A Montana Fourth

Celebrating the Fourth of July, as it should be done, for our family,  revolves around a trip to Montana.  In Montana reside my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother David’s family.  Billings, Montana is also about equidistant between Colorado and Washington which is the spread of my siblings and me.

This brother, David, also happens to own an idyllic box canyon ranch, stocked with Icelandic horses and many other fantasy features of a true western lifestyle.  It is flat-out fun and we love going there, because we love both our family and Montana.

It felt like the extended family made a greater effort than ever to get there this year and one of the things we all said we enjoyed the most about our time together was how we took turns with the meals.  For our part, there was a dinner based on Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk-Fried Chicken that was quite popular, especially with my 23 year old nephew who is living on his own now and really appreciates a home-cooked and free meal.

I also made an Ina Garten plum-apricot crumble to contribute to the Fourth of July barbecue.  This dessert was not-too-sweet, with extra crumb topping, and the plums and apricots bubbled together to form a pleasing pink color.

The main attraction, however, was the breakfast burritos made by my niece, Camilla, and her husband of almost one year, James.  Camilla has struggled with food allergies for many years and has explored cooking with a far greater variety of grains than I ever have.  She owns her own grain mill and for these tortillas ground hard Montana spring wheat, kamut, and spelt.  Camilla and James made and froze the tortillas and the Chili Verde Con Cerdo ahead of time and then cooked the eggs and bacon on the morning of the fourth.  We were absolutely groaning from the deliciousness and it was so much fun to share an interest in food preparation with them.

Breakfast Burritos

Flour Tortillas

  • 4 cups flour (choose any kind of flour such as wheat, kamut, spelt, etc…)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  1. Mix all ingredients until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Take a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and liberally add olive oil.  Place dough in the oiled bag and extract as much of the air as possible before sealing.  Roll dough around in the oiled bag to cover it well then let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Form dough into golf ball sized portions and lay on a parchment covered baking sheet.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into tortillas.  Heat a dry nonstick skillet to medium heat and cook tortillas on both sides as they are rolled. Stack them on a plate as they come off of the pan and cover the stack with a dry dish towel.

Makes between 12-15 tortillas

Serve with any of the following: scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, onions, green chilies or potatoes.  Smother with Chili Verde Con Cerdo.  Top with additional grated cheese and sour cream.

Finally, what would a family reunion be without cute little boys playing with kittens and eating ice cream sandwiches?

Crisp-Skinned Vietnamese Chicken with Peaches

I was at the beach all weekend, literally sitting in a chaise lounge talking to girlfriends.  It was so much fun, but I got no shopping or prepping done for the week.  Once we got back into Tunis, we stopped at a roadside stand for some produce.  They had these pretty, little, doughnut peaches and I bought them not entirely knowing what I was going to do with them.  I really appreciate the stone fruit season, here.  It is in spring and it allows me to enjoy some of the fruits I miss every August in Washington State when I have to leave to come back to Africa.

I had some chicken thighs and creme fraiche so I thought I would make a poulet a la peche I remember making a couple of decades ago when my husband and I were cash tight.  I had gleaned peaches after a harvest and he had home butchered some chickens he got from the absolutely free ads in the newspaper and we had a gourmet dinner one hot August evening at the little table in the kitchen of our first house.  That is a good memory.

Searching for a recipe, however, I found this light, crisp, spicy dish that sounded so much better.  Because these peaches slipped nicely out of their skins after I parboiled them, I decided to leave them whole, but the recipe directs slicing them into the salad.  I can’t remember the last time we fried chicken, but it was so worth it to create the crunchy contrast to the minty salad and the sweet peaches.  The recipe is from the Australian magazine Gourmet Traveler and it is making me think a little fondly of our days in Southeast Asia, which are good memories, too.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For Deep Frying

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 chicken, cut into 12 pieces

Salad

  • 3-5 peaches, peeled, halved, stones removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, halved lengthways and thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) each coriander and mint
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (I substituted toasted macadamia nuts)

Nuoc Cham

  • 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 long red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Procedure

Heat oil in a deep saucepan or deep fryer to 180 degrees C.  Pat chicken to dry with paper towel then deep-fry in batches, turning occasionally until golden (10-12 minutes per side).  Drain on paper towel and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, for nuoc cham, whisk fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl to combine, then stir in chili and garlic.  Set aside.

Combine peaches, cucumber slices, and herbs on a serving plate.  Top with crisp-skinned chicken.  Drizzle with nuoc cham.  Scatter with nuts  and serve.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Something I have noticed about other expats, as well as myself, if that when we move overseas, we tend to identify ourselves more strongly to the culture or region we are from.  I am from two places in the US:  southern Colorado and the Pacific Northwest.  There are times when I flaunt my cowboy boots, drape myself with turquoise jewelry, and cook up a big vat of pinto beans with tamales on the side.  Other times, I am a Northwest coastal hunter/gatherer, living the San Juan Islands life of subsistence, consisting of dungeness crab, grass-fed lamb, and locally cultivated vegetables and berries.  I love putting on those identities.  They tie me to my childhood, my family, and my memories.

My friend Geoffrey and I were umming together over plates of Tanzanian chicken and rice at the recent International Day celebration at our school in Tunis.  He is Canadian-Jamaican and started telling me about the specialties his mom had taught him to cook.  They sounded mouth-watering so we made a cooking date so he could teach me to make his (mama’s) jerk chicken.

He is such a teacher.  When I arrived, at 3:00 PM, he had a finished dish braising in the oven and everything set up to take me through the entire process.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 5 yellow potatoes, peeled, cut into ½” slices
  • 13 chicken pieces, boneless, skinless, legs and thighs, preferably cut into 3 sections each (This may require one to buy a new, expensive, Japanese cleaver)
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 ½ heads garlic, chopped
  • Garlic powder
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 small hot peppers, cut in ½
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper, ground
  • 2 tablespoons Jamaican spice blend (www.iriespices.com)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon  black pepper corns
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoning salt or salt

Procedure

 Preheat oven to 350 degree F.

 Brown the potatoes on both sides, leaving them to drain on paper towels while preparing the chicken.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with approximately ½ cup of white vinegar and toss chicken to coat.  Rinse chicken with water and return to clean mixing bowl.  Cover chicken with the juice of 1 lemon, again tossing to coat.  Rinse the chicken with water and allow to  drip-dry in a strainer.

Return chicken to a clean mixing bowl.   To the bowl of chicken add the garlic, garlic powder, onion, tomatoes, and peppers.  Toss to distribute.  Add all spices and seasonings and toss with hands to coat.

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Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove chicken pieces a few at a time and brown on both sides.  Layer chicken pieces into a 9” x 12” baking dish, topped with browned bits from the skillet.  Cover chicken with the entire marinade.  Rinse the marinade bowl with ½ cup hot water, swirl, and pour over contents of baking dish.

Cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, shaking a little to settle the ingredients.

Place dish into oven, immediately reducing heat to 300 degrees F.  Cook for at least 1 hour or until chicken is completely tender.

Serve over a loose-grained rice, like basmati.

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Mrs. Smith, you’ve got a good boy.