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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Trinidad Pepper Roti (Peppah Roti)



Trinidad Pepper Roti, pronounced "Pep-Ah Ro-Tee", is a rather recent addition to the food scene in Trinidad and Tobago-most likely in the past two decades. If it existed prior to that time, I never encountered it. I first tasted it at a Diwali Nagar several years ago in Chaguanas, Trinidad. 


If you think one paratha is amazing, try having two at the same time! A pepper filling made with carrots, hot pepper/s(which can be roasted), bell pepper, pimento peppers, seasoned with garlic and culantro(bandhania/shado beni) is sandwiched between the two flaky layers of roti. Melty, Trinidad cheese(New Zealand Cheddar) is placed over the carrot filling, or sometimes mixed into the filling, to help seal the deal.

While it is called Pepper Roti, when making it at home you can control the heat or eliminate the pepper, which defeats the purpose, however, we all have individuals in our household/family who can't tolerate pepper. Trinidadian food is flexible and not necessarily uncontrollably "spicy", even though the people are. 

You may use Trinidad cheese(traditional version), white sharp cheddar, a mixture of cheddar and mozarella, pepper jack or your favorite cheese. With everything else you can control the amount of cheese you use. 

A special thank you to my cousin Sunita, a caterer, who recently visited from Trinidad, for inspiring the creation of this recipe and kindly sharing her ingredient combo, techniques and method. Also a special thanks to my friends on CookingwithRia FB page, whose desire for an immediate recipe, prompted me to learn the art of video filming and editing in one week! This recipe is in a different format and requires you to view the video on YouTube.



Trinidad Pepper Roti
Makes 3 (on a 10 inch tawa/flat iron)

Serves 6-8


CARROT/PEPPER FILLING

Ingredients
3 large potatoes ( 1 & 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt (to boil potatoes)

1 medium carrot, chopped small
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped, optional
4 large cloves garlic (use more if very small)
4 pimento peppers, stems removed
Hot red pepper (habanero, scotch bonnet, cherry), or to taste (1 Mild, 2 Hot, 3+ Fire in de hole/Burn)
6-8 leaves bandhania (culantro)
1-2 teaspoons Himalayan salt, or to taste

1/3 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or organic sweet cream butter

8 oz grated cheese (Trinidadian, white or yellow cheddar), or to taste


Prep Work:

1. Peel, dice and rinse potatoes. Place in a pot over high heat and cover with water. Stir in salt. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain completely and cool.
2. While potatoes are cooking, place the remaining ingredients(make sure they are dry) in a food processor and mince until fine(alternately you can grate the carrot with a grater).
3. Add minced veggies to potatoes, mash with a fork or masher until lump free and thoroughly combined. Add salt to taste.
4. Grate cheese 
5. Mash butter into oil and mix until fluffy.


PARATHA ROTI

4 cups organic unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1 tablespoon raw brown sugar
2 cups lukewarm water (sometimes you may require a little less)
1 tablespoon oil
Flour for dusting (also known as partan)

Directions

Knead flour

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
2. Gradually add water to make a shaggy soft dough.
3. Rub 1 tablespoon oil over dough and Keep covered until ready to use.. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 15-30 minutes. 
4. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Let it rest for 15-20 minutes. 
Tip: You want a soft sticky dough, if it’s too sticky and unable to handle well, add 1 tbs flour at a time-until you are able to handle.

Wrap dough

1. Using one dough at a time, press into a large circle using fingers or rolling pin. Using your fingers (or the bottom of a spoon) rub the surface of the dough with the butter-oil mixture.
2. Sprinkle on flour. Cut dough downwards from the center of the dough downward. Roll clockwise into a cone. Take the end of the dough and tuck it under the base of the cone.
3. Push the tip of the cone downwards into the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
4. When ready to cook the roti, heat tawa, dry cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until hot and brush with the butter oil mixture.
5. Working with one ball of dough at a time (keep the remaining dough covered) and using just enough flour to prevent sticking to counter and rolling pin, press dough into a small flat circle (about 4 inches).
6. Using the rolling pin, roll the dough. Flip, rotate and roll until it becomes a thin, even 10 inch round(or as wide as your tawa/griddle), making sure that the edges are not thick. If you can't make it round, don't worry, it tastes just as good and you have the opportunity to stretch and fix once it's on the tawa.

Fill Dough

1. Divide filling into thirds and place 1/3 on dough and spread evenly with a fork or your hands, leaving one-inch edge all around. 
2. Sprinkle on 1/3 cheese or to taste(I prefer less cheese if using yellow cheddar). 
3. Moisten edges with water.
4. Using another loyah, roll out dough into a 10 inch round (or same size as the previous) and place on top of the filling. 
5. Seal edges by pressing with your fingers or with a fork.

