Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dining In: A Culinary Tour of America-Glendale, Arizona

The City: Welcome, to Glendale, Arizona! I know there are other reasons we're all very excited to be here, but for now, we're going to study up on the history and the food! To start it off, a little piece of trivia: Glendale will be hosting the Super Bowl for the second time, but it hosted it for the first time back in 2008.

Glendale's population, as of 2010, was 226,721. According to the 2000 census, about 76% of the population is white, and about 5% of the population is African American. The average income is $19,124, and 11.9% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Glendale's official founding date is February 2, 1892, and the area had been a desert until it was irrigated and turned into land that was livable. Farming was the big monetary source for the area. A sugar beet factory drew in a lot of workers and income. The first World War also brought with it an increase in farming to the area which also brought in workers and a need for more housing.

The state of Arizona was a part of Mexico until 1848 when half the state was signed over to the United States. The other half of the state came into the nation in 1853. The territory was part of New Mexico until 1863, but didn't become its own state until 1912. As much as the connection with Mexico was strong, there was an even greater Native American population in the territory that still has a strong presence in the state to this day. Much of what we know as the "Wild West" was actually the territory of Arizona.

The Food:
Because I have already and will continue to focus on Native American food in other states, I wanted to focus on the connection to Mexico with Arizona. I picked two dishes to make and was very happy with how both of them turned out. And I did something I have never done before: I cooked with lard! I was scared of it, because it's so high in saturated fat, but I was even more afraid of cooking with shortening, which still has trans fat in it. I realized it was a "pick your poison" situation, and decided to go with the more natural fat, even if it's higher in saturated fat, rather than the laboratory-made trans fat. I think the lard also lent a little more flavor to the food than shortening would have done.

Frijoles de Olla, is a bean dish that I had never heard of before. Traditionally it's made in a clay pot, but since I didn't have one, I just used a regular pan. I learned something very valuable about beans tonight: you don't have to soak beans before cooking them! Don't waste your time or the water on it, just throw it in the pan and add your water and go. It still takes several hours to cook, but no longer than if you'd soaked them first. I adapted the recipe from two different recipes I found online and it is as follows:

2 cups dried beans of choice(I used pinto. I wouldn't recommend garbanzo or soy, they just don't evoke thoughts of Mexico, in my opinion)
1/4 yellow onion, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and cut down the middle(You can use a spicier pepper if you so desire)

Rinse and pick over the beans, taking out any rocks or wrinkled beans. Place the rest of the beans in a large pan big enough to hold them and about three inches of water. Bring this to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for an hour before adding the salt(I didn't measure, I just poured in what looked good to me. Also, I had planned on adding some dried oregano as well but I forgot. It was still good, but I would like to have had that additional flavor), the onion and the pepper.

Continue to simmer for another hour to an hour and a half or until the beans are fully softened. Keep an eye on the water level and add more if it starts to thicken too much. When the pepper halves are fully softened, remove them from the pot, dice them, and return them to the pot.

When the beans are softened, spoon them into bowls to serve on the side of your meal. The flavors are strong enough that they stand out well and you want to taste them by themselves as opposed to having them mixed in with something else. 

I really liked it and it made a lot, so there will be leftovers for my coworkers on Monday! They're vegan, and not spicy so nobody will have to worry about being afraid to try it!

And the other item I made...Homemade tortillas. I have had this recipe in my collection forever but I have never tried it yet. Boy was I missing out! I was sooo impressed with this one. I don't know that I can go back to the flavorless, textureless store bought ones after this. I may have been ruined for store bought tortillas now. It was definitely not a simple task. In was pretty involved and took a bit of time to get done, but the result was phenomenal. The recipe claims that leftovers can be frozen for later use and I might need to make a ton of these and keep them in my freezer instead of bags of the kind from the store. I followed the recipe, though I halved it, so I will write it out here. It's so old I have no idea of the original source. 

Flour Tortillas
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. lard or shortening(I went with lard, but if you'd like a vegetarian option, you should go with the shortening. Just note that even with the revamped formula, shortening still has trans fat in it.)

