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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recipe from Bouvet Island (revisited)

One of the best things about having an international food blog is that it gives me an opportunity to talk (virtually, anyway) with all kinds of interesting people, some of whom live in or have visited some truly remote places. Of course the other edge of that sword is that it's often really difficult to reach some of those people in the first place, which makes small countries and remote locations some of my biggest challenges.

You may remember how much trouble I had with Bouvet Island, which is an unoccupied island near Antarctica (read more about it in my original Bouvet Island entry), a place so remote that only a handful of people have actually ever set foot on it. When I was researching that location, I focused on a yacht-for-hire named The Hanse Explorer, which is one of the few ships that regularly sails near Bouvet Island. I tried in vain to reach a chef or even an administrator-type who might be willing to share a recipe or two, but I was sadly thwarted by what I'm guessing was my overall unimportance in the grand scheme of people who rent out luxury yachts for a living. So I had rely on a few vague mentions about the sushi served on board when coming up with my menu. Don't get me wrong, I love sushi, but authentic it was not.

So imagine my delight when a few weeks ago I was contacted by Greg Hofmeyr, who has actually been to Bouvet Island several times as part of a research team studying seals and seabirds. While on Bouvet, Greg and his team stayed in small cabins or tents which had, as you might imagine, very limited cooking facilities. But based on the description of some of their meals, they still managed to eat like kings. Well, like kings living in small cabins or tents.

Greg described a number of dishes, many of which had Norwegian influences, but the recipe he passed along was for a very unique sandwich he calls a "Bouvet Island Special." (Credit for this recipe goes to Greg's teammate Bianca Harck.)

I have to say I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to make and share this recipe, because unlike any of the mostly uneducated guesses I made at Bouvet Island cuisine, this is truly a Bouvet Island recipe--prepared and eaten on the island itself. So are you ready? Here it is:

Bouvet Island Special

  • Oversized loaf of home baked whole wheat bread*
  • Butter or margarine
  • Large salami, preferably reindyrpølse (reindeer salami)
  • Canned pineapple rings
  • Cheddar cheese, sliced thickly
  • Chutney, preferably Mrs Balls
* I used this recipe, which I didn't copy here because it's not a Bouvet Island recipe. And also because I couldn't be bothered. :)

OK, so you know me ... I try not to do these meals halfway and I usually make at least an effort to use the ingredients the original recipe calls for. So I looked for reindeer salami and actually found some on a couple of different websites. Sadly, though, we are on a food budget and I just couldn't justify spending 20 bucks on the salami and another 35 shipping it. As much as I really did want to try eating reindeer salami.

I was, however, able to locate some Mrs Balls chutney online for not very much money, which was awesome because I love chutney and it certainly isn't going to go to waste. It did take forever to arrive, though.

So finally with all ingredients in place I put this together for Martin and I to eat for a Sunday lunch. Here's how it's done:

Slice the bread thickly and butter both sides.

Layer on the cheese and salami and top with a pineapple ring.

Slather some chutney over the butter (and I mean slather) and wrap the sandwiches in aluminum foil.

Now take your foil packets and put them in a frying pan over high heat (alternately you could do these on your barbecue). Check to make sure the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.

Now you can put the packets in your backpack and go chasing after seals. Or if you're not a marine mammal biologist, you can just open them up and eat them in the comfort of your dining room or on your deck. You know, in weather that does not threaten to turn your extremities blue.

I have to admit to being a little skeptical about these sandwiches. In fact when I repeated the recipe to a friend of mine, she went "ew!" I guess it's something about the pineapple and salami combo that just puts off us Americans, though why we eat pineapple and cottage cheese I will never truly comprehend.

But I like to be adventurous, so I tried them and guess what ... Not only were they seriously tasty, they were also exactly the sort of thing I'd want to be eating if I was chasing seals around a frozen and barren wasteland. They were warm and really filling and were a nice combo of sweet and savory.

