International Meals – Guinea

Back when we did Equatorial Guinea, we pointed out why there are so many “Guinea” countries, and the answer is essentially: because imperialism. We’re now on to the second of the four, the tiny west African country of Guinea. This one was formerly French Guinea, so we’ve got some French influences here.

We decided to make a drink, a desert, and a main dish, so lets start with the drink.  There’s really not much to photograph – it’s a TON of grated ginger, which you soak in boiling water with cloves, cinnamon, and sugar.  Then you strain it and mix in some orange and lime juice.  Here it is in a pitcher:

Ginger Drink

However, what it lacks in photogenicness. Photogenesis? Photogenicism? it makes up for in being SUPER DUPER TASTY.  Ginger, cinnamon, and sugar – what’s not to…

hey… is this a pumpkin spice orange juice?

Never mind, don’t care, it’s good.

Next up was the main dish.  We’re making Konkoé Turé Gbéli, or smoked catfish in sauce.  Obviously, our first ingredient needed to be smoked catfish, so I picked up a whole bag of these bad boys from the local African grocer.

Smoked catfish

They were very, very intense smelling when we opened the bag.  They are also not in any way deboned – as far as we can tell, you’re just supposed to crunch right through them.

You toss the fish into a big pot of boiling water to start softening up, and then make a sauce by blending garlic, onions, scallions, tomatoes, and a hot pepper of some sort.  We used half a Scotch bonnet, on the theory that that was vaguely authentic to the region. This all gets pureed, then added to the cooking pot:

Blended sauce

Next up, veg!  This recipe called for a mix of okra, eggplant, carrot, and potatoes.  Into the pot with them as well!

Veg.

After cooking for a while until the potatoes are done, the dish is finished with a bit of red palm oil.

Red palm oil

Also shown – rice cooker making okra rice.  We did this wrong, as it turns out – the recipe called for cooking the okra separately and mixing it in at the end, but we just tossed the okra in with the rice while it was cooking.  It didn’t seem to cause any problems.

Back to the subject of the palm oil, however – this is a ubiquitous ingredient in west Africa, but we’ve had a very mixed relationship with it.  The recipe called for a “glass” of the stuff, and having no idea how much that represented, we put in maybe a tablespoon or two.

And here’s the final stew!

Guinean fish stew

So how was it?

It was not really to our taste.  Now I want to be clear – any time we make a dish that we aren’t terribly fond of on this project, we are adamant that there’s two possible explanations – we didn’t do it right, or our palates just aren’t attuned to this flavor palette. We will NEVER say – “This is a bad recipe.”  We WILL say “We probably didn’t do this right,” and “This is just not something we are accustomed to.”

In this case, I think it was a bit of both.  On the flawed execution side, the potatoes were definitely undercooked – we probably cut them a bit too big.  On the personal preference side – the catfish was really, really smoky.  Combined with the intense flavor of the red palm oil, you have a very dark, somewhat oily personality to the dish, which was further pushed in that direction by the eggplant.  I can understand how this dish could be a real treat if your preference is for those kind of flavors – it is definitely not an understated meal.

Speaking of flawed execution… For dessert, we decided to follow the French influence and make a mango and banana tarte tartin.  That’s a dessert cooked upside down – you make a layer of caramel, layer in fruits, top with a short crust pastry, bake until done, and then flip over.

Those last two words hide a multitude of ways to go wrong.

Here’s the hot caramel in the pie dish:

Fruit on top: (there’s banana under the mango)

Fruit in pie dish

Add the pie crust and bake until it is nice and bubbly around the edges:

Baked pie crust

At this point, you theoretically just wait for it to cool a bit, and then flip the whole pile over, as the caramel solidifies into a nice gooey tart.

Yeah, about that.  Our caramel never set.  The recipe was a bit short on detail, and didn’t say exactly when to add the butter to the caramel.  Turns out, you DON’T do that at the beginning, or you just get toasted buttery sugar syrup, not caramel.  It was still TASTY, of course, but we had to just leave it in the pan and scoop slices out with a spoon.

Tarte tartin (sort of)

The crust was tasty, and you definitely don’t get a soggy bottom if it just stays on top.  And really – tropical fruit soaked in sugar syrup isn’t NOT going to be delicious.

So that’s Guinea.  We’re sorry we didn’t find the main dish more appealing, but we polished off the tarte and the drink, and next time we’re staying right next door for the Portuguese colonized Guinea-Bisseau.

Recipes:

 

 

International Meals – Guatemala

I have to admit, I’m not very good at Central American geography.  I can pick out Panama on a map, and Belize, for some reason, but the rest I have to check.  The irony is that having typed that first sentence, and on looking at a map, I discovered that that Guatemala actually claims ownership OF Belize. Interesting.

But for today we’re talking about Guatemalan food, which is an interesting combination of indigenous food traditions and colonial influences.  There’s no officially designated national dish, but we’re going to be making a likely candidate – a chicken stew called pepián.

So to start, we need chicken.

Chicken

Look! Chicken!

Moving on.

What differentiates this stew is the thick, red sauce, the preparation of which is ninety percent of the effort in making this dish.

First we toast a bunch of stuff.  In separate batches, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and a cinnamon stick:

Toasted seed

Then a bunch of veg – onions, tomatoes, and two different kinds of dried chilis:

Charred vegetables

Then a couple of corn tortillas:

Corn tortillas toasting

Finally, EVERYTHING goes in the food processor, along with some cilantro. (The chicken does not go in the food processor.)

Pepian sauce

While we aren’t pureeing a bird, the sauce IS supposed to get some stock at this point, and the recipe calls for mixing it in the food processor, but we had definitely reached capacity, so instead we mixed everything in the cooking pot and tossed in the chicken to continue cooking.

