Saturday, July 27, 2013

France

L'Opéra et l'Hôtel de Ville avec la Tour de l'Horloge, Avignon, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France.
Photo courtesy of user Bernard Blanc on flickr.
Location: Main part is in Western Europe.  However, five former overseas territories were made part of France proper, and they are in South America, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and Southern Africa.
Area: Over 550,000 sq km (main part); 43rd largest in the world
         Slightly less than the size of Texas
Population: Over 65.5 million; 21st highest in the world
Capital: Paris
Nuclear Electricity: 53% of total install capacity; 1st in the world
Kevin's favorite link about France: The Complete Military History of France (not for the easily offended)

Sources: CIA Factbook

This was still while we were in Virginia, so it has been a while.  I apologize for any lack of detail...my memory may have gotten a little fried during all of this travel.

I knew that France would be big and important in my cooking travels.  It, unfortunately, also corresponded with the craziness of getting ready to move.  I wanted to do something good and cool, but not overly ambitious.  We were busy trying to get our lives sorted out.

The number of dishes that you can cook for France are overwhelming.  Their culinary story is rich, storied, and worthy of a lot of study.  I knew that whatever choice I made, in the end it would be inadequate and someone would think I didn't choose correctly.  I did some research, picked a few things, and hope for the best.

First, with some people coming over, I picked a beef burgundy recipe.  I also bought everything for french onion soup and two different crepe recipes from two of my international cookbooks.  I couldn't decide which one would be better.

Beef and bacon?  Starting in the right spot.
Beef burgundy basically takes some meat and vegetables and simmers them in red wine.  There are obviously variations on ingredients, but at the heart this is what you do.  In this recipe, first you saute the vegetables with some spices and brown the meat.

Carrots, onions, and garlic.
Kevin helped.
This particular recipe has you add wine and cognac.  And set it on fire.  You can't tell in this picture, but the vegetables are on fire.

 
It was probably around this time that I decided the soup was not getting done.  C'est la vie.

The beef burgundy then has to simmer for a while to soak up the wine and some other ingredients added, such as tomato paste.
I highly recommend this stuff.  You don't need to take out only a tablespoon and the throw away the rest of the can anymore!
Add some mushrooms, frozen onions, etc, and voila!  You have a thick stew you serve on bread.

Brendan even got a taste of this stuff.
After the baby was in bed, I decided that one crepe recipe was enough.  Luckily, I had made up some crepe batter long before, as it was supposed to sit, so my work was greatly reduced.
It was a fairly simple recipe: flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter.  The hard part is getting the cooking right.  You pour just a little batter in the pan, swirl it around until it covers the bottom, then immediately pour out any excess that doesn't stick.  Once you get the hang of it it goes pretty well, but it is a bit awkward at first.

When Kevin was in Paris he said he got a crepe every day, so he dictated the fillings.  Nutella, strawberries, bananas, and powdered sugar.

The beef burgundy?  Blah.  I didn't like it at all.  Couldn't bring myself to eat a lot of it.  Everyone else seemed to be fond, though, so it may just be me.  I remember the last time I tried eating beef burgundy I didn't like it either.  It is too...dry?  I'm not sure how to describe it.

The crepes, however, were amazing.  They came out of The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman.  If you want a great crepe recipe, go there.  Since you do the batter ahead of time, it really helps the cooking by more quickly.  In fact, when Kevin's parents visited a little while later, we made them again.

But I wasn't done yet, I still had another dish to cook.  France still had more to say.

Next time: France, Again

Friday, July 5, 2013

Finland

It's been forever, I know.  MAJOR LIFE CHANGES, guys.  In April, both Kevin and I left our jobs.  Then we moved out of our apartment and traveled the country visiting family for a month.  Now we are settled in our new home, Michigan, and Kevin has started a new job.  And by settled, I mean we lived in a hotel for a while, then a house without our stuff.

So forgive me for my lack of cooking/posting.  I have a few countries that I cooked before the life-chaos, so I will hopefully get those posted soon.  Then, once I find an international store, I hope to get started anew.  And now, since I will be staying home with Brendan, I'm hoping I'll been able to make up for some lost time.

