Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - A Great Year For My Tummy!

Delicious grated chutney for Divali.
It'll make anything taste great!

This year, I tried more new places for dining than I ever have for most of my life. Of course it has only been recently that I really discovered my love for food - dining and cooking. Sometimes I feel annoyed at the fact that it has taken me this long to find something I like, but truth is, it hasn't. I've had few other passions in my life thus far, and I'm guessing there's a few more to discover.
I've always loved working with and being around children. Children are so raw and honest, and their innocence is very refreshing. Honesty is something I, as do most people, highly value. It's not impossible for children to learn deceit from a young age, but more often than not, they are honest and pure. They do not hold grudges and they are so good at forcing a smile out of even the grumpiest of people. My time I spent working at a children's Summer Camp for some weeks were some of the happiest days of my life (that I can remember, of course). I would wake up every morning and look forward to going to work and I would spend my entire day happy with no worries in the world other than exactly where I was and what I was doing in that moment.
Travelling and seeing the world is something most people want. Some people are content exactly where they are, and that's fine. When I was a child, I wanted to be a flight attendant. I thought they had it all... They were always so pretty and poised, travelling around the world and meeting so many people. I suppose then I didn't understand the dynamics of the job, but it showed me that there was something about discovering new places and meeting new people that had such an appeal.
And then came food... The aroma, the sizzle, its beauty and taste, what's there not to love about food? We eat to survive, but food can be so much more. It's more than just a vice. It the way food can do so many different things for/to different people. It's the way when you're sad, you eat ice cream. Or when you're happy, you eat ice cream. Okay... I just love ice cream. But, it the way that for our birthdays or any special occasion, we celebrate with a special meal. Even when our pets are good, they are rewarded with treats.
This combination of things can easily be transformed into a more fulfilling life, if I am willing to work for it. And I feel like that has been a big part of my problem for a lot of my life. I'm not sure which path I should take, it's hard for me to focus on the end result. Like most people, immediate gratification seems far more satisfactory. Too often than not, I let my feelings get the better of me. Sometimes it's hard for me to understand why I can't just suck it up and get on with getting on, but I'm learning, and that's most important!

Enough about that until my next post... Here's some of my most favourite things I enjoyed in 2013!

For starters, my very own scallop scampi with bacon.
It's beautifully light but still quite flavourful.
The pork belly at Restaurant Chaud.
You simply have to try this incredibly tender morsel yourself.
The apple beignets at Restaurant Chaud.
The most beautiful texture on a beignet... like a cloud.
The steak salad at Chaud Cafe.
Delicious and filling! And I mean... steak!
The amazing mussels soup at Chaud Cafe that I never got to have again. 
Perfectly cooked steak at Prime!
Take-out at La Cantina.
Bresaola, arugula and parmesan.
My favourite 2013 (I think) discovery that I wish I knew about sooner...
Nothing like a warm scone piled with clotted cream at Jaffa.

And my absolute favourite thing I ate for 2013 (no lie)...

Just some mac and cheese at Prime.
Let me assure you... I ate a lot more incredibly things this year, things that make my heart smile and if I even think about, I can taste it. But these were just a few of the lovely things that you absolutely should not be missing out on!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve has always been a special day for my family. It's the one night of the year we all sit around the dining table and eat together... ALL of us. This almost never happens otherwise. Because of this, it's something my father looks forward to every year, and even though sometimes it might not matter to the rest of us... Anything for daddy!
When he was a child, his mother would make stuffed baked chicken and freshly baked bread for Christmas Eve dinner. It was a tradition for his family to eat this meal every year, and he carried it on to his own family. I must admit, we (my siblings and I) do look forward to this meal ourselves; it's evokes a sort of nostalgic feeling, I suppose.

Don't forget to leave out the milk and cookies!

Look at this spoiled guy!

My sister's tree.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Around The World

Christmas in Italy - Panettone

Panettone is sweet bread dessert filled with raisins and/or other dried fruit served around the holidays in Italy and some other parts of Europe. It is most popular in Italy, originating in Milan. There are many different recipes for panettone but they are also sold commercially. And if you are not a big fan of the regular sweet loaf, there are even recipes re-using or repurposing panettone!