The recipe also calls for the helpfully unspecific “vegetables.”  There are many possibilities, but we decided to go with our old central American friend, the chayote.

Chayote

That get cooked separately so it doesn’t go mushy in the stew.

Cooking chayote

And finally, everything gets put together and served with corn tortillas:

Pepian de pollo

This was delicious. The sauce was very thick and textured, and had a great flavor from the seeds and the charred vegetables.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of a molé sauce without the dark ingredients like chocolate.  In theory, it would have been typical to serve it over rice but… well, we forgot to make rice.  It was still excellent, and we ate the leftovers with nice crusty bread.

We did make a dessert as well, a sesame seed cookie called Champaduras. For this, we got to buy one new-to-us ingredient, Piloncillo sugar.

Piloncillo sugar

It turns out to be somewhat difficult to work with, and I don’t think we got it crushed down as fine as we were supposed to.

In terms of method, it’s a pretty standard cookie.  Mix dry ingredients.

Dry cookie ingredients

Decide sugar bits are too big, remove to mortar and pestle to mangle for  a bit.  Return to bowl.  (This definitely was NOT in the recipe.) Cream in butter and sugar to make a dough.  After resting, roll out dough and cut cookies.

Cookies being cut out

Bake in the oven and top with sesame seeds, and you have a delicious, not terribly sweet cookie.

Champurradas cookies

They were a nice crispy/chewy shortbread.  I took them into work the next day, and my coworkers claimed to like them too.

And that’s Guatemala!  A tasty Mayan influenced stew and some cookies – what’s not to like?  Next up, we travel back to west Africa to explore Guinean cuisine.

Recipes:
Pepián de Pollo
Champurradas

International Meals – Grenada

“The pig tails are in the bucket on the trolley.”

I have to be honest, that is NOT the response we were expecting.  “Sorry, we don’t have that,” was probably at the top of the list, followed by, “Oh, they’re in the freezer.”

What we were NOT expecting was to be informed that the, you know, MEAT, was in a ten gallon bucket of room-temperature liquid in an extremely rusty old shopping cart at the back of the store.  But there it was.

To be fair, said meat was salted within an inch of its little piggy life, so there was probably not any more to worry about than a ham sitting on a stand at a deli.  Let’s hope, anyway.

We were at the Caribbean market (store name: “Caribbean Market”) to purchase ingredients to make the national dish of Grenada, a country most Americans know (if they know it at all) as the target of an invasion by Ronald Reagan in 1983.  Grenada now has their version of the Thanksgiving holiday on October 25th to celebrate that occasion.  Coincidentally enough, we were planning to make our Grenadian meal a few weeks early on CANADIAN Thanksgiving, despite the fact that Canada publicly condemned the invasion.

It’s all very complicated.

In addition to the pigtails, pictured later, we also bought a breadfruit and some other veg:

Veg with googly eyes.

The breadfruit is the one on the upper left.  Carrot, lemon, and banana (BANANA!) are hopefully obvious.  The small pumpkin-looking object is actually a Kuri squash, standing in for actual pumpkin because a full sized pumpkin produces WAY more pumpkin than we were prepared to commit to.

Many recipes we’ve made from both Africa and the Caribbean thus far have called for amaranth or calalou, a leaf which is similar to, but not quite the same as, spinach.  At the Caribbean Market, we finally found some! Canned, but authentic nonetheless. We also got bottle of a green seasoning called (checks notes) Green Seasoning.

OK, so, fully stocked now, what are we making?  A stew! Because we’re stocked up!

Stocked up! Get it?

Never mind.

The national dish of Grenada is something called an “Oil Down”.  I got distracted doing the research for this by just how much of the Wikipedia article for the dish was unsourced copyright violations and went on a bit of a deletion spree there.  That’s an important part of cooking, right?

The gist is that “Oil Down” is a stew that can contain a wide variety of ingredients, but the items which are generally common to most iterations are: some kind of salted meat or fish, breadfruit, and coconut milk seasoned with “saffron.”  The scare quotes are there to point out that what Grenadians refer to as saffron, the rest of the world calls turmeric.

Past those basics, you can put almost anything in an oil down.  Oil Down can also refer to the neighborhood party where the stew is assembled, simmered and consumed.  It appears to be a dish where the history of the gender roles is similar to that in the US around barbeque – women have historically primarily been expected to do the cooking, but for a weekend Oil Down, the men take over the pot.  Sigh.

At any rate, lets get cooking.  First, we boil the living daylights out of the pigtails to make them marginally  less scary, and also to try to extract some of the salt.

Boiling pigtails

While that’s going, we marinate chicken thighs in the green “Green Seasoning” seasoning.

Chicken with green sauce

We also chop up a LOT of veg.  Most of them are pretty straightforward, but here’s what a breadfruit looks like on the inside:

Halved breadfruit

You carve out the middle bit and throw it away, then peel the skin and discard that, which still leaves you with a LOT of breadfruit.  It’s got a pleasantly citrus-y smell, and  tastes like a very, very slightly acidic sweet potato.

With all the mise en placed, the actual assembly is just a question of layering. And with that, we give you the first animated .gif in the history of this blog:

Stew layering

In order, those layers are:

  • Chicken with green sauce
  • Pig Tails
  • Breadfruit
  • Banana
  • Carrot
  • Pumpkin
  • Okra
  • Calalou
  • Dumplings (these were actually added about half an hour into the cooking time)

The entire pot is then filled with turmeric laced coconut milk, and left to simmer for a very long time, interrupted by the addition of the simple flour-and-water dumplings part way through.

The reason the dish is called “Oil Down” in the first place is that by the end of the cooking, most of the coconut milk and oil has been absorbed into the rest of the ingredients, resulting in a rich, tasty stew dyed yellow by the turmeric.

