Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Irish Culture Appreciation Day 2018

I found and tested three recipes on Saturday. Two of the three turned out well and one of them, not so much. I will talk about the two that did, and we'll just forget the one that didn't, because it was that bad...! I was going to write about this earlier but the "luck of the Irish" ran out on me Saturday morning when my internet died and it took until Monday to get it back up and running! So here, at long last, is the post!

Entree: Dublin Coddle with Pearl Barley, courtesy of this website. I don't eat beef, so corned beef and cabbage is out for me. Besides, it's a very popular dish for this day and I wanted something different. Bacon, sausages, potatoes, and barley all cooked in one pot? Now that sounds fantastic to me! I had to try it. It totally worked.

Two kinds of breakfast meat and two kinds of carbs in one entree? Yes, please! Here is the obligatory, "prepped food before it's cooked," shot.
Post sausage and bacon browning. The barley has been mixed in, the onions are on the bottom, and the bay leaf is somewhere in the middle of it all.
The layer of potatoes on the top. Chicken broth is added and it cooks everything! I found it a little dry, the barley absorbed all the liquid. If you want it more "stewy," I would suggest adding more broth than it calls for.
This is the finished product! It's not fancy or that pretty to look at, but it is hearty and tasty! The flavors are simple and not highly seasoned beyond the salty/smoky of the bacon and the spices in the sausages, but it's still good. I ate all the leftovers over the next few days. It reheats well, but I wouldn't recommend freezing it. Potatoes never freeze and thaw well. This is a great change of pace from corned beef and cabbage, if you want something new, yet not complicated for next year!

Now for the dessert: Irish Shortbread, from here. Every year at Christmas, I make Scottish shortbread. It's delicious and impossible to mess up. I was very curious to see how Irish shortbread differs from its Scottish counterpart, so this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. It turns out, they are similar, but also very different, at the same time!

The cornstarch really changes the texture of the shortbread. With Scottish shortbread, you have to knead the dough with your fingers and my hands are so tired by the end of it. The cornstarch in this recipe keeps the dough from really coming together. It runs a little dry, but it's ok. It does come together a little bit, so you can knead it into a ball, but don't put too much effort into it. This is a really easy recipe!
Here it is, post baking. It bakes for a really long time on a really low temperature and one of my coworkers who tried a piece said it tasted caramelized to her, which makes sense with how it's baked. From here, I cut it into pieces while it was still warm and in the pan. I carefully moved them to a cooling rack when they started cooling down a bit.
 I added powdered sugar to the top because I think it's pretty. Here is the post-cut version.
And here's a close-up of the cookie from the side. It's dense, and slightly crunchy. It's really rich and a little goes a long way! I splurged and bought Kerrygold butter for almost $4 for a half pound and that was on sale!!! Normally I would never, ever spend that much money on that small an amount of butter, but I decided that since it was a special day, and this recipe calls for so few ingredients, that I should make those ingredients really count. I don't know for sure if it made it taste better, but it was definitely more yellow than American butter, so it looked prettier!

The leftover cookies were scarfed down very quickly at work on Monday! It was definitely a winner. I want to make these again at Christmas and try them side-by-side with my Scottish shortbreads. So, to those if you go to Christmas Eve/Day with me, look forward to trying this one out!

Both of these recipes were fun to make and eat. I would definitely make them again. If you're looking for something new to try next year on March 17th, give these a try. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pi Day 2018

So, this year I planned ahead, picked out a recipe, and actually baked the pie the night before Pi Day so I'd be ready to eat pie on the actual holiday. I am very proud of myself! I chose a recipe card from my collection that doesn't have a source listed, so I have no clue where it came from, but it probably came from a magazine of some sort. Here is the recipe, along with my pictures and notes. Enjoy!

Marquis Old-Fashioned Cream Pie
Crust: 12 whole graham crackers, broken
2 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
Filling: 2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups cold milk
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. butter
Fresh berries

1.) For Crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend graham crackers and sugar until finely ground. (Note: I did this later in the evening and didn't want to deal with the noise, so I put the graham crackers in a gallon-size bag and crushed them with the bottom of a heavy cup and also a rolling pin and then I mixed in the sugar. It did just as good, although the crumbs were probably a little bigger than if you'd done it in a food processor. It held up just fine though.) Add butter and pulse until combined. (I dumped the crumbs in a bowl and just mixed the butter in with a fork) Reserve 1/4 cup crumb mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture into bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Cool while preparing filling.
This is post-baking.

