Recipes from Benin


I have two rules about what I will and will not ask my children to eat. The first is, I will never ask them to eat fish; not because I don't understand the many health benefits of fish (I do), but because fish is expensive and I hate throwing it in the trash. The second is that I will not ask them to eat spicy food, because that's just mean.

So for the second week in a row, my kids have had to miss out on blog night. Though frankly they don't really care all that much, because blog night never includes mac and cheese, or in Hailey's case, baby carrots dipped in ranch dressing which is pretty much the only thing she eats. Anyway this week it was not the fish that excluded them but the spice, because in Benin they really do like their food with a kick.

The Beninese really know how to eat.


Benin is a small county in West Africa, wedged between Togo, which you may have heard of, and Nigeria, which you have almost certainly heard of, and if you haven't then it's because you're probably the only person left in the world who hasn't had a Nigerian prince offer to transfer $27 million into your bank account.




There are about 9 million people living in the 42,000 square miles that comprises the Republic of Benin, which has a pretty tragic history. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Benin (which was then known as the kingdom of Dahomey) and its surrounding regions were referred to as "The Slave Coast," for reasons I'm sure you can guess. It may surprise you to hear, though, that the 20,000 plus people who were taken from Dahomey each year and forced into the slave trade were not actually captured by slave traders, but were sold to them by Dahomey's king, who earned the tidy sum of £250,000 each year just by selling off his prisoners of war.

After the abolition of the slave trade France took over the country, and just under a century after that Benin became independent. Because of its years of association with France there are some French influences on the cuisine, though for the most part Benin maintains its own unique culinary traditions. Namely, hot chili peppers, peanuts and red palm oil, or some combination thereof.

So this week I chose three recipes, all of which were pretty simple as far as the ingredients were concerned except for the part about red palm oil, which I had to special order. Before I give the recipes, I just want to say one thing about red palm oil: it's weird. Really weird. Like coconut oil, it's semi-solid at room temperature, so you kind of have to spoon it out of the jar, or if it comes in a plastic bottle (as mine did), squeeze it out like you would ketchup from a bottle. And it looks a bit like that, like grainy ketchup. Once you get it into the pan and melt it, it becomes a liquid. But it smells strange. It smells like you took a clump of dirt out of your garden and put it in a fry pan. To be fair, it smells like high-quality dirt, but you know, dirt is dirt as far as something you're really not looking forward to putting in your mouth.

So anyway, with that in mind, all three of these recipes call for red palm oil. Here's the first:

Akkra Funfun

Yes. I chose this recipe because of the name. Because you'd be crazy not to want to try something called "akkra funfun."

  • 1 1/2 cup dried white beans
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped onions
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • oil for frying (two parts peanut oil, one part red palm oil)
Recipe the next: Peanut Sauce over Rice
    • 3 tbsp red palm oil
    • 2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 1/2 to 1 tsp habanero pepper, minced
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 beef bouillon cube or 1 tsp beef bouillon powder
    • 1 cup water, more if needed
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened peanut butter
    • 1/2 cup diced onion
    • 3 cups boiled rice

    And finally: Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rouge (Chicken Meatballs with Red Sauce)

    • 1 chicken, cut up and deboned
    • 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter
    • 1 habanero pepper, minced
    • 1 bunch of green onions, washed and chopped
    • 4 onions, peeled and chopped
    • 6 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
    • 1 cup red palm oil
    • salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

    The chicken meatballs take some time to come together, so let's start there.

    First take about half of the peanut butter and mix it with a little bit of hot water. You want it to still be a paste, but it should be just thin enough so you can stir it. Set aside. (Note: make sure you use an unsweetened peanut butter. "Natural" does not necessarily mean unsweetened. Be sure to read the label.)

    Mix just enough water with the peanut butter to make it look like this.


    Now take the remaining peanut butter, the chicken (dice it first so it will grind easier), the habanero, the green onions and salt and put them in a food processor. Pulse until smooth.

    Now, I wasn't completely sure what to do here but since the recipe did not specifically say to remove the skin, I simply removed the bones and put everything else in the food processor (I only used two chicken thighs and a breast since it was just me and Martin). I did have to pull out some bits of skin that just wouldn't grind up ... and take care, because the skin tends to wrap around the grinding mechanism and could cause you to burn out the motor).

    When you're done you get a pretty wet, sticky paste that you can make into nice little meatballs and stick in the fridge until you're ready to cook them.

    These meatballs are ready to go.


    Now blanch your tomatoes. If you don't know how to do this, it's simple: just boil some water and drop your whole tomatoes in it for about a minute. Take them out and run a little cold water over them. Now they will peel really easily. (Personally, this is not something I would usually bother to do since I don't mind tomato skins or seeds, but I wanted to stay true to this recipe.)

    Blanched, peeled and de-seeded tomatoes.


    Now chop up the onions and toss both the tomatoes and onions with the peanut butter/water paste you made earlier.

