Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sri Lankan breakfast with Tsonga, Djokovic and friends.

Zola: The comment was made today, "Dude, everyone's got a food blog." To which, I can only say: Yep. It's true. I'm not winning any prizes for originality. But I would like to also add that I was just trying to save my sanity. At the time that I dreamed this thing up, I was driving 3 hours a day on the I-5 corridor. I'll spare you monotonous details. I'm sure you can image the fun. But then I thought about food and food stories and the how I have been able to connect with people through food and that made me happy. It is a simple and easy connection and at the same time, the thought of doing this - being challenged to learn whatever food people threw at me - seemed like an interesting divergence. So I went with it. Now can you imagine my delight when I opened my email inbox and there was a message from someone I'd never met with a recipe for a Sri Lankan breakfast and these words: If you are interested we would love to cook Sri Lankan food for you and you would be most welcome.??? I think I responded with something like, "don't say it if you don't mean it - because I'll be there." Zay & Agit did mean it. When they opened the door to us, Ajit immediately plied us with Arrack Coctails - which I highly recommend. The AC is made with arrack, lime, passion fruit and shaken with ice.They told us about their lives between Portland and Sri Lanka, and made an amazing feast for us. I've never felt so lucky.

Guy: So here's the fantastic recipe for Sri Lankan breakfast provided by our charming and gracious new friends Agit and Zay. This is not an every day breakfast but a meal for special occasions, typically weddings or birthdays. As we did not have one of these events looming we decided to have it coincide with one of my favorite past times - tennis! The final of the Australian Open tennis is played on Australia day the 26th of January, we invited our friends Emily, Mark and Bill over to watch the match between Jo-Wilfred Tsonga of France and Novak Djokavic of Serbia. The chicken curry and coconut rice dish was a great hit, with lashings of India sweets on the side, the tennis feast was both a colorful and delicious meal.

I am sending you the recepies for Sri Lankan Breakfast.This menu is made for all auspicious occasions like the 1st of the year, weddings,entering a new home,starting a new buisness etc.
It is Kiri Bath Kiri = Milk(coconut) Bath= Rice.
It is eaten with Lunu Miris Lunu= Onions Miris Chilli This is a fiery relish.
Chicken/Fish Curry
Jaggery =Palm Sugar This is similar to Molasses that is hard

Kiri Bath
1 lb Rice ( basmathi)
3 tsps Salt
3-4 Cardammoms crushed
Milk of 1 large coconut or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk/cream
Wash rice .Add cardommoms,salt and water(approx 1 1/2 ins above level of rice) and allow to cook.
When rice is well cooked and slightly mushy add coconut milk and cook stirring occassionally till mixture is a thick smooth mass.
There should be no liquid left.Remove cardommoms.
Spread this on a dish/baking tray and smooth top with foil. It should be at least 1 1/2 ins high.
Cut into diamond shapes once set.
Traditionally this is left to set on a plantain leaf and the top pressed into shape by one too.It adds to the flavour

Lunu Miris
2 oz dry red chilli pcs/flakes
1/2 oz Maldive fish (dry ground fish)
Lime juice
2 oz onions
Grind all ingredients to a coarse paste.Add salt and lime to taste.

Chicken Curry
2 1/2 lb chicken
2 tbsp corriander powder
2 tsps cummin powder
3 tsps sweet cummin powder
2 oz red onion
2 slices ginger
8 pods garlic
4 -5cardommoms
1/2 in cinnamom
4 cloves
1/2 tsp fengureek
1-2 green chillis(jalapeno)
1 in Rampe (pandun leaf)
4 curry leaves
3/4 in lemon grass
1 large tomato chopped
1tbsp rice + 1 tbsp grated coconut roasted fairly dark (high heat in a non stick pan)
2-3 tbsp oil
12 ozs coconut milk
Cut the chicken into 8 portions.Prick with fork all over.
Grind garlic,ginger,green chilli,roasted rice and coconut,cloves,seeds of cardamoms,cinnamon into a fine paste.(use a food processor, much easier than a mortar and pistal.
Add all the ground and powdered ings along with salt into chicken and leave for 1/2 hour.
Chop onions
Heat oil in a pan till very hot .Add onions,rampe,curry leaves,lemon grass and fry till light brown.
Add chicken and toss for 5-7 mins.Add coconut milk and bring to boil over medium heat.
cook till done.if you like more gravy or curry too thick add a little water or coconut milk that is diluted.

