Monday, February 27, 2012

Strawberry Pudding (Wojapi)

I don't know if strawberries are an appropriate fruit to put in wojapi (a type of fruit pudding), but they are the cheapest frozen berry I could find at the grocery store. This website, which has both a modern way of making wojapi and the traditional way which I would like to try this summer when we have fresh berries, says to serve the wojapi warm with frybread. Though I didn't feel up to mathking more frybread, despite now having the more appropriate corn meal to make it with, I do think that warm strawberry pudding is just the right thing to enjoy on a chilly, windy day while wishing for the warmth of spring. In fact, I wrote a haiku about it.

First things first, I had to thaw the berries. I put the two 1 lb bags of frozen strawberries into a large pot of water. Then, because I'm impatient, I put that pan of water on the stove and turned the burner to medium. It didn't take long for the berries to be sufficiently thawed. I emptied out the pan, cut open the bags of berries, dumped the contents into the pan then mashed them with a potato masher. So far, so good.

To the pot of mashed berries I added 4 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar. I decided to cut the recipe I found at above-linked website in half because 5 lbs of berries is a lot of berries, and I am leaving for Seattle in a couple of days, so I don't want the wojapi to go to waste while I am gone. The pot sat on the stove over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, though I wouldn't say it was boiling in any capacity.

Meanwhile, in a tiny coffee cup, I veeery slooowly (because this makes a non-Newtonian fluid) blended together cornstarch and water into a smooth, liquidy paste (rather like Elmer's glue in consistency) so that when I added it to the strawberry/sugar water mixture, there would be no unsightly chunks. 

Side Note: Cornstarch and water is one of my most favorite things to play with. It is no small dream of mine to run across a pool filled with it, like in this Mythbusters clip.

I ended up adding probably 3/4 to a full cup of the cornstarch blend to thicken the strawberries mash. What I basically ended up with was strawberry syrup, perfect for drizzling over cake, ice cream, or using as a dipping sauce. Kimmy and I ended up dipping cornmeal raisin cookies in it, and it was delicious.

If you want the recipe for the cornmeal raisin cookies, check back on Thursday!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pinole - Central America's Chai?

Now that I have the cornmeal, I had to try this beverage in the Food and Recipes of the Native Americans book called "pinole." The recipe the book gives is as follows:

Ingredients:
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water

Instructions:
1. Heat a heavy frying pan on medium high heat.
2. When the pan is hot, sprinkle in the cornmeal to dry roast it. 
3. Stir until you see the cornmeal starting to brown. This will take about six to eight minutes. Keep stirring the cornmeal or else it will burn.
4. When it's brown, scrape the cornmeal into a small bowl.
5. Add the honey and cinnamon and mix well.
6. Stir one tablespoon of this mix into 1 cup of boiling water, as the Native Americans did (sic), and let it sit for ten minutes.
This serves one person.

I followed the above instructions exactly, and I feel I must warn you of two things. First, it's going to smell like popcorn, and then burning popcorn. Keep stirring! Second, don't use a plastic instrument to stir. Wood is best so you don't scratch your pan. When it is all mixed together, it rather looks like light brown sugar and has a similar consistency.

When I first came across this recipe, I was struck by its similarities to traditional recipes for the Indian beverage we, in English, call chai. Obviously, pinole uses cornmeal while chai uses tea leaves, but the ideas are the same, as are many of the spices. Because you can use many different spices to make pinole. Here is a whole Wikipedia article about it! Cocoa, I think, would be very interesting.

The pinole I made is really quite tasty! The flavor reminds me of a weak coffee (that's probably the dry roasting) sweetened with honey rather than my usual sugar. You could probably get all English on this stuff and add milk, but as it is very tea-like, I just can't do it. I will only drink milk tea in Japan! Preferably out of a bottle that has been purchased at a conbini  or supaa (convenience store and supermarket, respectively). But you could add milk if you wanted. As I said, it is very tea-like and bears quite the resemblance to chai.

If you have some cornmeal and are feeling adventurous, give it a try! This would be a great accent to any Central American themed meal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cherokee Bean Balls

Last year, March was mostly devoted to the celebrations leading up to Lent, Mardi Gras in America and Carnaval in Brazil, so, today being Mardi Gras, if you'd like to check out those recipes, click here. For this month, we're chugging along with traditional Native American recipes. Which has gotten a lot easier with the acquisition of corn meal!

