Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ghana

Flag of Ghana.svg

"Flag of Ghana". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Background: First sub-Saharan African country in colonial Africa to gain independence
Location: West African, bordering Cote d'Ivoire and Togo
Size: Almost 240,000 sq km; 82nd largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Oregon
Population: About 25.75 million; 49th largest in the world
Source: CIA Worldfactbook

This one was a while ago, so bear with my memory.  This was during that glorious time where first-trimester wooziness was gone and third-trimester oh-my-god-I-only-want-to-sleep hadn't started.  What better to do with that time than cook African food?

As always, there was a lot of searching involved.  It was a bit easier to find Ghanaian recipes than many other countries.  There were lists like the 10 Ghanaian Foods You Must Eat Before You Die.  Fact: I found this list after I did this cooking and picked some different foods because I couldn't remember that I had already done Ghana.  AKA pregnancy brain.  Now I really want Strawberry Fool.

But anyway, in the end, this recipe for Chicken Stew with Rice and Plantain was the winner.  I don't entirely remember why, other than I hadn't made it yet and it didn't involve peanuts.  Hurray!

Separating a chicken?  I've got this down.  Although, looking at the pictures, I'm pretty sure I bought one already cut up.  Totally worth the little extra money.

Then some pepper, salt, garlic, and Maggi cubes.  Remember those?  We also used them for The Gambia.  I love getting to reuse some of these things!



For some reason I really like seasoning chicken like this before you cook it.  It just seems to permeate a little better.  This particular cooking method was a little different than what I usually do.  No oil or butter.  No water.  And the amount of time to cook was variable depending on the type.  I didn't know what "layer" and "broiler" types meant, so I just kept a watch on it.

There was also a chance to use my missing-lid blender for the tomatoes and peppers.  I don't specifically remember what kind of peppers I used, although I'm fairly certain we didn't use 10-12 like is recommended.  

Look how clean my counters were back then...

So, you steam the chicken, and then fry it.  I like where this is going...
Then you take out the chicken and start adding other things to the chicken-y oil.  Onions (always onions), curry powder, tomato puree, and then the blender mixture.

In the meantime, I also started working on the plantains.  Brendan colored.
The plantains basically get salted and fried.  The chicken gets added to the onion, tomato, etc mixture and simmered for a while.  In my case, I also started up my rice cooker.  Things start to come together.


Can we talk for a second about how good curry powder smells?  I really don't know why I don't use it more often.  I tend to associate the word curry with Indian or Thai cuisine, which is where the terminology originated.  Also, a curry powder is not just one thing, like basil or turmeric.  It is a mixture of spices, and therefore not necessarily universally the same.  Now you know.  (Thanks Wikipedia.)

Chicken on the rice.  Plantains on the side.  A salad for good measure.  Time to eat!
Give me food!
To be fair, this was quite a while ago.  But, from what I remember, we liked it.  It was good.  Spicy.  Flavorful.  Good.  Really spicy

I wouldn't say it wholly unique, but then again after you do a lot of food from one area that isn't too surprising.  It is a slightly different way of doing something that ends up a bit familiar.  But still tasty.  Another African win.  Yay!

Next time: Greece

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Germany: The Failure

First, a note.  The following happened over the winter, but I am writing this in the fall.  Ridiculous, yes?  You want to know what is harder than having time and energy to cook and write while having three kids two and under?  Having the time and energy to cook and write while having a toddler and being pregnant with twins.  It laid me out.  I could barely make dinner every day, nonetheless something special.

But - despite lack of sleep, lots of nursing, and more diaper changes, I feel much better now.  So let's get back to this, okay?  Starting with writing about the things I did a while ago.

Anyway, Germany.  My international cookbook had a recipe the really appealed to me: Schweinelendchen im Schwarzbratmantel (Pork Tenderloin in a Dark Bread Crust).  You take a seared pork loin and wrap it in a crust of rye bread crumbs, ground pork, and eggs.  You then poach it.  Delicious, no?  Worth coming back to Germany even after already doing one day of it!

This was supposed to be served with a pork or beef demi-glace.  Great!  Where do I get that?  Or how do I make it?  I went to the store, certain I could find it.

Do you know what demi-glace is?  It is a stock plus an espangnole sauce.  A what?  Some stock and roux and a bunch of other stuff.  It is supposed to be delicious and awesome and not something you really just buy in a store.  You could order some online for a ridiculous amount of money.  Or I could make it by following a recipe like this one.  This included finding 7 pounds of beef marrow bones and a lot of other things that required me to follow links on how to make them.  Very much a meta-recipe.  Given how tired and off I was at the time I just...gave up.  I had already bought all of the other ingredients (except rye bread crumbs), but I couldn't do it.  Just looking at making a demi-glace made me want to go to sleep.

So I apologize, Germany.  You did not get the look I had hoped to give you.  Maybe someday.  We'll meet and have a date.  With beer.

