Ahmadiniglad I didn’t say banana?

So…Korea…clip that noise. After thinking long and hard about how much I loathed last nights’ supper, and after trying unsuccessfully to find powdered corn cobs with which I might produce the delicious North Korean bounty (of husk dust and sadness), I decided to take the blog in a different direction. Instead of writing about North Korea each day this week, I am instead going to take you on a week-long culinary journey through several different countries that have pissed me off recently.

Yesterday’s country was North Korea. North Korea really, really pisses me off. And their food is gag-making.

Today’s country is Iran, and is brought to you by the letter “گل” and the number “۳”

And man, has Iran pissed me off lately. Their political system is completely jacked up, with an angry mustachioed president yelling to and fro about exterminating Israel, while a strange cleric stands like a hologram in the background wearing a cloak and hood and facemask that alters his voice…wait, that’s Darth Vader. But Ali Khamenei is similar. Both definitely Siths. Anyway, he gets to stand in the background and call the shots and yell at people for being unholy. At least, that’s how I picture it.

Now recently I will concede that ol’ Mahmoud has been minding his ‘p’s and ‘q’s a little bit better. He’s at least been “dialoguing” with Obama, even if it’s at a very rudimentary level (“Okay, Mahmoud. I hear what you’re saying. Now here are some crayons, I want you to draw us a picture of your feelings”). And I appreciate the effort. Allah only knows what Darth Khamenei has been doing while these fun therapy sessions have been taking place.

But then all of a sudden it’s election day and all hell breaks loose. I’m not sure who’s at fault here. It could be that the election was rigged, it could be that there are still more stuffy old folk than young, YouTube-posting Iranian hipsters making it to the elections. Either way, I’m a touch jihadified (new-farsi for “pissed off”) that the opposition leader decided to incite riots, and also approaching annoyed that Ahmadinner and Khemenewanaleia decided to put the literal smack down on their people.

The saving grace of this whole thing is that I think it’s HILARIOUS that the young Iranians are using such mediums as Twitter to express their displeasure. HA. Young people like technology, and I’m hoping that western-style access will prove an adequate bribe for good behavior in coming years.

The question here, though, is do Iranians have any right to be angry? Does their cuisine warrant the kind of fist-throwing tantrums that can be caused by North Korean cuisine? We shall see…

I had to do some research, which consisted of me traveling across town and across visible economic…striations to a middle-eastern mart called “Ali-Baba Market.” Strangely my Honda had this pre-programmed into its nav system. I pulled up and went inside and noticed immediately that the happy hubbub had given way to a new, quiet-but-quick undercurrent of murmuring. I looked around at the men in their Western-style clothes and the women in their tunics and head scarves and realized that perhaps they were less than thrilled with my running shorts (which are admittedly obscenely short, but that’s only for comfort and ease of movement). Dammit. Oh well, nothing I could do to fix it.

Then I had a field day looking through the aisles. It was just like Asia-mart, only there were way more unfamiliar groceries to peruse. I am getting a lot more comfortable with Asian groceries, and am starting to recognize them more and more as I incorporate them into my foods. But middle-eastern? Whole new ballgame. I picked up a few interesting little tidbits, realized I was being followed suspiciously by an angry looking man with dark circles around his eyes, then ran to the front and paid as quickly as possible. I was super-polite and avoided eye contact, and I didn’t say “Hey beard guy! Are these little brown wheat-looking balls Iranian or some other variety of middle-eastern? I can’t read your squiggle letters.”

At home, I came up with a three-stage meal of very Iranian dishes.

First–Salad Shirazi

-Salad shirazi is damned good. It’s just thinly sliced cucumbers, sweet grape tomatoes, a small sweet onion, lime juice, olive oil, s&p;, and dried mint. Yes, dried. It’s what they use. It’s all tossed together for an hour or two to marinate, then served as is. And it’s hella-tasty.


-As best I can tell polow is the same thing as pilaf. Or what we translated to pilaf, being dumb Americans. It’s got a fairly involved cooking method, though, which makes a golden and delicious crust at the bottom of the pan. This crust (called a tadig or tadiq) is then served overtop the pilaf like a little lid. It’s fought over by Iranian guests as being the most delectable part of the meal. Ours turned out perfectly, and rested on a bed of saffron-scented rice, studded with golden raisins and pistachios. It was a big tadiq (that’s what SHE said), though, so we didn’t have to fight.