An easy thing to start with seemed to be something called bean balls which only require 4 cups of corn meal, 1/2 cup of wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda (to replace the more traditional lye water), and 2 cups of beans. 

Every recipe that I found online (and there are a ton) called for either just "beans" or "brown beans." I honestly couldn't figure out what brown beans were, so I used pinto beans because the internet informed me that pinto beans are one the most prevalent of the beans in North American. They are also quite high in fiber and protein. I was also supposed to buy dry beans, but since I am poor, I bought a can of pinto beans from Meijer for less than a dollar, which contained about 2 cups worth. Meijer is also where I obtained the huge bag of corn meal.

Trivia: For most of the 20th century, Michigan was the largest producer of pinto beans in the United States.
First, I set my pot of water to boil. I knew it would take a while because I was using one of my large spaghetti pots. (Been using those a lot lately.) Next, I blended the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl that truthfully was not quite large enough. Maybe I need a deeper one? I used my electric mixer because I love that thing and because I mildly injured my arm yesterday at work, thus I am avoiding any real strenuous efforts with that arm so as to avoid problems later. (Like when I go back to work tomorrow.) 

Since I was using a can of beans rather than boiled ones, I just dumped the entire can, undrained, into the bowl with the thoroughly blended dry ingredients. That turned out to not be enough liquid to hold it all together, though, so I added roughly 1.5 cups of water and stirred first with the mixer, then with my bare hands until the dough would stay together when I patted it into balls in my hands. Note: I tried rolling the dough between my palms, and that just made it fall apart. 

By then the water was bubbling away, and I managed to fit a dozen little balls - think meatballs - into the pot, which I then left to boil lightly for half an hour. I repeated this process until all of my dough was done and cooked, about two and a half batches.

I ended up serving these with the bean soup that I made last week and had stuck in the freezer along with some seasoned greens that I also bought in a can because I was both curious what seasoned greens in a can would taste like (not terrible) and because I was too short on time to make them from scratch.

Kimmy and I agreed the bean balls ended up a little bland, so if I do them again (and they really are a wonderful accompaniment to bean soup as dumplings), I would add some salt to the batter, possibly garlic salt (because garlic is awesome).

By the way, I'm sorry for the late entry. I've been having internet problems. This entry took me all afternoon and into the evening!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beans and Corn

I've had a little luck finding traditional Native American recipes using traditional ingredients, but until I can get my hands on some corn meal (hopefully in a few days or so), I am more or less stuck with what I have around the apartment. In the freezer, I have a ton of frozen vegetables, among them corn, and in the cupboard is a can of black beans that never got used at a dinner party a few weeks ago. I decided to once again make soup. (Because it is both easy and lasts a while.)

I started by boiling a large chicken breast in one of my large spaghetti pots. The recipes I found for bean and corn soups called for salted pork, which I can't eat, so chicken it was (again). Once the chicken was mostly cooked, I cut it up into small chunks and added a half cup of frozen corn to the boiling brew, soon followed by one drained can of black beans. (The type of bean called for varied by region of origin. I guess this makes it Southwest?) I also added a pinch or two of kosher salt to help bring out some of the flavor.

The first taste test was lacking to me, even with that wonderful mix of flavors, so I ended up adding a few scoops of tomato puree that was sitting in my fridge. A lot of recipes for soups online called for beans, corn, and tomatoes, which sounded like a wonderful combination to me! And the result was a richer flavor. Certainly not bad for just using what I had on hand. To sweeten it up just a hair, I also added a dash of cinnamon.

Rather than eat the soup right away, I did what I have never before done. I put it in Tupperware and froze it to be used another day. Right now our fridge is rather full of leftovers, so I want to eat those first, plus it's going to be really handy having ready made meals in the freezer for future work days. Too often I come home from work for my lunch break with no idea what to eat or without enough time to cook what I have.

Here's hoping next time I have some corn meal so I can make all kinds of new recipes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Special Valentine's Day Post

Since my boyfriend Greg and I both work on Valentine's Day (I sell flowers and he delivers them, though not from the same location), we decided to celebrate Valentine's Day a night early on Monday the 13th. We got all dressed up, me in a corset and Greg looking damn suave in a suit, and headed to downtown Ann Arbor. 