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cut in shortening.(I used a pastry cutter and this worked really well. Use it for longer than you think you need to and break down the fat really well into the flour.) Make a well in the center and add water, a small amount at a time, to form a dough. Knead dough in bowl until smooth and elastic. Cover and set aside for ten minutes. Form dough into egg-sized balls and flatten between palms. With rolling pin, roll each ball into a 6" circle, about 1/8" thick. Cook on preheated ungreased skillet over medium high heat, about two minutes per side, until tortilla looks speckled.(Be careful once you turn it because it will burn very quickly. I ended up turning them several times just to cook through but keep it from overheating on each side.) Cover with a clean towel to keep warm and soft until served.(I placed a plate on top of the pot of beans that had finished cooking. I turned the heat off but there was a lot of heat in the pot and it kept the tortillas hot and pliable.) The tortillas may be cooled and stored in plastic bags in the freezer for later use.

I forgot to count, but I think the half-recipe of this made about 8-9 tortillas. I actually burned the first one, but there was still plenty left. Most of them were almost round! I really liked the flavor and texture of these. They were thick, but not too thick, and chewy. They were crispy on the outside, but not crunchy, and were foldable. I made basic tacos for them and served the beans on the side. I swear they were the best tacos I've ever had! Also, a trick I learned: buy pre-marinated fajita-style chicken from the grocery store, and cook it while everything else cooks. This was too spicy for me and I cut it by adding sour cream to the chicken and mixing it together. It was amazing this way!

I would definitely make both of these recipes again. The beans were easy and not that hands-on. The tortillas were easy, but labor-intensive. I think it was well worth it, however. Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think! You may be spoiled for store bought too afterwards!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dining In-A Culinary Tour of America: Cabot, Vermont

The City: Tonight, we travel southeast from Alakanuk, Alaska, all the way across the country, to the village of Cabot, Vermont. According to the 2010 census, the population of Cabot was about 1433 people. According to the 2000 census, about 95.96% of the population is Caucasian, with 3.13%, the second largest percentage, being made up of people of two or more races. 7.5% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Vermont was originally settled by the French, as a part of New France, which explains the culinary connections to French cuisine. They are also in close proximity to Quebec, sharing a border with the province. Prior to the European invasion of the Americas, the western part of the state was home to the Abenaki and Mohican tribes, both of which were Algonquin speakers. Their numbers declined with the arrival of more European settlers to the area in the mid 1700's.

Vermont has several culinary gems, including their legendary maple syrup, apples, and cheese. The state is also the home of Ben and Jerry's ice cream as well as the King Arthur flour company. Cabot Creamery is the state's most famous cheese company, best known for their cheddar cheese. Cabot Creamery was founded in 1919, and is a COOP consisting of private farms from all over New England.

The Food: I am not a fan of maple syrup, so I did not want to focus on this ingredient. I chose two dishes, a savory and a sweet, both pastries. For the savory I chose something called Tourtiere, which is basically a French word for "fancy pot pie". I had a recipe card that I altered for my own uses, and the recipe is as follows:

Cooking spray
1 lb. ground pork (I used ground chicken and since the brand I used only came in 13.3oz packages, I added more veggies to make up the difference)
1 tsp. salt (I ended up using more. Season as you go before you top it with dough and cannot add more.)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1(1lb.) russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4" cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp. freshly snipped chives(I didn't have fresh and used about half that amount in dried instead. It was just fine.)
1 pkg. refrigerated pie dough

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2.) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork to pan. Sprinkle with all the spices. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned and crumbled. Remove pork from the pan. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan before adding all the vegetables and garlic at one time. Saute for five minutes or two, stirring well, until the potatoes begin to look slightly opaque. Return pork to the pan. Stir in the flour, mix well and heat through for a minute. Add the chicken broth, stirring well to combine, until thickened. Remove from the heat and add the chives. Season to taste to make sure it's flavored enough.
3.) Unroll one of the pie dough circles into the bottom of a standard size pie dish. Spoon out filling into the pie dish before topping with the second unrolled pie dough circle. Crimp the ends together and slice a few slashes into the top to help steam escape. You will definitely want to put this on a baking sheet before placing it in the oven. I didn't and it dripped all over the oven.
4.) Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let it cool off for a while before serving. Makes about 6 servings.

This was really tasty. I took it to a family gathering today and our youngest member, about 3 years old, gobbled up her piece and declared it delicious! I was wary of the spices but it worked really well, I thought. The leftovers I plan on eating cold, though I suppose I could reheat them if I wanted.

