Coq au Vin with Parsley Potatoes and Buttered Peas and Butter Spongecake

We have reached the end!! Actually we reached the end about a month ago, on December 17th, but I’ve had a crazy month. As I mentioned before, the girls were home for two weeks during the holiday break and then it took me another two weeks to get myself situated. I have attempted to sit and post for almost two weeks but my days have just gotten away from me so here I am. A month late. I know my posting has been sporadic for the past few months but to be honest, my heart has not been fully into this project. Things started to get really hectic around September and I think that’s when I started to lose a bit of interest in this. It’s just been hard to prioritize something that ultimately is just an option, a luxury. I’m grateful that I’ve been allowed to do this but when I look at the bigger picture it’s just not as important as other things in our lives. I’m glad I stuck with it but I’m also glad it’s over.

I ended up only doing two French meals for French week. I had originally planned on doing three but I forgot to marinate the meat for another dish so I just skipped it. This meal took a total of six hours to make so, you know, I think I can be forgiven.

We had our friends Jay and Rick over for dinner, as well as my cousin Robert. Jay and his friend Paul have a podcast,  Have You Seen This One? where each week they recommend a movie for the other to watch and then review the movies. A few months ago Jay and I got the idea to combine forces and watch an international movie to accompany my cooking. Originally we talked about doing it for Italian week but the three of us couldn’t get our schedules together. We settled on French week and chose The Absolutely Fabulous Movie. Jay and I are huge AbFab fans and the way we justified this movie for French week was that it takes place in the French Riviera. I know, it’s a bit of a stretch but both of us had already seen many of the other French movies we considered and, honestly, we just wanted an excuse to watch AbFab.

So the one thing I finally learned from this project was to plan ahead and to do as much prep work as possible beforehand. It happened too many times where I was like “Oh, that won’t take long because chopping the veggies will take five minutes and blah blah blah” and then it’s time to make dinner, guests are on their way, and I’m still chopping veggies after twenty minutes. Not this time! I made the dessert (a butter spongecake with chocolate-rum icing) and peeled the onions for the coq a vin the day before and early the morning of, I made the appetizer (roquefort cheese balls). I am positive this saved SO MUCH TIME. It also helped that James was home the day before so I was able to spend some much needed time in the kitchen. I also set the table almost seven hours before our guests arrived and that too helped.

I had never made a butter spongecake, or any kind of spongecake, before so this was fun. I think I’ve mentioned I’m not the best when it comes to baking because for some reason measured ingredients and I do not get along. I feel like baking involves a lot of chemistry and although I was pretty good at chemistry, I’m a D student at best when it comes to baking. I made the sign of the cross, lit a candle, and got to it. OMG, I was nervous. I think I read the recipe about four different times, kept reading every single step before and after completing it, and was just very thorough. As I poured the batter into the cake pan I thought to myself “If this doesn’t work, I’m breaking something.” The good thing was I had to wait until the next evening to find out if it worked out so nothing was broken that day.

Jay, Rick, and Robert were arriving at 7:30 so around 4, I started cooking my coq au vin. I had to cut up a chicken, which up until this point I hated doing because it always took me forever to do it, but I guess I’d done it so many times throughout the year that it literally took me five minutes to cut up the chicken. FIVE MINUTES! This was a huge ego boost for me and was a great way to start dinner making. I have a pretty good self-esteem as it is so you can only imagine how much “OH YEAH!” and dancing took place after this. It will remain one of the highlights of my year.

The coq au vin wasn’t too difficult to make, really. The most difficult part was lighting the cognac and shaking the Dutch oven until the flame subsided. James really enjoyed that and even filmed it for FB. I was just happy I didn’t burn anything or myself. Low expectations are the key to a happy life! To accompany the coq au vin, I made parsley potatoes and buttered peas. A note on the peas.

The recipe states “In France it is usually accompanied only by parsley potatoes; buttered green peas could be included if you wish a green vegetable.” I laughed when I read this because I could just hear the disdain in Julia Child’s voice. If you wish…just a little eye rolling there. So yeah, I made buttered peas and they were delicious Julia!

Instead of par-boiling the onions, which is an option and one many people seem to prefer, I baked them. I think this made the dish richer and more flavorful but I have no real evidence to back this up other than my happy tummy and those of my guests.

