Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Austrian Pumpernickel Bread

My poor baby boy has been sick since last Thursday, and he spent last night in the hospital with dehydration and low blood sugar. So it's been a really rough week for us (though we did manage to pull off a pretty decent Christmas).

So I'm putting off my adventure to Austria, though hopefully only for another couple of days (it's obviously going to depend on when Henry gets home and starts feeling like himself). But I did want to post a recipe today anyway, just to get the proverbial ball rolling.

First a disclaimer: I wasn't actually going to make this recipe, nor have I ever made this recipe, though now that I've looked at it I might try it once things settle down. This week I was planning to keep things pretty low key, so I actually just cheated and bought a loaf of cocktail pumpernickel to serve with the appetizer I plan to make. But in case you don't want to cheat, here is a genuine Austrian pumpernickel recipe:

Dark Pumpernickel Bread
(from Traditional Food)
  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups dark rye flour
  • 1 cup Shredded Wheat cereal
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Butter or margarine, softened

Now if you read this blog you already know that I always try to make a bread machine recipe out of pretty much every yeast bread recipe I come across. So if it was me, I would prove the yeast and then I would just dump all the ingredients into my bread machine and let the machine do the work (though I don't ever actually bake bread in the machine, I usually take it out and bake it in the oven).

So to make this bread, first dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it sit until it is frothy. Then add the molasses, vegetable oil, caraway seed, salt, rye flour, shredded wheat and cocoa.

Mix until smooth, then add the all-purpose flour until a smooth dough forms. Turn it out onto a floured surface and cover. Let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Now on to the kneading, which is something I never do so I can't really speak here with any authority. The recipe tells you to "knead until smooth," which evidently should only take about 5 minutes.

Now place the dough in a greased bowl and cover. Let it rise in a warm place until the dough has about doubled in size, which usually takes about an hour.

Sprinkle a greased cookie sheet with cornmeal. Punch down the dough and divide in two, shaping each half into a round loaf. Put loaves onto opposite corners of the cookie sheet so they don't bake into each other. Brush the top of each loaf with some melted butter, then let them rise again until they've about doubled, another hour or so.

Bake the bread in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when you rap them with your knuckles.

Viola! Austrian pumpernickel.

And because you can't do a blog post without a photo, here is a picture of the very much not Austrian pumpernickel I got at the grocery store. I promise if I ever make this recipe I will replace it with a genuine photo.

This is not Austrian pumpernickel. This is the cocktail pumpernickel I bought at Safeway.

Please wish Henry some good health; hopefully in a few days I'll be able to post the complete meal. Happy New Year everyone, in case I don't post before then.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Recipes from Australia

This week we're traveling to the land of huge spiders and deadly snakes. Thank god we're only going there figuratively. Don't get me wrong, I would actually like to visit Australia one day, but I think I'll wear a hazmat suit when I do.

Australia is probably not a huge mystery to anyone reading this blog, but I'll give you a little background anyway. It is the world's sixth largest country by land area, the world's 13th largest economy and it ranks second on the global human development index, which means that Australian citizens enjoy an advanced healthcare system, a good education system and a very good overall quality of life. Except for the spiders and deadly snakes of course. Here is Australia on a map, although unless you flunked geography I'd be really surprised if you didn't already know where it was:

Because Australia was settled primarily by the British, mainstream Australian food is heavily influenced by British cuisine, though there has been something of a revived interest in "bush tucker," that is, foods that are native to Australia (many of which were used as traditional food sources by indigenous Australian people).

Sadly, though, bush tucker isn't really available worldwide, even on gourmet websites, so I quickly ruled this out as something I could do practically for my Australian meal. I did, however, have a card to play that I haven't had in any prior weeks: I was able to ask, you know, an actual Australian. I figured my friend Heath, who was born and raised there, could probably at least point me in the right direction.

Heath came back with a dessert recommendation pretty quickly, but when I asked him if he had any main course ideas, he reconfirmed what I'd already read: that most of what Australians eat could pass for European or American food, with the exception of maybe one meat: kangaroo.

Kangaroo burgers with tomato chutney and chips.

Now I admit, as soon as he said this my first reaction was, "Yeah right, like I could find kangaroo in Grass Valley, CA." But then I got to thinking about it and wondered if I could maybe track some down in Sacramento, which is about an hour and a half drive. I'm down there a couple of times a month anyway, so it wouldn't be that big a deal to sidetrack a bit to pick up something that would really make this meal experience an authentic one. So I did a quick search on the internet and within about five minutes came up with a source that claimed they could special-order kangaroo, among other things (like alligator, caribou, wild boar and rattlesnake). So I called them, and they had it in their store in less than five days. Just in case you're in the greater Sacramento area and would like to order some kangaroo (or alligator, caribou, wild boar etc.), the store is called "Corti Brothers," and you can call them at (916) 736-3800.

Now, before you say, "Oh my God, kangaroos are so cute, how could you eat one??" Please keep in mind the following two facts:

1. Kangaroos are assholes. If you don't believe me, watch this video.

2. Kangaroo is an environmentally friendly meat. Kangaroos are killed by hunters under a government quota system, which means that wild kangaroo meat has very little environmental impact apart from what kangaroos naturally do to their environment. Even farmed kangaroo meat is more environmentally friendly than traditional meats such as beef, since kangaroos need less feed, don't destroy the root systems of pasture grasses and are adapted to dry and drought conditions.