Cook Dough

1. Heat tawa over a medium flame.
2. When hot, pick up the filled dough gently, place it on the palm of your hand and lay it gently on the tawa.
Tip:Press with the palm of your hands to flatten and disperse filling that may have moved while       transferring. 
3. Brush about 1 tablespoon butter mixture over the surface of the roti and cook for 1-2 minutes. Flip when the bottom is golden brown.
4. Drizzle or brush oil over the other side. Flip.
5. Cook for a minute more, spinning roti slowly in a clockwise direction to allow the oil to spread and the roti to cook evenly. Press edges to hasten cooking. Repeat flipping and cooking if necessary until roti is fully cooked.
6. When the pepper roti is fully cooked and is a nice golden brown on both sides and crispy, use two wooden spatulas to transfer to a flat surface (lined with parchment paper) and cut into quarters or eights. 

Wrap immediately in a clean, dry cloth, however, I like to eat it while it's hot and crispy.

Please like, share and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don't miss any new posts!

For the love of cooking,
Ria 
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Friday, December 16, 2016

Trinidad Pasteles



The year is coming to a close, there is a chill in the air and the birds have migrated, except for the ones that pick at my garbage on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Tis the season to be jolly and bright, but there appears to be a significant number of miserable folks around. Have you noticed that too? To sum up 2016 in one word, I would say shocking, from the result of the US elections, to news of divorces, break-ups, suicides, increase in bullying in schools, Brexit, speech plagiarizing, end of Cuba embargo and Castro subsequently dying, hurricane Matthew devastating Haiti, continued chaos and crisis in the Middle East and other areas, racial tensions, police brutality, murders, the increase in the number of homeless people on my train and in NYC, and one good news, Chicago Cubs winning against the Cleveland Indians etc. What wasn't shocking was Bolt winning his eight Olympic Gold medal.

At home, raising two teenagers is a feat on its own. My Jewish doctor mentioned that he raised 8 teenagers and the most valuable advice he gave me ( I am already healthy) was "choose your battles". We can't argue and reprimand them for every single thing. Leaving your entire closet on the floor-if and when you trip and fall or can't find something, don't tell me about it, not combing your hair-fine, studying till your eyes fall out-a parent's dream come true, wearing your expensive contacts every day instead of your glasses-as long as you can see where you are going, fighting with your sister-leave me out of it, shaving your legs and declaring it fell off by itself-we will schedule an appointment with a doctor if it continues, buying Japanese food every time I give you allowance-leave some for me.

What's not fine is wasting precious time, spending hours on social media/phone, listening to lewd music, not dressing adequately for the weather, permanently borrowing products from my bathroom (only to find it missing when I am in the shower), rummaging through the drawers in my bedroom (it does not contain all the solutions to your problems), wearing chemical-laden, strong smelling perfume(where do you get that stuff!), stashing 5 pounds of candy in your school bag after halloween, eating all my baking chocolate in the refrigerator(I'm going to hurt someone), taking pics with your tongue sticking out of your mouth(what nonsense is that), posting selfies on social media with any of your epidermis showing(a Caribbean parenting thing), "caking your face". As I am writing this, my daughter texts me her Christmas list, the first 5 items are makeup. I am not hopeful that I am going to win the battle against makeup with two teenagers. Folks, if you have teenagers or kids too, rest assured we will survive. As the Great Book says, this too shall pass.

Despite all the issues and my personal opinions, I know my Christmas will be merry and bright, because my kitchen will be busier than ever. Actually, it all started at the end of November with Thanksgiving and I haven't stopped the feasting yet. After January 20, I will drop the 'e' and hopefully the pounds I am about to gain(I say that every year). But until then, let's make these pasteles together and have some fun.


Pasteles are a popular favorite amongst Trinbagonians around Christmas time. I don't know why we wait all year to make these(most likely the work involved?). According to Wikipedia, it is believed that the pasteles were introduced by Spanish colonizers who ruled the island between the late 15th and early 18th centuries.

This comfort food should be in your freezer year round to enjoy as a snack. It's made up of two components, the cornflour mix and a savory filling such as beef, chicken, pork, or seafood cooked with raisins, capers, olives and other Caribbean flavors. The filing of your choice is enclosed within the soft, melt in your mouth corn flour(if done right) and wrapped in banana leaves. I've made pasteles with chicken, turkey, ground beef and bison and I beyond excited to try many variations in the future. Pasteles' sweeter counterpart 'paime', does not contain any filling, and is made with cornmeal, coconut and raisins-an optional ingredient.


This pastele recipe has a wonderful balance of flavors-sweet, savory, spicy (optional) and a hint of salty from the olives and capers. If you don't like raisins, olive or capers, I would recommend that you not eliminate those ingredients entirely but chop them fine. This way you get the celebration of flavors without the experience of biting into any one. I spread the mix with the back of a spoon in a circle on the banana leaf, place the filling along the diameter and wrap. The oblong pastele 'pie" is then tied with a string(I didn't do it here because I couldn't find mine!). Once wrapped, the pasteles can either be cooked in boiling water, steamed or frozen for later use(I prefer steaming so that liquid/water does not seep into the wrapped leaves).

Many regions of the world have their own variation of banana leaf wrapped snack/meal and there are many versions in the Caribbean, Central, South and Latin America. Pastele making is rooted in tradition and usually involves many family members assisting in the process. My Jamaican co-worker talks about dukunu/blue drawers which has a banana-sweet potato filling. In the Dominican Republic, it is known as tamal or guanimos, and is made with cornflour stuffed with ground meat. Puerto Ricans use mashed green plantain and root vegetables to make theirs. My Venezuelan friend described their version as hayaca, a corn dough stuffed with similar meat variations and ingredients-sometimes using hard fowl. The thought of that gets me excited(you won't understand).