    Toss the tomatoes and onions with the diluted peanut butter.


    Melt your palm oil in a pan. Note: this recipe uses a lot of palm oil and makes for a very oily finished product. If you want to use less, I won't tell.

    Fry the meatballs in the palm oil until they are nicely golden all over.


    Now fry the meatballs in the palm oil (this recipe could probably tolerate less palm oil)


    Then add the onion, tomato and peanut butter mixture. Cover the pan and reduce the temperature to low. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, then remove the lid and check the internal temperature of the meatballs (they should be at 165 degrees or higher).

    Add the onions and tomatoes to the pot.


    You can keep these simmering on low for a few more minutes if you need your other dishes to catch up. Now on to the rice. Or sauce, because that's really all this is.

    Heat the palm oil in a pan, then add the tomato paste, habanero, salt, onion and bouillon.



    Cook for two or three minutes, then add the peanut butter and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 or 15 minutes. Serve over boiled rice.

    That's pretty much all there is to it.

    And finally, the funfun.

    Sigh.

    So let me just set up the akkra funfun with this little prologue:

    I am dumb.

    There, I said it. I totally botched the akkra funfun. How? Well as it turns out, 1 1/2 cups of dried white beans is not, in fact the same thing as 1 1/2 cups of canned white beans. Evidently beans actually triple in size once they've been soaked. Who knew? Everyone, probably. Of course in my defense, if I'd taken some time to think this over it probably would have occurred to me that dried beans to canned beans is not a 1:1 kind of a thing, but I never actually think before acting, because, you know, it makes life so much more entertaining.

    Anyway, my beans were way too salty, way too wet and way too much of everything else that comes with adding 1/3 as much of the main ingredient that the recipe calls for, while keeping everything else the same. Please everyone, let's hear a resounding "duh."

    So if you want to do it right (at least according to this recipe, but the jury is still out on just how "right" the recipe actually is), here we go:

    If you're using dried beans, soak them overnight. Then rinse and drain well.

    Wash the beans. Imagine that this is a picture of about three times as many beans.


    Now put the beans,  water and salt into a blender. Pulse until smooth. Then fold in the onions and the cayenne pepper.

    Fold in the onion and cayenne pepper.


    Now you should have a pretty thick paste, thicker (hopefully) than this one:

    Your funfun mixture should not be this wet.


    Now heat the oil over a hot flame (check to see if it's ready by dipping the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon into the oil; if bubbles rise around the end then you can start frying). Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls and let fry until they turn golden brown, then drain on a paper towel. Serve hot. So sayeth the recipe.

    Now I don't know what would have happened if I'd got the mixture right, but when I dropped my funfun into the hot oil it disintegrated. It did not make the nice, crispy fritter the instructions had so blissfully declared that it would become. I had to scoop out the disintegrated pulp and press it in a paper towel and shape it into kind of a patty that ended up just tasting like refried beans. Really, really salty refried beans.

    Akkra no-fun.


    So would less water have at least helped them become the right shape? I really don't know. I almost feel like it wouldn't have, because the mixture had nothing to bind it together. Most fritters or deep fried whatever I've done in the past have had flour or eggs or something that helps them hold together in the hot oil. This was mostly just beans.

    You know what I'd love is if someone from Benin could fill me in on this recipe ... Maybe it's just not accurate. Or maybe it is, and if I'd gotten everything right I really would have ended up with lovely, crispy golden funfun fritters. Oh well.

    Fortunately, though, the funfun did not ruin the meal. Far from it, in fact. The meatballs and the rice were delicious and together definitely landed on my top five list of favorite Travel by Stove meals. And I have to say this really surprised me because as I mentioned earlier, the red palm oil really scared me. But as it turns out, it doesn't taste as weird as it smells.

    I'd like to say that the meatballs were totally unique but they reminded me a lot of a pad Thai, only without the coconut milk. And I adore pad Thai. I think chicken and peanuts are a winning combination so this dish already had that going for it, and the habanero was a great touch although to be honest I might use as many as two the next time I make it, because it really didn't seem that spicy to me. My kids probably could have eaten this (though I'm fairly sure they wouldn't have).

    The rice was more of the same; peanuts, tomatoes and habanero. Yum, yum, yum. And as for the funfun, well, as I said it was just very salty refried beans. Martin said it was way too salty to eat. Then he ate it anyway.

    Next week: Bermuda

    For printable versions of this week's recipes:

    Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rouge

    Read more at Celtnet: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-boulets-poulet-sauce-rouge
    Copyright © celtnet



    Recipes from Bengal, India


    Unless you're also married to an Englishman you probably don't know this, but cooking Indian food is actually one of the British marriage vows. You know, "love, honor, and cook a decent curry." And that actually applies to both women and men; if he had to, Martin could make a mouth-watering curry out of a sprouted potato and a bag of turkey jerky.

