Week 7- Africa

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I was given the opportunity to come to class a little late this week because it was Harmony’s first day of Kindergarten. Huge day. Stressful day. Mommy took two prescribed xanax first thing so I wouldn’t have a meltdown sending her off on the bus. This also made me much calmer for class, incidentally.

We had TONS of food this week. Africa was split into sections and each group had to cook North African food plus an additional section. My group had East Africa. When I prepared the recipe cards for this week, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the foods all that much, just from the ingredients. I was wrong. I don’t think I could have been more wrong, actually.

Because I came in late, I just jumped in to help where I could. The couscous had not been started yet and I knew it needed to sit for an hour prior to cooking since I had prepared it a few weeks earlier. I got that started and then jumped on preparing the Irio.

(Eggplant Curry, top - Couscous, bottom)

Irio is simple to prepare. You basically simmer green peas, potatoes, corn, and spinach with chicken stock and then pass it through a food mill and then season with salt and pepper. This is what I would consider comfort food. It may not be unhealthy, but the end product is a hearty, pasty dip that would be best served with chips for a texture contrast, in my opinion. I would also consider serving it as a side dish as an alternative to regular mashed potatoes.

(Boiled Plantains, top - Irio, bottom)

One of the dishes that surprised me the most was the Congo Chicken “Soup”. I have soup in quotation marks because our dish turned out so thick that it wouldn’t be considered soup even in the most lax of terms. This dish has peanut butter in with the chicken which is why I was hesitant about the possibility of it. Several people ended up still not enjoying it because of the peanut butter, but I found myself returning again and again to get another taste of it. I couldn’t eat a great quantity of this and I definitely needed a palette cleanser in between bites because it was pretty thick. We eat A LOT of chicken at home throughout the week and I’ve begun to be kind of burned out on it though, so this was a nice change of pace.

(Harissa, left - Congo Chicken "Soup", right)

Another item that I REALLY enjoyed were the banana and chile fritters. I did not eat many of them because they were fried and therefore unhealthy, but the flavor was amazing, the texture was perfection, and if I wasn’t health conscious I could easily have gobbled up a plateful of these. They seemed like food you would find at a fair next to funnel cakes.

Boiled plantains were also on the menu. I’m not a huge fan of plantains so I wasn’t surprised that a dish that consisted of boiling plantains and then mashing them with salt and pepper wasn’t appetizing to me. At all.

Date cookies were also made by each team. Apparently our teams cookies came out the best. They had a good texture and nice flavor. They were sweet without being overly so. I love dates, too, so it wasn’t surprising that this was a winner in my book.

There were many other dishes prepared this week, but none of the other flavors were remarkable enough to stick in my memory, and I probably wouldn’t remember them at all if I didn’t have the pictures that I took.

Week 6- Turkey

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This was a very short week because we took a field trip when we were finished cooking to two ethnic grocery stores. One was a “European” grocery store, but I guess it had more of a Bosnian influence. The other was an Indian grocery store. At the first store, we tasted a rose gel dessert and a nut gel dessert. I was not thrilled with either of these items. The rose, as Chef Dawn said, “tastes like your grandmother’s perfume.” My grandmother doesn’t wear perfume, but I got what she was saying, and it was accurate. I was very interested in all the chocolates and desserts they had available. The second store had a very different feel to it. You were hit with an intense incense odor upon the door being opened. I did find the price of dates to be very good. It was only $5.25 for a 2# tub of pitted dates. I usually pay $6.99 for a 1# container and have to pit them myself. I’ll be trying those the next time I need dates. I also found the massive container of puffed rice to be unique, as well as the candy coated seeds. I am very interested in homeopathic medicine, so the information that these seeds were used after meals to clean teeth as well as to reduce tooth pain was fascinating for me.

Prior to going on the field trip, we cooked Turkish food. I made lavash (flat bread), rice pilaf, and prepped the fried eggplant and zucchini as well as making the yogurt and garlic dip for that.

The flat bread was alright, but I preferred it the least of all the flat breads we have prepared so far.

The rice pilaf was good. I actually made it again with dinner one night this last week.