So I just want to say "thanks" to Greg for going to the trouble of sharing this recipe with me. Greg, by the way, is Curator of Marine Mammals for the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld in South Africa, which didn't really have anything to do with his Bouvet trips but deserves a plug anyway since they have such a helpful guy working for them.

I hope readers will make this recipe since I'm pretty sure it is the one and only authentic Bouvet Island recipe now available to the public. If you do, be sure to leave a comment.

Coming up on Thursday: Comoros

For a printable version of this recipe:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Recipes from Colombia

Entertainment-wise, it's going to be really difficult to top Clipperton Island and Cocos (Keeling). Colombia, as far as I know, has never had an insane lighthouse keeper declare himself king, nor has it been ever occupied by an eccentric ex-explorer and his harem of 40 Malay women. Instead, it has the same sad story that most of the countries on this side of the globe share—discovery by Europeans followed by decades of slavery and the eventual decimation of the native population.

Colombia is, as you probably already know, a South American nation. Today, it has the dubious distinction of being the world's number one producer of cocaine, an industry that has fueled the continent's longest-running armed conflict. Government forces, right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing insurgents have been fighting in Colombia since the 1960s in a conflict that has personally affected a whopping 1/3rd of the nation's population. In the 1990s, at least 35,000 people died as a direct result of this conflict, and between 2000 and 2011 the violence forced 3.7 million people to flee their homes. In short, this is really not a place you want to be living at the moment. Or visiting. Which is why you should, you know, just travel there by stove. Open-mouthed smile

As far as food goes, Colombia is probably best-known for its coffee (yes, coffee is a food). Colombia is very ethnically-diverse, and its culinary traditions reflect that—Spanish, African, Asian and Arab influences can be found in many of the dishes, which of course have roots in indigenous traditions and locally available foods.

As I was researching the history part of this entry I actually found myself regretting that I didn't look up Colombian cuisine on Wikipedia before I decided on this menu. Because I found a few dishes in that entry that I probably would have rather cooked than the ones I settled on (Ajiaco sounds pretty danged tasty). But by the time I got around to checking out Wikipedia it was too late to turn back, though, so here's the menu I did do:

Cerdo Encebollado (Pork with Onion Sauce)

  • 1 1⁄2 pound boneless pork loin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup aliños sauce*
  • 2 cups water
This recipe came from Colombian blogger Erica, who blogs at My Colombian Recipes. Now that I think of it, all of this week's recipes came from Erica. What can I say, she had some great resources on her website. Bloggers are always the best source for authentic recipes.

Here's the recipe for the Aliños Sauce, ingredient number 5 in the Cerdo Encebollado.

  • 1/2 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp Sazon Goya with Azafran *
* Sazon Goya with azafran contains MSG, which may or may not bother you.

Here's the side dish:

Arroz con Coco y Lentejas (Rice with Coconut and Lentils)

  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh cilantro for serving
And the bread (sort of):

Arepas de Queso (Cheese Cornmeal Patties)

* I got my arepa flour at the Mexican Market in Auburn, CA. You can also order it from, if you don't have a local source for Hispanic foods in your area. I do think you need to have it in this recipe, rather than just using cornmeal. It gives the bread a particular kind of texture that you won't get with cornmeal.

So I started with the lentils and rice, since the lentils have to soak.

For some reason, this was the only photo I took of the Arroz con Coco y Lentejas.

First rinse the lentils and cover them with water for about 30 minutes.

In a large pot, cook the onions in the olive oil until they are translucent. Then add the garlic and keep stirring for an additional two minutes or so.

Add the lentils to the pot along with the bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender and there is little or no water remaining in the pot.

Throw out the bay leaf and add the rice, then pour in the coconut milk. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. (Note: I have a hard time getting rice to absorb coconut milk, so I usually add a little bit of water. If your rice isn't tender after 20 minutes try adding about a half cup of water to the pot.)

Garnish with the cilantro.

You will need the aliños sauce for the pork, so to make that just put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until you get a smooth paste.

