Cooking in the Time of COVID-19: Tom made Pizza for Dinner using his Ooni Koda

We’ve been taking turns in the kitchen while we wait this virus out and for the first time we have been able to cook without looking at the clock. We can cook the way we used to when the kids were little, when there were no appointments, no schedules, no eating and running out the door. We are taking the time to slow ourselves down and savor our food. Last night, Tom fired up the oven and made pizzas.

       A little bit on his oven. This oven came to live with us when I went to Trinidad for my cousin’s wedding. Leave Tom alone long enough you will comeback to something new. It was not just the oven but it was a station on the back deck for said oven.  It heats to 900 F and takes about 90 seconds to completely cook. So when there are guests, pizzas are made and served on after the other and no one is left waiting to eat. If you don’t have a gas fired pizza oven you can still use this recipe to make light crusted tasty pizza. All you have to do is heat your stove’s oven to the highest temperature. Ours at home is 500 F and in 10 minutes we were able to make a pizza just as enjoyable and tasty as the ones in the Ooni Koda.

I have to give Tom props for taking on baking the way he has. I am no good with dough. I don’t like mixing it, kneading it and I certainly can’t toss it without wrecking it.  He also makes his own tomato sauce. He is not an “eyeball it” cook like I am and I do admire his precision when it comes to measuring and timing and texture. Do here you go – here is Tom’s Pizza that you can easily make during this time of social isolation. Please enjoy and please stay at home. Let’s get through this pandemic one day at a time, one meal at a time ~ Daniella and family.

DOUGH

To make the dough for 4 pizzas there are just 5 ingredients:-

500 grams ’00’ flour (SUPER finely ground flour)

300 grams water (pizza dough is always 60% water to whatever amount of
flour…so if you only want to do 300 grams of flour to make a couple of
pizzas, then 180 gms water)

1 teaspoon of active dry yeast

10 grams salt

10 grams olive oil

Method:- Put the salt in the flour, and mix it. I got this really inexpensive mixer on Amazon called Aicok and it had great reviews in spite of it’s low cost. The point is, cooking and cooking utensils don’t have to blow the budget. Doing the research can get you great brands you may have never heard of, but their reviews are fantastic and the price is affordable.

Next, heat your water for 40 seconds in the microwave, and it should be between 110 and 120 degrees F, basically WARM to the touch.Add the yeast to the water, and mix it up, making sure to keep the yeast in the water as much as you can. Leave it for 15 minutes.  It should bubble or foam.

 

Let the flour and salt start mixing in the mixer at the lowest setting…then pour in the water/yeast mixture. Add the olive oil. Use a silicone spatula to occasionally keep the dough in one ball, and not sticking to the bottom. Let it knead for a good 10-15 minutes.

Bring that ball out as intact as you can onto a well floured surface. I like using a Limnuo silcone pad when kneading dough. No sticking, you use less flour on it’s surface and less mess ergo happy wife but any clean flat floured surface would do just fine. Roll the ball of dough around and knead it a little just to keep its shape.

       

Lightly oil the inner surface of a big container. I like to use a stainless steel mixing bowl. Make the dough into one big ball (haha) and put it into the container. Oil the top of the ball  and then cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

SAUCE:

1 big can of San Marzano tomatoes FROM DOP.  You can get this in the international section of WalMart.

    

       

 

Use 2 cloves of garlic.  Peel them, and finely slice them. Coat the bottom of a medium sized pan with olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the sliced garlic. In about 30 seconds it will start to get really fragrant. Add the whole can of tomatoes and add ONE dab of tomato paste.

 

Good pinch of red pepper flake and Oregano. Let simmer on LOW and let it go for a good 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

      

Once it’s at your desired thickness, blend that sucker, and put it in a container and put it aside until you’re ready to use it.

 

DOUGH again, then PIZZA:

The DAY you’re going to make pizzas, take the dough out of the fridge and let it acclimate for an hour or so. On a well floured surface, cut the dough into 4 equal sections (they should be about 200 grams each). Using flour and rolling with your hands, make them into tight balls.The surface should be without any cracks or lines.  Any dimples or imperfections should all be at the bottom and pinched together in a ‘navel’ that can close itself up.  Put them to rest in a lightly oiled container, trying to keep them separate.

Now, prep your ingredients.

I recommend using a GOOD mozzarella and/or goat cheese.  Do NOT use pre-shredded cheese, as that’s usually coated with a starch so it doesn’t stick together in the bag.  Better to freshly shred, or slice your cheese.

If you’re using toppings, remember this is going to be a THIN crust pizza, so they need to be cut THIN too.

