Caribbean Fusion

A Caribbean cook and a Fusion of food

Weekday Dinners April 25, 2009

Filed under: Quick Meal — Chantal @ 6:05 pm
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I try to prepare most if not all of my meals at home; it tastes much better than anything you could buy on the road, is cheaper and there is the added benefit of knowing exactly what went in. Cooking at home everyday does however, have its hiccups, but planning and having certain key ingredients on hand can remedy most of the problems that may arise.

A couple things I’ve learned:

  1. A can of diced tomatoes can be your best friend: I never used to buy canned tomatoes, I always try to buy fresh produce as far as possible, but the tomatoes that are canned are the sweetest of the bunch as they are picked at the peak of the season which translates into amazing flavour. Saute a chopped onions; add sliced/diced chorizo (pepperoni or any sausage of your choice); then add a can of diced tomatoes; season; simmer, done!
  2. Herbs and spices are a must! I love Indian food, so naturally, my pantry is always chock full of a myriad of hard and ground spices. Most of the times I choose a spice and build a dish around that. When I have a little more time on my hands I make my own spice blends, I especially Morrocan spice blends and use this recipe whenever I need to make a batch.
  3. Stock is great for imparting flavour in almost any dish: from risotto to stews, stock is the number 1 easy fix. Making your own stock can be somewhat time consuming, but its much cheaper and healthier to do so, make up a big batch on the weekend and freeze it in the portions that you are most likely to use at any given time.
  4. Slow roasted anything is a breeze: be it a whole chicken, pork butt or ribs, season it in the morning, toss it in the oven on low heat and eat it when you get home.
  5. Portioning meat, saves money: many times, as a result of failing to plan, I end up buying trays of a particular cut of meat in the supermarket, they’re chilled, I take them home, trim them if necessary then in minutes I done. BUT, these trays are soooooo much more expensive than if I’d bought a whole chicken (or two) and broke it down and portioned out myself so when I have the time I go the whole chicken route.

Let me leave it at that for now, I could go on forever but I think I should save some for a next post.

I quickly pulled this together yesterday evening.

butternut-currant-cous-cous-with-chicken
I recently discovered Panko and love the beautiful golden crust it gives the chicken. I had never tried butternut squash before and felt like experimenting, it tastes like a mild pumpkin crossed with zucchini, the flavour is really mild so the currants stole the show not to say that the squash didn’t make for an absolutely beautiful presentation, but maybe next time I’ll add more squash.

Here are the recipes:

Panko Crusted Chicken

Ingredients:
4 deboned chicken breasts
1T kosher salt (more or less according to taste)
2C milk
2T vinegar

2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2C – 2C panko

Olive oil, as needed

Method:
1. Pour the vinegar into the milk and set aside for 10 minutes. Alternatively you could use 2C buttermilk.

2. Clean and trim chicken if necessary and place in a shallow dish, sprinkle with half the salt, turn pieces over and sprinkle with remaining salt.

3. Pour the milk over the chicken turning the pieces over once. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for at least two hours (can be left to marinate overnight).

4. When ready to prepare chicken, set up the “breading station”; place the panko and beaten eggs into shallow dishes next to each other and preheat oven to 130F.

5. Drain the chicken (you can pat it dry if you want but I didn’t do this). Dip the chicken into the beaten eggs then place in the panko turning over a couple of times to coat. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

6. Pour some olive oil into a skillet (enough to come up to a height of about 3mm, I know, the technical drawing student in me still does that) and place over medium heat, when hot enough, put in the chicken (it may be necessary to do this batches), they should take about 5 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the other. Remove from oil and keep warm in oven until ready to serve.

panko crusted chicken breast

Butternut Squash & Currant Cous Cous
Ingredients:
2T olive oil
1T butter
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
1 1/2C butternut squash, medium diced
1/3C currants, plumped in hot water and drained
1 14oz can chicken stock (or 1 3/4C homemade chicken or vegetable stock)
A handful of lemon basil leaves, roughly chopped
1C cous cous

Salt to taste

Method:
1. Heat oil and butter in skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onions and saute for about 2 minutes.

2. Add the squash and heat for another 2 minutes. Add about 1/4C of the stock to the squash and heat until all the stock has reduced, the squash soft be tender but not mushy, if still hard add some more of the stock and reduce again.

