Monday, December 28, 2009

The good, the bad and the burnt!

Okay - so the Christmas day madness has passed. Thank God! It was a lovely day - don't get me wrong, but the stress of the dinner almost got the better of me. It seemed to be going okay. I stuffed the turkey with my Mum's sage and sausage stuffing, and popped it in the oven at 4pm. It was a small turkey so I was planning on 3 hours cooking time. My Mum was going to be bringing the ham to bake and glaze; I'd made the red cabbage the day before, and the stewed pigeon peas were ready thanks to Mum. The desserts (creme brulee and grape dessert) were happily chilling in my stuffed fridge. Cool. I was on top of things. All I needed to do was cook the veggies, set the table and relax. I wish!

My mum overslept in the afternoon, so she got to me (with the uncooked ham) when my turkey was cooked, which set everything back. Then I forgot the pigeon peas and red cabbage heating up in the oven. (This I didn't discover until both dishes were burnt black and crispy!) The turkey, I could tell, was overcooked and a little dried out. My kitchen was hot as hell and I was ratty and frazzled. At one point I looked pleadingly at my family and asked if they'd mind if we just had my special seafood terrine and dessert! But they seemed content with the chaos and culinary disasters, encouraging me to press on. So I did.

We eventually ate dinner at about 9pm. And it was great! With so many disasters, everyone relaxed and laughed. The creme brulee I made was easily the best dessert I have ever made. The turkey wasn't as terrible as I'd feared it would be, and the brussel sprouts were perfectly cooked. Thank goodness for my forgiving family - they absolutely made the day Christmas for me!

Here I am with Richard, in the heat of the dishing up!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Granny's red cabbage - with alterations and adaptations

My Granny made this red cabbage dish all my life. I love it, and started making it myself a few years ago. But I've changed a few things out of necessity (for example, Gran's recipe calls for cooking apples, which we don't get in Trinidad, so I just use the extra-tart granny smiths) and added a few things that I think add to the flavour of the dish.

You'll need a heavy cast iron pot to cook it in.

1 small red cabbage (sliced as thinly as you can manage)
2 granny smith apples (peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces)
1 red onion sliced in thin circles
quarter cup of balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of cider or red-wine vinegar
quarter cup of maple syrup
1 bay leaf
3 cardamom pods
5 or 6 cracked allspice corns
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper (as you like it)

Put everything in the cast iron pot. Cover it tightly and let the ingredients cook gently on a very low heat for about 45 minutes. (The cabbage will spring its own juice.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cranberry and sorrel coulis

half a cup each of dried cranberries and dried sorrel
a large pinch each of dried ginger, ground allspice, ground cinnamon
3 or 4 cardamom pods (cracked)
the zest and juice of one orange
3 tablespoons of rum
2 tablespoon of brown sugar

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover them. Cover the pan and cook everything on a slow simmer for 30 minutes (by which time the cranberries will have plumped, and a syrup will have formed).

Leave the mixture to cool for a while. Remove the cardamom pods and then put everything in a blender and blend the mixture until smooth (or a little chunky - whichever way you like it).

You can store it in the fridge for two or three weeks. I'm going to use it as chutney for my turkey, and I think I'll put a little in the bottom of my creme brulee.

Let the cooking adventure commence!

I'm sitting at my Dad's desk. It's in my study now, because the things he left for me arrived in Trinidad this week. It's the strangest feeling - sitting here to write: the place he sat at to write for some 30 years. But it feels correct.

So I'm starting to get excited about the cooking for Christmas. I know what I'm going to make; I bought all the ingredients this afternoon (please let me not have to go back to Hi-Lo before Christmas!) and I'm going to begin the process today with the grape dessert, the sorrel and cranberry coulis and the creme brulee.

So wish me luck, as this is all stuff that's either just been invented, or that I am trying for the first time!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas panic stations!

