Monday, 30 September 2013

Meatless Monday: Black Bean & Lentil Burgers

The concept of veggie burgers changed drastically when people stopped trying to make imitation meat burgers, and embraced wonderful vegetarian ingredients such as mushrooms, beans and even vegetables such as carrots and broccoli. Veggie burgers are brilliant because they are so versatile. Whatever vegetables you fancy can easily be converted into a veggie burger. Beans are very hearty and filling, so they make for a great (sturdy) burger. However, I must admit that my favourite way to enjoy a "veggie burger" is to grill a giant portobello cap with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, on a bun with some cheese, lettuce, onions and pickles. I loved the idea of these beans burgers though; I'm a big fan of lentils and black beans. The end result was quite good. Maybe these with some sliced portobellos, onion rings and a cream cheese center! Mmm...

Lentil & Black Bean Burgers
  • 2 C. cooked Lentils (approx. one 15oz. can, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 C.  cooked Black Beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 C. Poku Mushrooms
  • 1/2 C. shredded Carrot
  • 1/3 C. finely minced Celery
  • 1 Pimento 
  • 2 large cloves Garlic
  • 1 C. loosely packed fresh Basil
  • 2 Tbsp. ground Cumin/Geera
  • 1 Tbsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce (or Liquid Aminos for vegetarians)
  • 1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 C. Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Egg/Egg Replacer
  1. In a food processer, combine lentils, black beans, mushrooms, garlic, basil, pimento, carrot, celery, geera, black pepper, salt, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. You can leave about 1/4 cup each of the beans to re-add after processing, for a nice texture. Pulse together ingredients until finely minced and it all comes together.
  2. In a large bowl, combine bean mixture, egg and breadcrumbs. 
  3. Divide into six portions and form into patties. They should be about 3/4" thick 4-5" in diameter. If they are too thin or too wide, they are at risk of falling apart (when freshly made). The uncooked patties can be frozen for later use. 
  4. Serve on a sturdy bun (I used toasted coconut bake rolls) with cheese, pickles, lettuce or whatever toppings you desire. As I mentioned before, onion rings or caramelized onions on top of these as well as sliced grilled portobellos would be brilliant. I also topped my burgers with melted cheese and slathered on some sriracha mayonnaise. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Ria's 26th Birthday

Polynesian Delight

My sister celebrated her 26th birthday this month. We revisited Tiki Village at Kapok Hotel, Maraval, for the millionth time. It's been a family favourite for a very long time. It's my dad's absolute favourite restaurant, and definitely one of mine. I think I'm more excited about the fact that it's Polynesian, but the food is great too!

Birthday Girl and her cake.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Meatless Monday: Lentil Minestrone

Minestrone [min-uh-stroh-nee; Italian mee-ne-straw-ne] is a popular Italian soup which I seem to have a pronunciation problem with. It's a thick tomato-based soup containing pasta or rice, beans and vegetables. I am quite a big fan of soups. They're easy, refreshing, healthy and there are infinite possibilities with regard to variety of soups. Minestrone is very flavourful, and whatever vegetables, beans and herbs are available, they work well for a minestrone.
Lentils are among my favourite legumes; with these mini rotelle (wheel pasta) and the bag of lentils in my pantry, I had to make a minestrone. I like minestrone because it isn't dull at all. Many soups tend to be boring depending on how flavourful it is, or even how it is prepared. Minestrone however, with the addition of a little balsamic vinegar and hot sauce, is phenomenal.
There is no set recipe for a traditional minestrone, none that I can find, at least. That means that by maintaining the basic foundation of a minestrone, it's easy to tweak to your liking.

Lentil Minestrone
  • 3 C. (low-sodium) Vegetable Stock
  • 2 C. Water
  • 1/2 C. Dried Lentils
  • 1 Small Potato
  • 1 Stalk Celery
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Leek/Onion
  • 1 C. Tomato Sauce/Puree (unsalted)
  • Handful Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Thyme
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Sriracha
  1. Add stock and water to a soup pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add lentils and cook until almost softened. Wash and chop vegetables into pieces almost the same size as the pasta being used.
  3. Add bay leaf, thyme and cubed potato and continue cooking for another few minutes until the potatoes are no longer raw.
  4. Add celery, carrots, leek/onion, pasta and tomato sauce. Taste before adding salt or pepper since stock is often salted enough. 
  5. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente, add sriracha and balsamic vinegar, and cook for a minute more. Remove from heat, remove bay leaf and thyme stems, and serve hot with a bit of parmesan if desired.