3. Add the currants, heat for a minute then add the remaining stock, season to taste with salt.

4. Once the stock comes to a boil, add the basil, off the heat and add the cous cous, stir to combine (once or twice, not too much) then cover and leave undisturbed for at least 10 minutes. Use a fork to fluff up the cous cous before serving.

butternut-currant-cous-cous

 

Furballs April 23, 2009

Filed under: Random - Not food related — Chantal @ 10:37 pm
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This post is completely unrelated to food…I just wanted to share my little ball of adorableness who likes to get into a whole mess of trouble, here she is in the middle of mom’s apron sewing project:

Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle

Yes, I named her after pasta, but it had more to do with how she behaved when I first met her JSPCA (Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). She was very responsive to me and would jump in any direction that I moved my hand, as I watched her twist and spin the only thing I could think of was tagliatelle of course Tagliatelle is far too long a name for a cat, so she’s called Tag except for when she’s done something really naughty and the full name has to be used for emphasis ;)

Here she is again:

Tagliatelle says: "I'm sleepy, could you go away"

Tagliatelle says: "I'm sleepy, could you go away"

and again:

Tag is KO'd! Studying is such hard work

Tag is KO'd! Studying is such hard work

Now no introduction to my cats would be complete if I didn’t mention Mr. Tibbs himself, or Titi since his name had to be changed from Nefertiti when we realised she was not a she but a he and Miss  Miserable herself Wuzz:

If there exists a cat mafia, Titi is the Godfather

If there exists a cat mafia, Titi is the Godfather

Madame Miserable intrigued (at a "safe" distance) by a chicken hawk stuck in the bushes

Madame Miserable intrigued (at a "safe" distance) by a chicken hawk stuck in the bushes

As the “big kids” Titi and Wuzz spend most of their time outside, only coming home for food and occasional affection from their humans. Titi I think is up to some illegal black market business, which explains why he didn’t see it necessary to spend the day inside during Hurricane Dean or any other day for that matter. Wuzz’s reason for staying outside on the other hand, is her form of protest against Tag who unseated her as the youngest and cutest kitten in the house, I thought she would have let sleeping dogs lie by now (its been 2 months) but she seems determined to hold this grudge, hissing and growling all the way.

 

Bagels and then some… April 17, 2009

Filed under: Bread — Chantal @ 9:08 pm
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Poppy & Sesame Seed Bagels

I have been cooking and baking and neglecting my blog (such a bad blogger), I hope to change that (when I sit my FINAL final exams ;)).

Until then, here is my first attempt at bagels, although…am I allowed to call them bagels if I used honey instead of malt syrup? You know that annoying thing where you search high and low for a particular thing because you need it and irrespective of what you do you can’t find it? That was me with this malt syrup and low and behold I go to the health food store this week, after having made the bagels and what do I find? You got it! Malt syrup.

They were quite tasty and didn’t give mom heartburn so that’s a SUPER plus, I adapted the recipe from Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art :)

For my next attempt I want to try cinnamon and raisins and I’ll use the malt syrup for that to see the difference.

In other news…

I plan to get into my Italian mode and do a couple posts on that as an ode to Eva who was so nice as to stop by and tell me off for being caustic about my awful trip to her restaurant, you can check out that post and her comment here (or below, depending on how you got to the page) :)

For starters here’s my Jerk Sausage and Fettuccine:

Jerk Pasta

It was a cinch to throw together, nothing fancy, just a pack of jerk sausages thickly sliced, some fennel, garlic, a can of diced tomatoes (not drained) and a chipotle for some more heat.

 

Evita’s February 14, 2009

Filed under: Restaurant Review — Chantal @ 2:13 pm
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For our 22nd birthdays, 2 of my girlfriends (K and T) and I went to Ocho Rios to have a girl’s weekend. It was a welcome break from the usual rush of the week and the fresh air in the country did us well, not to mention dancing the Macarena at Magaritaville while sipping on Bailey’s and Frangelico.

