Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just under the wire...

Complements of the Season to one and all.

I’m guessing that nearly everyone has been doing their do regarding Christmas and are probably feeling the after effects of some ‘overdoing’ as well. Yours truly is feeling some the latter’s after effects, but in a different way – being extremely tired from cooking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. What really got me pooped was the usual tradition of pastelle making. Because of the different diets I have to deal with in my house, I make both meat and vegetarian ones. I used to do a soya version, but I have been crafting my lentil pastelles for a while and they have now replaced the soya ones in my household. Even though I went all out with the pastelle making this year, there still wasn’t enough to go around. Oh well…

Now that Old Year’s Day is here, I am still unable to cook as I’d like, because of sinus trouble. You see, I had planned to do the same Christmas meal that my Gran always made us on Christmas Day, which was green peas, macaroni pie, Shake n Bake chicken, roast beef, potato salad, bread stuffing, boiled plantains and her special meat sauce. (I’m still wondering when that meal is going to come, hahahaaa!)

Small thing. Today, I'm going to share how I made my lentil pastelles, which are my daughter's favourite version. As you'll see, they are not quite as complicated as they sound. Enjoy reading! :-)

One 400g pack of lentils was picked over for any stones, washed and put to soak for three hours in 6 cups of water mixed with 1 teaspoon of baking soda.

I chopped up about 5 ounces or so of pimento stuffed olives.
(Forgot to snap a separate pic of the chopped vegetables), which were 5 pimentoes, 1 small carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 1/2 an onion, fresh thyme, 2 leaves chadon beni 2 stalks chive and 2 cloves of garlic, which I just smashed and added to about a potspoonful of olive oil. I also dropped in a 'crossed' pimento - one that was crossed with a hot pepper - to flavour the oil a bit before adding the chopped up veggies.

Tumbled in the strained lentils - didn't wash them from the water they were soaking in - and stirred everything up. Next I crushed in 1 garlic onion and 1 vegetable bouillon cube and stirred in 2 cups water and let it cook (covered) for 10 minutes. I checked after 8 minutes to make sure the water didn't dry out. Added another cupful just in case, and let it go again.

Next, a packet of Maggi's Pork and Ginger seasoning went in (it's vegetarian spices, no meat whatsoever). You can also use a teaspoon of fresh or powdered ginger. Also added a tablespoonful of brown sugar, a dash of Angostura bitters and a dash of ketchup. The lentils were softening up nicely, so I let it cook a couple minutes more.

Time was up. The lentils were soft and delicious (of course I had to taste), and there was no more liquid, which is exactly what I was going for.

Took the lentils off the heat for a few minutes, then put half into my food processor and pulsed it until it looked like mince. Then it was mixed together with the other half so it would have some 'body'.

Back into the pot on a low flame, I added in the chopped olives (and a couple teaspoons of the juice), a cup of raisins that were soaking in a little warm water (strained off that liquid), and 3 heaping tablespoons of sweet pickle relish. You're not seeing capers here because no one in my family likes them, so I always do pastelles without. But if you like them, you could add in 1 to 2 tablespoons or so, according to your taste preferences.

Cornmeal time! Had my banana leaves all ready and got to the cornmeal mixing. A 500g pack of Promasa corn meal was placed into a bowl. Into 6 cups of warm water I mixed in 1/4 cup Blue Band butter, 1/4 cup Cookeen and 3 vegetable bouillon cubes. Mixed until the butter melted, then poured it into the cornmeal and mixed that until incorporated and it was firm enough to be shaped. Measured out 1/4 cupfuls and rolled them into balls; got about 22.

Out came the pastelle press and I got to flattening. Placed a ball on a banana leaf, covered it with another, then pressed it flat.

Put a couple spoonfuls of the lentil mixture onto the pressed corn meal, then folded it over. Closed the banana leaf over it and made a neat little parcel.

I know most use string to tie their pastelles, but not me. I wrap mine in foil. After that, I put some water to boil and popped them in to cook the cornmeal for 25 to 30 minutes.

Out they came, and they were looking absolutely wonderful! As you can see, I couldn't wait to taste the first one!

They say the last bite is always the sweetest.

