...so I'll post it here.
We just did our weekly grocery shopping, including the food for tomorrow's Cuban cooking extravaganza.
For the black bean soup, I had to purchase a smoked ham hock, which only comes in a package of three. I didn't want to buy one of them, much less three.
But let me just say, never in the history of my life cooking have I been as grossly fascinated by the site of any foodstuff as I am by the sight of those ham hocks.
Thank God I live in "the South" where those things are available. I suspect if I were trying this in New York, I might have trouble buying such a thing.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
...so I'll post it here.
Labels: food and drink
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
We got a 2 hour delayed opening today. There is no sun here, absolutely everything is coated in ice in my hard. Someone nicely shoveled our driveway and walk, for which I am thankful, but I'm not chancing it. Me and ice don't get along at all.
I'll work tomorrow :-) In the meantime, I'm running dishes, replying to email and voice mails for work purposes, and doing baby-related research. Plus other assorted tasks that have fallen by the wayside.
And I might do some exercising later too. And work on finishing my book club book. Can't believe the meeting is Monday already! YIKES!
Labels: just me
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Well, as you all know, we were supposed to cook Maltese last weekend. Sadly, we didn't get around to it. Sadder still, the meat I bought for the experiment went bad. Nothing smells worse than bad pork, I can assure you. It was gag inducing. So off I went to get more pork and beef and prepare two different Maltese dishes: timpana and bragoli.
As you know from reading my reports on these different cuisines, TIMING has been my big issue. Malta was no different. However, Malta was so off the charts that I am now going to make it a point that I read through the entire thing from start to finish before cooking. It's just insanity. Plus, whichever Maltese people wrote the recipe for timpana should be boiled in a vat of macaroni for not putting everything in the ingredient list! NAUGHTY MALTESE!
Ok, so timpana is basically a macaroni dish that is baked in puff pastry. Since I figured I would need some time to a) boil the macaroni and b) bake it, I started with it first. The ingredient list did say that chicken livers were optional, and taking a poll, it was determined that we would opt out of the chicken liver portion of the recipe. Everything else we stayed true to. The remainder of the ingredient list calls for macaroni, mixed ground beef and pork, puff pastry, onions, garlic, tomato paste, parmesan cheese, ricotta, eggs, and salt and pepper.
Ok, so first we browned up the onions and garlic in margarine. Wait, margarine?! Didn't see margarine on the ingredient list? Neither did we. Fortunately, we had some. Crisis averted. While that was going, I mixed up the pork and beef--often I can find a meatloaf mix of different ground meats in my local grocery store, but this week I shopped at SuperTarget, and they weren't so obliging, so I wasn't able to locate the mix. It was OK, however, because the bragoli called for a half pound of ground beef, so I only had a leftover half pound of ground pork, which I froze. Doubtless we will use it one of these times.
The next set of directions called for browning the ground meat in with the onion and garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste, stirring well, and cooking for 15 minutes. Ok, great, no problem at all. So I put that aside and let it cook on its merry way and turned my attention to continuing to chop up onions. Although there were only 4 large onions in both dishes combined, it seemed like A LOT of onions. And these onions were the fairly strong kind, so I was a little weepy while I was cutting them.
So, the fifteen minutes elapses, and I read the next set of directions: Add tomato paste and 1 cup of beef stock and simmer for an hour.
Panic set in. First of all, "WHAT BEEF STOCK!?!?!?!?" Beef stock is not something I keep in the house, honestly. Occasionally I have other stocks on hand, but beef stock? No.
Secondly, simmer for an HOUR!?!?!?!?!?!!? Ok, it was already 5pm. And I had already read the baking directions, so I could put on the oven, and I knew that this bad boy had to bake for NINETY MINUTES and then sit out for THIRTY MINUTES. Tacking on this additional and unexpected hour, that led me to a total of THREE HOURS of cooking time. I started to hyperventilate just a little bit. Why? Because A Very Duggar Wedding was coming on at 9pm.
Yes, I know, I know, but I am totally obsessed with the Duggars. It's probably got something to do with not being able to have children of our own and being endlessly fascinated that one man and one woman have managed to not only create 18 children, but to raise them to be polite, well-dressed, nicely mannered, musically gifted, and not all hate each other. Freakishly so, yes. But the fact that Michelle and Jim Bob were again expecting while their oldest son was getting married to a young woman and the two of them had never even kissed--well, you can bet your butt I wasn't about to miss that. Not for all the malt in Malta.
Ok, so I scrambled through the cupboards and came up with a box of chicken stock. It was going to have to do. I poured it over the beef, added the tomato paste, and set it to simmering. Then I got to thinking. Probably the only reason why I'm supposed to simmer it that long is to a) make the meat tender and b) simmer the liquid down to a saucier consistency. And if that's the case, well, couldn't I just jack up the heat a bit and make it all happen a little faster? So I took a chance and let that happen.
While that was simmering, I lined a pan with the first sheet of puff pastry. I used a 13x9 pan, although the directions didn't give a measurement for what kind of pan I should use. I did have to stretch out the puff pastry a good bit, but it worked out fine. After I had simmered everything for about 30 minutes, I poured the beef mixture into the macaroni, and added a mixture of ricotta, parmesan, and eggs. Then I poured the whole thing on top of the puff pastry, covered it with another layer of pastry, and shoved it in the oven.
Ok, it was time to turn our attention to the bragoli, which are little rolls of beef stuffed and cooked in a vegetable and wine sauce. Ok, again, if there is anything else about which I am as ignorant as I am about wine, it is about cuts of beef. Fortunately most recipes tell you what cut to get, but if the store in question doesn't have that particular cut, I don't know what to get as an alternate. This was the situation I found myself in when purchasing supplies for bragoli. The recipe directed me to purchase a rump roast. When I got to the Super Target, nothing was labeled 'rump roast' on the shelves. There was a little chart that explained what each cut was good for, but the little chart didn't even label rump roast. I took a look at the various cuts of meat there. Weight Watchers counsels that you should pick something with very little fat. So I found the least fatty looking thing and bought it. I think it was some kind of a chuck roast, but I really don't know.
So I sliced it up and let my sister have the honor of pounding it out. She was having a little bit of a bad day as Baby Dottie was screaming for no good reason a good part of the time. Judy may have overdone it, however, on account of the handle nearly broke off my pot, and when she switched to a can of soup, it got all dented. I'm thinking I need a meat mallet. (Yes, I know this picture is dark, and in fact, nearly all of them were, unfortunately! The lighting in my kitchen sucks, but using the flash makes everything super bright. I'm going to have to see if someone messed with the settings on my camera.)
While she was pounding away, I was preparing the stuffing. I had already boiled and peeled two eggs. It was at this point when I discovered that we had eaten the required bacon for breakfast and that I was out of carrots. Because it was getting late and they needed gas, Judy volunteered to go to the store and pick up the stuff we were short. This would also save us some time on the other end of getting ready to head out before the Duggars came on so we could watch it up at their place. Meanwhile, I grated the one carrot I did have, chopped up the egg, and prepped the vegetables for the sauce. Among the most frustrating directions was that I needed four tomatoes, PEELED. Have you any idea how frustrating it is to peel a tomato? I know, there is a way to do it with a quick boil and then an ice water bath, but the directions called for this tomato to be raw, and I didn't really want to cook them if I didn't have to. So I didn't. And I also didn't peel them. I figured the skins would fall of later of their own accord. I chopped up more onions and garlic, and when Judy returned, she chopped up the bacon and I chopped up some more carrots.
