The Virgin Islands, St.Croix in particular has always had deep ties with the neighboring island of Puerto Rico for centuries, our food and culture are a reflection of that relationship. Growing up in St.Croix whilst having strong family ties to Puerto Rico means that we used and still continue to cook with a few staples in la cocina. Don’t believe me? Two words: Adobo y Recaito. Listen. If it ain’t in the pot meen want it okay? Adobo and Recaito/Sofrito are seasonings (dry and wet respectively) that are used in Puerto Rican cooking. European chefs have their mirepoix, we have Recaito. This blend of leaves from the recao plant (cousin of cilantro), onions and peppers is the base of many a dish. It can easily be found in the grocery, Goya and Bahia, which are two of the most popular brand can be found in your seasoning aisle, usually stateside and abroad it will be found in the international foods aisle. But here en el caribe, it’s front and center in the spice aisle. You can also find it in the frozen food aisle near the other international food items, in my opinion frozen is the way to go if you buy it in the grocery store, less preservatives…and all that jazz.

 

Recaito is relatively easy to make, I grew up watching my mom and her friends making it from scratch when they harvested their own recao and peppers from their gardens. You can add whatever you like within reason but I keep to the standard recipe and add a twist. I roast my veggies before blending to bring out the flavor. To me it adds another level of depth to the recaito.

Chopped up and ready to go!

 

The aftermath…plant those seeds and watch them grow! Like seriously…plant them!

 

All roasted! I wish you could smell this!

 

 

I usually make a big batch in my Ninja blender and then place in jars and plastic containers. My jars are small so that’s what I use first, the rest is placed in the freezer until I run out.I use recaito in all my bean, rice, and stewed meat dishes. It also pops up in many of my other kitchen experiments as well. Have you ever tried recaito/sofrito? What’s your favorite dish to use it in?

 

 

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Believe it or not summer isn’t my favorite time of year, I’m more of an Autumn/early winter and not for all that pumpkin spiced nonsense either! I just love the chill in the air and the turning of the leaves. I love the way the leaves crunch under my feet as I walk down the street.

But summer isn’t without its benefits either. You eat less, you wear less and spend more time outdoors. And the bounty of vegetables that are available are simply amazing. And that always gives way to good eats! As I sit here listening to Nirvana and wondering what exactly does teen spirit smell like, I’m using my trusty mandoline to slice up a ton of fresh veggies in preparation for this week’s kitchen experiments. I cook all the time and often notice out of convenience I tend to make the same things.  I decided now was a great time as any to make a ratatouille. I’ve never had one before and recall hearing about it or taking an interest in the dish until I saw the Disney movie bearing the same name.

 

 

 

 

 

The dish is very rustic and includes a few simple ingredients, technically it’s a stew but I don’t like wet veggies so I baked mines in the oven. I also did a quick sauté of all the veggies prior to assembling to put in the oven. This also helps to get rid of excess moisture. Because again…I don’t like soggy, wet vegetables.

To up the ante I covered the bottom of my dish with a garlic wine based sauce and then carefully assembled the vegetables in some semblance of a pattern to make it look pretty, popped it in the oven and then waited for the magic to happen. I served it up with crusty French bread with a schmear of mascarpone cheese.

The hardest thing to do was assembling the veg but the payoff was perfect! Pretty to look at and delicious to eat!

 

Ratatouille

1 medium sized zucchini (courgette)

1 medium sized eggplant (aubergine)

1 medium yellow squash

1 onion diced (I prefer Vidalia, you can use whatever you like)

1 can crushed tomatoes

1 bell pepper, yellow -sliced into strips

½ cup water or broth

Olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic minced

Salt

Pepper

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees*

  1. Use a mandoline or knife to slice vegetables thinly (after slicing vegetables I sprinkled a tiny bit of salt on them to pull the moisture out, and let them drain on paper towels) 
  2. In a saucepan add ¼ cup of olive oil on medium heat, mince garlic and add to pan, be careful not to let it burn, once the garlic becomes fragrant in the pan add the crushed tomatoes, add the ½ of broth (or water) and reduce to simmer, season with salt and pepper.
  3. In another pan on medium heat add 1tablespoon of olive oil, throw in diced onions and saute until transparent, season with salt and pepper sparingly.
  4. Heat a medium sized skillet/frying pan on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, arrange a layer of veggies and allow to brown lightly *this step isn’t necessary, I do it because it takes out even more moisture and i like my veggies with a bit of bite. Repeat this step until all the vegetables have been sauteed and allowed to cool.
  5. Now it’s time to assemble. First we start with our tomato garlic mixture.We cover the bottom of our baking dish with the sauce first.