Before leaving Kingston I’d forgotten to check my little where to eat book, so I had no clue what were the supposedly good restaurants to look for in Ochi, K had been to Evita’s (3 years ago) and remembered the food being good. So on Sunday afternoon (my birthday) K and I walked from the guest house to Evita’s (we worked up a good appetite, it wasn’t really far and it was a rather cool afternoon so we didn’t mind the walk) expecting to have a fabulous dinner to bring what had so far been a fabulous weekend to a close.

evitas-entrance

The restaurant was pretty empty, there were only 2 other parties dinning when we arrived so we had our pick of where to sit, we took a seat overlooking the town and settled in, now hungry and very excited for what was to come. Had we known the 200 yard walk up the hill atop which Evita’s sits was going to be the most exciting part of our evening I think we would have just gone to KFC.

Inside Evita's and the View

The waiter (very nice gentleman) brought the menu, which was ridiculously bulky and difficult to handle given its size relative to that of the table. For appetizer I settled on “Grilled Calamari with a Passionfruit, Dijon, Fresh Ginger, & Cilantro Chef’s Dressing” I could taste the explosion of flavour in my mouth and I was really excited. K hadn’t eaten all day so she wanted some soup and selected the vegetable soup. Our appetizers arrived soon enough (or maybe not, we were busy chatting so we barely noticed the time) and disappointment struck. K’s soup was oily and tasted like it came from a can and my calamari was cold (hey maybe it’s a new technique, but when I see grilled I immediately think hot, or at least warm, not stone cold), even more disappointing was the sauce, with bold elements like passionfruit and fresh ginger I was expecting that sauce to WOW me, but not even a flicker, it was plastic-y strangely enough and had no flavour and no seasoning, not even a pinch of salt.

Calamari & Soup

After appetizer we were presented with “garlic bread with cheese sauce”. Unfortunately, in my world, garlic bread is not a French stick with the outside sparingly buttered with a touch of garlic powder. K didn’t get the photo of me searching under the table for the cheese that was supposed to be in the sauce, that tasted alien and again like plastic, seriously now, why has this place gotten such fabulous reviews? Maybe we ordered the wrong dishes, but no! EVERY dish should be executed excellently, is that not how it’s supposed to be?

Garlic Bread and Cheese Sauce

Maybe we’re suckers for punishment, but we thought that the main course would have been better, no such luck! I had a half order of their “Jerk Spaghetti” – “Recipe requested by Gourmet Magazine! Spicy jerk sausage sautéed with garlic, onions, marinara sauce and a touch of jerk seasoning” – and a half order of a seafood pasta dish, the name escapes me at the moment, but it was supposed to be your choice of pasta (on the waiter’s advice I took the penne, in hindsight, I may have been even more disappointed if I’d taken one of the types they made in house, so I think he saved me there) with crab meat, mussels and baby shrimp in some kind of sauce; K had the “Ravioli ‘ECCELLENZA’” – Jumbo Cheese filled Ravioli tossed in an alfredo-tomato sauce with baby shrimp sautéed in garlic olive oil & laced with Sambuca Liqueur. SUPERB!”

Ravioli & Jerk spaghetti

Left: K's Jumbo Ravioli. Right: My Jerk Spaghetti & Seafood w/ Penne

How do I begin to explain the things that were wrong with the main course? Do I start by saying that my spaghetti was too salty and had to be sent back?

That the jerk sausage tasted like the frozen ones I usually buy because I haven’t tried making my own and they are a cinch to prepare on a busy day?

That the presentation left a lot to be desired?

That the pasta bought must have been a discount brand?

That I couldn’t figure out the raggedy looking shreds of meat on my plate?

That K’s ravioli looked like misshapen nappies?

That K’s sauce lacked depth of flavour?

That the “fresh” parmesan had been grated who knows when and was being served from a stainless steel container? or

That all the seafood used was bought frozen, even though Ochi is right near the sea with countless fishermen bringing in fresh bounty on a daily basis?

Simply put, we were sorely disappointed with dinner. We ate because we were hungry, we were full because we ate, but we had not been amazed or satisfied by the food.