So I was done cooking everything, placed everything in their serving dishes, and I looked at the clock and it was seven. THIRTY MINUTES EARLY! I was so proud of myself! I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but every single time I’d made food for friends during the year, I was cooking up until the minute they arrived or still cooking after they arrived. It made for a very frantic greeting and I think the food suffered a bit as well. I couldn’t give my guests or the food the attention they deserved and it was very nerve-wracking. But not this time because by now I was a pro!

The food was amazing! The cheese balls were very strong but that was expected because it was blue cheese. Pairing it with bagel crisps helped but I ate about three or four by themselves. I also love blue cheese so that might have just been me loving on the bleu. The potatoes? Yum. They weren’t too soft or too hard, they were the right texture and flavor. The peas? I love peas and I love butter so I ate a few spoonfuls. Now, what everyone really cares about: the coq a vin. If I were choosing the meals for my last week on earth, this would be Wednesday’s meal. Chicken Sekuwa would be Thursday’s meal, Moules Frites would be Thursday’s, and Frito Pie would be my last meal on Saturday. Hey, I don’t want to hear it. Frito Pie is fucking amazing and if you look down on it, it says more about you than me. That’s all I gotta say about that.

The onions and mushrooms were to diiiiiiiie for! The onions literally fell apart in my mouth; I barely had to chew them. They were so buttery and soft! I’m basically drooling just thinking about them. The chicken was so tender and juicy and my goodness, I want to eat this again. Everything was just perfection and it shouldn’t have been surprising because it’s one of Julia Child’s most famous recipes and this is why. It was just so freaking good!

This was the spongecake the day after. I forgot to take a pic of it that evening; let’s blame the six bottles of wine and two bottles of champagne for my forgetfulness…As you can see, nothing was broken so it turned out well. Even with it being a day old, it was surprisingly moist. I’m pretty sure that was because of all the butter and eggs.

So with full bellies and brains starting to float in booze, we sat down to watch AbFab. If you’d like to hear our review (and I know you do) please check out Jay and Paul’s podcast. My bit starts at the 45 minute mark.

So that’s it, my last meal! I’m going to start working on my Year In Review and with my track record, you can expect it some time next month. Also, it looks like I’ll have to post the actual recipes because I can’t find them online anywhere and that always takes forever. Until then!

Chicken Breasts in Cream and Buttered Carrots and Asparagus

We are finally at the last week of cooking! Actually, we were there about a month ago but it’s taken me a while to catch up.

I saved French week for the very end because French food is so revered and is viewed by many as the best. I’ll save my thoughts on that perspective for another post but it’s safe to say, I was a believer before taking on this project. I knew it would be time consuming and it would require a lot of knowledge and effort so that’s why I saved it for the end. I figured that by the end of it, I would be a much better cook and would have some extra skills that would help me take on the Goliath of international cuisine.

One of my birthday gifts from James was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.  I’ve always wanted to buy this cookbook but I couldn’t ever justify spending $30 on it. I don’t know why; it’s huge, it’s a classic, it wasn’t ever going to be any cheaper, but I just couldn’t do it. But what I could do was ask someone else to buy it for me as a gift so when James took me to Book People for my birthday and said I could buy whatever I wanted (within reason) I grabbed this one and handed it over! Thanks James!

This cookbook is WORTH $30. It’s worth a lot more but $30 is a good starting point. I feel dumb praising it because I’m sure so many people are already aware of how great and amazing this cookbook is and you’re probably like “Yeah dummy, that’s why it’s a classic!” but I didn’t know until I owned it. It shows you how to do everything! The difference between chopping and dicing vegetables, the different ways to ice a cake, the reasoning behind using certain utensils, and (my favorite part) what to serve alongside your main dishes. This was extremely helpful and I wish more cookbooks did this, especially when you’re dealing with foreign cuisine. If every recipe had done this during my months long project, I would have done a lot less research in putting my meals together. I could have saved so much time! So yes, if you can, add this to your library. It’s most definitely worth it.

