United States of America

May 22, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Oh boy, I was certainly looking forward to this.   The US is such a diverse country with so many fantastic foods it was extremely difficult to decide which one.   Is is ribs?  a Maine chowder? Creole food? the humble burger? fried chicken? donuts?

Of course it eventually came to me:  the quintessential US dish eaten across the country would have to be a  Thanksgiving dinner.      A traditional harvest feast, with lots of roast food.  And pies.  Lots of pies.

The thing is, a turkey dinner on its own isn’t really *that* American.   What we really wanted to do to make this stand out was make it an utter meal of excess.   No other country in the world really does excess like the Americans.  They practically invented crass.   They are the home of super-sizing, fries on the side of everything and a peculiar fascination with horrid orange cheese.   When we have a chicken as either quarter, half or whole, they order chicken in buckets.

So, we needed to supersize the thanksgiving.   In a flash of inspiration, I elected to tackle the infamous Turducken.   The Turducken is a ballotine, where one stuffs a chicken into a duck into a turkey. All birds are de-boned first, but bound up, the parcel appears to be a turkey.  Slicing into the “turkey”, one then carves straight through into the layers of meat.  Five kilograms of meat.

Truly, the Turducken is not that widespread – plenty of Americans I know have never heard of it.   It’s suggested that it’s an ancient concept and not truly American.  However,  only in the US can one get a turducken by mail order.

We also planned to accompany the meal with as many other American foods as we could find – pecan pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, grits (what the hell are grits), American beer & wine, and I was hoping – nay, praying – that we could source some Ezy Cheese.

The Plan

This was a monster of a job.    A turducken requires that you start with a deboned turkey, a deboned duck and a deboned chicken.   Deboning poultry is a non-trivial activity that requires a good understanding of avian anatomy.   After looking up a view how-to videos on YouTube, I decided I couldn’t possibly tackle this.   Claire offered to help but suggested the butcher would do it for us.   She was right – Chris went to the butcher, explained the concept, and after he stopped laughing he agreed to give it a go.

The parcel of meat was picked up on Friday, for around $100.   5.2kg.   Now, as a family of four we’re not going to plough through this so we asked 21 of our friends over.  This had the added bonus of a range of dishes being brought by Jenny, Liz, Claire, Sharon and Belinda.

Maple syrup bacon-encrusted Turducken

Ingredients

  • One chicken, deboned
  • One duck, deboned
  • One turkey, deboned
  • lots of streaky bacon
  • maple syrup

1.  Lay the turkey flat.  Lay the duck flat on top.  Lay the chicken flat on top of the duck.  Add stuffing between layers or around the cavities.  Roll it up and tie up with string.     Ask butcher to debone and assemble turducken.

2.   Turn the oven on to 100°C.   This is not a typo.  One hundred degrees.

3.   Lay bacon over the top of the turducken.  Place on a rack in a large dish – deep enough to catch a lot of fat (we got several bowls worth)

4.   Roast for around 8 hours.   One web site suggested 1.5 hours per kilo.  However the rules are you must use a meat thermometer and get the inner core to 75° C.   Anything less and you’re looking at a dose of food poisoning.

5.  Half an hour before the end, liberally douse the bird in maple syrup.

6. Rest the bird for half an hour before serving.

The Event

I put the bird collage into the oven @ 11:30am, hoping for a 7 hour roast to have us ready for 7pm.   However, the temperature climbed ever so slowly.   By 7:30pm we had 14 kids going mad with hunger and a group of half tanked adults rationalising whether 75° C is overkill and “c’mon, how bad could it be!” Budweiser clearly doesn’t improve one’s thought process.

We served a big mess of poultry @8pm, having just crested  72° C.   To accompany this we had

  • Mashed potato with bacon (Belinda)
  • Mashed potato with garlic
  • Fish pie (Liz)
  • Vegetable pie (Belinda)
  • Sweet potato casserole with pecans (Claire)
  • Roast potatoes
  • Budweiser & Miller beer
  • a Washington State cabernet sauvignon

followed by

  • pumpkin pie (Jenny)
  • pecan pie (Liz)
  • apple pie (Sharon & Chris)
  • dessert wines and lemoncello

The Outcome

The turducken was a huge hit, mostly comedic effect.  It looked ridiculous and tasted like…well, a big flavoursome plate of poultry.  The side dishes were excellent and the deserts sublime.  I’m not going to reproduce the recipes here (er, ’cause I don’t have them), but the big callouts were

– the pumpkin pie was the biggest surprise.   Sounds disgusting but was awesome.  Supposed to be made with pumpkin from a can, but of course plain old *cooking it yourself* still worked

– pecan pie was spectacular

– Budweiser is only narrowly not as abysmal as Miller.  I’d rather drink boot polish.  Or that wine.  Although the wine was so awful its a close call.

