I tried ...


We have some family stuff going on this week, so I was planning to get my Burkina Faso entry finished and posted by the end of today. I cooked the meal on Sunday and it was pretty good, but sadly that's all I can tell you about it because several loads of laundry, some house cleaning and various other preparatory tasks kicked my butt and I am just now sitting down at my computer for the first time today.

So instead of attempting to do the impossible I'm bowing out this week, and will have my Burkina Faso entry posted next Thursday instead of this one. Thanks and see you then!


Recipes from Burgundy, France


This week we're back in France, and I have to confess that I really don't get what all the fuss is about French food. At least not the stuff from Burgundy.

Yes, it was good, but I wouldn't go to a fancy French restaurant and spend $100 a plate for it. Of course one might argue that French food cooked up by a French chef in a fancy French restaurant is probably going to be different than similar food cooked up by a frazzled mother of four in an underfurnished Northern California kitchen. But in this case I think it might actually just be preference.

Food from Burgundy is rich. It's buttery, creamy and fatty. It's heavy. Now, most people like stuff that fits that description. I guess I do too, but in very small doses. Certainly not in every course of a four course meal.



Burgundy is located in east central France and from a non-culinary perspective must not be particularly interesting because I could hardly find anything about it online, not even in Wikipedia (though I'm sure I'll hear about that "not particularly interesting" comment from someone at some point). What I did learn is that Burgundy is sparsely populated, has only a few minor tourist attractions and is mostly famous for its vineyards. Historically it was held by some very wealthy dukes, one of whom was the guy who turned Joan of Ark over to the English in 1430 for the nice tidy sum of 10,000 gold crowns. How much is that worth in today's dollars? I don't know. I'm guessing a lot.



But anyway, the food: After the usual frustratingly exhaustive search, I'd nearly concluded that the only thing they actually eat in Burgundy is Beef Bourguignon. And I really, really didn't want to make beef bourguignon. Three reasons: 1) too easy 2) way too mainstream and 3) carrots. Did I mention how much I hate carrots?

Then I found a site called Interfrance.com, which features a complete menu of Burgundian dishes, four of which I ended up using for this entry.

Here they are:

Escargots de Bourgogne (Yes, that's right. Snails)

  • 12 large canned snails
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 tbsp Italian parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Corniottes (Savory Cheese Pastries)

  • 2 cups fromage blanc or 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere or Swiss-type cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound puff-pastry dough
Lapin à la Moutarde (Rabbit in Mustard Sauce)
   
  • 1 3 to 4 lb rabbit
  • 4 strips bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • salt and pepper
  • If needed: 1 tbsp butter mixed with 1 tbsp flour
Tarte de Semoule au Cassis (Semolina Tart with Black Currants)

For the dough:
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp fine sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold margarine
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • pinch of salt
For the filling:
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 pound blackcurrant berries,
  • 1 vanilla bean
I did need a side dish, too, so I used my recently discovered trick and Googled "Recette de pommes de terre bourgogne" (French for "potato recipe burgundy") and found this one on a website called "Bourgogne-Recettes:"

Gratin Dauphinois au Bleu (Potato Gratin with Bleu Cheese)

  • 3 lbs golden potatoes
  • 2 cups cream
  • 8 oz Bleu d'Auvergne or other French bleu cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
Now I wasn't originally planning to do two appetizers, but for some terribly misguided reasons that I won't get into here, I really wanted to try eating snails. So I added the escargots to my menu. They were easy to make, and thank goodness for that because they were also quite easy to throw into the trash. Wait, just let me pause to hear that collective gasp of horror from foodies all over the world: < GASP! > OK are you done? Thanks.

Snails, as I'm sure you know, can't be purchased in just any grocery store. You need a shop that deals in gourmet groceries (or an online grocer). I got mine at Corti Brothers in Sacramento.

So to make these escargots, first drain and rinse the snails. Yes, they look as gross as you might expect them too. Now mince the shallots, garlic and parsley (I forgot to include the parsley so I just sprinkled some on top when I was done) and mix it into the softened butter with the salt and pepper.