The verdict was that this was pretty darn good!  All the flavors had blended together to produce something with the smoothness of the coconut milk, the salt and umami from the pigtails, and the diversity of textures from the various vegetables. Interestingly, there was basically no trace of the pumpkin left – it had more or less completely dissolved. We salute its sacrifice to the hearty texture of the broth!

It was a great meal to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving.  Don’t ask us why.  At least we’re not celebrating Reagan sending in the Marine Corps.

Next time, we stay in the western hemisphere for Guatemala!

Recipe:
Oil Down

International Meals – Greece

Greece is the first country on this list since France that we’ve both actually visited.  In fact, writing up our trip to Greece was the reason we started this blog in the first place.  You can read all about our adventures there starting from this post. It’s a fun ride – we go lots of interesting places and eat lots of stuff.

But speaking of eating stuff, what’s on tap for THIS meal?  When you look up “National Dish of Greece,” you get a number of possibilities, but one which scores surprisingly high is Fasolatha, which is a white bean stew.  (Another one is Moussaka, but neither of us are huge fans of eggplant, and there were plenty of other options.)  We decided to make that, grill some souvlaki, and make a dish of braised green beans, Fasolakia, as another vegetable.

Our original plan was to follow this with custard filled pastries for dessert, but those turned out to be too much to squeeze in after we returned from a grueling hike in the morning, so we made a pie called melopita instead, which we will talk about in due course.

This meal did require a bit of forward planning, as both the beans and chicken for the souvlaki had to soak overnight.  The beans just in plain water, but the chicken was in a yogurt based marinade that also included olive oil, oregano, lemon, garlic, and paprika.  Welcome to Greece!

Marinade ingredientsSouvlaki marinating

The day of, we had two different bean dishes to cook, both of which had rather long cooking times, but fortunately, the schedules overlapped such that we could get one cooking before we started the second.  So for our first trick, the white bean stew.

After soaking the beans overnight, they get a 30 minute or so boil in water to soften ’em up a bit.  Wouldn’t want those beans getting too complacent.  Um.

That accomplished, the stew starts with onion, carrot, and celery, your classic mirepoix, although probably not diced finely enough to really warrant that term, cooked in a whole lot of olive oil.

 

Mirepoix

Next up, beans, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper.  We found GREEK tomato sauce, so we were proud of ourselves!

Tomato sauce

Yeah, about that.  A) that’s not sauce, as it turns out – it’s paste. B) It’s also Turkish, not Greek.  Oh well – into the pot it went, with a bit more water to balance the fact that it’s paste and not sauce.  And this then just cooks for a long time while we move on to the green beans.

Sadly, we didn’t get a bunch of pictures of this one cooking, but that’s because it was so little WORK there was almost nothing to photograph. Cook more onions in more olive oil (seriously, we used like half a bottle of olive oil for this meal) Add garlic, green beans, a large can of crushed tomatoes, and some red pepper flakes and dill.  Cook until tender.

With those both going, and timed to be ready at roughly the same time, it was time to fire up the grill for the souvlaki.  Sadly, it was pretty gloomy outside, so we didn’t take any pictures.  In fact, we have no more “in process” pictures at all.

But we put meet on sticks and grilled it.  It smelled like grilling meat on sticks, i.e. AMAZING. Finally, we fried up some grilling cheese (apparently setting it on fire is more of a Greek-American thing), and put everything on plates, topping the souvlaki with a lemon juice / olive oil dressing.  They looked like this:

Greek Meal

Doesn’t that look delicious?  It really, really was.  The real star of the show, to my surprise was the green bean dish: fasolakia.  Everything was good, but that to me was the dish that stood out the most – the dill and the garlic just did something magic to the tomato sauce.  The souvlaki was tasty grilled meat, and the soup was hearty and filling. We would make any of these again in a heartbeat.

For dessert, since we decided the pastries would take too long to sort, we made a honey pie, which may be the easiest desert we have ever made.  Here’s the method:

Mix five ingredients in a bowl.  Put the batter in a pan.  Bake it.

That’s it.  The ingredients are nothing more than ricotta cheese (this would be a different, but similar cheese in Greece itself), honey, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix, pour, bake, done.

Melopita

The edges are a little rough because we ran out of cornstarch, so the sides stuck to the pan.  But it was heavenly, and it set up nicely.

We have not yet shared the very best part of this meal yet, however.  The very best part of this meal was that we SHARED IT WITH OTHER PEOPLE!  For the first time since BULGARIA, we actually cooked for more than just the two of us, and it was fantastic to finally have friends over for a meal and a board game. They brought cocktails, too!

FRANDS!

Pandemics are stupid, and you should get vaccinated if you aren’t already.

As a postscript, we DID make those pastries a few nights later when we had time. Bougatsa are custard filled phyllo pastries, giving us the chance to remind ourselves once again that phyllo is a harsh mistress.

They start with a custard made from butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and semolina flour, which you are supposed to add a LOT earlier in the process than we remembered to.

Custard cooking

If you add the semolina too fast or too late (we did both) it gets lumpy.  On the other hand, if you just leave it out, it never thickens at all.  So we had a slightly lumpy custard to spread on our phyllo sheets.

Custard on phyllo sheets

These get wrapped up into perfectly, 100% regular packets, covered with a completely uniform brushing of butter.  No differences or irregularities whatsoever.

Unbaked pastries

Nailed it.

Still, as long as you considered them individually, and don’t think about the second one from the bottom on the left, they turned out fine – crispy and sweet, and what’s not to like about a custard pastry?