Next time: Ghana

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Germany

Flag courtesy of Wikipedia
Location: Central Europe, between the Netherlands and Poland
Area: Over 350,000 sq km; 63rd biggest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Montana
Population: Almost 81,000,000; 18th largest in the world
          Second largest in Europe after Russia
Capital: Berlin
Economy: Based on GDP per capita the 5th biggest in the world and the biggest in Europe

Source: CIA World Factbook

Next up in fast-forwarding through Danielle's life is...Germany!  And not only Germany, but Germany in Colorado at Christmas.

Why such time travel?  Sickness, tiredness, general lack of time.  What does that sound like?  Yep, that's right, time to have another baby!  And this time, although we didn't know it when I cooked this food, there were twins.  Turns out that makes things a lot more interesting.  There were a lot of foods I had aversions to, and just making a shopping list was difficult sometimes.  So bear with me.

Anyway, Germany!  As you may be able to tell from the Hetzel in this blog's title, my husband's family has some German in them, so they were more than willing to help me out with this one.

I found two recipes I wanted to do, and one of them was specifically a German Christmas recipe.  Thank you, sauerbraten!  It has to marinate for three days, so it is extra-special and usual only done for the holidays.

First you combine a ridiculous number of things and bring them to a boil to make the marinade.  The most interesting ingredient here is Juniper Berries.  They aren't really available many places.  So instead, my father-in-law picked them.  Yep, he found a juniper bush and picked the berries.  Talk about local sourcing.
By comparison, the rest of the ingredients are pretty boring.  Vinegars, vegetables, spices, mostly standard stuff.


I worked on the marinade while my mother-in-law salted and browned the meat per the recipe.  Raw meat wasn't really agreeing with me at the time.

Bottom Round
Brendan and his cousin were getting into all sorts of things they weren't supposed to, so we tried to improvise some child locks.  They were too smart.


And from there you combine the meat and marinade and let it sit for three days, turning occasionally.  This part sounds easy, but we definitely forgot to turn it for a while...
So!  The day of reckoning arrives and you add some sugar to the marinade and put it in the oven for four hours.  Then you strain the liquid and add gingersnaps to make a thick gravy.  Sounds easy, right?  It is if you have gingersnaps!  However, apparently all of them in the house seem to have gotten eaten over Christmas (how could that have happened?) so there was a last-second grocery store trip involved.
Crisis averted.

It got really thick and ginger-smelling.  I had never thought of using cookies as a thickener for gravy before, but think of the possibilities!  Like ginger snaps!  And...ummm...things!  First person to do Oreo-gravy gets a prize.

I thought maybe this would be good served with potatoes, and Kevin's mom suggested potato pancakes.  Perfect!
The meat gets cut up and served with the gravy.  Time to eat!
Our nephew liked the spread.
Everyone seemed to really like it.  The gingersnap gravy was a huge hit, and marinating the normally-tough meat seemed to tenderize it a lot.  With my ups and downs of being able to eat food, I was less sure.  I didn't dislike it, but just couldn't eat much.  The potato pancakes hit the spot, though!

This sort of thing is a really good way to use, as I said, a normally-tough cut of meat.  It is amazing what three days of marinating and then four hours of cooking can do.  Plus a delicious gravy.

Yes, those things seem to take a lot of time.  Most of it, however, wasn't active cooking.  I was actually surprised at how little direct-work it took, although I did have a lot of help.  I'm not sure I'll be doing this again, but if you want some German Christmas I highly recommend you try it.

Next time: More Germany

Thursday, October 16, 2014

More Georgia (But still not the state)

Georgia Flag
(Note, I am posting this without my "editor" Kevin looking it over.  I finally decided if I didn't post it I never would, so I'm just going with it.  Welcome back to blogging?)

As I was looking for something to make for Georgia, I decided I couldn't stop at one dish. Sometimes certain countries just have foods that speak to me and I want to keep trying.  Khinkalis came up repeatedly in my searches as definitively Georgian.  Plus they sounded good.  Meat dumplings?  I am in!  After looking at a number of recipes I went with this one.  The directions made sense and there were pictures!

I'm pretty sure I halved the recipe, although I could be wrong.  But at least this one is halve-able, unlike last time!

With some fancy Google converting, 1.1 kilos equals 2.4 pounds.  Yay internet!  And food scales!
The dough, which was just flour, egg, and water was pretty sticky, but not the worst thing with which I have worked.
Then there was a lot of kneading.  Lots and lots of it.  The dough was supposed to be very firm.  That takes a lot of work.
Unfortunately I hadn't gotten my rolling pin rings for Christmas yet, so I had to rely on Kevin's estimate for 1/3 inch thick dough.  I think it is his least favorite part of me cooking.  Then I got to cut the dough into circles - just like pierogi!  Don't worry, we'll get to you, Poland.

The filling wasn't very difficult.  Like the people who wrote the recipe, I chose not to use onions.  Instead it was meat, spices, and water to create a soupy mixture.
Caraway seeds!
Helping me cook.
Meat soup.
When you make the khinkali, you are supposed to put the mixture in the middle of your circle of dough and then fold it up around it.  If you get 19 folds, you are a good potential wife.  Or something like that.

