xmlns:fb='http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml' Cooking with Ria

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ria's Simple "Trini Christmas is de Best" Holiday Ham

When I thought I finally had a strong grasp on 40, life went ahead and dealt me another wild card which, if I didn't play right, would result in permanent despair. I did some introspection. I realized that somewhere hidden in the challenges of the present year, I have actually accomplished every goal and dream I've ever dreamt. The house by the beach, my family, the successful career, the exotic vacations, the dream Audi that waits in the parking lot for me everyday after a long day's work(sorry, but I really really love my car), and so much more. I have become the woman in my dreams(well almost, there is always room for improvement). I had to stop for a moment (like a week) and appreciate and be grateful. Just be grateful for all the good and right in my life.

I reminded myself that happiness is not only success or money or having a family it is being grateful for NOW. It's a decision I make to be happy despite the heartbreaks, disappointments, my possessions and achievements, or lack of. I will not and should not continue to depend on any person (OR THING) to be happy. Happiness is accepting the present for what it is and loving myself despite the fact that no human being is capable of loving me unconditionally, like they promise or will promise. Also, don't expect anyone to be perfect because I am not perfect either.

When life deals us blow after blow, we should accept the ephemeral defeats, scream, complain, cry, but rise, dust ourselves off and keep climbing. What we see as obstacles are meant to lead us on the path to the ideal life--our highest, best selves--and in my current situation, teach me the ultimate lesson in forgiveness. We must trust that the Universe is always working in our favor, aim for the ideal life, forgive it all and resolve to be happy.

That's my advice to you and myself as we close 2014 and get ready to start chapter 2015 in our lives. Not only have I begun to be more grateful, accepting, forgiving, loving, but cooking is and has always been part of my therapy. This recipe is one of my favorites and I am happy to share it with you today!

Growing up in my mother's house I never ate pork, or so I proclaimed, but come Christmas time, I ate ham and bread like there was no tomorrow. Many of the most popular Trini Christmas Songs include a line or two about pork or ham, which confirms our love and passion for the delicacy. Undoubtedly, homemade bread and ham is one of the reasons why Trini Christmas is de best. Black cake(rum/fruit cake) and sorrel are two other reasons, but I have already posted about that here and here.
For many years it's been our family tradition to make homemade bread and ham on Thanksgiving Eve or Christmas Eve. This guarantees that the morning after there is a quick breakfast on the table as I'm usually too busy preparing our Thanksgiving Feast or Cinnamon Buns for the kids and neighbors on Christmas morning. When the Canadians used to visit, we'd have lots of laughs during the ham and bread making process, then we'd indulge in bread straight out of the oven, slathered with butter, with slices of ham and laced with pepper sauce, until midnight.

I've used this recipe for almost two decades. Once I was inspired to alter the recipe but the results weren't as good. I learned that simple was and still is de best. 

Many have mentioned boiling their ham, I did that once and realized that if your ham is not the traditional salted Trinidadian ham, boiling is not required. This is a no fuss, simple recipe that does not require basting or peering into the oven every 15 minutes to check on it(more like once per hour), plus the ingredients are simple. Some things need to be simple so you can concentrate on the other non-simple things in your life…like making the bread to go with the ham, wrapping presents, detangling Christmas lights and putting up the tree…Actually this bread recipe is rather fun to make and equally delicious. You should attempt it, you won't regret it.

Don't let the number of cloves deter you from trying this recipe. I guarantee you that it's not overpowering. It just sounds like a lot.

My family always look forward to our holiday ham and personally I couldn't keep myself away from this ham. I ate it for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. I even ate the pineapple. You know me.

I hope this recipe becomes a Tradition in your home too.

Ria's Holiday Ham

1 [5-7 pounds] smoked, bone-in fully cooked ham***
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup honey
1 tablespoon dijon or yellow mustard
1 can pineapple rings
100 cloves (If you don't care to count, ask any kid to do so or use a scant 1 ½ tablespoons)
Reserved pineapple juice

***7 pounds is ideal, but this recipe can be used for a ham that's up to 10 pounds. For this recipe, I used a 10 pound ham, because that's what the Hubbie brought home. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

1. Remove ham from packaging and rinse well under running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Score the surface of the ham creating a diamond pattern and place cloves at each corner and/or center of the diamond.

3. In a medium bowl whisk honey, brown sugar and mustard and 1-2 tablespoons of the pineapple juice (You don't want it too runny).