On to the pork:

Cut the pork loin up into 8 slices, trimming the excess fat. Pound with a mallet until each slice is about 1/4 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the pork on both sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Now add the onions to the pot and brown them, then add the aliños sauce and cook for another minute or so. Pour in the water and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any brown bits.
Return the pork to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover the pot.

Cook for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the pork is tender and the sauce is thick (you may have to add a little bit of water to keep it from drying out).

Finally, the arepas, which are really more like a flatbread than a "pattie," as Erica describes them. They do take a bit of time since you have to do them in batches, so bear that in mind when planning your meal.

First mix the P.A.N. with the warm water, grated cheese, salt and half of the butter. Let stand for five minutes.

Knead for 3 minutes (moisten your hands with a little bit of water if you need to). Shape the dough into four small balls and place between two large sheets of plastic wrap.

(I doubled the recipe so I had more than four balls)

Flatten each ball with your hands (Erica recommends using the bottom of a pot). Each bread should be about a quarter inch thick.

Now put the rest of the butter in a large pan and melt over medium heat. Working in batches, cook each bread about 3 minutes on both sides, until it forms a crust and starts to turn a golden color (Note: don't be impatient. If you try to turn them too soon, they will fall apart.).

Everyone in my family tried this meal, with mixed results. The pork was good but sadly it wasn't really that interesting. My kids picked the pork out of the onions, of course, because onions are the stuff of horrible nightmares (if you have kids you know what I'm talking about).

I really liked the Arroz con Coco y Lentejas, but I typically adore anything with rice and coconut milk in it. I could really taste the Caribbean influence in that particular dish. 7-year-old Dylan liked it too, as did Martin and Henry. But the girls both moaned about having to try it and then left most of it on their plates. Which I really don't get, but I honestly don't get a whole lot about those girls and their tastes in food.

Finally, I have to rave about the arepas. They were really good, with an interesting, firm texture and a lovely salty, cheesy flavor. I would definitely make them again, and probably will the next time I'm cooking anything vaguely South American.

I'm not personally done with Colombia (in fact I'm about to go in search of an Ajiaco recipe, which I will make with some more arepas). But for Travel by Stove, it's time to move on.

Next week: Comoros

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Recipes from Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Oh, I just love reading the histories of some of these places. This one is almost as good as the last one.

This week we're on another atoll (two of them, actually), but the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are more populated than Clipperton Island. Only slightly, though.

Clipperton Island has a current population of zero, while this week's stop is home to just over 600 people. How about that? There are only half as many people living on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands than there are in Rough and Ready, CA.

Cocos (Keeling) is located in the Indian Ocean, midway between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Unsurprisingly, Cocos (Keeling) is not a sovereign nation--it's a territory of Australia. But it's on my list, so I'm doing it. That's OK with me though, because for such a small place it actually has a pretty interesting history. Sadly, I don't have the space to give you the whole rundown, but here are the best bits:

In 1814 a merchant seaman named John Clunies-Ross left a Union Jack on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, claiming them for Britain and declaring that he would one day return to live there with his family. At some point he must have told his brother about his plans, because said brother then went to work for a wealthy Englishman named Alexander Hare, who also decided he wanted to live on the islands. Hare's plans, though, were far grander than Clunies-Ross' modest dreams of moving there with his wife and children. Hare also wanted to bring a wife … and 39 other wives, too. That's right, by the time Clunies-Ross arrived in 1827 with a handful of sailors, one wife, his kids and his mother-in-law, Hare was already living there with his own private Harem of 40 Malay women.

As you can imagine, the two men started feuding almost immediately, with Clunies-Ross all but declaring war on Hare, who didn't turn out to be a very good sultan, or whatever it is you call a guy who has his own harem. Hare's 40 Malay women pretty quickly got bored of him and started hooking up with Clunies-Ross' sailors. Poor Hare, disillusioned and probably a little emasculated, left the island in 1831.