So with all of my justifications in place, I decided on this recipe: 

Kangaroo Burgers 
  • 1 lb miced kangaroo meat
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 large lettuce leaves (I used butter lettuce)
  • 4 burger buns (recipe follows)

Now kangaroo, I was warned, is a very strong flavored meat, so it needs to be paired with other strong flavors so it doesn't become overwhelming. Instead of ketchup, I decided to use an Australian condiment called "bush tomato chutney." Here is the recipe:

"Bush" Tomato Chutney
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dried bush tomatoes, chopped (or substitute sundried tomatoes)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 a granny smith apple
  • 2 tbsp golden raisins
  • White vinegar (enough to cover)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

I also baked my own hamburger buns. I found a few Australian burger recipes that called for brioche buns, so I tracked down this recipe (posted by an Australian blogger):

Light Brioche Burger Buns
(from Smitten Kitchen)
  •  3 tbsp warm milk
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

And of course, what burger is complete without chips? Here's an Australian chip recipe, which is really no different from any American French fry recipe I've ever seen:

Aussie Chips
(from Altius Directory)
  • 6 medium sized red potatoes (the Australian recipe called for Désirée potatoes)
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • Sea salt to taste

And finally, the dessert recipe Heath suggested:

(from Aussie Info)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 oz baking sugar (super fine, but not powdered)
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence, divided
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp baking sugar
  • 1 lb strawberries, quartered

That's a lot more recipes than I usually do, but hey, how often does a person get to eat kangaroo? I wanted to do it justice.

So the very first thing I did (the day before meal day) was make the tomato chutney. I love making chutney (I've made mango chutney a few times) and this was my first attempt at doing one with tomatoes, which are technically fruits but don't really make a particularly fruity chutney.

Now I am pretty sure that kangaroo counts as "bush tucker," but one thing I didn't actually notice when I imported this tomato chutney recipe into my recipe book was the presence of another bush tucker ingredient, "bush tomatoes," which though closely related to the tomato are actually a kind of wild berry that grows in the arid parts of Australia. By the time I noticed this ingredient in the recipe, though, I'd already started making it. Yes I know, "bush tomato chutney," bush tomatoes, duh. I just thought it was an Aussie name for an Aussie recipe. In my defense, I would have had a pretty hard time finding bush tomatoes even if I'd known about this in advance, because as I said earlier, even online gourmet shops haven't yet come around to the idea of bush tucker.

Fortunately, I quickly found a source that suggested substituting sun dried tomatoes, which have a similar flavor, so I called that good enough since I had some sun dried tomatoes on hand. Of course, mine had a long gone best-by date which I won't even repeat here, but I figured some heat ought to bring them back to life. I hoped.

Sundried tomatoes. No, they are not supposed to be that color.

So other than the presence of this impossible-to-locate ingredient, this recipe is actually blissfully simple. First cut up the tomatoes, garlic and onions and put them in a medium sized saucepan. Add just enough vinegar to cover them.

Cover the tomatoes, onion and garlic with white vinegar.

Now add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the entire mixture has a jam-like consistency.

Here's the chutney after about an hour on the stove.

This recipe makes about a jar of chutney, which is way more than you would need for the burgers. I put mine in a sterilized Ball jar, but I don't know anything about canning so I plan to use it up in about a week. Unless you know what you're doing, please don't try canning this recipe for the long haul (botulism, need I say more?)

The next thing I did was make the brioche buns. This recipe was a little weird because it made a super-sticky dough that was really difficult to work with. Part of this, of course, was because I missed the part that said I was only supposed to put one of the eggs in the dough. (I later discovered that the other egg was just supposed to be used to brown the buns while in the oven).

So this is not a bread machine recipe, but I made it in my bread machine because there's no way I'm ever going to be caught kneading dough. If you want the old-fashioned instructions I'm going to point you to the original recipe, because they are pretty long and this post is already longer than usual.

Before getting my bread machine involved I do prove the yeast like so:

In a glass bowl, combine the water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let it stand until frothy.

Frothy yeast is ready to be added to the bread machine.

Mix together the dry ingredients and put them in your bread machine, then add the milk/yeast mixture. Now beat one of the eggs (just one!) and add that. Set your machine to the dough setting and let it do all the hard stuff for you. Note: don't forget to put the paddle in the machine. I know, who would be stupid enough to do that? (whistling and looking around innocently)

Here is the dough after rising.

After the dough has risen in your machine turn it out onto a well-floured surface, (and I do mean well-floured). Divide it up into eight equal sized balls. This will be difficult because even with just one egg this dough is really sticky. I mainly just approximated balls, trying to make a few that were the right size for my kids. After rising I ended up with two enormous buns and a whole bunch of regular-sized ones, so I very much overestimated the size of the balls.

This is about as close as I could come to making balls.

Put the dough balls on baking sheets lined with wax paper and let them rise for another hour or so. When they're big enough, mix the second egg with a little bit of water and brush the tops of the buns, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.

After rising, the buns are painted with an egg wash.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning the pan once to make sure they bake evenly.

Mine came out huge but flat, which might have had something to do with that extra egg. They still tasted good and made great burger buns.

Finished brioche buns. Mine were a little flat.

So I did both the chutney and the buns a day in advance. The next day at around lunchtime I started on the pavlova.

Just a quick note on pavlova, though served all over Australia there is evidently some controversy about which country actually owns this dessert. The main contender against Australia is, of course, New Zealand. Because you know, Australians and New Zealanders always have to fight about something. The only thing that can really be agreed about is that pavlova was invented in honor of the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova is basically a meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with fruit (strawberries are popular). If you've never made a meringue, don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds.

