Saturday, January 22, 2011

This one is for Leja...

Greetings, everyone. I have missed you and my little blog so much…

Still thanking Heaven above that I’m able to come back to you all after a car crash on January 10th in the Westmoorings area close to Superpharm. Another car broke a red light and “t-boned” my fiancĂ© and me, which sent us both to hospital. I suffered a tailbone injury. My boy (who took most of the impact) suffered fractured ribs. Thank God our seatbelts were on.
So, our old cream Corolla is no more and we are still dealing with the aftermath, but we are alive. It’s a hell of a way to get into 2011, but when I think of what could have happened with a different roll of the dice. We were both truly blessed and fortunate. Our friends, co-workers, family and even the strangers who witnessed the crash really threw a net of prayer and support around us, and we were all the better because of it.

Since I can’t do my usual in the kitchen, my neighbour Veronica (God bless her) has been bringing over some of her own tasty home cooked meals for us, both in the hospital and at home, and I can’t thank her enough for feeding us.  Even my daughter stepped up to the stove and cooked... yup, she did. I think you’ll agree that she deserves a “big up” on this blog post.
*grins like a Cheshire cat*

So today, I will be sharing her method for the Breaded Fish Fillets she made, which was served with some mashed potatoes, pigeon peas and a little lettuce. 

This was Leja's plate.

Sadly, there aren’t any step by step pics; but the photos you see here are hers. I’m truly proud of her and I know she will carry on the family traditions with pride, hahaaa!

So, here’s how she made the fish.

She thawed a good sized pack of white fish fillets that you’ll find in any grocery. They were put into a flat dish and the juice of half a lime was squeezed in along with a couple dashes of Angostura bitters.
A stalk of chive and two green pimento peppers were cut up and added, then she put in ½ a packet of Maggi fish seasoning, a shake of ginger powder and a spoonful of our homemade green seasoning (but you can use store bought green seasoning; it works just as well).
Everything was mixed and left to marinate for 15 minutes while she made a simple coating in the meantime:

  • ¼ cup fine cornmeal
  • ¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon all purpose seasoning powder
  • Pinch of dried parsley
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes

She shook everything together in a little plastic container, and then spread out the contents into a square dish.
How she coated the fish was not how I usually do it (think Shake n’ Bake) but she’s such a neat freak, she had to get out the tongs, lol! She picked up a slice of fish, dipped it into the coating to cover one side, then flipped it to cover the other side. Then each slice was lovingly placed into a waiting foil lined baking dish that was sprayed with cooking spray, before entering a waiting 350°F oven and being baked for 25 minutes.

The Baked Fish

The Mashed Potatoes...

Shredded lettuce; no dressing.

We ate that fish for days; she had made enough to last us a while, and all we had to do was just heat the pieces up to eat with bread or whatever was left of the main meal. Again, it’s an easy recipe to try, and you can even vary the seasonings and add a little salt – the Maggi seasoning had enough for our taste. I’m so proud of her and glad that she wants to cook with me in the future… this will make for some interesting posts to come! (Love you Leja! :-D)

So, I am going to take my meds and relax… the healing process cannot be hurried, unfortunately. Rest assured that we are going to get through this one, and I ask that you all take care of yourselves and continue to be safe. Seatbelts do save lives.

And like I always say, don’t forget to mind de pot!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The "Zannia" Explosion!

It never fails. I always end up in some degree of pain after I make my beef and spinach “Zannia”.
It happened when I made it for the first time in the early 90s, long before I had ever purchased my can’t-do-without-it food processor. It also happened when I had to make it every week when I ran my catering business. It led the Friday menu, paired with delicious garlic bread and a tasty salad of purple and white cabbage, carrots and romaine lettuce with a tangy chive dressing. But, I had promised myself that I was going to start the New Year right with a first weekend meal to remember.
This rounds, however, I had double the work, in that I also made a soya and spinach version for my vegetarian daughter, plus another small one for a friend.

Still, this is one of those recipes I can make in my sleep, and whenever I do it, my reward is having my kitchen smell like a fine Italian restaurant, plus seeing the happy faces chowing down and knocking their spoons on their plates. My one regret is not being able to make some garlic bread to go with it today... *sigh*
So, for today’s special blog, here is my Beef and Spinach Lasagne in three steps:

The making of the meat sauce…
Making the spinach and cheese filling…
Putting the layers together.

Hold on to your potspoons, my friends… here’s step one.

Making the Meat sauce

A huge log of mincemeat was treated simply with lime juice and rum as an early seasoning for this dish, simply because I didn’t want to lose the flavour of the seasonings that go in later in the cooking process…

The meat is cooked in olive oil until it loses its pink colour.

By this time, it starts to spring out some water and excess fat, which gets strained off… (Couldn’t take a pic of the straining part cuz I needed both hands for that operation.)