The second dish was the sweet dish. This one I focused on apples and cheddar. I had heard of Apple-Cheddar pie but I can't recall if I've ever tried it before. I researched several recipes. Many of them called for the cheese to be added in with the apple filling, which sounded absolutely vile to me and I refused to do that. I found a couple that the cheese is added to the dough and that sounded better to me. I had two recipes but I combined them and then made up the rest based on how I like to make apple pie now that I don't eat sugar when it can be helped. The dough is from the Williams-Sonoma recipe, and the altered filling is from the Epicurious recipe. I went to three stores in search of Cabot cheddar, but none of them had any. I ended up with Boar's Head Vermont Cheddar, but I really did want to use Cabot. The recipe is as follows:

Apple-Cheddar Pie: 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 tsp. salt 
1 Tbs. sugar 
6 oz. white cheddar cheese, finely grated (I used orange cheddar. Also, I think ultimately this is too much cheese. I read a comment in one of the recipes that they used 4 oz. and liked it better. I think if I was to do this again, I would try that.)
16 Tbs. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water

1.) Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and cheese in a bowl. Mix well, breaking up any clumps of cheese you come across. Place this in the freezer for ten minutes.
2.) Cut up the butter, place it in another bowl and freeze for ten minutes as well.
3.) Add the flour mixture and the butter to a food processor.(Use a large one or do it in two batches. I had no business trying to do it all in one moderately-sized food processor. It was nearly a disaster and led to a lot of stress and cleaning up afterwards.) Pulse until the dough looks like coarse crumbs. Add the water and pulse until the dough just comes together. The dough should be slightly sticky but hold together.
4.) Divide dough in half and form into disks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.(This ended up making two pies for me. You can freeze one of the disks for another time if you like, or cut the recipe in half and only make one.)

4 Honeycrisp apples (as large as you can find)
Lemon juice
1 Tbsp. flour

1.) Peel and core one of the apples. Grate with the small setting of a grater into a small saucepan. Collect any juices. Add a bit of lemon juice to keep from browning and simmer for ten minutes or so until softened. (I did this the day before and refrigerated until ready to use.)
2.) Peel and core the rest of the apples. Slice thinly into slices and place in a large bowl. Add lemon juice to bowl and stir after the addition of each apple to prevent browning. Add the grated apple and mix well. This replaces any sugar you need to add. Sprinkle with the flour and mix well. (If you intend to only make one pie, cut all of this in half.)

1.) Take one of the dough disks out of the fridge and let sit for a few minutes to soften slightly. Put on a floured surface and roll out until 1/4" thick. The cheese in the dough makes it a bit tougher than a traditional dough so I found that using a rolling pin with my hands on the pin directly as opposed to the handles worked much better. Also, rotate the dough every minute or so, but don't turn it over. You want to work the dough as little as possible. Make sure to keep the dough and pin well floured.
2. When the dough is rolled out enough, place on a baking sheet. Spoon half of the apples into the center of the dough and turn up the sides to encase the apples, leaving a hole in the middle for the apples to poke through. I was supposed to dot the apples with butter but I forgot this. The apples did get a bit browned, so I would definitely try to add some butter just to keep it from over-browning.
3.) Repeat with the rest of the dough and the apples, if making two.
4.) Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and then turn down the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for another half hour or so, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool before cutting into.

Note: This was technically a galette, since it was a free-formed pie, but you could do it in a pie dish if you wanted. The recipes I researched used a double-crust, meaning it had a top and bottom crust. If you wanted to make it like this, prepare the ingredients just as I described, without cutting anything in half. Place half the dough on the bottom, top with the filling and then top with the second dough round. Crimp the edges, cut holes in the top to vent, and bake the same way. You might have to increase the time to ensure that the bottom cooks properly. I thought this tasted pretty good, in spite of it being a bit too cheesy. I will try another piece tomorrow when it has fully cooled off to make completely sure. I'm not sure you would want to top this with ice cream or whipped cream.

This was a fun baking challenge for me. I was amazed that I managed to pull off the homemade dough, which isn't something I am terribly good at doing. I loved getting to share the Tourtiere with my family. It's fun seeing other people enjoy something you work so hard on preparing. I would definitely make both of these again.