It was time to assemble the stuffing. We combined ground beef, bacon, hard boiled eggs, parsley, bread crumbs, a carrot, and salt and pepper. We did have a debate over whether or not the bacon should be cooked before it was put in the stuffing and Judy advocated bacon bits. But I was of the opinion that the bacon would cook when it was all put together, so we left it raw. The next directions called for us to put about 2 tablespoons of stuffing onto each slice of meat, roll, and secure with toothpicks.
No problem there. There was a LOT of stuffing left, however, so I did decide to put a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and rolled the remaining stuffing into little meatballs. I baked them in the still-hot oven.
Ok, then we had to cook more garlic and onions in "enough water to cover the onions". Onions have a nasty habit of floating in water. I pushed a piece of onion down and poured in water until it was covered. We were then supposed to add the beef rolls and brown them. Well, browning appeared pretty much out of the question. It was more or less a matter of boiling--and honestly I hadn't put in that much water. But it was definitely too much, I would come to find out.
After the beef appeared 'pretty cooked', I took it out and then added in everything else--the carrots, tomato paste, potatoes, bay leaves, worcestershire sauce, and red wine. I decided to let it cook down and jacked up the heat on the electric frying pan, as I was already pretty darned suspicious of what might be going on with this "sauce".
Ok, well by now we were at darned near 7pm. Our cut off departure time was 8pm. I let everything cook for a while and I raced upstairs to take a fast shower, throw some clothes in a bag, and then back down to the kitchen to pack the General's lunch. I put the beef back in the pot of vegetables and pulled the timpani out of the oven. If I'm being honest, I started to get extremely concerned. The 'broth' that the beef was cooking in was smelling rather unappetizing. It didn't look bad, per se, it just didn't look like much--a bunch of vegetables and beef floating in somewhat murky water. The timpani, on the other hand, looked fabulous. The pastry had browned up beautifully. I pulled the beef from its bath and half-heartedly sprinkled some of the veggies over top of it. Then I called the troops to dinner.
Everyone admitted to a serious case of the nerves where that beef was concerned. We all took a bite at once and were all immediately proven wrong. Despite the spectacular failure of the 'sauce', the beef was absolutely fabulous. The flavor of the bacon had cooked through the stuffing, and all the other flavors combined to create a really marvelous dish. I did ultimately elect to heat up some jarred tomato sauce and put that on my beef, and Judy said that she would have liked to have had some horseradish on hers, but as a stand alone dish, it was really, really great.
And I don't know what I can say about the timpani. It was also really delicious. The crust was flaky and wonderful, as puff pastry is, but the macaroni part had really packed together and created a dense and wonderful filling. The cheese and eggs bound all the beef and noodles and veggies together, and the General even tried it and liked it. Not enough to eat a helping himself, but considering that he doesn't like pasta very much, the fact that he liked it at all was a great sign in its favor.
For dessert, I had found a ChocoDessert on clearance at Super Target. It is direct off the boat from Italy, and while I was aware that Malta and Italy are two separate countries, I thought that perhaps geographically they were close enough that the dessert might make a nice ending to the meal.
The first thing we all thought when we bit into it was "BOOZE!" It definitely had some sort of liquor in it. I'm not hot on alcohol and on the flavor it imparts in sweets, so I didn't eat very much of it, but everyone else gobbled it right up and loved it.
We finished dinner, quickly loaded up the dishwasher, rinsed off what was left, and hauled butt out to Alexandria. We made it with 6 minutes to spare on the Duggar wedding special, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
I know I keep saying over and over again how great the dishes are that we've had from each country. I don't know if it's the fact that we are trying lots of different flavors and recipes or if it's the experiment itself, but the taste buds are coming alive with each country.
On the completion of Malta, we have done 6 countries in January and my calculations tell me I need to do 6 or 7 per month, so that's pretty good. I am enjoying the heck out of this. I've also gotten Lesley to promise to teach me some tricks from Canada when they come to visit, my brother is sending me some typical Ecuadorian recipes, and a co-worker from China has offered to teach me a few tricks. I am also looking ahead to February. I'm going to hit England and make beef wellington, Cuba and prepare Cuban sandwiches (I saw Tyler Florence prepare them yesterday on the Food Network and even though I'm not a big fan of mustard and pickles, I can't wait to go for it!), and something Swiss during Fasnacht in February. Any other special requests?
Thanks goes out to Amy for suggesting Malta! We were eating really, really well with our Maltese feast!
They had us believing.
My boss was making preparations to cancel work today.
The eye doctor I am taking a client to this morning called me with their inclement weather policy.
Clients called me to tell me not to hurt myself coming out.
It's dribbling a new little flakes NOW, but nothing in the quantities needed to give me a day off.
Well, there's always tomorrow.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Ok, so I overestimated my ability to get all the countries done I wanted to this weekend and Malta fell by the wayside--basically because I didn't count on getting sick! (Sorry, Amy!) We will get to Malta this weekend on Sunday hopefully. However, I did get to complete Kenya and Indonesia with some help from the family.
Tuesday we were all feeling celebratory on the news that we were getting our baby and that we had a new president. I had plans for our meal to encompass Kenya, where Obama's father is from, and Indonesia, where Obama spent some of his formative years.
Not too much Kenyan cuisine is available. Around the World in 450 Recipes only had generic recipes from "Africa" as if Africa is one big country and not lots of countries comprising a continent. I had to resort to a Google search again, and a lot of what turned up was comprised of goat. Now, I don't know about you all, but a) my local grocery store doesn't carry a whole lot of goat meat and b) I'm not all that excited about eating goat. So, I did some further investigating and found a couple of recipes that sounded decent. We decided to make chapati (a fried Kenyan bread) and kachumbari (a salad).
As for Indonesia, I have eaten Indonesian food several times and like it a lot. The one decent restaurant near my sister's house is Indonesian and we first went there for my birthday several years ago. Upon hearing it was my birthday, they gave us a plate of noodles free of charge. Free food hooked our hearts and we go there a fair amount. I don't know how the place stays in business (it's always empty when we go), but I'm glad it does. If you're in the mood for Indonesia and find yourself in Alexandria, VA, check out Satay Sarinah on South Van Dorn Street.
Anyway, I decided to trust the Around the World book and its recipe for Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk. We also decided to make basmati rice. I *love* basmati rice--it's probably my favorite kind of rice. It definitely pairs well with Asian cuisine of all types.
So, our full menu (with linked recipes where appropriate) was:
* Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk
* Basmati rice
We started with the chicken, expecting it would take the longest. Again, my stellar timing skills were sorely lacking. (For the record, when making any kind of bread, even a bread that requires no yeast, make it first.) The recipe called for a chicken to be cut into 8 pieces. Well, my local grocery store was most obliging in already selling the pieces packaged altogether. This made for a lot less work for me.