We had made the wise decision to wait until after main course to have a look at the dessert menu. We had been traumatised enough and weren’t going to order anything but wanted to peruse it anyway. The selection was nothing to shout about, I don’t understand the brainwork that goes behind putting the cheapest possible brand of ice cream on your menu beside higher quality brands and I find having the different brand logos on the menu tacky. One thing kept drawing my attention it was called Tiramisu Alla Eva – “Eva’s pick me up, cake soaked in rum and espresso topped with zabaglione and cream cheese sauce”. Now, I’ve never made or had zabaglione, but from my understanding it’s a sauce usually served on its own, with berries or as a base to mousses and has to be served as soon as it’s made. I didn’t understand how the zabaglione and the cream cheese would come together for a tiramisu (which I’ve made before) and in addition there was no mention of mascarpone, I guess the cream cheese took it’s place but I think I would have much preferred mascarpone as it’s smoother in taste not as sharp as cream cheese and I would think that it would pair better with zabaglione than cream cheese. With all that said, K and I decided to try the tiramisu. Through the corner of my eye I see the waiters putting a candle into the tiramisu and I whisper to K “oh no, please don’t tell me they’re gonna sing happy birthday” before she could finish saying “you bet they are” in booming (well off key) voices the waiters sang happy birthday and as is customary in Jamaica, mispronounced my name so it was “APPY BIRT-DAY DEAR CHANTEEEELLL”. Now when people try their best at something that is obviously not their strength one must try to be supportive, so I mustered up a smile and said thank you and blew out the candle.

being-a-good-sport

The tiramisu was awful, the flavours were not harmonious, there was no smoothness to them like a terribly off key band. The cake used was rather dense and heavy, the first bit was banana cake, don’t know how that got in there, the other bit seemed plain, there was some kind of liquor that seemed to have separated out or something. I don’t know what kind of rum was used (in my book, rum = Appleton, this was not the case) and the “espresso” I supposed was under the table with the cheese for the cheese sauce. Needless to say we didn’t finish the dessert, our dinner ended as it had begun, in disappointment. On the bright side, at least they were consistent.

pic-summing-up-my-feeling-on-evitas1

This pic sums up our feelings on dinner at Evita's

We walked back and talked about the things that bothered us at dinner, K couldn’t understand how the food had declined so drastically in three years, I couldn’t understand how the food had ever been good and personally will not be going back any time soon, I won’t say never, cause hey! you never know :)

 

Dinner in 15 minutes! February 11, 2009

Filed under: Quick Meal — Chantal @ 6:56 pm
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First post!!!! Yaay! Wow…when I look back at the date I created this blog, tsk tsk tsk…such a shame.

Anyway, to brighter things…I often read recipes or watch cooking shows, now I find that the “done in” time is a bit if not entirely ridiculous, how am I supposed to chop veggies etc AND cook and be done in that amount of time?

Take the following clip for example, Gordon shows how you can prepare a meal in 12 minutes….riiiight, notice that everything is in place the onions are prepped as are most of the other ingredients and hey! the water is already boiling ;)

When I say 15 minutes, I mean 15 minutes, my knife skills aren’t super and it takes more than 5 minutes for water to boil but if I’m pressed for time and need to cook I really can’t have a 15 minute recipe take me half an hour. I had no intentions of cooking yesterday, I ate some cold leftovers from the night before and would have left it at that had I not felt REALLY hungry when we were at the supermarket (go figure) a couple of hours later, this is what I did and it took literally 15 minutes. Tomatoes are in season now so they were sweet, just bursting with flavour and the garlic, parsley and lemon juice made for a wonderful symphony.

tilapia with noodles

Tomato-Herb Tilapia & Brown Butter Noodles

Ingredients:
6 Tilapia fillets, rinsed
Handful of flat leaf parsley
3 cloves of garlic
3 plummy tomatoes
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Olive oil, salt & black pepper as needed

Instant noodles
A hearty knob of butter

Method:
1. Fill a pot with water for the noodles, add some salt and oil if desired and set to boil.
2. Preheat oven to 180C
3. Meanwhile, smash the garlic and chop finely, roughly chop the parsley and dice the tomatoes; toss together.
4. On a baking sheet lay out a sheet of foil and place fillets skin side down. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, oil, salt and black pepper, then the parsley mixture and more olive oil if desired.
4. Using another piece of foil cover the fish and seal the edges (kinda like a big envelope). Place in oven and bake for about 8-12 minutes.
5. Back to the noodles, place the desired amount of noodles in the boiling water. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook till fragrant and nutty brown in colour.
6. Drain the noodles, put back in pot and toss with butter.
7. Serve!

 

 
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