Guy: So Djokovic was the winner of the championship. Unfortunately the coverage skipped the Trophy ceremony, to which Bill stated "That's OK because I didn't want to tear up in front of you all anyway". Tsonga was the valiant loser in a great tennis match, however we were the winners in the breakfast match, Allez!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meatballs (Sweden)

Swedish meatballs, they are the sort of dish that conjurs up images of a cozy fire lit room in a snow covered glen, Elke Sommers and Sven the Viking stoking the post prandial sexual fire with delicious morsels of comforting pan braised flesh! At least that's my image, Zola's may be a little less Wagnarian. I digress. Anyway whenever I think of Elke Sommers and Sven the Viking I also think of our fantastic friend and noted Swede, Per. The following recipe and entertaining cultural annotation are his. I'd like to add Per was the first person to contribute to the blog (c'mon you bludgers, lets see some more!) and this excelent dish was the first prepared and consumed in the name of Foodchains. Fitting too was the fact that for this meal we were joined by our friend (and Per's) Mike, who consumed a mammoth plate (as did I) and who's comments provide further brevity to this wonderful swedish classic: "Dude that's huge. Keep crushing meatballs."


At the risk of appearing predictable I will share my mother's recipe for meatballs. I learned the "recipe" growing
up so it's sort of a dish without regimented measures of ingredients, let me try to recall...

1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 pound ground pork
(this was an economic choice because pork was a lot cheaper than beef
in Sweden in the 70s. Some fancypants go 1/3 with veal but not me. I'm
keeping it real)
2 large yellow onions
breadcrumbs (stale bread placed in a bowl with milk) About 4 or 5
slices in a cup of milk
2 eggs
more salt than you think you would need
more white pepper than you think you would need
lots of black pepper
more butter than you think you would need

You can make the bread stale by placing it in the oven at a plate warming temperature for an hour or two or by leaving it out overnight.

OK, you are ready to go! By the way, do not be alarmed by the lack of herbs and spices. It is, indeed, what puts the big, soft Italian balls at a disadvantage when measured against the tight little bronzed Swedish balls that they will never be.

Finely chop the onions and brown them in some of the butter. Mix the beef and pork, add salt, white pepper, breadcrumbs, black pepper, eggs, and browned onions. Mix for a long time with your hands. Fry a trial meatball in butter when everything has been mixed. It will probably be bland. Add more salt, white, black pepper. Fry another one in butter. It, too, may be bland. Add more salt, white, black pepper. You get the picture. You can make more breadcrumbs beforehand just in case and add another egg if it's too crumbly. They are not meant to be cakey, obviously, but they need to hold themselves together. It usually takes me 3 or 4 tries to get it right, but usually just the salt and pepper part.

When you are satisfied, when a golden brown meatball comes out nice and savory, mellow with a little salt and a black pepper kick, you have to go into production. Roll the little guys with the palm of your hands, make them kind of small, like about an inch and a quarter from pole to pole and put them somewhere, like on a large cutting board so that as you fry them, you have fresh soldiers going into the frying pan (I don't have to tell you that a cast iron skillet disperses the heat best). I fry them in
butter and pour out the drippings every other shift (these drippings you keep).

This is not Orthodox Swedish but it's good advice: dice a handful of Shiitake mushrooms, sautee them in butter, and pour the meatball drippings and scrapings into the mushroom pan as you go along. Keep it at a low simmer, and add some cream, flour, and soy sauce to taste. Not too much heat, not too much soy sauce. This makes for a much better gravy than the Swedish white one that is often served with meatballs.

When all the meatballs have been fried and the gravy is kicking ass, serve with lots of mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves. Lingonberries aren't super easy to get ahold of, so cranberries areactually a very close substitute. If anyone bitches they can find the door on their own.

The most important part of this recipe is browning the onions before mixing the meat - they lend an excellent flavor. This is what I learned from my mother watching her make them (and helping out in the kitchen as a kid). The second most important thing is using the drippings for the gravy. Mushrooms, Shiitake or not, just make it that much better.

This is one of those things that is easy to make but takes a little time. But who doesn't want to come over for a dinner party when they know you have Swedish meatballs down pat? Yup, vegetarians.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Chicken or the Egg?