Williams-sonoma apple-cheddar pie 

Epicurious Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust 

Cabot Cheese website 

Most of the facts about Vermont and the village of Cabot can be found in Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dining In-A Culinary Tour of America: Alakanuk, Alaska

The City: Alakanuk, Alaska

Alakanuk, pronounced "Ah-luck-ah-nuck", is a Yup'ik word that means "wrong way"/"mistake village". It is located on the far western tip of the Alaskan coast, at the mouth of the Yukon River. As of the 2012 census, there were approximately 709 people living in this city. The population is about 95% Native American, and 2.1% Anglo American. Alakanuk averages 60 inches of snow each year. The average income is $11,632 and according to the 2010 census, 33.8% of the population lives below the poverty line.

The majority of the Native Americans living in Alakanuk belong to the Yup'ik tribe. Yup'ik translates to "real people". They originally hail from eastern Russia, and there is still a tribe living in Siberia who are related to these people. They are also related to the Eskimo and Inuit peoples. The placement of the city was such that they were largely untouched by the influx of white settlers and explorers in the 1800's, but eventually there was a salmon cannery that opened in the mid 1940's and the city grew in population and amenities, though one might wonder if the cost was worth it. As with many other places in the United States, Native children were sent to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their language. It went a long way towards assimilating the children into the greater Anglo-majority.

Alakanuk is located in the subarctic zone, and the diet of the people who live there consists largely of seafood and wild game. Alaska has a short growing season and depending on where you are, poor soil quality, which makes growing vegetables difficult. Because of this, the people who lived there would have developed a diet consisting mostly of animal-based products.

The Meal:

 Since salmon is so big in Alaska, I wanted to focus on that. Most of the pictures I looked at and the research I did showed that plain fire-smoked salmon was the most common preparation. I also noticed that most of the fillets had checkered cuts in them, probably to help cook it faster. They use large knives that are rounded on both ends, and I don't have one of those, so I just used a boning knife and cut down to the skin, but not through. I do think this helped get the seasoning into every bite. The rub I used was one tablespoon(packed) of light brown sugar, half a tablespoon of kosher salt, and about 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. I rubbed this into the salmon after making the cuts, and made sure I got it into the cuts as well. When this was done I put it in a plastic bag and refrigerated it all day. A lot of moisture was drawn out during the course of the day, but it also was infused with the seasoning.

I have never made smoked salmon before, but I love to eat it. In Seattle, we usually prepare it using hot smoke methods, which creates a unique texture. If you've ever seen lox before, popular on the East Coast, then you know what cold smoked salmon looks like. The texture is vastly different; it almost looks raw to me, compared to hot smoked salmon. 

I was excited to try making my own smoked salmon, especially with the added challenge of not owning a smoker. Fortunately, I had access to wood chips(alder), so I borrowed some of those and rigged up my own homemade "smoker". Usually you soak the wood chips so they will smoulder and smoke, and not really flame up, but do you know how difficult it is to light wet wood chips? It's pretty much impossible, as I learned tonight. I added fresh chips to light those in the hopes of covering them with the soaked chips, but I could not get those to light either. My sister and I went through about a whole book of matches trying it, and had no luck. I had to come up with plan B if I wanted to do this right. As Tim Gunn from Project Runway always says, "Make it work," and so I did. I turned on the broiler and put the pan of chips under it, but ultimately I placed it further down on the rack and closed the oven door for a couple minutes(with the broiler still on). They were smoking by that time so I hurriedly placed the small rack and the salmon on top of it and covered the whole contraption in foil and placed it back in the oven, which I turned down to 400 degrees. I left it covered the entire time which was about a half hour for the .6 pound fillet I had.
 During this time I made the fry bread to accompany the salmon. Fry bread is a well known Native American dish in the Southwestern United States and I was surprised to hear that it was a dish served in Alaska as well. The recipe I used was a bit different from the other fry bread, which tends to look like a large, puffy tortilla. The ingredients were super simple, just flour, baking powder, salt, and water. It was thicker than a pancake batter, but still gloppy enough to generally hold its shape. They had the consistency of a pancake mixed with a biscuit that has been fried. The recipe called for frying it in shortening but I used canola oil instead because I don't cook with shortening whenever I can avoid it. The flavor was a little bland, it could have used more salt, but the texture was oddly addictive and I found myself eating more of it than I had intended.