Thanks to Pete, Jenny, Georgia, Charlotte, Matt, Stu, Belinda, Mitch, Alanah, Daniel, Kai, Sharon, Lashay, Jasmine, Liz, Renee, Monique, Bianca, Andy, Claire & Sophie.     Oh, and according to one US site, we should have allowed 0.5kg per person.   Had we done that, we would have had a 12 kg bird (or 2 & 1/2 times as much food).

Trinidad & Tobago

February 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Apart from Canada, we’ve been focusing mostly on dinners.   There’s no particular reason to, it’s just that the most quintessential dish of country trends towards being a dinner.  However, I was very pleased while looking for one of our last stops in Caribbean that one particular country declares their most popular dish to be more-or-less a tropical kebab.

Doubles are a street vendor food from Trinidad and Tobago.      Trinidad and Tobago is one of the old formerly-Spanish-formerly-English countries that litter the Caribbean, and, unknown to me until now, the home of both calypso and the limbo.

Apart from these epic contributions to world culture, the doubles are a curiosity.   They’re essentially a fried bread sandwich, the filling made up of curried chickpeas.    They’re sold all over the country from street vendors

The Plan

I figured this could be done as a surprise country for the family – that easy and simple I could through this together in a half hour

The Recipe

Taken from Trinigourmet

INGREDIENTS:

Bara:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon gheera (cumin)
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 teaspoon yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 tsp sugar
Oil for frying

Filling (Curried Channa):
1 14 oz channa, tinned
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tsp ground geera (cumin)
1 tsp Pepper sauce
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

METHOD:

1. In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, curry powder and gheera.
2. In a separate small bowl place the warm water, sugar and yeast and set to sponge for 5 minutes.
3. To the flour, add the yeast mixture and enough water to make a slightly firm dough.
4. Mix well, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
5. For the filling, heat the oil in a heavy skillet, add onion, garlic and 1 heaped tablespoon of curry powder mixed with 1/4 cup water.
6. Sauté for a few minutes.
7. Add the channa, stir to coat well and cook for five minutes.
8. Add 1 cup water, gheera, salt and pepper; cover, lower heat and simmer until the peas are very soft (20-30 minutes).
9. When the channa is finished it should be moist and soft.
10. Add pepper sauce and season to taste with additional salt if desired.
11. For the bara: The dough should be punched down and allowed to sit for 10 to 15 minutes
12. To shape the bara, take 1 tablespoon of the dough and flatten to a round, 4 or 5 inches in diameter.
13. Use oil to moisten palms of your hands so that the dough won’t stick to them :)
14. Fry the baras in hot oil until puffy (about 15 seconds per side), turn once and drain on kitchen paper
15. When all are cooked, fill with channa by placing a heaping tablespoon of the cooked filling on each bara, covering with another to form a sandwich

The Event

Making the bread is of course a doddle, and something the kids really liked.     The tumeric makes the dough bright yellow.   Unfortunately the yeast must have been old as I barely got a rise out of it.   No matter – the spreading out of the bread into little discs and then frying it up turned them quickly golden&  puffy (albeit very oily).

The channa was also simple.    I didn’t have Trinidadian curry powder, just some stock standard Keens.

The Outcome

Jaqueline: “This is good.   I like it a lot”

Liam: “The bread it like a chip, so that’s good.  But the filling is like yuck.”

Chris:  ”It’s alright.  Not bad for fast food.  Although, there must be a large amount of farting in the country of origin.”

Me:  Really quite nice.  The cucumber was essential to complement the curry mix.  The bread was a little too oily for my liking.    Next time I’ll ensure I use better yeast so the bread is bit more….er, bready.

Haiti

February 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Haiti’s a sadder story, both recently and historically.  An earthquake that killed over 150,000 is obviously the most recent  horrific news, but this is against a backdrop of  country has suffered through a variety of shockingly bad governments that have lead this country to be one of the most violent, impoverished and arguably corrupt nation in the Western hemisphere.