Start by beating the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks. Then gradually add the sugar, vinegar and half a teaspoon of the vanilla. If your meringue comes out like mine did, it should be thick and creamy with a lot of volume, but not necessarily fluffy. Since I've never made a true meringue like this one, I don't know if this is really how it is supposed to look, but based on my results I'd guess I probably came close.

This is my meringue after adding the sugar, vanilla and vinegar.

Now spread the mixture into a lightly-greased pie plate, leaving a hollow in the center for the filling (which you will add after baking). I interpreted this to mean I should make a ring out of the meringue with an actual hole in the center, and it wasn't until I'd baked the danged thing that it dawned on me that "hollow" probably meant and indentation in the center (as opposed to a hole). This would obviously make for easier slicing.

Spread it into the pan, but don't leave a hole (just a hollow).

Baking times differ for this recipe depending on the kind of oven you have. The important thing to remember is that you have to start off with a 400 degree oven whether you have gas or electric. If your stove is electric, you preheat to 400, put the meringue in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250 degrees. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, making sure not to disturb the pan.

If you have a gas oven like mine, put the meringue in and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 250 and bake for another hour.

Turn the oven off, but don't take the meringue out until it is cool. Leave it alone.

The meringue should be crispy and light brown in color.

Just before you are ready to serve, whip the cream until stiff peaks form, then add the sugar and vanilla extract. Spread the whipped cream into the hollow at the center of the meringue, then top with strawberries (or use whatever fruit is in season. Strawberries are most definitely not in season around here, and the ones I had were kind of blah).

Here's the finished pavlova. Mine had cracks (oh well).

OK, now for the main event: the kangaroo.

Just in case you thought I wasn't serious ...

The first thing I noticed about kangaroo is the color (a very deep red) and the total absence of fat. I don't think I've ever seen a piece of red meat that lean. The second thing I noticed was the blood. This was by far the bloodiest piece of meat I've ever worked with.

Kangaroo is a really dark read meat with almost no fat.

Because the meat came as a steak, I had to grind it myself. I don't own a meat grinder but I figured my little mini food processor would do the trick, and it did. But I ended up with some really wet ground meat, presumably because of all that blood.

After grinding, the meat looks a little pinker.

Kangaroo, as I said, is a very flavorful meat so it needs to be prepared with other flavorful things. This recipe called for finely chopped onion, garlic and cilantro, which basically just needs to be mixed into the meat with a little salt and pepper.

Mix the meat with onions, garlic and cilantro.

Now if your kangaroo meat is as bloody as mine was, you'll end up with a really wet patty that won't really cook well on a BBQ, because it will ooze between the grill wires instead of sitting on top of them, then it will fall apart when you try to flip it. Trust me because this is what I tried to do, even though I suspected I wasn't going to have great results. I guess this might be why most of the kangaroo burger recipes I've seen call for cooking on a grill pan instead of on an outdoor grill. Anyway, I did get a little charcoal flavor into mine before I had to rescue them (in bits and pieces) and take them inside to finish cooking in a pan. Fortunately they were burgers, so they could be reassembled and then hidden in a burger bun, and none's the wiser.

Mine fell apart on the grill, so I finished them in a pan.

Note: don't cook your kangaroo (or any other game meat for that matter) to more than medium rare. It will become tough and unpleasant.

Finished kangaroo burgers. Crazy, huh?

On to my final recipe: the chips. A couple of quick notes: this recipe really isn't particularly Australian, as chip recipes go, though I did try to find some potato varieties you would expect to find in Australia. Sadly, you can't get any of those varieties over here, unless you really want to drop 45 bucks plus shipping on a 10 pound bag of "heirloom potatoes." The recipe I used called for Désirée potatoes, which are a red skinned variety. So I had settle for your common, garden variety American red skinned potato, which I guess was a reasonable substitute. Anyway, I've never actually deep fried fries before, so this was a totally new experience for me. Here's how it's done:

Slice your potatoes. It's important to make sure they are uniform thickness so they will cook at the same speed. If you do this in advance, you can stop them getting brown by submerging them in ice water until they are ready for frying.

Make sure your chips are cut to a uniform size.

Now heat the oil. You can tell when your oil is hot enough by sticking the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon into it. If bubbles rise up the wood, the oil is ready.

Pat the potato slices with a paper towel to soak up some of the excess moisture, then dump them in the oil. Be sure to stir them around for a couple of minutes or they will stick to each other and they won't cook correctly.

Deep frying the chips.

When the fries are a golden brown, take them out. Using another paper towel, remove some of the excess oil and add the sea salt.

Take the chips out when they are golden brown.

So even though Martin came home early to help with the barbecue, since I am barbecue-incapable, I somehow managed to get through the entire burger-cooking process without letting on to anyone what kind of meat I was preparing, which was quite funny really since the patties did look pretty strange. I served the burgers on the very flat brioche buns with a generous portion of tomato chutney and a whole leaf of butter lettuce. Martin took a big bite of his and exclaimed, "Wow, these are good!"

"Really?" I said. "You're eating kangaroo."

Nothing really shocks Martin (he's English) but he was definitely intrigued ... after he got over a brief moment of feeling sorry for the kangaroo (personally I think cows are way more deserving of our pity). He ate his burger faster than anyone, then he ate pretty much all of Hailey's, who I don't have to tell you took a tiny little nibble and exclaimed "thank you but I don't like it." Surprisingly, though,the other three kids each finished off their burgers. Surprising because all the stuff I read in advance about kangaroo was pretty much the truth: it's a very strong meat with a gamey flavor. The very strong-flavored tomato chutney really was the best condiment I could have chosen.

