Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rice it Up!

Greetings everyone! I know it seemed like I had dropped off the radar (and yes, I admit it). Truth is I’ve been extremely busy with the 9 to 5 and other things, which left me little time to really relax and play in my favourite room in the house – my kitchen. She looks a little neglected these days, especially since I haven’t been making anything in there other than cups of tea and cheese sandwiches. (Not even some cheese paste self? Lawdie!)

Thankfully, it’s the month end, and I am in the process of restocking the faithful food bins. Now you know there are some food items that always make a True Trini’s grocery list each month, and these are canned pigeon peas and parboiled rice, that latter of which I buy in bulk. Seeing that I was down to my last couple cans of peas, I was inspired to end the month with a bang and do one of my daughter’s favourites, a vegetarian styled pelau made with coconut milk. An old school prep would have seen me getting a dried brown coconut, grating it and squeezing the water from the solids. But, time doesn’t always allow for the old methods from long time days. Thank goodness for coconut milk powder, yes!

Today’s dish stars some delicious fresh pumpkin, carrots and pigeon peas… vegetarians rejoice!

To prep, I started by washing my rice three times and letting it soak for a while to soften the grains, which is something I always saw my grandmother do.

Next, I opened my two cans of pigeon peas and drained the liquid from them. Then it was off to the pumpkin, which I peeled and chopped in a large dice and the carrots, which I just sliced because they were really thin.
The last step was to prepare the coconut milk powder (about a pack and a half), by dissolving it in some warm water. (Much easier than grating and squeezing!)

Flame on, pot down, oil and sugar in. I used soya oil; about ½ cup was heated up with a quarter cup of brown sugar. When browning sugar, it goes through these four stages of crystals, lumps, ‘goo’ and finally, foam.  Just keep your eye on the sugar as it cooks… remember, this is culinary napalm and it will HURT if it touches you! (Stand by with your dish of pigeon peas as soon as it hits stage four.)

Once the foam started to go dark, in went the peas. As soon as they hit the burnt sugar, I stirred them like a madwoman until the sugar ‘relaxed’ and stopped sticking to the spatula.

Strained off the rice and tumbled it into the browned pigeon peas and gave it a good stir so the grains could absorb some of that brown color. Next, I added in some of my special home blend green seasoning – which I promise to recreate for the blog soon – and a little bit of bottled browning to help get the rice a bit darker.
Out came the vegetables to join the party. Started with the most firm one (carrots) and I let them heat up for a minute or two. Then I added the pumpkin and followed that with a packet of Maggi seasoning powder and gave it a stir. A tablespoon more of home blend seasoning went in before I added that wonderful coconut milk. (Wish you could have smelled this!)
(By the way, this particular packet of seasoning powder is a vegetarian blend... the mix contains no traces of animal products, but it was designed with that special hit of ginger for pork lovers.)
At this point, the liquid was enough to cover the rice in the pot. Here is where you get your seasonings in order, and I added a couple dashes of Angostura bitters, a pinch of ground nutmeg and a crushed Maggi vegetable cube. Gave the liquid a taste… yup, definitely there.
I then remembered I had a remainder of canned corn in the freezer, which went straight to the pot – no need to thaw. Lastly, a whole yellow habanero pepper joined the fete, and everything  bubbled up nicely. I then lowered the flame to bring everything to a simmer and let it cook covered for about 15 to 20 minutes.

When I checked that pot afterward, I was greeted with this lovely sight…
Veggie pelau (my daughter grabbed the first serving as usual, hahahaa!).

And there you have it, a nice flavourful vegetable pelau. The best thing about this is you can make it to suit your taste. Change the vegetables around and add some butternut squash, peas and carrots, even bodi (which my Granny served up once). For another flavour spin, you can even add a dried bay leaf just as you put in the habanero, which you can remove as soon as it’s done. If you’d like the full recipe, just send a message to

Till next time my friends, and I promise lots more fun recipes to come.

(Don’t forget to mind the pot.)   :-)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Lolly Vaps

Who doesn’t love a lolly? I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t like a cold icy fruit flavoured (or milky) treat on a stick. It’s fun to eat, it cools you down and you can make them any way you like and from nearly anything you love.

For me, lollies mean a return to my childhood. When you were playing for hours in the hot sun and you heard that bell… you know you always found that extra burst of energy to spend running towards the lolly man to buy your cold treats. And who doesn’t remember that old Sesame Street clip with the girl and her mother making popsicles or ice pops (as they’re called in America) out of a pitcher of juice and paper cups? (I wonder if they used Kool Aid – it makes a great lolly too, especially the blue one!

I was seriously jonesing for these and to be honest, it was already night time and I didn’t want to go to the store to get one. Luckily I had a couple of lolly moulds on hand and I was determined to create something different and I didn’t want the kind of lolly you make from regular juice. A mango lolly seemed like the perfect plan.

Scanning the fridge, I looked in vain for the three mangoes I had. Sadly, just one small and lonely little mango stared pitifully at me. No worry. As they say, ‘When you doh have mammy, take granny’, so I decided to utilize some of the cantaloupe I had there. Grabbed a few limes and thought hard about how this was all going to come together.

Some simple syrup would start the jamming…

My baby saucepan went on the stove with 1 cup of water and a ½ cup of granulated sugar. I just let it heat up and stirred it until the granules disappeared and then left it to cool.

Peeled and chopped up the mango and a good slice of the cantaloupe – the flavour of the cantaloupe is pretty mild, so even though the mango is small, its own flavour won’t be lost.

