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

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,

Friday, April 25, 2014

Caribbean-Style Fish in Parchment Paper

You’ve heard me mention that I love challenges, and let me warn you, be careful what you wish for! Two years ago I complained that my job had become too easy, I knew it too well, it wasn’t challenging enough. No great captain was created on calm waters, I always thought. Less than twenty four months later my boss was terminated and my assistant’s last day is at the end of August. A whole department’s work is now my responsibility and I’m trying to stay in control. More efficient computer systems and support teams in a different State negate the need for my coworkers. I have learned a lot about managing my new workload and I am meeting my challenges with unwavering confidence, persistence, and positivity, all born of deep spirituality. I see these challenges as rungs on a ladder of opportunities to elevate myself to greater success.
This means longer, more exhausting days, and the occasional working on Sundays to catch up. I arrive home and my husband looks at me with a sympathetic face and says, “Let me guess, you are exhausted and you’re going to bed at nine!” To which I nod my head in agreement and head to the kitchen. To cope I cook several protein dishes on the weekend and prepare quick side dishes during the week. We are home by 6:30. We’re done with dinner at about 7:30. My daughter has 30 minutes to bathe and relax, then it’s 30 minutes of Mummy tutoring. I am rewarded with 30 minutes for myself and then I crawl to bed to snuggle with my pillow and blankie, like a baby!
If it wasn’t obvious, this is the reason for my prolonged absence! I am grateful that you are still sticking around to see what I create.

This is another French inspired dish. I am beginning to think I was French in a past lifetime. I am obsessed with all things French. Even my daughter asked me if we were French. She was rather disappointed when I told her no, our last name just sounds French. She was under the impression that her great, great grandmother was from France. What the fact is that!!! No, you are an American; your ancestors are from India via Couva, Chaguanas or Churkoo Village where your father was born. She then mumbled something about all the kids she has to update. This situation is actually not as perplexing as the time she mentioned that kids at school asked her if she was Chinese or Japanese. Hello?? Kids are definitely a confused bunch.

Fish in parchment paper or as the French refer to it ‘Fish en papillote” elevates dinner from mundane to a memorable occasion. This is one of the simplest, most flavorful methods to prepare fish. Encased in the packet, the fish steams in its own juices and becomes infused with all the lovely flavors of the green seasoning, tomatoes, onion, ochro, thyme, lemon slices and lemon juice. 

For this recipe, you may use whole fish or fish fillets. With bones or without bones (I personally find that bones add more flavor). Big or small. You are creator of your dinner destiny. The most important thing to remember is to salt the fish adequately, because no amount of seasoning is going to help if the fish is not adequately salted. Whatever size fish you purchase, average about 2-3 tablespoons of green seasoning per pound of fish.

Serving this fish wrapped in the parchment paper adds to the excitement and drama of the meal. The kids would love it (Well, at least one of them. The other one will look at you as if you just ruined her life! Then I warn her, "eat the fish or else.....I would take away your I-Whatevers for a week!". Then she eats it without a further fuss..or complaint..Works every time..).

·         Don’t use foil because it reacts with the acids and cause an unpleasant taste. If using a grill, first wrap the fish in parchment paper and then foil.
·         You may marinate the fish in advance with the salt, pepper and green seasoning.
Instead of ochros(okras), you may use tender green peas or baby spinach. 

In Trinidad, fishermen pass by in vans early in the morning, selling fresh fish just off the boat. They scale and clean it right there at the back of the van! Unfortunately, I have to drive two miles here in NY to get to the nearest fish market! 

Caribbean-Style Fish in Parchment Paper
Serves 2-4

1.5 pounds fish (preferably whole, about ¾ pounds each or four 6 oz fillets) 
(snapper, cod, porgie, salmon, halibut, sea bass)
4-6 tablespoons green seasoning
2 teaspoons salt (divided)
4 sprigs thyme
1 medium tomato (thinly sliced)
1 lemon (1/2 thinly sliced and the other half left whole for juicing)
½ large onion, thinly sliced
4-8 ochros, halved lengthwise (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil or 2 tablespoons butter
Unbleached Parchment paper (not Wax paper)

Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or heat grill to high.
Cut two pieces of parchment paper large enough to accommodate the fish generously.  
Wash fish thoroughly [checking for and removing scales] and pat dry. 
In a bowl, season the fish generously with salt, pepper and about 4 tablespoons green seasoning. Marinate, covered in the refrigerator, overnight (Optional).

Place fish on parchment paper and place two sprigs of thyme inside each fish.
Layer sliced tomatoes, onion, ochros and lemon slices on each fish, dividing evenly. Squeeze lemon juice over fish.