The fries were kind of overshadowed by the strange entree, but I thought they were really tasty and totally worth the trouble. The pavlova was a huge hit with everyone--light and crispy on the outside and creamy inside (I don't know if that's how it's supposed to turn out, but between the six of us we managed to put away the entire pan, so I must have done something right).

Overall this had to be one of my favorite Travel by Stove meals, both in the pursuit of ingredients, the challenging preparation and the taste. Plus I still have two kangaroo steaks in my freezer for another time.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!! Next week: Austria.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ashmore and Cartier Islands: A brick wall in the middle of the ocean

I have hit a brick wall. I've finally found a nation that has no culinary tradition, not even a modern one (like Antarctica).

This nation is number 15 on my list: "Ashmore and Cartier Islands."

So why is this a problem? Well, quite simply, no one lives on Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and as far as I can tell, no one ever has. These two islands are part of a larger marine reserve that is governed by Australia. It is populated only by non-human species, and unless I am mistaken, none of them know how to cook.

So I could skip Ashmore and Cartier. But I'm not gonna.

Yes, I know, there's really nothing I can do to create an authentic culinary experience for Ashmore and Cartier, because you can't have an authentic version of something that doesn't even exist. But based on what I've read about this area and its history, I feel like I can at least come up with a fantasy meal.

These two dishes are from Indonesia, which has fishing rights on Ashmore and Cartier.

Ashmore and Cartier Islands, as it turns out, are traditional fishing grounds for Indonesian fishermen, who have been using the waters there for centuries to harvest sea cucumber, trochus (a mollusk valued for its shell), shark fin, abalone, green snail, sponges (poor SpongeBob) and clams. Because most of these species were threatened by overfishing, in 1974 Australia and Indonesia drafted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that allowed "traditional" Indonesian fisherman to continue to use the waters surrounding the two islands, subject to limitations.

Ashmore and Cartier Islands is an external territory of Australia.

So based on this information, I am going to make the huge leap to the following recipe:

Mock Clam Satay

I'm basing this decision on the following:
  1. I can't get sea cucumber or green snail at Safeway
  2. I wouldn't know what the hell to do with a sponge, but I'm guessing they aren't harvested as a food item
  3. Trochus is mainly used to make jewelry and buttons, not food
  4. Shark fin is illegal
  5. I couldn't find any Indonesian recipes for abalone
So by process of elimination, I chose an Indonesian clam recipe. I figured that traditional Indonesian fishermen probably used clam at home ('cause you know, I have great knowledge of the subject, haha), and although the species doesn't match what we can get here in the US I figured I didn't need to be 100% accurate when deciding on a recipe that is 100% inaccurate.

So here we go, the world's only known recipe from Ashmore and Cartier, that I just personally attributed to Ashmore and Cartier even though I lack even a shred of credibility.

Mock Clam Satay (why this is a "mock" satay will become clear)
(from Indonesian Cakes)
  • 1 lb clams
  • 5 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tsp sweet soy sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Of course I also have to have a side dish, so I just picked a basic Indonesian fried rice (from Tasty Indonesian Food):

For the rice:

  • 3 cups cold cooked rice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3 1/2 oz cabbage, shredded
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 shallots, chopped

For the spice paste:

  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 red chillies, seeded
  • 1/2 medium tomato
  • 2 tbsps sweet soy sauce
  • Salt to taste

One more thing: Sweet Soy Sauce, otherwise known as ...

Kecap Manis
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

First a couple of interesting notes about kecap manis: 1. It seems to be in just about every Indonesian recipe and 2. "Kecap" is pronounced "ketchup." I am told that this is where our word for "ketchup" actually originated, though I find this claim a little puzzling since Indonesian food just isn't that popular in the west, and since there aren't any tomatoes in kecap manis.

But anyway, I did try to find kecap manis in the Asian market down in Sacramento, though I came up empty handed. I found a few bottles labeled "sweet soy sauce" but they didn't appear to be Indonesian, and the ingredients weren't really any more interesting than those in the homemade version (with the exception of some additives like MSG and high fructose corn syrup). So I didn't think that the homemade version would be any less authentic. And since this whole endeavor is basically a fantasy anyway, who really cares about authenticity.

So to make the kecap manis, melt the sugar together with the water over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until the mixture becomes a thick syrup.

Simmer the sugar and water until it becomes a syrup.

Remove from heat and cool by setting the whole pot in a larger pot full of ice water.

When the syrup has cooled, add the soy sauce, the star anise and the garlic. Bring back to a simmer and let cool, discarding the garlic and the star anise.

(In case you aren't familiar with star anise, you can find it in most major grocery stores with the ethnic spices, usually packaged in a small plastic bag. I just happened to have some on hand since I occasionally make Vietnamese Pho Bo.)

This is star anise. Each one is about the width of a dime.

When the kecap manis is done, move on to the clams. Now, this is where my world fell apart.

Henry was in a bad mood. He kept clinging to the kitchen gate and crying. Meanwhile, I rediscovered something I learned the first time I tried to make clam chowder: Baby clams are gross.

Yes, I just bought a couple of cans of baby clams for this recipe, because I really couldn't be bothered to cook live clams and take them apart. But when I opened the cans of baby clams I realized what a mistake this was, at least for me. Because baby clams are mostly stomach, and their stomachs are filled with this nasty, pasty, gritty stuff that makes me gag when I eat it. So what did I do? I pulled the guts out of each and every one of those baby clams. It took me about an hour. When I was done I had maybe 3/4 cup of gutted baby clams.