The chicken had to be put into a pan, sprinkled with salt, and put in the oven for up to 30 minutes. I am not big on salt, I'll be quite honest, but I keep putting it in there because darned near every recipe requires salt. We bought a box of salt strictly for use in this project. I find it interesting the things that we don't keep a lot of on hand due to lack of use that other people tend to use up fairly quickly. For instance, pretty much any time my father or my in-laws come to visit, you can bet we'll run out of butter or margarine. We never have salt on hand and always have to scrounge it up for my friend Joe or my mother-in-law. My sister is always looking for milk. But you'll find a steady supply of garlic, chocolate, and yogurt at Casa Kosior. So go figure.
Anyway, we put the chicken in the oven and I decided to throw the rice into the rice cooker on the off chance it was going to take two hours again. Of course, I put it on the white rice setting, so it only took 30 minutes. Since we had some time, we decided that we would make the paste for the chicken. The picture in the cookbook shows the paste being made with a mortar and pestle. I did actually look for a set at Target, I could swear I saw them there before, but no luck. So I got out the food processor again. Into it, we added garlic, onion, macadamia nuts, and coriander. Because we wanted a paste, I let it run rather than pulsing it.
The resultant paste smelled sooooooooo good. As we fried it up in some warm oil, the kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly. Again I wished I could convey smell through this blog. We were salivating. Once the paste was nice and warm, it was time to add the chicken, which had completed cooking. We also had to add lemongrass (see that stick in my sister's hand? That's lemongrass, which doesn't look like grass at all!), bay leaves, sugar, and two mystical ingredients: bruised lengkuas and lime leaves. Ok, frankly, I had no freakin' clue what the heck lengkuas was/is. The recipe called for one inch of it, peeled and bruised. Based on this and on the region we were cooking in, I supposed that it must be ginger, but I wanted to make sure. Back to Google, where I learned that lengkuas actually is a wild ginger. According to the Thai Foods Glossary at EthnicFoodsCo.com:
Laos (lengkuas): Sometimes is called galangal, this is a member of the ginger family and it has a very tough but elusively scented root that must be peeled before use. Substitute slices of dried laos (soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes) or powdered laos (1 tsp = 1 inch).
Well, like goat, lengkuas is in short supply at my local grocery. So I substituted fresh ginger, which is plentiful and relatively cheap. Judy bruised it by hurling it on the counter several times until it fell into several pieces. Then we laughed at it to further damage its ego, peeled it and threw it in the pot.
Lime leaves were also not available at the local store. I briefly considered putting lime juice in, but I was afraid that it would curdle our last ingredient, coconut milk. So we did without. Looking back on it, I suspect that we probably could have used lime zest, but I wasn't using fresh lime juice anyway, so I didn't have any of that either.
So we threw all that in and then added the coconut milk. Out of curiosity, we decided someone needed to taste the coconut milk to see what it tasted like, as we had quite a bit left. Judy and I took a vote and decided Lucas would draw the lucky straw, since he missed drinking the leftover lemon glaze at Three Kings. He was very brave about it and when asked he stated, "It doesn't really taste like anything." Thus emboldened, Judy and I each tried a sip, and he was correct. It really didn't have much of a coconut flavor when you drank it. There was a definite coconutty aftertaste, however, but it wasn't strong and wasn't bad. All the same, I don't intend to take up drinking coconut milk.
We turned back to the chicken, mixed up all the ingredients and brought it to a boil and then let it simmer. It was supposed to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, but by the time all was said and done, it simmered for the better part of an hour.
Time to get onto the kachumbari. Kachumbari is a VERY easy salad to prepare. You slice up some tomatoes and arrange them on a plate. On top of that, you put a pile of chopped onions and cilantro. Now, let me confess here and now: tomatoes and I are only just beginning to mend our long rift. I used to be of the type who would eat ketchup and tomato sauce, but was not hot on fresh tomatoes. In the past 2 years or so, however, I would say that I have come to appreciate them more and more. Still, I was hesitant of a salad that used tomatoes as its base.
On the upside, I could just about graze on a field of cilantro. It is one of my favorite herbs ever. If I'm being honest, I doubled the amount of cilantro called for in this recipe, and munched on the extra cilantro left on the cutting board. It was spectacular. The pile of tomato, onion, and cilantro is topped with grated carrots, and then the entire thing is drizzled with lime juice. The colors of this salad look distinctly African, and it makes a very festive presentation.
This accomplished, I turned my attention to the chapatis. This is a fried flat bread, as I mentioned. It is extremely simple to make, deceptively so. However, the directions demanded that it needed to sit for 30 minutes under a damp cloth. I neglected to read these directions past the ingredient list, which is simply salt, flour, and water. Why does it need to sit? There's no yeast, nothing to rise. But I figured that if it needed rising, I would let it rise. Unfortunately, by now, the rice was completed, and the chicken had been bubbling away for the better part of its cooking time. But there was nothing to do but put the kachumbari back in the refrigerator, set the bread to rise, put the rice cooker on 'warm' and let the chicken continue to cook on low over the stove.
When thirty minutes had passed, I took the dough from the bowl. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't changed shape or risen in the least. I quickly heated up some oil in a pan, set my brother-in-law to cooking the bread, and started forming broad, flat disks with the dough. He fried them up quickly while Judy used the time to feed Dottie so she would keep quiet during the meal and I set the table.
We sat down to a veritable feast when everything was served up. As you can see, we added sparkling cider for a toast to Little Jack and the General got in his order of French fries.
And then we all tucked in. The chicken was absolutely fantastic, as I knew it would be. The General ate two full plates of the chicken before deciding it wasn't something that he cared to eat again. The fact that he ate it at all came as a surprise--honestly I had a package of Hebrew Nationals on stand by in the fridge, fully expecting to have to cook him a different meal. But he actually ate pretty well.
But what surprised me was the kachumbari. It was absolutely amazing. The flavors were so fresh and really, really came alive in your mouth. This is the second dish we've made where lime juice was the primary dressing/marinade and the second one I've absolutely loved. Viva la lime!
The chapatis were rather dull and bland. To be expected considering it's flour and water put together. We speculated that rather like Ethiopian food, where it is served atop a flat disk of bread that you pull apart, it was probably expected that you not eat it plain (although the General quite liked it). I put my kachumbari on top of it and it was not only much better, but made the salad more fun to eat.
The other three of us agreed that everything was very good. Judy thought it would be better next time to make the chicken without the bones, and I didn't care for the chicken skin still being on, so if I make it again, I would definitely use boneless/skinless chicken. Basmati rice was a must, and a little extra sauce made it taste delectable too.
A great meal to celebrate two great beginnings--one for the country and one for the Kosiors.
My husband states, "I just sat down and came up with this in 2 minutes after dinner."