Now the recipe says you need either snail shells snail dishes to cook these in, which of course I didn't have and wasn't about to invest in since I had a feeling this wasn't something I was going to make again. So I used muffin cups. How's that for resourcefulness?

So first spoon a little bit of butter into the bottom of the muffin cup (shell or snail dish). Then add a snail and top with a little more butter. Put the snails in the fridge for at least one hour, or until ready to cook.



Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pop the snails into the oven and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the butter is bubbly.



Now for the palatable appetizer, the corniottes.

Fromage blanc needs to be poured into a cheesecloth-lined strainer, set over a bowl and chilled for at least 8 hours, which is one of the reasons why I didn't use it. And also because they didn't have it at Safeway. If you're using ricotta instead, you just need to mix it with the crème fraiche (or sour cream), 3/4 cup of the Gruyere and one of the eggs. Add salt and pepper and set aside.



Now roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface. Cut into rounds about 5 inches in diameter. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with wax paper and prick them all over with a fork. Chill for 15 minutes or until firm.

Beat the other egg in a small bowl and brush around the edges of each round.



Drop some filling into the center of each round and pull up the edges to make a triangular shape. Take care not to let any of the filling get on the part of the pastry with the egg wash, or it won't stick well. Now put back in the fridge and chill for at least 30 minutes (this is supposed to prevent them from opening during baking, though it sure didn't work for me).



Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake until lightly browned (15 minutes or so). Now sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere (which was pointless in my case because mine were just like little bowls of melted cheese anyway). Bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until the Gruyere melts and starts to brown.



Now on to the dessert, which takes some time but can be made in advance.

First blend the four, sugar, margarine, oil and salt in a bowl with your fingers until you get something that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the water a little at a time until a crumbly dough starts to form. Roll it into a ball and dust it with a little flour. Wrap it in wax paper and chill for one hour.



Now in my part of the country, you can't get black currants. You just can't. The closest you can come is dried currants, which I already happened to have on hand. So I just took some of those and soaked them in water for a few hours, then followed the instructions from there.

The recipe says to mix the currants with sugar and water and cook over high heat until they form a thick sauce. Now I assumed that they meant add the sugar in the amount called for in the recipe, which is evidently not what they meant since that amount of sugar is used later on in the semolina topping. So anyway I ended up with currants that were way too sugary. I saved them, though, by pouring off most of the syrup and then mixing in a little currant jelly. Which also helped the consistency since the dried currants never did make the thick sauce the recipe wanted them to make.

So after you've cooked the berries, make the semolina topping. First split the vanilla bean in half (I actually scraped mine so there would be a more intense vanilla flavor) and add it to the milk. Heat the milk and vanilla until it just starts to boil (take care, milk is easy to scald). Remove the bean and stir in the semolina. After the mixture has cooled for a few minutes, add the egg yolks.



Now beat the egg whites until you get stiff peaks, then add the sugar. Fold the egg white mixture into the semolina.



Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a tart pan and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Line the pan with the dough and prick all over with a fork. Return to the fridge for 10 minutes or so.

Spread the currant mixture over the pastry dough, then spread the semolina topping over that.



Smooth with a spatula and bake for 40 minutes or until golden.



Are you tired yet? Only two more recipes.

The potatoes are easy but they have to cook for a while, so let's do those next:

Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices. Place them in a bowl and season them with salt, pepper and nutmeg.



Arrange the potato slices in a buttered casserole dish. Now crumble the blue cheese into a bowl with the cream and pour over the potatoes.



The Google translation of this recipe now says to "dispense with the butter," whatever that means. I just chose to cut the butter into cubes and place on top. You could probably have just poured melted butter over the mixture as well, but since it didn't say anything about "melting," that's not what I did.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and cook the potatoes for about 1 1/2 hours. If they aren't browned on top by then (mine were) you can finish them under the broiler until they have a nice crispy surface.



Finally, the rabbit. Now I've only eaten rabbit a few times, and I've only actually cooked it one time. The last time I cooked it I kind of just closed my eyes and threw the whole carcass in the crockpot. A dead rabbit just looks way too much like a dead rabbit. This time, sadly, I had to cut the danged thing up. And I don't mind telling you, I've never even so much as cut up a chicken. It's just so much easier to ask the butcher to do it.

