Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Hubby's Tired of Hearing It... I'll post it here.

We just did our weekly grocery shopping, including the food for tomorrow's Cuban cooking extravaganza.

For the black bean soup, I had to purchase a smoked ham hock, which only comes in a package of three. I didn't want to buy one of them, much less three.

But let me just say, never in the history of my life cooking have I been as grossly fascinated by the site of any foodstuff as I am by the sight of those ham hocks.

Thank God I live in "the South" where those things are available. I suspect if I were trying this in New York, I might have trouble buying such a thing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Malta: A Tale of 4 Onions

Well, as you all know, we were supposed to cook Maltese last weekend. Sadly, we didn't get around to it. Sadder still, the meat I bought for the experiment went bad. Nothing smells worse than bad pork, I can assure you. It was gag inducing. So off I went to get more pork and beef and prepare two different Maltese dishes: timpana and bragoli.

As you know from reading my reports on these different cuisines, TIMING has been my big issue. Malta was no different. However, Malta was so off the charts that I am now going to make it a point that I read through the entire thing from start to finish before cooking. It's just insanity. Plus, whichever Maltese people wrote the recipe for timpana should be boiled in a vat of macaroni for not putting everything in the ingredient list! NAUGHTY MALTESE!

Ok, so timpana is basically a macaroni dish that is baked in puff pastry. Since I figured I would need some time to a) boil the macaroni and b) bake it, I started with it first. The ingredient list did say that chicken livers were optional, and taking a poll, it was determined that we would opt out of the chicken liver portion of the recipe. Everything else we stayed true to. The remainder of the ingredient list calls for macaroni, mixed ground beef and pork, puff pastry, onions, garlic, tomato paste, parmesan cheese, ricotta, eggs, and salt and pepper.

Ok, so first we browned up the onions and garlic in margarine. Wait, margarine?! Didn't see margarine on the ingredient list? Neither did we. Fortunately, we had some. Crisis averted. While that was going, I mixed up the pork and beef--often I can find a meatloaf mix of different ground meats in my local grocery store, but this week I shopped at SuperTarget, and they weren't so obliging, so I wasn't able to locate the mix. It was OK, however, because the bragoli called for a half pound of ground beef, so I only had a leftover half pound of ground pork, which I froze. Doubtless we will use it one of these times.

The next set of directions called for browning the ground meat in with the onion and garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste, stirring well, and cooking for 15 minutes. Ok, great, no problem at all. So I put that aside and let it cook on its merry way and turned my attention to continuing to chop up onions. Although there were only 4 large onions in both dishes combined, it seemed like A LOT of onions. And these onions were the fairly strong kind, so I was a little weepy while I was cutting them.

So, the fifteen minutes elapses, and I read the next set of directions: Add tomato paste and 1 cup of beef stock and simmer for an hour.

Panic set in. First of all, "WHAT BEEF STOCK!?!?!?!?" Beef stock is not something I keep in the house, honestly. Occasionally I have other stocks on hand, but beef stock? No.

Secondly, simmer for an HOUR!?!?!?!?!?!!? Ok, it was already 5pm. And I had already read the baking directions, so I could put on the oven, and I knew that this bad boy had to bake for NINETY MINUTES and then sit out for THIRTY MINUTES. Tacking on this additional and unexpected hour, that led me to a total of THREE HOURS of cooking time. I started to hyperventilate just a little bit. Why? Because A Very Duggar Wedding was coming on at 9pm.

Yes, I know, I know, but I am totally obsessed with the Duggars. It's probably got something to do with not being able to have children of our own and being endlessly fascinated that one man and one woman have managed to not only create 18 children, but to raise them to be polite, well-dressed, nicely mannered, musically gifted, and not all hate each other. Freakishly so, yes. But the fact that Michelle and Jim Bob were again expecting while their oldest son was getting married to a young woman and the two of them had never even kissed--well, you can bet your butt I wasn't about to miss that. Not for all the malt in Malta.

Ok, so I scrambled through the cupboards and came up with a box of chicken stock. It was going to have to do. I poured it over the beef, added the tomato paste, and set it to simmering. Then I got to thinking. Probably the only reason why I'm supposed to simmer it that long is to a) make the meat tender and b) simmer the liquid down to a saucier consistency. And if that's the case, well, couldn't I just jack up the heat a bit and make it all happen a little faster? So I took a chance and let that happen.

While that was simmering, I lined a pan with the first sheet of puff pastry. I used a 13x9 pan, although the directions didn't give a measurement for what kind of pan I should use. I did have to stretch out the puff pastry a good bit, but it worked out fine. After I had simmered everything for about 30 minutes, I poured the beef mixture into the macaroni, and added a mixture of ricotta, parmesan, and eggs. Then I poured the whole thing on top of the puff pastry, covered it with another layer of pastry, and shoved it in the oven.