From a food point of view, the national favourite seems to be Griots, a orange marinated pork dish.   As a side, the regional standard black beans and rice has a local variant, red kidney beans and rice.

The Plan

We still have the issue of the fact Chris doesn’t like pork – roast, grilled, fried:  it’s a barrier I need to get past.  This recipe calls for pork shoulder, but I think I’ll substitute this for pork loin – it’s a cleaner, fresher flavour.

The Recipes

I got both of these from Whats4Eats

Griots

  • Pork shoulder, cubed — 4 pounds
  • Onion, thinly sliced — 1
  • Green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced — 1
  • Scotch bonnet peppers, chopped (optional) — 1 or 2
  • Shallots, thinly sliced — 2 or 3
  • Garlic, chopped — 3 or 4 cloves
  • Thyme — 2 teaspoons
  • Salt — 2 teaspoons
  • Pepper — 1 teaspoon
  • Oranges — 2
  • Limes — 3
  • Oil — 1/4 cup

Method

  1. Add the pork and all the other ingredients except the oil to a large, non-reactive bowl and mixt together well. Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours to let the meat soak up the marinade.
  2. Oven to 375°F. Place the pork and its marinade into a large roasting pan and cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. Place in the oven and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the pork is tender.
  3. Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Remove any extra liquid in the pan, putting it into a saucepan, and set aside. Add the oil to the pan and stir it into the meat. Return the roasting pan to the oven and let the pork cook for 20 to 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Any liquid will evaporate away and the meat will begin to fry in the oil and brown.
  4. While the meat is frying in the oven, place the saucepan with the reserved liquid on the top of the stove and boil it down until it is well reduced and thickens. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and mix the reduced sauce into the browned pork. Serve hot with with sos ti-malisbanan peze and a side of pikliz.

Diri ak Pwa

4 to 6 servings

  • Olive oil — 1/4 cup
  • Onion, finely chopped — 1
  • Bell pepper, finely chopped — 1
  • Garlic, minced — 3 to 4 cloves
  • Tomato sauce — 1/2 cup
  • Red Kidney beans, cooked — 2 cups
  • Thyme –1 teaspoon
  • Oregano — 2 teaspoons
  • Bay leaf — 1
  • Rice — 1 cup
  • Water or stock — 1 3/4 cups
  • Red wine vinegar — 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and pepper — to taste

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add tomato sauce, beans and herbs and simmer for 5-10 minutes to meld flavors.
  3. Stir in the rice, stock or water and vinegar and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let set covered for another 5-10 minutes. Then stir lightly with a fork and serve.

The Event

This was a dead easy dinner to cook – baking the pork is a no-brainer, and the rice is easy too.  Jacq helped with all the rice and went a bit overboard on the tomato sauce, but it worked out great.

However:  the use of loin was a bad call.  Without the fat, the meat was drier than the Nullabor.

The Outcome

Jaqueline: “I don’t like the meat, so that gets 1/5.  But the rice is 4/5!”

Liam: “Really good Dad.”

Chris:  “Ooh, you can cook the rice again.  Not the pork.

Me:  Disappointed with the pork, but I’ll give it another go next time with decent pork shoulder.

Puerto Rico

January 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

I had no idea that Puerto Rico is, in fact, part of the United States.   Well, the Commonwealth of the United States.   I just thought it was just another Caribbean country, but no:  anyone born in Puerto Rico is a US citizen (although they can’t vote in US presidential elections unless they hold a residential address in one of the 50 states).    I had thought that the US had 50 states and that was flat out it, but no:  the US has four other of these overseas territories – Guam, American Samoa, United States Virgin Island, and the Northern Mariana Islands – but the combined population of all of those territories is much less than 10% of Puerto Rico’s.   At 4 million people, it’s a sizeable chunk, which probably goes a bit of the way to explaining all the cultural references on TV.

Trivia – my very first school friend was kid called Eduardo, a Puerto Rican.   However, when you’re five, geopolitical arrangements don’t tend to get discussed.

I do harbour a sneaking suspicion that the main reason Puerto Rico and the other 4 territories haven’t been made states might have something to with upsetting the neatness of 50 stars on a certain flag.  However, it does appear that the appetite for autonomy of the island is increasing and it may well seek independence in the future.

In terms of eating, we have the same sort of food we see in other Caribbean countries, with Spanish influences.   Arroz con pollo, or “rice with chicken” seems to be the national dish.  It’s actually common across a number of the islands in the region, but apparently heavily favoured in Puerto Rico.