Minestrone is often boiled down until the contents are extremely soft, but I like a bit of crunch to my vegetables so I don't overcook them.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Meatless Monday: Pumpkin Pasta

Pumpkin has never really been my favourite fruit (mostly used as a vegetable). However, I have learned over the past few years that preparation is key. If you prepare anything right, it can be delicious. Not everything prepared in every way would be favourable for everyone. For example, "baigan choka" is a definite no-no for me. However, eggplant parmesan, grilled eggplant, moussaka... Yes! It's all about the preparation. With that said, a spicy pumpkin pasta will exceed your expectations. It might be one of my favourite (if not my favourite) ways to eat pumpkin. It surpasses pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin soup - all of which I don't mind eating (some I really enjoy).
Now here's the thing... I work late a lot of days and very often my kitchen is occupied when I get home. So by the time I am able to start/finish dinner, it's already night, and not very ideal for taking photos. But, we work with what we get, and I still took a photo because photos seem to be quite important. They are for me, when I read a recipe anyway. I'll be making this again soon (I did mention it's one of my favourites) so maybe I'll be able to take some proper photos then. 

Spicy Pumpkin Pasta (with Portobellos)
  • 1-2 C. Roasted and Mashed Pumpkin
  • 1 Chipotle in Adobo/1-2 Tsp. Cayenne Powder
  • 1/2 C. Sour Cream/Heavy Cream
  • 2 Large Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Leek (washed and chopped)/One Small Onion
  • 1 1/2 C.Vegetable Stock
  • Fresh/Dried Basil (more if using fresh)
  • Salt and Black Pepper To Taste
  • 3-4 Large Portobellos
  • 200g. Spaghetti
  1. Saute portobellos in butter or olive oil on medium heat with a tiny dash of salt for two minutes until just softened. Remove from pan and set aside for later.
  2. Boil pasta in salted water according to package instructions, then drain. (The pasta can be boiled while the pumpkin is being prepared.)
  3. In the same pan, saute garlic and leek/onion for a few minutes until fragrant. Add pumpkin puree and vegetable stock. Cook until almost all the stock has evaporated. Usually stock would contain salt, so be wary when salting the dish later. Always taste the dish first.
  4. Add cayenne/pureed chipotle and basil. Cook for another minute.
  5. Add sour cream/heavy cream and mix well. 
  6. Toss in pasta and portobellos until well incorporated.
  7. Optionally top with a sprinkle of parmesan although it is not necessary since this dish is already incredibly creamy and flavourful on its own.

Pumpkin has much more to it than just to be eaten in soup or with roti. This recipe also works well with squash. 
I love an excuse to celebrate. Though we do not celebrate Thanksgiving nor do we have four seasons in Trinidad, I am looking forward to making pumpkin pie soon as well as some pumpkin bread! Pumpkin bread is an interesting (quite tasty) alternative to our local version of "sweet bread". Pumpkin pie is not my favourite, but my siblings like it, and as I said... Any excuse to celebrate (with food too)!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Brunch at 360 Degrees

It's Sunday... That means it's brunch day! Today I visited 360 Degrees Restaurant at Capital Plaza Hotel (formerly Crowne Plaza), and it was definitely not the ordinary dining experience. The food itself, in my opinion, was good, but nothing special. The selection was alright as well, but like I said, it was average. However, it is a revolving restaurant and that definitely counts for something.

The unfinished architecture that surrounds Port of Spain may have taken a bit away from the view but maybe at night it would be magnificent. Maybe I'll return eventually and find out for myself, but for now, here's some photos from a lovely morning out.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Brunch at Chaud

Brunch is on my mind today. I love brunch; I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that before. So, it's about time I share the rest of my photos from last Sunday. Brunch was brilliant, the lime was even better.
While I adore brunch at Jaffa, Chaud was obviously quite great. The variety was not as extensive as Jaffa, but everything was just a bit more refined.