But I did it, thanks to this site. It actually wasn't that hard, except for the whole dead Thumper thing.

Poor Thumper.


Anyway once your rabbit is cut up (into six pieces), rub it all over with Dijon mustard and let it marinade in the fridge, covered, for three or four hours.



Now fry the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned, then drain on paper towels. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of oil from the skillet, then add peanut oil and the rabbit pieces with the mustard. Saute for 10 minutes or until brown, turning once.

Add the bacon, onion, herbs and white wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes or until tender.



Now add the half and half. Stir and cook for another five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Arrange the rabbit on a serving plate, leaving the sauce in the pot.

If your sauce needs thickening, mix the flour with the softened butter and wisk in. Boil for one or two minutes or until thick. Serve the rabbit with the sauce spooned over.



Now I already gave you a pretty good idea of what I thought, but I'll give you a brief rundown anyway.

The snails were actually surprising. They weren't slimy and they weren't rubbery. They were almost like a mushroom, but a little bit firmer. They actually tasted good. But let's face it, they were snails. It was really hard to get past the idea that I was eating that slimy, mucus-trail leaving thing that slithers around in the garden.

Martin ate one snail, chewed it up thoughtfully and then said "that's the first and only snail I will ever eat in my life" and carried the remaining two back into the kitchen, destined for the trash. I ate two of my three, but only so I could say I'd eaten one more than Martin did.

The corniottes were good but not really that unusual. I only ate half of one, not because I didn't like it but because it was so heavy and rich I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat much of my main meal if I finished one off.

The rabbit was good, but again, rich. Not so much because of the preparation but because rabbit is just a really rich meat. Though I think I could have done without the bacon. The potatoes were more of the same; good, but rich. Too much cream and--dare I say it--too much cheese. And finally, the tart--tasty but I think mine could have been cooked a bit longer. The pastry was a little doughy. But overall it was quite unusual compared to the standard run-of-the-mill American desserts. It was probably my favorite part of the meal.

But, as I said, not something I'd pay $100 a plate for. Now perhaps all that richness was just a Burgundy thing, (Brittany's dishes were a little rich too, but not so overwhelmingly rich). I do have six more French regions to go, so I guess the jury is still out.

Next week: Burkina Faso

For printable versions of this week's recipes:




Recipes from Bulgaria


This week I had an interesting encounter with that strangest of birds, the Plumed and Crested Foodie. I guess I ruffled some feathers when I said that I preferred not to eat bugs or entrails; evidently it's not possible to have a true "cultural experience" unless you're willing to eat things that most Americans find gross. This rather odd exchange left me wondering if I was depriving my readers of some sort of surreal culinary journey into the Kalahari when, a few weeks ago, I chose to cook Botswana chicken pie instead of mopane worms.

I actually didn't need to think about this for very long, though, because it's pretty obvious to me that you can't really have a "cultural experience" by cooking a single meal in an American kitchen (that's like saying you've visited Chicago because you once had a two hour layover at the airport). To even come close to such a thing you would need to cook at least several weeks worth of meals (not just dinner), and you'd have to use traditional equipment (whether it's a Tandoori oven or a fire pit), eat with traditional utensils (or your hands), sit down in the traditional way (whether it's at a table or on the floor), and, let's face it, actually be in that country. So a "cultural experience" this is not. It's just a very small taste of what the world has to offer. And as for insects and innards, well, I'm still not going there. Ew.

Anyway, this week we're in Bulgaria, which was kind of a relief to my poor husband who I think is a little fed up with having "cultural experiences" (haha) that include cornmeal mush or shrimp paste.

Bulgaria is an Eastern European country bordered by Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. It was a communist nation from 1946 to 1990, when it became a democracy with a market economy. If you're interested in very early human history, Bulgaria has some gems to offer including the Kozarnika cave, which contains some of the earliest evidence of human symbolic behavior (things like deliberate markings on objects made of bone or rock), Bronze Age era drawings in the Magura Cave, two of the oldest surviving buildings in the world (dating back to 6000 BC) and the Varna Necropolis, the burial site where archeologists uncovered the oldest known golden treasure.