Ok, it was time to turn our attention to the bragoli, which are little rolls of beef stuffed and cooked in a vegetable and wine sauce. Ok, again, if there is anything else about which I am as ignorant as I am about wine, it is about cuts of beef. Fortunately most recipes tell you what cut to get, but if the store in question doesn't have that particular cut, I don't know what to get as an alternate. This was the situation I found myself in when purchasing supplies for bragoli. The recipe directed me to purchase a rump roast. When I got the Super Target, nothing was labeled 'rump roast' on the shelves. There was a little chart that explained what each cut was good for, but the little chart didn't even label rump roast. I took a look at the various cuts of meat there. Weight Watchers counsels that you should pick something with very little fat. So I found the least fatty looking thing and bought it. I think it was some kind of a chuck roast, but I really don't know.

So I sliced it up and let my sister have the honor of pounding it out. She was having a little bit of a bad day as Baby Dottie was screaming for no good reason a good part of the time. Judy may have overdone it, however, on account of the handle nearly broke off my pot, and when she switched to a can of soup, it got all dented. I'm thinking I need a meat mallet. (Yes, I know this picture is dark, and in fact, nearly all of them were, unfortunately! The lighting in my kitchen sucks, but using the flash makes everything super bright. I'm going to have to see if someone messed with the settings on my camera.)

While she was pounding away, I was preparing the stuffing. I had already boiled and peeled two eggs. It was at this point when I discovered that we had eaten the required bacon for breakfast and that I was out of carrots. Because it was getting late and they needed gas, Judy volunteered to go to the store and pick up the stuff we were short. This would also save us some time on the other end of getting ready to head out before the Duggars came on so we could watch it up at their place. Meanwhile, I grated the one carrot I did have, chopped up the egg, and prepped the vegetables for the sauce. Among the most frustrating directions was that I needed four tomatoes, PEELED. Have you any idea how frustrating it is to peel a tomato? I know, there is a way to do it with a quick boil and then an ice water bath, but the directions called for this tomato to be raw, and I didn't really want to cook them if I didn't have to. So I didn't. And I also didn't peel them. I figured the skins would fall of later of their own accord. I chopped up more onions and garlic, and when Judy returned, she chopped up the bacon and I chopped up some more carrots.

It was time to assemble the stuffing. We combined ground beef, bacon, hard boiled eggs, parsley, bread crumbs, a carrot, and salt and pepper. We did have a debate over whether or not the bacon should be cooked before it was put in the stuffing and Judy advocated bacon bits. But I was of the opinion that the bacon would cook when it was all put together, so we left it raw. The next directions called for us to put about 2 tablespoons of stuffing onto each slice of meat, roll, and secure with toothpicks.

No problem there. There was a LOT of stuffing left, however, so I did decide to put a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and rolled the remaining stuffing into little meatballs. I baked them in the still-hot oven.

Ok, then we had to cook more garlic and onions in "enough water to cover the onions". Onions have a nasty habit of floating in water. I pushed a piece of onion down and poured in water until it was covered. We were then supposed to add the beef rolls and brown them. Well, browning appeared pretty much out of the question. It was more or less a matter of boiling--and honestly I hadn't put in that much water. But it was definitely too much, I would come to find out.

After the beef appeared 'pretty cooked', I took it out and then added in everything else--the carrots, tomato paste, potatoes, bay leaves, worcestershire sauce, and red wine. I decided to let it cook down and jacked up the heat on the electric frying pan, as I was already pretty darned suspicious of what might be going on with this "sauce".

Ok, well by now we were at darned near 7pm. Our cut off departure time was 8pm. I let everything cook for a while and I raced upstairs to take a fast shower, throw some clothes in a bag, and then back down to the kitchen to pack the General's lunch. I put the beef back in the pot of vegetables and pulled the timpani out of the oven. If I'm being honest, I started to get extremely concerned. The 'broth' that the beef was cooking in was smelling rather unappetizing. It didn't look bad, per se, it just didn't look like much--a bunch of vegetables and beef floating in somewhat murky water. The timpani, on the other hand, looked fabulous. The pastry had browned up beautifully. I pulled the beef from its bath and half-heartedly sprinkled some of the veggies over top of it. Then I called the troops to dinner.

Everyone admitted to a serious case of the nerves where that beef was concerned. We all took a bite at once and were all immediately proven wrong. Despite the spectacular failure of the 'sauce', the beef was absolutely fabulous. The flavor of the bacon had cooked through the stuffing, and all the other flavors combined to create a really marvelous dish. I did ultimately elect to heat up some jarred tomato sauce and put that on my beef, and Judy said that she would have liked to have had some horseradish on hers, but as a stand alone dish, it was really, really great.

And I don't know what I can say about the timpani. It was also really delicious. The crust was flaky and wonderful, as puff pastry is, but the macaroni part had really packed together and created a dense and wonderful filling. The cheese and eggs bound all the beef and noodles and veggies together, and the General even tried it and liked it. Not enough to eat a helping himself, but considering that he doesn't like pasta very much, the fact that he liked it at all was a great sign in its favor.

For dessert, I had found a ChocoDessert on clearance at Super Target. It is direct off the boat from Italy, and while I was aware that Malta and Italy are two separate countries, I thought that perhaps geographically they were close enough that the dessert might make a nice ending to the meal.

The first thing we all thought when we bit into it was "BOOZE!" It definitely had some sort of liquor in it. I'm not hot on alcohol and on the flavor it imparts in sweets, so I didn't eat very much of it, but everyone else gobbled it right up and loved it.