Christmas in France - Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël or a yule log is a type of Swiss roll cake decorated to resemble a log (as beautiful or as "rustic" as you like), typically served in France during the Christmas season.
We don’t know who exactly made the first Yule log cake, but judging from the individual ingredients it could have been as early as the 1600s. Marzipan and meringue decorations, two of the most popular choices for Yule logs, appeared on many a medieval table. Sponge cake, which often constitutes the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today. It dates back to at least 1615, when the first known recipe appeared in Gervaise Markham’s tome “The English Huswife.” (source)

Christmas in England - 
Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding
 As the name suggests, mince pies are simply pastries stuffed with mincemeat, eaten around Christmas traditionally in England. "Christmas mincemeat is not, as the name suggests, meat, if you look at the Christmas mincemeat recipe you will see it is sugar, fruits both fresh and dried, Brandy and suet." (source and recipe)

"Christmas (or Plum) Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is not what it was originally like!
Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called 'frumenty' that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits. It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it as a bad custom.
In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today." (source)

Christmas in Venezuela - Hallacas
A hallaca is basically like a Trinidadian pastelle.
"Hallacas is the oldest food tradition in Venezuela and it is the most popular Christmas meal served during the holidays. It is still prepared in a similar fashion to colonial times with some modern refinements.
The hallaca is also considered one of the most representative icons of Venezuelan multicultural heritage, as its preparation includes European ingredients (such as raisins, nuts and olives), indigenous ingredients (corn meal colored with annatto seeds), and African ingredients (smoked plantain leaves used for wrapping). Its name is pronounced "ah-ya-ka"." (source)

Christmas in Japan - 
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

Yes, it is true! They love KFC for Christmas in Japan!
"The tradition of eating KFC at Christmas dates back to the early 1970s, when an expat customer at the chain’s Aoyama store observed that, in a land bereft of Yuletide turkey, fried chicken was the next best thing. The store’s canny manager was paying attention and passed word on to the higher-ups, leading the company to launch its ludicrously successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign in 1974.
At least, that’s what the company says on its website (www.kfc.co.jp/qa).
Or it might just be because Colonel Sanders in a Santa cap looks like Santa Claus." (source)

A little sip here and there...
Hot Buttered Rum

Mulled Wine

Apple Cider

Thursday, 12 December 2013

15 Days of Christmas: Local/Homemade Wine


Keeping with the theme of beverages (and of course, alcohol), local or homemade wine is another favourite during the holiday season. Now that I've been writing a little about it, I realize how little I know about the history of local traditions and not only the Christmas ones. Carnival in Trinidad is one of the biggest events worldwide, and even that I know so little about its history. Only a few years ago, I was a counselor at a children's camp. There is where I learned a bit more about Trinidad's culture; some of the children knew far more than me. One thing I really did enjoy about that camp was that there was so much for me to learn; it was not only for the children.
Anyway, the year before last, my dad tried his hand at homemade wine. It turned out brilliantly. He did quite a lot of research, and was very excited about it. Every guest was given a personal tour of his "winery" and a sampling of the multiple flavours he tried. Those included rice, hibiscus, strawberry, apple, sorrel and others. Though I'm not very familiar with the tradition, its popularity is unquestionable. There are even songs about it!

It's not just the wine; Trinidad's love for cuisine on the whole is reflected during the Christmas holiday season, and other religious (some non-religious) holidays. For example, Divali and Eid-Ul-Fitr are also well known for the fabulous foods!
Christmas, however, is the one religious holiday that is celebrated by almost every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. Because who doesn't love food and presents!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

16 Days of Christmas: Ginger Beer


Ginger Beer is a well-loved beverage not just in Trinidad but throughout the world, throughout the year. However, in Trinidad, it's most common around the holidays, and it's usually a homemade beverage that differs from the store-bought in numerous ways. Trinidadian ginger beer is usually fermented. I do not know much about this tradition other than things I have heard since ginger beer is rarely ever consumed in my home. However, it is a part of the popular holiday food traditions, and definitely worth mentioning.


17 Days of Christmas: Ponche de Creme


Besides food, Trinis love to drink, no doubt about it! Of course there are the few who don't... but that's the minority. Ponche de Crème is the Trinidadian version of eggnog, which is also served around Christmas time. It's creamy and sweet, mildly spiced with nutmeg and of course, lots of rum! Or a little... if you're into that. It's a definite must-try if you want to truly experience a Trini Christmas (and if you're over 18 years).


Monday, 9 December 2013

18 Days of Christmas: Danish Butter Cookies


I'm not sure why exactly these cookies are so popular around the holidays in Trinidad, but it is. I suppose this also counts as a dessert, or maybe a snack. During the holidays, grocery stores and even small parlours stock up on these little delights. Danish Butter Cookies are also sometimes given as a present or host(ess) gift. When the cookies are finished, many people use the tins to bake black cakes to then give as a present. I can't claim to know much about the history of these cookies and why they are associated with Christmas, but I am quite fond of them! We usually buy these cookies, I've never tried making them on my own. I think it is that way for most Trinidadians, because it's also not very expensive either. It is usually on sale for Christmas and even cheaper after Christmas.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

19 Days of Christmas: Black Cake/Fruit Cake


Of course, the sweets are a must! What is a good holiday without some great desserts? In Trinidad, Black Cake or Fruit Cake is the most popular dessert around Christmas time. It is often baked and given to friends and other loved ones as a present or taken to parties as a host(ess) gift.