    So I've been cooking Indian food for pretty much as long as I've known Martin, and I had a few vegetarian Indian dishes in my rotation even before that. (Yes, I was once a vegetarian. Shocking, I know.) So this week I'm on familiar ground, even though I'll admit that my curry-making experience hasn't thus far included fish, which is what I decided to tackle for my dinnertime trip to Bengal, India. ("Tackle," haw haw.)

    Bengali fish curry with dhania aloo.


    Now as you probably can guess, Bengal India is not a country; it's an eastern Indian state that shares a language and much of its culinary tradition with neighboring Bangladesh, which we actually covered a few weeks ago. Bengal has one of the largest economies in India but is also one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, with a poverty rate that hovers at a whopping 30%.

    Bengal and its eastern neighbor, Bangladesh.


    Bengal is home to the world's largest mangrove forest, and its southern border lies along the coastline of the world's largest bay, the Bay of Bengal. Most of the land in the state of Bengal is within 33 feet of sea level, so it's not surprising that fish based dishes are among the traditional favorites. Rice and potatoes are important staples, which along with maize, tea, jute and pulses are grown in the area and account for a significant portion of the Bengal economy.

     So with this in mind I decided I was going to make a fish curry. Now I'll say up front that my fish curry wasn't 100% authentic, mainly because the fish species they eat in that part of the world just aren't the same as the ones you can find over here. Because of the way this dish is prepared, you need a pretty firm-fleshed fish, so I chose cod. You could probably also do this with something like swordfish or mahi-mahi.

    Here's the recipe, which came from a website called Indobase.com:

    Bengali Fish Curry

    For the spice mix:
    • 2 tsp coriander seeds
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds
    • 2 dried hot red chiles
    • 2 whole cloves
    • 2 green cardamom pods
    • 1-inch cinnamon stick

    For the fish:
    • 2 lbs firm white fish, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used cod)
    • 3/4 tsp ground turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 2 tbsp canola oil

    For the sauce:
    • 3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
    • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated and peeled
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 Indian bay leaf
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp sugar
    • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

    On the side I decided to go with a potato dish instead of the usual dal or rice-based side. This recipe also comes from Indobase and is called Dhania Aloo:

    • 10 small potatoes, peeled and parboiled for five minutes
    • Oil for frying
    • 3 1/2 oz cilantro leaves, made into a paste
    • 1 Indian bay leaf
    • 2 red chillies
    • 3 onions, sliced
    • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
    • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
    • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
    • Salt to taste

    And for dessert I decided to brave a rice pudding, called Khejur Gur er Paayesh in Bengal. This recipe comes from "Bong Mom" who blogs at bongcookbook.com.

    • 5 1/2 cups whole milk
    • 1 3/4 cup half and half
    • 2/3 cup basmati rice
    • 1/2 tsp ghee, melted
    • A handful of golden raisins, soaked in water
    • 3 or 4 Indian bay leaves
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup jaggery

    Ingredient note: Jaggery is a traditional unrefined cane sugar. It is not too difficult to find; you should be able to get it in an Indian market, or you can do like me and order it from Amazon.com. Mine arrived in lumps which I had to break apart before using.

    The first thing I did was make the rice pudding, which can be served either hot or cold--I voted for cold since that's the way it usually comes in a restaurant but also because that meant I could make it ahead of time and not have to stress about having it ready at the exact right moment.

    So let me start off by warning you, rice pudding is really time consuming. You can't leave the pot and walk away to do something else, because milk scalds easily and rice pudding is made from thickened milk.

    Here's how it's done:

    First wash the rice. I put my rice in a fine mesh strainer and just let the tap run over it while I put the raisins in water to soak and got the milk ready.

    Wash the rice in a fine mesh strainer.


    When the rice has been rinsed, drain it well and put it in a bowl. Add the melted ghee and stir to coat.

    Basmati rice after adding a little ghee.


    Combine the milk and half and half in a large heavy bottomed pot and add the bay leaves. Bring just to a boil, then add the rice.

    Now stir. Stir some more. Stir some more. Did you bring a book? Your iPad? If not you will be bored.

    After about 10 minutes check the rice. It needs to be done before you add the sugar, warns Bong Mom, else the sugar will prevent it from cooking all the way.

    When the rice is cooked through, add the sugar and keep stirring. Remember to stretch your back and shift your weight from the right foot to the left, but don't stop stirring because your milk will scald. Keep this up until the milk thickens; you will know it's ready when you use your right hand to pour a little bit into the center of a plate, while continuing to stir with your left hand, or vice versa. If the milk doesn't flow and stays pretty much in a button shape in the middle of the plate, it's ready. Finally. Take the pot off the heat.

    This is that button shape you're going for. It took me 40 minutes to get there.


    It took about 40 minutes for my milk to thicken, but Bong Mom says it can take up to an hour.