Third–Kebab Koobideh
-This is your basic beef/lamb kebab. It’s flavored with garlic, turmeric, onions, and bound with an egg. Under the broiler for a few minutes, since our gas grill makes an ominous hissing noise when turned on, and it came out incredibly tender and delicious.

So here’s my thought for Iran–You people have NO BUSINESS being so unruly. Your food is incredible and you get to put saffron in everything. Stop bickering, and just make some extra batches of polow so everyone gets a tadiq, a-ight? Damn.

Now it all makes sense…

North Korea has been really pissing me off lately, with Kim Jong Il’s absurd shenanigans and them shooting missiles for the 4th of July (AGAIN) and their websites condemning the United States for trying to “invade” all the time. It’s enough to make me want to fly over there, walk up to his palace or whatever, and reach down and slap him. Just a straight pimp-slap. I actually fantasize about this.

I’m proud of Obama for how he’s handled him; as a grade-school bully. I would not have been so mature. And we all know that McCain would already be involved in a nuclear war with them had he won the presidency, so that makes me even more grateful for the current US approach, which appears to be make nice with Russia, make nice with China, let them handle his petulant acts of aggression.

But because I’ve been thinking about it so much, I decided I’d research the recluse country a little more. First I read all of the propaganda websites from the DPRK (the self-titled Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea…Democratic?). The basic gist of all of the websites I saw were that a) the United States is the devil and are trying to invade them, like, constantly and b) Kim Jong Il is like a real-life Chuck Norris. There are government claims that he can golf 18 rounds getting all holes-in-one. And that when he was born there were three rainbows (originating from his ass, I presume). It’s seriously wack.

What’s even more wackadocious is how freakin’ SAD the situation is for the people in North Korea. They’re completely stuck, without any hope of leaving the country, since all of the borders are guarded against exactly that. They aren’t allowed to fish the waters of the coast, since all of the fish belong to Kim Jong Il. They aren’t allowed to own vehicles, period. Only the gov’ment can own vehicles. They aren’t given any food. Correction, they aren’t given any food that is edible by people. Instead, they’re given a product of ground corn to make into “meals”. I don’t mean cornmeal, but like the entire corn, husks and cob and all. And they harvest the grass from the ground to eat. But the problem with these foodstuffs is that North Koreans don’t have four stomachs (with the possible exception of Kim Jong Norris) and can’t digest the stuff. So they’re in constant gassy pain and hungry and nobody’s allowed to help them. It’s horrifying.

I wondered what they would consider their “national cuisine,” if they had one. After careful research, the apparent answer is “nothing.” They honestly don’t have any kind of resource out there to tell us about their food. There’s plenty of info on Korean food, but it’s all derived from the south. There are North Korean restaurants, but not many, and not really translatable into English that I can read. So, after hours of research, I came upon only one or two usable recipes. I made one last night, for your viewing pleasure. It’s called “Japchae” and is basically stir-fried noodles and assorted Korean vegetables. And I think they eat it in the South, too, but at least this one had some reference to North Korean eats.

In this bowl are mung bean thread noodles, chinese cabbage, mung bean sprouts, daikon (a type of enormous parsnip-looking radish), carrots, mustard greens, and celery chunks. I topped the bowls with a touch of bulgogi (Korean BBQ beef), even though they don’t really do that so much in North Korea as they do in South. I mean, I didn’t want Chris to revolt. And they’re seasoned with soy, sesame, and Korean chili paste. A big, hearty bowl of…

Crap. As Chris put it, “I can see their perspective a little more. I mean, a week of this and I’d be like ‘fuck it. Let’s go nuke some stuff’ and that’d be the end of it.” He’s a wise man, that Chris.

The problem wasn’t so much that it was all one-note flavors and semi-wilted vegetables. Nor was it the abundance of products from the mung bean; a bean that has the least appetizing name I’ve heard in a while. No, it was the preparation of the bean threads themselves. I use them in Thai cooking, and I like them. They have a chewy texture and a clean flavor. I love them in spring rolls, and I enjoy them in a fresh Thai salad. They’re easy to prepare, too. I soak them in cold water for an hour, drain, rinse, and serve. The problem with these is that in Korean recipes, they soak them in boiling hot water for 15 minutes to “soften” them. This practice leaves them soft. And that softness translates into gelatinous, gummy, slippery, see-through strands of bean mucous. Disgusting. I actually found myself rooting around in my bowl for pieces of cabbage and bean sprouts, after devouring the delicious bulgogi. Then the bowl of gunk sat on the table while Chris and I looked pitifully at each other, until he had the ambition necessary to go get the pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked out of the freezer. And then we ate it all, and felt guilty for subbing ice cream for dinner.