For the first night I chose an easy dinner of chicken breasts in cream and veggies of asparagus and carrots. I needed a meal that was easy and quick because that week was a little hectic. The recipe called for boneless chicken breasts but for some reason I bought bone-in chicken breasts. I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference, and it didn’t in terms of flavor, but it might have in cooking time. The recipe said to cook the chicken for a total of eight minutes in the oven at 400 degrees. I was a little skeptical of this because I’ve never had chicken cook so quickly but I tried it anyway. Yeah, eight minutes later, my chicken was still a little pink. Gross. It ended up taking almost twenty minutes for the chicken to be cooked but thankfully it just sat in the oven so I was able to do other things. I looked around online and this seems to a be a common problem so either Julia Childs and the French don’t mind eating undercooked chicken or she and the French have some high powered oven that is not available in the US. Also, the recipe said to cover the chicken in buttered wax paper. I have yet to figure out the purpose of this and I also couldn’t find an explanation in the cookbook so if any of you know the benefit of this, please share.

I didn’t really do anything special with the asparagus, just blanched them and then rolled in butter, but I did follow a recipe in the book for buttered carrots. It wasn’t complicated and it didn’t call for different ingredients but it did involve preparing the carrots in a way I hadn’t done before. I basically boiled the carrots and yes, I have done that before BUT not with sugar water. That sugar water made a huge difference because those carrots came out fantastic! Of course they were sweet but they were so yummy!

This meal was a great way to start French week! The chicken was, of course, creamy and rich and I couldn’t stop eating it. Both of the girls also ate this meal and I think this is when the baby fell in love with carrots because she’s been requesting them ever since. I made a pot roast with potatoes and carrots last night and all she ate were the carrots. I’m expecting lots of orange poop today.

 

Chicken in Orange Sauce and Poached Apple

This will be a short post because I currently have a four year old standing next to me and crying because I won’t give her a chocolate chip granola bar. She was originally crying because I put her in her room after we got back from the doctor’s office, where she decided to start screaming in the waiting room because I made her put a coat on for the whole 100 foot walk back to the car because it’s a wonderful 40 degrees outside. I know, I know, I’m the worst mother ever. I make her wear a coat so she won’t freeze and then I won’t give her a sweet whenever she wants one.

Oh, now she’s crying because I made her walk back to her room. The room that is filled with about 100 books and 1,000 toys. The least fun room in the entire house.

Just call CPS on me now.

This was our second Dutch meal. I had originally planned on making poffertjes, Dutch mini pancakes, but I didn’t have time to let the batter sit for an hour before cooking for I made this instead. This was so much better than we both expected! We didn’t have high expectations of it because it’s such a simple meal, literally chicken in orange sauce. Granted the sauce was a little fancier than something I would normally make since it consisted of orange peel, Cointreau, and orange juice but I didn’t think it would be all that special. And I know that sauce doesn’t sound exotic or anything but it’s fancy for me because anything with more than two ingredients is ooh la la territory for me.

I used chicken thighs instead of the breasts like the recipe called for and I think that contributed to the flavor. The extra fat along with all the butter in the sauce made this a lot richer than I think it would have been with just breasts. Even with all the orange ingredients, it didn’t have a strong citrus flavor. I mean, you could taste it but it was subtle and I loved that. I think the brown rice also helped mellow out the entire meal. The poached apple was super sweet but eaten alongside the rice, it wasn’t crazy.

Both girls also ate this meal so big win there! The baby ate the chicken by the fist full but, surprisingly, neither was fond of the apple. I think it was the texture because they’re both used to crunchy apples.

Speaking of, the four year old passed out in her room. And I’m now eating her granola bar. I won this round!

Recipe

Chicken and Jackfruit Curries with Wattalapam

This was our last Sri Lankan meal and it taught me the importance of reading the recipe and labels on cans of food.

First up, the chicken curry. It was chicken, it was curried, it was good. There was nothing remarkable about making it or eating it. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty, all of us enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t had before.

Now the jackfruit curry, that was something different. The recipe had a picture of what the dish was supposed to look like and I normally pay close attention to those pictures because I use them as a guide. Most of the time my attempts fall in the “Close enough” range but there have a few times they’re in the “Where did I go wrong?” column. I hate those times.

I think you know where I’m going…

The recipe called for three cans of young green jack fruit. I’d seen cans of jack fruit in a few stores so I knew I wouldn’t have a problem finding them and when I went to the Indian market, I luckily grabbed the last three cans they had. I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point. Then I started cooking. As I opened the cans of jack fruit, I saw that they were in syrup. I looked at the recipe and didn’t see a mention of syrup (typically it will tell you to drain the syrup or not). That should have been the first signal something wasn’t right. I drained the jack fruit and continued along my merry way. After a half hour, I checked the curry because the recipe said it would turn a dark brown color; it had not changed color. I put the lid back on and went back to doing whatever it is I do when waiting for food to cook (hide from my kids in the kitchen and read Jezebel). Another thirty minutes later and it still wasn’t dark brown but at that point I didn’t care because I was hungry and I thought maybe it hadn’t turned dark brown because I wasn’t using a pressure cooker like the recipe suggested.