Baked pastry

And that’s Greece!  It was tasty, took us back to our blogging roots, and let us HAVE DINNER WITH ACTUAL OTHER PEOPLE! YAY!

Next up, we take a culinary adventure to Grenada, hopefully unaccompanied by Marines.

Recipes:
Souvlaki
Fasolatha
Fasolakia
Melopita
Bougatsa

International Meals – Ghana

“How do you know our food?”

The nice lady at the African grocery store was VERY confused.  Why was this clearly non-African person asking for kenkey and shito?

When I explained about our little “cook the world” project, she seemed skeptical, but on the other hand, when I asked again for kenkey, she said “Oh, you must be doing Ghana now!”  So at least we think this dish is authentic.

Why did we choose to buy kenkey this time?  Because the internet said it was a Ghanaian staple.  Why are we going to drive BACK to that store to buy MORE kenkey?  Because it’s f-ing DELICIOUS, that’s why! Kenkey is GOING AWAY my favorite African starch so far.  Like, it’s not even close.

So what IS kenkey?  It’s fermented corn dough, steamed in a corn husk. Here’s what it looks like still frozen, along with the rest of our haul from the grocery store:

Kenkey, shito, and tiger nuts

If “corn dough in a corn husk” sounds like a tamale to you, you’re right – the textures are VERY similar. But the other key word here is “fermented.” As in sour.  That’s right – this is a sourdough tamale.  If that sounds awesome to you, then you’re right! (We’ll talk about the other ingredients in this picture in good time.)

Fully steamed, the kenkey looks like this:
Steamed kenkey
Sadly, we didn’t realize that “fully steamed” takes about two hours, so we didn’t get to try these until an hour or so AFTER we’d eaten the rest of the meal.  But that’s fine – they were great as leftovers, too.

When I told the lady at the African grocer that we were planning to make Jollof Rice for our main dish, she harrumphed a bit at that.  “We’re Nigerian – our version is better than the Ghanaian version.” After I got home, we did a little reading, and realized that there’s a HUGE rivalry over this dish between the two countries, which is hilarious, because it’s originally from Senegal.

But today’s project is Ghana, so here we go.  Ghanaian Jollof Rice is a tomato rice dish, which can be made with or without meat.  We decided to go with a chicken version, so we started by browning some chicken in oil. (With some onions, of course, because EVERY recipe starts with cooking onions.)  We probably should have used red palm oil, but the cookbook called for peanut, so we went with that.

Chicken browning

After that, you brown off some aromatics and thyme in the same pan.

To finish the preparations, you pour in some tomato paste, tomatoes, and stock and cook that down a little.  Finally all of this gets tossed into a heavy pot with long grain rice.  Apparently, one difference between Ghanaian and Nigerian versions of this dish is that Nigerians will parboil the rice first.  (Or use a precooked rice like Uncle Ben’s.)

And that’s it – the pot goes into the oven to simmer for a while until the rice is cooked and the chicken is tender.  At the end, you stir in some veg.  (I am embarrassed to report that we used frozen mixed veg, but it worked OK.) And what comes out is not at all unlike jambalaya, which is of course, not surprising, given the origins of jambalaya.

Finally, this is served with the second ingredient from the photo above – shito sauce.  Shito is a condiment made with chili peppers and shrimp.  It’s hot and fishy and salty and a giant umami bomb.  The recipe for making it says that your house will smell like fish for DAYS afterward, so we decided to just get it out of a can.  No regrets at ALL – it was excellent.

Deserts other than fresh fruit are apparently not a huge thing in Ghana, but one recipe caught our eye, and since the grocery store had it, we decided to give it a go – tiger nut pudding.

Tiger nuts are the tuber of the Yellow Nutsedge plant, which is cultivated specifically for this purpose in many parts of the world, and cursed as an invasive weed in many OTHER parts of the world.  Wikipedia specifically mentions its affinity for golf courses, oddly enough.  If you’ve had horchata anywhere BUT Latin America, it was probably made from tiger nuts.

To make tiger nut pudding (or horchata, it’s basically the same process), first you grind them to a fine paste with some water in a food processor.  These suckers are HARD, so it does take a while.

Ground Tiger Nuts

Once they’re ground, you add a bit more liquid, then put the whole mess into some cheesecloth and strain the liquid back out.

Tiger nut paste being strained

You soak the nuts with a little more liquid and strain that too. And then you take the nuts and… throw them away.  It’s the liquid we’re after.

At this point, you’ve got your drink – you could stop there, but we’re trying to make pudding.  So in goes the sugar, and onto the heat goes the pot.

Tiger nut pudding cooking

After a few minutes of stirring, the mixture thickens.  This always amazes me when it happens.  Chemistry is magic.  The thickened mixture goes into some ramekins, and after we finished our rice, we had tasty pudding. (And an hour left to go on the kenkey.)

Tiger nut pudding

In terms of flavor, it was subtle – reminiscent of cinnamon or clove, but not really either.  It was definitely its own thing, and a tasty thing it was.

And that was our Ghanaian meal!  We are DEFINITELY going to be going back to that grocery store in the future – after all, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau are both on the horizon.  But even if they weren’t – I’d want to toss some kenkey in the freezer and get a few more cans of shito.  Ghana’s definitely got it going on in the food department.

Next up, a country that we’ve not only visited, but we’ve even documented right here on this blog – Greece!

Recipes were from The Ghana Cookbook, by Fran Osseo-Asare & Barbara Baëta.  Here’s a link to some similar recipes from the internets:

Ghanaian Jollof Rice
Tiger Nut Pudding
Ga Kenkey (although our recipe was “buy from store, then steam.”)
Shito Sauce (us: “open can, eat”)

 

International Meals – Germany

It’s been a few weeks, both since our last post, and since we made this meal.  Our hosting provider decided that we were too small potatoes to justify keeping around, and so we’ve been moving a bunch of websites, email, and other stuff.