Bulgarian cuisine is pretty diverse and it's not hard to find recipes. The food is pretty similar to food found in other parts of the Balkans and thankfully, there aren't any recipes containing bugs (at least not that I uncovered, not that I was looking or anything). I did fail in one area this week, though; I discovered after I'd already made my meal that most Bulgarian dinners include some kind of salad, so if you want to go for true authenticity you might want to add a Shopska or Bulgarian potato salad to this menu.



Here's what I did make:

Kashkaval Pane

I found this recipe at about.com in their Eastern European Foods section. Disclaimer: I only made this because I found some kashkaval on igourmet.com, and I never really need a very good excuse to eat cheese.

  • 1 pound kashkaval cheese (provolone or haloumi could also be used)
  • All-purpose flour
  • 2 to 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 to 3 cups fresh breadcrumbs, panko crumbs, or matzo meal

Monastery Gyuvetch

(This recipe comes from Find Bulgarian Food)

  • 2 lbs beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 lbs mushrooms
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 15 olives, whole
  • a bunch of parsley
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • black pepper, paprika and salt

Baked Cabbage

(This recipe comes from a family blog called Roesing.net. The authors are a Bulgarian and her American husband)

  • 1 head cabbage, chopped
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-2 peppers, chopped (the recipe was not clear on the type of pepper, so I used red bells)

And for dessert:

Mekitsi

(Also from Find Bulgarian Food)
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 small egg
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Oil for frying

The baked cabbage has the longest cooking time, so I started there. Unfortunately I'd just returned from a day at the pool with the eldest three of my four children and I was a) exhausted and b) almost completely without any time to be doing one of these elaborate meals. So I traveled off the beaten recipe and I started out by sauteing my cabbage and bell peppers in oil so they wouldn't need as much oven time.



If you do have time (1 to 2 hours), just mix the cabbage with the peppers and tomatoes, add the spices, oil, vinegar and water and transfer to a baking dish.



Bake for 1 to 2 hours (after the first hour, keep checking to make sure that the top of the dish doesn't burn) or until the cabbage is soft. Easy-peasy.

Now on to the gyuvetch, which is also almost embarrassingly easy:

First saute the meat in a little bit of oil until it starts to brown. Then add the onions, beef stock and paprika and simmer for 5 minutes.



Add the rice and mushrooms. Keep simmering for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. (At about this time you can start preheating your oven to 400 degrees.)



Now add the tomatoes, salt, butter, sugar and olives. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Then transfer the mixture into a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and pepper (oops, I forgot the parsley).

About 10 minutes before the gyuvetch comes out of the oven, start on the kashkaval. This is also easy: Just put some oil on the stove (about two inches worth should be fine) and heat until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, slice the cheese up into half-inch thick pieces.


Kashkaval is a Bulgarian cheese made from sheep's milk.

Coat all sides of each slice with flour, then dip in egg, then in breadcrumbs. Submerge each slice in hot oil and fry until golden brown. Serve immediately.



Finally the dessert:

The dough has to rise for about an hour, so you might want to start right about the time the gyuvetch goes in the oven.

First put the yeast in the water and let sit for five minutes or so, or until frothy. Then mix with the egg and yogurt. Keep stirring until well-blended. Add the flour and salt and mix until you get a soft dough. Let stand one hour.



Heat some oil in a pot (you'll need two inches or so). Roll the dough out and cut into circles. Drop into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until golden and puffy.



Dust with powdered sugar and serve.



This meal actually went over pretty well with everyone in my family (though my kids chose leftover birthday cake over mekitsi). Everyone ate the cheese, even Hailey (who hates cheese). I am still in rather a daze over this because you usually can't get that girl to go within 10 feet of a piece of cheese unless it's on pizza.

Dylan moaned for about 10 minutes over whether or not he wanted to try the main dish, but when he did he finished it. None of my kids really liked the cabbage, though, except for Henry who probably would actually eat bugs and entrails.