The Plan

This was an easy recipe as all the ingredients (outside of green olives) were on hand.   At the end of the day, it’s chicken and rice with peas, although I wavered on the peas given Liam considers them evil poison pills.

Late into the cooking I considered making a Puerto Rican desert – coconut flavoured rice pudding – but I didn’t have the spare 2 hours needed.

The recipe

I grabbed this one from WhatsForEats.

  • Chicken, cut into serving pieces — 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • Lemon or lime, juice only — 1
  • Garlic, minced — 3 to 5 cloves
  • Salt and pepper — to season
  • Olive oil — 3 tablespoons
  • Onion, chopped — 1
  • Green or red bell pepper, chopped –1
  • Garlic, minced — 3 to 5 cloves
  • Ham (optional), chopped — 1 cup
  • Rice — 3 cups
  • Tomato, seeded and chopped — 1 cup
  • Chicken stock or water — 3 1/2 cups
  • Green olives — 10 to 15
  • Peas — 1 cup
  • Oregano — 2 teaspoons
  • Salt and pepper — to taste
  • Cilantro chopped — 1/2 bunch

Method

  1. In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the lemon or lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper and marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium flame. Pat the chicken pieces dry and sauté then in small batches to brown on all sides. Remove to a platter and set aside.
  3. Add a little more oil to the pot if needed and sauté the onion, peppers, garlic and optional ham until the onion is translucent but not browned.
  4. Stir in the rice and tomatoes and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Then add the stock or water, olives, peas, oregano, salt and pepper. Lay the browned chicken pieces over the top. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, 10 minutes. Toss all the ingredients gently with a fork, garnish with the chopped cilantro and serve.

The Event

I used about half of the recommended amounts, used bacon instead of ham and dropped the olives.  I was tempted to use more rice and / or more water but stuck to the recipe.  It’s a very simple dish to cook and smells fantastic.

The Outcome

The family loved this, as did Sam (visiting).

Jacqueline:  “This is great, I’d give this a 9/10”

Chris:  “Ooh, this is great.  You can cook this again.  Don’t tell me there’s no leftovers?!”

Liam:  “I ate a pea!”

Me:   This is a great and easy recipe, and will be used again.

Cuba

January 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Cuba’s our next stop – apart from Saint Pierre and Miquelon, we’ve exhausted the countries of Northern America and are now firmly in the Caribbean.  Cuba is one of the largest countries in the Caribbean and as we all know, has a notorious history littered with bearded revolutionaries, nuclear weapons, assassination plots and cigars.

The food of Cuba is easy to find of the web, as some 10% of the island have left Cuba and set up residence in Florida.  It would seem a lot of them pass their time agitating for more action on Cuba and cooking a variety of exotic Cuban food.

Trying to find the perfect Cuban dish, therefore, is hard, but it would seem that it would boil down to a competition betweenPlatillo Moros y Cristianos (“Moors and Christians”) and Ropa Vieja (“old clothes”). The former is black beans (the “Moors”) on rice (the Christians), which sounds great but is just beans on rice.   The latter is heartier – a stewed steak that is then torn with a pair of forks into a shreds, stewed with tomatoes and oregano.

The Plan

The basic recipe is stewing a cheap cut of beef for a long time until it’s soft enough to shred with a fork.  I had a topside roast and we had a big day out so, I hunted around for a crockpot recipe.   I tried to find black beans to have as a side dish, but couldn’t do any better than Barlotti beans.

The recipes

I used this slow cooker recipe from bearlyedible for the ropa vieja, and a black beans recipe from 3-guys-from-Miami.

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
2 tsp. bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. each salt and black pepper, or to taste
1 large onion (for about 1 cup slices)
2 lbs. skirt or flank steak (see note)
1 red bell pepper (for about 1 cup pieces)
1 green bell pepper (for about 1 cup pieces)
1 can (141/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and olive oil (see note)
2 cups cooked rice, for serving

Put the tomato sauce, water, bay leaves, vinegar, garlic, cumin and black pepper into the slow-cooker pot. Stir to combine. Peel the onion, and cut it into quarters. Thinly slice the onion quarters, and add them to the pot. Place the beef over the onions, and spoon some of the liquid over the meat.