Drizzle generously with olive oil (or place pats of butter on fish). If you wish to kick it up a notch and have a paaartay, add some white wine. Not too much now…
I always finish with another dusting of salt and pepper..

Fold over parchment and form a half moon packet, beginning at one corner; make a small overlapping pleats all the way around to seal the edges tightly, to prevent steam from escaping.

Place packets on a baking sheet and cook until parchment is puffy and brown, about 15-30 minutes, or more depending on the thickness of the fish, or until fish is cooked through and flakes easily when tested with a fork.  

If fish is not cooked after opening, reseal and continue to cook, checking occasionally. {I personally like my fish just steamed and not overcooked.}

Immediately place a packet on each of two plates and use kitchen shears to carefully cut open the packets at the table--remove sprigs of thyme before serving. 

Serve the tender steamed, flavorful fish with jasmine rice, warm, crunchy, toasted garlic bread, on mashed potatoes, with sautéed spinach, broccoli or broccolini, baked potatoes, or whatever turns you on.....

Thanks for returning, 
With love,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ria's Trinidad Chicken Puffs

It’s been a rough year thus far and I expect the turbulence to continue for another twelve months. Corporate mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, increased workload, learning new systems, unrelenting deadlines, higher cost of my medical plan, fewer vacation days, editing two thousand pics I took recently at a wedding in TnT, mummy undergoing knee replacement surgery, too many birthday parties when I want to relax on the weekend, kids studying for the ELA exam in April, the frigid tundra that is now the norm in NYC and oh, turning  40. Who woulda thunk that turning 40 stunk???!! :-)

Luckily, I have learned to manage stress over the years; yoga, meditation, prayer, prioritizing, cuddling, music, food (cooking, eating, reading and talking about it)...Not in any particular order.
While you don’t see many recipe posts from me, rest assured that a new recipe is born every time I enter the kitchen.  I made these recently on the morning of my birthday. The challenge was not the making of the puff, but the emotional distress related to turning 40, but that’s a whole other post.  I just want you to know that these puffs are so delicious your guests would not believe you when you tell them you made it yourself. My sister Rye (short for Raya) was under the impression that I ordered them and called my hubbie at work to confirm. That’s how good they are.    

Puffs are basically choux pastry or pâte à choux, a light pastry dough used to make profiterolescroquemboucheséclairs, French crullersbeignetsSt. Honoré cake, Indonesian kue sus, and gougères(Wikipedia)All cooks have their own variation/technique. It’s versatile in that it can be filled with cream or drizzled with chocolate and enjoyed as a dessert. In Trinidad and Tobago we enjoy a savory variation, stuffed with chicken, tuna, egg or cheese paste and served as an appetizer. I’ve had dreams of making it into a huge sandwich and even packing it for the kids’ lunch.

You may think that preparing puffs is a painstaking affair, but if you are equipped with the right instructions, it will be effortless to prepare. This is where I would like to help.

Like all my recipes, I tested this recipe several times. The first time the batter was too runny, which resulted in very flat puffs. That problem was rectified by bringing the butter and water to a full boil and then continuing to cook the batter after the flour is mixed in. This facilitates evaporation and prevents “flat” puffs. I urge you to rely not only on this recipe but also your judgment. Sometimes three eggs are sufficient, other times four, as I explain below.

Not only are they a great appetizer to impress your friends with, ever so often, I make these on a Saturday and keep them in a re-sealable bag in the refrigerator. [When last did you do something for you?] This way I can enjoy one or two while I prepare dinner during the week(or whenever the kids start fighting!). If done right, they never get soggy and are always delicious, even one week later. Furthermore,  since they are bite size, you won’t eat yourself fat with only one or two, unless you make it four consecutive weeks like I did.  Have you seen me lately? I look like a stuffed puff!!

[Find my "munster" nephew in the pic below..]

Trinidad Puffs (Choux pastry)
Makes about 30

1 stick (8 tablespoons) organic sweet cream butter** (or regular pure butter), cut into pieces
1 cup water
1 teaspoon fine Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3-4 eggs, room temperature

**I have used both salted and unsalted butter using the same amount of salt called for in the recipe, with no noticeable difference…and I wasn’t drunk..I swear…

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add butter(cut into pieces first), water, salt and sugar. When the butter has melted and water comes to a boil, immediately remove pan from the heat (lower heat). Add all the flour at once and stir vigorously, with a wooden spoon,  until thoroughly combined.