We initially intended to go to the Ravens Club, a very awesome-looking restaurant/bar that we noticed months ago and decided was right up our alley. They are apparently normally closed on Monday nights, though, which we didn't realize because that seems silly. So we ended up going to Palio, a Tuscan themed restaurant also downtown, instead, another place we'd been wanting to try for a bit, so the Ravens Club will have to wait for another day (that is not a Monday).

Palio is open seven days a week and named for the Palio di Siena (or simply Il Palio), a somewhat violent horse race held twice a year in Siena, Italy, that very much reminds me of the chariot races in ancient Rome, complete with jockeys sabotaging each other before and during the races. (A horse without a rider can still be declared victor.) The restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI is decorated with the many colorful flags used by the jockeys during the races. 

The Bruschetta Palio is phenomenal! Each serving comes with four good sized slices. I highly recommend this to start your meal. I ordered the Pollo Con Funghi Grigliati, or "chicken with grilled mushrooms" served over roasted potatoes and a fresh vegetable, which happened to be spinach for us. The chicken was so flavorful and tender, and I was very pleased with my choice. Greg also enjoyed the chef's favorite, Maiale En Agrodolce, "sweet and sour pork" served with deliciously creamy polenta and more spinach. (The spinach was wonderful, by the way.) 

We also ordered glasses of a pinot grigio that is unique to Palio that went beautifully with dinner, and was served to us in what I can only describe as juice glasses rather than wine glasses. For dessert, we split the pannacotta that was by far the best I have ever tasted and is a must-try if you ever visit Palio yourself. We actually finished our meals not with the dessert, but with cappuccino. That was possibly my favorite feature of meals in Italy; they always seemed to end with coffee, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

And that, I think, is where I will end this review. Palio gets an A+ from me, and if you want to make it a special night with authentic, delicious Tuscan food with a colorful atmosphere, head to the corner of William and Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Does the Internet Fail Me?

When I picked this month's theme, I really didn't think it was going to be this complicated. Seriously, what gives? I refuse to believe the Native Americans did not eat food before the Europeans invaders arrived. 

Every recipe I have found online other than frybread involves ingredients that did not exist in the Americas before the influx of foreigners, and requires modern convenience items to properly prepare. So far, my best resources are the book pictured and linked to above (and the source of the aforementioned frybread recipe) and Wikipedia's entry on Native American cuisine

The baked acorn squash that I made last fall is probably a pretty decent example of native foods, and I didn't even think about that at the time. Squash is part of a trio sometimes referred to as the Three Sisters, the other two being corn (maize) and beans. I remember learning about this in elementary school, but I don't recall any recipes if they even taught us any (which I rather doubt). Incidentally, the Three Sisters were the feature of the "tails" side of the 2009 Sacagawea dollar coin, which I think it pretty neat!

Now, I have nothing against corn, or squash, or even beans, but there has to be more to numerous and scattered cuisines of this large continent than those three ingredients. Yes, there is also deer and other meats, but even those recipes are a little hard to come by, not to mention the meat of the animals themselves. (If you do have some venison and are interested in some ways to prepare it, I have previously made venison lasagna and venison burgers.) 

Kimmy is currently going to school with a focus on Native Americans, so she has asked one of her professors for advice on what kinds of food we can prepare. We are currently waiting on a response. Hopefully on Monday I will be better armed with things to make! The book mentioned above has more recipes, though not many, so I may try to scrape together one of those, as well. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Frybread

While perusing the shelves of my local library for Greek recipe books, I came across this little gem: Food and Recipes of the Native Americans (Cooking Throughout American History). Truthfully, the book is pretty terrible. I mean, the people on the cover are blond haired and blue eyed, though considering it is the only one I could find at the library on the subject, I've gained a certain appreciation for this goofy little book. It is targeted at very young children, and it is from 15 years ago, so I suppose those must be its excuses.

Anyhoo. I decided to give some of the recipes a shot and alongside my chicken stew from last week, I made frybread (the book calls it "Indian Fry-Bread"). The note beside the recipe indicates that frybread is traditionally made with corn flour, but I lack that in my cupboard, which the book anticipated so the recipe actually calls for 2 cups of wheat flour - whole wheat flour in my case.

I started with the flour, half a teaspoon of salt, plus 2/3 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar and 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda mixed together to substitute for a teaspoon of baking powder (you'd think I would've bought some baking powder by now, but this is not the case), all blended together in a large mixing bowl. 