Y’all are a bunch of liars and crooks,
And Dat’s the word from DJCookie Cooks
We got Bush, Cheney, and Condi Rice
Who f**ked da nation not once but twice
We went to Iraq, instead of Af Ghanistan
And forgot about all of our bridges and dams
We tortured people, we dropped da bombs
And managed to hose our stocks and bonds
But there was a boy from Chicago all along the way
Who set up to prove that any day, he could
Step up to da plate and make everybody listen
And throw these boyz a big ass wippin’
So long little Dickie and Georgie, go back to the bible
Because Obama is in charge, and that is final
The people have spoken all ovah da land
From Maine to Oregon and even in Japan
You screwed the country, you paid your buddies
And now you don’t get to preach to any body
Put your head in the toilet, and enjoy the dirty looks
And dat’s the word from Lady DJ Cookie Cooks
Labels: the mister
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
In just about 4 hours our long national nightmare will come to an end. Fortunately, the American people didn't decide to prolong the torture with 4 more years of Republican rule. I honestly can't say if I think Obama will be the answer to our prayers, but I hope, hope, hope that he will do things that need doing, tough as they may be. He has a lot of damage to undo.
1. He has pledged to close Guantanimo Bay, which is a huge blight on our nation's iamge. It needed to be closed yesterday. What the solution is, I do not know, but torture is not American.
2. He needs to fix the economy. Again, yesterday would be good. Michael and I would gladly accept 1/2 of 1% of the funds that are left from the bailout. Many other families would too. How about it?
3. The wars need to be over and done with. We need out of Iraq militarily and to get in there on a humanitarian only mission, to rebuild the country we destroyed. Maybe if we were nice to people, they'd quit blowing us up. Then we can focus on what the real mission should have been in Afghanistan, get that done with, and get on home.
4. He needs to make healthcare for everyone a priority. I play pleeeeeeenty in taxes, and I know lots of other people who do too. Instead of using it to blow things up, let's use it to make people well, keep people well, and see what a healthy population could do for this country.
If he can accomplish these things, it would be a miracle, yes, but he has pledged to do them. Is he just another politician blowing smoke up our asses? I'm going to choose to believe in him. I don't think he's the great savior so many people believe he will be, but I believe he can and will do a great job. I never believed a word that came out of the mouth of our soon-to-be-former Commander in Chief, and I never believed in his ability to govern, not even once. I proudly voted against him twice and protested against him many, many times here in Washington. It feels good to have a little bit of hope in our leadership again.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
So, tonight's cuisine was from Brazil. I don't know if it's due to the cold or what, but I am most definitely under the weather. Cooking today was a real labor of love, but I don't want to fall behind. We already missed out on cooking yesterday, so it was important to me that we get cooking today! But if I'm honest, my heart wasn't 100% into it. I didn't even get out of my pajamas today, much less feel like a chef!
Back when Michael and I lived in Boston, we went out with our friends Tim and Cheryl to dine at various restaurants around the city. We were far more adventurous, culinarily-speaking, at that time than perhaps any other time in our history together. One night, the four of us decided to go to a restaurant called Cafe Brazil in our neighborhood. I'd never eaten Brazilian food before, and we wanted to try something new and different, so the four of us agreed to eat there. We all really enjoyed the food there and then never went back.
When Michael and I were discussing this project, his first country request was Brazil. I recently picked up a bargain bin cookbook at Borders called Around the World in 450 Recipes. Around the world does not include Australia, the entire continent of South America, and Africa appears to be one big country. So I couldn't rely on that to be of much help.
I started doing some web searches. I found a good number of recipes that appeared to be very good, and I judged that they were authentic based on the fact that the English in them was rather broken. In fact, a couple times while following them, I was like, "Huh!? What the hell does that mean?"
But I forged ahead. The menu we divised for tonight's meal was:
* Barbecue de Brazil
* Torta de Couve-Fleur
* Brazilian rice
Like the coq au vin, there were no pictures of the food to follow, so I was just hoping that it looked edible. I honestly have no idea if anything I prepared "looked like it should have" but it looked plenty fine to me, so the heck with it!
Yesterday, we did our grocery shopping and I defrosted the steak and chicken we had in the freezer--an added bonus in that we already had some of the ingredients, which allowed me to invest in a *drum roll please* rice cooker! I have wanted a rice cooker for some time, as I absolutely HATE cooking rice on the stove--it always boils over and it always makes an incredible mess on the glass top stove, which I also HATE with a passion. Someday, we're running a gas line, and I'm getting a gas stove. So I was tremendously excited about the prospect of having a rice cooker and planned to break it in for this meal. An added benefit was that I was going to use brown rice instead of white rice, as it is a WW approved rice and apparently healthier, but I have hated brown rice every time I've made it and have never been able to cook it properly. So I was excited to see what the rice cooker could do with it.
Ok, so the first thing I needed to do this morning was to get the chicken marinating. This involved the perplexing directions "Cut each chicken breast into 3 width ways". What the heck are three width ways? Plus, considering the steak and chorizo were being cut into only 2 inch pieces, cutting the chicken into 3 pieces made them quite large. So I wound up cutting the chicken breasts into fourths and fifths. The marinade was very simple, just lime juice and garlic. Chef's tip #1: I found the chicken VERY easy to cut up because it was still partially frozen.
I put the bag of chicken and marinade in the refrigerator. Because it is Sunday, we are on a football schedule. However, I had been especially lazy all morning and it was now nearly 11am. So I realized that we weren't going to be able to eat before football kicked off. The chicken was supposed to marinate a scant 4 hours, so it would be ready around 2:30 to be done marinating. This isn't much of a problem except that I know from watching Top Chef that citrus juice cooks fish, which is how you make ceviche. So I wondered if my chicken would be in trouble if I allowed it to sit in pure lime juice for that long. My decision was to drain it after 4 hours and let it sit the rest of the time until it was ready to cook. Crisis averted.
Ok, my next plan of attack was to start on the Torta de Couve-Fleur, which in case you haven't guessed is a cauliflower pie. I like raw cauliflower a lot, and can tolerate cooked cauliflower if it isn't too mushy and gross--I feel the same way about broccoli. I was intrigued by this recipe because it a) didn't offer much in the way of measurements (one ingredient listed was simply 'melted butter'); b) had lots of cheese, cream, and butter; and c) didn't offer a whole lot in the way of direction. For instance, the cauliflower cooking times were all approximate based on the look or feel of the food (boil until tender but not mushy; bake until bubbling). I felt like a bit of an adventurer doing my own thing, and thought to myself, "Someone's mom must have written out these directions!" The reporter from our story a couple of weeks ago kept asking me specifics about what we were doing and I kept saying, "I don't know, I just kind of do it until it looks right." Annoying? Yes. But I always get it right. So I was confident.
As soon as I had drained off the chicken's marinade, I decided to get the cauliflower pie started. I know I raved about my Wusthof knife last time, but let me tell you, that cauliflower did not stand a chance against this little wonder. Honestly, I was afraid I might cut myself. I have never cut apart a head of fresh cauliflower--I've always used the frozen stuff. So I started by cutting off the leaves and carving out the stem. It was like cutting through butter, honestly. There was no work involved whatsoever. It was unbelievable. In no time flat, those florets were doing their dance of individual happiness in my pot.