You can find frozen banana leaves in your supermarket in the Caribbean section. These leaves are already supple which does not require heating over an open flame or immersing in hot water. If your super market does not have such a section ask the store manager--or move. That's all. You may also get technical and use a pastele press-mine is on it's way from Trinidad. Have no fear,  I have developed this recipe so that a press is not required. You can also skip the step of making balls, then pressing into a circle. I find that a little extra liquid in the corn flour mixture results in a more tender pastele without the need to add a pound of butter. At the end of the day and the holidays my motto is still all things in moderation(I bet you don't believe me).

These pasteles are already flavorful and do not require any condiments but I won't hold it against you if you drizzle it with a little Caribbean pepper sauce.

Does that look like I skipped two steps...? No!!! 
Does that look soft and tender? Heck Yes!
Folks, less time we spend cooking means more time to spend eating....Agree? If you don't agree, use less water in the dough and make/roll your balls...if that kinda stuff makes you happy.

Testimony from a bona fide Trini: "I'm not mamguying you, but this is better than some they sell in Trinidad, this is real good girl."



Ria's Trinidad Chicken/Turkey/Pork/Beef/Bison Pasteles

Makes 12-14 servings

2 cups fine yellow corn flour (I used Promasa)
1 ½ teaspoons Himalayan salt
2 tablespoons raw brown sugar
4 tablespoons salted organic sweet cream butter, melted
3 cups warm water


For the meat filling

½ large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 lb minced meat (I used ½ minced chicken and ½ minced turkey)
2 tablespoons green seasoning
2 tablespoons grated carrot
½ large red sweet pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground cumin
10 olives, chopped
½ cup raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
1 ½ tsp salt
4 Scallions, chopped
2 Caribbean pimento peppers (seasoning peppers) and/or hot pepper (habanero or scotch bonnet), chopped

Equipment
Large stock pot or wide saucepan.
Banana Leaf, cut into rectangles 10 x 6 inches
Foil or parchment paper, cut into rectangles, 12 x 8 inches
Twine (not required if using foil)

Dough:
Place cornflour in a medium bowl. Mix in salt, sugar and melted butter. Gradually pour in warm water into corn mixture and mix thoroughly until the excess liquid is absorbed.



To cook meat:
1. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
2. Add onion and cook 3 minutes until translucent.
3. Add meat and green seasoning and cook until brown. If it's dry, especially if you used lean meat, add 1-2 tbs oil.
4. Add carrot, sweet pepper, ketchup, oregano, cumin, raisins, capers, salt, black pepper, cook for 5 minutes, then add ½ cup water, reduce heat to low and cook about 20 mins or until the meat is tender and flavorful. 
5. Add chopped scallions and pimento peppers or hot pepper during the last 5 mins.

To assemble:
1. Cut parchment paper or foil 12 x 8 inches.
2. To prepare banana leaves: Wilt in boiling water or over an open flame. Dry, wipe leaves and cut into rectangles 10 inches x 6 inches. Frozen banana leaves do not require any preparation except wiping with a paper or kitchen towel.
3. Place parchment or foil on counter, then place the banana leaf in the center.
4. Place two heaping tablespoons corn dough mixture into the center of the banana leaf(I did not oil the leaf because I have found that banana leaves is naturally "non stick"). Flatten and spread out the dough evenly in a circle. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling along the center of the dough. Fold half of the dough over the filling using the leaf. Fold over the other half to cover the filling. Now fold leaf to make a parcel. Fold and tie parchment paper, if using foil tightly fold the ends of the foil. Repeat with the remaining corn dough and filling.
5. Bring a few inches of water, in a stock pan or wide saute pan, to a boil. Put wrapped pasteles into pot, cover, reduce heat to low and steam for 60-90 minutes. Drain immediately and place on a flat surface as they retain the shape when they become cold.





Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! 

With Love and the best dishes,
Ria 

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Mother-in-Law's (Grace) Kurma Recipe






Sadly all good things come to an end-with the exception of my blogging of course. The activity and action packed days of summer are now a refreshing memory. My annual fourth of July BBQ, a family vacation in exquisite Turks and Caicos, elaborate birthday parties, graduation parties, potlucks, concerts, road trips, camping trips, family visits. Some of us visited every park, beach and museum within a 10 mile radius. We kept going and going and going, all in an eager attempt to maximize the few warm months of summer. Now that it's over, I am enjoying the calmer, colorful days of fall and looking forward to a peaceful (but not dreadfully cold) winter. I am grateful that living in a temperate zone allows us to break, restore and renew for a few months. 