Black cake is a dense cake made with fruits and alcohol. To prepare Black Cake, fruits are soaked in rum or brandy for a long time before the actual cake is prepared, but can also be soaked for just a day or two. Most people soak their fruits for weeks or months in preparation for this dessert.
Lighter cakes containing fruit are also prepared around Christmas time. Those fruits (usually cherries and raisins) are not usually soaked in rum. Those are also popular around Christmas time.


If I say I'm not a big fan of black cake either, do I sound like an extremely picky eater? Or is Christmas food just not for me? Except sorrel... I love my sorrel.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

20 Days of Christmas: Turkey


Trinidad and Tobago is a very diverse country. It's filled with people of different religions, race and/or ethnicity, sharing a common culture. Though Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of their Lord, it is celebrated by almost all families of all religions in Trinidad and Tobago. However, not everyone would eat the same things, for example, ham. Turkey is very popular who those who do not consume pork, and even with those who do. In my house, both ham and turkey are prepared for Christmas. If both are not prepared on Christmas day, the turkey is prepared on New Year's Day or some time during the holidays. Christmas Turkey is also often served with fresh hops bread, but less likely to be eaten with chow chow. I'm not the biggest turkey fan either; I usually find it dry and flavourless although I have had some relatively good ones in the past. I think it's based on how well it is prepared, for me. Turkey is just another one of those great smells at Christmas that brings a sort of inexplicable comfort and gives that feeling of "home".

Friday, 6 December 2013

21 Days of Christmas: Ham


The season for eating is seemingly never complete without a big hunk of meat! Ham serves this purpose for us. In Trinidad, the ham is almost always studded with whole cloves and baked until tender and juicy. The smell of ham at any other time of year evokes Christmas memories because it is so strongly associated with the holidays. Trinidad Christmas Ham is usually served on freshly baked (usually homemade) hops bread.

One of the more popular condiments for "ham and hops" is called "chow chow". Though the smell of ham is very familiar and pleasant for me, I've never been a huge fan of the taste. More often I would use the ham in a pasta dish or maybe soup, not just with the hops bread.

Leftover ham is great for lots of dishes, you know, if there's actually any leftovers!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

22 Days of Christmas: Garlic Pork

I'm not as familiar with this food tradition as I am with the others, but I know for sure it's quite popular around this time of year. I'm not sure that I've actually ever had proper garlic pork. I'm planning on making it this year however; I'm a huge garlic fan! (I've never been the biggest pork fan, but I'm learning to appreciate it.) 

If you're a fan of pork, this is a must-try recipe. I know because Trinidad's food is brilliant, and something so popular could not possibly be anything less.

23 Days of Christmas: Pastelles


Now on the food! Pastelles...
Growing up, even just a few years ago, I had a very unsophisticated palate. Now don't get me wrong, I am not claiming to be incredibly cultured or a know-it-all... I don't think I know much at all. There are so many things I am yet to experience. I would like to travel and experience food, and really refine my taste. However, recently, I am much more open-minded about different foods and tastes. I am willing to try, and appreciate, much more than I did before. Sometimes I am still quite skeptical about trying certain new things but I have been learning a lot, and I am excited to learn so much more.
The point of that seemingly pointless story is that I was afraid to try a lot of things in the past. Pastelles might have been one of those things. Once I did try it though, it became one of those great foodie things that I look forward to for the holidays.
A pastelle is a type of cornmeal dumpling stuffed with meat, typically beef, chicken or pork (sometimes made vegetarian with soya), as well as olives, capers and some spices. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The description I just gave of it's preparation definitely does not do justice to its taste, though. It's one of those things you just need to try for yourself! I'm yet to prepare a batch of my own but, I don't think I need to. It's so popular around this time of year, every where you go, you'll be offered one or two. It's also sold ready-made in the grocery and at food stalls, so if you're not a big fan of cooking or just don't have time, you can still enjoy a pastelle!

