Well, it’s been an interesting past couple of weeks to say the least. My job is on hiatus as we look for a new owner. So, I’m kind of back on the job search, but I’m also looking into venturing into creating my own e-newsletter on education. Not to mention all of the other things my family is involved in that I have to take care of. So, there’s quite a bit of stress at the moment. But I’ve always been the type of person who leans on two things when I’m stressed: music and food. Luckily for me, I have this blog.
|My pie-cake, with cryptic cracks and everything.|
Because things ended up being so busy this weekend, my cooking was divided on two different days. I made a cake called Gâteau de Semoule aux Agrumes (Semolina and Citrus Cake) first. The first thing I did was zest an entire lemon and an orange, then I squeezed all the juice from each into the same bowl as the zest and set it off to the side. In a large bowl, I measured out about 1 1/8 c of white wheat flour (it was what I had on hand). In a small saucepan, I brought 500 mL (about 2 c) of milk to a boil, and just as it started to boil (or in my case, boil over), I took it off the heat and slowly poured it into my flour, trying to stir at the same time. It pretty much became thick right away, so thick that I didn’t need to put it back on the burner to thicken up like the recipe suggested. At this point, I just stirred in the orange and lemon zest along with the juice and a ¼ tsp salt into the dough. Then I cracked 4 eggs (stirring in one at a time) into the dough. (My son helped with this part. I’m just glad there are no eggshell pieces included!) I wasn’t sure how much honey I was supposed to add, so I just poured enough honey to empty the honey bear’s head (maybe a 1/8 – ¼ c?). So, after stirring everything together to make a smooth batter, I poured this into my greased springform pan (I don’t have a Bundt pan for some reason, which is what the recipe called for). This baked for about 35-38 minutes in a 350ºF oven, chilling it in the refrigerator (the recipe said for a couple of hours, or you can leave it in there for a day and a half like I did). I drizzled this with a little more honey before serving, and it was very good. My husband thought it tasted a little like lemon meringue without the meringue. It was definitely more pie (without the crust) than cake; the consistency was more on the level of a cream pie or a very dense pound cake. And to be honest, I was a little leery about the citrus and honey combination, but it seemed to work out quite nicely.
|If this is what the food is like in Timbuktu, sign me up (when it's calmed down, of course).|
Today will be a day of stews. The first stew is Couscous de Timbuktu. I cut up my stew beef into small cubes and browned the meat along with some minced garlic. When it was browned, I added in my spices: a little rosemary (in lieu of fennel seed, and I added in a little oregano as well), cinnamon, salt, cardamom, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin, ginger, and nutmeg. After stirring in the spices, I added in a can of stewed tomatoes and enough water to cover everything. I let this simmer for about an hour before adding in my onions. The recipe called for pureed dates, but didn’t want to spend that much and still have to puree them myself. So, I substituted some pureed prunes and apples that I found in the baby food aisle. Once I stirred these in, I let it cook for another 30 minutes, topping it with chopped parsley and serving it on top of instant couscous. I really liked this, and so did my husband. (He liked it better than the other stew I made.) It was very aromatic. I thought the flavors blended quite well (yes, even those nasty prunes), although I added a little flour at the end to help it thicken faster. It just goes to show that when flavors cook together, they change.
|Who can't resist a good peanut stew. This vegetarian version was actually pretty good!|
The other stew I made is Tigua Dege Na (a vegetarian stew in peanut sauce – shhh, don’t tell my husband it’s vegetarian). I started out sautéing my onions and garlic for a few minutes until they were translucent. Then I added in a large can of diced tomatoes, tomato past, chicken broth (instead of vegetable broth – vegetable broth tastes gross to me), peanut butter, a little cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, a couple bay leaves, and some diced up squash. The recipe called for one acorn squash, but they seemed kind of small, so I bought two. Once I brought all of this to a boil, I added half of a 10 oz bag of angel hair cole slaw mix (it’s basically just the cabbage). I cooked this down for about a half hour, stirring it frequently to keep the peanut butter from sticking. I served this over rice. This one surprised me. My daughter thought it was really good. The acorn squash I bought a few days ago was not quite ripe – it was the consistency of a potato, or an apple even! But it made it better for my husband who hates squash because “it’s slimy,” as he says. Even after cooking down in the stew, it was still the consistency of a potato, which I liked. But you really couldn’t taste any of the squash flavor anyway because the flavors of the tomatoes and peanut butter were far more overpowering. So, there was that. The cabbage helped to thicken it up a bit. I thought it makes a fantastic vegetarian stew (minus the chicken broth, but let’s be real, could a vegetarian really taste it anyway?).
|I was rather excited about the jalapeños in this bread. However, I'll need to keep working with it.|
Finally, to go with these stews, we needed bread. I had a hard time finding an actual bread recipe that wasn’t quite duplicated. The problem is that I found all kinds of mentions on the Internet about a bread called Ngome bread, but everything I found just mentioned the same two or three lines copied and pasted from Wikipedia. But I did land on one page that offered a little more information, but it was more of a description rather than a recipe. I basically had to make up the measurements. So, here’s what I came up with (this may be the closest thing to a ngome recipe on the Internet – brace yourself!): I mixed 3 c of millet flour with 3 Tbsp vegetable oil. Then because millet is kind of bland in and of itself, I mixed in 1 Tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp black pepper, ½ Tbsp salt, and 3 Tbsp minced jalapeños. After stirring this up, I mixed in a cup of water and combined all the ingredients. Once I added in enough water so that it held together and enough flour to make it pliable enough to form into a ball (I felt like I had to add in quite a bit), I divided the dough into eight balls. I flattened each ball as I heated up my griddle with a little oil, frying each flatbread until it was browned on the outsides and letting it cool on a plate. Here’s what my problems were: The dough started out too wet (I may have only needed about ¾ c of water), but in order to make it stop sticking to my hands, I had to add flour, which in turn made it want to crack and break apart, although it felt like holding wet sand at the beach. The spices and the jalapeños helped, but it was still a very dry bread – great for dipping and sopping, as they say. I’ve never worked with millet before, but I think it has a very earthy flavor, similar to quinoa flour or masa harina. And perhaps I used a little too much oil because the last ones browned up better than the first ones. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what this was supposed to even look like, so I really was flying by the seat of my pants on this one. This version was not my favorite bread, but perhaps it might be able to be worked into something better. It’s a good start anyhow.
|Altogether, it was a pretty good meal. You can never go wrong with a good stew.|
While I was making the Couscous de Timbuktu, I started thinking about a news report I heard about a few years ago that when Islamic terrorists made their way to Timbuktu in early 2013, they completely raided the place, burning down buildings and killing anyone who resisted. One story that got me was how they torched the libraries — and not just any old library: these libraries held ancient documents and manuscripts dating back from the 1200s that were not just important to Mali’s heritage but world heritage as well. They covered a variety of subjects: medicine, women’s rights, culinary arts, biology, astronomy, history, and a number of other topics. These manuscripts were important because it dispelled the myth that “black African” history was mainly oral before Europeans arrived. It’s unknown how many of these manuscripts were destroyed. But one highlight is that I also read about a dedicated and very courageous group of librarians who moved as many books as they could to basement and sub-basement passages and to auxiliary buildings, and eventually out of the city in order to save these literary relics. Over the course of eight long months, they worked tirelessly saving history; in the end only about 4000 of the nearly 400,000 scrolls and books were destroyed. These people are truly my heroes.
Up next: Malta