I enjoyed the fried eggplant very much, especially with the yogurt dip. I was surprised at the level of enjoyment I had of both. I only ate 2 of the pieces, though, because they are fried and unhealthy. I liked the dip very, very much, though, and will be making it as a dip for veggies in the future.

As far as the other student’s food go, I enjoyed the flavor of the lamb for the lamb kabobs.

I also liked the figs in syrup, although it was very sweet and I can’t see eating more than two or three of them.

The fish balls were amazing! I, again, can’t see eating them often or in great quantities, though, because of the fry factor.

I enjoyed the grilled cheese less than I thought I would. The texture was a little rubbery and I hated the fact that it squeaked on my teeth when I chewed.

A special thank you goes out to Marc's brother, Chris. Marc told him of the need for a better camera and he sent us a very, VERY nice one. I need to play around with the settings, but soon my food pictures should be nice and crisp. THANK YOU, CHRIS!!!!!! You are MUCH too good to us! We can't wait to see you next week!!! I will be thanking you with food!

Week 5- Greece

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This week was a wonderful week. It was the most relaxed I have felt so far in this class. I was in a completely different group, the items were split up completely randomly, I was interested to cook any of the recipes so it didn’t matter to me which ones I drew, we all completed all of our assigned dishes, and I really enjoyed most of the foods that were put up today. All in all, a great day!

I drew moussaka, yogurt and cucumber and garlic dip, nut pastries, and a fresh fruit plate.

The moussaka was basically an eggplant lasagna type of dish. First the eggplant was sliced into ¼” rounds, skin on, sprinkled with salt, and left to sit for an hour. While that was resting, the ground lamb was sautéed and then cooked with tomatoes and spices to make a sauce.

Let me pause here to say that I am so glad that I have been able to taste and work with lamb so much this quarter. Previously, we had tried to prepare it once at home, and it stunk up the house AND didn’t taste good. So far in lab, I haven’t minded the taste of it and the smell of it gets covered up by all the other cooking odors going on.

While the meat sauce was cooking, I was also preparing a simple béchamel sauce. Once the three components were prepared, it was time to assemble the dish. The eggplant was dried off, and then layered in a deep baking pan with the meat sauce and béchamel. This order was repeated twice and then sprinkled with the remaining grated cheese. Into the oven it went for about an hour, and then left to set up for 15 minutes. It tasted very good, actually, although the recipe said that it served four and it easily could have served eight. This is especially true if you were serving a Greek salad or other side dishes. Somehow I managed to forget to take a picture of the moussaka, probably because we just left it in the pan and didn't plate it since it didn't have time to fully set up before tasting. So picture bubbly, slightly browned cheese and that is what the moussaka looked like in the pan. Here is a picture of the delightfully refreshing Greek salad, though.

The yogurt and cucumber dip was surprisingly good, too. It featured plain yogurt, so I wasn’t quite sure if I would care for it, but the cucumber and garlic really made it an enjoyable experience. I would still eat it in small quantities and next time would make sure to mince the garlic even more finely, but overall I appreciated the dish.

The nut pastries were a different story. I should have tasted another groups version of this dish, because in the end I realized that I had accidentally put more sugar in than the recipe called for. I realized this when I was putting together another recipe and it called for sugar. I had already used all the sugar I had pulled for the nut pastries. This is probably why they turned out so sickeningly sweet. I have a pretty much insatiable sweet tooth but the nut pastries I prepared were so sweet that I literally could not eat more than one bite. Next time I will look at the recipe more closely. It was definitely a learning experience. Chef said that they looked great, though.

One of the other dishes that I really loved was the bean soup. Oh my goodness, this soup was amazing. My team prepared it with beef stock and one of the other groups prepared it with chicken stock. The chicken stock version did not even come close to the beef stock version. I just kept going back to taste it again and again. I will definitely be making this at home!

I also was pleased with the different cheeses that were put out for us to taste. The one was much too salty for my taste, but I could see it being good with sweet grapes or apples. The other two cheeses were delicious. One was a sheeps milk cheese and the other was a goat cheese. They were very different in texture and taste, but both thoroughly palatable.

I can’t wait to see what fabulous food we cook up next week! We are still going to be in Greece and I am really looking forward to tasting some more delightful dishes. This section has made me want to travel to Greece. So much so that I Google Earthed the country and spent quite a bit of time looking at photos.