6. Next we add a layer of sauteed onions.

 

      7. Then bring on the veg. You can layer or assemble any way you please, I like to alternate between veggies. And you can use any pattern your heart desires.  

 

      8. Garnish with a pepper slices.Pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove and serve.

 

Hot and fresh out the oven!

Ratatouille with toasted French bread and a schmear of marscapone cheese.

 

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There is no better place to revel in my love of food than a food festival. I’ve been attending Taste of Atlanta since 2006, I’ve missed a year here or there when I’m not in the Atlanta area but when I’m here, oooh when I’m here it’s on! Taste of Atlanta is known as the MUST DO Food, Wine, Beer and Cocktail festival here in the land of peaches.  It is one of my two favorite food festivals, the second being Taste of St.Croix in my hometown. The vibe and scene of those two food-filled events are completely different but great in their own way. Taste of Atlanta has a more laid back street festival vibe, whereas Taste of St.Croix, offers a more glammed up, not quite Black Tie but you better come on your A-game because it’s the place to see and be scene at. But more on this at another time, back to Taste of Atlanta!

After attending for the past several years I’ve developed a strategy: go hungry, get there early, pace yourself, bring ziploc bags, tupperware and reusable shopping bag (this is my sister’s idea, but it’s so handy) and take MARTA (but that goes without saying)! Taste of Atlanta always happens in October and usually occurs the weekend before Halloween. Tickets are $25 and include 10 taste tickets. You use these tickets at the different restaurant booths. So some may have items that cost you 1 taste ticket, while others may be 2 or 3. I’m pretty sure the first time I went back in 2006 the tickets for entry were $15 and we had to buy our own taste tickets, but they’ve since changed that. You’re not limited to 10 taste tickets, and trust that won’t get you to sample all those delicious dishes from local metro Atlanta restaurants. I always end up purchasing more tickets. This year I got $20 worth. The Throughout the festival there are Taste Ticket booths where you can top up and purchase more Taste tickets, as well as other booths where you can purchase beer and soft drinks. I wasn’t able to attend the event last year, so I’m not sure if this was introduced then or at this year’s event. At Taste you no longer get physical paper Taste Tickets, your ticket, which is used for entry and for your taste tickets now comes in the form of an electronic bracelet that is scanned upon entry to the festival and at the restaurants booths. If you purchase in advance you can register the bracelet online in advance and purchase taste tickets. Or if you purchase at the event you can top up your taste tickets at any Ticket Booth. You can keep track of your remaining tickets via the app.

 

Taste of Atlanta Bracelets

The festival happens over a 3 day period with a VIP Kickoff Party the Friday night and the food festival itself taking place on Saturday and Sunday. I usually go on Sundays but over the years I realize that some restaurants don’t sign up for both days so you end up missing them and their eats. It seems that most restaurants do Saturdays. So this year I went on Saturday and I’m glad I did! I had an amazing time trying out food from some of the best restaurants in the city. I love the concept of just getting a taste, it’s like an introduction to that restaurant without having to fork over a ton of money and then ending up hating your meal. Let’s be honest NO ONE wants that! Every year there’s always a few restos that stand out of the crowd for me and this year the winner of that coveted award was…Wagaya. Their Chashu (braised pork) Steamed Bun was SIMPLY AMAZING! The tenderness of the pork that stick sweet braising sauce gently tucked into that steamed bun with some fresh greens.

Chashu Bun

I was mad that I only had just one, I totally wanted to go back for more but by the time I’d made up my mind to get another one I was already way on the other side of the festival. This is why I mentioned coming early because as the afternoon rolls on the crowds get thicker and the lines get longer. I for one really HATE waiting for anything especially in long lines, even for things I want. I’ve put back groceries, once in a lifetime deals, etc at stores because the line was too long. I’ve been waiting to purchase lunch or breakfast in places and the line was so ridiculous I just got out of line and hoped I wouldn’t pass out from hunger. I’m not saying that’s the most sensible thing to do in most situations, I’m just saying…that’s how I roll. But back to Wagaya…that Chashu Steamed Bun is STILL calling my name! I plan to make it out to their restaurant sometime in the near future.

Runner-up spot this year goes to Rock’s Chicken & Fries and Veda Juice Bar. The guys at Rock’s know how to make some chicken…do you hear me!?!? I was standing near their booth and I saw a lady eating the fried chicken strips so I asked her if they were good. She could barely answer me verbally because she couldn’t stop eating her food. She gave me a quick nod and then said, “Yes, yes. It’s so good and super tender!” That was a wrap I sashayed (not really) right over to Rock’s chicken and got some of those chicken strips and I have to agree they are AMAZING! Not greasy, super tender, well-seasoned but not overly salty. It will totally be worth the trip to visit them at their Phipp’s Plaza location, plus they gave me coupons! I’m sure they’ll see me soon enough!