2.) For Filling: In a 3qt. saucepan, whisk together sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Add milk and egg yolks and whisk to combine. Heat mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to bubble. Cook 1 minute longer.
(Note: This takes a lot of upper arm strength. It does take time for this to come to a boil and start to thicken, but stick with it, because it will work and it's worth it! Also, this will create a thick layer of froth while it's heating and you'll probably be concerned about it, but it will disappear when it thickens.)

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, nutmeg, and butter; place over an ice bath to cool slightly before pouring into baked crust.
I thought the nutmeg was a little too strong, for my tastes. I would cut this 1/4 tsp. down to 1/8th next time. Nutmeg is a classic flavoring with dairy-based sauces, though, so don't skip it entirely!
This was my idea of an ice bath because I don't have ice cube trays in my apartment. It worked pretty well, actually. I recommend this method if you too, don't have ice cubes readily available!
This is the cooled filling after it's been whisked over the ice bath.
Here is the nearly finished product. Before being covered with plastic wrap.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 5 hours or overnight. Sprinkle with reserved graham cracker crumbs. Serve cold with berries.

Makes 6 servings (Note: The recipe says it makes 6 servings, but I think that's not accurate. I'd say 8 servings is correct because 6 pieces would be gigantic!)

I used a combo of blueberries and blackberries because that is what my store had on sale! Raspberries would be fantastic with this as well. Strawberries might work, but you'd need to cut them into smaller pieces. The top of the pie is slick so the berries might slide around a bit, but the graham crackers help keep them in place.
My piece!

I took the rest of this to work the next day and when I set it out on the counter on my morning break, it only took about 10 minutes for it to be devoured!

This was a fun experiment and I'm really glad it worked out so well. I usually don't have luck making homemade pudding-type foods, to the extent that I was actually banned by my parents at one point in time from trying anymore, when I still lived at home. I guess I was wasting too many ingredients! But nothing was wasted on this pie. If you're a cream/custard pie fan, this is the pie for you!

Happy Baking!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wakanda Forever

I saw Black Panther when it came out opening weekend a couple weeks ago. I loved it so much, I went and saw it the next weekend too. Aside from all the incredible and timely political and social messages of the movie, the film itself is visually stunning. It's nice to see Africa portrayed as more than just the savanna or the desert. The clothes, hair, and make up are just as stunning too. There was so much attention to detail, except for one area: food. The only food we see in the film is something that looks like chicken cooking on a grill, and plates of food at an outdoor cafe. None of the main characters ever eat or have a dining scene. As a foodie, I was sad that I had nothing to draw from to envision how people in Wakanda eat. Food is how I see the world and understand people and cultures, so, I decided to figure it out for myself!

The first step was to find where Wakanda is. According to the movie, it's on the eastern side of the central part of the continent, near Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. I researched recipes from those countries and contemplated certain issues like, what sorts of ingredients do they use in Wakanda? New World ingredients like tomatoes, corn, and beans, are prominent in a lot of African recipes, but don't come from Africa. Because they come from the New World, they are a symbol of colonialism, which we know Wakanda was not subjected to. But those ingredients are so prominent, and with me being in Seattle, I have limited ability to get my hands on foods native to that region of Africa, so I decided to partake of those ingredients. Wakanda never had to deal with colonialism, so they could freely enjoy the foods of the New World without the history behind it, if they wanted to.

I chose four recipes, and will write about my experiences in cooking them. I will not be writing out the recipes, because I want to promote the sites I got them from, because these recipes are definitely not mine! I'm just enjoying them and signal boosting. I was very happy with the results and I'm sure you will be too!

Here is one of my favorite types of pictures: the grand total of ingredients before they've been prepped. It took about three hours to prep and cook the meal last night, and about two hours this morning for the dessert that I ran out of time to do, but I guess I shouldn't be too shocked it took that long with this amount of ingredients!

Up first is Ndizi na Nyama, aka, Plantains with Meat. The recipe can be found here.
After the original shot of all the ingredients, I separated them out by recipe and did a smaller one for each recipe. This is what I needed for the Ndizi na Nyama. The original recipe calls for beef, but I chose chicken since I don't eat beef. Any meat that you like most will work. And if you didn't want meat, you could probably use canned garbanzo beans. I think the texture would work pretty well with the plantains.
Here's all the ingredients, prepped and ready for cooking. The plantains took a lot of effort to get out of their skins. I don't know if it was because they were as green as they were or what; I don't have much experience with plantains. But be patient and ready to dig them out with your hands if you need to. Don't worry, I was wearing gloves the whole time!
This is what the stew looks like when it's done. The chicken is cooked separately from the vegetables and coconut milk, and then it's all mixed together at the end. The tasted great, not very spicy, but very flavorful. It was even tastier reheated the next day for lunch. 