Gutted clams. I won't tell you how I did this, because only a crazy person would try it.

The second problem with the baby clams approach, of course, was size. Satays are supposed to be cooked on a skewer. There's no way you can skewer a gutted baby clam. So I just mixed my clams up with the shallots, kecap manis, lime and salt and pepper.

The basic ingredients for the mock clam satay.

I let this mixture marinade for about 30 minutes, then I sauteed it. So this really wasn't a satay, but all the flavors were there so I consider it only cheating by a little bit.

Sauteing the clams.

So while my mock satay was marinading, I threw the fried rice together. Here's how:

Put all the spice paste ingredients into a blender and pulse until you get a paste. Then shred the cabbage.

The spice paste.

Put the spice paste into a medium hot pan and stir until fragrant. Then add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes.

Stir fry the shredded cabbage with the spice paste.

Dump in the rice and add the kecap manis, and stir until blended.

One last step: add the rice and kecap manis.

Finally, while Chinese fried rice is usually made with a scrambled egg, Indonesian fried rice is typically served with a fried egg on top. So fry up a few eggs until the yolks are just firm, and top each serving of rice with a fried egg.

So how did my fantasy meal go over? Not well. I thought it was OK, but almost certainly not worth the effort of all the research I did. I guess I don't really like clams, not even gutted ones.

I didn't give the kids any of the mock satay because there just wasn't enough of it, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't eat it anyway. Predictably, Hailey ate nothing. Natalie had a screaming fit because her egg wasn't hard boiled. Dylan ate both his egg and Natalie's, and nothing else. Henry ate everything. Martin was completely unimpressed.

This would have actually been a do-over if Ashmore and Cartier Islands was a populated nation with a culinary tradition of any kind, but I am excusing my failure this time since I really don't know what I could do differently. Instead I'm looking forward to my next stop, a country that is most definitely populated and most definitely the source of some interesting foods.

Next week: Australia.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Recipes from Aruba

I'll admit, I was a little annoyed to be cooking yet another Caribbean meal from yet another Caribbean nation. Seriously, why do all these Caribbean countries have to begin with the letter "A"? So far, 22% of the countries I've cooked from have been Caribbean. Gettin' a little sick of papaya, you know?

But this time I was definitely pleasantly surprised. In fact, our main course this week is actually Martin's favorite so far, since I first started on this endeavor back in August. Though I did go through several meal plans before I actually landed on the one we ended up eating.

Cuisine ala Aruba: Pan Bati and Keshi Yena.

So yes, Aruba is Caribbean. Let's start there. Like many Caribbean nations, it's tiny, just over 20 miles long, which means you can probably get from one end to another in about 30 minutes, though I guess I'm really not qualified to make that assumption since I have no idea what the road system is like. Despite its small size, it is home to more than 100,000 people and enjoys a thriving tourist industry.

Aruba is in the southern part of the Caribbean islands, in a chain of islands called the "Lesser Antilles." It is actually a part of the Netherlands, which makes its residents all Dutch citizens. So is it really a country? *Sigh.* Maybe if I knew more about political geography I'd be able to answer that question. Maybe I should change the subtitle of this blog to "I'm cooking one meal from every country and sub-country on Earth."

Aruba, another microscopic country in the Caribbean.

Aruba is blessed with a consistently warm and sunny climate, and cursed (depending on your perspective I suppose) with a dry, arid landscape where cactus is one of the more common types of vegetation. Its standard of living is one of the highest in the Caribbean; it has a low unemployment rate and a full three quarters of its gross national product comes from tourism. There is very little agriculture or manufacturing, and much of Aruba's food is imported.

Seafood is one of the traditional staples in Aruba, which is why the first recipe I chose was a grilled swordfish. I adore swordfish and let's face it, I was pregnant for like five years straight so I haven't eaten a whole lot of it in recent years (swordfish is one of those high-mercury fish you're not supposed to go near when you're expecting). So I set out to find some swordfish, which I really didn't think would be too difficult. But, like most of my other seafood quests in this town, I came up empty-handed. I couldn't even find any frozen swordfish, though I'll bet you 10 bucks there will be some at Safeway next week, because that's always what happens.

So I scratched that off my list and decided to go instead for a traditional dish called keri-keri, which is supposed to be made with shark. Now I figured my chances of finding shark would be pretty slim but I asked the local fishmonger anyway, and was bluntly informed that shark was illegal. OK, I can remember eating shark in a restaurant once, but that was many years ago so I guess that its legal status might have changed since then. But as I was thinking this over the fish guy did a double take and said "Oh no, actually it's shark fin that's illegal, shark is legal." And I was thinking, um, don't you sell fish? And do you really get a lot of people asking for shark fin in Grass Valley, California? But OK, that still didn't solve my problem because he didn't have either shark or shark fin in stock.

The recipe did say I could substitute any firm, white fish but since it's traditionally made with shark and I didn't really know offhand which other firm white fish would be correct for the region, I was rapidly ruling out the keri-keri. Also it's made with celery, which both Martin and I dislike. So I went home and regrouped and finally settled on this recipe:

Keshi Yena
(from Caribbean Choice)
  • 1 lb Gouda cheese, sliced
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken 
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 dill pickles, minced
  • 1 large green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 8 large stuffed green olives, sliced
  • 1½ tbsp garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 1 tbsp prepared mustard
  • ½ cup ketchup 
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chopped cashews
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced

The old-school way to make Keshi Yena is in the hollowed out shell of a four pound wheel of cheese. Now I'm pretty sure Martin and I could put away four pounds of Gouda in fairly short order, but I didn't have even an extra day to spare by the time I decided on this recipe, so I went with this updated version, which comes from Gasparito's Restaurant and Art Gallery in Aurba.