Cocos (Keeling)'s interesting history doesn't end with Hare vs. Clunies-Ross—it played an important role in both world wars, for example—but I have to stop there because this blog is actually about food.

So you would think that a place as small as the Cocos (Keeling) Islands would be a challenge from a research standpoint. And it was, but I know some tricks. Using Google translate I found the Malaysian word for "recipe" (Malay is the more prominent language used on the islands) and then combined that with "Cocos." That search led me to a Malay language blog called Aime's Little Kitchen, authored by Aime Salami Simon, and featuring (yay!) Cocos Malay cuisine.

Lots of the recipes at Aime's Little Kitchen were actually seafood recipes, which is not surprising considering that the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are, you know, islands. But my poor husband is profoundly sick of seafood, so I went for this recipe instead:

Ayam Begana (Chicken Begana)

  • 1 lb chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, grated
  • 2 cups flaked coconut
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or ground
  • 5 shallots, minced or ground
  • 1 large onion, minced or ground
  • 1/2 cup curry powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 cup Sambal (Malaysian Chili Paste)
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice of one lime
  • salt to taste
Google Translate provided its usual handful of humorous gaffs, by directing me to "follow the love" when cutting up the chicken, and "punch" the lemongrass and coconut "into rustle." So l was a little vague on the details, but I think I ended up with a pretty good approximation of the original.

On the side, I chose this recipe:

Nasi Goreng Berkat (Fried Rice)

  • 3 cups cooked white rice
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 4 shallots, mashed
  • 1 tsp Sambal (Malaysian Chili Paste)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Maggie chicken granules
  • 2 red chilies, sliced
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 cup mustard greens, chopped
  • sesame oil
  • 1 piece of skinless chicken, shredded*
* Ingredient note: I cooked an extra chicken breast (all the way through of course) when I made the begana, and then set it aside to use in this recipe.

Now the only two problems with this dish: One, I'm pretty sure this type of rice is generally eaten for breakfast, based on the very vague translations I was able to find. Two, I'm not totally sure this is a Cocos (Keeling) recipe—it may just be Malaysian or a creation of the blog's author. But I would be surprised if something like this wasn't cooked on Cocos (Keeling), and it's not like I really had alternate websites I could use. This was literally the only resource I could find for this kind of cuisine.

So let's start with the chicken begana.

First mix the chicken with the salt and turmeric. Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, then cook it over medium heat until it's almost done.

Now put the coconut flakes and the lemongrass in a food processor and puree, adding a little bit of water as needed, until you get a nice paste. (Hint: if you can only find sweetened coconut flakes, just put them in a fine mesh strainer and run some water over them until it runs clear. This should flush away most of the sugar.)

In a large pot, heat the oil and cook the garlic, shallots and onions with the chili paste, coriander and curry powder. Stir until fragrant, then add the chicken.

Add the water about a tablespoon at a time (you may not need the whole cup) until the ingredients start to just become saucy and the chicken cooks all the way through.

Now add the lime juice and the coconut/lemongrass paste.

Let simmer for five or 10 minutes, until the sauce dries out (this should be a pretty dry curry). Add salt to taste and serve.

Now on to the rice:

Heat the oil and saute the garlic with the onion and Sambal. When fragrant, add the rice and mix well.

Now add the soy sauce and Maggie powder. Stir until well incorporated, then add the mustard greens, coconut flakes and chili slices.

Drizzle a little bit of sesame oil over the rice and serve topped with the shredded chicken. (You can also garnish with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, which I did not do because those weren't listed with the rest of the ingredients. So I didn't buy them.).

Now, this was a very spicy meal. I was actually surprised by how spicy it was (I guess I underestimated the power of the Sambal). I did figure that it would at least be a little spicy, though, so I set aside some plain salt/turmeric chicken for my kids to eat instead of the curry. Even so, the rice alone was still spicy enough to put fires in their mouths (which is not usually something I subject them to). I did make a version without the chili slices, but even in small quantities the Sambal still made it hard to eat, at least by kid standards. Martin and I loved both dishes, because as far as we're concerned there's almost no such thing as too spicy, unless you count Bolivian Fritanga.