    Let the pudding sit for five minutes, then add the jaggery (if your jaggery is like mine was, you'll need to crush it so it will melt into the pudding). Then add the raisins. If serving cold, cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

    Stir in the jaggery and let melt.


    Now on to the potatoes. The recipe called for "small potatoes, boiled and peeled" which required a little interpretation. I used new potatoes, which you wouldn't usually peel, but I peeled them anyway. Then I quartered them and parboiled them for five minutes so they were still pretty firm. I didn't think boiling them fully was a good idea since they needed to be fried in the next step, and boiled potatoes quickly turn into mashed potatoes in a frying pan.

    While the potatoes are boiling, make a paste out of the cilantro. To do this, I just put the leaves in my mini food processor and added a little water, then pulsed until I had a paste.

    So yes, next you drain the potatoes and put them in a pan with hot canola oil. Fry them until they are golden, then remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

    Before ...

    After!


    Add a little more oil to the pan, and put in the red chilies and the bay leaf. Another interpretation: the recipe didn't say anything about dicing the chilies, so I assumed whole dried chilies. You could use fresh ones too, I suppose, since the recipe doesn't really say which version it wants.

    Saute the chilies and bay leaf in the oil for a few minutes, then add the sliced onions and crushed garlic.

    Here's that compulsory frying onions picture.


    Top that off with the spices and saute for one or two minutes more.

    Finally, add the potatoes and cilantro paste and stir. Cover the pan and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked through.

    These are nearly finished.


    While you're working on the potatoes you can multi-task your way through the fish curry, which takes a little bit less time since fish cooks so much faster than potatoes.

    Put the spice mix ingredients in a grinder or mortar and pestle and crush to a fine powder. Set aside.

    Coffee grinders have oh-so many uses.


    Now cut your fish up into chunks and place in a large bowl with the salt and turmeric powder. Toss until all your fish pieces are a nice yellow color.

    The beauty of turmeric.


    Heat the canola oil and fry the fish until it is lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

    Add a little more oil to the pan (if needed), then add the chopped onions. Saute until translucent.

    This is a pretty dry curry until you add the yogurt, so keep stirring.


    Add the ginger, garlic and bay leaf and cook for one or two minutes. Then add the spice mix and cook for another couple of minutes.

    After adding the spices you'll get this lovely brown paste.


    Pour in the water along with the salt and sugar. Then take the pan off the heat and add the yogurt, stirring until all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Put the pot back on the stove over low heat and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

    Now add the yogurt. This sauce was not the same color as the one on Indobase.com.


    Return the fish and any juices to the pot and continue to cook over low heat, for five minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Now take out the bay leaf and serve (I poured mine over basmati rice, even though I already had another starch on the table. Evidently it's not that strange to eat rice with potatoes in Bengal).

    As you may have guessed, this was one of those meals that I let my kids skip, mainly because of the fish but also because of the myriad of kid-scary things I added to it, namely green paste and large pieces of onion. So Martin and I dined alone.

    I have to confess that Martin seemed totally indifferent about the curry, so I'm not actually sure whether I broke a marriage vow. He does tend to be indifferent about fish in general, so I guess I'm not too offended. I liked the fish; it was definitely a different way to enjoy the Indian spices I've always been so fond of.

    Martin did praise the potatoes and especially the accompanying onions, which were slightly sweet and very flavorful. But he especially liked the rice pudding, which is not surprising since he usually orders rice pudding for dessert whenever we go out for a curry.

    Personally, I dislike rice pudding, which makes my choice of dessert for this week a little strange. But I have to say, I really did like this one. I can't put my finger on what was different about it; it was incredibly rich and sweet and tasted wonderful with the raisins. Sadly, though, I'll never make it again. Way too much stirring.

    Next week: Benin.

    For printable versions of this week's recipes:




    Recipes from Belize


    I hope you'll excuse me if I'm still reeling from the little culinary tragedy I experienced on Tuesday afternoon. That's right, I murdered in the second degree the vintage milk glass mixing bowl from my 1965 Sunbeam mixer. I don't think I've ever been more upset over a piece of broken cookware. I know you can find replacements on eBay (for a fairly steep price tag) but somehow it's just not the same thing as knowing the one I have is the same one that my grandmother used for 40 years.

    Thankfully, though, I did manage to put tragedy behind me and move forward with my trip to Belize, though I had to make my cake batter in the smaller vintage milk glass mixing bowl, which was both challenging and messy.

    Anyway in case you don't know anything about Belize, here we go:

    Belize is a pretty small Central American country with a bit of an identity crisis; because of its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, its wide, sandy beaches and its pleasant, tourist-friendly tropical climate, it is really more Caribbean in temperament than it is South American. In fact, despite its Central American location, Belize is actually an official member of the Caribbean Community. 