Rinse the bell peppers, and discard the seeds and membranes. Cut the peppers into quarters, thinly slice them, and add the pieces to the pot. Pour the diced tomatoes with their juice evenly on top. Cover the pot and cook on low until the meat is so tender that it practically falls apart, about 8 hours if using skirt or flank steak or 10 hours if using sirloin or chuck.

Before serving, remove the beef and vegetables from the slow cooker to a large serving bowl. Use two forks to pull the beef apart into shreds. There should be some cooking juices in the bowl, but if not, add about 1/2 cup juices. Stir to mix the beef and vegetables. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve over hot rice.

Frijoles Negros (Black Beans)
2 1/2 cups dried black beans
9 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled, and mashed with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
Olive oil for sautéing
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons vinegar
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons sugar

Cover dry beans with water and let stand covered overnight. Drain and discard water.Place the cleaned black beans in a large saucepan. Add water and olive oil—this will prevent the beans from foaming. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Do not add salt to the beans when they are cooking. Salt at this stage of the game will make your beans very tough.

Meanwhile, chop onion and green pepper. Mash the garlic with salt and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.

Sauté the onions and green pepper in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add mashed garlic and sauté another minute or so. Add the cooked beans, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, vinegar, and wine. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf.

Stir in the sugar; then drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the beans. Immediately cover the pot, remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes.

The Event

When we’re travelling around the world, there is going to be – at times –  hardship, discomfort, unease and sometimes even flat out failures.   This was one of those times.

The outcome

Jacq:  “I don’t like this.  I don’t like this at all.  Can I have a peanut butter sandwhich?”

Chris: “Where was this from? ‘Cos I’m not going there.  This is awful”

Liam:  “Hmmm.  Dad, its not terrible.   But pretty bad”

Me:  The family was spot on.  I think something went wrong in the use of the slow cooking recipe, but the meat was dry and horrible.  The tomato base was bland.  The dish was too sugary.   I would have rather eaten old clothes – Fidel’s old ratty cigar-smoke-soaked ripped jungle greens would have been preferable to this dish.

As for the beans – well, I didn’t have black beans, which might have made a difference.  They were passable, but in future, I will pass.  I imagine the chef was a factor here, but after eating this meal I can begin to  understand the depth the CIA will go to marginalise Cuba.

Bermuda

January 24, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Bermuda forms the fourth country of our first tranche of countries – North America and the Caribbean.   Interestingly, Bermuda is miles away from the Caribbean is formally part of the North American region.  It’s a cluster of islands in the middle of no where and is originally a British territory – bizarrely, it was part of Britain before Scotland and Wales.

It’s not one island either – it’s 138 small little land masses.   And what does one think of when one thinks of Bermuda?

  • Triangles
  • Shorts
  • Tax havens
  • Hurricanes

However, the most exciting thing to think of would have to be Pirates.   Bermuda was a haven in the early days of ocean going, literally the only land for thousands of miles in any direction.   If you’re thinking of a port where pirates might take refuge, Bermuda would it be it.   Jacqueline suggested we dress as pirates for our dinner.  I didn’t  quite go that far, but I did find a recipe with Rum in it – win!

The plan

The Bermudan’s cuisine does stand alone from the British – thankfully.  There’s a lot of variable local dishes, concentrating on seafood and plaintains.   The most interesting recipe I could dig up, allegedly the national dish, was Bermudan Fish Chowder, a unique tomato-based fish chowder with the aforementioned rum.    I suspected this might not be enough (or I might face family resistance given seafood isn’t huge in our house) so I planned for this to be an entree and  made the main course a tropical-themed Pineapple Ribs and Coconut Rice, with a desert of Banana Bread.   I took inspiration from a woman cooking her way around the world, but I sourced the recipe for  the chowder from Goslings Rum and the ribs from 7th Space.  The rice came from Margarita‘s site.

Again I couldn’t find the right local fish to match the Bermudan fish, so I chose blue-eyed cod.   I also didn’t want to make the fish stock so I bought some to supplement the brew.    The rum – well, couldn’t find any Goslings here so I settled on Bacardi Black rum.    The pickled sherry peppers – I made do with Tabasco sauce.