James and I sat down to eat and dug in. I believe the word he used for the jack fruit curry was “Interesting.” Food that is “interesting” is almost never good. I tried it. It wasn’t bad…Okay, so it really didn’t taste bad, it was just sweet. I thought it was weird that a curry would be so sweet and that this would be eaten as a dinner meal because, really, it was sweet! I pulled up the recipe on my phone, looked at the pic, looked at my plate, “Where did I go wrong?” I re-read the recipe and there it was “Young green jack fruit.” My cans were just jack fruit. I did a bit of research and yeah, there is a big difference between jack fruit and young green jack fruit. Young green jack fruit is often used as a meat substitute and has the texture of chicken; my jack fruit had the texture of an apricot. Actually, it also tasted like apricot. I mentioned this to the girls’ teacher the next day and they were like “Yeah, you used the wrong kind of jack fruit.” They then brought out a can of the right kind and right on the label, it clearly said “Young green jack fruit.” Lesson learned.

Finally the wattalapam. When I told the teachers I was making this, they were really surprised and, honestly, I think they were wondering if I’d be able to pull it off. Apparently this is a dessert that is reserved for special occasions like weddings. All of them exclaimed how much they loved it and one said she’s never even made it because it’s so difficult. Challenge accepted! When I initially read over the recipe, it sounded like flan so having just made a coconut flan during Colombian week, I knew I’d be able to pull this one off. And I would have (if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids!) if I’d had read the entire thing. I mean, I did pull it off, I just had to wait until the next day to eat it because I didn’t read the very last sentence in the recipe that it had to be chilled for several hours. It had the same consistency of flan but was richer, if that’s even possible. It had a slight licorice taste to it, I’m thinking because of the jaggery, but it wasn’t overpowering.

By the way, the teachers loved it! They said it was fantastic and applauded me 🙂

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Doro Wot, Azifa, and Ye’Abesha Gomen

This was our last Ethiopian meal and the one I was most looking forward to because I love me a wot! Wots (or wats, I’ve seen it spelled both ways) are basically stews but what makes them different from others is a very long sweating of large amounts of onions in nit’r qibe, a spiced butter. I didn’t have nit’r qibe and I didn’t want to go through the effort of making it so I just used ghee and added some extra spices. I don’t think it affected the taste though because it came out ah-mah-zing! I don’t remember my exact feelings but I do remember that we didn’t have any leftovers because we ate everything.

Everything.

The girls even ate the collard greens in the ye’abesha gome and the lentils in the azifa. The baby especially couldn’t get enough of the lentils and I believe she had multiple bowls. Huzzah!

The only downside to this meal was that we didn’t have any injera to go with it. I didn’t use it for two days and I didn’t think it would affect it much because by then it would have been fermenting for four days. On the fourth day I unwrapped my bowl of batter and found that a tiny bit of mold had grown on top of it. I didn’t bother looking up if this was normal because typically mold growing on things is not a good sign. Also, I’d had a run-in with mold and an attempted sourdough starter in the not too distant past so I was still recovering from that episode. Mold in a sourdough starter is not good and you have to throw out the entire starter if it grows on it so with that in mind, I threw away about two cups of injera batter. I later learned that a bit of mold on injera batter is not the end of the world and it can be removed and you can continue on your merry way. The more you know.

So while our week in Ethiopia didn’t start off so well, it ended on a pretty high note. I mean, the four year old ate greens! Voluntarily! That’s a pretty big deal! We had Chinese food for lunch today and as she was eating her eggroll, I saw her pull out of every piece of green onion she could find. I didn’t mention the fact that she was still eating a good amount of cabbage because, why kill the dream? She clearly hates anything green but in that one moment during Ethiopia week, she ate it and it was wonderful. I will forever hold that moment in my heart.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Pollo al Ajillo, Patatas Bravas, Pimientos de Padron, Albondigas, and Croquettes

Last week was Spanish week and, man, it took me a minute to get back into the groove after being off for two weeks! I didn’t do any meal planning during my blog-cay (a word I totally just created but I’m gonna trademark because ‘merica) and winged dinner and grocery shopping for two weeks. I thought the lack of structure would stress me out but working on the fly was pretty freeing. I didn’t have to think about staying on schedule, which is always running through the back of my mind, but the best part was I got to create my own meals. For the first time in a long time I enjoyed myself and that was nice.