Enjoy!

Finland
Turku, the former capital & oldest city in Finland
Photo courtesy of user Sirkku :) on Flickr
Etymology: The name "Finland" appears on three rune-stones, one of which dates from the 13th century
Location: Northern Europe, between Sweden and Russia
Area: Almost 340,000 sq km; 65th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Montana
History: Settled around 8500 BC during the Stone Age
Capital: Helsinki
Geography: Northernmost national capital on European continent
Noun: Finn
Population: Over 5.25 million; 116th largest in the world
Independence: 1917, from Russia

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia

Finland is one of those super-exciting countries that I am happy to tell everyone about.  Why?  Because I got a response from their embassy!  The whole e-mail is rather long, but here is an excerpt.
I took a quick look through this site and the recipes seem right: http://www.finnguide.fi/finnishrecipes/There are several Finnish food brands available in the U.S. Some products like Finncrisps, Finlandia cheese and Benecol are available in regular grocery stores. They should serve as examples of authentic ingredients.  Also, Florida has a rather big Finnish community, perhaps they are able to provide some more info http://www.yelp.com/biz/american-finnish-community-club-lake-worth
Yay!  I love when people take time out of their busy jobs to help someone just trying to learn and experience.  The rest of the e-mail was links to various Finnish websites and brands.  I looked for some stuff (like Finlandia cheese) but didn't find it.  I'll keep an eye out, though.

I immediately went to the Finnish recipes site and started scouring.  What could I make?  What seemed good?  What would give me a good representation of Finland?

I finally decided that, with this much information, I couldn't just make one thing.  For my first attempt, I would make Karelian Pies with potato filling.  They had come up multiple times in my search.  We were also having people over soon, and it seemed like a good thing to make en masse.

Flours, water, and salt into a dough.  Normally I have trouble with this combination.

Yay!
Not this time.  It came together and formed a dough-like substance just like it was supposed to.

I pureed the potato and other ingredients using my immersion blender.  Really, the steps were that easy.
Celebrating success.
The difficult part came in rolling bits of the dough as flat as possible.  I don't know if it is my lack of patience or just a physical inability, but I often don't get along with rolling pins.  This wasn't as bad as normal, but it took a lot of rye flour on the pin and the rolling surface.

I looked at some pictures of Karelian pies online to figure out how to fill the center with the potato puree.  The first few seemed a little wonky but I think I was getting it right by the end.
Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of people actually eating these.  I would say they turned out quite well, though.  Certainly a different kind of bread experience.  It was thin and a little crispy, almost like a cracker.  But still satisfying.

There was a large amount of potato left, which makes me wonder if I didn't put enough on or should have had more pies with what I made.  It just seemed a bit odd.

A few days later I was on to our entree attempt: Sausage Potato Hash.  It isn't the most adventerous recipe attempt, but I figured I would find some Finnish sausage and really make a go at it.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any anywhere, not even some of the websites I looked at online.  So I went to Trader Joe's and found the closest geographic sausage I could.
Yeah, I know.  Finland and Poland aren't exactly next door neighbors.  But I had to go with something!

Similar to the bread, this recipe was quite simple.  It even involved boiling more potatoes.  It the middle of it, while Kevin helped, we realized that the proportions would probably be off again.  I think our potatoes were a bit big.

Kevin had to end up taking Brendan duty.
Basically you fry it all up with some onions and add some seasoning.  You also get to fry an egg and put it on top, which I thought made for a pretty cool presentation.

The site suggested serving with "pickled cucumbers" so who was I to argue?  We had some homemade ones from Kevin's mom, so our meal was complete.

Finland was two for two.  This was simple and delicious.  Something you could make on a weeknight.  The addition of the egg gave a little bit more nutrition and flavor.  The only thing that I would change was the amount of potato.  It was definitely too much.  But if you reduced it a bit, the proportions would be spot on.

We had the leftovers a few nights later, and I even fried up some more eggs to make it complete.  I could see myself making this again.  While Finnish sausage would be the most authentic, I think it could still be delicious with a lot of different kinds.

Thank you, Embassy of Finland, for the information and help.  It certainly made for some delicious food.

Next time: France