The Recipe(s)

BERMUDA FISH CHOWDER

Ingredients

4 qts water
2 lbs fish fillets (Rockfish, Sea Bass) or 5 lbs Grouper heads
1 tbs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
20 peppercorns
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 large Bermuda onions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 stalk (8 ribs) of celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers
28 oz can of whole tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1½ cup good chicken broth
1 cup catsup
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 lbs potatoes peeled, small dice
6 large carrots peeled, small dice
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4 tbs sherry peppers

Method

In a large pot bring the water to a boil and put in the fish fillets, salt and spices. Lower flame and simmer for 45 minutes. In another cauldron large enough to contain all of the ingredients melt the butter and oil together and sauté the onions and garlic until just golden. Add the celery and green peppers and sauté another few minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and simmer for 30 minutes. Now strain the fish stock into the cauldron. Pick out the fish and add it to the pot as well, discard the spices. Add the remaining vegetables to the pot and simmer partially covered for two hours.

The soup should be thickened, but not thick and be a dark reddish brown and very aromatic.  At the end of the cooking time add the sherry peppers sauce and Black Seal Rum. Serve immediately, or allow to cool and keep a day for more intense flavors. At serving time pass cruets of additional Black Seal Rum and sherry peppers sauce for the brave.

Dr. Pepper Pineapple Spare Ribs

8-10 boneless pork spare ribs
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 (20 ounce) can pineapple tidbits
1 (12 ounce) can Dr. Pepper
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

1 cup medium Pace Picante sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Trim most of the fat from ribs. Arrange ribs in the bottom of a 12-inch Dutch oven.  Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Sprinkle bell pepper, onions and pineapple evenly over ribs.

In a large bowl stir together the remaining ingredients including the reserved pineapple juice’ pour over ribs. Cover Dutch oven and bake for 2 hours or until ribs are tender. Turn and baste ribs in oven juices carefully every 1/2 hour.

Serves 8-10.

The Event

This meal took some time.  I think I was in or around the kitchen for 3 hours.

The Outcome

The chowder

Liam:  “Not bad, Dad.   Not bad at all!”

Jacq:  “I didn’t get enough fish”

Chris:  “Nice – but doesn’t quite grab me”

Me:  This is a fantastic soup but I think the weather needs to be colder.   The inclusion of Rum as a final ingredient is my favourite bit.  I could have upped the amount of fish.

The Pineapple Ribs with Coconut rice

Liam:  “The rice is yukky!”

Jacq:  “Liam, the rice is fantastic!  I’d eat more but I’m full”

Chris: “They’re still pork ribs, and I don’t like pork.   The rice is nice but I couldn’t eat a lot of it.  And I don’t care what you say, the coconut garnish was burnt, not toasted.  It being black was a bit of a giveaway”

Me:  The rice was truly excellent and I think I’ll cook all rice like that in the future.   The ribs – the sauce was fantastic but the ribs were more boiled than roasted.   I might use less sauce next time, or drain the sauce in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Canada

January 17, 2010 at 10:10 am | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Canada was one country I was really looking  forward to, once I decided on the quintessential Canadian dish.   It’s a big country with several big cultures and there’s a lot to pick from  – it seemed inevitable I was going to have to choose between some salmon dish or a chowder, given I’d be unlikely to find moose in Australia (other than the chocolately type).  However, all of these choices instantly vanished after I recalled the last Canadian I spoke too, over breakfast, in Kangaroo valley.

She’d married an Australian and was living right in the middle of the bush, surrounded by tunnelling wombats.  While we walked around her lumpy lawn, I asked her how much she missed Canada and what led her to live here – an idyllic valley, but somewhat shy of snow, moose and pseudo-French folk.    She’d moved with her husband and she said that while it was hard, she’d laid down one condition of her emigration:  no matter the price, they would always have Maple Syrup in the cupboard.

Clearly, it had to be pancakes with Maple syrup – authentic, none of this rubbish-y synthetic stuff.  If I’m eating maple syrup, I need to feel the hard core flavour of 40 trees worth of sap.   But the Americans have co-opted the pancake and while Maple Syrup unequivocally *is* Canada, the pancake isn’t.

Thankfully though I had a chat with my brother, who spent 2 years living out of a Bedford van in the snowy portion of Canada (which, to my fuzzy understanding, doesn’t actually narrow the location down).    He highlighted a local weirdness of rolling up bacon, with maple syrup, inside the pancake.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our dish.   Maple Syrup Bacon Pancakes.

