Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of the World: Jamaica

The Country: Jamaica
Continent/Region: Central America and the Caribbean
Capital: Kingston
Current Head of State: Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Form of Government: Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Official Language: English; National Language-Jamaican Patois
Ethnic Groups: 92% black, of Sub-Saharan African descent, East Indian, Chinese, Biracial
Formation Date: The island was settled between 4000 and 1000 BCE, by the Taino and Arawak peoples of South America.
Population: As of July 2015-2,950,210
Currency: Jamaican dollar
Independence Day: August 6, 1962-From the United Kingdom
Main Religion: Christianity
Famous Jamaicans: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt
Famous Jamaican Americans: Harry Belafonte, Colin Powell, The Notorious B.I.G., Heavy D, Corbin Bleu, Gloria Reuben, Dule Hill
 National Anthem:

The Food: Jerk Pork Chops, Callaloo, Fried Plantains, and Coco Bread
This was a fun meal! I was worried a little about how spicy Jamaican food can be, but it's pretty easy to control the spice level, so it didn't turn out to be too spicy at all.

Jamaican food is sort of like Southern food in the United States. It is a blend of several different cultures that each brought their ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavor profiles with them when they came to the island. Indigenous ingredients blended with South American, European, and African ingredients over the centuries to create something completely unique. Being an island, seafood is naturally a large part of Jamaican cuisine. I went in a different direction this time, however.

I had a recipe for jerk pork chops in my collection forever but was never brave enough to try it, for fear of it being too spicy. This was a silly, unfounded fear, and I should have tried it long ago, because it ended up being just about the best pork chop I have ever had in my entire life.

"Jerk" is a seasoning blend unique to Jamaica. My particular recipe comes from the very authentically Jamaican, Family Circle magazine, and I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is probably slightly Americanized for a blander palette. If you are interested in trying out jerk seasoning in something besides this recipe, there are many recipes out there to make your own seasoning blend that is as spicy as you want it to be. I found that it could have even been a little more spicy and I would have been ok with that. I will write out the recipe as I made it.

Jerk Pork Chops:
2 large green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice(lime juice would also be fantastic in this)
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. hot sauce(I used Tabasco and I found it could have been doubled for a bit more spice without being overwhelming.)
4 Bone-in loin pork chops(about 8oz. each), 1" thick

1.) In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients except the pork chops.
2.) Place pork chops in a gallon-size ziplock bag. Pour the jerk seasoning and cover the pork chops well on all sides. Zip the bag closed and refrigerate for 2 hours. Turn over at least once during the marinating time.
3.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a grill pan over high heat. If the handle of your grill pan is not metal, wrap well in a couple layers of foil.
4.) Place chops on grill pan; cook 2 minutes per side. Place the grill pan into the oven.
5.) Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, depending on thickness, or until the temperature reaches 155 degrees. Remove from oven and let meat rest 10 minutes. (I did 20 minutes for mine and it was perfect.)
Makes 4 servings. 327 calories, 18g. fat, 1 g. fiber

This was not really that hard to make and the flavor was fantastic. I have never had the thicker bone-in loin chops like that before and it was well worth the extra cost. If you don't eat them that often, go ahead and splurge and get the really good cut. You won't be disappointed!

To go with this, I wanted to make Callaloo. I didn't know what it was, I only remember them talking about it on The Cosby Show when I was growing up and always wanting to know what it was. Well, now was the time to find out! It turns out that callaloo is a type of leafy green vegetable native to Jamaica. It is prepared pretty much like collard greens and the recipe I found said you could use those as a substitute. If you recall from last year's project, I tried collard greens and failed horribly at it. I decided this was my second chance to try it out. I'm very happy to say that they turned out much better this time! I made sure to add a lot of water!

The recipe also came with a side recipe for frying plantains with it. I did this as well and used it as the starchy side for the meal. Both were really easy to prepare. The Callaloo recipe can have bacon in it if you want, but I chose to leave it out for a vegan version instead. This way I can share some of the leftovers with my vegetarian coworker tomorrow!

Callaloo and Fried Plantains:

1 bunch of fresh Callaloo, kale, collard greens (about 11/2 pound) (I used collard greens)
2 thick bacon strips cut in pieces (I omitted this)
3-4 garlic cloves minced 
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon smoked paprika 
1 sprig of fresh thyme (I used 1/2 tsp. dried since I did not have fresh on-hand_
1 fresh tomato, chopped (I had an extra half of a tomato to use up so I threw that in as well)
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (This is one of the hottest peppers and there was no way I was going to use it. I had a bottle of Habanero pepper sauce, though, that I had meant to mail to my cousin in Texas, but had been too lazy to ever do, so I used about 1/2 tsp. of that instead. I could have used more because it could have been more spicy, but I didn't want to risk overdoing it.)
Salt/pepper, to taste 
3- 4 ripe plantains (I only used 1 because it was just for me. I would say half a large plantain per person is a good gauge)
Cooking oil 
Salt/pepper (optional)

Cut leaves and soft stems from the callaloo branches, them soak in a bowl of cold water for about 5-10 minutes or until finish with prep. (If using collard greens, wash very well, then cut the stems out and cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. You don't need to soak them.) 

