Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Swedish meatballs via the Indian Sub-continent

Guy: Well for readers out there that have been attentively following the "happenings" here on Food Chains, you may be surprised to see Swedish Meatballs, again. You may remember one of our earliest posts supplied by our earnstwhile Swede Per for a meatball dish, provided here in this installation is a variation on that well known theme with an ethnic adaptive twist. With out going to deep into the degrees of separation lets just say I dedicate this Indian/Swedish Meatballs post to Per in acknowledgment of his birthplace, that same said city of my father's, Calcutta.
My friend Eva provided this recipe and story. After we had discussed Per's recipe Eva indeed confirmed Per's discussion on the swedish philosophy of "medium size", the idea that things are not to big or to small, as Eva added it is the idea that things are "just right". Eva said that the swedish were very good at incorporating other cultures food into their own. This following example I look at as similar to the English dish Chicken Tikki Masala, an English development on an Indian theme. As you may know, food chains is interested in the stories and emotional connections people have to food, and not just the food it's self. This recipe was Eva's aunties favorite, and a favorite of Eva's. When Eva returned home some years ago this was the meal she ate with her aunt. Unfortunately it was the last meal they would have together, however Eva says that the dish always reminds of her aunt and of her fond memories of her. So here we go with Eva's Indian Meatballs in a Creamy Tomato Sauce.

Serves 4-6
1 Lbs lean ground beef.
1 sml onion (red) grated.
1 tsp salt
1&1/2 tsp Garam masala
1 egg yoke
1/2 cup unsweetened bread soaked in 1/2 cup hot water.
butter for frying.
2 cans crushed tomatoes (15oz cans)
1 can diced chili peppers (4.5oz.)
1 tbsp curry powder.
1/2 tsp lemon juice.
1 tsp salt.
2 tsp Garam masala
1 tsp coriander (ground)
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream.
Combine the tomatoes, chili peppers and spices (including lemon juice) in a pot.
Add the Sour cream and bring to a boil. Set aside for the meatballs.
Combine the beef, egg, soaked bread, onion and spices and mix thoroughly. Shape into moderate meatballs about 1 & 1/2 inches in diameter (remember Per's recipe!) this is made easier by using hands dipped in cold water.
Fry the meatballs on moderate heat shaking the pan now and then to brown the balls evenly.
Add the balls when browned to the cream sauce, cook on low heat for 15 minutes in covered pot.
Serve over rice.

For this meal I chose brown rice which worked well. I also added Lingonberry preserve as a condiment in the style of traditional Swedish meatballs. These balls and sauce were surprisingly flavorful and spicy despite the relatively conservative amount of spice used. My friend Bill was our guest for dinner on a chilly Seattle evening, we declared this recipe DELICIOUS!
And just the right accompaniment the 60's film farce "Candy" staring Swedish actress Ewa Aulin, both film and meatballs were greatly enjoyed by Bill and myself. Thanks to Eva for this great story and recipe!
Bon appetite in Swedish!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Childhood on Guam

Zola: I've got to admit, I've been pretty down on the blog lately. We're at the end of the 3rd month and just not getting enough people submitting food stories to keep us going through the end of the year. Oh, we've got a few stories in back-up but at the rate they're coming in, either you're going to have to listen to even more of my crappy stories or we're not going to make it. Let's just say that if you see Betha's fruitcake story and recipe published in May (instead of Nov/Dec when you want to think about making the world's most delicious fruitcake) you'll know the end is freaking nigh.

That being said, the story and recipe below re-charged me a bit. As you'll undoubtedly infer from her post, I don't know Whitney--and it's always a thrill to open the old inbox and see a message from someone I don't know. The other thing that was really cool about this post was that I don't know jack about Guamese food. It was just what I needed to try to create something that tasted good without any clue what it should taste like.

Whitney: Sharon passed along your incredibly cool blog to me about 20 minutes ago and I'm inspired to look like I'm working hard but to write about food memories. The first that popped into my head was a visit to Sorrento in 2006 where I had THE MOST AMAZING MEAL of my life. But I'm still reeling from it and can't quite put it into words. So instead I'll tell you about my (food) memories of childhood spent on the tropical island of Guam.

We arrived in 1974 when I was 8 - so all the memories are colored with a kid's perspective. Every village had a patron saint and a chosen month to celebrate said patron saint with fiestas. I'm not sure how they swapped hosting duties but someone was ALWAYS having a party. As in most polynesian (or in this case, micronesian but let's not split tropical hairs) a big part of the culture seems to be generosity. Back in those days (folks tell me it's different now), any stranger was welcome to walk in and share the bounty.

It would go something like this, my incredibly beautiful, blonde haole (= white person) mom would get an invitation from some random person to a fiesta. My mom, my brother (age 6) and I would show up and be welcomed like royalty. I remember hearing something about strangers being considered good luck.