The plan

Maple Syrup is not exactly common in Australia – outside of the obligatory McDonalds.  Its damned expensive here.   The pale poor comparison, Golden Syrup, retails for around $3.00 a bottle.   Come up nearly 400% on that to get an elegant  bottle of Queen 100% Pure Maple Syrup.   Somewhat perversely, Queen is a 100% Australian owned company, but the label declares the product was not only made in Canada but also bottled there.   Excellent – everything except the label design was made in Canada.  It’ll do.

I finally also found out what Americans titter about when the talk about Canadian bacon.  All the movie references to “funny round bacon” I’d always thought meant the same type of measly McHam that McDonalds McServes on their McMuffins.   I was McWrong.   Turns out that the Americans only count bacon if they’re eating the long, streaky, fatty (who’d a thought) bit.   The nice lean meaty medallion that supports the full arm of bacon is discarded from this land of excess and tossed over the border to the Canadians.     Big loss to them, that’s the best part!  So, we already fully stocked and ready to go with the bacon.

AS for pancakes, I’ve been making them for years.  But true to the rules of this game, I searched for a Canadian pancake recipe.   Most used beaten egg whites, which produces a fat pancake which we’ve tried and are not collectively a fan of this style.  So I settled on a recipe on a UKTV site.

The recipe

http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/516837

Ingredients

  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 egg beaten lightly
  • 150ml milk
  • 10 rashers bacon

Method

1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and make a well in the centre. Whisk the egg and milk until blended and stir into the flour.

2. Heat a heavy-based frying pan and turn the heat down to medium low. Add 25g butter, and when melted, drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for about two minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface.

3. Turn the pancakes over and cook until they feel firm in the centre and the undersides are golden.

4. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve straight from the pan with crisp bacon rashers and a good drizzle of maple syrup.

The event

This was an easy thing to cook – I do pancakes weekly as it is.  The caster sugar made a surprising difference to the texture and the pancakes were a little thinner – which worked out great.   I was torn by whether cooking the bacon first and then making the pancakes in the bacon fat, but I realised this was still a risky combination (lemon and sugar were on standby).

The outcome

Jacqueline:  “Er, um, I don’t think I like it”

Liam;   “Great dad!  But not again”

Chris:  “Hmm, not bad, not bad all”

Me:  Hands down, absolutely fantastic.  Really sweet and sour.    10/10 for a heart starter breakfast.

United States

January 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Clearly the US has a huge number of well known dishes.  Trying just one to represent this country is hard.  Clearly the hamburger is close to the top of the list, but…eh, it’s not grabbing me.  A national dish really shouldn’t be available at a million takeaway places.   Hence, while Southern Fried Chicken might scream USA, its also out for the same reason.  There’s spectacular regional dishes like New England Chowders, and the Louisiana Shrimp Gumbo, and the New York steak, the Tex-Mex set,  and a hundred others but none really encompass the whole of the US.    Then it came to be:  it has to be a Thanksgiving dinner.

Given it’s currently averaging 32 C degrees, we might defer the US for a colder part of the year, and have a mid-year Thanksgiving dinner.   We might even try the turducken.

Greenland

January 10, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Posted in North America & The Caribbean | Leave a comment

Greenland is our first stop, picked solely because it’s the northern-most country of our first category, North America & the Caribbean.   Greenland is a bit of a surprise really – it’s a massive country, the largest island in the world that’s not a continent (Australia takes that honour).  Looking at it on Google Maps, it looks to be larger than the US (which it is if you could only ignore pesky Alaska).   Yet, the island only supports 56,000 people.     It’s history is quite interesting, starting with paleo-Eskimo tribes but to be replaced by the ancestors of the current Greenlandic population, the Thule.   The Thule migrated from Alaska to Greenland in 1000 AD – although you’ve got to wonder why.   Not enough snow?  Not cold enough?

Greenland has been part of the Kingdom of Denmark since the 15th century, but acquired the right to home rule in the 70s.   Interestingly (and perhaps more-than-justifying our inclusion of Greenland in our first region), the US attempted to buy Greenland in 1946 for $100m.    Today, Greenland is all-but an independent country; while Denmark holds control over its foreign affairs, natural resources and finance and contains its head of state, but Greenland has its own language and parliament.  It technically meets the minimum requirement for being a country as according to our rules.