I had originally planned to do a week long series on North Korean food, but I just don’t think I can stomach it. So I’ll do some kind of Korean dish each day, and I’ll keep you posted on the Kimchi that I made and is currently fermenting on top of my fridge. I’ve never tried Kimchi, and I’m a touch terrified, but I’m a brave girl, so I’ll do it. As for you, Kim Jong Il, don’t think this is an excuse for what a giant asshole you’ve been. We all know you import delicious cuisines from across the globe and wash them down with fine cognac. This just further exemplifies your assholery.

Fourth of Douche-ly

When, when, when will I learn that 3-Olives cherry vodka is not meant to be downed like Propel Fitness Water after a 10 mile run? When? There has never, to my knowledge, been a circumstance under which my consumption of a shot of said vodka has been limited to a single shot. It always leads to more shots. Because it’s so delicious and goes down so easy (ha!) and it leaves your mouth tasting all deliciously cherryfied. Actually, the media doesn’t want you to know this, but that line in Katie Perry’s song was initially “I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry vodka,” but they were worried that simultaneously marketing alcohol AND casual lesbianism to juveniles would provoke ire in the religious right.

Anyway, 3-Olives made an appearance at our Fourth of July fete, and lead to a number of fun interactions, like me announcing “I weighed 114 pounds when I was pregnant!” despite never having a) weighed 114 pounds or b) done so while carrying a human life. Or an adult allergist from Chris’s clinic getting so slopped up that she had to call her parents to come get her, and the parents telling Chris “Hey! Thanks for taking care of my kid!” in a sarcastic and sort of unpleasant way. Yeah…your “kid” is a medical specialist in her late thirties. Maybe she can take care of herself? She was fine, though, and we all had lots of fun.

Lots of food, too. We smoked a whole pork shoulder, two full racks of ribs, and had this spread laid out to accompany.

There was the traditional white-trash-but-totally-delicious Jell-O salad with cream cheese layer and pretzel crust (a dessert I’m inordinately fond of), a giant skillet of jalapeno cornbread with honey butter, fresh melons, a corn salsa made with fresh corn, roasted-then-smoked poblano peppers, black beans, fresh tomatoes, a touch of lime juice, and cotija cheese (crumbly, salty goodness) served with tortilla scoops, and a buttery tart shell filled with lime cheesecake and fresh berries (pictured above). Pretty as can be, and gets across the major 4th of July message–“Amuurcaaa, fuck yeah!” The design would have been equally at home on an Amish Quilt, or on the backside of Betsy Ross’s more risque underpants.

What’s that you say? That I missed an element from the photo of the full table? Oh! You must mean the demonic Jell-O shots from Hell. You see, Kraft Foods–in its infinite wisdom–released two new flavors of Jell-O for the holidays: margarita and strawberry daquiri. And then they said it was for non-alcoholic use. Riiiiiiiiight. Honestly, Kraft. Who do you think you’re dealing with? So they became tequila and rum bombs that tasted fresh and fruity but sneaked around behind you to get you drunk and make you say stupid things when nobody was looking.

Kristen brought over an orzo caprese salad that I forgot to take a picture of, but it was really, really good and will be making a comeback on here soon. I think we didn’t manage to locate any fireworks, despite our neighbors telling us we could see them from our deck. Suck. Oh well, I wouldn’t have known them if I saw them.

Did you know…

In Germany, they use Nutella as frequently as we use peanut butter. You’d think this would cause them to just roll around their country like frozen butterball turkeys, but apparently they’re a wholloping 43rd place among the world’s heaviest nations. To be able to do this with the prevalence of Nutella they have? Astonishing. I’ll go ahead and raise a glass of German beer to this phenomenon. Here’s to you, Germany. May your girths stay steady and your Nutella flow freely.

As for us? Well, Chris and I eat Nutella pretty rarely. It’s not that we don’t like it, it’s that I wouldn’t be able to treat it as a condiment. No, I’d treat it more like water. Or maybe oxygen. So the fact that we have it in the house now, to make all the fun chocolates I posted about previously, well…it’s a fluke. A delicious, chocolatey, hazelnutty, German fluke. But it needs to be used up, right? If I don’t feed some of it to Chris, I’ll end up eating all of it and end up in a shame spiral where I’m so guilty about my entire jar of Nutella that I have to go buy more Nutella to console myself. So I’m sharing it graciously, and trying not to slather it all over my body like moisturizer.