Brunch started off with Blood-Orange Sparkling Wine Mimosas

Fresh Fruit Salad | Yoghurt  | Lemon Poppyseed Muffin

Brioche | Back Bacon | Shirred Eggs

Crepe | Smoked Salmon | Shrimp

Salmon Sashimi | Shrimp | Bean Salad | Apple-Walnut Salad | Smoked Salmon

Stewed Oxtail | Cornmeal Dumplings | Fried Shark with Shadon Beni Aioli

Array of Salad

Pork Belly with Apple Compote

Vegetable Bouquetiere | Herbed Rice | Bean Ragout | Ratatouille | Duck a l'Orange

Banana Cream Pie

Watermelon | Shortbread Cookie | Chocolate Chip Cookie | Chocolae Tart

Here's the full menu.

It's a definite must-do-again!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Chocolate Chip Scones

Today is Wednesday which could only mean one thing: Tea! Now while I love tea in itself, Afternoon Tea has become a favourite recreational activity of mine. Jaffa plays a great role in that enterprise. The clotted cream is most definitely what I keep going back for, and it is, in fact, the main attraction for High Tea at Jaffa. On this visit, I completely disregarded the numerous other desserts, and instead enjoyed a second scone with a bit of the clotted cream. That however, did remind me of the scones I make that I'd like to share. It's a Westernized scone however, not the traditional British scones which we would more consider a biscuit. Though I love an authentic scone (with jelly and/or clotted cream), I still enjoy a non-traditional scone once in a while. It's easy to make, takes no time and tastes pretty good. For those reasons, these scones may be a favourable snack option, or even an accompaniment for tea or coffee. With other mix-ins such as blueberry, coconut and oatmeal instead of the chocolate chips, it may also be a breakfast option.

Crumbly on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

Chocolate Chip Scones
  • 2 C. Flour
  • 1/4 C. Brown Sugar (You can use white sugar as well, but brown has a nice flavour.)
  • 1 Tsp.Baking Powder
  • 1/2 C. Butter
  • 1/2 C. Chocolate Chips
  • 1/2 C. Cold Buttermilk/Cream
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Brown Sugar (for sprinkling)
  1. Heat the oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add the cold butter and cut in with a fork or pastry blender until the crumbs are pea-sized. Add the chocolate chips and mix well.
  4. Add in the cold buttermilk/cream and vanilla and mix until the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Turn out onto a flat surface and knead the dough just until it comes together. It is important to not over-knead to maintain a favourable texture.
  6. Press into an 8" disk, then cut into 8 wedges.  Places the wedges on the prepared baking sheet and brush with an egg wash (or even just milk).  Top each scone with as much sugar as you like.
  7. Bake the scones for 15 – 18 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  Cool 10 minutes on the pan before transferring to a wire rack and let cool almost completely.
  8. These are best enjoyed still warm with a big mug of tea.
I'd go on but before I fall asleep on myself, I'll retreat. After tea at Jaffa (or any meal, actually), I could use a nap. I definitely do enjoy Afternoon Tea though. Great food and great company makes for a brilliant evening.
Also recently read an entertaining article about American v.s. British Scones, so I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Panna Cotta

Do you ever feel like once you've tried something, it begins popping up everywhere, and even if it is something that has long existed, it's now so popular? Something similar occurred to me yesterday with panna cotta. Then I remembered that I have yet to share my post on it. Panna Cotta (meaning cooked cream) is a well-known Italian dessert made with cream, milk and sugar, set with gelatin. It has been consumed for many years, originating in Italy and spreading throughout the world.
My first time attempting to make panna cotta, I was extremely nervous. I was/am not very familiar with gelatin and the thought of jiggly cream seemed a bit far-fetched to me. However, it was something I've been wanting to try and since I was making an Italian themed meal that day, I seized the opportunity. I had made an eggplant parmesan, mini BLT Caprese on little toothpicks as well as the panna cotta. Luckily, I made the panna cotta ahead so I had room for mishaps.

On the first try, I replaced the gelatin with agar agar so as to make it vegetarian. Well... It seems I was even less familiar with agar agar than I was with gelatin (even though I researched it), because it did not set. I do think it takes a while longer to set that gelatin but I had to have done something wrong, or the agar agar was no good because after more than 24 hours, it was still liquid. I discarded that, though I may try again in the future with the agar agar. The second batch I used the gelatin, and it was far more successful. It wasn't perfect, of course, it was only my first try, but it was pretty great - definitely better than I expected. The idea of jiggly cream wasn't so bad after all. I figured I was hesitant because I'm not a huge fan of custard jelly-like desserts and expected it to be similar, but it wasn't.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 6 oz. Plain Greek Yoghurt
  • 1 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1 Vanilla Bean/1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Sugar (to taste) [I preferred mine on the mild side with reference to sweetness because of the way it was served i.e. with a Bailey's Caramel.]
  • 2 Tsp. Gelatin Powder
Heat heavy cream in a saucepan on medium low heat until just before the boil. Stir in and dissolve gelatin. Sweeten to taste. Add milk, mix in yoghurt and vanilla. Pour into moulds and allow to set for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. 