Remove callaloo from water cut in chunks. (Skip this step if using collard greens.) Place bacon on saucepan and cook until crispy. (Skip this step if you want it to be a vegetarian version.) Then add onions, garlic, thyme, stir for about a minute or more.
Add tomatoes; scotch bonnet pepper (or pepper sauce), and smoked paprika. Sauté for about 2-3 more minutes. Add the greens, salt, mix well, and cook for about 6-8 minutes or until leaves are tender. Add water as needed. Adjust seasonings and turn off the heat. (I ended up cooking these while the pork chops cooked in the oven. Collard greens need more time to cook down than the callaloo leaves.)

Prepare the fried plantains: Using a sharp knife cut both ends off the plantain. This will make it easy to grab the skin of the plantains. Slit a shallow line down the long seam of the plantain; peel only as deep as the peel. Remove plantain peel by pulling it back. Slice the plantain into medium size lengthwise slices and set aside. 

Coat a large frying pan with cooking oil. Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground pepper. Let the plantains fry on medium heat, shaking the frying pan to redistribute them every few minutes. (I found they stuck to the pan and I had to work a bit to loosen them so I could turn them over. They're pretty hearty though, so don't be afraid to use some force on them.) As the plantains brown, continue to add more cooking oil, salt and pepper, if needed, until they have reached the desired color and texture. Remove and serve with callaloo.
The Callaloo was pretty tasty. Collard greens have a slightly bitter taste to them, but they were much less bitter this time around since I didn't burn them to death. They could have had a bit more spice but I didn't want to tempt fate with the habanero sauce.

The plantains reminded me of sweet potatoes. Plantains are related to bananas. You can see they look just like one, but they tend to be harder, starchier, and less sweet. They do have sweetness, though, so go into it knowing this. I found them to be a little too sweet for my tastes, however. I will explore them more, in future blog posts, so my palate might adjust to it in time.

As if that wasn't enough, I decided I needed to make bread too. I found a recipe for Jamaican Coco Bread and found the name intriguing. You would think there would be coconut somewhere in the recipe, but you would be wrong! I found this recipe interesting because the preparation was unlike any bread I've ever made before. It's a basic white bread, but it's divided up into pieces, rolled out into circles, spread with melted butter, and folded over before being baked. This creates a spongy texture as the bread bakes and steams simultaneously.

Jamaican Coco Bread:

2 packets yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp. salt
3.5 cups white flour
1/2 cup melted butter

Mix the yeast, sugar and water together. Beat the egg and stir in to the mixture. Stir in the milk and salt. Stir in 2 cups of the flour.
Slowly add more flour, stop when the mixture becomes stiff.
Knead the dough until it is smooth. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and some of the melted butter. Roll the dough around the bowl until it is entirely coated in butter. Cover with a damp towel for 1 hour (this will allow the mixture to rise).

Punch down the dough. Divide the dough in to 10 pieces and roll each piece in to a thin circle. Brush the dough with melted butter then fold in half.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place folded pieces on a well-greased sheet and place on the top rack of the oven. (I found I needed three sheets to fit them all. You can only get 4 to fit on a standard-sized sheet.) Bake until golden brown for about 15 minutes.

Mine ended up being a bit overdone. There were a few factors involved with this. First was, I baked two sheetpans at once. I had one on the upper level and one on the lower level and I switched them halfway through the baking time. This bread definitely does better on the top level of your oven, so they got a little over-baked. Also, I think 425 might be too high for this recipe. I would try 400 degrees and check it after 12 minutes or so to see how brown they're getting. It's also possible that I rolled the dough too thin. In spite of that though, they flavor and texture were fantastic! I spread a little more melted butter on the top and that really made it delicious.
This entire meal was amazing! It was fun to make and delicious to eat. If you are like me, and have been afraid to try Jamaican food because you've heard how spicy it can be, try making it yourself. This way you control the spice level.

The pork chops were so fantastic that I might have to add this to a more regular rotation in my daily life. I was highly impressed with them. I was really proud of this entire meal and am really looking forward to the leftovers tonight!