Back on the fire! Home made seasoning, Worcestershire, Angostura bitters, a capful of rum – Granny swears by it – some Maggi Flavour de pot and a little minced garlic all join the dance.

The only vegetable I put in (that in my opinion, gives it that ‘Trinidadian zeppo’) is five chopped pimento peppers.

Because I am making one large and two small loaf sized Zannias, I opened two large bottles of Prego tomato sauce. I tend to use Traditional or Tomato Basil, but that’s just how I roll.

To get the remainder out the bottle, I put in a cup of water with a teaspoon of brown sugar (to help cut the acidity of the tomatoes); then shake everything around, and pour it into the pot.


Let it bubble for a couple minutes, then taste. Mine needed some ginger powder, parsley and black pepper. Sometimes I’d add a hot pepper if I’m in the mood, but not today. Also, I don’t ever add extra salt to this sauce ‘cause the Maggi has enough. (Gotta watch that blood pressure now!)
Check out how it's bubbling…


Making the spinach and cheese filling.

I use Emborg frozen spinach, because it’s easier than cleaning and making some bhaji.

I’m using about a cup and a half (about 10 to 13 of these balls) for the amount I’m making today. My normal lasagna usually gets just 6 or 7 balls. They go into cold water with a teeny bit of salt (to ease up the bitterness). It’ll cook for about 5 to 7 minutes.

I drained it off in my rice strainer and used the spoon to press out as much liquid as possible. It's better done with muslin or cheesecloth; just put the spinach in and give it a “twis’ an squeeze”.

(I still squeezed this even further with my hands, because I didn’t want any extra liquid going into the filling.) You know, watching this spinach is giving me ideas for sahina… ah go save that for another post! ;-)


Now for the cheese… 

Now, I tend to use one of three cheeses besides Parmesan; Anchor Vegetarian cheddar, Milkana Vegetarian (from Australia) or this one, a New Zealand Rennet free Cheddar. I don’t use mozzarella or ricotta at all; strange, but true. This is really my go-to cheese because of the taste and crumbly texture, plus it melts really well. Both of these blocks are getting processed today.

So, here in the food processor I have 6 cups of grated cheese, 4 eggs, the squeezed spinach and I’m pouring in 1 cup of milk. (I reserved two half cups and one full cup of cheese for the three lasagna toppings.)

Before blitzing, I shook in a little black pepper and some parmesan cheese.

I pulsed it until everything combined to a thick greenish yellow paste. Now to set up for…


Layering the Zannia!

I ALWAYS ladle a spoonful of meat sauce on the bottom, so the zannia won’t stick.

Then, I put 3 sheets of the no boil lasagne noodles… look, I’m a believer in cutting out extra work when it comes to complex dishes like this, so for years, I’ve used no-boil lasagne, a huuuuuuuge timesaver in the kitchen!

Added a layer of meat sauce, covering the noodle with sauce so it stays moist. Then I dotted the cheese filling on the meat sauce itself, but not everyone does their layering in this way.

Then I covered it with another layer of noodles. You’ll see here that sometimes I change the direction as I layer. Again, that’s just how I roll…

More meat sauce, and I repeated the layers. If you get tied up, remember N-S-C (short for Noodles, Sauce, Cheese). That way you won’t forget the order the layers are going in.

For the topping, I put the last layer of noodle on, then the last scrapings of meat, which I spread out, and then sprinkled on whatever bits of cheese filling were left.

I sprinkled on the reserved cup of grated cheese...

Shook on some herbage. I use either dried parsley, basil, oregano or Italian seasoning, followed by a good sprinkling of Parmesan.

Don’t worry about liquid from the sauce pooling at the bottom of the pan – that’s exactly what you want, because the steam from this is what helps cook the sheets.

I sprayed a few sheets of foil with cooking spray and covered each pan tightly, with the sprayed side facing the cheese. Now everybody is ready for a 375°F oven, to bake for 35 to 40 minutes, middle rack. Never use the bottom rack of the oven or it’ll burn. (I promise, before the 30th minute or so, your kitchen will smell AMAZING!!!)
Pulled them out the oven and removed the covers carefully – steam burns are EXTREMELY PAINFUL! (Check out how it looks... *drool*)

Here they are after cooking uncovered for 8 more minutes.
(Damn, these Zannias look GOOOOOOOOD!!!)

All I needed to do next was leave them to cool for about 15 minutes, otherwise they would slide apart  when I cut them, and nobody wants that… we wanna see those lovely layers, ent?

So there you have them, two beef and one soya Zannia. I was hoping to have done the salad and arranged a nice plate to take some photos, but I started writing, then I cut a piece to eat because the sound of the bubbling gas in my stomach was drowning out my thoughts, hahahaaaa! Small thing; you are seeing the finished product - which is most important.