I used a silicon mould for these and they peeled right out. However, the glass and plastic containers were impossible to get the panna cotta out of, so those are best served in their dish. They must be served chilled as well since they are sometimes delicate and can easily melt. The bottom layer (the brown part) was a mild chocolate cream layer but it wasn't as creamy (or well-textured) as the vanilla. However, I do think following the vanilla recipe, omitting the sugar and adding in a little melted bittersweet chocolate may be brilliant. As mentioned before, these were served over a shortcut Bailey's caramel, simply by mixing a few tablespoons of the Bailey's with homemade or storebought caramel.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Meatless Monday: Potato-Leek 4-Cheese Pizza

Potatoes with leeks is a very popular combination. That doesn't limit the possibilities of leeks, however. The mild onion-y flavour of leeks is brilliant in many dishes - the possibilities are endless. I used one of my leeks recently for a Bacon-Leek Carbonara (without the sundried tomatoes as per the recipe that inspired the dish). Though it was delicious, I think I prefer some of my dishes simple (and sometimes traditional), including spaghetti carbonara. Carbonara is most definitely one of my favourite pasta dishes; it's so simple yet so incredibly flavourful.
I've been meaning to make a potato pizza and I had another leek that needed to be used urgently. I have been planning on making this pizza, but given my recent state of emotion with regard to food, particularly cooking, I procrastinated the dish for quite some time. The leeks were not going to wait for me however, and if I didn't use them, they would have been garbage not long from now. I had the perfect opportunity to make the pizza today. I've been regaining some of my motivation and inspiration, and attempting to rid my insecurities. At the end of the day, no one really cares as much as I think they do; people aren't really judging you. Who has the time anyway? People have their own lives, and even if they do judge, doing something you love is for you, and only you. People opinions and constructive criticism are important, but most important is what you think of you. And if I want to write, I should - I'm writing for me, no one else, really. But if you're reading this anyway, I'm happy you are! And I also apologize for my emotional ranting recently. It's Meatless Monday, so a potato pizza fits perfectly! I took these pictures at night so the lighting is terrible and my camera isn't professional either. 

Potato-Leek Four-Cheese Pizza
  • Pizza Dough (or any dough/base you like)
  • 1 Large Potato
  • 1 Leek (cut and rinsed thoroughly [white and light green parts])
  • Cheddar/Mozzarella
  • Cream Cheese
  • Feta
  • Parmesan
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Pepper
Use a mandoline to slice the peeled potatoes paper thin. Do so just before topping the pizza because potatoes rapidly turn brown. Roll pizza dough to desired thickness, top with cheddar/mozzarella, three to four layers of potato, leeks, cream cheese pieces and crumbled feta, in that order. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper to taste and lightly drizzle olive oil on potatoes. Grate a fine layer of parmesan on top of the pizza and bake at 400° F until the pizza is browned and the potatoes are cooked.

I didn't bother giving exact quantities or instructions for this since it wasn't exact while I was making it, and cooking is something that is best done to taste. Everyone's taste is different, and even while cooking, sometimes we don't use recipes, we wing it. The majority of dishes people make are like that, and while baking is something that's more precise, many other types of cooking you just make up as you go along. I'm just sharing the ingredients I used (so easy, right?) and the sequence in which I used them. A little bit of bacon on top of this would be brilliant, don't you think? I didn't bother salting the potatoes since feta and parmesan are relatively salty cheeses and I didn't find it necessary.

Here's a few other great uses for leeks:
Cleaning leeks well is very important because they are often full of dirt and grit between the layers. If you are unfamiliar with leeks, here's a short video on cleaning and cutting them for use in your dishes.

Leeks can be re-planted just like chives. After trimming the roots, leaving enough to sustain the plant, just stick it into to dirt and it'll grow!