Callaloo Recipe

Country Map

Country Flag

Coco Bread Recipe

National Anthem


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of the World: Mongolia

The Location: Mongolia
Continent: Asia, north
Capital: Ulaanbaatar
Current Head of State: President-Tsakhiagiin Elbegdarj, Prime Minister-Chimediin Saikhanbileg
Form of Government: Unitary Semi-presidential Republic
Official Language: Mongolian
Ethnic Groups: Mongols, Kazakhs
Formation Date: Has been occupied by humans for 40,000 years.
Population: As of 2015-3,042,511
Currency: Togrog(the o's have the two dots over them but I can't make my computer do that on this blog program.)
Independence Day: 1911-From China
Main Religion: Buddhism
National Anthem:
Mongolian Folk Song:

The Food: Mongolian Millet and Green Milk Tea and Tsuivan
I think a lot of people in the US think Mongolian food is the same as Chinese food or that it's grilled meat and stir-fries, but this is wrong. Mongolia lies between China and Russia, and because of this, its cuisine is influenced by both cultures. Mongolia is a landlocked nation, largely pastoral and nomadic. It is heavily meat- and dairy-based because the land is not very conducive to growing produce.

Mongolian Millet and Green Milk Tea

2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
1 Tbsp. green tea
For the millet “garnish” (optional):
1/4 cup millet
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. flour

Add the milk, water, and salt to a saucepan and heat until almost simmering.
Add the green tea (in a tea ball) and let steep over the heat for 4-6 minutes, or to desired strength. Remove the tea and increase the heat so that the mixture just barely simmers.
Meanwhile, toast millet in a skillet over medium heat in butter. Dust with flour and continue toasting until golden brown.
Add the toasted millet to the tea mixture and cook 15-30 minutes or until the millet is tender.
Right before serving, check your seasonings and add some extra salt, if desired.
Ladle steaming hot tea into everyone’s cup or bowl, being sure to give everyone a healthy amount of millet (which will most likely be settled on the bottom of the pot).
Makes 4 servings
This recipe didn't really work for me. It had potential, but I would have needed to tweak a couple things. First, I think the salt didn't blend well with the green tea. Green tea has a very grassy taste and if you aren't used to it, you might want to add something sweet to counter the flavor. Salt just made the grass flavor even stronger. And it was just too salty. I recommend leaving it out, as well as using unsalted butter, if you have it. You could also use oil to toast the millet and it would work just fine. And as for the millet, I should have cooked it for the full 30 minutes, because it was only half cooked. Half-cooked millet is very chalky and doesn't taste very good. I think the tea, water, and milk would have been just fine, and if the millet had been properly bloomed it would have added a wonderful texture. I might try this again one day with these changes.

Tsuivan-Mongolian Noodle Stew
10.5 oz. flour(This was translated from metric, so you definitely want to measure this out exactly. Same with the water.)
6.7 oz. water
7 oz. meat of choice, sliced thinly(traditionally lamb is used, but I used a pork spare rib.)
Vegetables of choice, sliced thinly(I used the following: green cabbage, bok choy, onions, green onions, carrots, and zucchini)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Make Noodles:
Mix the flour and water in a bowl until well-combined. Add more water or flour if needed. Once mixed, set aside for 15 minutes. You don't want to activate the gluten too much. This is a noodle dough, not a bread dough.
Once the dough has rested, cut it in half and roll each half out thin into a round. Pour about one Tbsp. oil onto the center of the dough. Spread it out to cover the entire surface of the dough. Repeat with the second round and set one on top of the other. Cut down the center and put one half on top of the other. Cut again and place on top of the other. Cut into 1/2" strips. Keep the strips in the stacks they're already in. You will separate them after they are cooked.
In a large pot, heat some more oil and add half the onions. Once they are mostly cooked, add the meat. When that is browned, add the carrots and garlic. Let cook for a while and then add a few tablespoons of water. Top this with the vegetables. Add salt and pepper and cover with a lid. Cook for about 5 minutes to help cook the vegetables down a bit. Remove the lid and add water to about 2/3 up on the vegetables. Add the rest of the onions before placing the strips of dough on top.
Put the lid back on and cook for about 15 minutes. The dough will still be in thick strips, but will be cooked enough to separate with forks, chopsticks, or what I ended up using: my fingers. Make sure to give yourself time to do this. Each piece of dough has about 7 noodles that need to be separated. They are also hot, so you might need to go slowly. Once they are all separated, gently stir them into the meat and vegetable mixture until well-incorporated. The water will have nearly evaporated by then, which is supposed to happen.
The original recipe recommends adding some sort of sauce to it and I found it did need a little something. I added a bit of soy sauce and it was lovely. Tonight I want to try it with some hoisin sauce and see how that is. If you like spice, you could add some Sriracha sauce.

This was a lot of work! But it was pretty tasty too! There is something very homey about the homemade noodles. It was fun to see them separate into strips. If you've never made noodles before, I recommend this version. It's pretty easy, it just takes time.

Tsuivan Recipe
Tea Recipe
Map Link
Flag Link
National Anthem Link
Folk Song Link