I needed an appetizer too, and for that I found a great Aruban recipe resource at Evidently Arubans enjoy their fried-balls-of-whatever appetizers, as I had several to choose from. I wanted something a little less artery-clogging, though, so I picked a baked appetizer called Bolitas De Jamon. Here's the recipe:

Bolitas De Jamon
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • 1 cup soft white breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon French's prepared mustard
  • 1 pound cooked ham, ground
  • 1-10 ounce jar apricot-pineapple preserves

Note: the original version of this recipe calls for one 10 ounce jar each of apricot preserves and pineapple preserves. I thought that was a little excessive, in fact, I only used about half a jar of the apricot-pineapple combo.

On the side I put a popular pancake-like bread called Pan Bati (from
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 2 tbs baking powder 
  • pinch of salt 
  • sugar to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • vanilla to taste

 And for dessert:

Banana na Binja 
  • 2 very ripe plantains
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp port wine
  • Dash of cinnamon

So starting with the Bolitas De Jamon:

I've never actually seen ground ham at Safeway, so I just picked up a ham steak and chopped it, then threw it in my little mini food processor until it was nicely pulverized. I did the same thing with the bread, since I was having a hard time imagining how one might "grate" a piece of soft white bread, which is what the recipe told me to do.

Ground ham. I just did this in my mini food processor.

When the ham and bread are ready, mix them together with the  egg, breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, seasoned salt and mustard. Note: I halved this recipe and I still needed a whole egg to bind it all together.

Add the rest of the ingredients ...

Now roll the mixture into one or two inch balls and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

... then form into 1 or 2 inch balls.

When the balls are done, let them cool for a few minutes. While they are cooling, put the apricot-pineapple jam into a small saucepan and heat to simmering. Then drop the balls into the jam and roll them around until they are coated and heated through. Serve immediately.

The Bolitas De Jamon are glazed with apricot-pineapple preserves.

Now on to the Keshi Yena. I have to admit, I don't think I've ever seen an ingredient list quite like this one, which is kind of what drew me to this recipe. Dill pickles and raisins? Oh-kay ...

This dish has to bake for about 30 minutes, so you could prepare it ahead of time and then stick it in the oven when you are ready, which is what I did.

Start by melting the butter over medium heat. Then add the onions and sauté until they turn a golden brown color. Stir in the remaining strange concoction of ingredients (except for the cheese).

Keshi Yena: That is one strange concoction of ingredients.

If you're making this ahead of time, it is probably a good idea to let everything cool a little so the cheese doesn't melt prematurely.

Butter a baking pan and line it with slices of Gouda. Then pour the chicken mixture on top, and cover it with the rest of the cheese slices.

Cheese on the top, cheese on the bottom, everything else in the middle.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, then put it under your broiler for a few minutes, just long enough to start browning the cheese.

The finished dish. It tastes way better than it looks.

While the Keshi Yena is baking, move on to the Pan Bati. I was already putting this recipe together when I realized that it called for "corn flour" instead of "corn meal." In the UK, "corn flour" means "corn starch," but I was pretty sure that wasn't the translation to use for this recipe (yuck). "Flour" did imply something finer than cornmeal, though, so I just took some cornmeal and ground it finer in my food processor. That seemed to work pretty well.

Pan Bati goes together almost exactly like pancakes. Just mix everything together in a large bowl, then gradually add water until the batter is slightly thicker than pancake batter.

The Pan Bati batter should be a little thicker than pancake batter.

Fire up your pancake griddle, adding a little spray butter to prevent sticking. Pour the batter on the griddle. When the Pan Bati is a golden color on one side, flip. Remove from the griddle when the Pan Bati is firm and golden on both sides and keep warm until ready to serve.

Pan Bati: they look just like pancakes don't they?

The Bananas na Binja was easy to make, which is good, because I didn't find them particularly easy to eat. More on that later.  When I first found this recipe I vaguely hoped that the "banana" part of the name meant that there were bananas in it, and that the word "plantain" as it appeared in the list of ingredients was simply a mistranslation. Before I made this I'd never actually eaten plantains, but I hadn't exactly heard great things about them, either. But alas, I was able to verify that Arubans call plantains "bananas," and that they call bananas something else entirely.

For this recipe you need ripe plantains. Really, really, ripe plantains. They should look something like a banana you were planning to throw out. I am told this is because a riper plantain is a sweeter plantain ... though I think it's only fair to tell you that my plantains were pretty ripe and they didn't really taste sweet. At all. It might just be a question of what your palate is used to.

This is one of the ripe plantains I used. Does it really get any riper than that?

 Anyway, first peel the plantains and slice them in two lengthwise. Then mix the sugar, water, port and cinnamon together and set aside. Melt the butter over medium heat and saute the plantains until they turn a golden color. Flip them over. Pour the port mixture over the plantains and bring to a boil, then cook until the liquid reduces down to a syrup. Serve hot.

Looks yummy doesn't it? Tastes awful.

OK, so here is the Robins family verdict:

The Bolitas De Jamon were delicious. I might actually make them for New Year's Eve this year. The apricot-pineapple glaze was a nice compliment to the saltiness of the ham.

The Keshi Yena was really good. Really, really good. In fact, Martin took a few bites and asked, "where is this from again?" "Aruba," I said. "We need to go there," he replied. This was Martin's favorite dish out of any I've made in the 14 weeks I've been doing this.