We finished dinner, quickly loaded up the dishwasher, rinsed off what was left, and hauled butt out to Alexandria. We made it with 6 minutes to spare on the Duggar wedding special, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

I know I keep saying over and over again how great the dishes are that we've had from each country. I don't know if it's the fact that we are trying lots of different flavors and recipes or if it's the experiment itself, but the taste buds are coming alive with each country.

On the completion of Malta, we have done 6 countries in January and my calculations tell me I need to do 6 or 7 per month, so that's pretty good. I am enjoying the heck out of this. I've also gotten Lesley to promise to teach me some tricks from Canada when they come to visit, my brother is sending me some typical Ecuadorian recipes, and a co-worker from China has offered to teach me a few tricks. I am also looking ahead to February. I'm going to hit England and make beef wellington, Cuba and prepare Cuban sandwiches (I saw Tyler Florence prepare them yesterday on the Food Network and even though I'm not a big fan of mustard and pickles, I can't wait to go for it!), and something Swiss during Fasnacht in February. Any other special requests?

Thanks goes out to Amy for suggesting Malta! We were eating really, really well with our Maltese feast!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguration Day

Ok, so I overestimated my ability to get all the countries done I wanted to this weekend and Malta fell by the wayside--basically because I didn't count on getting sick! (Sorry, Amy!) We will get to Malta this weekend on Sunday hopefully. However, I did get to complete Kenya and Indonesia with some help from the family.

Tuesday we were all feeling celebratory on the news that we were getting our baby and that we had a new president. I had plans for our meal to encompass Kenya, where Obama's father is from, and Indonesia, where Obama spent some of his formative years.

Not too much Kenyan cuisine is available. Around the World in 450 Recipes only had generic recipes from "Africa" as if Africa is one big country and not lots of countries comprising a continent. I had to resort to a Google search again, and a lot of what turned up was comprised of goat. Now, I don't know about you all, but a) my local grocery store doesn't carry a whole lot of goat meat and b) I'm not all that excited about eating goat. So, I did some further investigating and found a couple of recipes that sounded decent. We decided to make chapati (a fried Kenyan bread) and kachumbari (a salad).

As for Indonesia, I have eaten Indonesian food several times and like it a lot. The one decent restaurant near my sister's house is Indonesian and we first went there for my birthday several years ago. Upon hearing it was my birthday, they gave us a plate of noodles free of charge. Free food hooked our hearts and we go there a fair amount. I don't know how the place stays in business (it's always empty when we go), but I'm glad it does. If you're in the mood for Indonesia and find yourself in Alexandria, VA, check out Satay Sarinah on South Van Dorn Street.

Anyway, I decided to trust the Around the World book and its recipe for Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk. We also decided to make basmati rice. I *love* basmati rice--it's probably my favorite kind of rice. It definitely pairs well with Asian cuisine of all types.

So, our full menu (with linked recipes where appropriate) was:

* Chapatis
* Kachumbari
* Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk
* Basmati rice

We started with the chicken, expecting it would take the longest. Again, my stellar timing skills were sorely lacking. (For the record, when making any kind of bread, even a bread that requires no yeast, make it first.) The recipe called for a chicken to be cut into 8 pieces. Well, my local grocery store was most obliging in already selling the pieces packaged altogether. This made for a lot less work for me.

The chicken had to be put into a pan, sprinkled with salt, and put in the oven for up to 30 minutes. I am not big on salt, I'll be quite honest, but I keep putting it in there because darned near every recipe requires salt. We bought a box of salt strictly for use in this project. I find it interesting the things that we don't keep a lot of on hand due to lack of use that other people tend to use up fairly quickly. For instance, pretty much any time my father or my in-laws come to visit, you can bet we'll run out of butter or margarine. We never have salt on hand and always have to scrounge it up for my friend Joe or my mother-in-law. My sister is always looking for milk. But you'll find a steady supply of garlic, chocolate, and yogurt at Casa Kosior. So go figure.

Anyway, we put the chicken in the oven and I decided to throw the rice into the rice cooker on the off chance it was going to take two hours again. Of course, I put it on the white rice setting, so it only took 30 minutes. Since we had some time, we decided that we would make the paste for the chicken. The picture in the cookbook shows the paste being made with a mortar and pestle. I did actually look for a set at Target, I could swear I saw them there before, but no luck. So I got out the food processor again. Into it, we added garlic, onion, macadamia nuts, and coriander. Because we wanted a paste, I let it run rather than pulsing it.

The resultant paste smelled sooooooooo good. As we fried it up in some warm oil, the kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly. Again I wished I could convey smell through this blog. We were salivating. Once the paste was nice and warm, it was time to add the chicken, which had completed cooking. We also had to add lemongrass (see that stick in my sister's hand? That's lemongrass, which doesn't look like grass at all!), bay leaves, sugar, and two mystical ingredients: bruised lengkuas and lime leaves. Ok, frankly, I had no freakin' clue what the heck lengkuas was/is. The recipe called for one inch of it, peeled and bruised. Based on this and on the region we were cooking in, I supposed that it must be ginger, but I wanted to make sure. Back to Google, where I learned that lengkuas actually is a wild ginger. According to the Thai Foods Glossary at

Laos (lengkuas): Sometimes is called galangal, this is a member of the ginger family and it has a very tough but elusively scented root that must be peeled before use. Substitute slices of dried laos (soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes) or powdered laos (1 tsp = 1 inch).