4. Rub or brush mixture over ham.

5. Place ham in a baking pan or roasting pan and top with the pineapple rings. If all the pineapple rings don't fit on the surface of the ham, place in the pan. You may pour the remaining pineapple juice in the pan too.

6. Place the ham in the oven and bake uncovered 15 minutes per pound. Baste every hour (or 30 mins if you like) for about 3 minutes continuously each time. This is called the "ham love-making process". Give it love to get love.  During the last 30 minutes baste every ten minutes to create a nice thick, fantastical, irresistible glaze. Remove from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Remove pineapple slices and cloves. Sometimes I leave them on if I am not slicing it right away.

Slice and serve with hot home-made bread slathered with butter and hot sauce aka Trini style peppah sauce. I usually strain the sauce from the bottom of the pan and drizzle it over the ham slices to take it up another notch. It soaks back in over time and adds even more flavor. Need I say more??

For your listening pleasure while you bake your ham and bread....and because there is no Trini Christmas without good music:
[Don't forget to come back to this page!]

Trini Christmas Songs/Parang:
Trini Christmas is de best - Susan Macio
Bring out the ham - Marcia Miranda
Ah want a piece of Pork - Scrunter

You could also listen to Daisy Voisin, the Trini Queen of Parang, Lord Kitchener(Drink ah Rum), Baron(It's Christmas) or Machel Montano (Soca Santa)!

With love, 
and Christmas Blessings,

If you love this blog, LIKE my Facebook Page! Don't follow me on Twitter because I like talking to myself there.....

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Trinidad Parsad

Summer has bid us farewell. School is back in session. I have no vivid recollection of activities that occurred between the start of summer and the beginning of the school session. I know I worked maybe just a little too much and I'm getting used to my new commute to Midtown. It's always been a dream of mine to hike the Great Wall of China. Two weeks commuting in the NYC subways, squeezing into sardine packed cars, waiting for delayed trains, climbing stairs and more stairs, I no longer desire to visit or view first hand that aforementioned Wall, stairs included. 

Fulton Street subway station is a wonder of the world in itself, no need to visit a very far land in search of physically challenging stairs to conquer. More challenging is sprinting up the many stairs to catch a train when one is late for work. It's not uncommon to see older folks huddled over the handrails trying to catch their breath. I shall not confess whether I'm included in that statistic.  I am in dire need of a vacation. Diwali is later this month and I may hop on a plane to experience again the wonders of the festival of lights, after two decades in exile, and violate every law of moderation and indulge in excess parsad consumption to soothe my troubled, weary soul. Amen.

Parsad, for those of you who are not familiar with the word, is a traditional sweet served at Hindu religious ceremonies in Trinidad and other countries in the Caribbean. Flour and/or cream of wheat are cooked in ghee until golden brown, after which raisins, ginger and ground cardamom(elaichi) are added. It’s all brought together with a syrup made with milk, sugar and water, which results in a fluffy, pillowy soft, indulgent dessert.

I grew up in a Hindu household and it was quite challenging waiting for the almost three hour long  prayer service (also referred to as prayers or pooja) to end to receive the little plastic or brown paper bags filled with parsad and other sweet delicacies, including kurma, ladoo, roat, barfi, pera, lapsi and suhari. It was (and still is) against all rules to eat or taste any of the food or delicacies until after the prayer service had ended. Torture for a young foodie. Torture.

Because of the length of these devotions, the young rebel in me opted to hang out and chat with the cooks who were busy preparing huge iron pots of vegetarian dishes and paratha roti, which were to be served at the end of the pooja to the prayer devotees and non devotees(those who came only for the food and sweets). This meant that I had to perform dish washing, bell girl and sous chef duties, but those responsibilities were so much more bearable and exciting than sitting still waiting for the prayers to end.

I believe that this is one of the reasons I could now easily prepare a feast for a hundred people. I gained priceless experience and knowledge observing the older generation of cooks. Nowadays, I am much better behaved, obedient and spiritual, and on an occasional Sunday, you will find me sitting for several hours in church, even though there are no sweet treats or food served at the end of service. I bring my own. 

There are several versions of parsad, one is made solely with flour and another made with just cream of wheat. Then there is this recipe which combines both. Some folks enjoy their parsad warm and soft, others like it cold and hard straight out of the refrigerator. I don’t discriminate. I eat it any which way I get it, well except if it’s too white which means that the flour was not parched sufficiently in the ghee, which results in a bland, raw flour taste. The color of the parsad varies with the length of time the flour is cooked, aka parched...