Other trivia about Greenland I didn’t know included:

  • It left the EU in 1985 (when it was the EC) because of the European’s position on seal products
  • The northern most part of Greenland is not covered in ice, because it is too dry to snow.
  • Because of the weight of snow on it, Greenland’s bedrock is lower than the ocean.  If the entire snow base were to melt, sea levels around the world would rise seven metres.
  • Greenland was named by a murder, Erik the Red, who was exiled with his family from Iceland by being sent in a series of ships west to find land rumoured to be north west.   He settled in Greenland, which he named so that people would think it to be a nice place and want to settle there.
  • The capital city is Nuuk.
  • Soccer (or football to everyone else) is the national sport, but Iceland can’t join FIFA as it can’t grow grass for the regulation pitches

The Plan

Greenlandic food is, shall we say, not particularly famous.  In fact, it’s damn hard to find any Greenlandic recipe.  Traditional food seems to be centred around locally available game – dried cod accompanied by whale blubber, dried reindeer meet with whale skin, a soup dish called “suaasat”, which is based on fish, bird, seal, whale, or reindeer.    Other alleged traditional delicacies include a combination of partidge droppings and seal fat, or narwhal fat with walrus brain and digested grass from the first stomach of a reindeer.  (I did say alleged).    According to our rules around weird food, Supply will likely trump Demand – there’s no chance of me sourcing any whale, seal or walrus products, and there’s close to no chance the kids would eat it anyway.

I asked around.   Andy’s reaction to hearing of my quest was instant- open a can of Greenland tuna.

Thankfully Greenland.com has a series of more modern foods that could best be described as “inspired in Greenland”.   Its a close call, but we’ll go with it.  Unfortunately, Halibut is impossible to source in Sydney but apparently it’s a chunky white fish with a flavour more akin to chicken.  Hence, our local flake will be probably do fine.

The Recipe

Steak of Greenland halibut with blue poppy seeds and skewered prawns with garlic

Serves 4

160 g (5.5 oz) carrots
160 g (5.5 oz) courgettes
80 g (2.8 oz) fresh tagliatelle
200 g (7 oz) butter
600 g (21 oz) Greenland halibut
50 g (1.75 oz) blue poppy seeds
Sunflower seed oil
200 g (7 oz) prawns
8 small toothpicks
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic4 shallots
2 tomatoes
6 dl (20 fl. oz) red wine
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch chervil

Vegetable tagliatelle: Wash and peel the carrots and courgettes and cut both into long strips à la “tagliatelle” with a potato peeler. Steam the vegetables for 3 minutes.

Pasta tagliatelle: Boil the tagliatelle in water for 3 minutes and mix with vegetables and 5 g (0.175 oz) butter.

Fish and prawns: Cut the halibut into steaks, dip them in the blue poppy seeds and fry them in a little oil in the pan until the fish is cooked through (5-10 minutes).

Put the prawns on a skewer. Fry them in the pan in olive oil and 1 crushed clove of garlic.

Sauce: Chop the shallots, cut the tomatoes into cubes, chop 1 clove of garlic and sauté in the pan in 20 g (0.7 fl. oz) butter and a little oil. Add the red wine after a couple of minutes. Let it simmer and reduce to a third of its original volume. Sieve the sauce and beat in the rest of the butter.

Serving:

Put the 2 types of tagliatelle on a plate, place a steak in the middle of the plate and insert the skewered prawn into the steak. Pour the sauce onto the plate and garnish with chervil.

The Event

This was an interesting start – and given we had pasta with a dish allegedly from Greenland, a little unauthentic.    In addition, the pasta I had lied and took way longer than advertised.   The end result was the elegant shavings of carrot and courgette (Zucchini for the non-heathens) turned to mush.

The dish called for halibut, something that I couldn’t find in Australia.   I concluded after much research that the fish was white, meaty and had quite a non-fishy taste.   Flake seemed like the closest alternative, something Claire confirmed later.  Rolling the flake in poppy seeds was surprising, no need for any basting or oil.   The dish looked fantastic and for a short while I convinced the kids the blue meat on their plate was in fact whale.

The Outcome

Overall, not a strong start to the mission.   The pasta – I can’t see the ancient people of Nuuk drying tagliatelle on their sleighs, next to the whale blubber.    But the poppy-seed encrusted fish was interesting.

Liam:  “Is it really whale?  Tastes nice!”

Chris:  “Hmm.  Too many poppy seeds for me”

Jacqueline:  “<shrug> It just tastes like fish”

Me: I really liked the poppy seed on the fish, but everything else was a bit modern.   Next time I’ll seek out walrus brain.

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