Hello food friends, finally it is time for Guy to post. My first posting will be an introduction to my background and interest in food and it's cultural an emotional impact on my life. This first recipe is a unique mix of my home town Perth (Western Australia) and my father's home town of Calcutta (India). Now I'm not claiming that a simple chicken curry is unique or unusual, however through informal research I am yet to find any of my Indian, Australian or other friends that have knowledge of a "chicken and egg" curry, the egg being the novel ingredient. As far as I know this dish is spawned from the imagination of my mother and the curry obsessions of my father. As a quick background to this situation my father was born in Calcutta and raised there and in Darjeeling. Immigrating to Australia in the late 1950's he eventually met and married my mother. Perth at this time was not the cosmopolitan hub it has become, Indian restaurants were rare things in the 1960's. When my father's mother (Gran as I called her) moved to join us in Perth from her post Indian home in Britain, a campaign for my mother to learn Indian cooking from my grandmother began. I hope that as our postings continue, I will be able to revisit this story and others, that revolve around my families strange relationship with food and cooking. My fathers imaginary plate shooting and simian like calls of approval will be discussed later, but for now here's how one of my favorite dished goes.

The basic ingredients are variable in amount, the pictured pot makes about 3 quarts. It consists of one large potato cut into 2 inches cubes. 6 chicken legs (Skin on, or you can use any cut of chicken in a relative amount, bone and skin cuts prefered for the best flavor!), half a large onion, 4 cloves of garlic and 6 large hard boiled eggs. Begin by slicing the onion and garlic and browning it in oil and a small pat of butter. Indians would use ghee (clarified butter), but that can be hard to come by, and in my opinion dose not change the taste dramatically. Once browned add the curry herbs. This too is a point of contention with purist. My mum would often use a curry paste at this point, Bolst's or Fern's being the best brands, some believe that the curry should be created from the distinct indian herbs that make up a curry powder. Here's my solution. One large tablespoon of any curry paste you like.2 heaping teaspoons of ginger powder. 2 teaspoons of Gram Masala, one teaspoon tumic, 6 chardamon pods, 3 bay leaves, and liberal sprinklings of black pepper, chili flakes and salt. As with all cooking, experimentation with variations of the theme is the best way to find the results you want.
So once these herbs are mixed in with the browned onions add the Potato, Chicken and eggs. coat these ingredients with the goop in the pot. Next add about 2 cups of water or enough to submerge the contents, then set the pot to simmer. Cover with the lid and stir the curry every 15 minutes, whilst simmering for 2 hours. One hour in I like to add peas or green beans, frozen seems to work as good as fresh. This is one of those stew like dishes where it tastes even better after having cured over night.

I must have eaten this meal hundreds of times as a kid growing up, and like to refer to it as "legs and eggs". I love to cook it and enjoy it as much now as in my childhood. It is the comfort food of my family. This dish when cooked by my mum, (and as it turned out on my fathers last visit, also by me) can elicit a number of strange vocal and visual responses of contentment from my father. I wish you luck with the chicken and the egg curry, and should someone begin to whoop like a howler monkey at the table, know then that you have achieved the desired result!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mertabak (Indonesia)

Guy has to work this weekend, so you're in for another Zola recipe/story. I wanted to talk about Indonesia because the country had such an impact on me. Part of the reason I am a librarian is because of my experiences in Indonesia. It was my first time out of the country. I was 18 and I wanted to get as far away as I possibly could - Indonesia seemed to fit that bill. I went for a year as an exchange student (and it turned out, not a very good one). I spent the majority of my time with a family in Yogyakarta until I was kicked out and moved to Jakarta. I learned a lot in that year and the food made a fantastic impression on me. It was in Indonesia that I became obsessed with street food. Which will probably kill me someday. I did manage to come down with typhoid fever that year. But as the kids say, whatevs. Let's talk about street food. Up until this point, my experience with street food had been the food stalls at the Saturday Market. So when I saw the food stalls on Jalan Malioboro I wasn't completely unfamiliar - although the range and volume were definitely unlike anything I knew.
But Indonesians don't stop there with street food. As far as I could tell, there were two other camps: the warung and the mobile cart. The warung is a slightly more permanent and larger structure. It comes complete with a tent and sometimes some tables and benches. My host family liked to stop at the satay warung and occasionally one that sold fire roasted corn with chili flakes. I remember thinking that the warung seemed a little ghetto - and that was what I liked about it. We'd be squatting in the dirt with our little paper plate of charred chicken and peanut satay just like everyone else. It didn't matter where you were from - it was cheap, great food that everyone enjoyed. The third camp of street food was the mobile vendor. These guys would have a tiny cart fashioned onto a bike and they'd pedal around selling soup or mi goreng (fried noodles). In my mind, the mobile vendor is the true mark of a civilized society - delivery is just a sham. This stuff is hot and steaming and made fresh for you - you can even ask them to hold the MSG.

This recipe is for mertabak - my all time favorite of all the street foods - a little fried, savory pillow of meaty goodness.

