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

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,


Friday, December 13, 2013

Mummy's Easy, Cheesy, Caribbean "Scalloped" Potatoes

I thought to myself, if I only had time to share one recipe over the next two months, what would it be? This dish came to mind. Mummy made this occasionally to go with our Sunday lunch, which was always fancy and interesting. One such combination was roasted chicken, fried rice, scalloped potatoes, veggie chow mein, pepper shrimps accompanied by a trifle for dessert. Nothing you would expect in a small village surrounded by sugar cane fields some forty years ago.

She always referred to it as “scalloped potatoes” but I have never seen a recipe for scalloped potatoes with eggs. It can also be referred to as “potato pie or potato casserole” and if you want to get technical you can even call it aloo pie, but, as we Trinis know, that name is already taken. Whatever the name, let’s not allow that to get in the way of a good time.

This blog has taken on a mind of its own, the most popular recipes are not the healthy, low calorie recipes I posted, but those that are reminiscent of the taste of home. Because of this, I plan to share a little more of the comfort foods that were such an integral part of my childhood. These “comfort” foods ignite memories of a time long gone. A time we wish had never ended. For me, it’s those Sunday lunches we enjoyed together when my dad was alive. We would all be huddled up around the dining table in our tiny kitchen, which also served as the living room. We had the barest of necessities, yet at mealtimes, there was always peace, contentment and much to feast on.

Back then, and even now, I found comfort in food. If Mummy had never said I love you, her food did, the care, the attention she put into every meal was evident. She had an unspoken passion for cooking. The same passion I inherited, unspoken it isn’t. The joy that these meals brought me still inspires me, three decades later(maybe closer to 4 but who’s counting ;-)) , to do the same for my family. Nothing makes me happier than serving my husband and girls a plate of food that lights up their face, touches their soul and creates lasting memories. Memories which will serve as a source of comfort despite what life throws at them in the future. 

This is my story, this is my song….and this is my recipe for Mummy’s “Scalloped” potatoes……with a few of my own additions and variations...

Easy, Cheesy, Caribbean Scalloped Potatoes
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 - 2 pounds organic russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices 
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 cups shredded "trinidad Cheese", extra sharp cheddar cheese  or gruyere (8 oz)
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 egg
1 can "Carnation" evaporated milk (about 1 ½ cups) (or heavy cream)
Salt (1/4 teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping teaspoon green seasoning (optional)
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Peel potatoes and slice into 1/8- inch thick slices. Rinse the potatoes and drain.


In a saucepan, add water and salt (I use 2 tablespoons himalayan salt) and bring to a boil over high heat.
Once it comes to a boil, lower heat, carefully add potatoes to the boiling water. Raise heat to high again. Cook for 8 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. Drain. Cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, mix egg, milk, grated onion, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, green seasoning and nutmeg(if using).

Generously butter casserole dish. Place 1/3 of potatoes in an overlapping pattern. 

Top with 1/3 of the cheese. Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and a little freshly cracked black pepper.

Repeat layers two more times(potatoes, cheese, milk, thyme, black pepper). Press potatoes into the milk. Milk should come almost to the top of the potatoes, if not, depending on the size of your dish, add more.
Top with grated parmesan cheese, if using.

Baked uncovered for 30-45 minutes until bubbly, cheese is a lovely golden brown and your kitchen smells heavenly.

Leftover tastes much better, so feel free to make it a day ahead. You may also assemble the day before, cover and refrigerate. Next day, bring to room temperature and bake as usual.

Happy Holidays!
From my family to yours,
With love,  best wishes 
......and fabulous dishes,

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