It was a unique curry, not quite like anything I've ever had. The coconut flakes gave it a very different texture and a flavor that was reminiscent of some Thai food I've eaten, though the character was more Indian. Of course I haven't eaten much Malaysian food so I can't say how the Cocos-Malay version differs from what you can get in Malaysia. And it will be a while before I find out, because Malaysia is way down there in the M's. If this is a taste, though, I think I'm a fan.

Next week: Colombia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recipe from Clipperton Island (sort of)

I wish I could remember where I got my list, because I really shake my head in confusion when I read about some of these places. Lots of them are not countries. Bouvet Island, for example, is populated by seals and penguins, and as far as I know they haven't ever written a constitution or anything. Maybe they're a monarchy. (Emperor penguins? Haha sorry.) So why do I leave these places on my list? I don't know. I hate to run from challenges I guess.

Even if I was inclined to delete unpopulated "countries" from my list whenever I get to them, I think I would have left Clipperton Island. It's way too cool. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to write about Clipperton Island.

Clipperton Island is actually an atoll, which is a relatively narrow ring of coral surrounding a lagoon. It is located in the Pacific Ocean, west of Costa Rica and southwest of Mexico and has a total land mass of approximately 3 1/2 square miles. Depending on which source you ask, the lagoon is either just really dirty or literally poisonous. The only vegetation on the island is some course, "spiny" grass, a creeping plant and a few stands of coconut trees. Besides the seabirds, the only animals there are these little orange crabs which look really harmless until they start swarming anything and everything that is potentially be food. Including people.

For some incredibly stupid reason which I fail to understand, during the past 300 years several countries have actually laid claim to this godforsaken place. Why, I don't know. Countries just love to lay claim to places, no matter how useless and godforsaken they are.

But it kind of looks like a tropical paradise ...

So what makes this place so cool that I couldn't pass it up? Well for a start, it was named after pirate John Clipperton, who supposedly (though no one really knows for sure) used it as a base for raids on passing ships. But if that wasn't enough, it was also the setting for an incredible story that sounds like it was made up by a bunch of Hollywood scriptwriters.

Back in the early 1900s, a mining settlement was established on Clipperton Island. They were mining guano, in case you're interested. You know what that is, right? It's bird poop. Anyway about 100 men, women and children were established there, and every two months a supply ship from Mexico brought food and other essentials. Then the Mexican revolution happened, and after that the supply ships stopped coming. Eventually, all the men except one died of scurvy, or were possibly eaten by the crabs. The one who was left—lighthouse keeper Victoriano Álvarez—declared himself king and then embarked on a months-long reign of terror against the 15 women and children who remained, enslaving, raping and murdering many of them, until he was finally killed by one of his would-be victims. Shortly after that, the handful of remaining women and children were rescued by a US Navy ship.

As jaw-dropping as this story is, it didn't actually help me in my search for Travel by Stove material. For that, I had to move on to a later story: the wreck of the MV Monarch. The Monarch was a tuna clipper that sank near the island in 1962. Nine crewmen from that ship were stranded on Clipperton for 23 days, during which time they survived on coconuts, some potatoes and onions they managed to salvage from their sinking vessel and fish they caught off the island's reef. Hey! That sounds like a chowder. Here's the recipe:

Castaway Chowder

  • 1 lb ahi tuna, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 lb russet potatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Water to cover
  • Salt to taste
Now you may note that I didn't include anything in the recipe that wasn't available to the crew of the Monarch. Because the ship was a tuna boat, I figured (guessed, actually) that they may have salvaged some tuna along with the potatoes and onions. But you could probably use any fish for this recipe, since they were mostly just catching whatever they could find in the reef.

Salt I took some liberties with. People do cook with seawater (in fact seawater cooking is popular for lobster cook-offs and other big seafood to-dos in many coastal parts of the US), so I figured the crewmen could have flavored their chowder by using seawater as a base. Now, I don't really know how salty the finished product would have been, so I just salted mine until it tasted good.