Rock's Chicken Fingers

Last but certainly not least is VEDA Juice Bar, I’m a big fan of juicing because it packs tons of nutrients, vitamins and other good stuff into one without having to make a smoothie.

 

VEDA Juice Bar

I’m really particular about food textures so I’m not that big a fan of smoothies, here and there okay, but I’ve got to take a look at your blender apparatus to make sure you can make that smoothie smooth as silk or I don’t want it! Also some juice bars I’ve been too the juices are super gritty (no thanks) but VEDA Juice Bar is doing something right, their juice blends are not only healthy, refreshing and nutritious they are super smooth and no grit in sight. They also do juice cleanses which I plan to get more information about (plan to get fine for 2017!). The ladies there were so sweet and informative.

 

VEDA

An honorable mention has to go out to Bon Glaze, I wanted to try their donuts, but I was so indecisive and with my Taste tickets depleting at a rapid rate I decided I can always go visit their bakery but for now let me partake and that really good looking Candied Bacon.

Bon Glaze

I’m sure glad I did. There must have been 3-4 strips of candied bacon in the package I got. Beyond being used crumbled as decoration for on a maple bacon cupcake I’ve had in the past, I’ve never had candied bacon…that is until now. I’m hooked! I even shared with a random guy I was chatting with at one of the demo booths. It was smokey, not greasy or super salty. It was PERFECT and I want MORE!  

Bon Glazed Candied Bacon

Those are the highlights for this year’s Taste of Atlanta festival. There were more restos that I was dying to try but the way their lines were set up…I was not about to wait for an insanely long period of time in them. Better luck next year.

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Yum!

Are their any local food festivals in your city? What’s your favorite? Dish in the comments!

 

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Dry Meat CurrySo while I was studying in London some Uni friends invited me out for lunch at Tayyab’s, I’d never been a fan of Indian style food so my first reaction was to say no. But seeing as I was new to London and I decided to give it a try. I figured it be a great way to get to know my new classmates and just hang out and try something different. Let’s just say the foodie in me was extremely satisfied.

Since it was a group of us we ordered a bunch of different dishes, off the top of my head, I recall us ordering Karahi Chicken, Channa, Pilau Rice, Tandoori Naan, Garlic Naan, AND a side of lamb chops because one of my friends INSISTED that we needed them (in her defense, we did and they were delicious). We also ordered Dry Meat, which, when I initially saw it on the menu I wondered to myself what exactly is Dry Meat? Is it like jerky? In the US when you say dry meat that’s what would initially come to mind. But on that splendid day that we went to Tayyab’s I came to find out just what exactly Dry Meat was, one word…AMAZING!

Note: Dry meat is not jerky in any way, shape or form; it’s more of a curry/stew without all the sauce (if that makes sense). So the real focus is on the flavor of the meat, not the sauce that can sometimes over power a dish. In dry meat curry, the meat and the spices are what take the spotlight. I’m no food connoisseur but to me the spices used add a level of depth and complexity to the meat, it’s savory, smoky, warm, spicy, with an underlying hint of sweetness all at the same time, and the meat in itself is so tender and just falls apart. In a way it reminds me of Masitas de Puerco a Cuban pork dish, which is delightful as well.

After our massive lunch we had to have dessert. If you ever meet my circle of girlfriends from London, you’d learn a few things:

1.) They’re all insanely smart and good-looking, super funny and down to earth. (What can I say, birds of feather…)

2.) They really like to eat… A LOT.

3.) Dessert is a necessity, NOT an option.

So after our sensational, spice filled meal we needed to get our sweet on. We settled on a pista kuftis and some other confectionary delights.  I didn’t even know what I a kufti was, but I sure did find out. It’s basically ice cream on a stick, this version is made with just a few ingredients: fresh cream, sugar and pistachios. It sounds so incredibly simple but the flavor is so decadent it should be outlawed. It should be noted after the first one, we were all in heaven and thought we couldn’t (more like shouldn’t) have a second, but my dear friend Ori quickly stated, ‘Don’t think about it, just do it before the feeling passes.’  So there we were…with yet another pista kufti each and relishing in satiated glow of a leisurely early winter afternoon lunch. It was simply divine.