Around Diwali time, when all my family and friends in Trinidad are enjoying an abundance of parsad (and prayer’s food), because of the frequency of pooja’s everywhere, I usually prepare a small batch to satisfy my craving, console myself and reminisce about my childhood.  Actually, that is all I seem to do these days, cook, eat, reminisce. Repeat. Hopefully, this year will be different.

Cook's "managing my weight" Tip---If you plan to make parsad as often as I do for your own personal satisfaction, you may decrease the ghee and sugar to half cup each. Just a suggestion. Calm down. 

Use this recipe if you want consistent results EVERY TIME! No more calling Aunties, Tanties or grandmas to ask them how to make parsad ...I did all the work for you....Three years of investigating, interrogating and testing to bring you the authentic taste of parsad. I hope you enjoy..:-)

Ria's Trinidad Parsad
Serves 8-10

1 can “Carnation” evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 cup organic whole milk
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup ghee (clarified butter) ( I prefer Cow Brand Ghee)
cup all purpose flour
1 cup instant cream of wheat (farina)
½ cup golden raisins (Optional) 
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground elaichi (cardamom)

Peel and grate ginger (I always give this task to my husband) and measure ingredients.

Make Syrup:

In a small saucepan with a long handle, add evaporated milk, whole milk, one cup of water and sugar and place over a low flame. Stir until sugar has melted. Keep on low flame.  

[A few times I added the ginger to the milk and it curdled, so I no longer bother. You may continue to use the milk if it curdled, I didn't notice a difference to the final product]

To cook:

Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add ghee. 

When it melts, gradually sprinkle in flour and stir, using a wooden spoon in a rapid back and forth motion, scraping the flour from the bottom of the pot so it doesn't burn.

[If the flour is becoming brown too quickly, lower the heat.] 

Cook (parch), stirring continuously, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the flour is golden brown, like the color of tea with milk(or a little lighter if that's your preference), and light in weight, about 5-7 minutes. 

Add cream of wheat and continue to stir continuously, about 3 minutes. 

Add raisins, grated ginger and elaichi and cook 3 more minutes...

...until raisins are plump... 

Start pouring the hot milk mixture gradually (one cup or ladle at a time) into the pot, (and carefully since the syrup will splatter). 

[Feel free to ask your significant other or other trustworthy person to assist you in pouring the hot milk mixture into the pot. I pour one cup at a time--but quickly--because I find that it's easier to turn that way...]

Turn vigorously and rapidly in a back and forth motion, until the cream of wheat is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, about 5-7 minutes--depending on your pot or the heat. It make look "pasty" for a little while, don't lose courage or confidence, success is just around the corner--just keep those arms moving....

The parsad is finished when it starts to clump together, your arms are dead tired and sweat is pouring from your forehead. No exaggeration.....and most importantly, the parsad is fluffy, pillowy soft, light...the aroma heavenly...

[It may seem a little greasy, but as it cools the grease will be absorbed to keep it at the right "parsad" texture.] 

With love,
prayerful wishes and
indulgent dishes,


(Using recipes already posted)

Appetizer: Pholourie or Aloo Pie and Mango Chutney
Dessert: Sweet Rice and Parsad



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trinidad Aloo (Potato) Pie

Aloo pie is fried dough filled with savory mashed potatoes that’s seasoned simply with bandhania (culantro), cumin, onion and garlic.  This snack (or meal) is right up there in popularity with doubles, pholourie and bake and shark.  The doubles vendor almost always have aloo pies and I’ve been known to order one or two, along with four doubles, just to satisfy my “big eye” (as in “she eye big”), as we say in Trinidad. Just means I have a voracious appetite.

As I mentioned on my Facebook page, my hubbie (the Dah) encouraged me to share the recipe immediately on my blog because he claims that it tastes just like his mother’s! I have never seen this man devour so much aloo pies or food in such a short time. I was concerned because I made it Saturday and again on Sunday to take pics for the blog, and he ate about seven pies in two days! On Friday he was boasting about his two pack abdomen. By Sunday, it looked more like a barrel and there was no more mention of his sexy physique, but don’t tell him I said that. Yes, it’s that good, especially good hot, straight out of the pot.