Well, like goat, lengkuas is in short supply at my local grocery. So I substituted fresh ginger, which is plentiful and relatively cheap. Judy bruised it by hurling it on the counter several times until it fell into several pieces. Then we laughed at it to further damage its ego, peeled it and threw it in the pot.

Lime leaves were also not available at the local store. I briefly considered putting lime juice in, but I was afraid that it would curdle our last ingredient, coconut milk. So we did without. Looking back on it, I suspect that we probably could have used lime zest, but I wasn't using fresh lime juice anyway, so I didn't have any of that either.

So we threw all that in and then added the coconut milk. Out of curiosity, we decided someone needed to taste the coconut milk to see what it tasted like, as we had quite a bit left. Judy and I took a vote and decided Lucas would draw the lucky straw, since he missed drinking the leftover lemon glaze at Three Kings. He was very brave about it and when asked he stated, "It doesn't really taste like anything." Thus emboldened, Judy and I each tried a sip, and he was correct. It really didn't have much of a coconut flavor when you drank it. There was a definite coconutty aftertaste, however, but it wasn't strong and wasn't bad. All the same, I don't intend to take up drinking coconut milk.

We turned back to the chicken, mixed up all the ingredients and brought it to a boil and then let it simmer. It was supposed to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, but by the time all was said and done, it simmered for the better part of an hour.

Time to get onto the kachumbari. Kachumbari is a VERY easy salad to prepare. You slice up some tomatoes and arrange them on a plate. On top of that, you put a pile of chopped onions and cilantro. Now, let me confess here and now: tomatoes and I are only just beginning to mend our long rift. I used to be of the type who would eat ketchup and tomato sauce, but was not hot on fresh tomatoes. In the past 2 years or so, however, I would say that I have come to appreciate them more and more. Still, I was hesitant of a salad that used tomatoes as its base.

On the upside, I could just about graze on a field of cilantro. It is one of my favorite herbs ever. If I'm being honest, I doubled the amount of cilantro called for in this recipe, and munched on the extra cilantro left on the cutting board. It was spectacular. The pile of tomato, onion, and cilantro is topped with grated carrots, and then the entire thing is drizzled with lime juice. The colors of this salad look distinctly African, and it makes a very festive presentation.

This accomplished, I turned my attention to the chapatis. This is a fried flat bread, as I mentioned. It is extremely simple to make, deceptively so. However, the directions demanded that it needed to sit for 30 minutes under a damp cloth. I neglected to read these directions past the ingredient list, which is simply salt, flour, and water. Why does it need to sit? There's no yeast, nothing to rise. But I figured that if it needed rising, I would let it rise. Unfortunately, by now, the rice was completed, and the chicken had been bubbling away for the better part of its cooking time. But there was nothing to do but put the kachumbari back in the refrigerator, set the bread to rise, put the rice cooker on 'warm' and let the chicken continue to cook on low over the stove.

When thirty minutes had passed, I took the dough from the bowl. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't changed shape or risen in the least. I quickly heated up some oil in a pan, set my brother-in-law to cooking the bread, and started forming broad, flat disks with the dough. He fried them up quickly while Judy used the time to feed Dottie so she would keep quiet during the meal and I set the table.

We sat down to a veritable feast when everything was served up. As you can see, we added sparkling cider for a toast to Little Jack and the General got in his order of French fries.

And then we all tucked in. The chicken was absolutely fantastic, as I knew it would be. The General ate two full plates of the chicken before deciding it wasn't something that he cared to eat again. The fact that he ate it at all came as a surprise--honestly I had a package of Hebrew Nationals on stand by in the fridge, fully expecting to have to cook him a different meal. But he actually ate pretty well.

But what surprised me was the kachumbari. It was absolutely amazing. The flavors were so fresh and really, really came alive in your mouth. This is the second dish we've made where lime juice was the primary dressing/marinade and the second one I've absolutely loved. Viva la lime!

The chapatis were rather dull and bland. To be expected considering it's flour and water put together. We speculated that rather like Ethiopian food, where it is served atop a flat disk of bread that you pull apart, it was probably expected that you not eat it plain (although the General quite liked it). I put my kachumbari on top of it and it was not only much better, but made the salad more fun to eat.

The other three of us agreed that everything was very good. Judy thought it would be better next time to make the chicken without the bones, and I didn't care for the chicken skin still being on, so if I make it again, I would definitely use boneless/skinless chicken. Basmati rice was a must, and a little extra sauce made it taste delectable too.

A great meal to celebrate two great beginnings--one for the country and one for the Kosiors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cena en el Brasil/Jantar em Brasil/Dining in Brazil

So, tonight's cuisine was from Brazil. I don't know if it's due to the cold or what, but I am most definitely under the weather. Cooking today was a real labor of love, but I don't want to fall behind. We already missed out on cooking yesterday, so it was important to me that we get cooking today! But if I'm honest, my heart wasn't 100% into it. I didn't even get out of my pajamas today, much less feel like a chef!