Since then I’ve been in deep love with Tayyab’s, I sing its praise. I think about it often. I can taste it even when I don’t have it. This is one of my favorite meet -up spots with friends.  I recommend it to anyone I know living in London or visiting London. I Yelped about it, Four Squared it, Tweet it, it’s that good. Here it is almost 2 years later, and I’ve moved on from London, spent some time living in Thailand, then back to the US and made my way back to London for graduation this past Spring. And you can imagine Tayyab’s was one of the places that I just had to go to, matter of fact, on my last visit to London this past Spring I made my way to White Chapel in the middle of the most freakish, cold, dark and dreary Spring day, with my mother in tow.  Because I would be damned if she came all this way and did not partake in the deliciousness that was Tayyab’s. I actually took her to some of my favorite London eateries because that’s you do when you’re playing tour guide to your Mum.

We battled the elements and then waited in line for almost an hour before she was turned into a believer, and she was sold. She loved it!

I find myself from time to time craving that Dry Meat Curry from Tayyab’s so I’ve been doing research off and on for the past year because I decided, ‘As God is my witness, I will never be without Dry Meat again (in my Scarlett O’Hara voice)! So it’s been a thought in my mind the past couple of months that I need to get this Dry Meat project underway. So in September I rediscovered this recipe fromRice & Pickle that I wanted to try.

Since then it’s been like an Amazing Foodie Race, to collect the ingredients, to me the ingredient/spice list seemed long but I’m assuming its because many of the spices called for I don’t readily have available because I don’t normally cook Indian/Pakistani/South Asian type fare, beyond the occasional curry, which is more Caribbean style.

In the past month I’ve made several trips to the Farmer’s market, Halal market, grocery store, foraging for ingredients and comparing prices, trying as not to break the bank on what I like to refer to as my most epic meal project to date. Some ingredients I had a hard time finding (lamb stock), and others I’d seen and then they disappeared (ghee) so I ended up making my own. So as you can see this has been a Foodie labor or love.

 With almost ALL the ingredients, I set forth to get to work on this epic meal of yum-ness. Which took two days, in between the ghee and lamb stock making and the marinade prep. It finally came together in the wee hours of the morning and I can say without a doubt that I am truly pleased with the results.

Here’s the recipe below.

Dry Meat (adapted from Rice & Pickle)

500g lamb shoulder, fat trimmed, and cut into 2.5cm cubes

For the meat marinade

6tbsp -plain yoghurt

1tbsp -gram (chickpea flour)

1tbsp -mustard oil

1 thumb sized piece -ginger, peeled and blended to a paste

7 garlic cloves -peeled and crushed or blended to a paste

3 green finger chillies-finely chopped (**I substituted 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes because I refused to go back to the farmers market to find finger chillies!)

1tsp -white sugar (**I substituted organic cane sugar)

2tbsp -lime juice

2tbsp -coriander leaves, finely chopped

3/4tsp -salt

Directions: For the marinade: combine all the marinade ingredients in a bowl, mix with the lamb until well covered.  Then, cover and leave in the fridge overnight. I combined all ingredients and blended them in my Ninja.

 

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For the curry paste

2 ½ cm -cinnamon sticks

½ tsp -mace, ground to a powder (**I used ground mace)

4 -black cardamom pods, ground to a powder

4 -green cardamom pods, seeds removed from pods

8 –cloves (**I used ground cloves)

1 tsp -black peppercorns

1 tbsp -coriander seed

1 tbsp -cumin seeds

½ tsp -fenugreek seeds

1 tbsp -dried fenugreek (methi) leaves

1/2 tsp -chili powder

For the masala paste: you need to get toasting your different spices, which will take different times.  Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat.  When hot, toast your different spices. Once all tasted, remove from heat and leave to cool.  Then, grind all the spices together until a fine powder.  Combine with the chilli powder and mace.  Add 2tbsp water and combine to make a thick paste.

 

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Time to to cook the curry!

3 tbsp -ghee, butter or groundnut or vegetable oil (**I used homemade ghee)

2 large -onions, peeled and finely chopped

500ml -lamb stock  (**I used homemade lamb stock as well)

1 tbsp -white sugar (*cane sugar)

1 tsp -garam masala

Small handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped

– When you’re ready to cook, heat a large heavy frying pan over a medium-high heat.  When hot, brown the pieces of lamb in batches (shaking off as much marinade as possible as you go, but reserving the marinade).  This will result in smoke – you want to ensure you don’t leave too many burnt bits in the pan.  Once all browned, set the lamb aside.

 

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-Put the frying pan back on a low heat, add the stock and scrape up the all the browned bits in the pan (taking care to try and avoid too many very burnt/blackened bits).  Keep the stock to one side.

-Heat the ghee/butter/cooking oil in a medium, heavy saucepan or pressure cooker.  When hot, add the onions and sugar.  Cook over a low heat until the onions are completely softened and lightly browned – around 25 minutes.