At the Trinidadian restaurants and vendors, the aloo pies are filled with curried channa at your request, but they are amazing alone or with mango or tamarind chutney or hot sauce.  Personally, I prefer homemade aloo pies to the bought ones because:
1. it contains more potato mixture (aloo)
2. it’s not fried with re-used oil, so the taste is cleaner
3. it’s not as oily because they are not stacked on each other in layers upon layers!
4. my recipe is all round tastier ([singing] if i do say so myself). You be the judge and let me know.

Cook’s notes:
  • There are many recipes without onions, but I enjoy the little crunch they add. If you don’t like eating raw onions, don’t worry, they cook while they are being mashed with the hot potatoes.
  • The finely chopped peppers add tiny bursts of spiciness and flavor. For me, they always offer a nice surprise.
  • Many recipes call for a large amount of cumin, but I don’t like adding too much cumin as it overpowers the taste of everything else, considering some of the chutneys are also made with cumin.
  • This recipe makes 12 but can be made smaller to enjoy or serve as an appetizer.

Makes 12 large 

3 cups flour
6 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons Himalayan salt
About 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

Potato Filling
2 pounds potato ( I used organic golden potatoes)
4-5 large bandhania (aka culantro, recao) leaves (plus 1 thinly sliced) (optional but recommended)
½ medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) (I used Vidalia onion)
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon roasted ground cumin (geera)
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
Hot pepper (bird pepper, habanero or scotch bonnet pepper), to taste


1  . Knead flour:--In a bowl mix flour, salt and baking powder. Gradually add water and knead flour to form a soft, smooth dough. The key to a soft dough is not folding over the flour too often (once all the water has been added, just press gently with the knuckles to smoothen, turn over, repeat). Cover with a towel and let it rest until you are ready to use it.

2. Cook potatoes: Peel and wash potatoes. Place 8 cups of water in a saucepan over high heat. Add potatoes, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook for 30-40 minutes or until fork tender but not overcooked. Drain, place in a large bowl and set aside.

3. While the potatoes are boiling, mince garlic, bandhania (if using) and hot pepper (if using) using a food processor or mortar and pestle. Peel and chop onions.

4. Add the minced ingredients, salt and cumin to the bowl with the potatoes. Mash with a fork, breaking up all chunks. (I like to add some more sliced bandhania and hot peppers).

Assemble Pies

1. Using your strong hand, squeeze off pieces of flour between thumb and forefinger to make 12 little balls. This way you don’t have to reshape after separating the dough.

2. Lightly flour surface. Using your fingers, flatten each ball into a 4 inch disc. Place a handful of potato (about 3 heaping tablespoons) mixture and bring the sides up over the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal all the way around. Then fold over the edges(see no 5 below).

3. Place upright and press the dough gently to flatten while pulling apart to lengthen. Place flat on the counter and then press gently with the palm of your hand to flatten. Place the completed filled dough on a floured surface and cover with towel.  

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the remaining balls of dough.

   To fry:

1. Heat about 1 cup of oil (use more if your pot is wider) in a small dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Add a small pinch of dough. The oil is ready when it floats and darkens.
2. Gently place filled dough into the hot oil, two at a time if the pot is big enough. Using a spoon(for God's sake and yours), continuously pour hot oil over the dough. When the bottom is golden brown, flip and cook the other side until golden brown also. Drain on the side of the pot and place in a single layer, on a paper towel lined platter. Cover with a paper towel, then a kitchen towel.

3. Repeat with the remaining filled dough.

Upon completion, bask in the glory of your accomplishment. 
Eat to your heart's content while it's hot. 
Take a nap. 
Do not repeat for a while. 
Do share with loved ones........if there are any leftovers.

       With love....
         .......and best aloo pies,


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trinidadian Stewed Red Beans

Change seems to be the only constant in my life. Recently, I learned that my 10 year tenure on Wall Street is ending and I am being re-located to Midtown, NYC. One extra hour of commute time daily. Some things you just can’t fight or complain about in life. 