Some of you have noticed my long quiescent. I personally don't have one specific reason but I know it's all part of the spiritual metamorphosis I have been experiencing. There are times when I eliminate all distractions to focus on whatever I am dealing with at the moment. I've also missed blogging but it wasn't happening. I had the good intentions but I could never see a post to fruition. Just sitting at my computer at this moment feels triumphant, like I've broken a curse or restraint barring my creativity. Even at this victorious moment, in the background, is the Dah calling out to me to go to the gym with him. He must be insane. Who goes to the gym at 3:00 pm on a Saturday? Ok, don't answer that. I certainly prefer sitting here at my computer with a bowl(very small) of freshly made, crunchy kurma, sharing the recipe and a kurma story (or two) with you. 


This recipe was graciously given to me by my mother-in-law Grace, a humble, unpretentious, woman with a beautiful smile and a heart of gold. She is occasionally called upon to make as much as 25 pounds of kurma for weddings and prayers. During my last visit to Trinidad, around Diwali, I had the pleasure of accompanying her to a neighbor's house to make kurma. You see, in that house lives a 10 year old little girl who promised a teacher she would bring five pounds of kurma for him for his pooja the next day, not taking into consideration that her mother does not know how. That unsettling circumstance prompted the girl's mother to race out the door in her housework-stained clothes and disheveled hair to my mother-in-law's house to plead for assistance.


What is the significance of that story? Thirty years ago (and a little more) I was that little girl, with an excessively generous countenance, always volunteering to bring something to school despite knowing my mother worked and never had the time nor the patience. "Two huge tubs of ice cream", "barfi", "parsad", "fried rice", "bbq chicken". You name it, I volunteered to bring it. Lots of buff up (Trini for: act of being "screamed at") and licks (aka reprimanding) later, I still didn't learn my lesson, until one day Mummy said NO! Her friend Aunty Shudaye said NO! Everyone said NO! I cried, panicked and cried some more. The memory of that horrible night has haunted me over the years. My uncle Bhola, daddy's younger brother, in his early 20's at the time, offered to rescue me from my potential demise. One little problem, he never made kurma before, probably never cooked before, as I've never seen him near the stove. 

With instructions and advice from anyone who would volunteer it and a few notes scratched on a crumpled paper from an old "copy book",  we headed to the kitchen. There in Grandma's kitchen, I watched on with bated breath and a rapidly beating heart as Uncle Bhola carefully put the ingredients in a large bowl and kneaded it to form a dough. Fear monopolized my thoughts, "What if it don't come out good"? "What if nobody like it?" "Everybody going to laugh at me!" "I not going to school tomorrow nah!" {Trini Slang} We rolled it out, cut it, fried it, boiled some sugar and water until thick and we poured it over the kurma to coat. Since there were no phones back then, I recall speeding back and forth, in my already worn out rubber slippers, from the kitchen to my mother/anybody/somebody asking for clarifications and to appease any doubts on the process. He continuously reassured me in a gentle, encouraging, confident tone, "doh worry nah man, we got this, no problem". Three decades later, his voice in my head is still a beacon of hope. That night we finished making it way past my bedtime, about 1 or 2 a.m. I remember all the details of the kurma making process but honestly, I have no recollection of the taste, outcome or feedback received. A dire result of  PTSD(post traumatic stress disorder).

After that day/night/hour, I never (ever, ever) volunteered to make or bring anything to school without consulting my mom first. That experience proved to be one of the earliest, most difficult lessons I've learned. Three decades later, whenever I see Uncle Bhola during any of my visits home, we still have a few laughs about that interesting night.

For those of you who don't know,  kurma is a sweet, addicting anytime dessert or snack. A crunchy, flavorful, fried pastry dough covered with a thin coating of sugar. It is served in a bag of parsad given out at the end of Hindu religious ceremonies, during Hindu festivals such as Diwali, or sold in small bags. Whenever I visit Trinidad I always return to the US with an abundant supply of this legit drug, all homemade - prepared only by the best, Aunty Shudaye or my mother in law. Today I am sharing Grace's (my mother in law's) secret recipe with you. This is much tastier than the kurma you would buy in the restaurants in NY and much tastier than most of the commercially made ones I've had in Trinidad, so let's get to work.

In case you are curious, 5 pounds (flour) is sufficient for a small prayer function,10 pounds for a medium sized one, 20-25 pounds for a large wedding. This recipe can be easily and successfully doubled or tripled.


Grace's Kurma Recipe 

2.5 lbs all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon ground cinnamon (15 grams)
1 teaspoon ground elaichi (cardamom) (5 g)
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 lb butter (2 x 227 grams), cold
¾ cup evaporated milk (250ml), cold
1 can condensed milk (395 grams), cold
Vegetable oil, for deep frying

For Sugar syrup (phaag)
2 cups water
2 cups white granulated sugar (1 pound) ( I used raw organic cane sugar which is darker)
1 teaspoon grated ginger, or more if you like it "gingery"

1.      In a large bowl combine flour, cinnamon, elaichi and ginger. Cut butter into cubes and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour, until it resembles fine crumbs(like a pastry dough).


2.      Add the evaporated milk and condensed milk and knead for 10-15 minutes to form a smooth, firm dough.(I always start with ½ cup evaporated milk and add more if required).


3.      Divide the dough  into 3 pieces and form into balls (loyahs). Place on a tray or bowl  and refrigerate for 10 minutes. (I made two but highly suggest three as it is more manageable.)