But speaking of potatoes…

…which would be a great segue if this meal had actually contained potatoes, but surprisingly enough for a German meal, it didn’t.  Instead we made Sauerbraten, an iconic German dish with rather a long lead time.  Five days before the meal, we made a marinade of veggies, vinegar, red wine, and spices:

Sauerbraten marinade

This gets cooked just a bit to soften everything up, and then in goes the roast:

That goes in the fridge until Sunday, with a periodic flip to make sure both all sides get fully flavored.

On meal day, we made two side dishes and a dessert.  The level of continuous effort involved was REMARKABLY high when you consider that “making” one of the side dishes consisted of opening this jar of cabbage.

Red cabbage

However, all will become clear when we get to talking about the dessert.  In the meantime, my colleague Stephan was kind enough to provide his family recipe for Semmelknödel, or bread dumplings.  In theory, they should be made with stale German rolls, but what we found were more like standard dinner rolls.  We got them a few days ahead of time, but I suspect they still needed to be a bit drier than they were.

Bread rolls being cut up

The cut up rolls get soaked with milk and left to sit for a bit.  Meanwhile you cook some onions in butter, because it’s a recipe, so of course you have to cook onions in fat at some point. Our second potential mistake crops up here – I’m willing to bet we didn’t mince the onions finely enough.  At any rate, you mix the onions with some parsley, and then pour that and a beaten egg over the bread chunks.  That gets formed into dumplings.

And the dumplings get boiled in water until they firm up.

Boiling dumplings

Ours only got semi-firm.  I think we may have gotten the liquid / solid ratio wrong as a result of using the wrong kind of buns.  That said – they were still TASTY, I’m just not sure we did them justice.

Meanwhile, the final cook on the sauerbraten was proceeding.  You pull everything out of the pot, and separate the meat, the liquid, and the vegetables.  First, you brown the meat by itself. Then you pull the meat out of the pot and brown the veggies and some flour in the same oil.

Finally you add the liquid back in along with the meat, honey, raisins, and… wait for it… crushed gingersnaps!

Crushed gingersnaps

The gingersnaps apparently act as a thickening agent, as well as providing flavor. That all cooks for a few hours, and then you pull the roast out and cook the gravy down until it’s the desired thickness.

Interestingly, the recipes I looked at all call for discarding the vegetables at this point.  I was a bit puzzled by that – aren’t they tasty?  I asked Stephan, and he said the concern is food safety – they frequently aren’t cooked with the raw meat, but they are marinated with it, so the habit is apparently to either make a fresh batch of veggies, or just not bother with them.

We decided that since we had cooked the veggies with the meat for two solid hours, they were probably safe, so we plated them with the sliced roast, gravy, dumplings and cabbage.  And a nice doppelbock to go with.

German meal

Sauerbraten, I am pleased to report, is delicious.  Sweet and sour and hearty.  The dumplings clearly have potential, and hopefully we will do a better job of getting them a bit more solid next time.  On the whole, a great meal.

And that’s it.  What could I have forgotten?

Oh right – dessert.

In the classic tradition of “idiots who watch the GBBO and think ‘how hard could it be?'”, we decided to make a Black Forest cake.

Step one – make a sponge.  This involves beating lots of air into lots of things and carefully mixing them together. Here’s some action shots.

Beating egg yolksBeating egg whitesBeating cream

One of those is actually from later, but they made such a nice triptych I couldn’t resist. Upon baking, the sponge is allowed to cool and sliced into three equal pieces.  Equal-ish.  Semi-equal.

OK, not equal.

Sliced cake

You also have to make a sour cherry syrup using a mix of cherries, cherry juice, corn syrup, and in theory, Kirsch.  However, it turns out Kirsch (a cherry liqueur) is super duper expensive, so we left it out.  It made the cake a little drier than it should have been, but $40 CAD for a one-use ingredient was hard to justify.

Cherry filling ingredients

A note on those cherries – I went to three different stores looking for the right kind of sour cherries with no luck, so I finally bought a can of regular cherry pie filling, which isn’t right AT ALL, but would have been something.

Then I walked over to my little neighborhood grocery store because we were out of butter, and they had the right kind. Sigh. At least we got them!

Then, assembly happens! Cake, cherries, whipped cream, cake, cherries, whipped cream, grated chocolate and more cherries. It was a colossal mess.  It was also an honest-to-goodness Black Forest cake.

The cake is a lie

We may not be getting a handshake from Paul for the effort, but it really was tasty.

And that’s Germany!  Internet gods willing, hopefully Ghana will be coming up in the near future.

Recipes:
Sauerbraten
Black Forest Cake
(I don’t have permission to share the dumpling recipe, but you can find other recipes for the dish online.)

International Meals – Georgia

In the before times, we were making one meal every few months – this was a very occasional project.  Since the apocalypse, we’ve been averaging in the neighborhood of one a week.  So the fact that it’s been over a month since our last meal feels a bit weird.

But we were busy moving to a new apartment, so that took a bit of effort.  And it was worth it for a TON of reasons.  You’ll see our new view at the end of this entry, but let’s just start with the kitchen – it’s smaller, but it has a GAS RANGE!  HUZZAH!  Finally when the directions say “lower the heat” under a pot, that’s, you know… possible.

So what’s cooking? Well, we’re up to the Republic of Georgia, which, despite the poor flag-acquisition skills of at least one of the January 6th treasonous morons, is NOT, in fact, in the American South.  Rather, it’s a country with a long and storied history.  It has a unique alphabet, and has been oppressed by some of the most interesting people in history, including Genghis Khan and Josef Stalin.  (This despite, or rather BECAUSE OF, the fact that Stalin was himself from Georgia.)