The Pan Bati was pretty good. Bland, but bland was actually a nice compliment to the very flavorful Keshi Yena. It didn't taste at all like a pancake, obviously; the corn flour was its most notable flavor.

And now the Bananas na Binja. Have you ever eaten plantains? If not, imagine a dessert made with potatoes. Yes, just take a baked potato and pour some port wine syrup over it. That's pretty much what this dessert tasted like. Neither Martin nor I ate any of it. In fact, I'm sorry to say I had to spit mine out. Gordon Ramsey would be so proud. I thought it was awful. Maybe a connoisseur of plantains would disagree with me, but I think that's probably the last time I will try eating them. I might be convinced to try them in a savory dish, but for a dessert ... no way.

In fairness, though, the syrup was pretty good. In fact, Bananas na Binja would probably be delicious with, you know, actual bananas.

Oh, and my kids didn't eat any of this. Circumstances this week just made me feel like Martin and I were better off visiting Aruba alone.

Next week: Ashmore and Cartier Islands. And for those of you who have actually heard of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, yes, I know. Just bear with me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Recipes from Armenia

Recipes from Armenia
Just after I got out of college, in ... Oh I don't know, like a million years ago, I had an Armenian boyfriend. So you would think I'd already have one or two Armenian recipes filed away somewhere, but sadly, no. My Armenian boyfriend knew how to cook exactly one meal, and that one came out of a very American cookbook called "Cooking for Bachelors," or something to that effect. I think it was made with ground beef and refrigerated pie crust. I really can't remember, because it was pretty underwhelming.

So I embarked on this leg of my culinary adventure just as blind as I've been for all the other nations on my list. Fortunately, for the second week in a row I am cooking recipes from a nation with a rich culinary tradition, so I had plenty to choose from.

First the usual background stuff:

Armenia is in a geographically interesting location; it is landlocked and positioned right at the proverbial crossroads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It has Middle-Eastern neighbors, including Turkey and Iran and is a former republic of the Soviet Union, but the European Union considers it a European country.

Armenia is a small country wedged between Asia and Europe.

Armenia's current position in the world can be heavily attributed to its status as a former Soviet republic. Its economy--in fact its entire economic system--depended on Soviet dollars and policies for so long that since independence it has just been sort of limping along. Agriculture has replaced industry in many sectors, but the economy still relies heavily on outside investment, mostly from Armenians living abroad.

Armenia's cuisine, like its economy, has also been heavily influenced by its neighbors, with Middle-Eastern, Russian and Greek qualities evident in many popular dishes. Armenian food relies less on spices and more on fresh ingredients like fruit and nuts, and a lot of the recipes are either very labor-intensive or just have to cook for a very long time, which made my choice a little difficult, since time isn't really something I have a lot of.

Despite knowing all this, I stupidly chose four recipes this week, one of which has a cooking time of about six hours, give or take two hours. Actually, just take two hours. I know, I'm a masochist.

The first recipe I chose is an appetizer made with cheese. I'll bet you are so surprised. Here it is:

Cheese Borags
(Makes about 30, I cut this recipe down to 1/4 and there were still plenty)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack or Muenster cheese, shredded
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 lb phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 stick melted butter

Next, the godfather of all stews, and I mean that in the sense that if it were a person, this stew would cut off a horse's head and leave it in your bed.

Chicken Herriseh 

  • 1 3 lb whole chicken (I just used a pack of thigh/leg pieces)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups wheat berries, rinsed in cold water and drained
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • paprika, optional
  • butter, optional

This is the side dish I chose, because my kids love artichokes even though my poor husband isn't too enamored with them:

Enguinar (Artichokes)
  • 4 small to medium artichokes
  • 2 large onions, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

(Recipe comes from Helen Merigian)

And finally, the dessert. I almost didn't do this recipe because I thought I was just putting too much on my plate (pun intended, sigh) and also because I'm trying to shed some summer vacation/Halloween/Thanksgiving pounds and figured I didn't need the extra calories. But I'm glad I did decide to make it because it was probably my favorite of the four recipes.

Armenian Lemon Cake

For the cake:
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

For the syrup:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup water 
  • 3 sprigs mint

I have another blogger to thank this week: the cheese borag and the Chicken Herriseh recipes both came from The Armenian Kitchen, which is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Armenian cooking. The other two recipes came from Adventures in Armenian Cooking, which is not quite as colorful (or illustrated) but is also a great resource with tons of recipes to choose from.

Onward: I made the cake first, but I'll start here with the appetizers:

The cheese borags are pretty straightforward, and thanks to Robyn Kalajian from The Armenian Kitchen, I now have some useful tips on how to work with Phyllo dough, which until now has been an activity that has usually ended in disaster.

Armenian cheese borags are usually made with, surprise, Armenian cheese, which I bet I could have gotten from our semi-local cheese shop. However, with Thanksgiving just behind me and my husband's birthday just ahead of me, I really couldn't be bothered to hunt down any Armenian cheese. Besides, Robyn's recipe calls for Monterey Jack or Muenster; I chose Muenster because Monterey Jack is so, you know, California.

So start by mixing the three cheeses with the egg. Because I cut this recipe back quite a bit, I just used a tablespoon or so of the egg, or roughly a quarter of it once it had been beaten.

Once blended, set aside.

Mix the cheeses with the egg.

Note: thaw the Phyllo dough out in the fridge overnight before using. You'll save yourself a lot of headache.