4.      In a large iron pot over medium heat and add enough oil to deep fry (a little less than half pot). Line a large bowl or sheet tray with brown paper or parchment paper.
5.      While the oil is coming to temperature(hot), remove one ball(loyah)from the refrigerator, place on a counter or chowki(board), and using a rolling pin(belnah), roll the dough to a thinness of  1/8 inch, like a roti dough, (do not use dry flour because when you are frying, the oil will brown very quickly).
6.      Then, using a pastry cutter or dull knife, cut out the dough, vertically (top to bottom), into strips 1-1 ½ inch wide. Lift each strip and roll between the palm of your hands to resemble a rope. Place back on the counter and cut into 1 inch pieces, or to your preferred length. Alternately, without rolling, cut into thin diagonal strips. Place on an oiled tray. Repeat with the remaining strips. (The latter is my preferred method as I like my kurma thin, dark and long.)

7.      When the oil is very hot, place all the pieces immediately (and carefully) into the hot oil and fry until dark golden brown (do not try to separate the pieces in the oil as it will separate itself). Once separated, turn frequently. Using a spider strainer, remove kurma from the oil and place on the lined sheet trays to drain and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining loyahs.
8.      Separate kurma into 2 large bowls or one very large bowl.


Make Phaag(sugar syrup):
1.      While the kurma is frying, in a saucepan over medium heat, bring water, sugar and ginger to a gentle boil. Boil for 30-45 minutes or until it starts to get frothy/bubbly/syrupy and/or starts to form sugar crystals on the sides(230 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer). Then, keep on the lowest heat.



2.      Pour sugar syrup one cup at a time over kurma and turn quickly and gently to coat completely(Warning--if you don't put enough, it will not be as crunchy!). Using a clean spoon(no oil), mix quickly but gently until kurma is evenly coated.  Continue turning until sugar hardens/dries and the kurma is coated with a white layer. If at any point it's very sticky, keep turning, it will eventually dry.  Don't give up!
3.      Dust with powdered milk(optional).

Please like, share, post a comment or question below or tell me your kurma story. I would love to hear from you!

With Love,
Ria

Other Diwali (Traditional East Indian) Recipes(using recipes already on the blog):
Appetizer
Pholourie
Aloo Pie (Potato)


Vegetarian Diwali Main Course:
Channa and Aloo
Buss Up Shot (Paratha Roti)
Pumpkin
Fry Bodi (Sauteed Long Green Beans)
Baigan and Tomato Choka
Dhal

Dessert
Parsad
Sweet Rice
Kurma (above)

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Perfect Caribbean Roast Chicken Recipe




As we approach the second month of 2016, and as the snow melts on the ground, I am left to wonder how may of us have stuck to our resolutions. My basic resolutions do not differ much from year to year, the same old, keep the house and refrigerator organized, lose weight, become a more understanding wife, a more patient mother and a more forgiving, compassionate and tolerant human being.

As if I did not gain enough weight over the holidays, starting November(Thanksgiving), snowstorms and frigid temps beg for comfort food and decadent desserts which makes losing weight difficult. The strangest thing happens to me when I am gaining weight. During that time, I don't see it. As a matter of fact I always feel thinner during that time. Then one day, I get a glimpse of my "real" self in a shop window or photo and I exclaim to my husband, ' OMG I'm fat**"! I gained so much weight! Why didn't you tell me? You are never honest with me! It's your fault!" Blaming Dah makes me feel a whole lot better. Then I continue, "You exercise everyday, why can't you design a workout routine for me". You don't want me to be thin! You are not supportive enough"! Really folks, I have no control over my madness. I eventually come to my senses and take full responsibility for my excess weight. As I said, I am trying to be a better wife. I am fortunate that he has stayed with me for 24 years! Cooking for him is how I compensate for my darker side. Now you know the truth.

[**"Fat", in my definition, is that point when my clothes no longer fit comfortably in a size 4/6, walking and running up and down stairs require effort and leaves me breathless, my self-esteem plummets, I feel lethargic and I become easily exhausted.]

Aside from the weight, for the past 6 months I have experienced a "cleansing of sorts". I eliminated enormous amounts of clutter and donated every piece of furniture in my living room and kitchen. I redecorated to make my living space more mature, serene and sophisticated. A look to match the inner transformation I have been experiencing(still ongoing).

Forty-two feels amazing but it's a very busy time emotionally. I am in control of the external clutter, but now I am focused on "undoing" all the baggage I have accumulated emotionally, and at the same time, not accumulating any additional. I believe in order to continue to enjoy life going into my later 40's, 50's and beyond I need a new frame of mind, a totally positive outlook, peaceful surroundings, select friends and a simpler way of living. For the record, good health and money are also necessary. As you can see, as I have become older, I no longer allow life to happen to me, I happen to life. I create the life I want and deserve and I work hard at it.

Not many people can say that they have found their purpose in life, but I have in the past five years. My purpose it to know God and in simple terms, be the best Ria I can be. This is my pathway to peace and happiness. This blog is just a tiny speck of who I am and I am happy to share it with you. If you don't learn from my personal experiences, you will definitely learn to cook!


