27 October 2012

More Burma

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying Rivers of Flavor.  Here's the current list of what we've tried:

Fried shallots
Chile-garlic sauce
Spinach and tomato salad
Long bean salad with peanuts
Roasted eggplant salad
Okra shallot stir-fry
Tamarind-pumpkin curry
Eggplant delight
Easy coriander tomato omelet
Golden egg curry
Paneer in tomato sauce
Pale yellow Shan tofu
Deep-fried Shan tofu
Fish stew with aromatics
Chile-oil fish
Chicken in tart garlic sauce
Peanut and rice porridge

16 new recipes in a month? Yeah, we're enjoying ourselves.

One thing I like about Duguid's books is that, even though she makes the recipes doable* for North American cooks, she also puts in things that don't necessarily seem to appeal to North American expectations.  For example, the peanut and rice porridge doesn't look all that appetizing, but it's in the cookbook anyway because it's unique and delicious.  I was very pleasantly surprised by that dish in particular and it'll be served often in place of rice.

I did use pressed tofu in the chicken with tart garlic sauce because I'm more likely to have tofu in the fridge than chicken (because it lasts longer).  The paneer in tomato sauce was very similar to the Bhutanese cheese curry from Mangoes and Curry Leaves.  I'm not sure which version prefer- maybe I'll make both one night and we'll find out.

Both fish recipes have been amazing.

*I've never quite understood the fetish for authenticity in international dishes. When I'm living in Kyrgyzstan it's impossible for me to cook completely authentic American food (whatever that is).  It's just the way it is.  I also have zero desire in Kyrgyzstan to visit 5 different stores so I can make typical lasagna, just like I'm not about to drive to five different stores in the US to make exactly perfect Pad Thai.  But I also don't want Americanized food (like typical American Chinese restaurant food, or Mexican restaurant). I think that this is my biggest reason why I like Duguid's books- she balances the recipes in a way that works exactly right for me.

26 October 2012

Komoch Naan

Komoch naan is a Kyrgyz and Kazakh bread.  I rarely saw it in Bishkek and Tokmok since tandyr naan is typical there, but if you get into rural areas of Kyrgyzstan like Naryn or Kochkor, this is much more common.  It makes a slightly larger loaf than they usually make in Kyrgyzstan, but it works pretty well.  It makes one domed loaf and there are several ways to bake it.  It's traditionally cooked in a clay pot, although it isn't always anymore.  This is based on several recipes I picked up in Kyrgyzstan and on one from Beyond the Great Wall.

1.5 cups warm water or milk or sour milk
1 tsp yeast
1/2 c yogurt (optional, especially if you used sour milk- increase the milk by 1/4 cup if you leave out the yogurt)
2 tsp salt
4-5 cups flour (I use whole wheat, but all-purpose or bread flour is good too, or a mix.  All-purpose is typically used in Kyrgyzstan.)


Make a soft, well-kneaded dough with the above and let it rise for a couple hours till it's doubled. 

I've tried four different cooking methods for this.  My favorite is in a camp dutch oven over a fire, but that's not exactly practical most of the time even though it's more similar cooking in a clay pot.  I've also tried it in the crockpot but it didn't work really well, although it did produce the right texture for the bread.

The two easiest methods produce fairly different loaves depending on what you want.  You can shape the dough into a ball and drop it into a cast iron skillet lined with parchment paper.  I just have a 12-inch skillet so I use that, although a smaller skillet would be good too.  Let the dough rest for a few minutes then press it out toward the edges of the skillet.  Cover with a lid or a bowl or plastic and let it rise for about an hour- it shouldn't quite double.  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes or till it's golden brown.  Keep an eye on it the first time you make it because bread and ovens vary so much, at least in my world.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before slicing.  This produces a drier loaf that is good and, I think, more commonly used now in Kyrgyzstan.

It's also really good baked in a covered pot.  Use an oven-proof straight-sided 9-inch (or so) pot and line the bottom with parchment.  Shape the dough into a ball and drop it in, then press it towards the edges as above.  Cover with the lid of the pot and let rise for about an hour.  Leave the lid on and bake at 375 for about 30-40 minutes.  At that point, check the bread to see how it's coming.  It might be ready then, or you can put the lid back on to finish baking, or you can leave the lid off while it finishes to help the top get crispier.  After it comes out you can brush with butter and the top will soften again.

25 October 2012

A Discovery of Witches

So I really enjoyed this book in a lot of ways. Interesting characters, interesting plot, interesting places.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy (although I'm annoyed, because I didn't know it was a trilogy when I started it, especially one where the books haven't all been published yet- if I'm going to be out of the reading loop for a couple of years, at least I shouldn't have to wait for new releases now).

But in some ways this was almost as bad as Twilight.  Despite the author insisting that Diana isn't pathetic, she was.  And she's supposed to be in her mid-thirties?  She came off as a teenager most of the time.  The worst line was when Diana's aunt was concerned that she had changed so much after meeting Matthew- that the independent Diana was gone.  Diana's answer was that she loves him.

Still, there is actually a plot here which helps a lot.  And there are far fewer Twilight moments here than in, well, Twilight.  And I sincerely hope Diana actually stops being pathetic instead of just hearing other characters tell me she isn't.

And there's lots of cool history stuff.  The author really likes wine though, which is fine, but it did get a little over the top in places. 