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Add the masala paste to the pan, turn up the heat slightly and cook for a further four minutes until incorporated, and the oil is separating from the paste in the pan.

Add the lamb and marinade to the saucepan and stir and cook for a further five minutes.  Then, add the stock and bring up to the boil and then turn down to a low simmer, covered, and cook for around 2 hours.  If you are using a pressure cooker, at this point, clamp on the lid and take up to pressure, maintaining this for around 40 minutes.

-Once cooked, uncover, turn up the heat and cook down the sauce until it is just clinging to the meat (it’s not called dry for nothing).  Add the garam masala, stir and cook for a further five minutes.  Add salt to taste, the coriander leaves and serve. 

 

Dry Meat Curry-Finished Dish

 

Et voila! I served my Dry Meat Curry with a side of homemade channa and some tandoori roti I got from the halal market.

I’m so happy that I was able to successfully recreate this dish! I will definitely be making it again, since it takes a bit of work I think I will keep this in my arsenal for special occasions. Hopefully soon I’ll make some Pista Kufti.

Just for fun, my friend (Hey Andy!) suggested since I still have all my receipts I should create an itemized price list to compare with what I’d spend at Tayyab’s. Total ingredients cost roughly around $75, the cost for this meal at Tayyab’s  (kufti not included) would run £15-16 (around $25), in addition to my round trip airfare, hotel and Oyster. So I think I came out ahead! 🙂

Have you ever had a meal from a restaurant that you just couldn’t get enough of? Let me know!

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Top 6 Kitchen Gadgets

I will admit I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And while I am no chef, I do prefer to prepare my feels from scratch if at all possible. Shortcuts are great to have in hand, for those times when I’m in a rush but for the most part I like to take my times and do things nice and slow. These are my all-time favourite kitchen gadgets that help me out greatly when I’m getting down in the kitchen.

1. Ninja Master Prep

The Ninja has been around for awhile but has really gained popularity in the past 3-4 years. I love that it’s a blender and food processor type device in one. I use it a lot for puréed, sauces, soups, it takes that extra step of getting everything finely chopped. The only complaint I have is that sometimes I wish the container itself were flatter and wider like a normal food processor.

2. Santoku knife

This is one of the sharpest knives I’ve ever used. Many moons ago I used to volunteer as a chef’s assistant at a local cooking school, and knife skills was one of the pre-requisites. The number one lesson I learned there were that every knife has a use, and most importantly a sharp knife is imperative. Santoku knives are Mortal Kombat sharp. They’re good for slicing and dicing, as well as cutting through meats. In the past I’ve used this to cut up chicken and it cuts through the bones like butter.

*Did I ever tell y’all bout the time I cut my finger damn near clear to the bone using one of these? Oh I didn’t? Let’s leave that for another day then.

3. Colored Knife Set

My second favourite set of knives is this set. The first and second time I bought them I got them from IKEA but they’re no longer available, these are a great substitute.  They’re pretty inexpensive and I like that they are color coded. I use the bigger ones exclusively for vegetables and non-meat/seafood food prep. When I cook for family and friends, many are vegetarian or vegan so although I don’t have to accommodate them, I do try my best to by using separate knives, cutting boards and/or pots.

4. Onion Goggles

Unless I’m wearing my contacts I always get the dreaded onion tears when I’m cutting up onions. I don’t know how it feels for others but it always slowly creeps up on me, starts to sting and burn, and I drop what I’m doing and run out of the kitchen in the most dramatic way ever, screaming at the top of my lungs because it feels like my eyes are on fire. So to avoid that…onion goggles! Because it’s one thing to do kitchen prep solo, but when you have a dinner party or just a few friends over…people are quick to judge.

5. Flexible Cutting Boards

I love these things! I scored a beautiful bamboo cutting board a while back but I usually use these flexible cutting boards. They are easy to clean and maintain, not to mention they come in different colors, so you can use one for meats, another for vegetables or seafood, and another for fruit.

6. Calderon

If you’ve grown up in a West Indian household then you already know what time it is when this pot comes out. It is can be used for a variety of dishes. A majority of the time I use it for rice dishes, usually arroz con gandules (rice and beans, arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), fried rice, season rice. Yes! I love rice, I’m West Indian it’s in my blood! I also use these pots for the occasional curry chicken or other type meat stew and sometimes in place of a deep fryer. They come in s variety of sizes which is pretty awesome as well.

These are my top 5 kitchen gadgets that save me a lot of time, headache and tears when I’m in the kitchen. Do you have any kitchen gadgets that you can’t just do without in your kitchen?

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