I have already shared the secret to Caribbean and Trini cooking here. Green Seasoning can and will make your life easier and your meals tastier and I would like to demonstrate that in today's recipe post. We roast a chicken every Sunday in our house to pack for lunch for a few days and this recipe is one of my favorites.  We never get tired of it. It's so simple, even the husband (Dah) can do it. When it's done, he always brings a piece to me, wherever I am in the house(usually my bed), just to make sure that it is "perfect'. Aye Caramba.


In this recipe,  a whole chicken is butterflied(my way), washed and rinsed and seasoned with only four ingredients--green seasoning, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I promise you that you will not experience anything more heavenly, delicious, economical, healthful and satisfying. If you are just learning to cook, and if you don't learn any new recipes this year, I urge you to make this. Learning is actually the simple part since this is the simplest roast chicken you will ever make. It basically cooks on its own with no fussing over it or basting required.


I highly recommend marinating it for a few days, but there are many days I season and place it straight in the oven. Leftovers become even more delicious as the days go by. It is important to let the chicken come to room temp before roasting. You may also leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for a day or two, which dries the skin and helps it to become crisp during roasting.

Traditionally, a chicken is butterflied (spatchcocked) by cutting out the back and flattening it. However, I prefer to cut down the opposite side (breast). In my opinion the wings protect the breast from drying out. The decision is yours. Whichever way you cut, it simplifies roasting and I like the result compared to roasting a whole chicken. The breast and legs are done at the same time, while if you cooked a whole bird, you may have to turn to ensure even cooking.


The Perfect Caribbean Roast Chicken

One 4-pound chicken
1/2 cup Green Seasoning
1 large lemon, halved
1 tablespoon Himalayan Salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra-vigin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. You will also need a narrow roasting pan.

Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Wash the chicken with the  juice of 1/2 a lemon--you may rub it with the lemon to remove any freshness. Rinse with several changes of water. Drain and pat dry. Place the chicken back-side down and cut the chicken down the entire length of the breast line. Place the chicken breast side up on a flat surface and and press with the palms of your hands to flatten.

Place the breast side down and generously season with salt and pepper. Rub in green seasoning and squeeze a bit of the juice from the lemon over the area.

Turn the chicken breast side up and repeat the same process--salt, pepper, green season and lemon juice.

If you plan to roast immediately, drizzle with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and place in a preheated oven.

If you are marinating, place the chicken in a zip lock or other cooking bag and marinate in the refrigerator 3-4 days or less. As I mentioned above, it is important to let the chicken come to room temp before roasting. You may also leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for a day or two, which dries the skin and helps it to become crisp during roasting.

Roast @ 350 degrees fahrenheit until the chicken skin is nicely brown and juices run clear. It takes about  75-90 minutes in my oven. DO NOT OVERCOOK! Once it is out of the oven, transfer to a cutting board, cover with foil or parchment paper and let it rest for 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. Cut into pieces.

I gently and swiftly press a paper towel over the sauce in the roasting pan to absorb any oil, leaving only the sauce which can be spooned over freshly steamed jasmine rice to be served along with the chicken.

You may also serve with rice and stewed red beans, fried rice, mashed potatoes, green beans, potato salad, roasted potatoes or a green salad.



Until next time,
Eat. Pray. Love,
Ria 
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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Trinidad Buljol (Salted Codfish Salad)...and a story about Nana



It's been a while! Where do I start! To give you a quick snapshot, since my last post I resigned from my position of 11 years, left my comfort zone and started a new job with a Company that refused to accept no for an answer from me. That required me to travel to London for two weeks, a profoundly challenging yet rewarding experience. I had the humbling experience of traveling upper first class and enjoying luxurious hotel accommodations which was a short walk from River Thames. Evening dinners with a splendid view and soul searching walks in solitude. Hard work by day and a dream come true by night. By society's standards, I have finally "arrived". By my standards, I have much to do. Even so, life in corporate America/London is not so glamorous. Business plans, presentations, meetings and meetings about meetings. Still, I enjoy the challenge. To say it simply, I love telling people what to do and how to do it. My point here is believe in yourself. Keep chipping away at those barriers. You (we) are greater than the limitations we set for ourselves. Anything is possible. 

Summer 2015 lingered for a while; a Taylor Swift concert, an escape to Cabo San Lucas, a few Yankee games, a short trip to visit our capital, Washington DC, hosted a few family gatherings with lavish "comfort" food, and tanned until I was no longer recognizable. I don't remember anything else, sorry. I've had a lot on my mind, playing my A-game at work and home, and at the same time journeying deeper into "Spirituality" to attain peace and to become a more compassionate human being. 

I feel guilty that I haven't had the opportunity to share any recipes with you for such an extended time. This is one of my more important responsibilities and I do take it seriously. Today, I share with you a family favorite, with a history going back 40 years! For those of you who are not familiar with the word Buljol, it is a simple dish of salted cod which is rinsed and briefly boiled to remove the excess salt, then drained, shredded and combined with peppers, onion, garlic and olive oil. Other optional ingredients are added based on personal preference, these include tomato, avocado, cucumbers and I've even heard of the addition of boiled eggs.