    Belize is small in both land mass and population; it is only about 180 miles long and 68 miles wide, though it has a very diverse ecosystem capable of supporting export crops such as sugar and bananas. Population-wise, Belize has a grand total of 333,200 residents. If you like US population comparisons, 330,000 and some change is roughly the same number of people who live in Tampa, Florida. So you can probably guess how easy it is to find references to traditional Belizean cuisine, (hint: it's about as easy finding references to traditional Tampa Florida cuisine, which is not very).

    So even though there is a quite comprehensive guide to Belizean cuisine on Wikipedia, as far as recipes are concerned there's really not a whole lot out there, at least not online--and let's be realistic, online is really my best resource since I don't know many people who can afford to buy 332 cookbooks, much less have a place to keep them. Wait, what, the library? What's that?

    Stew chicken with stew beans and rice.

    I did manage to come up with a pretty decent menu, though, given my limited resources. Here it is:

    Stew Chicken

    • 1 whole chicken, cut up
    • 2 tbsp white vinegar
    • 2 tbsp achiote paste (called red recado in Belize)
    • 1 onion
    • 1 green bell pepper
    • 5 cloves garlic
    • 3 tbsp soy sauce
    • 3 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
    • 2 tbsp cumin
    • 1 tsp thyme
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 to 2 tbsp coconut oil
    • 1 to 2 tsp sugar
    • Water to cover
    • 1 bay leaf
    Ingredient notes:

    1) Called "red recado" in Belize, achiote paste can usually be found with the bulk spices in the ethnic foods section of your grocery store. If you can't find it there, you should be able to get it from a Mexican grocer.

    2) Coconut oil doesn't look like oil because it is solid when you buy it, like butter, and it usually comes in a jar rather than a bottle. I'm pretty sure I've seen coconut oil at Safeway with some of the gourmet-type oils, but I got mine at the co-op (which carries a lot of organic, natural healthy-type stuff).

    Stew Beans

    • 4 cups dried red kidney beans
    • Water
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 4 to 6 garlic cloves, cut into large pieces
    • 1 or 2 bay leaves
    • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp achiote paste (red recado)
    • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
    • 1 tbsp coconut oil

    Belizean Rum Cake

    For the batter:
    • 1 package Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
    • 1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
    • 4 eggs
    • 1/2 cup rum
    • 1/2 cup water
    For the topping:
    • 1/2 stick butter
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • A small handful of pecans, chopped
    For the syrup:
    • 1/2 cup rum
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/2 stick butter
    • 1 cup sugar

    Both of my dinner recipes came from a blog written by a national, which I personally think is the most reliable sort of place to find authentic recipes. This particular blog is called "Rice and Beans: A Belizean in the USA." I did have to guess at more than a few things though, unfortunately, since the stew chicken recipe in particular didn't include many measurements, just ingredients.

    The dessert recipe came from the Belize News Post, though quite frankly it seemed a bit like a cheat since the first two ingredients are "Duncan Hines yellow cake mix" and "instant vanilla pudding." But the exact same recipe turned up in probably six different places online, so I figured if I was going to make Belizean rum cake I was just going to have to do it the cheater's way.

    So to do this meal, you have to plan ahead, which is not something I'm usually very good at but this time I somehow managed not to botch it up. Just remember that the beans need to be soaked overnight, so put them in a cooking pot and cover them completely with water just before you go to bed the night before you plan to make this meal.

    Don't forget to soak the beans.

    The next afternoon, add some more water to the pot so that the water is about two inches above the beans (don't drain them). Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for a few hours, checking every 20 minutes or so until the beans are about the same firmness as al dente pasta.

    Now add the onion, garlic, and all the spices except for the salt. Continue to cook until the beans have the same firmness as you'd find in canned beans. Then add the salt and the coconut oil.

    Add the onion, garlic and spices and cook until the beans are soft.

    The beans can continue to cook covered on low pretty much indefinitely, as long as you keep checking them to make sure they aren't losing too much liquid, which obviously leads to burning. So you can begin the chicken at the same time as you add the onion and spices, or you can wait until the beans are more or less finished.

    Either way, the chicken is fairly straightforward although there are a lot of ingredients:

    First, mix the achiote paste with the vinegar and rub it all over the chicken pieces.

    Rub the chicken with a mixture of achiote paste and vinegar.

    Put the pieces in a large bowl and add the Worchestershire, cumin, thyme, oregano and black pepper.

    Add the rest of the marinade ingredients and toss to coat.

    Chop the onion, pepper and garlic and set aside.

    I'll mince the garlic with my garlic press just before I add it all to the pot

    Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan. When it has melted completely, add the sugar and swirl to distribute. Remove the chicken from the bowl, reserving the marinade, and brown both sides in the oil and sugar mixture.

    Brown the chicken in a mixture of oil and sugar.

     Add the onions, peppers and garlic. Saute until the onions are translucent.

    So far, so good ...

    Add the marinade to the pot and then add enough water to "almost cover" the chicken. Let simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is tender and the juices run clear. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.