I don't know how it happened. A couple of weeks ago it was august, and now it's december... the 22nd!!! Christmas is in 3 days (actually, more like 2 and a half) and I'm making Christmas dinner, and all I've managed to organise is the buying of brussel sprouts and potatoes! That's ALL! Granted my Mum has bought the turkey and ham, and she'll bake the ham, but that still leaves a zillion things for me left to do: put out slices of bread to dry for breadcrumbs for stuffing buy bacon eggs herbs carrots sorrel cranberries cream butter pork sausages brown bread grapes yogurt brown sugar tomatoes lettuce red cabbage red onions... and because I haven't yet figured out what I'm cooking, the list could get a lot longer!

Then of course there's the new website I have to finish for a client to go online December 31st the alterations I have to make to my film by December 31st the packing I have to do by December 31st and the plane I have to catch with my boyfriend December 31st! Yikes! I was almost hyperventilating today!

I haven't even figured out what I'm cooking on Christmas day! There are the obligatory things: the afore mentioned ham and turkey, the stuffing with lots of herbs and bacon, the fresh pigeon peas stewed in coconut milk, English-style roast potatoes, my granny's red cabbage (with apples and maple syrup - yum!), then I think we'll have brussel sprouts, and candied carrots. I want to make some sort of salad. I bought a massive pack of smoked salmon in Price Smart, so I'd like to make a first course with that. Then I was thinking of making creme brulee with some sort of fruit base - maybe a sorrel and cranberry coulis. For my sister, I'll do my granny's famous grape dessert.

But wait! Look at that - it's a christmas menu! Yay! But daz a lotta food... to make! No doubt, by the time I've cooked everything I'll be a catatonic blob sitting at the dinner table - but there you go, at least the christmas panic will have passed!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bean Salad recipe

I got a request for the recipe, so here goes:
1 tin each of black beans, channa and kidney beans (drained, rinsed in fresh water and drained again)
2 small onions (red or white - whatever you prefer) finely diced
1 cup of frozen corn kernels (defrosted and drained)
2 cups of fresh bean sprouts (lightly scalded and drained)
2 stalks of celery chopped
a sprinkling of fresh parsley and cilanthro

The dressing:
equal parts olive oil and cider vinegar (say, half-cup each)
about a tablespoon of good grainy mustard (or dijon)
half teaspoon each of salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon of brown sugar (or honey)
2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bottle and shake well. (Whatever is leftover should be kept in your fridge.)

Gently combine all the salad ingredients so as not to mash any of the beans. Drizzle over your dressing. Plonk it in the fridge for a couple of hours and serve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A dinner do

I was a little girl when I discovered my passion for cooking. I was always engaged in failed attempts at making bright blue soupies, fried chicken and cheese sauce (try mixing milk and grated cheese and see how well that works!) In my early twenties, I discovered that having dinner parties was a fantastic excuse for spending money on ingredients and trying new dishes. Yes, I'm one of those people who experiments with dishes when she's serving them - for the first time - to a room full of expectant people! (I took this to a ridiculous degree when I made sushi rolls for 40 people last year! By the time guests started arriving, I was a shattered bundle of nerves!)

So I decided to have my first little dinner party in the new apartment. I'd already organised a small girl's lime, but that was quite impromptu, so it doesn't really count.

I think the dinner party is a dying art in Trinidad. I can count on one hand the people who invite me over to their homes to eat food that they have prepared. I don't know why, but everyone seems to prefer to meet for drinks or go out liming. I love to stay in to lime - to invite people into my home; to share food with people I love; to go through the stress of planning and cooking and then the dishes afterward - these seem correct to me; a good way to honour my friends and family. (I always remember my friend, Angela Cropper, telling me that inviting people over to eat is a gift, and washing up is just part of that gift. I have to consciously bring this to mind whenever I'm faced with a post-party MOUNTAIN of dishes. Of course, I'd never serve food on a paper plate (sacrilege!) so no doubt I'm my own worst enemy.)

Having decided to have people over, I had consider who I'd invite. I've been trying to invite new people to my get-togethers, as well as long-established friends. But that's a bit dicey - you know what you're gonna get with the ole timers, but you've no idea what the newbies will bring to the table. So I try to compensate - this one is a great story-teller, that one is an excellent conversationalist, this one will give me a hand in the kitchen if it all goes awry, and so on. I put together a pretty decent guest list - small, just 10 people including me and my boyfriend.