Let’s go shopping!  I returned to the grocery store where we got the Estonian bread, and found absolutely everything I was looking for.  I also managed to locate a Georgian wine at the local BC Liquor store.

Georgian foodstuffs

Clockwise from upper left – Kindzmaruli wine, Ajika (hot pepper) sauce, Tkemali (sour plum) jam, Sulguni cheese, and Khmeli-Suneli seasoning mix.

You may notice Cyrillic lettering on most of these products, even the cheese, which is entertaining, because it was made in Ontario. However, if you look closely, you can also
see Georgian script on the wine.

The definitive English language reference on Georgian food is a book called The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein.  Yet another awesome thing about our new place is that it is a fifteen minute walk from the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, which has a LOT of cookbooks, including that one.  So all the recipes from this meal are from that there.

The most famous dish from Georgia is probably Khachapuri, which is a cheese stuffed bread.  There’s a million different variants, including one where you stir a raw egg yolk into the hot bread, but we made a fairly basic version. The most common cheese to use for khachapuri is sulguni, pictured above.  Having learned our lesson during the Brazilian meal, we did NOT attempt to grate the entire block by hand.

Cheese and an egg

The entire composition of the filling is visible here – cheese and an egg.

The bread itself was a bit more work.  It’s a standard short dough, where you cut cold butter into flour and then let it rest before adding the remainder of the wet ingredients.

Butter and flour

Other than that, the recipe couldn’t be simpler – roll out the dough, spread cheese on dough, dissuade cat from helping, fold dough over, egg wash, bake.

Cat helping.

That’s Wren.  She’s helping.

I’m somewhat unsure if we did this right.  There seemed to be more filling than was warranted for the amount of dough.

Unbaked cheese bread

Fortunately, we had failed to adjust for having less cheese than the recipe called for, so we were able to take the remaining cheese and stuff it into the extra dough, which made for a small emergency backup cheese bread, to be activated in case of failure of primary cheese bread.

Cheese bread ready for baking

For our main dish, we decided to make Kharcho, a sour beef stew.  The first thing you do is just boil some stew beef with soup bones, bay leaves, parsley, and pepper for a very long time. After 90 minutes or so, you fish out the meat, put the broth back on the boil, and toss in some rice.

Broth cooking

Did I mention we have a gas range now?  Isn’t it purty?

While the rice is cooking, you sauté a LOT of onions in a LOT of butter.

A lot of onions

In this picture, you can see the celebratory new skillet we bought to celebrate the new apartment.  We also got some celebratory cast iron, which will almost certainly be making an appearance in a future meal.

Back in THIS meal, we toss the onions into the broth and add our seasonings, which include garlic, paprika, red pepper, khmeli-suneli, and sour plum jam.

Seasonings going into broth

Let’s talk about those last two.  Khmeli-suneli is a traditional dry spice blend.  The most common ingredients are fenugreek, bay leaves, ground coriander, savory, and dill. Also common, although not easy to find by itself in North America, is marigold seed.  Fortunately, we had the premixed packet shown above.

The souring agent in Georgian soups is normally Tklapi, which is… wait for it… a fruit roll-up.  OK, it’s dried fruit leather, but it’s still funnier to say it that way.  To prepare it for use in the stew, you chop it up, dissolve it in boiling water, and puree it.  Basically, you make a jam.

We didn’t have any Tklapi, but we did have authentic Georgian sour plum jam, so we decided it was fine to just skip a step.  Once everything’s mixed and cooked, you toss in some fresh dill, cilantro, and parsley, and the stew is ready to go!

Finished Georgian stew

Before we get to the glamour shot, lets talk about dessert!  According to the book, desserts aren’t a huge part of Georgian culture, since the meals tend to be enormous on their own, but they do exist, and we decided to make a tea cake.

This tea cake is not, however, “a small flat cake usually made with raisins,” as defined by our friends at Miriam Webster. (At least, we’d like them to be our friends.  They never return our calls.) Rather, it’s a cake MADE with tea.  You start by hideously oversteeping a cup of REALLY strong tea.  Then you cook some sugar until it starts to color, and dissolve it in the tea.

Sugar and tea

Predictably, when you pour the not terribly warm tea on the melty sugar it did the horrible crystallization thing that makes people on the Great British Bake Off openly weep.  However, since we weren’t TRYING to make a caramel, that was fine.  You can’t uncrystallize the sugar, but you CAN dissolve it.

The rest of the cake is a tour of baking’s greatest hits.

Cream butter, sugar, and egg yolks, then add baking soda to some red wine vinegar to make a volcano.

Cake batter in progress

Add some more plum jam to the mixture, and then, since there’s a bowl we haven’t had to wash yet, beat some egg whites to get even more leavening.

Egg whites being folded into batter.

Those get gently folded in, and the whole cake bakes for the better part of an hour.  When it’s done you spread a thick layer of jam on top, and top it with toasted, crushed walnuts.  (This is apparently an unusual Georgian meal in that this was the ONLY dish with walnuts in it – according to the cookbook, they’re quite ubiquitous.) I should also point out that this jam is REALLY tart – you wouldn’t necessarily want to just spread it on toast.  Or maybe you would, but it works well here balanced by the sugar in the cake.

Georgian Tea Cake

So let’s see the whole thing!  Also, the truly TERRIBLE view from our new apartment.

Georgian Meal

Honestly, this isn’t the best shot of the FOOD, because I was trying to get the mountains and the Science World.  But we spend most of our time staring out the window while we’re eating anyway – the view really is amazing.