    Now just simmer until done!

    Now on to the cake, which I made while the beans were still soaking:

    First put the cake mix, vanilla pudding, eggs, rum and water into a mixing bowl (this is the part where I killed my vintage bowl).

    What's this a picture of? I can't remember, because I killed my mixing bowl.

     Blend with an electric mixer for three minutes.

    To make the topping, melt the butter and pour it into your cake pan (I used a springform pan, but the recipe calls for a bundt pan). Add the brown sugar and spread around with the back of a spoon until evenly distributed, then sprinkle the pecans over the top.

    Spread the brown sugar and melted butter evenly over the bottom of your cake pan.

    Pour the cake batter into the pan and bake for about 35 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees.

    This was yummy batter. Of course, I never met a cake batter that wasn't ...

    About five or 10 minutes before the 35 minutes are up, put all the syrup ingredients into a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.

    When you take the cake from the oven, prick it all over with a skewer, then pour the rum syrup over it.

    Before ...


    After!

     It will seem like an awful lot of syrup, because it is. But use it all because you want your finished product to be really rummy and moist.

    After the syrup has soaked for a few minutes, turn the cake over onto a plate until ready to serve.

    Fortunately, you can't tell from this photo how pathetically lopsided this cake actually was.

    This meal was definitely nice on a cold evening, and though I did enjoy it I have to admit I found the chicken and beans (which I served with plain white rice; Belizeans sometimes use coconut rice) to be a little generic. The rum cake on the other hand was really tasty, and had to go to work with Martin the next day for fear that I might eat it all when no one was looking. It was sadly quite rummy though, making it inappropriate for my children, much to their huge disappointment because they've lately been on a Jack Sparrow kick and were quite sure that consuming rum cake would drop them permanently into the good graces of the entire fictional pirate community. Oh well.

    Next week: Bengal, India

    For printable versions of this week's recipes:



    Recipes from Belgium


    This week's meal came from Belgium, and looking back I am now wondering why I didn't find some way to include chocolate, because duh, Belgium. What a golden opportunity squandered. I guess I spent way too much time being intimidated by the main course.

    Stoemp, trippe and Brussels sprouts cooked in beer.

    Belgium does have a lot of things going for it (foodwise) besides chocolate, though that's arguably the best one. There are also waffles, which in Belgium are usually served as a light snack or dessert, and French fries (there's actually a pretty good argument to be made that the "French" fry actually originated in Belgium), and of course beer.

    Yep, Belgium is pretty small.


    There are other interesting things about Belgium, of course, though, you know, chocolate ... Anyway Belgium is a pretty small European country of about 11 million people, wedged a bit awkwardly between France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the latter of which actually claimed it until the Belgian Revolution in 1830. Evidently The Netherlands liked Belgium not because of the chocolate but because from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance it was actually one of Europe's great centers of culture and commerce. It also had a bit of a reputation for inspiring violence; many of Europe's most infamous battles--including the Battle of Waterloo and the battle of the Bulge--were fought in the region (probably over the chocolate) which is how it eventually came to be known as "the battleground of Europe."

    Sorry, I killed the chocolate joke, didn't I?

    So yes, sadly I did not manage to include any actual chocolate in this weeks' recipes, though I did find a really nice recipe that included a Belgian cheese, and let's face it, that's almost as good.

    Which brings me to the appetizer of the week:

    Abbey Cheese Croquettes with Pear Syrup
    (from The Belgian Beer Cafe)

    For the croquettes:
    •     6 to 8 oz abbey cheese
    •     2 eggs
    •     2/3 cup flour
    •     2/3 cup breadcrumbs
    For the pear syrup:
    •     1 cup sugar
    •     1/2 cup water
    •     1 sliver lemon zest
    •     2 pears, cored and halved
    When doing my research for the main course, I found a lot of references to a dish called "stoemp," which is kind of like glorified mashed potatoes. This actually sounded better to me than French fries, because French fries are delicious but a) boring and b) served all over the world in fast food restaurants and c) I already made some to go with my kangaroo burgers back in Australia.

    So I really wanted to do stoemp, but the more I read the more I thought I really needed to serve it with sausages. Belgian sausages. Which I've never actually seen in a grocery store, at least not around here. Anyway here's the stoemp recipe (from Epicurious):

    • 4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
    • 1/2 cup chicken broth
    • 1 tbsp salt
    • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts
    • pinch nutmeg
    • 2/3 cup heavy cream
    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • freshly ground black pepper to taste

    As you probably know I live nowhere near an urban area (and my nearest city, Sacramento, doesn't actually really count because there's not a hugely ethnically diverse population living there so apart from your basic Asian, Indian and Mexican grocers the selection of ethnic foods doesn't get much more specific than that. Though now that I've said that outloud someone will probably comment with a link to a Belgian deli or something and then I'll be annoyed).