What to cook? Hmmm. Ordinarily, I'd use the opportunity of having people over to cook something new and exciting, but for some reason, I'd lost my nerve. So I decided to do an old favourite - something I hadn't cooked in years, but feel very comfortable with: lamb shanks stewed with tomatoes and mint (lamb shanks are a really affordable option for dinner parties - you just have to cook them in the pressure cooker as they're tough as old boots otherwise!), basmati rice with toasted almonds, a greek salad and a bean salad. (Those pesky vegetarians who always pop up out of the woodwork! I WISH vegetarians, non-shellfish eaters, and non-dairy eaters would tell you, when you call them to invite them over, by the way, I don't eat meat! I've been mortified too many times, when I cook a meal that's all shellfish, and then someone tells me they're allergic! It's a horrible feeling - that you've not catered to the needs of all your guests, so someone is going to end up with rice and two lettuce leaves! So please, let your host or hostess know if you have any particular food issues... in advance!) So I made the bean salad for my vegetarian friends.

The trick with bean salad is to make a really tart salad dressing (with cider vinegar), and then add some fresh celery, bean sprouts and sweet corn to the mix of beans - that way there are a variety of tastes and textures to experience.

The appointed night arrives, and my boyfriend is laughing at me - I'm nervous. Will everyone I've invited come? Will they get along well? Will they like the food? Will there be enough food? (I once ran out of food - it was awful! Painfully embarrassing.)

Everyone comes. We sit on my roof under the full moon and talk, and laugh, and eat. There's enough food. It tastes pretty good. People leave having had a good night - with a smile. And Richard and I face the mountain of dishes with a sort-of-smile too!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The secret gem

During the film festival madness, a couple of the girls who work for the festival arrived at the office bearing sushi.... FOR $25!!!! (I'm not normally one for the multiple exclamation marks, but $25 sushi deserves them!) "My God! Where'd you get it?" I asked. "That little place on Marli Street... the Golden Bell." "Where?" And that's what everyone I tell about one of the happiest food discoveries for me in the last few months asks: where?

It's an almost invisible little place on Marli Street, a couple of buildings west of the American Embassy. I noticed yesterday that there was a number on the building: 10A. The Golden Bell is a Korean fast food restaurant that also sells an odd assortment of pantry things like ground coffee, japanese noodle soup base and various kinds of dried seaweed. There are tables and chairs inside if you'd like to dine in, and - get this - a free karaoke machine, just in case you want to sing out loud to your favourite tune while you're waiting for your Bi Bim Bab! (And let me tell you, yesterday two girls were taking full advantage - one of them (perhaps with a recent tabanca) was belting out a soulful rendition of John Legend's "Ordinary people"!)

The place is delightful! It's utterly unpretentious and the food is delicious and decently priced. A sushi roll (remember, it's budget sushi, so you won't get wasabi or pickled ginger, and you might even have sushi made of tinned tuna) which is perfectly tasty might cost you $25. Boxed meals cost between $35 and $55 depending on what you're having. For vegetarians (and for meat-eaters too) I'd recommend the Jackson Bi Bim Bab. It's made with sticky rice, different stir-fried vegetables, with a great big fried egg on the top! The other dishes I've particularly enjoyed are the Papa chicken and the chilli chicken - both of which come with sweet and sour, spicy sauce, sticky rice with sprinkles of black sesame seeds and sweet corn, and a green salad.

One of the loveliest things about the food there is the final flourishes - the cooks always sprinkle a little sauce of some kind; they'll invariably add sesame seeds or chopped peanuts or walnuts. Ask to try some of their Korean pickles (they do a spicy cabbage something) and sample the Korean pepper sauce. The food is lovingly prepared fresh and I think it's the best value for money around. You might have to wait a few minutes to get what you order (and speak clearly, because the proprietor's english isn't the best) but then you can sing a song while you wait - you won't regret it.