Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Broccoli 'Vaps'!

Ever since heading to Cost Price Discount Limited in Aranguez and finding out that they had the most beautiful fresh veggies on sale (including squash, zucchini and even shitake mushrooms), I’ve decided to jump in with both feet first and try cooking fresh broccoli for the first time. I'd usually get the frozen kind, but I’ve always wondered if I could handle cooking broccoli from scratch, so I decided to grab it and go for it.

I then asked my foodie friends for some advice on its preparation, but ended up getting really overwhelmed with all the great ideas they gave, so I decided to leave it alone for a while. Then, about a couple weeks ago, I was trying to figure out a side dish to prepare and I remembered I had the broccoli chilling out in the fridge. Then the vaps hit me... 'I could bake this with some potatoes, not so?' And just working from my head, I ended up creating something new that I am definitely going to prepare again, again and again, hahahaaa!

Want to see what went down? (Recipe follows afterward!)

Okay, here’s my fresh broccoli, retrieved from the coldest part of my refrigerator, lol!

I chopped the florets into little 1 inch pieces and placed them in my steamer basket, sprinkled on some salt, covered them and steamed them over boiling water for 5 minutes. I love how the green colour stayed intact.
(Plus I saved the little bits that flaked off for later!)

My potatoes were prepared by cutting them in a large dice. Into a pot of water they went, along with 2 crushed Maggi vegetable cubes.  Boiled them for 15 minutes (so they kept their shape), then drained them.

Next, I grated (a little more than) 2 cups of cheese…

Added an egg to 1 ½ cups of milk and beat in some red pepper flakes, dried parsley and a teeny bit of nutmeg. I then tumbled in all the cheese and mixed everything with a fork.

Then I added the broccoli to the still warm potatoes in the pot, then poured in half the cheese mixture, carefully blending it together so the cheese gets to melt a little. I then poured the mixture into my waiting glass Pyrex dish, which I had sprayed with non stick cooking spray.

I spread the broccoli and potatoes evenly across the dish, then poured on the rest of the cheese mixture, making sure I put little blobs of cheese all over. The last step was to sprinkle on some dry breadcrumbs, some Kraft Parmesan cheese and those little broccoli bits from earlier.

Into the oven it went to bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.

And here it is, my Broccoli-Potato Bake! Smells so gooooooood!!!

So Delicious! Here's the recipe...

Halcian’s Cheesy Broccoli Potato Bake

2 cups fresh broccoli florets
Pinch of salt
5 or 6 medium potatoes, cut into a very large dice
2 Maggi vegetable cubes
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
A dash of nutmeg
2 cups grated cheese (done on the large side of the grater)
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup Kraft (or any other brand) Parmesan cheese

Here’s how you make it…

  1. Prepare the florets by placing them in a steamer basket (or a rice strainer). Place the basket over a pot of boiling water (making sure the water doesn’t touch the basket) and sprinkle a pinch of salt over them. Cover and steam for 5 minutes until they are tender, but not too soft. Remove them from the heat and set aside.
  2. Next, place the potatoes to boil in 7 cups of water into which the two Maggi vegetable cubes have been crumbled. Cook them for 15 minutes until they are soft. Drain and leave them in the pot, covered.
  3. Place the milk into a bowl and whisk the egg into it. Add the dried parsley, red pepper flakes and a dash of nutmeg and mix.
  4. Add in the grated cheese to the seasoned milk and mix. Set aside.
  5. Drain the liquid from the potatoes (leaving them in the pot they were boiling in) and then add in the steamed broccoli. Stir gently to distribute the broccoli evenly throughout.
  6. Next, while the potatoes are still hot, add in half of the milk and cheese mixture and stir so the cheese melts a little.
  7. Spray a 9 x 13 Pyrex baking dish lightly with cooking spray (or grease it lightly with butter or margarine) and pour in the cheesy broccoli and potatoes; spread them evenly across the dish.
  8. Using a spoon, distribute the rest of the milk and cheese mix over the broccoli and potatoes.
  9. Lightly sprinkle on the dry breadcrumbs, followed by the Parmesan cheese.
  10. Bake uncovered at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom of the dish is gently bubbling and golden.
Cool before slicing and enjoy!

Hope you enjoyed checking out this week’s posting and are encouraged to try out my ‘vaps’ recipe. I promise I’ll have something else ready next week that you’re going to be sure to enjoy.

Til then, take care of yourselves and don’t forget to mind the pot!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Dimanche Gras Beef Pelau

Hey y’all, it’s Carnival Sunday here in T&T and I am feeling pleasantly tired after making one of our most famous dishes, a tasty beef pelau that my Granny used to call the Dimanche Gras pelau. Why? Well, she would cook this kind of pelau only on Carnival Sunday, and we always had a bowl of it while we sat in front of the TV to watch the Dimanche Gras show, which is where the calypso finalists and the individual costumed Kings and Queens of Carnival Bands would compete for their titles of Calypso Monarch and King and Queen of Carnival, respectively.  