I had to wait for it to finish cooking, as I needed 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water in order to prepare the sauce. The sauce was a roux, a mixture of butter and flour, into which you pour the cooking water and a mixture of heavy cream and 2 egg yolks. It bubbles up beautifully, though I did use the whisk to make it nice and smooth as the butter and flour clumped up some and didn't want to cooperate with joining the water. Once that came together, I added a dash of nutmeg--exactly what the directions said, "a dash".
Once that was combined and bubbling away merrily, I put the cauliflower into a greased pie plate (I didn't have a casserole dish) and poured the sauce over it. Then I sprinkled on some cheese, drizzled with melted butter, and it was ready for a 'medium oven' which I took to mean 350. I turned the oven on to pre-heat and got back to business with the meat.
I hacked up the steak and chorizo. The recipe also suggested using 16 mushrooms as part of the dish, I guess to give it at least a semblance of vegetation. I was not, however, foolish enough to think that I could convince the General to eat some mushrooms, so I cut this down a bit into an amount that I would eat, although to be honest, we had leftover mushrooms! I was VERY proud of him, however, as he did say he would at least try the cauliflower. He is very adventurous, perhaps more adventurous than I!
But I digress. The recipe said each meat should be on its own separate skewer and then all skewers should be grilled on a medium grill for approximately 10 minutes, during which time they are continually brushed with vegetable oil.
Ok, there are a number of flaws with this particular approach to Barbecue de Brazil.
1. Our grill. It was humorously dubbed "Vesuvius" by my father-in-law, and that is, in fact, what we now call it. The thing is massive, three burners, stainless steel, a real hulk. Regulating the heat on it is an adventure under the best of circumstances.
2. Virginia is in the midst of a definite cold snap. During the last few days, the temperatures have dropped to the single digits. I'll be damned if I'm going to stand outside (did I mention I didn't actually get dressed today?) in my pajamas for 10 minutes basting meat over a tempramental grill when it's 25 degrees outside.
3. Did I mention I'm not feeling well? Let's not tempt fate. I have a lot of cooking and an inauguration party to go to, and I want to get it all done. And I won't be able to if I'm not feeling well.
So, I decided to pull out our big George Foreman grill. We've got a monster Foreman grill too. Both Vesuvius and the Foreman were purchased for me by my dad (although I think when he got me the Foreman, my mom was also involved in its purchase). As you can tell from the size of them, my dad doesn't do anything halfway. He's very much the "go big or go home" type. This is, however, fortunate, when it comes to a project like this one where I need a good sized grilling surface.
However, I was again nervous. I still had to get the rice cooker going, and our breakers have a nasty habit of tripping if we get too many electrical gadgets going at once in the kitchen. I decided to plug the rice cooker in over by the refrigerator and the Foreman grill in over by the stove on the off chance they are on separate breakers, or that perhaps fate would intervene and I'd be able to cook without having to run up and down the stairs fixing the breaker and then trying to cook rice in the living room.
Thus, it occurred to me that I needed to get the rice going. I tenderly unpacked the rice cooker and washed out the innards. I read the rice recipe directions and got my ingredients ready.
It is a very simple recipe with basically 4 ingredients: rice, onions, olive oil, and water. I was fortunate to be able to avoid chopping onions because, as you can see, we had TONS of onions left over from last weekend's activities, so I guesstimated that 1 onion would be approximately 1 cup chopped, and used that as my guide. The recipe dictated that the onions should be sauteed in olive oil until soft, and then the rice should be added for one minute. The rice cooker directions dictated that the rice must be rinsed before being added to the rice cooker. So I rinsed first, then added them to the onions, then poured everything into the rice cooker insert, and added the water. I gingerly placed the basket into the appliance and prepared myself to be wowed by the gratification of rice cooking.
I pushed the "brown rice" button on the cooker, and it started doing its happy rice cooker thing. I gazed in wonder at the instructions, which assured me that I could even steam food over the rice and have an one pot dinner with this machine.
"Hmm," I thought to myself, "I wonder how long that will take and when I should start the meat?"
So I came to the conclusion that I should probably look up the cooking times for brown rice. I had a client who I taught to use a rice cooker, and it was pretty instantaneous. So I figured it would take 30 minutes at the most. And then I turned to the cooking chart. For the amount of brown rice I was preparing (8 ounces), the rice cooker would requre 1:45-2:00. My heart skipped a beat. However, since this fell under the "Minutes Cooking" column, I thought foolishly, optimistically, stupidly, that perhaps this meant one minute, forty five seconds. Still, the masochist in me thought we should look at the rice cooking times for white rice, and plain as day under the "Minutes Cooking" column, I saw 30 minutes.
Two hours!? TWO STUPID HOURS to cook brown rice?! No wonder my brown rice never tastes done!!!!! Well, it was too late anyway, the dish was in there, everything had been fried, rinsed, drained, etc. So I'd just have to have a rice course. (The General, of course, had opted out of rice and requested mashed potatoes.)
Ok, so back to the meat and mushrooms and pie. By now, the grill was well and truly hot, so it was time to start cooking. I put the torta into the oven and turned my attention to the barbecue. As I mentioned earlier, I was concerned that the lime juice was going to pre-cook the chicken, and so I decided to cook that first, as the outside layer actually did look kind of cooked to me.
I needed not worry, however. I wish, honestly, I could transmit smell to you via this blog. As soon as the chicken hit the grill, the most heavenly smells of lime and garlic began to permeate the air, and the kitchen became an oasis of delicious smells. Even The General came down from the football game to say how good it smelled in there.
Once the chicken was done, I put on the chorizo, beef, and mushroom skewers, a few at a time. I was somewhat concerned about the beef. The chicken had been nicely marinated. The chorizo has a very strong flavor, but one that Michael and I are already familiar with and love, as it is a popular sausage in Portugese cooking and his mother is 1/2 Portugese. Most of the population of Fall River, MA--the neighboring town to his hometown of Tiverton RI--it seems is Portugese, and so when his parents come to visit, they bring us chorizo a lot. One of the first meals I had at the Kosiors' home was a chorizo sub. So I wasn't concerned about the flavor of that. However, I did expect that the beef would be rather unappetizing as plain ole beef. And the General and I are not exactly steak people to begin with. I checked the recipe to make sure that I shouldn't have done anything to it, but the only mention I could find of anything that addressed my concerns was that the entire dish should be served with the salsa of my choice. I rummaged through the cupboards and found a bottle of Pace salsa, and the General said he'd have ketchup, so we were saved from bland beef land.
Everything cooked up beautifully. Unfortunately, there were still 2 minutes left of the football game and it looked for a moment as if the Eagles might mount a comeback, so we waited a few minutes to see if that would be the case (it was not--the Cardinals won).
Once the game was over and I ascertained that the rice was cooking merrily, albeit slowly along, I got everything dished up. We each had some of the meat, and the General had mashed potatoes. I decided to hold off on the potatoes because I wanted to try the rice later. I had some mushrooms and cauliflower, which he declined.
However, midway through the meal, as I was exclaiming how delicious the cauliflower was, he told me to give him some on a fork and he would try it.
This is the unhappy face of a man who does not like cauliflower. But honestly, I'm just proud of him that he tried it.