Back when Michael and I lived in Boston, we went out with our friends Tim and Cheryl to dine at various restaurants around the city. We were far more adventurous, culinarily-speaking, at that time than perhaps any other time in our history together. One night, the four of us decided to go to a restaurant called Cafe Brazil in our neighborhood. I'd never eaten Brazilian food before, and we wanted to try something new and different, so the four of us agreed to eat there. We all really enjoyed the food there and then never went back.

When Michael and I were discussing this project, his first country request was Brazil. I recently picked up a bargain bin cookbook at Borders called Around the World in 450 Recipes. Around the world does not include Australia, the entire continent of South America, and Africa appears to be one big country. So I couldn't rely on that to be of much help.

I started doing some web searches. I found a good number of recipes that appeared to be very good, and I judged that they were authentic based on the fact that the English in them was rather broken. In fact, a couple times while following them, I was like, "Huh!? What the hell does that mean?"

But I forged ahead. The menu we divised for tonight's meal was:

* Barbecue de Brazil
* Torta de Couve-Fleur
* Brazilian rice

Like the coq au vin, there were no pictures of the food to follow, so I was just hoping that it looked edible. I honestly have no idea if anything I prepared "looked like it should have" but it looked plenty fine to me, so the heck with it!

Yesterday, we did our grocery shopping and I defrosted the steak and chicken we had in the freezer--an added bonus in that we already had some of the ingredients, which allowed me to invest in a *drum roll please* rice cooker! I have wanted a rice cooker for some time, as I absolutely HATE cooking rice on the stove--it always boils over and it always makes an incredible mess on the glass top stove, which I also HATE with a passion. Someday, we're running a gas line, and I'm getting a gas stove. So I was tremendously excited about the prospect of having a rice cooker and planned to break it in for this meal. An added benefit was that I was going to use brown rice instead of white rice, as it is a WW approved rice and apparently healthier, but I have hated brown rice every time I've made it and have never been able to cook it properly. So I was excited to see what the rice cooker could do with it.

Ok, so the first thing I needed to do this morning was to get the chicken marinating. This involved the perplexing directions "Cut each chicken breast into 3 width ways". What the heck are three width ways? Plus, considering the steak and chorizo were being cut into only 2 inch pieces, cutting the chicken into 3 pieces made them quite large. So I wound up cutting the chicken breasts into fourths and fifths. The marinade was very simple, just lime juice and garlic. Chef's tip #1: I found the chicken VERY easy to cut up because it was still partially frozen.

I put the bag of chicken and marinade in the refrigerator. Because it is Sunday, we are on a football schedule. However, I had been especially lazy all morning and it was now nearly 11am. So I realized that we weren't going to be able to eat before football kicked off. The chicken was supposed to marinate a scant 4 hours, so it would be ready around 2:30 to be done marinating. This isn't much of a problem except that I know from watching Top Chef that citrus juice cooks fish, which is how you make ceviche. So I wondered if my chicken would be in trouble if I allowed it to sit in pure lime juice for that long. My decision was to drain it after 4 hours and let it sit the rest of the time until it was ready to cook. Crisis averted.

Ok, my next plan of attack was to start on the Torta de Couve-Fleur, which in case you haven't guessed is a cauliflower pie. I like raw cauliflower a lot, and can tolerate cooked cauliflower if it isn't too mushy and gross--I feel the same way about broccoli. I was intrigued by this recipe because it a) didn't offer much in the way of measurements (one ingredient listed was simply 'melted butter'); b) had lots of cheese, cream, and butter; and c) didn't offer a whole lot in the way of direction. For instance, the cauliflower cooking times were all approximate based on the look or feel of the food (boil until tender but not mushy; bake until bubbling). I felt like a bit of an adventurer doing my own thing, and thought to myself, "Someone's mom must have written out these directions!" The reporter from our story a couple of weeks ago kept asking me specifics about what we were doing and I kept saying, "I don't know, I just kind of do it until it looks right." Annoying? Yes. But I always get it right. So I was confident.

As soon as I had drained off the chicken's marinade, I decided to get the cauliflower pie started. I know I raved about my Wusthof knife last time, but let me tell you, that cauliflower did not stand a chance against this little wonder. Honestly, I was afraid I might cut myself. I have never cut apart a head of fresh cauliflower--I've always used the frozen stuff. So I started by cutting off the leaves and carving out the stem. It was like cutting through butter, honestly. There was no work involved whatsoever. It was unbelievable. In no time flat, those florets were doing their dance of individual happiness in my pot.

I had to wait for it to finish cooking, as I needed 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water in order to prepare the sauce. The sauce was a roux, a mixture of butter and flour, into which you pour the cooking water and a mixture of heavy cream and 2 egg yolks. It bubbles up beautifully, though I did use the whisk to make it nice and smooth as the butter and flour clumped up some and didn't want to cooperate with joining the water. Once that came together, I added a dash of nutmeg--exactly what the directions said, "a dash".

Once that was combined and bubbling away merrily, I put the cauliflower into a greased pie plate (I didn't have a casserole dish) and poured the sauce over it. Then I sprinkled on some cheese, drizzled with melted butter, and it was ready for a 'medium oven' which I took to mean 350. I turned the oven on to pre-heat and got back to business with the meat.