And so was the food!  The soup was tangy and rich, with lots of interesting spices, but what put the final triumphant touch was mixing in the red pepper paste.  That took it from delicious to transcendently good.  The cheese bread may have been ugly (there’s a reason there’s no OTHER pictures of it) but it was cheese. In bread.  What’s not to like?  And the tea cake is a recipe I will DEFINITELY be hanging onto. The wine was VERY sweet, and I’m not sure I’d drink it all the time, but it was good with the hearty soup.

Next up, the esoteric, unfamiliar cuisine from the exotic, fabled land of… Germany.

Recipes: (Even though we got all of these from a cookbook, they are unsurprisingly available on the web.)

International Meals – The Gambia

Let’s be clear right off the bat – it’s THE Gambia.  Not “A” Gambia. Not “Some” Gambia. Not “His Excellency, Rear Admiral Gambia, Esquire.”  Nope.  THE Gambia.

Leigh went to THE Ohio State University, so we’re used to mandatory definite articles. In the case of Gambia, the reason for the specificity is because the leadership of the country were tired of their mail being misdelivered to Zambia.  

I am not making this up.

So what are we making from the smallest country on the African mainland?  A beef and peanut stew called Domada. We’ve made at least two other peanut stews from Africa on this project, from the Central African Republic and Chad.  This one, however, turned out a bit differently.

For starters, this one used sweet potatoes.  Now, tubers are a complicated and contentious topic.  It takes a lot of research and careful comparison of sources to understand the difference between different kinds of sweet potatoes, yams, and other starchy tubers like cassava and taro, and to identify which one is ACTUALLY most likely to turn up in dishes in a particular locale.

We didn’t do any research.  We just bought this monster and went with it.

Very large sweet potato

I normally scale the pictures down to make them fit the text better, but I’m going to leave this one big, just to help you appreciate the size of this thing.

Other than the giant tuber, there’s not much else to show here as far as preparation – you first sauté onions, because it really doesn’t matter WHERE in the world you are cooking – at least half of ALL recipes start with sautéing onions.   It’s pretty striking.

Look – here’s a picture of some onions.  Guess if it’s from THIS recipe or some other one!

Onions sautéing

It’s from this one – we have SOME integrity.  But once the onions are ready, you just throw everything else into the pot and let it go for an hour, so not a lot of other pictures.

“Everything else” in this case being peanut butter, a few tomatoes, a scotch bonnet pepper, and a the entire cubed sweet potato, along with the beef.

Stew cooking.

It’s an opaque stew, so not a lot to see in the picture.  Here it is served over rice:

Gambian stew

Also, while I’ve been very glib in this writeup, I don’t want to sell this stew short – of the various African peanut stews we’ve made so far, this one probably came out the best!  The sauce thickened up really nicely, and the overall flavor was hearty and filling.

Nice the job, The Gambia! Your the stew is quite the good!

Next up, Georgia, although that will likely be delayed a few weeks as we move into our new apartment.

Recipe:
Domoda

International Meals – Gabon

As we leave the Fs for the Gs, we also leave the terrifyingly well documented food culture of France for the much less well documented food culture of West Africa.

And we’re going to be here for a bit – in addition to Gabon, we have The Gambia (which may be what inspired THE Ohio State), Ghana, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.  These are all pretty small countries, and a lot of the borders are artifacts of colonialism rather than reflective of any sort of cultural or (certainly) culinary boundaries.

Which means that the national dish of Gabon is the same as the national dish of the Republic of the Congo AND of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Having already made that, what else can we do?

There’s not much online specifically about Gabonese food.  The consensus seems to be that the French colonial influence is still a bit more pronounced in Libreville than it was in Kinshasa or Brazzaville.  As such, one of the dishes that gets mentioned a lot is Mustard Chicken.  (If it has a specific local name, other than something like “Poulet à la Moutarde”, I haven’t found it.)

Everyone seems to be working off the same basic recipe, which I can trace back to a first posting on Celtnet.org.uk, a site that no longer even exists.  So while there are easily half a dozen posts on “Gabonese Mustard Chicken,” if that original poster to Celtnet was full of nonsense, then so is everyone else.

Fortunately, the recipe is pretty basic, so there’s not a lot of weird places for inauthentic embellishments.  No fermented black bean paste or herring here.

Mustard chicken ingredients

In fact, the ingredients list is SUPER short – garlic, onions (SO MANY onions), lemon juice, mustard, and a chicken.  We got smart this time and bought the chicken already cut into pieces.

And by “mustard”, I mean the ENTIRE JAR of mustard.

A quick sear in oil, and then you just put everything in a pot to steam for an hour.

Dutch oven with foil

Foil added to trap steam.  When it’s done, you serve it over rice:

Gabonese mustard chicken

I apologize for the slightly vertiginous camera angle here.

And – that’s it.  This is one of those meals where the intro takes a LOT more words than the cooking, because it’s so simple.

That said – this was pretty darn tasty.  The chicken was nice and juicy from the steaming, and the best part was the onions that had soaked up all the mustard.  Especially when you got a little of everything on your fork, this was a great tasting stew, and would be an excellent choice for a weeknight meal where you wanted to have some leftovers.

We also made dessert.  The one thing everyone brings up on recipe blogs is how much they liked Gabonese baked bananas.  And it is ALWAYS bananas, even though I’m pretty sure you’d be MUCH more likely to run into plantains in Gabon.  I’m guessing there’s once again a single Platonic ur-recipe floating around out there somewhere that didn’t make the distinction.

Banana Minions GIF - Banana Minions - Discover & Share GIFs

But given that we LIKE bananas a lot more than plantains, we didn’t really try that hard to disprove the choice of ingredient.