So for breakfast the other day, we had some Nutella on homemade oatmeal bread with sliced bananas. It’s something I feel Elvis would approve of, and I certainly approved of it as well. Banana and Nutella are surprisingly compatible bedfellows.

We obviously couldn’t eat enough Nutella on toast to get full without weighing ourselves down in a mire of sugar and fat first thing in the morning, so we also had lil’ egg souffles, light style. I made hash browns and pressed them into the bottom of ramekins. I baked them until the hash browns got crispy and brown on the bottom, then filled them the rest of the way with an aerated mixture of eggs, ham, Irish cheddar, and milk. And Frank’s Red Hot, obviously. A quick bake again until the eggs puffed up and it was into the belly for Chris and Kristie. It was very tasty. So much, in fact, that I ate half of mine before I went in the kitchen to lick the knife I’d used to spread the Nutella. Impressive, non?

Okay, time to stop stalling and unpack the groceries for this weekend’s BBQ. Should be a small but fun gathering of people who like eating and drinking things from beer bongs.

Kristie Wonka and the Awesome Factory

There are a couple of food-related characters that I’ve always wished I could be. It’s not that I want to be these things because I only love eating sweets, or because I’m particularly good at them. It’s actually because I only love eating sweets AND am particularly BAD at them. One of these things is cake decorator and the other is chocolatier. Oh, and organic gardener, but that’s just because I want to be off of the grid someday.

So, while I usually keep it in the forefront of my mind that I am a shitty cake decorator or am physically completely fucking incapable of tempering chocolate like, ever (this makes me so angry that I’m actually shaking while I type…stupid chocolate), occasionally I slip and think to myself “Man, it would be SO much fun to be a chocolatier, and hand-dip adorable little chocolates with a tiny tuning fork and then make squiggles on the top and put them into hot pink cardboard boxes with a little silver pad dividing the layers. And a full-color insert describing each chocolate.” Or “I should be a cake decorator. Like Duff, only maybe with slightly less pot smoking for me, but a staff of total pot smokers to keep everything mellow. Duff has everything. And I’d make awesome cakes in the shape of the defensive line of the Denver Broncos. Yeah.”

These delusions usually lead me to purchase supplies that I wouldn’t ordinarily need, like an entire tackle box filled with Wilton tips and pastry bags. Or a cupboard full of different sizes of cake pans. Or a giant canister of gum paste, even though I don’t know how to use gum paste. “Oh, it should be totally easy! You just add water and pinch and you have a life-size, biologically accurate specimen of a hyacinth!” Yeah, no.

So it came as no surprise when, the other day, I got a wild hair up my ass to be a chocolatier, and we had to go to Barnes and Noble immediately to get me a book on chocolate-making. Nor was it a surprise when I was on ebay trying to lowball bid on a chocolate tempering machine (even in my delusional states, I know that I have my limits). Chris and I went through my new candymaking book and found a couple of recipes to try. I figured I’d get all the ingredients out, make a big fat mess, and then pity myself that I’m never going to achieve my dream of being a chocolatier because Texas is too hot to get chocolate to set. Yeah, that’s it.

So imagine my surprise when my very sweet husband text-messaged me to tell me that the chocolates I’d be “making” that day would be used in a potluck at his work the following day. Shit. Shittering shit. You see, a large part of my chocolatiering delusion is that around the holidays I’ll be so good that people from the hospital will be clamoring at me to make expensive boxes of chocolates for them to give away as gifts, possibly to the Queen. When my delusion is of cake decor, it’s usually that I get so good that Duff calls and asks me to work at his shop in Baltimore. And I have to turn him down, obviously, since we can’t move to Baltimore, but I concede that Chris and I will fly out there for a week to tape a few episodes for their next season. And then I’m a millionaire. Not sure how I make that leap.

I’m sure you can see the problem here. Now my chocolates have been promised away to the very group of people to whom I’d like to market, only I’m a terrible chocolatier and don’t know how to make said chocolates. I had one day to figure it out. My solution was that there had to be a way to make awesome chocolates without having to temper chocolate. I Googled. I Googled like my life depended on it, and then I Googled some more. I located some interesting information.