The directions for this chowder are simple, because let's face it, the castaways were probably too busy finding food to care much about how it was prepared. I didn't peel the potatoes, because anyone facing a hunger situation would be crazy to get rid of all those extra nutrients.

First, put the onions in a pot and add a little salt. I picked up this trick many years ago from a book called Indian Cooking Without Fat. If you add salt to the onions they will release their natural fluids, which means you don't have to use any oil to fry them (I didn't do this because I wanted the chowder to be healthy, though, I did it because there wasn't any oil for frying on the island. Though I admit don't know if they really would have been able to collect dry salt, either.)

Anyway, when cooking onions this way you do have to keep stirring. Once they've turned translucent, add the tuna, potatoes and coconut milk. Pour in just enough water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, adding more water as necessary. Use a potato masher to mash up some (but not all) of the potatoes, so your chowder will have a little body to it. Salt to taste.

I served my castaway chowder with freshly ground black pepper and bread. Which obviously are two things the crewmen wouldn't have had, but you know, I didn't want to torture my poor husband too much.

This simple chowder was actually surprisingly good. If I was a castaway I would have actually been drooling over it, though in our land of abundance it was simply a nice meal. The coconut milk made for a tasty, if not particularly unusual combination with the fish. Plus it was easy, which gave it extra points for me because easy is something Travel by Stove meals almost never are.

So how about that, it's almost like I got a vacation on Clipperton Island.

Next week: Cocos-Keeling Islands

For a printable version of this week's recipe:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Recipes from Canton, China

Tomorrow I will be camping with 50 first graders. So I'm posting this entry one day early, because one day later is not going to happen. One day later I will be asleep. For the whole day.

Anyway, Hailey's first grade class is studying China, so she was really excited when I told her we were going to have homemade Chinese food. Of course, I already make loads of homemade Chinese food, so I'm not sure why this time should be any different for her. Granted, they are Americanized Chinese dishes, but my kids don't really know the difference.

This week's recipes come from Canton Province, also known as Guangdong Province, a 68,700 square mile region in Southern China. By land mass it is nowhere near the largest province in the country, yet it is the most populous with 79 million permanent residents and a population of 31 million migrants who live and work there at least six months out of the year. Among all other Chinese provinces Guandong ranks fourth in GDP per capita, which can be largely attributed to its low-value added manufacturing industry. As in cheap Chinese crap. And smart phones.

Yes, Guandong is the home of Foxconn City, which you may know as the point-of-origin for your beloved iPhone. You know, Foxconn City—a factory so large that it has its own fire brigade, grocery store, bank, bookstore, hospital, restaurants and television network, which I'm sure only broadcasts the most unbiased news and entertainment. It is also known for the 14 suicides and 4 attempted suicides that took place there between January and November of 2010, which it famously responded to by installing "suicide-prevention netting" and asking employees to sign no-suicide contracts.

Now, I've actually been sitting here for the last 10 minutes wondering how I can segue from Foxconn to Cantonese food. I don't think I can, so I'll just skip over that part.

Cantonese food is what most Americans think of as Chinese food. It's what you order when you go to a Chinese restaurant. But for the most part, the stuff you get in a Chinese restaurant has been altered to suit American tastes and available ingredients. Which brings me to my next point: available ingredients.

Martin laughed when I told him I was having a hard time finding Cantonese recipes. Because he sees so much Cantonese food on Chinese menus, he figured that it would be pretty easy to find out how that food gets made. Well, yes, it actually was easy to find Cantonese recipes, but nearly impossible to find Cantonese recipes that contained ingredients that were easy to find.

I did hit on my main course pretty quickly, but it was a pretty obvious choice:

Char Siu (Barbecued Pork)

  • 1 pound pork belly, skin removed
  • 2 tbsp rice wine
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
  • 2 tbsp honey
I picked this dish (which came from Appetite for China) because it is one of the quintessential Cantonese dishes, and also because all of the ingredients were available at Safeway. At least that's what I thought until I looked a little closer at it, you know, one day before I was going to buy my groceries.