The electricity situation in my area is incredibly annoying hence why I missed a day by a few minutes. :(

Monday, 2 December 2013

24 Days of Christmas: Shandy Carib


Continuing with the theme of sorrel and beverages... Around Christmas and New Year, Shandy Carib becomes significantly more popular. Shandy (as we often call it) is a low-alcohol sweet beer beverage that comes in three flavours sorrel, ginger and lime. Sorrel is, of course, the most popular of the three, especially during the holiday season.
Shandy Carib is a tropical light alcoholic beverage (1.2% alc./vol.) that promises to refresh and excite the taste buds with local flavours.
The Brewery first introduced Shandy Carib in 1985. It was originally brewed in Ginger then followed by the Sorrel flavour. In November 1998, a Lime flavour was introduced to the Shandy Carib family.
The brand is seen as a cool, vibrant and fun beverage for social situations and relaxation – beach events, night clubs and lounges, family days and other social gatherings.
Shandy Carib is aimed at responsible young adults and the “young at heart,” who aspire to be trendy and cool, and are socially and physically active. “Change the Flavour of your Day” with Shandy Carib. (source)
When I was younger, I was huge fan of Shandy. A very cold one, like some people feel about beer, is still quite good. I prefer my good ol' sorrel without the beer, but I do have some fond memories involving a couple of bottles of Shandy. Shandy is sold year round, but is marketed (and sold) much more during the holiday season. Undoubtedly, if you have an ice cold one yourself, you'll understand why!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

25 Days of Christmas: Sorrel


It's official... HAPPY DECEMBER!!!
December is usually seen as a time of love, happiness and cheer. But in the office, it's more like grumpy, crazy... and some people are just downright scary! It's when the Christmas trees go up, the savings go down, and our bellies... well, they start getting quite round! Yes, I rhymed on purpose, it was there so why not? I'm sure I've mentioned before that in Trinidad, we love to eat! It's no different for Christmas, even around the world; Christmas is well-known for brilliant holiday treats.
One of my most favourite parts of a Trini Christmas... Sorrel! Though sorrel drinks are now commercially produced, as for most things, it doesn't compare to boiling a big pot of your own, putting it in the freezer until just icy, and having a cold glass with some ham and hops, fruit cake, pastelles or other local holiday favourites.

Outside of the Caribbean, the sorrel plant is more commonly known as the roselle hibiscus.
"Vernacular names, in addition to roselle, in English-speaking regions are rozelle, sorrel, red sorrel, Jamaica sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, lemon bush, and Florida cranberry. In French, roselle is called oseille rouge, or oseille de Guinée; in Spanish, quimbombó chino, sereni, rosa de Jamaica, flor de Jamaica, Jamaica, agria, agrio de Guinea, quetmia ácida, viña and viñuela; in Portuguese, vinagreira, azeda de Guiné, cururú azédo, and quiabeiro azédo; in Dutch (Surinam), zuring. In North Africa and the Near East roselle is called karkadé or carcadé and it is known by these names in the pharmaceutical and food-flavoring trades in Europe. In Senegal, the common name is bisap. The names flor de Jamaica and hibiscus flores (the latter employed by "health food" vendors), are misleading because the calyces are sold, not the flowers." (source)
Whatever the name, I call it delicious. It's definitely something I look forward to every year. Just a sip of this incredibly refreshing drink and I feel Christmas.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Joshua's on the Corner

Once again, I have neglected my blog. Christmas is near, work has been hectic, and I have been tired. Even though I may have been cooking (and obviously eating), I have not made the time to write about any of it. Maybe things might pick up in the new year. It's quite weird to say that... this year just disappeared so quickly. One new place I've tried recently for dinner is Joshua's on the Corner (Corner Tragarete Road and French Street). 
Though the restaurant is quite small, it's more cozy than clustered. The glass doors and windows also make the space seem larger. The food was priced quite reasonably and tasted good. However, I cannot claim that it was particularly special or superior in taste or quality. The portions were quite large though, and the service was impeccable!

They were very attentive and anything we asked for, we were very well responded to. And how cute that they just put a little piece of parsley on everything to make it "look nice", even the little extra butter we requested. It's especially a nice place to have lunch if you work in the area. I was informed that they also offer breakfast. Maybe I might try them for breakfast; the service, if anything, was worth it.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Italian-Themed Dinner Party

This morning my sister and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to have for dinner. I knew I had a bit of leftover cheese and grapes in the refrigerator so I decided on making an antipasto platter. From there, our Italian-themed meal turned into a bigger deal, and out came a little dinner party for five! We were a little more busy eating than taking photos, unfortunately. However, the dinner party was a success; everyone had a laugh and a brilliant meal.

Well, we started off with beer and wine!

Then we continued with the antipasto (and more wine)!
It consisted of some crackers, olives, grapes, apples, kiwis, gouda, extra sharp aged cheddar, smoked ham, chicken ham, salami and a chickpea salad with feta.

Then we moved on to the main course which consisted of a mixed mushroom and scallops risotto as well as some homemade thin-crust pizza.

We ended our party with individual affogatos, which I think was a pretty fantastic finish! The great food and great company was a lovely way to spend a Friday night.