For the dough:
1 1/2c. flour
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 c. water
pinch salt
work the dough for a while until smooth and let it rest in a warm spot for about a half hour - it's a good time to start your filling.

For the filling:
8oz ground beef
4oz ground lamb
1/2 leek finely chopped
1/2 small white onion finely chopped
2 red chilis finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ground ginger
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons coriander
1 tsp cumin
2 Tablespoons lemongrass finely chopped
1 Tablespoon curry powder
salt to taste
Cook all of the above until your meat is done. Let it cool a bit and add:
4 eggs
1/4c. chopped flat leaf parsely
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Chop your dough into 3 or 4 smaller portions. Roll one portion of dough as thin as you possibly can. Think pasta thin. Also think about this: you're going to want to make little pillows or envelopes so I recommend trying to roll it out into a rectangular shape - then you can dump some filling in and fold that bad boy up. It helps if you have a little egg wash handy - wash the edges of your dough so your envelope will stick together.

While your rolling dough and filling these puppies, you can get some oil heating in a pan. I recommend a nice vegetable/canola oil that can withstand high temps. Remember these things are traditionally deep fried so you need to AT LEAST fill the pan so that half of your mertabak is immersed when it goes in. I always use scraps of dough as testers to see how hot my oil is. Oddly, fingers don't work that great. You're looking for little bubbles cooking on the dough on the sides - a nice slow but steady cooking process (remember, you've got to cook those eggs!) Once your oil is hot enough, pop 'em in there. You can make them big or small - it's up to you and your filling-to-deep-fried-dough-ratio preferences. I like to make them bigger and chop them into smaller pieces. Garnish and eat with fresh chilis and a beer!

Mad props to Jakarta Daily Photo for the photo of the warung.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Biscuits and Milk Gravy (U.S.)

Sunday mornings were one of my favorite things as a kid. I’d spend the night at a friend’s on Saturday and usually by Sunday morning I’d feel exhausted by trying to fit in to other people’s idea of normal. I have a particularly vivid memory of walking home from Tina’s house. Tina’s family was from Rhode Island and they all seemed very sharp and hard to me. She was really into ballet and her dad was a cop and her mom did things like buy a dozen donuts for breakfast and it all seemed so TV normal and alien I couldn’t relax. Crossing the street to our place, I could already hear the music pouring out of our house before I even got to the front door. Getting inside felt like letting out a deep breath – I’d be enveloped by R&B, the smokiness of eggs, bacon, and biscuits with milk gravy and that feeling like “Ah fuck. I made it. I’m home.”

Here’s what my dad has to say about milk gravy:

“You asked about biscuits and gravy so here's what I can tell you, including... oh yeah... bacon grease... the truly critical ingredient in milk gravy. We used to save bacon grease in a Mason jar in the refrigerator but I can remember seeing it in an icebox (a box with blocks of ice used to keep food cool) on my great-grandmother's porch. My Mom, who was a more 'modern' homemaker, preferred to cook with vegetable oil (aka Crisco), but my Dad, with strong rural southern roots and a palette that appreciated organ meats, fried grits and wild game, prevailed occasionally for the use of bacon grease.

So gravy... Bacon grease (hopefully including what we called scrapins', i.e., that crusty, gummy stuff from the bottom of the skillet that usually gets generated when you fry pork) plus white flour plus whole milk plus salt and pepper to taste. It always seemed best cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Brown the flour in the lightly sizzling grease, like a roux, and add milk in small amounts, working out any lumps, seasoning as you go.

One of the many reasons I fell in love with your Mom was that, when I met her, she had a jar of bacon grease in her fridge.”

Got all that?
There’s no way to have a precise recipe for the gravy because it all depends on how much fat is rendered from your bacon or sausage. I will say that my dad has been known to crumble up extra bacon to put in the gravy and such action is highly recommended.

Here’s my dear friend Swiss’s recipe for biscuits. And, for the record, Swiss is one the most talented pastry chefs out there so you should listen to her:

“I do have the best biscuit recipe:
and yes I use lard because
1: it's delicious
2: you are going to eat biscuits and gravy so what's a little more fat
3: it makes the biscuits nice and flaky
4: the flavor of the lard goes better with a side of bacon than crisco

Buttermilk Biscuits

heat the oven to 450

4cups flour
4t baking powder
1 1/2t salt
1T sugar
1t baking soda
5oz lard
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
mix dry ingredients with lard add buttermilk until it comes together.
you want it to be a wet dough but firm enough to roll out.”