Well, with this Old Year's presentation, I just want to say many thanks and lots of love to everyone that has either left a comment, asked for a recipe, called, emailed, Skyped me or simply shared some good vibes with me. Thank you for everything, my friends. I also want to give special thanks to my fellow food lover Cynthia Nelson for her love and support and her encouragement to keep the cookbook dream alive… speaking of which… I’ve finally finished it. Yep. All done. Over 150-plus recipes from my mom, granny and me. Thank God! And I can already feel that the next year is going to be one that will keep me extremely busy in the world of food (and of course, readying my new book for publication).

So, let's ring in 2012 with love. I always believe that if you have love in your heart, everything else will follow.

Take care of yourselves, and like I always say, doh forget to mind the pot.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pineapple Upside down Cake

Months ago, I had delved into a recipe for pineapple upside down cake. Today, with all the mid morning rain that was banging down, I recalled that lovely pineapple-scented mix of vanilla and cinnamon and wanted to wrap myself in it again like a nice, warm blanket. 


The kitchen and oven beckoned, and I searched in vain for the two cans of pineapple slices (I knew) I had tucked away in my food bins for just such as occasion… but, as we say in Trinidad, the tins said ‘where yuh see me, take me.’

The mystery was solved when the question on their whereabouts was asked… my family had opened them up and devoured the contents a few days ago, hahahaa!

Oh, well… at least I still have the memories from last time, right?

First off, I had sifted 2 ½ cups of flour, 2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt together.

Next, I measured out 1 cup of brown sugar to a half cup of butter. 

On to a medium flame they went; the butter got heated first, then the brown sugar was added all at once. I stirred it all together until the grains melted.

Now for the fun part! While still warm, I gently poured out the melted sugar and butter into a 9 inch rectangular baking pan. I drained off my pineapple slices (keeping the juice for the batter) and spread out a layer of 12 slices neatly in the shiny coating of sugar.
My daughter did the next part, which was putting a maraschino cherry into the centre of each slice. All we had to do again was set it aside until the batter was made…

Batter time… I softened up ¾ cup of butter with my hand mixer before adding 1 ½ cups of sugar. I beat in 3 eggs, a capful of vanilla essence and a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Remember the juice we kept back? Just ¾ of that, plus ½ cup milk was mixed together and I brought back the flour mix. With the hand mixer on low, I alternated between mixing in the flour (divided in three), then the milk and pineapple juice (divided in half), ending on flour. 

Poured it in… gently, of course.

Smoothed it off. Not to worry if the sugar creeps up the sides of the pan. Remember, this pan isn’t one that’s greased or floured beforehand, so it acts as an easy replacement.
Into the oven it went to bake for 25-30 minutes at 375°F.

Out of the oven and it smelled absolutely heavenly. (Passed the skewer test with flying colours too.) Took a knife and just passed it along the sides of the pan to loosen, then let it cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Flipped it over – I confess that I was so nervous I asked my daughter to do it for me!

Success!  The Pineapple Upside down cake in all it’s glory!

(As you can see, my daughter wasted no time and went for her favourite corner piece with gusto!)

So there it was... memories of a delicious cake, that I sadly couldn't recreate today. But, at least we have these memorable visuals! 
I promise that more kitchen adventures will come for the month of December, so don’t worry... Christmas dishes will be starring in a big way!

Til then, take care, and like I always say, don’t forget to mind the pot!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fish, fish in a Dish...

I’m always amazed whenever Errol does a little ‘something’ in the kitchen, simply because he makes it look like he can do it in his sleep.

Maybe the inspiration came from our recent trek to Harry’s Water Park: our posse became amateur fisher folk and tried to catch some tilapia using conks as bait. The fish were biting, but, according to Errol, they now have degrees in “How not to get ketch.”

Small thing. My boy had a back up plan (it would seem), because out of the fridge came three cro cro fish.
“Where you find that?” I had said.
His reply: “Scotty from work… he got them in Guayaguayare. They nice, eh?”

And with that, he grabbed the biggest bowl, a knife and proceeded to the front step to wash and prepare them…

The 3 cro cro were scaled, split open and the guts, gills and eyes were removed, along with the fins and tails. We hadn’t any fresh limes, so a little molasses vinegar was used to thoroughly wash the fish.

With that done, the seasoning began. It was simple. About 2 or 3 leaves of chadon beni, ½ an onion, 2 pimento peppers (1 red and 1 green, de-seeded), a small bunch of chive, some celery, a large garlic clove and a small tomato were chopped and added to the bowl.

Next came the extras; a little Maggi fish seasoning, some salt, some brown sugar and a little ketchup.
All were gently mixed together.