THE FOOD! Was an amazing combo of the island culture Guamanian/Chamorro, Spanish and Filipino food. Favorites of mine:

Bistek: some sort of marinated thinly sliced steak

Kelaguen of ALL sorts of meat - chicken, beef & spam being my favorites: Kelaguen was cool because we got to help shred the coconut. Imagine sitting astride a wooden sawhorse with a rusty grater (a rod with a bent-up sharp end to open the coconut) and a flat, round serrated end. The kids would do this for hours to get enough coconut for everyone. I remember the meat being 'raw' (only partially cooked and then cooked with vinegar but I could be wrong).

Red Rice: always!

Chicken adobo: the BEST chicken I've ever had in my life.

Corn soup with THICK corn tortillas: I've never been able to figure out those 1/2 inch thick corn tortillas. They had grill marks on them.

Lumpia: The Filipino folks said this was a Filipino recipe. Tiny little spring roll-esque fried bits of heaven. A pain to make but SO SO SO yummy. Actually verging on addictive.

Pancit: Another "Pilipino Pood" (so our friends described it). VERY yummy noodle dish - not sure if they're buckwheat? But the texture was very different. I remember chicken and celery with fresh lemon flavors.

Finadene Sauce with the tiny red peppers: HOT to be added to everything.

Pickled Green Papaya - HOT HOT HOT and addictive. Kids would bring baggies of these to sell at the bake sales

Roast Pork - We had neighbors with pigs and I stumbled across them slaughtering a pig for a fiesta. I didn't get to see much but I saw it hanging so the blood could drain.

The adults would all chew betel nut by making a little pouch of banana leaves and filling it with the SUPER bitter nut and some limestone. I tasted it once and WOW. I spit it right out. Everyone laughed at the little haole girl with her white hair...

Zola: So, not having a village to feed or a patron saint to celebrate (I guess it was Easter. Hm. Never mind), I decided to just try a couple things off the list. I went with Kelaguen, which required making Finadene sauce, and then some titiyas which are the thick tortillas Whitney mentions. I was also a cheater and bought some Lumpia because I love them but really don't need 2 dozen fried springs rolls in belly.

My guiding principle with the Kelaguen was this sentence from Wikipedia: "Though a simple dish, kelaguen reflects the complex history of the Micronesian archipelago's Hispanic-Asian-influenced native culture. It is similar to South American Ceviche and Filipino Kinilaw/Kilawin." I looked at a few different recipes and this is what I came up with:

Finidene (or also spelled Finidi) sauce: Mix a cup of soy sauce with a cup of lemon juice (lime juice or a good vinegar will also do). Add a large, finely chopped shallot and two birds eye chili peppers.

Marinate about a pound of chicken in this sauce overnight.

Fry up your chicken, basting in the sauce, and let it cool. Shred the chicken and mix with lemon juice, salt, shredded fresh coconut, finely chopped onion and more chilis to taste. Serve over titiyas. I used this recipe for titiyas but was not crazy about it. they were good but I felt like the dough should have been firmer. I'll keep looking for one with corn meal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pie Date pt. 2 (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the yeast) continued...

Alright, where were we? Oh yes. I was having a small mind melt. But not to worry--I've hung out on a beach with seals and had four glorious days of being no where near a computer. All better now.

So to continue our tragic tale...
I had just begun working for Tom Douglas. Let's be absolutely clear about this: I didn't know what the hell I was doing. One minute, I was working with Kenny, the tiny, odd gay man with piercing blue eyes, a fierce chain smoking habit, and creepy collection of dolls. The next minute, I was being interviewed by Eric Tanaka, James Beard Award winner. When I first worked with Tanaka he had an impressive burn covering his forearm from a duck exploding on him when he pulled it out of the oven. I had never even considered cooking duck, let alone contemplated the consequences of one exploding on me.

Tom never went to culinary school either, so my work ethic and willingness to learn worked in my favor. But I no longer had my buddies, like Colin in his ridiculous baker's hat, pounding his oven-mitted fist onto the bread table, yelling, "you can do it, Zola--just one more time!" as we tried to break (or create?) the record for consecutive times one can listen to "Super Freak" (I only made it to ten without cracking). Now I was working with the serious and seriously talented Johnathon Sundstrom. These were no times for Super Freak shenanigans, people!

The other thing to keep in mind is that, while I say I was working with people like Tanaka and Sundstrom, I was in fact working by myself. Tom had hired me to make the desserts for the newly opened Etta's Seafood but there wasn't enough room in either Dahlia or Etta's kitchens to work in the day. So I found myself working from 11pm to 7am at the Dahlia kitchen. I'd see the chefs as they were cleaning their stations for the night and then I was on my own.