Here are the tips I got from Robyn's recipe: Have you ever used Phyllo dough and had it just become papery and brittle and impossible to work with? Well, that's because it doesn't like being exposed to air for even short periods of time. To solve this problem, simply cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap, then put a damp towel over the plastic wrap. The dough will stay pliable long enough for you to finish working with it.

Ready? Take one sheet of Phyllo and fold it in half. That's right, just one sheet. Now brush the folded sheet with melted butter.

Put a blob of the filling onto the lower right corner of the sheet.

First put a dollop of filling on the corner of the dough.

Now fold the sheet over the filling, from corner to corner, as if you were folding a flag. You should have a triangle. Fold again, and one more time, like this:.

The recipe says to fold the borag like a flag.

I have no idea how to fold a flag.

I'm pretty sure, though, that this is not how you do it.

Cut off the excess. This worked fine for me, even if it wasn't exactly correct.

You may need to squish the filling around a bit inside the borag to be able to fold it properly. Take care not to let it squish out of the folds, though. You may also have to trim excess dough off of your finished borag, as above.

Repeat with the rest of the filling, until it's gone. Keep the finished borags moist by covering with plastic wrap and a damp towel. 

Cheese borags, ready for the oven.

Brush the top of each borag with melted butter, then bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the borags turn a golden brown color. Serve hot.

Finished plate of borags. Yum!!

Now for the Chicken Herriseh. I picked this recipe because I like trying out unusual ingredients, and I've never cooked anything with wheat berries. I have a warning for you, though: don't make this recipe unless you have all day. Seriously, all day. The chicken takes almost two hours to prepare and the stew has to simmer for four to six hours.

Now that you are forewarned, start by boiling the chicken in 8 cups of water for about an hour and 45 minutes. Leave the lid on your pot but tilt it slightly so that not a whole lot of steam can escape. I used a package of leg/thigh joints instead of a whole chicken, because I hate trying to pull apart a whole chicken, even after it's been cooked.

Boil the chicken and let cool.

Remove the chicken to a plate and let cool. Do not discard the broth! Shred the chicken and set aside.

After this long in the pot, you should be able to shred the chicken with your fingers.

Strain the broth into a measuring cup and figure out how much you have left. Then add water to the broth to bring the amount back up to 8 cups.

Put the broth in a large pot and add the wheat berries, the shredded chicken, and salt to taste. Note: you should be able to find wheat berries at an organic grocer, or at a grocer that specializes in Middle-Eastern foods.

These are wheat berries. I got mine at the co-op, where they sell a lot of organic, healthy type stuff.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for four to six hours, or until the berries are soft. Don't be tempted to stir the pot.

Now get a potato masher and squish the wheat berries up with the chicken. The finished mixture should look like oatmeal. If it doesn't, you didn't cook it long enough.

The finished Herriseh. I think mine could have been cooked longer.

Serve in bowls with a pat of butter and some cumin and paprika sprinkled on top.

Now on to the artichokes. They don't take quite as long to cook, but you do need to allow about 45 minutes or so in order for them to become tender.

First cook the onions in the water until they become soft. No oil! How's that for healthy? Then add the remaining ingredients and stir.

First cook the onions in water, then add the tomato sauce and spices.

Here's where I had to do some guesswork. The recipe called for frozen artichokes, but I've never been able to find frozen artichokes at any grocery store in California, maybe because fresh artichokes are so easy to find here. So I don't know how pre-cooked frozen artichokes usually are, but the recipe said to simmer the onion/tomato sauce mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, then add the artichokes and "cook until tender." I chose to add the artichokes right away, because 20 minutes plus 45 seemed like way too long for that little bit of tomato sauce and all of those onions. As it was, I cooked the sauce with the artichokes for about 45 minutes and still managed to burn the sauce.

Now add the artichokes and cook until tender.

At last, the cake. As I said, I made this before I made anything else, mainly because it also has kind of a long preparation time.

The batter is easy. First preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then cream the butter and sugar together.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mine didn't really cream that well, it just got lumpy.

Add the yogurt and the eggs, mixing well. Pour in the lemon juice. Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder and add to the bowl, mixing until everything is well incorporated.

I would have had more batter if I hadn't eaten so much of the dough.

Spoon the batter into a buttered pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the color is golden. In my oven this took about 40 minutes.

Let the cake cool. Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the syrup coats the back of a spoon.

Put the mint sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and boil.

Remove the mint, which will just be a limp vaguely green weedy looking thing at this point, and let the syrup cool until it is just warm.

Loosen the cake in its pan and pour 1/3 of the syrup over the top. Wait 10 minutes, then do it again. Wait another 10 minutes, then pour the rest of the syrup on the top. Your cake should now have a clear glaze on it, like this:

Here's the finished cake with the syrup glaze.

Let the cake sit for about an hour, which will give it enough time to absorb the syrup.

Now the recipe said to invert the cake onto a platter, then slice and serve. I didn't do this because I thought the cake looked a lot nicer from the top. But I guess that's just my opinion.

Best part of the meal: dessert!

The meal went over okay. I thought I'd like the Herriseh a little more than I did. It had a very earthy flavor but was a little too chewy for my tastes (maybe six hours on the stove wasn't enough?). I guess I expected it to be a bit more like a risotto, which I adore.

The cheese borags were delicious, loved by everyone in my family except of course for Hailey, who hates all things cheesy. The artichokes were so-so, really nothing special but entirely edible. The cake was really good, with a texture that reminded me of a scone. The cake itself wasn't too sweet but the syrup was just sweet enough to make it a nice treat. We all really liked the cake.

Next week: Aruba. A Caribbean nation. Another Caribbean nation.

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