I hacked up the steak and chorizo. The recipe also suggested using 16 mushrooms as part of the dish, I guess to give it at least a semblance of vegetation. I was not, however, foolish enough to think that I could convince the General to eat some mushrooms, so I cut this down a bit into an amount that I would eat, although to be honest, we had leftover mushrooms! I was VERY proud of him, however, as he did say he would at least try the cauliflower. He is very adventurous, perhaps more adventurous than I!

But I digress. The recipe said each meat should be on its own separate skewer and then all skewers should be grilled on a medium grill for approximately 10 minutes, during which time they are continually brushed with vegetable oil.

Ok, there are a number of flaws with this particular approach to Barbecue de Brazil.

1. Our grill. It was humorously dubbed "Vesuvius" by my father-in-law, and that is, in fact, what we now call it. The thing is massive, three burners, stainless steel, a real hulk. Regulating the heat on it is an adventure under the best of circumstances.

2. Virginia is in the midst of a definite cold snap. During the last few days, the temperatures have dropped to the single digits. I'll be damned if I'm going to stand outside (did I mention I didn't actually get dressed today?) in my pajamas for 10 minutes basting meat over a tempramental grill when it's 25 degrees outside.

3. Did I mention I'm not feeling well? Let's not tempt fate. I have a lot of cooking and an inauguration party to go to, and I want to get it all done. And I won't be able to if I'm not feeling well.

So, I decided to pull out our big George Foreman grill. We've got a monster Foreman grill too. Both Vesuvius and the Foreman were purchased for me by my dad (although I think when he got me the Foreman, my mom was also involved in its purchase). As you can tell from the size of them, my dad doesn't do anything halfway. He's very much the "go big or go home" type. This is, however, fortunate, when it comes to a project like this one where I need a good sized grilling surface.

However, I was again nervous. I still had to get the rice cooker going, and our breakers have a nasty habit of tripping if we get too many electrical gadgets going at once in the kitchen. I decided to plug the rice cooker in over by the refrigerator and the Foreman grill in over by the stove on the off chance they are on separate breakers, or that perhaps fate would intervene and I'd be able to cook without having to run up and down the stairs fixing the breaker and then trying to cook rice in the living room.

Thus, it occurred to me that I needed to get the rice going. I tenderly unpacked the rice cooker and washed out the innards. I read the rice recipe directions and got my ingredients ready.

It is a very simple recipe with basically 4 ingredients: rice, onions, olive oil, and water. I was fortunate to be able to avoid chopping onions because, as you can see, we had TONS of onions left over from last weekend's activities, so I guesstimated that 1 onion would be approximately 1 cup chopped, and used that as my guide. The recipe dictated that the onions should be sauteed in olive oil until soft, and then the rice should be added for one minute. The rice cooker directions dictated that the rice must be rinsed before being added to the rice cooker. So I rinsed first, then added them to the onions, then poured everything into the rice cooker insert, and added the water. I gingerly placed the basket into the appliance and prepared myself to be wowed by the gratification of rice cooking.

I pushed the "brown rice" button on the cooker, and it started doing its happy rice cooker thing. I gazed in wonder at the instructions, which assured me that I could even steam food over the rice and have an one pot dinner with this machine.

"Hmm," I thought to myself, "I wonder how long that will take and when I should start the meat?"

So I came to the conclusion that I should probably look up the cooking times for brown rice. I had a client who I taught to use a rice cooker, and it was pretty instantaneous. So I figured it would take 30 minutes at the most. And then I turned to the cooking chart. For the amount of brown rice I was preparing (8 ounces), the rice cooker would requre 1:45-2:00. My heart skipped a beat. However, since this fell under the "Minutes Cooking" column, I thought foolishly, optimistically, stupidly, that perhaps this meant one minute, forty five seconds. Still, the masochist in me thought we should look at the rice cooking times for white rice, and plain as day under the "Minutes Cooking" column, I saw 30 minutes.

Two hours!? TWO STUPID HOURS to cook brown rice?! No wonder my brown rice never tastes done!!!!! Well, it was too late anyway, the dish was in there, everything had been fried, rinsed, drained, etc. So I'd just have to have a rice course. (The General, of course, had opted out of rice and requested mashed potatoes.)

Ok, so back to the meat and mushrooms and pie. By now, the grill was well and truly hot, so it was time to start cooking. I put the torta into the oven and turned my attention to the barbecue. As I mentioned earlier, I was concerned that the lime juice was going to pre-cook the chicken, and so I decided to cook that first, as the outside layer actually did look kind of cooked to me.

I needed not worry, however. I wish, honestly, I could transmit smell to you via this blog. As soon as the chicken hit the grill, the most heavenly smells of lime and garlic began to permeate the air, and the kitchen became an oasis of delicious smells. Even The General came down from the football game to say how good it smelled in there.