A few weeks into my new job, I felt like things were going pretty well, despite that gross feeling that accompanies you when you work the night shift. If you've never done it, it's a combination of: not enough sleep, too much coffee and cigarettes, and zero human contact. But the baking was going fine. Coconut cream pies? Check. Apple dumplings. Delish. Cinnamon ice cream. Done. And then came the day that Tom announced that Etta's was running smoothly enough to open the place up for brunch. And this brunch menu was to include cinnamon rolls. Sounds nice, right? Except cinnamon rolls, when you stop and think about them, are really more of a bread product. As in, you need yeast to make them. And your faithful protagonist here had never made a single item with yeast in her young life. So I conferred with Swiss. She assured me it was easy stuff, "just make sure your water isn't too hot or too cold". Uh. Okay. Not too hot, not too cold. Easy. Wait. WTF??? Too hot or too cold compared to what?

I walked into that kitchen that night with a bad, bad feeling. I tried to play it off like everything was fine. I started working on pie dough and some ice cream mix while the rest of the staff were still there. As soon as they left I sat in the dining area and drank a shitload of coffee and smoked like a banshee while I mulled over my "too hot, too cold" predicament. Eventually, I got myself to that point--almost like when you convince yourself you just have to jump off the high dive. I started working off the cinnamon roll recipe. I read the recipe a million times, scanning for every nuance or clue that might enlighten me on how to work with yeast. I remember adding that first concoction of water, yeast and sugar and thinking, "Holy Christ. I don't even know what I'm looking for?!"

Oh yeah. Did I mention that I had to make about 200 of these cinnamon rolls?

At some point... maybe around 2am... I realized I just had to go into production with these things. It was coming together like dough but it just didn't feel right. I was using every refrigerated space available. I was rolling and filling and cutting, putting each cinnamon roll in it's bed of caramelized sugar and putting it in the fridge for someone else to pull out later for its final rise and baking right before service. Except that with each batch that I rolled out and filled, I became increasingly aware that something wasn't right. At one point, I just broke down crying. But I kept on making those stupid rolls until I had every roll in the fridge ready to go.

I got home exhausted, but I couldn't sleep. Around 10am I got the call. Brace yourself, friends. This story does not have a happy ending. Not a single cinnamon roll rose. Not. One. Not only was I humiliated but I thought for sure I was fired. Lucky for me, Tom is great guy and he didn't fire me. And I never made that mistake again. The next time I had to make something I was unfamiliar with, I did a ton of research and a few trials.

But I was pretty scarred by my yeast experience. I dreaded making anything with yeast after that. Brioche was a nice entry into that world--there's enough sugar to activate any stubborn yeast package. But I still secretly get nervous any time I need to work with it. So I decided to conquer my fear and enlisted my friends Kathleen (who you were introduced to during my last pie date) and Lisa. We decided to have Pie Date Part Deux, and this one would use yeast--pizza pie.

We used two different types of yeast and two different recipes to see if there were differences in taste and texture. There didn't appear to be much difference between the regular yeast and the organic in terms of taste but we found we liked this semolina based dough best:

1(1/4 ounce) package dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm but not hot water (see! there it is again!!)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina or cornmeal
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Mix 1/2 cup of the warm water with the yeast and sugar. Let the mixture rest until it is foamy, about 5 minutes. At this point, I also like to do lots of hand waving and talking to the bowl. I like to mix it up, too. You can start out stern, "You better rise you little bitch." But then, just to be safe, you should be nice too, "I know you can do it. You're looking good and foamy!"
2. Combine the flour, semolina or cornmeal, and salt in large mixing bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Stir in the yeast mixture and then slowly add remaining water until the dough is stiff and sticky. Turn the dough onto lightly floured board and knead until it is smooth, moist, and elastic, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to an oil-lined bowl, cover with damp towel, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.
3. Punch down the dough once or twice and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Cut it into 6 pieces for individual pizzas and top as you like.

Kathleen made a delicious tomato sauce while we waited for our dough to rise. She went for a much more traditional pie with the sauce and the mozzarella. Swiss had just sent me a huge block of prosciutto for my birthday, farm raised in Iowa, so I paired that with some potatoes, sharp Parmesan and baby arugala. Lisa had the winner with a pesto base, roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. I had some dough left over so a couple days later I tried a breakfast pie with egg and potato and cheese. Guy liked it but it was a little too breakfast-y for my taste.

