to run acoss the street and grab up some lemongrass to smell.  It was quite fragrant.  Yes, this is a repeat picture.
At the time I didn't have a waterproof camera, so I didn't get any pictures of the awesome kayaking we did. But I assure you it was wonderful.
At the end of the trip, the guides stopped us to let them tell us about their island.  They said it is not a party island.  It is not where you come to drink alot and stay up late.  This is where you come to live.  They are fairly religious and always nice.  You would have a good life here.  They were incredibly friendly and clearly loved where they lived.

Dominica became our favorite stop on the trip.  We have art from there currently hanging in our living room. But the best part was after the excursion.  Because it was a morning trip, we got to ask for advice on where to get some food.  We were pointed to a small restaurant right across the street from the boat.  There was a small menu of "touristy" things, or you could go with the local menu.  There were two options for that day: fish or pork.  We got one of each.  It was probably our best meal on the entire trip.  You got the wonderfully flavorful entree with sides such as rice, plantains, salad, fruit, etc.  It was heavenly.
We ate so quickly I forgot to get pictures of the food, but at least I got some inside the restaurant.
As you can probably tell from this lengthy description, Kevin and I really loved Dominica.  Therefore, I really wanted to do it justice.  After researching recipes for a while, I finally decided on Caribbean Reef Chicken.  There were a lot of spices involved, which married well with our experience.  Similar to Djibouti, I also picked a recipe for Fried Plantains out of my new cookbook that was labeled "Caribbean." We actually had that there, so I thought it was a pretty good bet.

I didn't think that Kevin and I needed two full chickens, so I halved the recipe and I got to work.  I had the chicken cut in half within five minutes.  I am really improving!  The biggest thing I have learned it so use kitchen shears, not a knife.
Dominica was one of the islands where we didn't actually pick up rum, so I used some of the Mount Gay Rum for the recipe.  Gathering all of the spices was about half of the effort needed, I think.

Missing from picture: hot sauce and brown sugar
That's really about all there was to do.  It went so quickly I actually forgot to get a picture until I put it in the oven.
The smell was wonderful.

I was actually able to find mango chutney in the normal grocery store, which I had been a little skeptical about.  There were two options.  For one, the first ingredient was sugar.  For the other, it was mango.  Hmm...
(Go with the mango)
All that needed to be done was blend this with a little bit of rum.  Kevin and I had the same reaction after I lifted off the top: WOW.  It smelled incredibly strongly of alcohol.  I guess that it was happens when you basically turn rum into an aerosol.
The chicken was still cooking, so I took some time to work on the plantains.  It was a pretty basic recipe.  Take the plantains, cut off the ends, and then cut them in half.  Remove skins.  Cut them in half length-wise, and then fry in some oil.  Ta-da!  Unfortunately, the plantains didn't ripen at the same pace, so we ended up with one green one and one yellow one.  The recipe called for yellow.


They didn't really need to fry for long.  It was really nice to have recipes that didn't extend way past my planned time.  Even the chicken didn't need to go back in the oven multiple times!
Pre-mango.
I used peanut oil, although coconut oil would probably have been best.
Kevin helped cut up the chicken into somewhat more manageable parts, and it was a meal!

Other than the smell, one of the first things I noticed that this was just one of the prettier meals I had made in a while.  It actually all turned out like I expected it to!  And, I might add, not just in appearance.

It was delicious.  The chicken was fragrant and flavorful and moist.  The mango chutney really added to those parts where the spices may not have soaked in all of the way.  The skin was absolutely wonderful.  I think I may cut chickens in half to roast them more often.  This dish got a hearty thumbs up.  As an added benefit, Kevin realized he really likes mango chutney.  We will be looking for other opportunities to use it in the future.

Kevin also had the suggestion that this might be a great marinade for wings.  Then maybe turn the mango chutney into some sort of dip?  If someone does it before I do, please let me know how it turns out.  I think it sounds pretty exciting.

The yellow plantains were a very nice side dish.  Notice the caveat.  We both started with a piece that I think was from the yellow plantain.  It wasn't sweet, but it was cooked all of the way through and tasted a little like potato.  Kevin took another piece, and his reaction to that bite was very different.  This was the plantain that was still green.  It was hard in the middle and didn't taste like the other at all.  There is definitely a lesson here.

I talked to one of my coworkers, who is from Puerto Rico.  He said that if you are going to fry green plantains, you have to double-fry them.  Do it once, take them out, and then do it again.  That way, you get to the middle.  I may just stick with the yellow ones.  His other advice was grating a green plantain with a cheese grater and throwing that in coconut oil to fry.  This may be something to try...