When the half hour was up, I took the pan out of the oven and opened it out on my porch since I was not sure how much smoke would have built up in there. I didn't want to flood my apartment with it or risk setting off any fire alarms. There was a fair amount and I would recommend opening it outside if the option is available to you if you ever try this. I also cannot recommend enough the use of a disposable aluminum pan for this, it makes the clean up so much easier. You can see the small rack I used to place the salmon directly over the chips, but not touching them. The foil kept the smoke trapped inside so it had no choice but to infuse into the salmon. The salmon had the texture I was used to in a smoked salmon, the sort of hard outside but the soft inside. I read in one of the recipes that to achieve this effect, you leave the salmon sitting out at room temperature for a while before smoking it to let the surface dry off a little. I did this and I think it definitely helped. 

I did have one mishap tonight, besides the near smoke fail, and that was my potatoes. I bought some lovely new potatoes and cut them up and put them in the steamer basket in my pan and started to steam them...and it was about half way into this process that I realized I had forgotten to add water to the bottom of the pan and the potatoes and the pan had scorched. Fun! Fortunately my sister had a microwave baked potato she wasn't going to use and let me have it instead. Green beans, though probably not strictly authentic to true Alakanuk experience, rounded out the meal.

I only ate half of the salmon tonight and am very curious what the other half will taste like cold tomorrow. I think smoked salmon is truly at its finest when it is eaten cold. The flavor was really good, slightly sweet but not too sweet. Not salty, but not bland either. The pepper just kicked it up a bit too. It really did not need anything else for flavoring. The smoke flavor was light, but I do think it was there and not just my imagination. Again, when it's cold, the flavors may meld together even more and the flavor might be even better.

I am not sure that I would prepare salmon like this very often, since smoked salmon is so readily available, but I am really glad I tried it out. It was fun, it was an adventure and it wasn't as hard as it could have been. This was a great way to kick off this project. I had fun and I hope you enjoyed reading about it!

Recipe links: Because these were not my original recipes, I will share the links so that the people who created them get the credit they deserve.

Indoor Smoked Salmon

Alakanuk/Yup'ik links: Because proper historians cite their sources, I will share the links to my research, outside of Wikipedia links, which are considered general and easy to look up on your own if you so desire.
City picture


Growing Season

Census Info

Salmon Canning Information-This leads to a pdf you have to download to open and read.

Local Source-This is interesting, it's from the Seattle Times, about a man who lived in Alakanuk for 30 years.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year's Pulled Pork

So this year, for New Year's, my sister and I were still turkeyed out after Thanksgiving, so I wanted to do something different. I decided on pulled pork, so we went to Central Market and bought a huge pork roast. I always splurge and get the Niman Ranch, free-range pork. It was about 4.5 lbs in weight, with a good layer of fat on the top, but not so much that I needed to trim it down at all.

Originally I was going to do it in the slow cooker, but when I realized that we had to do it for a lunch earlier in the day I scrapped that idea at the last minute and did it in the oven instead. I had three bbq rub recipes I looked at and based my own recipe off of them. I didn't measure anything, but the base of the rub was smoked paprika. The rest of the rub consisted of: kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, dried oregano, and dried thyme. Rub this into every side of the meat and place it in a large baking dish. Mine was a 9"x13" Pyrex dish. I poured some water into the dish, about a half inch up the side, and then put several shots of Tabasco sauce into the water. Cover with foil and place in a 350 degree oven for three hours.

After three hours, remove the dish from the oven and take off the foil. The water will be infused with the juices from the pork. Carefully drain this into a saucepan and add the pre-made bbq sauce of your choice. I used a combination of two kinds that I had on hand. With the liquid drained from the dish and the foil off, return dish to the pan to allow the meat to cook longer and to crisp up on the outsides for about a half hour more.

When the meat is done, remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes before touching it. When it's time, take two forks and shred the meat. This will take some time. When it's shredded, pour in some of the sauce and mix to moisten the meat but let other people add the sauce to their liking. Some people don't like sauce at all and some people like to drown it. I served this with rice, cornbread, and salad and it was soooo nummy!