We both agreed that we really, really liked the meal. We also both agreed that if we eat it in the future, it will be without the steak. The General stated firmly during dinner, "I think I've outgrown steak." I concur. I have eaten as much steak in 2009 as I ate in all of 2008, and it's plenty. Not to say we won't eat beef--the food we have planned for our Maltese meal is another beef dish. But we won't be sitting down to just a piece of steak on a plate.
The chicken was delicious. The lime was such a bright flavor, for lack of a better term, but not overpoweringly so. The torta was probably the best cooked cauliflower I've ever eaten, although no doubt it was helped immeasurably by the butter, cheese, and cream. I was impressed by the chorizo--it's not as good as what you can get in Fall River, but considering it came from a regular grocery store, we both thought it was quite tasty. The mushrooms had picked up a lot of flavors off the grill, and were absolute heaven.
The rice cooker finally dinged at 8:30 and I must say, it looked and smelled pretty good when I opened the lid and let the rice have a quick stir, before putting the lid back on for another 10 minutes, per the cooker's instructions. When it was finally done, it looked like this:
I had a taste of it, and honestly, particularly for brown rice, which I'm not too nuts about, I have to say it was pretty good! It was certainly the best brown rice I've ever eaten. I made up a small dish of what I supposed the finished product could have looked like if everything had been done at the same time.
I said over dinner, "Well, if we ever find ourselves in Brazil, we definitely won't go hungry!" It was a great choice of country and we had a great meal and have plenty of leftovers for lunch or whatever. I'm hoping to feel better soon so I can enjoy more good food as we cook Maltese tomorrow!
1. Torta de Couve-Fleur
2. Barbecue de Brasil
3. Brazilian Rice
Mashed potatos by Betty Crocker :-)
So we have started downloading music from Amazon.com--it's the same price as iTunes and they are MP3's, which we LOVE, and there are no restrictions once you buy them.
So, Michael's been sending me lists of songs that he wants to download. And this morning, we set to downloading a bunch of old school hip hop and rap songs that he just loves the living hell out of. For what reasons, I cannot fathom, but to each his own.
So he wanted to download one Sir Mix-A-Lot song and emailed me the title:
My Possie's on Broadway
Yup, that's how he spelled 'posse'. It's so cute, I could eat it for lunch. Awww. :-)
Labels: the mister
This young adult book centers around the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who at 9 years old was kidnapped and raised by the Comanches from her white parents. As an adult, Cynthia Ann is returned to her blood family after the Comanches are raided by the Texas Rangers. This much is known. What happens in the intervening years and what happened afterward until Cythia Ann's death are up in the air. Not many historical records of her exist.
Carolyn Meyer has imagined a story of Cynthia Ann's return to her family, told in journal entries by a fictional cousin as well as in a narrative told from Cynthia Ann's point of view. The book deals with a struggle for identity--who we are, who we are raised to be, and other people's perceptions about us. Cynthia Ann came to see herselve as a Comanche. To her family, she was still a kidnapping victim of the savages. Their struggle to understand each other makes for compelling reading indeed.
View all my reviews.
Interesting. GoodReads.com now makes you a pre-formatted blog entry so that you can cross post your reviews easily. I think I'll be making good use of this feature, even if I did have to tweak it some.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The supplies have been purchased, the countries chosen. The cooking begins tomorrow on Brazil, Malta (per Amy's request) on Monday, and Tuesday in honor of our new President, Kenya and Indonesia.
Prepare to have your socks knocked off. :-) Anyone hungry?
Friday, January 16, 2009
So, I've just finished reading Julie Powell's book Julie & Julia, which is the story of how she decided to make all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book was recommended to me by several people after I posted my Coq Au Vin triumph earlier this month. It's a book I've always been somewhat interested in reading, but I must be honest and say that several reviews of it I'd read in the past, most notably Lesley's, turned me off it a bit. So I had more or less decided to keep it in mind, but not really actively seek it out. The new cooking project renewed my interest, as did a cheap price tag when I found the hardcover in the bargain racks at our local Borders. So I decided to take a chance.
I enjoyed reading the book. However, if I'm being honest, it was not what I was really looking for. I fully expected the book to be about cooking. And in reality, it is only approximately 40% about cooking. The remaining 60% is about her friends, her family, her husband, her life in New York, her crappy job, her pets, her desire to make babies. In short, it's a blog.
Now, I'm not complaining (too much) about that. But I was looking for a book that went into detail about the trials and tribulations of, well, mastering the art of French cooking--finding weird ingredients, eating strange foods for the first time, kitchen accidents, things she didn't like eating, etc. To be sure, there were a few times when Powell delves into these areas. And there were a few occasions that were laugh out loud funny. But they were so randomly interspersed with all the other stuff that I kind of was unhappy with the final result. Perhaps Powell wrote the book as a "behind the scenes" type of thing for her regular blog readers. Unfortunately for her (or me), I was not a regular blog reader. And the book doesn't exactly inspire me to seek out the blog and read it. I didn't care about her friends' love life or how many vodka gimlets she and her husband downed. I wanted to know about the cooking.
Ultimately, this was the big letdown for me. There wasn't enough in the book about the cooking. I also thought the fictional scenes between Julia Child and her husband and his brother were a bit silly. They reminded me of the nutty dream scenes in the adoption book Forever Lily, which I read a couple years ago. I ultimately skipped some of those dream scenes--they were too ridiculous, and I was sorely tempted to skip these little vignettes as well. There were plenty of the Childs' writings to be found if she wanted to use them to connect sections of the book or draw certain parallels. To actually make things up was a little silly.
I'm waffling on whether or not to keep the book on my shelf. I liked it, when all is said and done, but I'm not sure if it's a keeper. Anyone want to borrow it?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Ask me seven questions. Not just any seven questions though. No, to keep it interesting, use the seven questions as per below - just copy and paste the following, replace the blanks with something you want to know/ask (e.g. 3. Donkeys or sandcastles and why? - but hopefully something more interesting than that), anything you want, personal, silly, surreal or deep, comment away and I'll answer as honestly as I can in the comments! Then post this in your own blog and see what kind of things people want to ask you!
1. What do you think of _____________ ?
2. When did you last ____________?
3. __________ or ___________ and why?
4. What did you ______________?
5. What's your favourite ______________?
6. How would you ______________?
7. Who would you most like to ________
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
So today as I was hauling around Locust Grove, VA, I realized that for the first time in a couple of months, I'd be traveling past one of my favorite places: The Wilderness Library. I love, love, love the Wilderness Library because it is on the edge of a well-to-do gated community and a lot of people donate a lot of good books to them and I get lots of great deals on books I want to read!
So, I stopped in and decided to take a gander at what they had. I walked out $8.50 poorer, but look at the awesome books I got:
1. Away by Amy Bloom
This one has been on my PBS wishlist FOREVER. I walked into the library and got it for 50 cents!
Lillian Leyb is a desperate young woman, fresh off the boat, trying to make her way in New York during the mid-1920s. Like thousands of other Jews, she has fled the pogroms in Russia with no money, few skills and little English; she rents half a mattress in a crowded flat and competes for sewing jobs with other desperate young women.
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I read this a long time ago, but I'm looking forward to reading it again.
In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives.