So go.  Go cook this food from Dominica.  Actually, go visit Dominica.  We can give you a good restaurant recommendation.  This island is small, but there seemed to be a lot to do.  It comes highly recommended.

Next time: Dominican Republic

Friday, June 15, 2012

Djibouti

Djibouti nurse
Photo courtesy of user Travlr on Flickr
History: Created in 1977 from a former French territory
Location: East Africa, bordering the Red Sea
Foreign Ties: Strong French military presence, hosts the only US military base in sub-Saharan Africa
Area: Over 23,000 sq km; 151st in the world
         Slightly smaller than Massachusetts
Geography: Located near the world's busiest shipping lanes
Population: Almost 775,000; 162nd largest in the world
Capital: Djibouti (Personal note: This makes it super easy to remember in quizzes)
            Two-thirds of the population live in the capital
Currency: Djibouti franc, tied to the US dollar
Economy: Heavily dependent on foreign countries due to a lack of natural resources and arable land
Source: CIA World Factbook

Djibouti, as far as I can tell, is pronounced sort of like "Shipoopi."  What, you don't know that Music Man song?  Shame on you!

Other than having the fantastic letter combination of Dj, it is not a country that comes up much in my research or readings.  They are small and have one of the smallest populations in Africa.  I thought that this would mean that finding a recipe would be difficult.  Luckily, I actually had a few options.  After weighing a few of the recipes I found, I decided that Djibouti Samosas was the way to go.  Similar recipes showed up on other websites referencing Djibouti, so I thought that that was a good start.

Also, at a recent used bookstore trip, I picked up another international cookbook.  There weren't any recipes specifically called out as Djiboutian, but I found some sides that said they were East African.  Rather than just ignore all of the recipes that weren't country-specific, I decided to go for it.  Yay Pineapple with Coconut!

I cut this recipe in 1/3, so I started with a significantly smaller dough ball than what one normally would.  Given my history of dough that doesn't call for a specific amount of water, I thought I did decently.

This ended up being about the right amount of water.
And now it sets.  For an unspecified amount of time.  Yay?  At least it let me do the other work without worrying about timing.

The next steps were easy.  Fry up some minced meat (ground beef in this case).  Add in the vegetables and spices, and you have your filling!  And I got to use a leek.  I have used them before, mostly in this delicious recipe, but it still isn't something common.

I never end up using the whole leek.  There is a lot of vegetable there!
While this cooked, Curie decided to jump into the stroller box we still hadn't gotten rid of.  I was impressed with her jumping abilities.  She even managed to get herself out!
I was also able to get some of the pineapple side dish work done at this time too.  The recipe calls for Coconut Liqueur, but the ABC store didn't actually have any.  Instead, we bought some Malibu, since it claims to have coconut liqueur in it.  To make up for the difference, I put in more than it originally called for.

The pineapple was supposed to be cut and then dressed with some coconut shavings.  Given our previous experiences with fresh coconut, I used dried.  This then was marinated in a reduced sauce of pineapple juice, coconut liqueur, preserved ginger, and preserved ginger juice.
Kevin helped!
It wasn't supposed to be minced, but this was all that I could fine.
So.  Bright.  Yellow.
When I rolled out the dough for the Samosas, the ratio of filling to dough did not seem quite right.  Way more meat than could possibly fit in there.  I just did what I could.  I rolled it out fairly thinly.

Some things I learned:
-Much better to do an isosceles or scalene triangle rather than equilateral.  It closes up much more nicely.  Yay math!
-For me, one side of the dough was stickier than the other, based on the granite countertop.  Put the meat on the sticky side - it stays closed.
-Don't try to overfill it!
Ideal triangle.
You may end with some odd shapes.  Like Virginia.
I was right about the ratio.  Still a lot of meat left at the end.

The filling step definitely took the longest.  Onto frying, which wasn't as bad as I thought it could be, especially when I gave up the "one-at-a-time" idea.  They never really turned golden brown, though.  Just hard.

These were ready!  I don't think I ever quite got the pineapple mixture reduced enough, but it was time to eat.  It was supposed to be served cool, so we still had to let it sit for a while.  The Stanley Cup Finals were on, so we took our dinner to the couch.

The samosas were decent.  A little bland.  Serving them with hot sauce, like suggested, would probably make a huge difference.  Compared to many of the African recipes I have made in the past, however, these get the seal of approval.  Kevin even let me send the leftovers with him for lunch at work, so that part was definitely a success.  A good base, could use some tweaking.

The pineapple dish was quite delicious.  I am a sucker for pineapple and other citrus fruits, so this was really nice.  The sauce should have been a bit thicker, and I could see where garlic that was cut in slices, not minced, would make a difference.  For a nice, easy, fairly "healthy" dessert, though, it hit the spot.