Martin ate his whole meal and then all but gave me permission to buy plane tickets to Bulgaria, which after researching this entry I would actually be happy to do since Bulgaria sounds like a fascinating place. The gyuvetch kind of reminded me of a beefy, non-seafoody twist on paella, and the vinegar in the cabbage made it taste really unique, though I personally preferred a small dose of it since it was a little overwhelming. The mekitsi was unsweetened (other than the powdered sugar) so it was a very un-American dessert, though we did enjoy it. It puffed up really nicely when fried and was kind of like a doughnut in texture. Martin actually went back for another one and then covered his seconds with chocolate syrup.

Bulgaria was also good because it was simple, and on this first full week of summer vacation, I really needed some simple.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Next week: Burgundy and Bordeaux, France


Recipes from Brunei


Like most people, there are some things I just won't eat. Bugs and entrails are at the top of my list, but that's really only because in my country people don't tend to eat bugs and entrails. In other cultures, dairy products are considered gross in the same way as we tend to think of guts as being gross, and there's actually a certain amount of logic to that. Cheese, for example, is really just the moldy excretions of a cow. When you stop to think about it, that's pretty disgusting. No wonder some cultures don't understand our love of cheese.

So when I use the words "gross," "scary," "yuck" or any such similar words, I don't mean it as a criticism of a culture's cuisine, but merely as an expression of my personal tastes. Because I am really just one person compared to several million people who don't agree with me. This is also why I will never give a recipe a poor review on Food.com or Allrecipes.com. Because 1) it's mean and 2) if I don't like a recipe it's not necessarily because there's something wrong with that recipe; it's probably got more to do with the fact that I just don't like the recipe.

So with that in mind, let me just say one more thing on the subject:

Shrimp paste. Ew.

This week we're in Brunei, a southeast Asian country on the island of Borneo, which is also home to  Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei I mainly know because of its reputation as a wealthy nation. Depending on which measurement you use, Brunei is actually just a little bit wealthier than the US, ranking fifth on the list of countries by gross domestic product at purchasing power parity per capita (the US ranks sixth).



Most of Brunei's wealth comes from its rich oil reserves, and its citizens enjoy some perks that we don't get here in the US, including free education and health care and no personal income taxes. All of this has led some (probably jealous) critics to refer to Brunei as the "Shellfare State" (ala Shell Oil Company).

Richest of all is Brunei's leader, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien. Yes, that's right. The poor man has like a million different names and/or titles. That fun fact, however, is the only "poor" thing about the Sultan—his net worth of about $20 billion means he is richer than Mark Zuckerberg, and only a little less rich than Michael Bloomberg. Oh, and he lives in a modest home of 2,152,782 square feet with 1,888 rooms and 290 bathrooms.

So you would think that with its tradition of luxury, Brunei's food would also be luxurious. And to be fair, a lot of it probably is. However, none of those luxurious recipes actually made it into the cookbook I was using.



Yes that's right, this week I followed my husband's advice and I chose recipes from an actual cookbook (this one: Southeast Asian Cooking by Barbara Hansen). Both of the recipes that came from this book sounded tasty, and here they are:

Ikan Sambal (Fish with Spicy Tamarind Sauce)

For the fish:

  • 1 lb lean white fish
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 thin slice of onion, separated into rings
For the sauce:

  • 8 shallots
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 small fresh red chile
  • 1/2 tsp shrimp paste (Don't use this. Seriously.)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
Nasi Biryani (Celebration Rice)

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3 tbsp thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1 tsp minced gingerroot
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cup long grain rice
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 small tomato, sliced
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp almonds, chopped
  • 1 tbsp cashews, chopped
  • 1/2 small fresh red chile
For dessert I chose a recipe from the ubiquitous Celtnet.com:

Mangoes with Khao Man (Sticky Coconut Rice)

  • 2/3 cup rice (sushi rice would work best)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut cream, divided
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 ripe mangoes 
Ingredient note: coconut cream isn't the same thing as coconut milk. Make sure you buy the right stuff.