The recipe also does not tell me how much water to add to the flour mixture, so I just added a little at a time until I had kneadable dough. Once it was kneaded and in a ball, I covered the bowl with a towel and let the dough sit for 10 minutes. 

Then I sprayed my large frying pan with canola oil, tore off "lemon-sized" pieces of dough, rolled them in my palm, flattened them with my hands, and placed them in the pre-heated frying pan. I didn't time how long it took, but once the first sides were browned, I flipped them all over and browned the other sides. Et voila! Frybread.

I did eat a piece of frybread with my chicken stew, rather like a dumpling. First, however, I ripped open the test piece and drizzled maple syrup over-top. Oh man, was that ever delicious. Honey would also be amazing. Or powdered sugar. Basically, you can do anything you want to this bread. Kimmy ate it with just butter spread on it.

I would like to try it with corn flour sometime, which I imagine can't be that difficult to find in Ann Arbor. It's a pretty hearty bread, or maybe biscuit is a better description, so made with corn flour, it should be like a biscuity cornbread, which sounds fantastically amazing. If I ever do it, I will let you know.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Inspired Chicken Stew

Despite the warm temperatures, thawed and muddy ground, and awakening insects, it is still winter, and winter means soup season. I've already made white chicken chili a few times to stave off the cold, real or imagined, and now I've decided to make a good old fashioned stew for the same reason (and because I have a lot of the ingredients lying around my kitchen). I've also decided to devote February to learning recipes from the first nations of this country, also known as the Native Americans. 

A lot of everyday foods that we take for granted are native to the Americas, like corn, for instance, and potatoes, though they are found and eaten all over the world now. So when I decided to put together a Native American stew, for lack of a better term, I figured foods like these were a safe bet. I tried looking for recipes, but the scant few I found were a little suspect. I could be way off here, but something tells me that the ancient peoples of these vast lands were somewhat lacking in cooking sherry.

Since there is a distinct lack of Native American/First Nations recipes on Google and Bing (I checked both), I sort of cobbled together on my own what I could find. I started with a pot of about 8 cups of water and to that added two chicken breasts to boil so as to make chicken broth (and cook the chicken to be cubed later).

While that was starting to boil, I washed, de-eyed, and cut 9 red potatoes into small pieces. With the potatoes in the boiling water, I removed the two chicken breasts, cut those into small pieces, and returned them to the water to boil with the potatoes.

Fun Fact: The potato originated in southern Peru and sustained the Incan empire for thousands of years.

After a little while of bubbling and boiling, I added a couple cups of frozen corn because I didn't have ears of corn on hand to chunk and toss in, which the internet seems to think is the more traditional way of doing things. And just to be specific (because I'm a nerd and in case I have international readers), when I say corn, I mean maize. 

For the American audience, the term "corn" has historically been used to mean any type of cereal crop, which is how we end up with Ancient Egyptians in the Bible growing corn. They weren't growing maize, they were growing some other crop, probably barley. "Corn" in the US is short for "Indian corn," or "the cereal crop of the Indians." Personally, I am relieved we dropped the "Indian" bit.

So anyway. Corn was added to the chicken and potatoes, as was about half a cup of chopped onion. And it smelled delicious.

I wasn't sure what seasonings to add to the stew other than salt (it needed it) because I wasn't sure where the herbs in my cabinet originated (minus the obvious Indian spices that I bought last year for my Indian Food Month). Turns out oregano is native to the Mediterranean, and is actually a new addition to the cupboard because I tend to prefer the taste of parsley over oregano. I decided to try adding a few dashes of cinnamon after I found it on this Wikipedia page for Native American cuisine. Specifically it lists "white cinnamon," which I don't have so substituted the more common variety that I do have. I assure you, the taste was wonderful, as was the aroma floating up from the bubbling pot. (I love using cinnamon in new and different ways!)

There was, I am sad to report, one casualty of this recipe. A knife somehow slipped underneath the big pot I was cooking the soup in and the handle melted. I don't know how it got down there, but I managed to pry it free after who knows how long. The knife is still usable, just half the handle is missing/disfigured, so we'll have to be careful with it in the future.
I ended up serving this delicious stew with frybread, the only Native American recipe that I found plastered all over the internet, though I found it in a book originally. Next week I'll talk about the frybread. Oh no! A spoiler!