Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The quest for cuisine

I'm going to preface this post with a little squee about one of my favorite TV shows. Andres and I stumbled onto it when the Powers That Be added BBC to our satellite programming selection (it was genius by the way!) We've found several awesome new shows as a result. But the one I'm talking about is The Hairy Bikers Cookbook, which is every bit as a quirky as you might expect.

The premise? Take two extra large lads, who like to ride motorcycles, travel and cook. Combine all three interests. The result? A fascinating show. It's a mix of a travel and cooking program -- and it works marvelously well. The lads are a major reason for that. You know how some presenters seem very jaded or cynical, tired of it all, or sort of smugly clever, and you'd like to crack them one in the face just for staring out the TV at you?

Well, Dave and Simon have none of that. They're ever-scruffy, disheveled, whimsical, playful, just overflowing with creativity, passion, interest, sincerity and appreciation. I think I half-watch it just to see their joy in discovering something new, whether it's natural beauty, a taste, a group of people, a monument. It's television at its best, a show to elevate and enlighten the spirit.

They've cooked on the beach, in the desert, on a boat, under the most astonishing conditions. They're always positive and charming and just... well, wonderful. And they just have the most delicious accents (northern England), rich as whole cream. They make friends as they go, and people come to eat what they've cooked. They made a meal for a remote tribe in Namibia. They've made scallops on rocky beach, where other bikers came to break bread.

Well, they're just a treat to watch. I feel like I've traveled with them as we've watched their show. They're the kind of fellows you'd want to eat a meal with, drink a pint and listen to their lovely stories. If it sounds like I have a wee crush, well... I suppose I do. Anyway, here are the lads. Cute, aren't they? And so ...normal. On their site, you can find the best pictures, ones that showcase their tremendous spirit for adventure. It's not about perfection; it's about enjoying yourself, whoever you are.

But I digress. We've been watching the show for a bit now, and their food always looks intriguing, but some of the ingredients are hard to find. I tried to get thyme and paprika today, for instance, but I couldn't locate either one. Regardless, I was determined to turn my hand to sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), which we saw them make in Romania, outside of Vlad Dracul's castle. When they were done, the dish looked so scrumptious that I wanted some, even though I have never really liked cabbage all that much. And for the first time, I decided, why not?

I'm not shy about trying new recipes, but I've never before tried to make something I saw on TV. I'm not sure why. But it took the lads to get me going. I bought what I could according to their recipe and improvised the rest. At 5pm, I was getting home from the grocery store with odds and ends, along with the stuff I needed to have a go at sarmale.

It was a pretty intricate recipe with chopping, mixing, and blanching. Lots of steps, lots of pots and bowls messed up by the time I was done. If you want the actual recipe, you can find that here. My kids lent their hands to the effort too, and within an hour, we had a pot full of sarmale. I was none too sure if what I'd done was close enough to their version to be any good because I couldn't find some things (and the dog ate half our bacon in a kamikaze kitchen run) but I was hopeful.

An hour later, it smelled heavenly. With half an hour to go, I sliced the tomatoes and let it simmer. Total cooking time = 1.5 hours. Total meal preparation from first item chopped to eating it = 2.5 hours. Was it a much more labor intensive meal than I usually cook? Hells yeah. Was it worth it? OMG, yes. It was freakin' delicious, even with the slight alterations I made to accommodate the ingredients I could find. This isn't an actual picture of our food, mind you, but it's pretty close to how ours looked. We were too damn hungry to mess with plating, but you get the idea.

Thanks to the lads we tried something new and enjoyed a little bit of Romania here in Mexico. I'm proud of myself because I like trying things that I've never tackled before. I'll definitely make these again, and I think I'll be looking for other recipes that push me outside my cooking comfort zone. There's nothing like success as an incentive. Wouldn't you agree?


SaturnMoonie said...

That show sounds like one I used to watch when I was younger on the Food Network, The Two Fat Ladies (I didn't make the title up lol). It was about these two ladies and they went around cooking, and I think they rode on a motorcycle too! *Sighs* I miss that show, and I really liked the theme song "Two fat ladies, yeah yeah." HAHA

azteclady said...

I'm so going to stop by your house next time I fly to visit the family!

Anonymous said...

I too have tryed new recipes from T.V. shows its great fun and makes you think outside the box. I have the same probem finding spices and herbs. One thing I've found is to buy them online. I did a quick search and this site has 5 diffent kinds of Paprika.
But if you buy in resealable bags and use your own spice bottles its less expencive.
This is only one if many, many sites.

Ann Aguirre said...

We watched Two Fat Ladies sometimes, but I didn't love it like I do Hairy Bikers. The ladies' food never looked like anything I wanted to eat. It generally started out with:

First you take a pound of lard, and then you deep fry the sheep's head... and I'd just be going OMG!

Adina said...

Hi! I am a Romanian living in Australia and while doing an online search on the Hairy Bikers I came accross your blog! I am very happy and excited you decided to try the Sarmale! They are just divine and they are a favourite of my in-laws here in Ozz. They asked me to make them again and again, along with some of our Romanian winter soups.
I was so surprised and in the same time so proud to see that someone in Mexico has given them a try and loved them!