You should make the celebration rice first, because it takes about 15 minutes to prep and 40 or so minutes to cook. But that's not where I'm going to start this entry because I was way too traumatized by the fish and I really need to talk about it.

So a couple of weeks ago I ordered a certain condiment from a certain online retailer, and then decided I would never buy anything from them again because the stuff they sent me had clearly gone off. Now it appears that decision was a little hasty, because evidently that's what shrimp paste is supposed to smell like. I bought some from another retailer not long afterwards and it was just as putrid and disgusting as the stuff I got from the first store.

Shrimp paste is scary. Like a hide in a closet, biting your nails kind of scary. It smells like fish that's been dead for a long time, and has also had something noxious poured over it, like maybe essence of diaper pail. Sorry, I know those words don't belong in a food blog, but honesty is important isn't it?

But I used it anyway, because shrimp paste is actually a very common ingredient in southeast Asian cuisine, and I figured it was maybe like red palm oil: smells bad, tastes good. Oh how wrong I was.

Here's how to make the fish (if you're brave):

First rub the fish fillets with salt and turmeric, then cut them into pieces (for large fillets you would want about four pieces each; just two for smaller fillets). Cover and refrigerate.




Now place the shallots, garlic, chile and shrimp paste in a food processor and pulse until you get a thick paste.


That disgusting looking brown crusty lump is the shrimp paste.


Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot mixture and sauté for about three minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the tamarind paste with the warm water and add to the shallots with the sugar and salt. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes or until the sauce is pretty thick.




Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp oil in a large frying pan and fry the fish on both sides, working in batches if you need to, until it flakes easily with a fork. Transfer the fish to a warm platter and spoon the sauce over. Garnish with the onion rings.




Sounds pretty tasty doesn't it? The amount of shrimp paste in the recipe was actually pretty small, which is one of the reasons why I figured it wouldn't hurt to use it. I was starting to worry a little, though, as the sauce was cooking and my entire kitchen filled with the aroma of three months old dead fish and essence of diaper pail. And it tasted about like that, too. But anyway, on to the rice.

This is actually a pretty simple biryani not too unlike some of the Indian rice dishes I've made. To begin, heat 3 tbsp oil in a large pot and fry the sliced shallots until golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, leaving the oil in the pot.




Now add the minced shallots, ginger and garlic. Saute for two minutes or until fragrant.



Add the water and bring to a boil, then add the rice and yogurt. Stir until well blended.

Now add the tomato, cilantro, nuts and chile. Return to a boil, then cover and simmer over a very low flame for 40 minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Garnish with the fried shallots.



Finally, the dessert:

Rinse the rice and drain. Put in a saucepan with the water, salt and 1/2 cup of coconut cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Now mix the rest of the coconut cream with the sugar and a dash of salt. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for two or three minutes, stirring occasionally.

Peel and slice the mangoes and cover with the rice. Spoon the sauce over and serve.



So as you probably already gleaned from everything I've been complaining about, we did not like the fish. That tiny 1/2 tsp of shrimp paste made the entire dish taste so rank that neither of us could finish it. In fact, Martin couldn't even give an opinion of the rice until after he'd washed the fish down the garbage disposal, because until then he said he was just using it as a way to block out the taste of the fish.

Unfortunately for the dessert, I don't think I would have really enjoyed anything after that meal. And in addition being overwhelmed by the awfulness of the fish, the dessert was also hurt by the fact that the recipe was unclear about what kind of rice to use (I used a long-grain rice when I probably should have used sushi rice). It tasted OK with the mangoes, but I don't think I really enjoyed it as much as I would have under different circumstances.

The celebration rice was definitely the high point of the meal (I especially liked the crispy shallots). We had to go back for seconds not just because it was good, but also so we could  1) fill the void left by the fish that got dumped down the garbage disposal and 2) blot out the memory of the fish that got dumped down the garbage disposal.

In fairness, the fish probably would have been fine without the shrimp paste, which I'm sure it goes without saying I will never use again. But in the meantime I guess I have to add Brunei to my growing list of do-overs. I'm sure there's something on the Sultan's menu I'd like. Forget cookbooks; maybe I can track down his personal chef somewhere on the Internet.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:






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