3. The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks.
I've never read this book, but there was a time when absolutely everyone I knew had read it or was in the midst of reading it. It doesn't even really sound that special to me, but it's one of those "but everyone else is doing it!" type things. I wanna join the club!
Jane Rosenal, the narrator of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, is wise beyond her years. Not that that's saying much--since none of her elders, with the exception of her father, is particularly wise. At the age of 14, Jane watches her brother and his new girlfriend, searching for clues for how to fall in love, but by the end of the summer she's trying to figure out how not to fail in love. At twice that age, Jane quickly internalizes How to Meet and Marry Mr. Right, even though that retro manual is ruining her chances at happiness. In the intervening years, Melissa Bank's heroine struggles at love and work. The former often seems indistinguishable from the latter, and her experiences in book publishing inspire little in the way of affection. As Jane announces in "The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine": "I'd been a rising star at H----- until Mimi Howlett, the new executive editor, decided I was just the lights of an airplane."
4. The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum.
I read the first page of all the books today as I was skimming and this is probably the one I am most excited to read once I finish Julie and Julia.
...Lucinda Trout, a New York TV producer who, while on assignment, falls in love with the town of Prairie City. Daum, with typical acuity, is wise to her character's real motivations for moving to the country: she wants to be a better person, and believes the Midwest will do the trick: "This was, after all, serious country. The real heartland, the plains. It was Willa Cather-novel serious. It was Sissy Spacek-movie serious and documentary-film-about-poor-conditions-in-meat-packing-plants-serious." Lucinda soon discovers that she's not immune to the less-than-perfect aspects of Prairie City living, and acquires a boyfriend of questionable hygiene and judgement; a rambling, isolated farmhouse that looks like the set to a Sam Shepard movie but is impossible to heat; and a tanning-bed tan and a set of false nails that are the region's signature style.
5. Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky.
I wasn't going to get this one, but my eye kept on returning to it and after I picked it up and re-read the back cover for a third time, I decided there must be something about that was appealing to me and I should get it. I can't say if I'm going to love it or hate it, but I'm interested in reading it anyway.
When Dana and Hugh Clarke's baby is born into their wealthy, white New England seaside community, the baby's unmistakably African-American features puzzle her thoroughly Anglo-looking parents. Hugh's family pedigree extends back to the Mayflower, and his historian father has made a career of tracing the esteemed Clarke family genealogy, which does not include African-Americans. Dana's mother died when Dana was a child, and Dana never knew her father: she matter-of-factly figures that baby Lizzie's features must hark back to her little-known past. Hugh, a lawyer who has always passionately defended his minority clients, finds his liberal beliefs don't run very deep and demands a paternity test to rule out the possibility of infidelity. By the time the Clarkes have uncovered the tangled roots of their family trees, more than one skeleton has been unearthed, and the couple's relationship—not to mention their family loyalty—has been severely tested.
6. Island of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon.
Another hidden gem, the plot of this sounds good and the first page was good as well. I like a little mystery thrown in with my chick lit. I hope this is a good one!
Recent college grad Rhonda Farr witnesses a child abduction in front of a convenience store in Pike's Crossing, Vt. Ernestine Ernie Florucci willingly leaves her mother's car because her six-foot-tall abductor is wearing a rabbit suit. Rhonda remembers her best friend Lizzy's father entertaining her and Lizzy in a rabbit costume in 1993, and vanishing soon after. Three years later, Lizzy disappeared en route to high school. Guilt over her inability to stop Ernie's abduction spurs Rhonda to join the search for the girl.
7. Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger.
I am a big believer in the Meyers Briggs, and this past year has really put me at a crossroads. The General and I have been having serious discussions about what I should do with my life and I really feel like I just don't know. I'm hoping this will help me figure it out!
Already a classic in the genre, Do What You Are has helped hundreds of thousands of people find truly satisfying work. Do What You Are introduces Personality Type - how you process information, make decisions and interact with the world around you - and shows you which of the 16 types describes you best. It lists dozens of occupations that are popular with people of your type. Then, using workbook exercises and real-life examples to highlight the strengths and pitfalls of each personality type, it shows you step-by-step how to use your unique strengths to customise your job search, ensuring the best results in the shortest period of time. And if you plan to stay in your job, Do What You Are provides savvy advice for getting the most out of your current career.
8. Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan.
Yes, I like to check out the young adult offerings too. There are some genuinely great books written for young adults, and this looks like even if it's not mind-blowing, it could be quite good.
There's a startling, almost itchy moment in every adolescent's life when she or he first realizes that adults are fallible. Yet, for 14-year-old Charity, the revelation is even more profound: not only is her dad (the town's preacher) merely wrong about the eccentric Adrienne Dabney, he's dang-blasted and over-the-top wrong. Although she's always been a perfect preacher's daughter, Charity is about to shock the whole town by standing up to her father, proving him wrong in front of God and everyone.
9. Unseen Companion by Denise Gosliner Orenstein.
Another YA book that looks to have potential.
In this kaleidoscopic first-person novel, set in 1968 and 1969, the point of view shifts from one Alaskan teenager to another. Each contributes something to the shadowy portrayal of the novel's central, tragic figure, Dove Alexie, a 16-year-old "mixed-breed" who was imprisoned for striking a white teacher, beaten by his racist jailer, and lost in the system until the story's end.
10. Waterfalls by Robin Jones Gunn
C'mon, ladies, I know you're with me on this one: we all need a little lighthearted, fluffy romance in our lives, right? Well, I read one romance novel every two or three years, and I guess it's about time. What better way than a hot book editor and a gorgeous Hollywood leading man!?
Meredith Graham's job as a children's book acquisitions editor takes her to Glenbrooke, Oregon, where she meets the only man who has ever made her heart leap: Jacob Wilde. Trouble is, his heart doesn't seem to be leaping in response to hers. But then, Jake's a movie star. Out of her league. Still, she can't get him out of her mind. So when circumstances continue to throw the two of them together, Meri decides to pull out all the stops to win her "dream man" -- but all of her schemes can't prepare her for what happens when they meet again.
11. Where the Broken Heart Still Beats by Carolyn Meyer
This is a non-fiction YA book that looks absolutely fascinating. I can't wait to read about Cynthia Ann Parker's story.
At the age of nine, Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in an Indian raid and taken to live as a slave with the Comanche. Twenty-four years later, she is the wife of a chief and the mother of a young warrior destined to become the great chief Quanah Parker. But in 1861 Cynthia Ann Parker and her infant daughter are recaptured, and returned against their will to a white settlement.
So that's what I got for $8 at the book sales today! I can't wait to start reading!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I just got off the phone with the sweetest lady ever.
I got an email from the reporter who had done the story on us about the party, and she said she had gotten a call from a Ukrainian lady in Fredericksburg who was interested in speaking to us. She gave me the phone number and I called her tonight.
I told Sophia who I was and when she realized she said, "I called to get in touch with you because I really came alive when I heard about your story and I want to come next year! And I'd like to make sure you make cabbage rolls!"
We had a lovely chat for about 20 minutes, reliving the delicious dishes of Eastern Europe together. Sophia is 83 years young, and just a joy to speak with. She took down our phone number and intends to call me about us all getting together some time soon so I can learn some of her tricks! I have a feeling I'm in for a real life lesson.