Then I got to last week and I was like “So much for that!”  Okay, that makes it sound horrible and it really wasn’t but it was an adjustment. Last week was a busy social week. We went to Dallas the weekend of the fourth for friend’s wedding (congrats Kavya and Matt!), then we had Neighborhood Night Out, various doctor’s appointments, and finally I had a bachelorette party this past weekend. Crammed into all of that was the usual grocery shopping, chores around the house, and errands. I barely had time to watch my stories!

One of the few silver linings to the week was that I was cooking Spanish food. Spanish food, with its tapas filled cuisine, made meal planning a lot easier considering the fact that we wouldn’t be eating as a family a lot during the week. It was only two nights but those two nights fell on days that I typically cook for the blog so it worked out. Since we had two light “meals” I’m just combining all three into one post. For whatever reason I’m unable to add the pic of the one real meal I made to this post but it’s on the Pics page if you’re curious.

The first night was Tuesday, which was our Neighborhood Night Out and it was a potluck. I made albondigas, which are meatballs. They weren’t very difficult to make but they did require a bit of planning because I had to let the meat chill for at least an hour before cooking them. Everything was on course until I locked myself and Niko out of the house when we were on our way to take him to get his staples removed. What followed were three hours of frantically calling James to tell him he had to leave early from work so he could pick the girls up from school, Niko and I hanging out at a neighbor’s house until James got home forty-five minutes later, rushing to pick the girls up, rushing back home to cook the meatballs and the sauce, and then heading out to the potluck and putting on my happy face. And then no one ate them! That’s not true, they did eat some, but not enough. I made about thirty meatballs and we came home with half. I don’t think it was the flavor, they tasted fine, but they didn’t look very appealing. The sauce was made up of leeks, garlic, onions, and white wine so it was a light brown color and I think that threw some people off. No one complimented me on them either so maybe the flavor was a bit off as well. Meh, we saved them for dinner the next night.

Which is when I made pollo al ajillo (garlic chicken), patatas bravas (Spanish homefries), and pimientos de padron (roasted padron peppers). The recipe for the chicken called for a whole chicken but I used breasts and thighs. I was worried about the breasts drying out but they came out pretty juicy and tender. I had hoped it would be garlicky because of the name but I didn’t get any garlic flavor out of it. I was pretty disappointed in that. My potatoes came out kinda mushy, which caused a frown. Homefries are NOT supposed to be mushy. I also thought the sauce was too acidic. The recipe called for both crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and I think that was a bit of an overkill; it would have been fine with one or the other but not both. Who knows, maybe I did something wrong but I followed the recipe so I’m gonna say no. By that time, I was pretty down on the meal but then, BUT THEN, I got to the peppers. The recipe called for padron peppers but I couldn’t find padron so I substituted shishito. From what I’ve read, the appeal of pimientos de padron is that you never know if you’re getting a hot or mild pepper. Unlike other peppers, you can’t tell if a padron pepper is spicy based on the color or shape so you’re kinda playing pepper roulette with this dish. I don’t like spicy peppers so when I read that shishitos are consistently mild, I was okay with the substitution. What I read was wrong, y’all! Both James and I got a couple of long shishitos that cleared up our sinuses and made our eyes water! The good thing was we quickly figured out it was the long peppers but still, it was a surprise. So luckily the entire meal wasn’t a bust. Another silver lining!

On Saturday I attended a pot luck dinner to kick off my friend’s bachelorette weekend. The girls were going out to downtown Austin after dinner so I knew I needed to fill their stomachs with fried, gooey, goodness. This is when the croquettes walked in. Croquettes are basically fried ham filled bechamel sauce. Seriously, that’s all they are. You make a bechamel sauce, add some ham, chill it, shape into balls, and then fry it. And they’re amazing! Like the meatballs, it took some prep time but once the bechamel sauce was made, it took me less than ten minutes to fry them. I worried about them losing their gooeyness on the drive down to east Austin but even after a twenty minute drive and another thirty sitting on the counter before we got to eating, they were great. They lost a bit of the crispness but they were still delicious and I know they helped them at 2 a.m. when they needed a post drinking snack.