I had a hard time keeping track of how many I was doing, nonetheless controlling it.  What counts as one fold?  And how do you get it to all stay together without making a bunch of uncountable folds at once?  Should Kevin have not married me?

Anyway, similar to other dumplings from the area, then you boil!  Unlike others, though, you are supposed to serve with only a sprinkling of pepper.
 
Only one exploded!  Make sure you don't let them get stuck to the bottom of the pot.
There is apparently an art to eating these.  You are supposed to pick them up by their top nubbin and eat the rest.  Then you put down the doughy part.  That way you have evidence of how many you have eaten.  Not for dieting purposes, but bragging ones, I believe.

That isn't a bad practice, because that part was a little dense anyway.  It didn't quite get fully cooked when the rest did, so you may not want to eat it.  As for the rest, it was still pretty dense.  Very very heavy.  Both Kevin and I agreed that it would have been better with the onion, actually.  Not a normal decision for us.  But we lived and learned.

We did actually eat some of these leftovers though, which was good.  It was just difficult to eat more than around three in any one sitting.  I don't know if this is intentional or because I'm not a good khinkali folder.  Don't worry, Kevin didn't seem to mind that there weren't 19 folds in all of them.

Next time: Germany

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Georgia

File:Hpim3433.jpg
Image from Marco Petrovic found on Wikipedia
Background: Received most recent independence in 1991 from the USSR
Location: Southwestern Asia between Turkey and Russia
               Georgia views itself as part of Europe
Area: Almost 70,000 sq km; 121st largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than South Carolina
Population: Over 4.5 million; 122nd largest in the world
Capital: Tblisi
Disputes: Contains two areas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that claim they are independent.  Russia recognizes them as separate from Georgia.
Etymology: The name Georgia appears in numerous early medieval annals, but it is unsure where it is from

Sources: CIA Factbook, Wikipedia

I believe the first time I realized there was a country named Georgia was the geography bee in grade school.  The person who answered the question got it right.  I would not have.  Who knew that a US state shared a name with a country on the other side of the world?

Google searches, the start of most knowledge pursuits today, kept leading me to Khachapuri.  It is basically bread stuffed with cheese.  There are some variations based on where you are in the country and such, but that basic description doesn't change.  My response: yes please.

There are tons of recipes out there, but I went with this one from the LA Times because I could follow it and it seemed like it had a good chance of being authentic.

It seemed like it would make a ridiculous amount of bread, so I halved the recipe.  I am often really bad at halving things - I keep forgetting.  So I made sure to remind myself repeatedly this time.  Half it half it half it.

First you are supposed to make some yeast bloom with some sugar and milk.  I decided to start mixing the rest of the ingredients while that happened.  All while chanting "half it half it half it."

Of course, this is the point where I reread the rest of the directions to see what else I could prep ahead of time.  That's when I saw it.  This recipe doesn't make individual breads like I thought.  Oh no.  It is supposed to make one big "pie" thing.  In a 9" pan.  That isn't really halfable.  Ooops.

Time to start over, since I couldn't really just add more milk and stuff.  Ugh.

Milk, sugar, yeast.  Don't half it don't half it don't half it.  Luckily I could just add more to the flour and such I started mixing.
Wait ten minutes.  Has the yeast doubled?
Sure, why not?
So then you mix it with the other dough ingredients and then start kneading until it creates a "medium stiff dough."  I don't entirely know what that means, but I do know that my days of rolling dough at Little Caesars helped.

Then begins the let it rise, punch it down, let it rise, punch it down cycle.  At this point it seems like my little halving and then not halving mishap doesn't matter much, other than delaying dinner, right?  Except I didn't have enough of the cheese to double that part.  So my lovely husband and son got to go run to the store for me while I punched dough.
Risen!
You can tell from the lovely weather that day that this was a looong time ago.  Editor's note: We haven't seen our grass in at least 2 months.
Brendan was getting used to the cupholders in his new carseat.
Braaains.
The rest is pretty simple in concept (isn't it always?).  Roll out the dough.  Carefully transfer it over a 9 inch pan, sorta like a pie crust.  Make sure you press it down into all of the corners.
It is kinda a ridiculous amount of dough.
I used their suggestion of rolling it around the rolling pin to transfer it to the pan.  Worked pretty well.
Success!  Minus pushing the dough into the corners...
Then you fill it with the filling.  What filling, you say?  Muenster, egg, and butter.  Couldn't ask for much better!

Fold it over to make it covered and bake.  Mine...let's just say it wasn't pretty.  But it was folded.

 I made some Garlic Leek Soup with Egg to serve as well so we weren't only loading up on carbs.
Brendan helped.
First time poaching eggs!

It was...super super thick and rich.  I'm not even sure that either of us finished a piece.  So much to get through.

There wasn't anything specifically bad about it.  Just couldn't get through it.  Less dough needed, maybe?  But even the filling felt overdone.  The leftovers just sat there and never got touched.  Harumph.  That was a lot of effort for something that didn't get eaten.

I wasn't a big fan of the soup either.  Not bad just...I don't know.  Not my favorite.  So all-in-all, not a successful dinner.  I guess we'll have to try again next time...

Next time: Georgia, Again