Now these limes were tiny, so I squeezed about 4 of them and managed to get about a ¼ cup of lime juice.

Grabbed the blender and I poured the cooled syrup into it, and then added the mango.

Next up were the cantaloupe, lime juice, some Angostura orange bitters and a teeny pinch of salt. Yup. Salt. (It would cut the intense sweetness – take what ah telling yuh!)

Put the blender on “Liquefy” and let to do just that. WZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Assembly time! Carefully poured the juice into each lolly mould to just below the edge (ice expands so it needs room). Put in the sticks and placed them in the freezer.

But I did have some leftovers… no scene, into the backup moulds they went to join their partners to chill overnight!
Cue to next day when the sun was doing some major damage...

I remembered the lollies. Unfortunately, in my excitement to try one, the mould slipped out of my hand and fell, snapping the edge off. *sigh*

No matter, I put it back and turned my attention to the backup mould. To release, I simply ran it under some cold water, then spun it around and pulled gently until it came out.

Ta-daaaaah! Looks so delicious!

Mmm-hmm… definitely tasting that mango!
(Of course, I had to go grab a second round!)

I love when a vaps works out. This recipe will be getting tweaked as I go along, since cantaloupe is not something I normally have laying around in the fridge. I can suggest doing this with two good sized ripe, firm mangoes (definitely use those that don’t have many strings). Or, use one large mango and another fruit such as watermelon (minus the seeds), paw-paw or even pineapple. Just use your imagination! For a milky version, I’d probably try it with soursop or barbadine with some kind of flavoured yoghurt... or milk. (Definitely looking forward to those experiments!)

So, I’m going to continue to enjoy these lollies and think up some new ones along the way. Take care everyone, and don’t forget to mind the pot!

[P.S. - Just made a new version using ginger syrup, lime and more cantaloupe… it’s going down wickeeeeeed! Sorrel may be in the future!]

Monday, July 4, 2011

Meatballs n’ Shrimp Lime: Part 2

Confession time. A decade or more ago, I had a classic shrimp cocktail at a function in Federation Park during my Toute Bagai days. It was simply done, cooked with a hint of lime and paired well with the slightly sweet tomato dipping sauce and horseradish. But I didn’t love it enough to want to make it myself.

You see, shrimp was one of those things that I used to leave alone on purpose because it needed some extra care when preparing it, and I would often worry that I wouldn’t have cooked it enough and consequently make myself ill, which never happened, of course. My late mother and father were the ones who loved shrimp the most. Curried shrimp and Chinese style pepper shrimp were Selwyn’s favourites (forgive me, but I always called my father by his first name). My mother, however, preferred Granny’s treatments, because for her to eat shrimp, it couldn’t look like itself. So my Granny always minced it for her.

Because of that fuss, I tended to only eat it already prepared and my early shrimp purchases were always of the precooked variety. I’d simply heat and serve them with a variety of dips, which soon became, well… predictable. Fast forward to nowadays and my shrimp love knows no bounds. I boil, roast, bake and steam them (and then some). So, for our mother daughter day recently, I decided to do an easy treatment of steamed shrimp to go with the big pot of spaghetti and tomato sauce I was bubbling while waiting for my chicken meatballs to bake in the oven…

A little less than a pound of shrimp were thawed. Then I peeled off the outer shells, leaving the tails on.

Next step was to butterfly them by taking my knife and splitting their backs open. Sometimes when you do this you’ll see a little black vein; always remove it, okay?

All cleaned and ready for seasoning, which consisted of lime juice, a pinch of salt, some Chinese Five Spice Powder, ginger powder, Angostura bitters and some fresh chopped parsley. (You’ll see how it looks seasoned in the other pic.)

I poured about an inch or so of water into my pot and mixed in two crumbled maggi vegetable cubes and two cloves of garlic. Then I set my steamer in there. The seasoned shrimp went in when the water began boiling.

Closed the pot tightly and let it go for about 8 to 10 minutes.

The shrimp are done! (Wish you could have smelled this.)

To serve them up, my daughter ladled up her sauce on the spaghetti and let me arrange them how I pleased… after scarfing down a few beforehand, hahahaa!

The finished dish! And here’s the recipe:

Steamed Shrimp

1 pound raw shrimp (remove the shells, de-vein and butterfly them)
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
Couple shakes of ginger powder
Angostura Bitters

For the steaming water:
2 vegetable Maggi Cubes
2 garlic cloves

To cook…

  • Prepare your saucepan by pouring in 1½ inches water. Crumble the two Maggi cubes into it and cut the garlic cloves in half and add them to the water.
  • Place to boil on a medium high flame.
  • Prepare the peeled and deveined shrimp by seasoning it with the lime, salt, parsley, Five Spice powder, ginger powder and Angostura bitters; toss well to combine the seasonings and leave to marinate for a few minutes.
  • Set up your steamer basket on its legs and place it into the pot, ensuring that the cover fits tightly. (If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can use a colander as a substitute.)
  • Next, arrange the seasoned shrimp in your steamer basket or colander.
  • Cover tightly and steam the shrimp for 8 to 10 minutes.
  • When done, the shrimp tails should be a beautiful bright orange colour and the flesh nice, white and firm.
Remove from the pan and place the shrimp on to your serving dish. Use as an appetizer or enjoy them as a main dish.

And that was how it all went down. We ate. We laughed… ate some more... It was a wonderful lime and we’ve made plans to repeat it again very soon.

In the meantime, I will be working on more dishes to share with you, so keep checking in, alright? Till next time, take care, and don’t forget to mind de pot! :-)