Gabonese banana ingreedients

“Baked bananas” is a bit of a half truth, to be honest – they ARE baked, sure, but only after being battered and fried.  The batter is bread crumbs (panko, once again, since we need to use these things up) held on with a mix of egg and orange juice.

Frying bananas

They’re fried until crispy and golden, then you put them in the oven for five minutes to… cook?…warm?… mildly annoy?… the insides.  I’m just not sure what five minutes in the oven realistically accomplished.  But who cares – these puppies were delicious!

Baked bananas

Topped with brown sugar and sour cream, they were a great mix of sweet, crunchy, and just a bit tart. I would definitely serve these to friends.

And that’s it for Gabon – no three day preparation, and little to no certainty about authenticity, but tasty food nonetheless.

Next up, THE Gambia!

Postscript: While trying to find the original URLs I used for these recipes, I think I found the origin point – a cookbook by Dyfed Lloyd Evans called “The Recipes of Africa.” BUT – it turns out Evans is the guy that ran the Celtnet website, so it’s once again back to that same source of unknown accuracy.

Recipes:
Mustard Chicken
Baked Bananas

International Meals – France, Part 2

We decided that France simply couldn’t be just one meal, so we planned one more.  This one was substantially less complex than the first one, but still consisted of dishes that (we hoped) were quintessentially French.

For our entrée, we decided to go with Magret de Canard, or “Duck Breast.”  As we’ve mentioned in the past, we are far from the first people to have the “cook the world in alphabetical order,” idea.  There’s a number of blogs dedicated to similar projects, probably the most famous of which is “United Noshes.” We consult the various blogs for ideas, but try hard not to simply copy any one of them.

That said, when that blog describes a dish as “I’m not sure I’ve ever made anything this delicious before”, we decided it was definitely worth a try.

So we headed back to our favorite butcher where we got the demi-glace and the ostrich, and bought ourselves a duck breast.  The recipe calls for first scoring the fat in a crosshatch pattern:

Duck breast with fat scored

Next a marinade in honey, orange juice, and thyme.  A quick trip outside to the planter box for some fresh thyme, and the duck was ready for its overnight soak.

Duck in plastic bag with marinade

The next day, the duck was dried off, and then tossed into a skillet to render off much of the fat. One duck breast produces a LOT of fat.  This picture is still early in the process – there was plenty more coming.

Cooking duck breast

Which is fine – duck fat is amazing, and we used it to make potatoes later in the week.

What is SUPPOSED to happen at this point is that you flip the duck breast over, and the other side is a lovely golden color.  What ACUTALLY happened is that the other side was pitch black.  Oops.  The good news is, we’re moving soon, and our new place has a gas range, which should allow for better heat control.

Either way, once flipped, the duck gets seared briefly on the meat side, then tossed into a hot oven to finish.  Once again, a thermometer is your friend.

Wireless thermometer

This is a Bluetooth grill thermometer we picked up last year, and let me tell you, it’s amazing.  Especially when your oven sucks and takes three times as long to get things to the proper temperature as the recipe says it will.  Did I mention we’re moving?

At any rate, once the duck came back out and was sliced, it was absolutely gorgeous inside, and the slightly (ok, very) singed crust didn’t hurt the flavor at all.

Sliced duck breast

For a side dish, we went with a very simple mushrooms provençal. What makes something unambiguously provençal?  Well, obviously, Herbes de Provence.

Herbes de Provence

I’ve made various versions of this blend in the past, but they had it at the duck store, so we decided to just get it pre-made.  The actual recipe couldn’t be simpler – sauté mushrooms in butter and herbs until done.

Sauteeing mushrooms

And here was the meal, including a cheese plate that probably looks awfully familiar if you read last week’s entry. We also bought a nice French Pinot Noir, since that’s the wine everyone says you should drink with duck.

Second French meal

And it was pretty darn good.  Not life-changing like last week’s meal, but better than a lot of things we make.  The duck, in particular, while it didn’t pick up as much of the flavor of the marinade as one might hope, was a lovely texture.  The herbs did a nice job of accenting the mushrooms.

We did also make a classic French dessert, tart au citron. The crust for this is a pate sucrée, or “sugar crust.”  It’s got a LOT of butter, so it gets rested for a while in the fridge before you roll it out, and then rested for ANOTHER half an hour afterwards, because you don’t want the butter melting out too soon.  It needs to be COLD when it goes in the oven.

We didn’t take any pictures of mixing the dough, because it’s not very exciting, but here’s the crust all rolled out and ready to bake:

Unbaked pie crust

And here it is filled with random desi chickpeas, because we don’t have any pie weights.  Sorry, chickpeas, but you were rendered inedible for a good cause!

Pie full of chickpeas.

The chickpeas are part of a process called “blind baking”, where you weigh down the crust and bake it first in order to stop it puffing up too much.  You also want to bake it before you put the filling in so it doesn’t get soggy.

About that filling.

The filling for this tart is technically a custard, so it used eggs.  LOTS of eggs.  Four whole eggs, AND four more yolks to boot.  Plus butter, a metric ton of lemon juice, and the zest from two whole lemons. (It’s French, it HAS to be metric.)

Lemon filling cooking.

This gets cooked until it’s thick, and then poured into the tart crust for a final bake.  And here’s the final product.

Lemon tart

It was SUPER tart and delicious.  If you’re looking for a dessert to impress people once it’s safe to once again impress people in your region, this is an excellent choice.  Also, it looks like Pac Man once you’ve cut a few slices out, so there’s that.

And that’s it for France!  We could obviously cook for months and never finish exploring the whole country, but we do need to move on.  The pace may slow a bit here as we get ready to move, but we HAVE finished the Fs, so next up, Gabon!

Recipes:
Magret de Canard
Mushrooms Provençal
Tart au Citron