Aside from the cluster that was Tuesday afternoon, Spanish week was okay. Yes I was disappointed with most of it but I also loved some of it so it wasn’t a total loss. I know some people wanted me to make paella but you can’t make paella for a small group and unfortunately we didn’t have time last week to have people over for dinner so that was a lost opportunity. I did have some trouble narrowing down what to make because I couldn’t find a lot of actual meals from Spain, everything was just a combination of a bunch of tapas. Which I’m okay with, Mrs. Flax from “Mermaids” and her belief that you should only eat hors d’oeuvres and finger foods for every meal has stayed with me since I was a kid, but I was kind of hoping I would be able to find full meals. Meh, so it goes.

This week we are in China and I have been looking forward to this week for a long time! We are actually on day three so I am a bit behind on posting but I hope to be caught up by tomorrow. If you’re wondering just how excited I am about this week, consider this: I am cooking five times this week. I’ve been averaging two to three for the past few “trips.” It’s going to be amazing!

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Mole Poblano, Arroz y Frijoles, and Tortillas

It’s been two weeks since I last posted and I apologize for the long absence. I originally hadn’t planned on taking an off week until this week but then our dog got sick and after four weeks of continuous cooking, I needed a break.

Niko is our almost eleven year old husky. In November it’ll be ten years since he became our dog, even though he was only supposed to be a foster. At the time we already had a dog, a Rottweiler named Lars, who ruled our world. Niko was abandoned by his owner, who was our neighbor at the apartment complex where we were living, and when management called me to ask if I knew who the dog belonged to (I had previously worked for the company and the manager was a friend), I told them we’d take the dog until we could find an owner. He’s been a pain in our ass since.

I’ve never met such a stubborn dog in my life! From day one, he has been an ornery s.o.b. He suffered from major separation anxiety for the first couple of months we had him, which meant coming home to turds all over the floor, shredded hardcover books, or DVD cases that became chew toys. Sometimes all three! It took years, YEARS, to break him of jumping on people and to not yip and howl at us whenever he wanted something. Actually, I don’t think we did anything, age did. But throught it all, we kept him because 1. I’m a sucker for animals and 2. I knew no one else would tolerate him and I didn’t want him to be adopted and then returned over and over again. Niko has never been our dog, we’re his people.

And it probably would have stayed that way but then we had the Four Year Old and the day we brought her home, Niko found his soulmate. He never left her side for the first three years of her life. Wherever she was, he was close to follow. He slept next to her or in her room every night up until nine months ago, when he got sick.

Nine months ago I noticed a growth on his neck. At the time it was just a growth under the skin that didn’t have fur and it didn’t seem to bother him so I ignored it. Months passed and it didn’t go away. I hesitated taking him into the vet because I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. At his age, it would most likely be the big C and I couldn’t handle it. I’m aware how selfish it was of me.

Well then it started bugging him and he started scratching it, which made it bleed, which made it hard for me to ignore. So I took him in two weeks ago. It’s a mast cell tumor that was about to rupture (apparently they start to itch before they explode) so it was perfect timing. Luckily his blood work was great so whatever caused the tumor hadn’t spread. We didn’t have the tumor tested because, honestly, had it been cancer, we couldn’t afford to treat it and he’s eleven, what’s the point?

So they cut open his face, removed the tumor, and stitched him up. I’ve spent the past week tending to his every need and yep, he’s still an ornery s.o.b.

And that’s why I took last week off. Tomorrow I’ll post why I’m taking this week off.

And since this post is long enough, the food review will be short. My mole was good but not great. My rice was uh-mazing! My beans were semi-crunchy even after being soaked for four hours and cooking for two and my tortillas were delicious!