What a sweet lady! I can't wait to meet her.
Last night my book club met and our dinner theme was tapas. I was excited because not only do I love, love, love tapas, but the theme fit in nicely for my new cooking goal! I did some research and came upon the site Spain-Recipes.com, which claims to have authentic recipes from Spain. It is a great site, and some of the foods my Lit Chicks were mentioning bringing were mentioned on the site, so I decided it must be pretty authentic. I selected two shrimp recipes to prepare: prawn and bacon brochettes and torillas de camarones (shrimp fritters). I was also tremendously excited by the prospect of breaking in my new Wusthof knife, a gift from Elizabeth who read my knife lament in the Coq Au Vin entry. Thank you, Elizabeth!
The recipes looked pretty easy, which is why I selected two of them. I made my shopping list and went and picked up supplies. This was not easy, however, and unfortunately I didn't have a whole lot of time to go running around looking for things. So, I was forced to substitute medium shrimp for small shrimp, which my local grocery store elected not to carry, and also I was unable to find pimentos, but I accept that maybe I was not looking in the right place. Additionally, my store didn't carry thinly sliced bacon--my choices were thick cut and center cut, so I went with the center cut, which looked a bit thinner than the thick cut, but was not what I would call thin by any stretch of the imagination.
Ok, so I'll start with the tortillas de camarones. This was a recipe I had high hopes for. I love shrimp and I love fried anything. The recipe looked pretty straightforward. It called for either chickpea or regular flour, and I went with regular as my local store didn't appear interested in carrying chickpea flour either!! (What was it interested in carrying!?) I peeled and boiled up the shrimp as directed, reserving some of the water. I put the shrimp and the water in the refrigerator. What was most maddening about this recipe as I read it was that EVERYTHING had to be cooled. You heat the shrimp, then you cool it. You boil the water, then you cool it. And to be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of time.
As soon as that was going, I started chopping up the green onions. Usually this is a task that is a royal pain in the butt. But not problem with my new knife! The onions were literally falling apart at the slightest touch of that thing. I experimented with the cuts, cutting thick slices and thin, paper thin in fact. Honestly, it reduced strain and pain and work by a thousand percent. I've got to get some more of these--at the very least I need to pick up a Wusthof chef's knife.
So I got that all chopped up beautifully and began to prepare the batter for the fritters. It was a very simple batter--flour, salt, onions, parsley, and the pimientos I would have added if I'd have found them. After mixing that together, I slowly poured in the water and it became a nice batter.
And guess what?! It needed to be refrigerated for at least an hour! AUGH! By now it was 4:30 and it was getting close to time for me to leave to head north for book club. I quickly put the bowl of batter in the fridge to start cooling off. I also needed to chop the shrimp. The shrimp was supposed to be the size of coffee grounds, and so I decided I could either stand there all night chopping shrimp or I could bust out the food processor, which is what I did, taking the path of least resistance. I pulsed them instead of letting it run, since I didn't want shrimp paste. I kept a very close eye on them, so I actually did a good job with getting them chopped into little bits. I wouldn't say they were coffee ground sized, but they were definitely teeny tiny.
Ok, so all that went in the fridge, and then I had to decide how to transport everything to Alexandria, keep it cool so that it could somewhat refrigerate until I got there and be an appropriate temperature and be ready to cook. I spied the leftover disposable pans from our dinner party on Saturday and decided to construct a mobile refrigeration unit. I scraped the batter into a Ziploc container, and put it in the middle of a pan, and then surrounded it with ice cubes. The shrimp went into a second container, which I put in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack.
This may seem excessively fussy, but the recipe said the fritters should be served immediately, so I was concerned that I would be able to cook them as close to time for book club (7:30) as possible. I was determined to cook them up north.
Ok, time to move on to the prawn and bacon brochettes. These were going to be relatively easy. Wrap shrimp in bacon, skewer, season, roast. Which is pretty much what I did. However, because the shrimp had to be skewered through both the tail and the fat part of the shrimp, I recommend you wrap the shrimp so that the loose "end" of the bacon is either at the tail or the fat part so that it'll stay skewered, laying the shrimp on the bacon like so:
If you start out by putting the first loose end right on top in the middle of your shrimp and then wrapping it around, ending where the skewer goes in, your little bundle should hold together quite nicely.
Because my skewers were pretty large, I put 4 shrimp per skewer. I didn't add much salt due to the bacon being pretty salty, but I did grind black pepper over them and drizzle them with olive oil a bit. I thought they looked quite pretty when laid out.
Everything prepared, I put these on ice as well, and loaded up the car, hauling butt up to Alexandria. I made it in about 45 minutes, which was not bad considering I left at 5:00 and once you hit the Beltway in Alexandria, you never know what's going to happen. As soon as I got there, it was time to start cooking!
I preheated the oven for the brochettes and began heating the oil for the fritters. I unpacked all the supplies and mixed the little minced pieces of shrimp into the batter. Then I began scooping them by the tablespoonful into the hot oil.
This turned out to be a little bit of a challenge, as after they were in the oil, they had to be pressed to a 3 1/2 inch disk and could only cook for one minute per side. This called for SPEED. I must say, I probably didn't do as well as I could--they certainly weren't three inches in diameter, but they were thin and crispy on the outside, which is all I could hope for. I let them cook a bit longer than 2 minutes.
When the first batch was done, I tried one and thought it was a little bit bland, honestly. I had my sister try it and she thought they were a little tasteless too. I made another batch, and same thing. So I finally decided to doctor them. I added some seasoning salt, a little minced onion, and a pile of garlic paste to the second half of the batter. It improved them some, but honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by this particular dish. And I can't honestly think that adding a half teaspoon of pimentos would make that much of a difference. It did help when they were done and I drizzled lemon juice over them, but not really enough to say so.
Meanwhile, I put the brochettes into the hot oven (425 degrees). After the recommended cooking time, they looked a little iffy to me, the bacon was rather pale. So I left them in an extra few minutes until they were really sizzling.
Again, I considered these just alright, if I'm being honest. Some of the girls in the book club seemed to really enjoy these appetizers, but there were A LOT of leftovers, and in this crowd, people eat very well (my sister brought a HUGE dish of mini cream puffs and eclairs and they were G-O-N-E gone). So I would have to speculate that these were not a huge hit.
In fact, typically if I have book club leftovers, I'll bring them home, but I wound up sending these suckers home with Judy last night. I didn't hate them, I just didn't love them.
I think I will have to re-visit Spain in the future, and perhaps make paella or something else interesting. All the other tapas we had last night was really, really good, and other tapas I've had is fantastic, so I know it can be good, and I don't happen to think that I particularly screwed up the recipes or anything. I think I may have just hit on a couple of duds!
Two countries down, 78 to go. Planning on trying to find Kenyan and Indonesian recipes for inauguration day. I've eaten Indonesian food before and really enjoyed it, but have no idea about recipes for Kenya! And the General has requested our next experiment be something from South America, so I am actively scouting out recipes from South America as well--perhaps Brazil? If anyone has any great, authentic recipes, lay 'em on me!