And for my next dish, which was adapted from Christine's Recipes:

Stir Fried Glutinous Rice

  • 2/3 cup glutinous rice
  • 1 dried Chinese sausage (lap chong)
  • 6 large dried shrimp
  • 6 dried shiitakes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp water
  • chopped green onion
  • 1 cup water
For the sauce:
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
Now, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you just did a double-take when you read the words "dried shrimp." Or, if you're like me, you didn't notice them until you'd already gone to a lot of trouble finding and purchasing glutinous rice. More on that in a minute.

Finally, another side dish (since we always like to do Chinese food family-style):

Siu Maaih (Pork and Shrimp Dumpling)

  • 2 small to medium shitake dried mushrooms
  • 11 oz boneless pork, country-style rib, minced
  • 6 oz shrimp, after shelling and deveining
  • 1 small green onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash white pepper
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 package round wonton wrappers
(This dim sum recipe came from Traditional Chinese Recipes.)

So let's start with the pork, since it has to marinade for a couple of hours.

Now, when I first read this recipe I read "dark soy sauce" as "soy sauce." Because, you know, soy sauce is pretty dark. Later I learned that dark soy sauce is not in fact the full-sodium version of "lite soy sauce." The "lite" soy sauce we see in American grocery stores is just a bastardization of the real thing, and I don't think they really use it a whole lot in traditional Chinese cooking. Real "light" soy sauce is what we think of as plain old, full-sodium soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is actually soy sauce that has been thickened and sweetened.

Don't worry if you can't find it, though, you can approximate dark soy sauce by using one part regular soy sauce to one part molasses.

I was lucky enough to find some dark soy sauce locally, though. I know! If you live around here, you are rightfully amazed. At this point I have to give a little shout-out to the couple who run the Bonanza Gift Shop at 321A Broad Street in Nevada City. They have a tiny little 1/8th of a shelf devoted to Chinese groceries, and guess what I found there—dark soy sauce! And when I asked, they also went back to their freezer and produced a package of lap chong, which I needed for the glutinous rice. So that really made my morning, since I wasn't sure what I was going to do for a side dish at that point.

Anyway, the pork is blissfully easy and tastes like you spent all day making it. The very best kind of dish, in my opinion.

First, mix everything but the pork together in a large bowl. Then rub the marinade mixture all over the pork and place in the refrigerator for two or three hours.

Now, I didn't use a pork belly. I know it's more authentic, but my husband would have died of fat-exposure. So instead I just chose a pork loin.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Take off some (but not all) of the marinade and then brush with honey. Roast until an internal thermometer reads 145 degrees, turning once and brushing honey on the other side. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (Evidently, this is the new standard. I used to always cook my roast pork to 160, but now the USDA says 145 is fine as long as you allow the meat to rest for at least 3 minutes.). Slice and serve.

Next, the dim sum. These little dumplings were really fun to make. Here's how:

Soak the mushrooms for 30 minutes, then squeeze out the water and dice. Set aside.

Now separate out about 2/3 of the shrimp from the rest. Chop the 2/3, then put the remainder in a small food processor and puree.

Mix the pork, shrimp and mushrooms with everything else (except, obviously, the wonton wrappers). When well blended, pick up your first wonton wrapper. Dip a finger from the other hand into some water and use it to wet the edges of the wrapper.

Then put a tablespoon or so of filling into the wrapper.

 Now cup your hand to make a pretty flower shape. Or, if you're like me, make something that looks like a wad of discarded paper that has been left on the floor of my daughter's bedroom.

 Repeat until you've used all the filling.

Steam the dumplings for approximately 7 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center reads 145 degrees (160 if you're using pre-ground pork, because you can never be too careful). Hint: you don't need a bamboo steamer; you can use a regular electric vegetable steamer. Just make sure you line the steamer basket with wax paper, and don't let the dumplings touch each other because they will stick.