In the whirlwind of life, one thing has remained unchanged, that’s dinner every evening at 6:30 pm (sometimes closer to 7) with my family. [This will most likely change when I move]. Thirty minutes prior to that the kitchen is overcome with the hustle and bustle of dinner preparations. Everyone gets involved, the Dah helps me locate ingredients in the pantry and refrigerator, Lani, the 10 yr old sets the table, fills the glasses with cold water and hovers around the pot curiously while sharing the events of her day.  Daria, the 11 yr old, who is always indisposed studying, reading, or face-timing, appears at the last minute to heat the rice or help dish out food. Then we sit, hold hands(most days—it’s complicated), pray, bless our food and enjoy our dinner. There is love and excitement, again most days. These are the moments I live for. These are the moments that make all the sacrifice worth it.

Father's Day Menu:  Jasmine Rice, Stewed Red Beans, Stewed Lamb, Boil and Fry Cassava, Trini Chow Mein, Sautéed Broccolini, Greek Salad

I never cook red beans during the week because everyone is always beyond starving when we walk through the door. I prepare the beans on a Saturday to be eaten on Sunday and the leftovers are eaten during the week, accompanied by different meat or fish dishes.

In my recipe, red beans are soaked overnight, then boiled. After boiling, the flavor of the beans is enhanced with the addition of aromatic vegetables, herbs and coconut milk. Stewed red beans are a mainstay in traditional Trinidadian cuisine. For a typical Sunday lunch, it is usually accompanied by stewed chicken or curried chicken, rice and a salad of lettuce or watercress, sliced tomatoes and cucumber and the occasional macaroni pie.

Mummy mentioned that her mother served it at Easter along with callaloo, [also stewed meats and boiled ground provisions], which I thought was rather odd; since my limited mentality has always been either one or the other at a meal, until I attempted that combination myself. After I came to terms with the guilt, I thought that the meal of both callaloo and stewed red beans, which I served with a stewed pork and beef one pot combo, was exceptional, fascinating, and almost luxurious.

Cousins "Lime" Menu : Jasmine Rice, Dhal, Curried Duck, 
Stewed Red Beans, Mango Takari, Salad

I’ve had some bad experiences with boiling beans.  You could say that I have met the red beans from hell. Once I boiled red beans for hours and it refused to boil. I was so traumatized by the experience that I stopped cooking beans for several months, until I decided it was time to feel the fear of disgrace and failure and do it anyway. A long story short, what I learned is that red kidney beans prefer to be unencumbered when they are boiling. Leave them alone. Do not touch them. Do not add any ingredients until they are ready, that is until they are tender. If it sounds like this bean has a serious case of PMS, it probably does. 

To soak or not to soak? Sigh. Some believe that soaking of the beans not only cleans them, it reduces the cooking time and also removes the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) which cause gas. 

More recently I tested both, I soaked overnight and also just for an hour or two, and found that there isn’t a big difference, and it really did not affect me from a “gaseous” standpoint, if you know what I mean. But that’s just my body, my personal experience. That’s all I can talk about. If it did affect anyone else in the household, I am not allowed to divulge that information either. Test it for yourself and I pray you don’t tell me the outcome.

Ria's Trinidadian Stewed Red Beans
Serves 6-8

To boil beans
1 cup dried red or pink kidney beans
6 cups water (to boil)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ cup cubed pumpkin (squash or caribbean calabaza) [optional]
1 medium carrot, sliced
 4 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ block pure creamed coconut [optional]

To stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup

2-3 tablespoons green seasoning
½ lb plum tomato (about 3 small)
1 celery stalk, chopped

½ small red or green sweet pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
About 2 teaspoons Himalayan salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 Prep and Boil Beans:
1. Soak the beans overnight. Wash. Drain. Wash, peel and chop veggies. 

2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, add 6 cups water, beans, oil, sugar. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes until cooked but still firm. 

3. Add pumpkin, carrots, 4 sprigs of thyme, garlic, and ¼ block of creamed coconut, if using. 

Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until beans are tender, but still whole, about 30-45 minutes. Set aside.

Stew beans:
1. In a heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add brown sugar and allow it to bubble, froth and darken. 

2. Add ketchup, green seasoning, tomatoes, celery, sweet pepper, garlic and onion, stir well to combine. 
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, over low heat, stirring every 5 minutes. You may add 1/4 cup of water to help in the cooking process. 

3. Stir in beans with liquid. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add additional 1-2 cups of water if there isn’t enough liquid.  

Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until sauce thickens. Taste for salt and black pepper. Add more if necessary. 

Be not afraid to attempt stewed read beans from scratch. If you don't you will be missing out on the most flavorful and delicious stewed red beans you ever ate....

Live your best life now,
With love,
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