Good showing, Djibouti.  There was a lot that could be worked with here.

Next time: Dominica

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Denmark

Danish flag
Photo courtesy of user --Tom S-- on Flickr
Background: This section in the CIA Factbook mentions the word "Viking."  Can't fail to mention that.
Location: Northern Europe, on a peninsula north of Germany plus several major islands
Area: Over 43,000 sq km; 134th largest in the world
         Slightly less than twice the size of Massachusetts
Borders: Germany
Natural hazards: Flooding in some areas of the country
Nationality: Dane
Population: Over 5.5 million; 110th largest in the world
        Note: About 25% of the population lives in the capital
Capital: Copenhagen
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Chief of State: Queen Margrethe II
Source: CIA Factbook

It is usually a good sign that there will be plenty of recipes out there for a country if their cuisine has a Wikipedia page.  Sometimes, it also makes it a little overwhelming.  There were so many options out there for Denmark!  I was naturally drawn to stegt flaesk, because it is bacon.  Yes, bacon.  Honestly, I can't fully remember why I didn't choose this one.

Instead, I went with frikadeller, or meat balls.  Usually, if I heard Scandinavia and meatballs I would think Sweden, but it looks like they aren't alone.  Let's try to bring Danish meatballs to the forefront, shall we?  I decided that this recipe would work for my purposes.  Not thinking that I had enough work, I also picked a recipe for Danish cold potato salad.

A day before I was set to cook, I got an e-mail back from the Danish embassy!  The text of that read:
Thank you for your interest in Denmark!

I sincerely apologize that it has taken us this long to respond to your inquiry.

Authentic Danish cuisine is very much related to the seasons in Northern Europe. Open-faced sandwiches, called ‘smørrebrød’ are a staple of Danish cooking and eaten all over the country at lunchtime.

I recommend you start out at the website of New Nordic Food: http://nynordiskmad.org/en/

We hope that you will continue to explore Denmark and Danish culture!
Oh no!  I already bought all of the ingredients and had plans made.  What to do?

Well, it turns out that most of the recipes on this site were in Danish.  Unfortunately, I cannot speak or read Danish.  I may still keep trying to look through this site to find something, but it wasn't enough for me to change my plans.

Other than boiling the potatoes, I concentrated on the meatballs first.  It took me longer than it should have to mix everything together, and I'm not sure why.

As far as the options were concerned, I went with beef instead of veal and bread crumbs instead of oats.  I had originally been planning the oats, but changed my mind at the last second.  I just wasn't sure how it would all come together in my head.

When I mixed the liquids and spices in it got really soupy.  I just hoped that letting it sit in the fridge for an hour would help.
The potato salad, of course, required a lot of chopping.  My not-favorite part.  And I had to let the potatoes sit for a while to cool down so I didn't burn myself.

I think I tried to crack open the eggs when they were still a little too warm, and they didn't come apart as well as they should.  At least it did work in the end.  Just learn from me: Keep running it under cold water, even after you think it might have cooled off.
I mixed in the rest of the ingredients (except for the French mustard because that wasn't called out anywhere - oops).  It did not get to sit for the recommended amounts of time, but at this point we wanted to get to eating sooner rather than later.

When I took the meatball mix out of the fridge, it had not firmed up at all.  I ended up putting in a little more flour and bread crumbs.  Still nothing doing.  I just went with it, because I didn't have much of a choice.
The closest I could get to meatball form.  I ended up just going straight from the bowl into the pan.
I had to refresh the butter a few times.  It was also hard to tell when they were done, because the color didn't change as much as I would have expected.  This part took much longer than it should have because I could only fry a few at a time.  Oh well, at least it was finally time to eat.


Generally, I like meatballs.  Sometimes even love them.  However, I apparently am not very good at making them, or even their meat patty equivalents, as these look like.  This is my second attempt, and they didn't turn out the greatest either time.  They were kinda greasy and had a weird texture.  Now, I like some grease just as much as the next pregnant lady, but this was too much.  And maybe cooking them longer would have gotten out some of the weird texture.  I'm not sure.

Kevin didn't think they were bad, but didn't love them either.  I think a little less liquid might have helped.  Also, smaller scoops?  What am I doing wrong?

I did enjoy the potato salad.  It is a nice side for lunches, too.  Kevin isn't a fan of cucumber, but was able to at least minimize his dislike by mostly eating around them.  I don't know that this is my favorite potato salad recipe, but it is certainly workable.

Perhaps next time I should try to translate the Danish language recipes and see what I get.

Next time: Djibouti