24 October 2012

Maphead

This was one that came out while I was in Kyrgyzstan which I couldn't read.  If you like maps, this is a great book even if you're not one of the types of map lovers that Jennings writes about (which I'm not).  I could go on here for a long time about maps, but I'll spare you.

23 October 2012

The Coffins of Little Hope

This was a unique book and I liked it.  Nothing much happens, but the main character is wonderful.

19 October 2012

Burma: Rivers of Flavor

I love to cook food from all over the world, and especially food from every corner of Asia.  Way back in 1998 I discovered Flatbreads and Flavors by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford and I've been hooked on their books ever since.  I still remember paging through F&F the first time and finally finding recipes I'd been looking for after spending nearly a year in the Middle East.  Their tastes worked for me and I've never been disappointed since then.  I've read through and cooked through all of their books (Beyond the Great Wall, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Homebaking, Seductions of Rice, and Flatbreads and Flavors).  There's a lot to love, but these people even get Central Asia. Really.

I was excited to see that Naomi Duguid was going to be writing a book on Burma despite the couple's divorce a few years ago.   I wondered how the book would be different without Alford.  Rivers of Flavor is more cookbookish (although there are still plenty of wonderful photos) and I think this book may be even better without Alford- certainly I don't think anything was lost without him.  Duguid has always seemed more straightforward.

One difference with this book is that there is a beginning section with recipes for staples you'll probably need to make the rest of the food in the book.  I don't really like to open up to a recipe and see that I'm going to have to prepare 5 different special ingredients to make the dish, but it turned out to be okay because all of the staples make a lot.  So instead of trying to track down shrimp powder, you can just make some and store it till you need it.  It's slightly more work initially than just buying it at the store, but after that, it's the same.  And it may not be any more work in reality if you, like me, have spent a long time trying to find the right ingredient in an ethnic store where it may be difficult to communicate what you need.

Anyway, the recipes are very good.  As usual I have dozens marked to try and I've made about 10 so far. I'll add to this list as I cook more. Updated to link to the final list of recipes.

  • Shrimp powder
  • Chile-garlic sauce (this is amazing)
  • Long bean salad with peanuts (I wished I was in Bishkek to make this one so I could use long beans, but regular old American green beans tasted good too)
  • Okra shallot stir-fry (this was the first time I'd ever cooked okra- I figured I ought to try it since I live in the south, but I couldn't bring myself to make a typical southern okra recipe)
  • Tamarind pumpkin curry
  • Easy coriander tomato omelet
  • Golden egg curry
  • Pale yellow Shan tofu
  • Deep-fried Shan tofu

I liked all of these.  My husband isn't a big hard-boiled egg person so the egg curry wasn't his favorite, but my middle son loved it and had fun helping me fry the eggs.  The okra was a surprising hit- I honestly didn't know how it would go over.  And I loved the bean and peanut salad.

This really is just the beginning.  There is so much to try here and I think this book is easily as good as Duguid's best books.  Highly recommended.

One other thing- I've enjoyed learning more about Burma in this book.  I know much less about Burma than any of the other regions Duguid has covered, particularly the minorities living there.  I really appreciated that she traveled all over the country (this is a reason why I love Beyond the Great Wall) and introduced food from different parts of the country.

18 October 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients

This was a pleasant little book, although nothing amazing.  If you love cooking, you'll probably like this.  But it's really just a string of short stories about food and cooking loosely tied together into a cooking class.  Each character gets a chapter and that's it- nothing happens that pulls the book together at all.

But since I love to cook, I got this.  Even if I already knew it.

17 October 2012

True Sisters

I thought this was an interesting take on the Martin Handcart company because the author isn't LDS. I didn't think it was amazing, but it was fine.

16 October 2012

Fire Study

This was a nice ending to the trilogy, but I think there was way too much going on by the end.  And some parts didn't come off right to me.  The first book was best.  Still, I liked it. 

15 October 2012

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

This was such a fun little book with all sorts of interesting things to learn.  Definitely worth reading.

13 October 2012

Magic Study

I liked Poison Study better, although I don't feel like this is a trilogy where the middle book just strings the first and third together.  It did its own thing. 

12 October 2012

Griffin and Sabine Books

Jean pointed out that there were a lot more Griffin and Sabine books, so I read them too.  They're all very interesting and different to read and I like them, but I didn't love them.  A nice way to spend an afternoon though.  And they'd be fun to do for a book group.

There are 2 trilogies that are tied together for a total of 6 books.  All are short and quick to read unless you spend a long time looking at the pictures which is totally reasonable.

11 October 2012

The Last Town on Earth

This was another book set during WWI and reminded in some ways of The Air We Breathe.  But this one was thoroughly depressing and I'm not at all sure how I feel about it.  It was well-written though, I thought.

02 October 2012

Savory Galette

I like to make fruit galettes, but it had never occurred to me to make a savory one till I read about it somewhere.  I used the entire recipe from the link above for the pastry and rolled it out, then topped it with the ingredients below, folded over the edges a bit, and baked for about 30 minutes.

Mix all this together:

1/2 head chopped cabbage (or about 4 cups)
1/3 lb cooked sausage or some other meat, or fried tofu, or skip it entirely
1 thinly sliced red onion
2 cloves sliced garlic
a few tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste
crushed red pepper, to taste
other herbs, if you want (I used zaatar)

I think that's everything I used.  There was a lot of cabbage and it was pretty heaped up so it didn't look beautiful, but it was really yummy.

Poison Study

Liked this. And it was a quick read.