Next up, is East African Rice Pilau, courtesy of Immaculate Bites. I'm sure we're all well acquainted with rice pilaf, some of us eat it in Rice-a-Roni form rather often(guilty as charged). The recipe originated in the Middle East, so how did it end up in Africa? Well, just as the western side of Africa had trading with Europe and the Americas, the eastern side had trading with Asia and the Middle East. They're all connected via the Indian Ocean, after all. It makes a lot of sense that recipes would be traded along the way as well as ingredients.

 The pre-prepped pile!
 Post prep!
Just like Rice-a-Roni, this pilau starts off with frying the ingredients. We start with the cashews and spices. The aroma from this was incredible!
 Then we add the rice and veggies and fry those for a bit.
I used a combination of chicken stock and coconut milk for the liquid. I had the rest of the can of coconut milk from the Ndizi na Nyama recipe, and poured that into a 1 cup measuring cup. It ended up being about 3/4 cup. I rounded that out with chicken stock and then did 3 more cups of stock. If you wanted, you could use vegetable stock and this would be completely vegan.
This is what it looks like while it's cooking. I had the wrong kind of rice for this, so it needed a little more stock than it called for. Just taste it when it's nearly done and see how it tastes. Add more liquid if it's too crunchy still. The recipe calls for basmati rice, and I bought basmati rice in bulk from the grocery store. But the next day, when I opened the bag, I could smell the rice and saw it was in fact, jasmine rice, not basmati. The store had put the wrong kind of rice in the dispenser!!! The two are totally different kinds of rice! I'm generally not a big basmati fan, but I would like to try it in this recipe. 

This rice is a little spicy from the jalapeno, but it works well with the coconut milk. And don't underestimate the amazing inclusion of the cashews. That was brilliant! I also forgot the tomato for this recipe, but I fished some out from the Ndizi na Nyama and tossed them in with it so at least there were a few. I knew I was bound to make a mistake with attempting three big recipes like this simultaneously, but at least I found a bit of a work-around for it!

Today I ate some of the rice reheated with the Ndizi na Nyama mixed in with it. The flavors really mesh well, so I recommend eating the two together like this. The rice says it makes 5 servings, but I don't know, I think it made way more than that. I gave some to my parents to try and I have enough for a least two more lunches and will be able to share some with coworkers who want to try it out tomorrow.

My vegetable side dish was Sukuma Wiki, or stewed collard greens, via
 And after!
An action shot as it cooks on the stove. Very exciting with the steam!

This recipe could be made with any combination of collard greens and/or kale. I opted for only collard greens, and I found it too bitter for my tastes. The next time I do this, I think I'd try it with kale and see how that works. The baking soda was a brand new trick for me and I really think it worked well. It made the greens super soft and didn't make it taste salty at all like I thought it might. This is a great trick, a little baking soda in your greens to help them cook down faster!

This was the finished product. I plated everything separately because I didn't want the flavors to blend at first. I wanted to taste each item for its own flavor profile. Everything was amazing! The plantains were soft like potatoes, the pilau was an explosion of spices but no one spice took over the dish. The coconut milk tempered the heat. And if you look closely, at the top of the plate is one of my Africa ornaments I bought from Etsy. This ornament currently lives on my ancestor shelf, and was in my pocket when I went to see Black Panther. I thought it was appropriate for it to be in this picture!

But wait, there's more! I ran out of time last night for the dessert, so that became breakfast today. My final recipe was Kenyan Coconut Mandazi, courtesy of

I got up early this morning to make sure these would be ready by the time my parents dropped by so they could try some. This is the first step of the recipe. Flour is measured, water/sugar/yeast mixture is thickening, and the coconut milk/oil/sugar/cardamom mixture has been stirred together.
All of those are combined and then kneaded into dough. I found mine to be very tough and a little dry at first so I added a couple spoons-full more of coconut milk and that helped. Just keep kneading for a while until it's smooth and elastic. I did not need the full ten minutes. And I discovered the best place to let this rise. In the oven! Just turn your oven to Low, cover the bowl with a towel, and set it in there for the last half hour or so of the rising time. Prior to that, I let it sit on top of the stove, above the burner with the stove outlet on it.
After you punch down the dough and divide it in half, you roll it out. I was happy with how well it rolled out without bouncing back like you see a lot when you roll out bread dough.
The original recipe calls for these to be cut into 8 per half, but I couldn't justify something that large. I think mine rolled out way bigger, so I did 16 per half.
 They fry really quickly and are not heavy and greasy at all. They are akin to a beignet, but way lighter and less greasy. Sometimes you eat a beignet and feel like you've eaten bricks by the time you're done. This was quite the opposite, actually...They are light and airy and you sort of forget how many you've had after a while...You just keep going back for more.
My parents ate some, and so did my sister and I have had well beyond my fair share of these delectable treats. I won't tell you how much are left, but there's a lot less than this picture portrays...It's the cardamom that makes it. I sprinkled a little bit of powdered sugar on them and they are perfect!