Today I decided to opt for a nice beef pelau instead of chicken, simply because I didn’t want to deal with any bones. Hopefully, I'll have enough of this to last us over Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday. I must admit, I really had a good time in the kitchen (dancing to some good soca music on the radio from JW and Blaze, Machel Montano and Kerwin Du Bois – just thought I’d throw that in there!). What saved me was doing most of my prep from early Saturday night (starting with the beef), so you know that the seasonings are going to be in there good and proper when you take a bite.

Want to see how it all went down? Well, the night before…

I got roughly 1 ½ lbs of beef and washed it well with some lime juice. Started up the seasoning party just like my Granny used to, with a good 2 capfuls of white rum and some apple cider vinegar. 

Now every time I make this, the seasonings are dictated by what I’ve got in the fridge at the time, hahahaa! This time I minced up 2 cloves of garlic, 3 stalks chive and half a medium red onion. I also added a spoonful of the home seasoning, minced up a little bunch of dill, and cut up 2 small tomatoes. Lastly, I crushed up a couple of tomato chicken boullion cubes and added in some red pepper flakes. Mixed everything together and it went into the fridge to sit and marinate overnight.

Here’s the seasoned beef, straight out the fridge, ready to enter the fete. But first…

I had to organize the other contestants, namely the 4 cups of rice that I washed three times and put to soak in some water. I put a little boiled water on top so it would swell and get fluffy – see, it hit the 6 cup mark.
As you can see, the corn, pigeon peas, diced carrots and green peas were waiting in the wings. My next step was to separate the beef from its marinade so I could brown it up.  

Prepared ½ cup of vegetable oil and ¼ cup of brown sugar to start the browning process. As soon as it got nice and foamy, in went the beef with that SCHWAAAAAH sound we all know! As soon as they browned up, I transferred the pieces to the waiting pressure cooker. 

Poured in 2 cups of water, locked it down and cooked them under pressure for 15 minutes.

Time’s up, and the beef is nice and soft. So I poured everything (including the liquid) back into the same pot they were browning in originally and let the liquid reduce and get a little thicker in readiness for the rice.

(Of course, I couldn’t forget those delicious seasonings now… in they went with the beef!)

Now for the rice. Strained it off and added it to the beef and stirred it well so the sauce would coat it. I found the colour of the rice grains were still too light, so I helped it along with some bottled browning – about a potspoonful went in. (See how the colour changed?)

Here's the fun part… added the diced carrots first, and let them cook for a couple of minutes before adding in the pigeon peas, my special spice mix of nutmeg, a Maggi Ginger seasoning packet and dried parsley and the canned corn.

Aaah, we’re getting closer! In went 3 cups of coconut milk (made from 2 packets of coconut milk powder), a good dash of Angostura bitters and 1 cup of frozen peas.

The last step (and ingredient) to the pelau? I sank a hot pepper in the middle of the pot.

Covered up the pot and cooked it for just 15 minutes until the liquid evaporated.

As we say in Trinidad and Tobago, “Pot Done!”

A delicious Beef Pelau for you!

So there it is, my special Dimanche Gras pelau. Taking a much needed rest until the Dimanche Gras show, where I hope to be sitting in my chair with a bowl of pelau and a glass of juice, cheering on my choices for Calypso Monarch. If you wish to have the complete recipe, drop me a line at and I will only be too happy to share it with you.

Enjoy the rest of the Carnival season my friends, and please be safe. Until my next kitchen adventure, take care of yourselves and like I love to tell you, don’t forget to mind the pot!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Banana Bread Experiment...

You know how it is when you get a new piece of kitchen equipment... you can't wait to try it out, see how it behaves and learn it's little intimate secrets. It was that way last week when I got myself a couple of new 8 cup mini loaf baking pans from I.A.M. & Co, and they were just beckoning me to do something sweet and familiar, and I chose none other than my banana bread recipe. Now, I have two ways of making this. One is with milk and the other is without, but I promise you that both are winners. The milk free one got to christen one of the pans first, and I can't wait to share how everything came together...