Once the chicken was done, I put on the chorizo, beef, and mushroom skewers, a few at a time. I was somewhat concerned about the beef. The chicken had been nicely marinated. The chorizo has a very strong flavor, but one that Michael and I are already familiar with and love, as it is a popular sausage in Portugese cooking and his mother is 1/2 Portugese. Most of the population of Fall River, MA--the neighboring town to his hometown of Tiverton RI--it seems is Portugese, and so when his parents come to visit, they bring us chorizo a lot. One of the first meals I had at the Kosiors' home was a chorizo sub. So I wasn't concerned about the flavor of that. However, I did expect that the beef would be rather unappetizing as plain ole beef. And the General and I are not exactly steak people to begin with. I checked the recipe to make sure that I shouldn't have done anything to it, but the only mention I could find of anything that addressed my concerns was that the entire dish should be served with the salsa of my choice. I rummaged through the cupboards and found a bottle of Pace salsa, and the General said he'd have ketchup, so we were saved from bland beef land.

Everything cooked up beautifully. Unfortunately, there were still 2 minutes left of the football game and it looked for a moment as if the Eagles might mount a comeback, so we waited a few minutes to see if that would be the case (it was not--the Cardinals won).

Once the game was over and I ascertained that the rice was cooking merrily, albeit slowly along, I got everything dished up. We each had some of the meat, and the General had mashed potatoes. I decided to hold off on the potatoes because I wanted to try the rice later. I had some mushrooms and cauliflower, which he declined.

My plate

However, midway through the meal, as I was exclaiming how delicious the cauliflower was, he told me to give him some on a fork and he would try it.

This is the unhappy face of a man who does not like cauliflower. But honestly, I'm just proud of him that he tried it.

We both agreed that we really, really liked the meal. We also both agreed that if we eat it in the future, it will be without the steak. The General stated firmly during dinner, "I think I've outgrown steak." I concur. I have eaten as much steak in 2009 as I ate in all of 2008, and it's plenty. Not to say we won't eat beef--the food we have planned for our Maltese meal is another beef dish. But we won't be sitting down to just a piece of steak on a plate.

The chicken was delicious. The lime was such a bright flavor, for lack of a better term, but not overpoweringly so. The torta was probably the best cooked cauliflower I've ever eaten, although no doubt it was helped immeasurably by the butter, cheese, and cream. I was impressed by the chorizo--it's not as good as what you can get in Fall River, but considering it came from a regular grocery store, we both thought it was quite tasty. The mushrooms had picked up a lot of flavors off the grill, and were absolute heaven.

The rice cooker finally dinged at 8:30 and I must say, it looked and smelled pretty good when I opened the lid and let the rice have a quick stir, before putting the lid back on for another 10 minutes, per the cooker's instructions. When it was finally done, it looked like this:

I had a taste of it, and honestly, particularly for brown rice, which I'm not too nuts about, I have to say it was pretty good! It was certainly the best brown rice I've ever eaten. I made up a small dish of what I supposed the finished product could have looked like if everything had been done at the same time.

I said over dinner, "Well, if we ever find ourselves in Brazil, we definitely won't go hungry!" It was a great choice of country and we had a great meal and have plenty of leftovers for lunch or whatever. I'm hoping to feel better soon so I can enjoy more good food as we cook Maltese tomorrow!

Recipe Links:

1. Torta de Couve-Fleur
2. Barbecue de Brasil
3. Brazilian Rice

Mashed potatos by Betty Crocker :-)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spain: Tapas and Shrimp

Last night my book club met and our dinner theme was tapas. I was excited because not only do I love, love, love tapas, but the theme fit in nicely for my new cooking goal! I did some research and came upon the site, which claims to have authentic recipes from Spain. It is a great site, and some of the foods my Lit Chicks were mentioning bringing were mentioned on the site, so I decided it must be pretty authentic. I selected two shrimp recipes to prepare: prawn and bacon brochettes and torillas de camarones (shrimp fritters). I was also tremendously excited by the prospect of breaking in my new Wusthof knife, a gift from Elizabeth who read my knife lament in the Coq Au Vin entry. Thank you, Elizabeth!

The recipes looked pretty easy, which is why I selected two of them. I made my shopping list and went and picked up supplies. This was not easy, however, and unfortunately I didn't have a whole lot of time to go running around looking for things. So, I was forced to substitute medium shrimp for small shrimp, which my local grocery store elected not to carry, and also I was unable to find pimentos, but I accept that maybe I was not looking in the right place. Additionally, my store didn't carry thinly sliced bacon--my choices were thick cut and center cut, so I went with the center cut, which looked a bit thinner than the thick cut, but was not what I would call thin by any stretch of the imagination.

Ok, so I'll start with the tortillas de camarones. This was a recipe I had high hopes for. I love shrimp and I love fried anything. The recipe looked pretty straightforward. It called for either chickpea or regular flour, and I went with regular as my local store didn't appear interested in carrying chickpea flour either!! (What was it interested in carrying!?) I peeled and boiled up the shrimp as directed, reserving some of the water. I put the shrimp and the water in the refrigerator. What was most maddening about this recipe as I read it was that EVERYTHING had to be cooled. You heat the shrimp, then you cool it. You boil the water, then you cool it. And to be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of time.