I still prefer to work with yeast in the company of good friends. It makes it so much more fun and I had the added benefit of seeing the how other recipes and styles work. Thanks ladies!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pie Date pt. 2 (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the yeast)

Some people seem to be under the impression that, in order to submit a story to Food Chains, it has to be a nice food story. Not true. We'll take anything. To prove my point, I am going to tell you a tale of food tragedy. A baking nightmare, if you will. But to truly feel the pain and agony of my story, we have to start with our protagonist (moi) and how I even became a baker...
After coming back from Indo, my trusted gang of skaters and punk rockers secured me a fabulous job as a dishwasher at the Metropol Bakery in Eugene. Those boys were all baking bread there and it wasn't long before I found myself back behind the cash register. We had a lot of fun during that time--like the time Tom threw up a little bit on the bread table because we'd over done it the night before. However, customer service was wearing thin on me. I was slipping. In one of my finer moments, I told one customer, "don't pay, shut up and get the fuck out. I don't just can't stand listening to you whine." The last straw was the day a tiny old witch threw $100 bill in my face to pay for her baguette. That was it. I started staying late and having people teach me how to bake.

Soon thereafter, I picked up and moved to Seattle. I got myself a job in the front of the house at Pacific Desserts but it wasn't long before I weaseled my way into the back, and was getting paid to learn the ropes. During those couple of years, I got the basics down--cakes, pies, frostings, fillings, caramels. It turned out I was pretty good at it. It helped that I had Swiss there-- a born natural and seasoned professional at 21.

Pacific Desserts got sold to some business types and pretty soon we were doing baking production work. We were getting buff lifting 50 pound bags of four, chocolate and sugar, 30 pound blocks of butter and 30 pound--wait for it--buckets of eggs. Yes. You read it right. BUCKETS. OF EGGS. Would you like a bucket of yolks, whites or whole eggs? It was as just as soul sucking as it sounds.

okay, here's the deal. Guy & I are getting ready to head down to Mexico for a few days and my computers are not playing nice. I've got the work computer that won't let me in to post AT ALL and the home computer that won't let me insert pictures. So I am going to back away slowly before I throw either or both out the freaking window. I need a holiday. I know you're all on pins and needles to hear the rest of this tragic tale. but I'm going to have to lame-out this week. sorry! To be continued...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Soto Ayam (Indonesia)

Zola: There are some people who, when you meet them, you just know you're going to be friends with them. And so it was with Lee. Although, truth be told, Lee's the kind of guy that most people want to be friends with--slightly mischievous and a wicked sense of humor. I probably needed Lee's friendship a lot more than he needed mine. As exchange students in Indo, everything seemed to come easily to him--the language, making friends, great host family. As for me, you may recall that I didn't fair all too well with my host family, I was lazy about learning Indonesian, and it was hard for me to make friends with Indonesian kids my age and still feel like I was being myself. Quite bluntly, they were religious and I was, well.. not. I had two very close girl friends--Nicole, whom you've met through sugar pie adventures, was one. But there was something comforting about hanging out with a boy that didn't care that I was an obnoxious girl who listened to lots of Bad Brains and Dead Kennedy's and [ahem, allegedly] partied too much, let alone if we shook hands [boy/girl hand shaking strictly forbidden for devout Muslims in Indo. Made that mistake more than once.] Through that amazing internets machine, I found Lee so many years later, still a self-professed "art/skate/food nerd"--and perfect candidate for our Food Chains. Like the good egg that he is, he didn't let us down.

Lee: My story sucks and is a little too sentimental for my liking, completely lacking in humour and substance, but if I don't send it, I'll find 50 more reasons to put it off, like fixing my scooter, or finishing making that billy cart, or putting my skills to use making a website for the missus.

so here goes...

This dish was a huge part of my daily routine when I lived in the Indonesian city of Surabaya as an exchange student. I'd get home from school around lunch time and wait for the lady with the local Soto Ayam cart to come by and I'd go out and order some. If I had friends over, she'd bring it all into our house and serve it up to us in my room and we'd scoff it down, piling rice into the bowl to soak up the soup. It is a great feel good dish and the perfect pick-me-up if you are feeling sick or tired.

Soto Ayam - Chicken Soup with Vermicelli
Serves 4

500g chicken thigh fillets
1.25L water
6 Red shallots, chopped finely
5cm piece ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp peanut oil

To serve
100g rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water until soft
4 boiled eggs, sliced
Mung bean sprouts
Crispy fried onions
Lemon wedges
Steamed rice

1. Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in the chicken and boil for a couple of minutes until cooked, skimming off any scum. Remove chicken and reserve water. Shred the chicken a set aside.

2. Over a medium heat, add oil to a saucepan and add the spring onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt & pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add reserved water, bay leaves, soy sauce and chicken. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. To serve, divide vermicelli into 4 serving bowls. Ladle chicken soup into each bowl, including a few pieces of chicken in each. Top with sliced eggs, mung bean sprouts and sprinkle fried onions over it all. Place a wedge of lemon in each bowl and serve with a big bowl of steamed rice and a small dish of sambal.