Some of my favorite childhood memories in Trinidad are centered around Easter at my Nana's house (mother's father). Breakfast on Easter Sunday was always held at Nana's. My two younger sisters and I piled into the backseat of my mom's Datsun 120Y, all dressed in identical, pink lace-layered dresses, which were usually specially sewn by her seamstress friend for the occasion.

Once there, I headed straight to the kitchen to observe Nana in action and ask one too many questions. In his humble kitchen, he would be busy kneading flour for the bakes or creating his simple culinary masterpiece, the buljol. Once the ingredients were added (I recall he only used garlic and onion) to the flaked fish, he disappeared to some undisclosed location and reappeared minutes later with a small, thin bottle of "sweet oil" (olive oil), his secret, highly prized ingredient. Even in my adult years, I have often wondered why it was never stored in the kitchen. Apparently, I didn't ask enough questions. For the final step of the buljol, he removed the cork from the bottle and slowly and methodically drizzled the "sweet oil" in a thin stream around the bowl. This act, a cook's prayer, was hypnotizing, mesmerizing and appetizing to say the least. 


In Nana's kitchen my love for food and its creation blossomed into a passion.  Nana, Mr. Toy R.(pronounced Toh-ye), a very well-mannered man of stern character, with a no-nonsense disposition like my mother, had an important rule (or ten) in the kitchen. One such rule was not to taste anything until it was served. Aye Caramba. Mama Mia. Oh-em-gee and what the..... This forbidden rule added immensely to my excitement, suspense and frustration. Once served, I ate to my heart's content or until there was none left, mainly the latter.

Nowadays, I devour several servings while cooking, to ensure that it tastes phenomenal, and this habit may be associated with the previously mentioned 'somewhat traumatic" childhood memory(I am fine. Really). 

Buljol is usually accompanied by fried bakes or roti for breakfast, however, once my Hubbie packed me a lunch of the left overs with Jasmine rice and I have been hooked ever since.  


BULJOL (Salted Codfish Salad)
Serves 4-6

12 oz salted cod (bacalao, salted fish)
1 large (sweet) onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (use more of less to your liking)
½ large red bell pepper, finely chopped, optional
½ large yellow bell pepper, finely chopped, optional
2 "Caribbean" pimento peppers, chopped, optional
6 leaves culantro (aka Bandhania or shado-beni), chopped, optional
4 tablespoons pure extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Other optional ingredients
1 tomato, seeded and diced, optional
½ cup chopped cucumber, optional
1 small avocado, cubed, optional
Hot pepper, chopped, to taste (habanero, scotch bonnet)

Method

1. To remove the excess salt from the fish, first rinse under running water, then soak several hours or overnight in water. Alternatively, or in addition, place rinsed and soaked salted fish in a pot of water and boil for 10-15 minutes.

2. Drain, rinse with clean running water, press out excess water using your hands or a strainer and flake with a fork or your fingers. [After draining, I always test the saltiness of the fish. I may rinse or boil again depending.] You do not want to remove all the salt from the fish and you do not want excess water(moisture).


3. While the salted fish is boiling, wash and chop all ingredients.

[Did I mention that LOVE is the main ingredient!]

4. Place the flaked fish in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients - onion, garlic, chopped bell and pimento peppers, chopped culantro (and optional ingredients if using).

The optional ingredients add flavor and creates "quantity" so everyone can enjoy to their belly's content-if such a thing is possible! 

5. Drizzle in the olive oil. Mix well to combine breaking up any chunks of fish. Taste for salt and add more if required. Season with freshly ground black pepper if you like.

[I had quadrupled the recipe here, and above for a family Sunday breakfast]


Enjoy with friends and family!


 I love hearing from you. Write me. Ask questions or send your comments. 


For more pics of food and my daily encounters, check out my new account on Instagram - CookingwithRia.

With thanks for visiting,
Ria 







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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Curried Goat


Spring is finally here! I yearned for her like a maiden yearns for her love. Maybe more than that. I haven't posted in a while and it's not for a lack of recipes or creativity. I've been busy cooking, developing and testing recipes, eating, reading, watching movies with my hubbie, gaining weight and complaining (mostly about the weather).

What I learned over the long winter is that we suffer because we don't accept things for what they are. We are always fighting against everything….the weather, life, situations, people, physical conditions…Maybe if we just accept the things we cannot change(and change the things we can), life will be a little easier. How did I come to this intelligent conclusion, you ask? I learned all this from…. a few ducks. Yes, ducks.

As I headed home from work one stormy, snowy day, my train got stuck over the water for about 20 minutes. The second I was about to experience a panic attack of major proportions, I peered out the window of the train and saw the most beautiful, calming scene I've ever witnessed. There was a swarm of ducks dancing in the water below, celebrating the snow fall and the magnificence of their beautiful life. They were not complaining, panicking, worrying, running, flying away or looking for cover. They were just there, accepting of the situation. My perspective on life changed forever. The voice that speaks to me said, just accept…accept. Panic attack averted. (I also accept that MTA NYC transit will never get their !@#$ together). 