Making this food was a lot of work, but it was a labor of love. I spent three hours yesterday preparing the dinner. I went into a bit of a trance, as I often do with large amounts of prep work. There's something comforting and soothing about the repetition of movements with chopping and slicing.
With every collard leaf I washed, watching droplets of water roll off their backs like ducks, I thought about the ancestors. Those who grew and ate them in Africa, in freedom, and those who were forced to grow and eat them in the US, while enslaved. The ingredients and recipes bridged the divide between the motherland and the new land from which there was no return.

Spices from all around the world filled the air of my kitchen and tickled my nose, making me sneeze(not into the food!). I could see India, Madagascar, and the Middle East all swirling around in the Indian Ocean and making their way to Africa on the ocean currents. The west, the east, and the center of the world all found their way to my plate last night and it was beautiful and delicious. I felt privileged to have been able to try these recipes. I would eat every single one of them again.

I also thought of Wakanda and what T'Challa, Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye would think of the meal. I hope they would enjoy it! Hopefully in the next Black Panther movie, we can get a meal scene and find out exactly what sorts of foods they eat. But until then, try these recipes out, or look up others from the region and see what you think. If you are a fan of big flavors, you will not be disappointed!

Until then...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Michael Twitty's Sorghum-Brined Chicken

This last week, I tried out one of the recipe's from Michael Twitty's, The Cooking Gene. Sorghum-Brined Chicken sounded very "exotic" to me, because sorghum is something completely unavailable in Seattle. A previous blog post tells the tale of how I recently came to be the proud owner of my own adorable pint of sorghum syrup and finally had the chance to taste it. When my local grocery store had a great sale on whole chickens, and I got one for under $5, I knew my time had finally come. Here's a link to the recipe. The recipe for kitchen pepper, that isn't included in the link, is available in his book. Here are some pictures of the cooking process. It was surprisingly not difficult to make, and had more hands-off time than hands-on time. This is a great way to roast a chicken if you don't have a lot of time to devote to chopping and mincing.

This is the kitchen pepper that I made. I didn't have all the ingredients, but was happy with the results anyway.
 The brine is really simple, it's just salt, water, vegetable stock, and sorghum syrup. I used an oven roasting bag to put the brine and chicken in. I never use them in the oven, they're just lying around my kitchen, but I discovered that those bags are really great for brining. I highly recommend using one for this!
 Post-brined chicken with the kitchen pepper covering all of it. Under the chicken is a layer of green cabbage leaves. Under the cabbage are two pieces of kitchen twine. You can kind of see them on three sides. You definitely need kitchen twine for this recipe, so if you don't have any on-hand, buy some at the store beforehand.
 The chicken has been topped with another layer of cabbage leaves, and I have tied all the twine to hold everything together. The recipe calls for a Dutch oven, but I don't have one. I used a disposable roasting pan that I covered with foil, instead. It seems to have worked just fine.
This is the final result. I took the foil and top layer of cabbage off and let it sit in the oven for a while to brown on top more. Definitely test it with a thermometer to make sure it's at least 165 degrees. I think it had great color! The pepper blends well with the sweetness of the syrup and the salt from the brine. The cabbage cooks down and mixes with the flavors too. I made some garlic-flavored rice to eat with this and it was a perfect meal!

The next time you're looking for a new and simple way to roast a chicken, I recommend this recipe. If you can, try to find a chicken that doesn't have additional salt water added to it. This can be difficult to find because it's a cheap and easy way to make chicken stay moist while jacking up the price because it also makes the chicken weigh more than it really does. (Random capitalism-ruining-food rant.) I haven't checked lately, but in the past, Foster Farms chicken never added salt water to their chicken.