    So in the absence of a good source for Belgian sausages, I realized I was going to have to do something stupid. Make sausages at home. I'll wait for you to stop laughing.

    I actually stressed about this for a few weeks, even though I found a recipe pretty much right away (this recipe came from Food.com, and was generously shared by member Molly53). Here it is:

    Trippe Sausages
    • Hog casings
    • 1 tbsp white pepper
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 ½ tbsp sage
    • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
    • 1 tbsp thyme
    • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
    • 5 tbsp salt
    • 1 onion , peeled and chopped
    • 3 ½ lbs cabbage, cored
    • 10 lbs pork butt, de-boned and cubed

    Recipe note: this recipe as written makes a ton of sausage. If you try to do the whole recipe it will take you most of the day and your back and shoulders will be killing you. I only used two pounds of pork butt, but I'm copying the recipe here in its entirety because it was too fiddly trying to cut it all in fifths and I'd hate to try to reproduce that in text.

    Also, "pork butt," in case you are as unilluminated about it as I was, is the same thing as a pork shoulder blade roast. This cut does not, in fact, come from the nether-regions of a pig. Sorry to disappoint.

    Now I don't precisely know how to pronounce "stoemp" or "trippe," but I prefer to think it's pronounced "stomp" and "trip" because that's actually kind of funny.

     Lastly, on the side I decided to put a very simple recipe featuring that oh-so Belgian of vegetables, the Brussels sprout:

    Brussels Sprouts in Beer
    (from Belgium Guide)
    •     1 lb Brussels sprouts
    •     16 oz dark beer
    •     1/2 tsp salt
    •     3 tbsp butter  

    Anyway, yes, I was committed to making sausage at home, which sounds pretty damned intimidating doesn't it? Well, it was.

    First I had to get a meat grinder with a sausage attachment, which wasn't actually as easy as it sounds because almost every meat grinder on the market has a few positive consumer reviews and a whole lot of crappy ones. So I basically just had to close my eyes and point.

    The next thing I had to get was sausage casings, which are thankfully not that hard to find (Eastman Outdoors Natural Hog Casings).

    And amazingly, the whole process (though time consuming) went off completely without a hitch. In fact it was actually surprisingly easy. Here's how it's done:

    First get your sausage casings and eyeball about how much you will need. Or make a wild guess, because it's actually pretty hard to judge. The package might give you an idea, though mine wasn't particularly helpful.

    Another ingredient note: sausage casings smell. At least mine did (they were hog casings). They also look like they're way too small to make sausages. When you pull them out of the package, they look kind of like fettuccine pasta. Really smelly, salty fetuccine pasta.

    Smelly sausage casings packed in salt.


    So the first thing you need to do is soak the casings. Depending on who you ask, this takes anywhere from five to 30 minutes. Definitely just go by what the package tells you (mine said to soak for 30 minutes, and this seemed to work out fine). When the soak is done, first stop up your sink because you'll be mad if you drop your casings down the garbage disposal. Then find the end of the casing and gently figure out how to open it. It's kind of like the end of a balloon, only way more fiddly. Once you've found the opening, turn on your faucet and run the water through the casing to make sure all the salt comes out of it and to check for leaks. If you do see a leak you'll need to cut the casing where you find it.

    Now your casing is ready; drain the water off of it and put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

    To make the filling, first you need to boil the cabbage until it becomes soft. Meanwhile, cube the pork. Don't try to trim the fat out of it, because good sausage needs a lot of fat. Finally, chop the onion.

    Your pork should be pretty fatty--good sausage needs fat.


    When the cabbage is done let it drain and cool. Cut the cooked cabbage into smaller pieces and mix it up with the onion and the pork.

    Now sit down with your meat grinder and run the mixture through it. This is really tedious and, if you have a manual grinder like mine, also somewhat painful. When you're finally done you'll have a mountain of sausage filling. Add the seasonings and mix well.

    Pork goes in ...



    ... sausage comes out!

    Next you'll need to use the sausage attachment on your meat grinder, which basically is a tube assembly that replaces the blades. Get your prepared casings out of the fridge and find the ends again. Put one end on the tube and tie a knot at the other end. Now slip the rest of the casing onto the tube until most of it is bunched up around the plastic.

    This is where the casings kind of surprised me; I expected them to be easy to tear but they were actually quite tough. If you're patient and you don't force them, it's actually kind of hard to damage them.

    Once you've got the casings on the tube, start turning the handle. You may need to gently squeeze and shape the casings as they fill to make sure that there aren't any air pockets and that the sausages end up being the right shape. When you get about four inches of filling into the first sausage, twist it a few times to make a link. Then fill up the next sausage. Keep going until you either run out of casings or filling, then make another knot. You're done! Yay!
     

    These sausages just need to be cooked.

    To cook the sausages, just put them in a single layer in the bottom of a large stock pot and cover them with water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat just enough to maintain a simmer and cover (the sausages may burst if you cook them any hotter than that). Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let rest for another 15 minutes.