Armed with one more powerful word associated with a peaceful vision of ducks swimming amidst a snow storm, I move forward with another coping strategy to help with my daily struggles. The truth is that life doesn't have to be difficult, we are the ones that make it so. We must always look for the good in every situation(and every difficult person we encounter). Be transformed by the renewing of our minds and recognize that by changing our thoughts we can change our reality.

That prelude has nothing to do with this recipe I'm about to share. If you're a Trini, curry duck has probably already infiltrated your cerebrum. Have no fear, as you know, curried goat is equally delicious. We shall leave the ducks alone today.

For those of you who are not familiar, curried goat is another very popular dish in Trinidad, as well as Jamaica. It does not boasts of a mild curry like curried chicken. It's a special occasion, iconic meal that celebrates our passion for good food and camaraderie, keeping in mind that every weekend or any day during the week on the Islands can and will qualify as a special event.


During one of my vacations back home, I remember the presence of a goat in my mother-in-law's backyard. One hot, sunny day, we were served a "memorable" meal of curried goat, peas dhal and dhalpourie roti. After that day, I don't recall hearing the goat behhhhh! This is not an uncommon occurrence either. This incident was not intended to dismay you in any bizarre food way, but to point out that mealtime in the land of sun, sea and steelpan occasionally consists of the freshest of local ingredients---can't get any more local than that!

I also love the "curry goat" from Jamaica. It's made a little differently but still rather delicious. In my experience it's more tender, probably cooked longer than the Trinidadian dish (in a pressure cooker) and the curry appears lighter in color. I decided to meld both experiences to create this simple, delicious recipe that my family enjoys and you will too.

The technique and ingredients vary slightly from curried chicken. The curry flavor is more pronounced because of the quantity of curry used, some like it with lots of heat (hot pepper), but you may only add based on your preference. Curry is not spicy in itself, as believed; it's the addition of the hot pepper that makes it spicy.

When I cook, I usually prepare about 4 pounds minimum, so cooking 2 pounds, to develop this recipe for you, seemed too simple for me! [That's 4 pounds in the pics below]. I used green seasoning in this recipe, because this is the reason we Trinis always have a bottle of green seasoning in our refrigerator. Many of our dishes become so much simpler! See the list of ingredients below, unbelievable isn't it? if you don't have green seasoning, see here or you may just use 4-6 scallions, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 sprigs thyme (in addition to the other ingredients listed below).



There is no challenge in making curried goat, it's just requires a simple technique which I demonstrate below….and patience waiting for it to cook!

This is better than restaurant-quality, this is the real deal, just like my mummy, aunty or grandma would make it. This is the only recipe you will ever need for curry goat. Trust me on this one (and all my other recipes).






Ria's Trinidadian Curried Goat
Serves 4-6


2 pounds goat meat, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped (I use sweet onion)
6 tablespoons green seasoning
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt (I use Himalayan Salt) and freshly ground black pepper
Hot pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 teaspoons 'Trinidad' curry powder (Brands I use: Chief or Cariherb)
1-2 teaspoons duck and goat curry powder (ground masala)
6 thyme sprigs
6 leaves culantro (bandhania), chopped
½ teaspoon ground roasted cumin (geera)

Note: Duck and goat curry, also called ground masala, is sold in West Indian or Caribbean Grocers in Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY(Liberty Ave.), or pick up a package on your next trip to Trinidad(Brand: Cariherb). If you don't have any, replace the amount with regular curry powder.

1. Cut goat into 1-2 inch pieces, or to your preference. Soak with the juice of ½ a lemon or lime. Then rinse several times with water; rubbing the meat with your fingers to remove any slime. Drain.

2. Season goat meat with the green seasoning, onion, garlic, hot pepper (if using), salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinate up to 24 hours.


3. Make curry mixture: In a small bowl mix curry powders, 1 tablespoon green seasoning and 3 tablespoons water. Set aside.


4. Heat oil in medium heavy bottomed pot(iron pot). Add reserved onion slices (and hot pepper if using) and cook until the edges are brown. Add curry mixture and cook 3-5 minutes until grainy and fragrant.


5. Add goat meat (reserve any liquid from the bowl), thyme sprigs and turn to coat with curry. Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Cover, lower heat to medium-low and cook until it starts to stick to pan and all the liquid has evaporated(takes about 20 minutes), cook one minute more, stirring constantly, to develop some serious flavor. This is a good time to test for salt. Add more if needed.


6. Add reserved marinating liquid and 4 cups of water(or enough to cover the meat), bring to boil, reduce heat to gentle simmer and cook 1-2 more hours--stirring every 15 minutes or so--until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. If the liquid evaporates and the meat is still not tender enough for you, add about a cup more water and continue cooking until your desired tenderness is achieved.

[Pic to the left: Cooking curry in my garage]

7. Before taking off the heat, stir in chopped culantro and cumin powder.


Remove thyme sprigs and serve over rice or eat with dhalpourie or paratha roti. To reheat, remove from the refrigerator, place in a saucepan with a little water and boil for a minute or two, adding a little salt if required.


If you like my blog, say thanks by liking my FB page and sharing this recipe!

With love,

Ria
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