Return pot to heat and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it comes away from the pan and combines into a ball of dough and there is a thin film on the bottom of the pan.                                                    

Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool about 5-7 minutes or until lukewarm (that’s when you can leave you finger in the batter for about 10 seconds comfortably).

Add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously until combined, smooth and creamy. I beat in each egg with about 40 vigorous strokes (a good workout). [One may also use an electric hand or kitchen aid mixer, but I am not that "one". I need the workout.] The batter is the right consistency when it drops from the spoon. Sometimes, it comes to the right consistency after 3 eggs, other times 4, depending on the size of the egg and the amount of water that has evaporated.

One egg(top left), two eggs(top right), three eggs (bottom left)--smooth but didn't drop from the spoon, four eggs (bottom right)--just right....

Drop 1 tablespoon full---2 inches apart---onto a parchment paper lined baking tray, until you have used up all the batter. [I use two spoons, with a scooping upwards motion, to help me make it round.] Alternately, fill a piping bag or re-sealable bag (snip edge) with batter and pipe dough into evenly sized balls on the parchment paper. Brush with whisked egg.

Place in preheated oven (375 degrees F) and bake for 20-25 minutes OR until light in weight and light golden brown(took twice the time in Mummy's oven!!!). Remove from oven, pierce with toothpick to release steam and place back into the oven for 5 minutes, until they darken and feel even lighter.  [Open one to test to see if the insides are actually cooked. If not, return the puffs to the oven.]

When the puffs are cool, cut with a serrated knife and fill with 1 heaping teaspoon of chicken paste, or more depending on the size of your puffs..


This makes enough delicious, flavorful, chicken paste for about 30 puffs (recipe above) and a sandwich or two……

To boil chicken:
1 pound chicken cutlet (chicken breast)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons green seasoning
6 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns (or ground black pepper)

To make chicken paste:
¾ cup mayonnaise
1/3  cup finely chopped red sweet pepper
¼ cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2-4 pimento peppers, finely chopped (caribbean seasoning pepper)
2 scallions, finely chopped 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Rinse chicken cutlets with lemon juice and water. Drain. In a small saucepan, add chicken, water, green seasoning, thyme, salt and peppercorns. Boil until cooked, about 7-10 minutes. Drain. (I reserve the broth and usually add more hot water to dilute the saltiness, then sip it while hot, but that’s just me! In my kitchen, nothing goes to waste! It just goes to my waist..)
2. Place chicken in a food processor and pulse until fine or shred/chop until  fine.
3. Remove to a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix until combined.
4. Taste for salt and pepper and add more to your liking.

Until next time,
With love EVERYDAY...(not just V-day)
......and splendiferous dishes!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Trinidad Black Cake / Caribbean-Rum-Fruit-Cake

Before I get to the recipe I would like to thank all the wonderful readers of my blog, especially those people who have taken the time to send me such wonderful emails telling me how much you love my blog and sharing your story with me. You inspire me and I promise to not disappoint you in the new year!

Due to an overwhelming number of requests for this recipe (one), I now present the auspicious and truly ubiquitous Trinidad black cake..... The Caribbean-rum-fruit-cake that trumps all other cakes. What makes it so special, so beloved? You can say that it’s the fruits, the butter or the sugar, but I am convinced that it’s the rum. The rum elevates it to a level that makes you giddy with happiness. No wonder Trinidad was named the happiest country in the world.

This cake was soaked slightly. The color of the cake darkens as more of the rum and wine mixture is poured on.....

Even the non-alcohol drinker like me makes an exception or two over the holidays and it's not uncommon to have a slice for breakfast at work. It makes for a very happy day.  

I spoke to many people over the years to extract their secret to making this cake. One cousin does not add baking powder and the result is soft, almost pudding-like. Many online recipes call for 8 eggs. Most of the best bakers I spoke to in Trinidad uses 12. “Use a pong (pound) of everything and just average the odder ingredients”, they recommend.  No one had a precise recipe and none of the recipes I reviewed online  mentioned that the pound of each fruit along with the entire bottle of rum and wine, called for in many recipes, were not used in its entirety.

I am here to eliminate all the vagaries once and for all. I did all the testing and retesting for you. No more doubts, averaging, trial and error methods. I tested it so many times, that late one night while placing the cherries on one of the many cakes I made, I swore that the cake was moving. It was at that moment, I knew what it felt like to be utterly inebriated.