You see, couverture chocolate is specifically made for developing a thin and delicate shell around chocolates and candies. It’s the absolute highest quality chocolate. It’s MADE to snap pleasantly when bitten, and to look shiny and delicious when it hardens. And that’s the part that eludes me about regular chocolate. Technically, by tempering chocolate I should be able to take regular chocolate, melt it down, dip things in it, and then they harden into glossy goodness within a few minutes. But that never happens for me. What happens instead is that I get chocolate on my elbows and the dipped foods coagulate into a sticky, pliable mess. It’ll harden in the fridge, sure. But when it hits room temperature, it goes back to being the consistency of fudge. And it makes me SO ANGRY. So this couverture chocolate was definitely the answer, and I packed the dog into the car at 8 am and hauled ass downtown to the gourmet grocer, praying that they had some form of couverture. They did! So lucky! So I bought a box each of bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk, white, and dark chocolate couverture buttons. And they are not inexpensive. Nothing about cakes or chocolates is anything other than bank-robbingly expensive. Maybe that’s the appeal.

So partway home, at a stoplight, I looked at my boxes of couverture. By looked, I mean that I opened the box of white to eat a few buttons and see what they tasted like. I’m weak when it comes to white chocolate, even though I know that regular chocolate is better. It’s a childhood thing, I think. Anyway, they were delicious and kind of waxy from all of the cocoa butter. Couverture has a higher concentration of cocoa butter, which helps it solidify. I read the back of the box, still waiting for the light to change and I saw something that made my heart stop in my chest–couverture chocolate still has to be tempered. Mother. Of. Ass.

So Willie and I made an executive puppy and master decision to swing a hard left into the Hobby Lobby parking lot and buy some coating chocolate. This is a chocolate (loosely termed) that has actual carnuba wax in it, and it doesn’t have to be tempered at all. It’s specifically made for candy making, when that candy making is being done by Girl Scout troop #2314. Whatever. I needed a contingency plan. I also bought some fun little molds and a package of white boxes to hold my chocolates. They don’t carry pink, which I’m sure is just a gaping oversight.

We headed home and began to chocolatier our little selves into a frenzy. At least I did. Willie was banished from the kitchen on the off chance that I’d drop a piece of chocolate and he’d snap it up and die before I could wrest it from his clamped mouth.

Using half couverture and half coating chocolate, we had a pretty successful run, and it tasted juuuuuust fine.

First, we made a ganache that uses just melted chocolate (the real stuff) and a pint of ice cream. It’s so good, and so easy. I rolled the ganache into little balls and then gave them a coating of toasted, ground almonds. They were cute. That’s them at the top of the page, too.

Then it was on to something slightly more difficult. Making homemade marshmallows. The goo itself is relatively easy. Just soft ball sugar and corn syrup, with some gelatin at the end. Easy peasy. I flavored it with cherry and vanilla extracts to justify the pinkness I had added earlier. The trixy part is the molding. I filled a pan with flour, spread it evenly, then pressed into it with a 1/3 cup measuring cup. This made little rounds to hold the goo. I filled them and let it set for a loooooooong time. Then, they were dipped in chocolate coating and left to rest. They were so damned cute, and tasted pretty nice. Maybe more kid-friendly, because marshmallow chocolates can be really cloying. But tasty all the same.

Finally, I went for the gold with a chocolate cup filled with peanut butter and Nutella (swirled).

Jackpot. These were intensely delicious, and I couldn’t stop eating them. So a grand total of 10 were sent to the actual potluck. And I woke up .5 pounds heavier the next day. Whatever. Think about it. Chocolate surrounding Nutella and peanut butter. It’ll make you cry. Here’s one of the final products cut in half, after the tops of the cups were also filled with chocolate and left to set. Teensy little Reeses, only better.

I did a cream cheese mint, too, but those are good ol’ fashioned trailer style, so I didn’t photograph them. Who doesn’t like cream cheese mints, I ask you? I ate about half of those, too. And that’s the REAL reason I could never be a chocolatier. I’d be a giant fatass. I’d probably be best served by working in a fish restaurant, where I’d clamp my mouth shut and not taste anything until I got home.

The final product was too big to fit into a tiny chocolate box, so those got saved for further use. I used a cake box, and it fit exactly.

I was going to end this post with some cheesy line, like “Life is like melted chocolate, you never know if it’s gonna set,” but decided not to in favor of a promise. I WILL learn how to temper chocolate. It’ll be when it’s cooler outside, sure. But I’m supposed to spend all of my time swimming, running, and biking right now anyway, so the timing is right. And until then, if any of you feel moved to give me an awesome gift, a chocolate tempering machine would be the perfect choice. Almost as perfect as the pasta rollers that either Peter or Claudia got me for my wedding *wink*