With his spoon and a knife, my boy stuffed that same seasoning into the cavity of the fish… even the head got some.
They were left to marinate for 20 minutes, covered.
While that was happening, Errol put some green bananas, potatoes, pumpkin and carrots to boil with a little salt.
Marinating time is up! A cro cro is gently lifted from its bowl and placed on a square of aluminum foil.
He wraps up the fish…
And places them in an ovenproof dish to be baked at 350 degrees F for about 30 to 35 minutes.
The boiled provisions were checked and taken off the fire to be cooled and peeled.

He used the remaining seasonings to make a killer sauce… I can’t remember everything that went in, but there was olive oil, a Maggi garlic and onion cube, barbecue sauce, some ginger powder and some water… I think.
Out came the fishes! My boy opened one up and took a taste and said, “Mmm-hmm!” then fixed up his plate one time! (And he didn’t forget the zaboca (avocado) either!)

As for me, I followed suit. Here’s the finished product. Errol’s baked cro cro with provisions and veggies!
De boned and ready!
He was so into his lunch and Sunday Sports that I had to beg for a photo, lol! (Thanks Errol!)

So, there you have it, easy baked cro cro. Tasted absolutely wonderful and though the flavours of the fish itself were subtle, they packed a ton of flavour. Truth be told, we all wished we had more! But that’s okay. As my Granny used to say, “Eat little and live long.” :-)

And here’s where I say my farewells until the next kitchen adventure, my friends. Take care of yourselves and like I always say, don’t forget to mind the pot!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Pancake Breakfast

Guys, last week I had a huge yen for pancakes. Not the instant ones where you just add water, but the old school, made from scratch kind that I love doing. Only thing was, at the time I didn’t have a single egg in the house. Thankfully, I do now. *grins like a Cheshire cat*

This particular pancake recipe has been shared with many of my friends and work buddies over the years, and I remember one special Valentine’s Day breakfast in particular (at my former place of work) where I made over 45 pancakes. You see, we had decided to stage a special Valentine’s Day brunch and among the menu items were my cinnamon pancakes and syrup, scrambled eggs, toast, turkey bacon, cheese and other little titbits. Took me a couple hours, but it was worth it a million times over to see everybody enjoy our collective spread.

Today, with all my chicks in the nest, the vibe was just right. So, I surprised the homestead by whipping up some of my tried and true cinnamon pancakes. Did some scrambled eggs and sausage too…

The party began with 1 cup of sifted all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt. Next, I melted 1 teaspoon of butter in the microwave (but you can also use a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a pinch). I also cracked open an egg and poured out a cup of milk.
To mix, I simply dropped the egg and milk into the flour and mixed those up with my whisk. Then, I added the melted butter slowly while gently stirring everything together until I got this smooth, pourable batter. (No need to beat it like crazy, trust me.)

Next, ¼ cup of brown sugar gets sprinkled on and whisked in gently, and then a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg entered the dance. Whisked that in and boom, batter was done… or so I thought. I just needed to stir in a tablespoon more of milk to ‘loosen’ the batter up a bit.

My special little non-stick frying pan was placed on a medium low flame. I had previously cut up some tiny pats of butter to cook the pancakes, so when the pan was hot, I added one and let it bubble, then I poured in just a ¼ cup of the batter. Now, my trick to get a round pancake every time is simple; just pour the batter in the centre of the pan and it will spread out by itself without you having to tilt or shake the pan.

Once poured, I kept a close eye on the pancake as it cooked. Little bubbles began forming on the surface and the edges started to firm up. That’s when the pancake tells you it is ready to be flipped (which I did with my trusty spatula).

The underside cooked up in a matter of seconds.

All I needed to do was just slide it off to the plate and repeat the process until all my batter was used up. (Kept my rubber spatula handy to scrape up those last bits of batter as well.)

Voila! My pancake breakfast is complete with some scrambled eggs and cooked sausages. Deeeeelish!

All in all, I got about nine regular sized pancakes (plus the teeny little ‘baby’ you saw on my plate). The strange thing was that no-one requested any pancake syrup. My daughter said simply, “Don’t need it, the eggs have plenty flavour!” Not too long afterward the house just got really quiet, which meant one thing… the "itis" had kicked in.

Felt really good about that, hahahahaa!

So, thus ended my pancake adventure, which I hope to repeat again soon. Til my next kitchen foray, take good care of yourselves, and like I always say… doh forget to mind the pot.

Love and hugs!