Recipe

Sancocho de Gallina and Tamales de Pipían

As I mentioned before, I had wanted to cook for Caro when she was in town but was unable to do so but thankfully her mother and sister still live in Austin so I was able to cook for them. When meal planning, I asked Caro for input because I couldn’t really find much information on how meals are set up in Colombia. Like, do they do appetizers? How many sides do they typically have? What are the make up of the sides? Are they primarily vegetables or protein? Caro, can I rename you Google??? And as usual, she answered in her calm and honest way “Meli, we eat everything. Don’t stress out.” I still stressed out. She then suggested sancocho (chicken stew), tamales, and empanadas. Since empanadas usually take a lot of work, I settled on the sancocho and tamales. I know what you’re thinking, tamales take a lot of time to make BUT Caro did mention that Colombian tamales are much bigger than Mexican tamales so I thought that would cut my work time down significantly.

Hint: it did not.

I started prepping early in the day to reduce running around like a crazy person. I boiled the potatoes for the pipían, washed the banana leaves for the tamales, washed and peeled the potatoes and yucca for the sancocho, I was on it! Caro’s mother and sister, Patricia and Vane, were set to arrive at seven so I really started working on the meal at 5:30. I thought the sanchocho de gallina, a chicken stew, would be easy enough because it involved chopping up a chicken and veggies and throwing them in a pot. And since I’ve finally learned how to break down a full chicken in about five minutes, I didn’t worry about that. Same with the tamales. I didn’t have to pre-cook the meat like you do with Mexican tamales and I knew the masa would not take very long to mix so I kinda just took my time with everything.

What I did not plan on were the sauces. I had to make ají de maní (spicy peanut sauce) for the tamales, hogao for the masa (tomato based creole sauce), and aliño (a dressing) to put into everything. Those three took up an hour, not even kidding. It was a lot of chopping and blending and boiling and I was not a happy camper. Next thing I knew it was 6:30 and I hadn’t even made the tamales. I then ordered James into the kitchen and we created a mini assembly line. He filled the tamales, I folded and tied them with string. I had also wanted to make some arepas (kinda like a cheese pupusa) and patacones (fried plantain) but there was no time.

Thankfully Vane showed up with patacones of her own, and some extra hogao, and Patricia showed up with pandebono, which is another cheese bread. It was like they read my mind!

Everything turned out amazing, maybe my stress enhanced the flavor. All of the chicken sank to the bottom of the pot but I think that helped with its tenderness. It literally fell apart in my bowl and it was juicy and amazing. Patricia said that my seasoning of the sancocho was perfect and even though I didn’t have much to do with it (thankyou Goya!) I still accepted the compliment. The plantains held together very well and I think that’s because they were super green. I had expected them to turn into mush from being boiled for over an hour but they kept shape.

The tamales, though, oh man. I think pipían tamales have replaced pork tamales as my favorite. Unlike Mexican masa, this masa was not only flavored with spices but with actual veggies in the form of the aliño, which is a paste made up of red and green bell peppers and onions. It was so much richer than the masa I’m used to. The pipían itself, which itself was made of peanuts, potato, and the hogao, was indescribable. It was just fantastic! Vane said the tamales were kinda bigger than normal and I told her Caro had said Colombian tamales are but she clarified that Colombian tamales typically are bigger than Mexican tamales except for the ones made of pipían. I just fell in love with them and I couldn’t have been happier with the meal.

For dessert I made coconut flan. I’d never had homemade flan, it’s always been the instant stuff, so I obviously thought it was gross, but all the Colombian desserts I found were kinda complex so I sucked it up and made the flan. I am SO happy I made the flan! It was so much more amazing than I could have ever expected! It was rich and sweet and OMG I NEED TO EAT THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! It wasn’t hard to make so I really might make this on a weekly basis.

I’m gonna get so fat. And it will.be.worth.it.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Arroz con Pollo

This is the third time I’ve made arroz con pollo. The first was during Costa Rican week and then during Cuban week. This is also the second time I’ve used those sentences. I am anything if not original.

This week’s arroz con pollo recipe is Colombian. I chose Colombia because one of my favorite people on the entire planet is Colombian. Hola Caro! I’ve known Caro for eight years and we met when we were both working at a property in south Austin. I was pretty sure she hated me when we first started working together but then I learned that unlike me, she takes a while to warm up to people. I’m one of those annoying people who thinks every person they meet is going to be their new best friend because who wouldn’t want to be best friends? Best friends are great! Caro, like normal humans, gets to know people to feel them out and figure out if they’re worth being let in. I will literally tell you my whole life story within ten minutes of meeting you if you ask. Sometimes I do it without even being asked.