As soon as that was going, I started chopping up the green onions. Usually this is a task that is a royal pain in the butt. But not problem with my new knife! The onions were literally falling apart at the slightest touch of that thing. I experimented with the cuts, cutting thick slices and thin, paper thin in fact. Honestly, it reduced strain and pain and work by a thousand percent. I've got to get some more of these--at the very least I need to pick up a Wusthof chef's knife.

So I got that all chopped up beautifully and began to prepare the batter for the fritters. It was a very simple batter--flour, salt, onions, parsley, and the pimientos I would have added if I'd have found them. After mixing that together, I slowly poured in the water and it became a nice batter.

And guess what?! It needed to be refrigerated for at least an hour! AUGH! By now it was 4:30 and it was getting close to time for me to leave to head north for book club. I quickly put the bowl of batter in the fridge to start cooling off. I also needed to chop the shrimp. The shrimp was supposed to be the size of coffee grounds, and so I decided I could either stand there all night chopping shrimp or I could bust out the food processor, which is what I did, taking the path of least resistance. I pulsed them instead of letting it run, since I didn't want shrimp paste. I kept a very close eye on them, so I actually did a good job with getting them chopped into little bits. I wouldn't say they were coffee ground sized, but they were definitely teeny tiny.

Ok, so all that went in the fridge, and then I had to decide how to transport everything to Alexandria, keep it cool so that it could somewhat refrigerate until I got there and be an appropriate temperature and be ready to cook. I spied the leftover disposable pans from our dinner party on Saturday and decided to construct a mobile refrigeration unit. I scraped the batter into a Ziploc container, and put it in the middle of a pan, and then surrounded it with ice cubes. The shrimp went into a second container, which I put in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack.

This may seem excessively fussy, but the recipe said the fritters should be served immediately, so I was concerned that I would be able to cook them as close to time for book club (7:30) as possible. I was determined to cook them up north.

Ok, time to move on to the prawn and bacon brochettes. These were going to be relatively easy. Wrap shrimp in bacon, skewer, season, roast. Which is pretty much what I did. However, because the shrimp had to be skewered through both the tail and the fat part of the shrimp, I recommend you wrap the shrimp so that the loose "end" of the bacon is either at the tail or the fat part so that it'll stay skewered, laying the shrimp on the bacon like so:

If you start out by putting the first loose end right on top in the middle of your shrimp and then wrapping it around, ending where the skewer goes in, your little bundle should hold together quite nicely.

Because my skewers were pretty large, I put 4 shrimp per skewer. I didn't add much salt due to the bacon being pretty salty, but I did grind black pepper over them and drizzle them with olive oil a bit. I thought they looked quite pretty when laid out.

Everything prepared, I put these on ice as well, and loaded up the car, hauling butt up to Alexandria. I made it in about 45 minutes, which was not bad considering I left at 5:00 and once you hit the Beltway in Alexandria, you never know what's going to happen. As soon as I got there, it was time to start cooking!

I preheated the oven for the brochettes and began heating the oil for the fritters. I unpacked all the supplies and mixed the little minced pieces of shrimp into the batter. Then I began scooping them by the tablespoonful into the hot oil.

This turned out to be a little bit of a challenge, as after they were in the oil, they had to be pressed to a 3 1/2 inch disk and could only cook for one minute per side. This called for SPEED. I must say, I probably didn't do as well as I could--they certainly weren't three inches in diameter, but they were thin and crispy on the outside, which is all I could hope for. I let them cook a bit longer than 2 minutes.

When the first batch was done, I tried one and thought it was a little bit bland, honestly. I had my sister try it and she thought they were a little tasteless too. I made another batch, and same thing. So I finally decided to doctor them. I added some seasoning salt, a little minced onion, and a pile of garlic paste to the second half of the batter. It improved them some, but honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by this particular dish. And I can't honestly think that adding a half teaspoon of pimentos would make that much of a difference. It did help when they were done and I drizzled lemon juice over them, but not really enough to say so.

Meanwhile, I put the brochettes into the hot oven (425 degrees). After the recommended cooking time, they looked a little iffy to me, the bacon was rather pale. So I left them in an extra few minutes until they were really sizzling.

Again, I considered these just alright, if I'm being honest. Some of the girls in the book club seemed to really enjoy these appetizers, but there were A LOT of leftovers, and in this crowd, people eat very well (my sister brought a HUGE dish of mini cream puffs and eclairs and they were G-O-N-E gone). So I would have to speculate that these were not a huge hit.

In fact, typically if I have book club leftovers, I'll bring them home, but I wound up sending these suckers home with Judy last night. I didn't hate them, I just didn't love them.

I think I will have to re-visit Spain in the future, and perhaps make paella or something else interesting. All the other tapas we had last night was really, really good, and other tapas I've had is fantastic, so I know it can be good, and I don't happen to think that I particularly screwed up the recipes or anything. I think I may have just hit on a couple of duds!

Two countries down, 78 to go. Planning on trying to find Kenyan and Indonesian recipes for inauguration day. I've eaten Indonesian food before and really enjoyed it, but have no idea about recipes for Kenya! And the General has requested our next experiment be something from South America, so I am actively scouting out recipes from South America as well--perhaps Brazil? If anyone has any great, authentic recipes, lay 'em on me!

Happy eating!