    If you like them browned, finish them in a grill pan before serving.


    If you're parinoid like me, you might want to check the internal temperature of one of the sausages with a meat thermometer (it should read at least 160) just before you take it off the heat. When I did this, though, oil shot up in a spout that was probably about two feet high, making a mess of my stove. So stand back.

    At some point during this process you'll want to start making the stoemp, which depending on your preference could take anywhere from about 20 minutes to 2 1/2 hours. Here's how it's done:

    First boil the potatoes with the salt. Drain and run through a ricer or mash.

    If you don't have a ricer, just mash the potatoes.

    Meanwhile, rinse the leeks (leeks are really dirty, so make sure to rinse them well) and slice them into rings. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the leek slices. Cook for five minutes or until soft, continuing to stir (you don't want them to brown).

    Saute the leeks in butter.


    Add the chicken stock, the cream, the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

    Then add the cream, chicken stock and spices.


    Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain off the liquid, reserving it, and add the leeks to the potatoes. Return the sauce to the pan and bring it back to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring continuously, until the sauce is reduced by half. Then add it to the mashed potatoes (you can also add some extra butter and cream if the mixture is too dry). Turn the stoemp into a baking dish and bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours.

    Note: the oven part of stoemp-making is different depending on which recipe you use. I found other stoemp recipes that don't call for any oven time at all. The baking basically gives the stoemp a nice crispy crust, which I rather liked (I only baked mine for about an hour so it could have been a bit crispier).

    Stoemp can be served immediately or baked to give it a crispy top layer.


    Now on to the Brussels sprouts, which really couldn't be easier:

    Put the sprouts in a pan and add the beer. Bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes, or until the sprouts are tender.

    Just boil the sprouts in beer.


    Drain off the beer and add the butter to the pan. Stir until the butter is melted and it coats the sprouts. Done!

    Drain the beer and add melted butter.


    At some point you'll also need to start making the pear syrup and prepping the cheese croquettes, which are actually pretty easy to make but need to be timed just right so they'll be hot and crispy when you serve them. I actually ran out of time so I ended up doing mine as an after-dinner snack instead of an appetizer.

    To make the syrup, boil the water and sugar with the lemon zest for about five minutes.

    This is the lemon zest in the sugar water. Lousy picture, I know.

    Then add the pears, cut side down, and continue to boil for 8 minutes longer.

    Add the pears and boil.

    Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears and lemon zest and set aside (I gave them to my kids as a dessert).

    First a quick note: "Abbey" cheese is a kind of Belgian cheese, and you're not likely to find it at Safeway. I got mine from iGourmet.com (where it's called "Brigid's Abbey," a brand that doesn't come directly from Belgium but is made from a Belgian recipe). The cheese I got tasted a little bleu, although I don't know if that's what it's supposed to taste like or if it's more because my cheese took an extra day to arrive because of weather-related delays at UPS.

    Abbey cheese is a soft white cheese made from raw cow's milk.


    To make the croquettes, cut the cheese up into little mini wedges, or just in small slices. Then coat each piece completely in flour.

    Coat the cheese wedges with flour.


    Dip in the beaten egg, then coat with breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the cheese wedges are coated.

    Dip in egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.


    Heat two inches of oil over a hot stove (the oil is ready when bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon). Drop the breaded cheese into the oil, taking care to keep them separate so they don't stick. Fry until they are a golden color, which doesn't really take any time at all (less than a minute). Drain on paper towels and serve with the pear syrup as a dipping sauce (you may need to add a little water to the syrup to thin it).

    When golden, drain on a paper towel and serve with pear syrup.


    So anyway, I think my kids are Belgian. I couldn't believe the speed at which two pounds of sausage and a batch of stoemp were consumed. Everyone wanted seconds, even picky Hailey. I thought the sausages were pretty good for someone who's never made sausages, and was still marveling that I hadn't screwed them up by the time I got them on the table. I liked the stoemp, too, even though it really was just a fancy mash. The Brussels sprouts, though, ew. No one liked them. Brussels sprouts are sort of naturally bitter and adding the dark beer made them even more so. I ended up throwing quite a few of them away.

    The cheese croquettes, on the other hand, came together quickly and were really tasty with the pear syrup. You could probably use any cheese to do these--and I may never eat another boring fried mozzarella ball again.

    Martin was less impressed. Evidently, he doesn't like sausage. Which is a weird thing to hear from a guy who puts linguicia in the Thanksgiving stuffing and hot Italian sausages on the barbecue. So who knew. Also he was kind of annoyed at me for serving the cheese croquettes after dinner, because I guess I led him to believe he was going to get a dessert, probably based on the fact that I called it "dessert."

    Guess I should have done something with chocolate.

    Next week: Belize

    For printable versions of this week's recipes:






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