I settled on a recipe given to me over the phone by my mom’s friend, Aunty Lach. It was aunty Lach’s black cake that I grew up on. Her black cakes would be the benchmark for all the other cakes I would consume in the future. None ever lived up to hers, until now. I translated her “average” measurement and suggestions into the best recipe I could create.  It’s simple and in no way daunting.
No black cake introduction is complete without telling you about all those eerie large glass jars of black stuff (currants, prunes, raisins soaked in rum) my mother had hidden under the kitchen sink. I was ordered to not touch, open or smell the contents. I don’t recall her baking black cakes, because her best friends did that for her(Aunty Lach was one), but those jars held their presence for my entire childhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are still there under the sink back home, all dusty and connected by cobwebs, waiting for their moment to shine.

Don’t tell her I told you this, but she still has fruits soaking here in NY under the sink somewhere. Last year, I went to her home and made black cake for her with some of the soaked fruits. As of the writing of this post, the lady still hasn’t baked a black cake.  
Because of that I grew up thinking that soaking for years and months--is best technique, until I tasted black cake that was made using fruits pureed the same day. I couldn’t tell the difference. With the introduction of food processors in the kitchen, soaking for months to soften the fruits is no longer required, in my humble opinion. If soaking for months intensifies the flavor of the rum, come eating time, it really doesn’t matter to me.
Ria's Notes:- 
I halved the recipe, to make only two not four cakes. I found this amount easier to manage.
I soak only half the fruits in the cup of rum and wine, then add the other half when I am pureeing the fruits, because I like the resulting texture of the cake.
Cakes baked in parchment paper lined tins are easier to remove and serve. It was impossible to remove the cake from the tins I floured and buttered, especially after soaking. I personally like using springform pans.
When the cakes are removed from the oven, they will look like the color of a chocolate cake, but will darken as the rum/wine mixture is poured on.

Makes 2 cakes (about 1.5 pounds each)
½ lb butter (2 sticks), room temperature (I used organic salted butter), plus more for buttering pans
½ lb sugar (1 cup)
5 eggs, room temperature, whisked
4 oz raisins (packed 1/3 cup)
4 oz currants (about 1/3 cup)
4 oz prunes (about 1/3 cup)
4 oz mixed peel (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup cherry wine
1 cup red rum
½ lb flour (about 1 ½ cups)
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ½ tablespoons browning
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder


In a small bowl or measuring cup mix 1 cup of cherry wine and 1 cup of rum.

In a small glass bowl, add raisins, currants, prunes and mixed peel and 1 cup of rum and wine mixture, reserving the remaining cup to pour over the cake when it is finished baking.

Soak fruits for a few hours or overnight…..or weeks or months...or years, whatever makes you happy.

When you are ready to bake the cake, puree the fruits (raisins, currants, prunes and mixed peel) in the food processor, along with the liquid it was soaked in, until it is a slightly coarse consistency. It will make about 2 cups. (I pulse about 60 times in the food processor for fruit that has soaked only 3-4 hours. I don't enjoy eating huge chunks of fruits!)

Preheat oven to 280 degrees F. Prepare two 8 inch pans, or muffin tins using the usual butter then flour or line with parchment paper. I do not butter the baking tins when using parchment paper since the parchment paper comes all the way to the top of the tin. I trim the excess paper around tin.)
In a medium bowl, using an electric beater whisk eggs for about 30 seconds on level 2 speed.
In a large bowl or in a kitchen aid stand mixer bowl, using the beater attachment, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5-10 minutes.

Pour eggs into the creamed mixture in a very slow and steady stream until combined.  

Mix cinnamon and flour and gradually add to creamed mixture (on level 1).

Once flour is in, add almond and vanilla extracts, increase to level 4 speed and continue until flour mixture is light, another minute. Remove bowl from stand and scrape down sides and bottom and mix with a spoon to ensure that the batter is evenly and thoroughly combined.

Add pureed fruits and browning to batter.

Using a wooden spoon, mix in a brisk, clockwise, whipping motion until thoroughly combined(10-15 times).
When oven is hot and pans are ready, add baking powder to batter and mix until just combined.  

Pour batter into two prepared 8 inch round baking pans(or pans lined with parchment paper)..

Immediately place pans on the middle rack in the oven and bake until cakes separates from the sides of the pan or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean, about 45-70 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cake and the size of the pans.

Remove cakes from the oven. When cakes are not hot but still slightly warm, pierce with a toothpick and drizzle rum and wine mixture over cake(about 3 tablespoons at a time). Repeat the morning and evening the next day. You may continue to add more wine or rum to your liking. I personally don’t like to collapse and sprawl out on my sofa, bed or desk after eating one slice of cake. The decision is yours!

Enjoy in moderation and for your own sake, DON'T eat black cake and drive!!

Great gift idea...

Wishing you a Wonderful New Year!
With Love,

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