Now before  I take my leave, I need to put in my two cents before the purists come to whip me, lol!
Some may argue and say that because there’s no mozzarella and ricotta in this recipe, it’s not a lasagne. In my book, once you use the sheet noodles of the same name, it's a lasagne, whether is has chicken, fish, lobster or lentils. It shouldn't matter if you use a cheese filling or a cheese sauce. Lasagne is lasagne (whether you choose to spell it with an 'a' or an 'e' at the end of the word).  This version  is what has been starring in my kitchen for years; a two-cheese, budget friendly, Trinidadian, Halcian Pierre original Zannia, made with love and guaranteed to full your belly and have you licking your lips, you hear? 

And thus, I bow and thank you for continuing to support my humble blog. Leave a comment or two so I'll know you passed through nuh, hahahaaa!

Stay tuned for another fun food journey, my friends. Much love and hugs, and doh forget to mind de pot.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Onion Experiment - Vaps Cooking!

The majority of my friends can attest that there is one vegetable I love more than any in my cooking arsenal and that is the humble onion.
It’s been both good (tasting) and bad (breath) to me over the years, but I have now mastered its complexities to the point where I can say that I’ve “tamed” it. Hell, my eyes don’t even water anymore when chopping them…

Growing up, I’ve seen it go into the stew pot, soup pot and frying pan. They were baked on pizza, stirred into saltfish buljol and even preserved as a pickle. When mom was living abroad she used to send us tins of Green Giant peas with tiny pearl onions inside and even now my mouth waters for them as I type. (Hmmm, guess my onion crush began pretty early, didn’t it?)

Well, I realise that today’s onions as not as pungent as the ones I grew up with. Maybe we can thank cable TV for making us aware of the other types out there that are now available in T&T, such as the yellow, white and red onions. Of the three, I love the yellow as it’s a little bit sweeter in taste. Red onion makes a beautifully striking colour contrast in salads and other vegetable dishes and the huge white ones I see at Tru Valu grocery are perfect for making onion rings or a blooming onion. (Incidentally, when liming with my girls, our order always includes crunchy deep fried onion rings as an appetizer, which I end up dipping into their marinara sauce, hahahaa!)

Today, I decided to experiment and develop a home version of my usual fried onion rings. (Yup… it’s a vaps.) I knew I didn’t want to do anything deep fried or use any eggs but I’ve been wanting to try this idea I’ve been carrying around for a baked onion ring that didn’t require you to run to the grocery for any special ingredients. Now that I’m home, doing my laundry and relaxing with my television, I think I’m going for it, cuz I feel like a nibble or two… so….

I took one good sized onion and sliced it into about 1 cm thick slices.

Separated the slices into rings…

Made my own version of “buttermilk” which was a cup of milk with 2 capfuls apple cider vinegar and 2 capfuls molasses vinegar.

I then added in a little Angostura bitters…

And a pinch of salt…

I then dropped the onions into the milk…

Then transferred them to another container for better coverage. While they soaked…

I made up a spicy coating mix: a couple tablespoons fine cornmeal, some all purpose powdered seasoning, 1 crushed Maggi bouillon cube, ¼ teaspoon chili powder and about a ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme.

Started mixing, but realised it needed some more cornmeal, plus a heaping tablespoon of seasoned breadcrumbs.

Then I lined my baking sheet with foil and sprayed it with cooking spray.

Now for the hard part, trying to coat the onion rings. Seeing that I wasn’t using eggs or even egg whites, it was tough to get the mix to stick to them…

But it stuck on – sort of!

Into the preheated 400°F oven they went for 10 minutes.

Then I made a crushed tomato dipping sauce in the meantime – don’t laugh… it’s simply a finely diced tomato, barbecue sauce, a pinch of sugar and black pepper.

After the 10 minutes they were still a bit raw-ish, so I put them back in for another 5. Unfortunately, time stretched to 10 more minutes as I started hanging out my laundry, so they baked for 20 minutes total... drat!

Still, I plated them up, and took a bite… best when hot!

All in all, they tasted pretty good and had some crunch. Some of them had dried out in the oven and were almost as thin as paper, but the ones that didn’t dry out really rocked. The flavour from the coating was very good, so much so that it will also double as a good coating for baked chicken or fish steaks, somewhat like a Shake n Bake. If you’d like that coating recipe in full, here it is…

3 tablespoons corn meal (I had Promasa on hand)
1 teaspoon all-purpose seasoning powder
1 vegetable Maggi bouillon cube (you can substitute other flavours if you like)
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon seasoned breadcrumbs

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. If coating fish or poultry for baking, you can double or triple the amounts according to how much meat you’ll be cooking.

So, thus ends my onion ring experiment. I will definitely be tweaking this some more until I am totally happy with it. Sometimes with cooking, you start something with one objective but the results often take you in a different direction; thus, I now have my own version of a Shake n Bake coating to play with. Why not try it out for yourselves and let me know how your own experiment goes? In the meantime I will be prepping for my ‘Zannia’, so till then, much love and hugs, and doh forget to mind the pot!