There are some other recipes in The Cooking Gene that I'd like to try some day. I'll make sure to write a report about them when I have a chance to make them! If anybody else out there has read or reads this book, I'd love to hear what you thought of it. If you try this recipe, let me know what you think of it! And if you do the Twitter thing, give Michael Twitty, aka, Kosher Soul, a follow. He's great!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

New Ingredient-Sorghum Syrup

I have finally finished reading Michael Twitty's book, The Cooking Gene, and in order to try out some of the recipes featured in the book, I had to get my hands on an ingredient that turns out is pretty much impossible to get your hands on in Seattle. I scoured every grocery store in my vicinity, and even made a special trip to Whole Paycheck Foods to look for it there, but with no luck. The only thing that could be done, was to order it online. I finally did, and it arrived last week in a super cute jug. I had no idea what it tasted like or how to use it, but I had a couple recipes to try and also have this handy guide called the internet to refer to for answers.

I had a roasted salmon recipe that calls for sorghum syrup, and decided to try it out last night. The recipe is from Cooking Light, and can be found here. The first thing I noticed when I opened the jug, was how sticky it is. It's super sticky. I'd say it's halfway between molasses and maple syrup in thickness. It got on everything, including things I swear I hadn't even touched. Be prepared to clean extensively when you're finished!

 This is the salmon with the sorghum-mustard glaze on it, waiting to go into the oven. After a discussion on twitter last night, I would say that using tofu would be an excellent vegetarian option for this. Please note, that the recipe doesn't call for salt, so you might want to add some anyway, or make sure to season properly before eating. Especially if you end up using tofu. I didn't have lemon zest on-hand, so I just threw in some lemon juice instead. It worked fine.
Here is the post-roasted, post-broiled salmon. I probably could have broiled it longer, but the glaze on the pan was getting really burned and I was afraid of it smoking too much, so I took it out. You can see the edges are nice and browned.

This was really tasty! Sorghum is hard to describe. When you initially taste it, there's an explosion of flavor in your mouth. There's an almost tart/sour flavor up front, but it quickly dissipates into a round, sweetness. It's less harsh than molasses, which I'm not terribly fond of. It's not mapley like maple syrup or like sugar. It really is its own, unique flavor. I was impressed, and ended up keeping the extra glaze to use again on some more salmon.

I found some other recipes to try, a cookie recipe and a cake recipe to try. I am also going to try out some of the recipes from The Cooking Gene, so I'll try to update when I try them out.

If you live in a region where you can easily access sorghum syrup, take a moment to appreciate it! It might not be special to you, but it's not something everybody can easily access. And for those of you wondering about ordering it for yourself, go for it! A little goes a long way, so it will last you a long time and make the cost worthwhile.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Feed the love, starve the hate

As the news of Charlottesville rolled out this past weekend, I, like you, was dismayed to see the horrifying display of hatred. People parading around with such anger, yet so open and proud about it. It was disturbing on many levels. I was angered, saddened, and filled with a sense of helplessness to do anything to stop it. What can I do, one person all the way across the country, to stop this group of hateful people? In the end, I decided that all I can ultimately do, is try to live my life in a way that helps others, and promotes peace and love, wherever I am. It might not be much, but it's better than nothing.

And then I had another idea, today. I always look to food to cure what ails the world. We all need food. We all love it. It unites and unifies us all. So, why not use food to combat this hatred? Here is my proposal: Every town and city in the United States that ends up the victim of one of these rallies, should host a potluck in response. Everybody from near and far who can get there, should go. Bring foods from your unique cultures and regions, and help make the "melting pot" narrative real. So, bring your Scottish shortbread, your bbq skills, your pho, your vegan tacos, your spaghetti, your potstickers, your Halal curry, your matzo ball soup, and anything and everything else you can think of, and share it with your friends, your family, your neighbors, and complete strangers. Break bread with one another, and make the haters drool.

And while we're at it, let's fill the food banks of these communities with food for those who need it. Food heals, food is love, food is life. Let us combat hate and anger with the very basics of life. Making us all stronger will allow us to keep fighting harder and longer. I don't know about you, but being angry on a full tummy seems nearly impossible to me.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pizza Nachos

So, what do you do when a coworker gives you all her leftover tortilla chips and all you have is pizza-type ingredients at home? Well, you combine them, of course! I didn't measure anything, I just threw it all together. Here's the before:
The ingredients I used are: tortilla chips, Italian blend cheese, Italian seasoning, and pepperoni that's been cut into smaller pieces. Layer them just as you would any other nachos and stick them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes and they look like this:
I topped them with some chopped olives and ate them with a bowl of spaghetti sauce to dip in. They were amazing!!
The only thing I'd do differently, is put foil or parchment paper on the bottom of the sheet pan because the cheese did stick pretty badly. But flavor-wise, I wouldn't change anything!

The next time you're in the mood for nachos, but want something a little different, I highly recommend this!