Once she warmed up to me, which took all of a month because I’m persistent in my friend making, we became very close friends. Since then we have spent many nights drinking wine and scotch (cause we’re fancy), having M.I.A dance parties, been in each other’s weddings, and have watched each other grow into women (which is probably the best part). Our oldest daughters are three weeks apart and this November she’ll have another daughter, whom I’m still hoping she’ll name after me. The currently named Baby Eelan will be a Scorpio, just like me, and will also be born in the year of the Monkey, just like me. She’s due at the end of November and I’m not typically keen about sharing a birthday with other people but I’m making an exception for Eelan and am hoping she will come early and be born on the the second.

Even though I’ve never been to Colombia, I feel a connection to it through Caro. I had hoped to do Colombian week when she and her family were visiting a few weeks ago but they were so busy doing so much in their short time here that I didn’t bother. Up until then, Caro and her family were living in Vietnam, where she and husband were teaching ESL. They came back to the States for a month before moving to Qatar, where they will be for the next two years while her husband teaches. I was really hoping they would stay this time but the world calls and they must answer. Until then, we’ll just have to survive through FB and WhatsApp phone calls, one of which we have today. I’ve been looking forward to it all week!

So this week is dedicated to you, my CaroLINDA.

And because this week’s decision comes from a place full of love and respect, it hurts me to say this recipe did not do it for me. It wasn’t that it was bad but the meat was kinda dry. Okay, the meat was very dry. I had to boil chicken breast and make a stock, which I was hoping would help make the breast juicy, but it did not. The rice part was great and I liked the addition of the green beans but that meat was so dry! I will try to make this again though because I think I can trick the girls into eating veggies this way. The four year old did pull out every single piece of green, including peas, beans, bell pepper, and cilantro, but she did eat the rest. The baby gobbled it up but that wasn’t a surprise. Maybe next time I’ll add more broth to the mixture when mixing the chicken in with the rice and there will be a next time.

Even though this didn’t work out, I’m hopeful for the rest of the week. And maybe Caro will give me some insight into what I did wrong but I have a feeling she’ll say what I did wrong was cook with chicken. She doesn’t eat anything with feathers because, actually I don’t know why she doesn’t eat birds. I’ll have to ask today.

Recipe

 

Chicken Korma

I was unfamiliar with korma until a little over a year ago. I was going to meet up with a friend for lunch at Hopdoddy because they were having a fundraiser for the Memorial Day floods. Before I left the office, I asked my vegetarian co-worker if she wanted me to grab her a burger as well because I’m that nice. She asked that I get her a veggie korma burger and got super excited about it. I didn’t have time to listen to her explanation (also, I didn’t care. I’m not that nice) and left to meet up with my friend, who was also a vegetarian. As she was going over the menu, she perked up at korma burger so I had to ask, “What is the deal with this korma?!” and she replied “It’s just a vegetarian thing.” I left it at that because vegetarians have their own little world and I get lost every time I try to venture into it. I didn’t become any more familiar with korma after that but it was on my radar and since then, it’s popped up here and there.

When this recipe came up, I knew I had to try it because I wanted to know what the big deal was with korma. Well, veggie friend, it is NOT a vegetarian thing, it’s just a thing that can be vegetarian! Veggies are always trying to claim shit as theirs. If you want a super basic, quick definition of korma, it’s a curry made with yogurt, cream, or milk. It’s actually a bit more than that but that’s the shortest definition. The meat is marinated and braised before it simmers in the dairy, which is what makes it different from rezalas, another white curry. Even then, classifying korma and rezala as curries is a little bit of a stretch but it’s easier to say they’re subgroups of curry in order to avoid getting into a lengthy discussion. We can discuss the complexities of curry some other time, maybe when I don’t have fifteen chores to do before I pick the girls up from school.

The chicken was great, succulent and spicy from the ginger, but the highlight of the meal was making my own garam masala with my new grinder! I always buy it pre-made but now that I have literal pounds of spices and a handy dandy grinder, I can make my own! It made my kitchen smell heavenly and I wanted to keep making more and more but I still have some of the pre-made stuff and, I mean, I didn’t need it. But I can and knowing I can is half the fun.

That was the end of Bangladeshi week. It was probably one of the most informative weeks so far and I think that’s part of what made it so enjoyable. This week we are in Korea and today I spent two hours shopping for groceries. I am really pumped about this week’s foods and can’t wait to share!

Recipe