Now on to the glutinous rice. And the dried shrimp.

I went to a lot of trouble to get that glutinous rice, which is not the same as long grain rice. Also called "sticky" rice, glutinous rice becomes—you guessed it—sticky when cooked. So when I found this recipe I immediately went looking for some glutinous rice, without, of course, bothering to look at any of the other ingredients.

So the day before my grocery trip, I was making a shopping list when I saw it:

Dried shrimp.

It was too late to change my mind at that point, though I tried. I looked around for other versions of that recipe that might not contain dried shrimp, but it was sadly endemic. Then I just looked for other side dishes, but they all contained ingredients that you can't get in Grass Valley. Damn it.

So I decided to make this recipe anyway, and yes I vowed to be faithful and use the dried shrimp. Why? For one of four reasons:

a) I am dumb
b) I am a glutton for punishment
c) I am a glutton for punishing my husband
d) I am willing to give millions of people all over the world who enjoy foods made with dried shrimp the benefit of the doubt. Again.

I like to think it's d. So we'll just go with that.

Anyway, here's how you make the glutinous rice:

Soak the rice for at least 3 hours. You should also start soaking the dried shrimp at this point (I waited too long and mine weren't soft enough). For safety, hide the soaking shrimp in a drawer so your husband doesn't come home unexpectedly and see them.

Don't they look delicious??

(Note: the original version of this recipe also called for a dried scallop, which I omitted because there weren't any on that little shelf in Bonanza Gifts, but also because other versions of this recipe didn't call for one, so I figured it wasn't a traditional necessity).

Soak the mushrooms for at least 30 minutes, then squeeze out the water, chop up and set aside.

Remove the shrimp from the water, reserving about a cup (you can add a little water to make a cup if you need to). Cut the shrimp into a small dice and set aside.

Now crack the egg and beat with 2 tsp of water. Add a little salt. On a nonstick frying pan, heat some generic cooking oil and add the egg, swirling until it covers the whole bottom of the pan. Let it cook omelet-style until it is golden on one side, then flip it over. Laugh as it turns into a skewed and twisted lump.

Actually, I did manage to flip my egg over successfully, possibly for the first time in my life.

Now fry it on the other side (if possible) until that side is also golden.  Remove from heat and let cool, then cut into long strips (tip: using a pizza cutter will prevent tearing).

Dice the lap chong and put it in the frying pan.

Like all sausage, lap chong is oily so wait until some of the oil comes out and then add the mushrooms and shrimp. Saute until everything is cooked through. Set that aside, too.

Rinse the glutinous rice and drain. Heat one or two tbsp of oil in your frying pan, then add the rice, stirring to coat.

Here's where this recipe starts to become kind of like a Chinese risotto. Add 2 tbsp of the shrimp water at a time to the rice, stirring until the water is absorbed. Then repeat until all the water has been used up. If the rice still isn't tender, you may need to add a few more tablespoons.

When the rice is cooked, add the sauce.

Return the lap chong, shrimp, mushrooms and egg to the pan and stir until mixed. Garnish with green onion.

The verdict: shockingly, my kids all loved this meal. Especially the pork, which kept them coming back for seconds. Extra shockingly, the glutinous rice was good. I could taste the shrimp but it wasn't overpowering, not like the smell of it was that time I tried to dry it in my oven. In fact it tasted familiar, which makes me think that I probably have actually had it in Chinese food before. So am I a convert? Nope. Because, ew.

My kids ate the dumplings, too, so it was really a home run as far as family meals go. And I told Hailey that she needed to make a full report back to her class the next day, which of course she forgot to do. Oh well.

Next week: Clipperton Island. Yes, that's right, a tiny deserted island with a poisonous lagoon where no one lives.

(Note: I skipped Christmas Island but will come back to it in a few weeks. I'm still in the middle of trying to track down a recipe source.)

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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