Week 4- World

Friday, August 6, 2010

I've been hesitant to write about this week because I am kind of at a loss as to what to do about a certain situation. I was trying to work it all out in my head before posting so that I could wrap it all up with something positive for next week. It is now Friday, though, and I need to go ahead and write before my head gets filled with the things for next week.

This week was good, for the most part, but frustrating in certain aspects. I decided to try to lay off a little this week in World. I asked my friend if she wanted to be the leader this week and she didn't seem too enthused. People tend to naturally look to me as leader, I believe, just because I am usually the most prepared. I didn't WANT to be leader this week, it just happened. The two girls joined our group this week who did not complete their dishes a couple of weeks ago. I didn't really want them to be a part of our group, but I didn't really know how to go about saying that without making people upset. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and work with them instead of causing social problems.

This was a mistake.

I let the other people in the group choose their items and I took what was left. Chef had us write on a huge piece of paper which items we were each doing. The couscous was "left for whoever had the time to do it." The menu was broken down as follows:

Person A took the chicken with rice and the baklawa.
Person B took the broad bean dip, the toasted bread salad (which she realized after the fact included making a flat bread), and the apples in orange juice.
Person C took the kibbeh soup and the fish with hot chile sauce.
I took the flat bread of the week, the yogurt drink, red pepper and walnut dip, and couscous.

Before everyone started cooking I reviewed with the team which items had longer processes, such as the kibbeh having two items that need to chill for an hour. Also, I made it clear that we HAVE to have gloves on when preparing foods that will not be cooked prior to serving. Chef caught one of the girls without gloves on at some point in the day. So frustrating.

Person B finished the broad bean dip and ALMOST finished the salad. The salad itself was completed, but the bread wasn't finished until midway through presentations. The apples in orange juice was not even began.

Broad bean dip with my flat bread-

Toasted bread salad minus the toasted bread-

This is the other team's apples in OJ-

Person C did not complete EITHER of her dishes. The chicken with rice was not completed, either. All of this despite my checking on everyone throughout the cooking process to see if they thought they were going to finish on time. I don't know what else to do. I am at a complete loss, really. I try to help by breaking things up in an order so everything gets done on time and people get pissed. I try to back off and let them choose and things don't get done. What. Am. I. Supposed. To. DO?!?!?! Incredibly exasperating. I'm contemplating approaching a former teacher to get some advice so it isn't like I am "tattling" on my teammates.

These are photos of the other team's completed kibbeh soup and fish with chile sauce. I didn't enjoy the fish as it had too much of a tahini flavor to it.

As far as the actual dishes go, as I said earlier, I prepared the flat bread, the red pepper and walnut dip, the yogurt drink, and the couscous.

I enjoyed the red pepper and walnut dip. It had a unique flavor that I found appealing.

The flat bread I prepared was served with the dip. The flat bread recipe had some glitches. In the ingredients portion of the recipe, it lists one quantity of water. In the actual procedure portion of the recipe, it lists another quantity. When I asked about it, the teacher informed me that another girl tried to make the recipe already and it came out far too sticky and she had to add a large quantity of flour to the recipe to make it work. The girl also gave me the tip to mix it by hand instead of using the mixer. I did this and also added the water gradually which seemed to help. I didn't end up using quite as much flour when finishing the dough off as the other girl needed to, apparently. I also took some creative liberties and formed a portion of the dough over a small cake pan to make a bread bowl. I, initially, had the idea of using this to hold a dip, but the bowl ended up being too large for the amount of dip that was made. I used it, instead, to hold the remaining bread that was made. I then shaped the bread into various shapes before cooking. I made hearts, squares, triangle, and circles, just for a little variety. I enjoyed how they came out.

The Tan (yogurt drink) was absolutely disgusting. It was plain yogurt mixed with water and salt to make a beverage. I'm not a fan.

This recipe also had a flaw. The syrup ended up turning into more of a hard candy in both teams making the dish incredibly hard to eat. There also wasn't enough moisture so the pastry was too flaky. This was definitely a failure of the recipe, though, and not of preparation.

Next week we are moving on to Greece.

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