I peeled four ripe bananas and went old school on them with my potato masher. Kept it slightly lumpy since I didn't want them to turn into paste.
Next, I measured out 1/3 cup of soft butter and melted it in the microwave. (You could do it on your stove-top as well if like.)
Then, I beat one egg until just frothy and set it aside.
Poured the melted butter into the mashed banana and mixed it in thorouhgly.
Measured out 3/4 cup of brown sugar, but ended up just using the 1/2 cup instead - remember, the bananas are already sweet. (Gave it a good mix.)
In went the beaten egg, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence, a shake of cinnamon and a shake of nutmeg, followed by another good mix to blend everything in. After that, I added a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, which will make the banana bread rise nicely.
Lastly, 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour went in. I slowly mixed it with my whisk, then used the spatula to scrape and grab whatever flour  was sticking to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Now nicely mixed, my batter was waiting to get into that lovely new pan!
My pan was sprayed with cooking spray...
And then I poured the batter in. Looks pretty good in there, doesn't it? Then I popped them in the oven at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes until they looked golden and passed the skewer test successfully.
All done, my banana breads look so beautiful! (And you can even see the little chunks of banana in there.)
They look just like little golden banana pillows, don't they? (Come to think of it, they are about the size of a cell phone too, lol!)

So there you have it. Perfectly baked banana bread using just one egg, lots of flavour and minus the milk. Now if you wanted to bake this in a regular 8 1/2 x 4 inch or 9 x 4 inch loaf pan, you can. The baking time may go to 40 minutes tops, but still watch them closely after 35 minutes. Once they're done, let them cool in the pan for about  5 to 8 minutes, then remove them and put them on a cooling rack so the bottoms don't get damp due to condensation.

Needless to say, they didn't last very long... at least I got to taste one! Hahahahaa!

Anyway, folks, you take care of yourselves until my next kitchen adventure, okay? And, like I always say, don't forget to mind the pot!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Strutters! (A Chicken Foot Souse)

Two shopping trips ago, I picked up a packet of lovely fresh cut chicken feet with the intention to turn them into “strutters”, the local name for one of this country’s famous street foods, the Chicken Foot Souse.

Traditionally made from bits of the pig (trotters, ears, etc,) a souse is a simple kind of… well… a pickle of sorts. It’s got limes, cucumbers, peppers, chives and a whole lot of other goodies in there that make for an almost sweet/hot/sour taste that is truly unique. I know that this kind of thing isn't everyone's cup of tea, but my Grandmother loved making this, especially for the liquid, and it's a taste that's part of my childhood.

Now, I’ve tried and tasted lots of different souses over the years, and much as I love pork, I really prefer the ones made from chicken feet. I know… it sounds weird to snack on feet, but trust me, at this time of year (Carnival Season), it’s a truly popular street food, and the souse vendors love to set up their stalls just opposite to St. James’ most famous bar, Smokey and Bunty.   

You know, I’ve even heard rumours that a good souse can even kill the effects of a hangover… (no wonder they're close to the drinking hubs!) Anyhoo, here's how the process went down...

First, the feet were carefully washed in water with the juice of two limes, then drained.

Next, with a very sharp knife, the toe tips were removed, along with the foot pad - Errol came to assist since I couldn't man the camera and do this part, hahahaa!

Now for the fun part… sorting and choosing the vegetables that go into it. Here are 4 limes, 2 or 3 pimento peppers, garlic – used about 3 cloves, 1 habanero pepper, chives, local celery, chadon beni (culantro), 2 cucumbers, an onion and a piece of ginger (which ended up not being needed after all).

I seasoned the chicken feet with lime juice, the 2 chopped garlic cloves, a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of chopped chadon beni and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters.

Added about 6 cups of water and mixed everything well, then I let it marinate for about 15 minutes.
I put everything in my saucepan on medium high heat, then I split a pimento pepper in half and dropped it in for some extra flavour. I brought it to a rolling boil (occasionally skimming off the impurities from the top), then scaled it back to a gentle simmer and let it go for about 20 minutes, then checked it for taste and seasoning. I added in a little more salt and an optional teaspoon of sugar, then let it cook for another 10 minutes until the meat changed colour and softened.

While that was happening I got busy chopping and slicing up the rest of the veggies, including the cucumbers - which my boy was busily chopping!
So, after the feet were boiled, I removed them from the pot and placed them in a bowl. (Threw the water out: it did its job.)
In went the sliced onions, chopped celery, chive and chadon beni, plus the sliced pimento peppers.

The habanero pepper was carefully cut, minus seeds, then added to the meat. How much you want to use all depends on your tolerance for it, but I've known some people actually put the whole pepper in there. :-)

My boy poured in 2 to 3 cups of tap water one by one until the water almost covered it up. Then it was seasoned again with some juice from the last lime, a little more salt and then in went the sliced cucumbers.

Gave it a good toss up with the tongs…
Then we let it sit for about 20 minutes so all those flavours could meld together.
Voila! Chicken Foot Souse!

I know that the presentation isn't all that here in my little bowl, but when you purchase your serving from the vendors on the street, the feet are placed upright in a medium sized Styrofoam cup, then the liquid is poured on and a few cucumber slices rest in the centre of it. (Trust me, it really looks good that way.)

Anyway, time for me to relax and think up some more dishes to show you, so until next we meet, take care of yourselves, and don’t forget to mind the pot. ;-)