   

When it’s time to make the pizzas, put the pizza stone in your oven (if you don’t have a pizza oven) and put that to the highest it can go…likely 500 F. Flour your surface again, and take one of the dough balls. Stretch it out into a pizza dough. You’ll have to look up the techniques to do
this, and find the one you like best. There are a bunch on Youtube.  I suggest starting with OONIVERSITY on YOUTUBE with their simple  doable steps.

Once stretched, put it on a pizza peel that has a generous amount of semolina flour spread on it. Make sure the pizza dough freely slides around on it.

Now, you need to sauce it pretty quickly, and add your mozzerella (or GOAT CHEESE…GREAT option!) and toppings. LESS IS MORE…and quicker is better. If you take too long, the dough will stick to the peel, and that’s not fun.

Slide that thing onto your pizza stone and just WATCH it.  Once you see
some decent ‘leoparding’ spots on the dough, you can take it out and see
if it’s completely done…if there are some lighter spots, turn the
pizza that way and put it back in for about half a minute. Bring it out, give it 30 seconds or so to cool, and cut – DONE. HAVE FUN. EAT. ENJOY. STAY HOME. KEEP COOKING ~ Tom and family.

Check out the pizza creations we have made.

 

   

 

 

Cooking in the time of COVID-19: Bravo,Logan on your Delicious Beef Broccoli

The deal is, Logan learns a new dish every Monday and Friday. Tonight’s diner…Beef Broccoli.

 

My son and I share a deep and meaningful love of Chinese cuisine. For the past 7 years, we would go to Toronto for March Break and have the 3 but at least 1 all day Chinese food and Dim Sum feast. This would also be the time he would bring all his gift cards he received at Christmas and buy new clothes. If we had time we would take in a play, catch a movie or visit an attraction (usually the Hockey Hall of Fame). In addition to other spots we would try, out two spots are Rol San on Spadina for Dim Dum and Island Mix in Pickering on our way home for Chinese food made by a Trini hand. It is so crazy, that we promised each other if we ever had anything of major significance to tell each other we would do so at Rol San. But there was no all Chinese food weekend for March Break this year because of the COVID-19 Pabdemic. So, if we cannot go to the Chinese food, we will make it here at home with whatever ingredients we can find.

I taught him how to boil rice the other day and he decided to do rice  as his base dish as we were out of the broad rice noodles we usually serve with Beef Broccoli (we only have Basmati rice in our pantry and we are not going out if we don’t have to). He remembered everything I told him. He measured out 1 1/2 cups for our meal and he washed it the way I showed him 3 times until the water drained clear. He put it in a medium saucepan and added just over 2 cups of water, a squirt of sesame oil salt, pepper and a bit of parsley as we were out of green onions and we weren’t going out just for that. He stirred the pot occasionally and reduced the heat so it went from a boil to a simmer. As the water evaporated, he lowered the heat and put the lid on it until it was moist yet fluffy. I have to say, teaching him to cook with the Rock pots is a blessing as we don’t have to fuss over food sticking and we don’t have to worry about any non-stick coating peeling off and getting into our food. I also f=don’t have to worry about having to use certain utensils with these pots. When he eventually moves out I think I will be getting him his own Rock set of pots.

Taking some pre-seasoned meat we thawed earlier, He put a table spoon of sesame oil in the Instant Pot and selected saute. He let the meat cook for about a minute and a half, stirring occasionally.Because we knew we were going to do beef broccoli with this batch of stewing beef, we did not season with salt, This allowed him to put a table spoon of soy sauce in with the meat, and by his choice, a table spoon of Hoisin sauce. Stirring that in with 3 table spoons of water, he switched the key pad to meat/stew and sealed the pot and had it cook for 20 minutes.

Next he prepped the broccoli. He used frozen broccoli and it was semi-thawed which was perfect. Throwing it in a bowl, he cut up some ginger and sprinkled in some sesame seeds and microwaved it for about 30 seconds on high. He drained the water and set the broccoli aside.

Once the beef was done in the Instant Pot, he gingerly let the steam out. (It is funny watching a newbie hesitate with the valve  – a very safe valce by the way, and still get stunned by the steam). He tasted the sauce and was happy with the flavor he was able to capture with the ingredients we had available. He stirred in the broccoli, ginger and sesame seeds and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

He garnished his rice with a little more parsley and called us to the table. He plated our meals for us to, giving himself the largest portion, (lol) sprinkling some extra sesame seeds for a bit more garnishing. He has the capacity to consume a whole lot more than we do and still stay lean, even now that he can’t do any sports until the pandemic is over.

The beef was tender and juicy and we could taste the ginger and soy and whatever else the Hoisen sauce brought to the dish. Logan has always loved broccoli  and is always looking to incorporate it into a lot of his meals and he really enjoyed how each piece was soaked in the sauce.

I apologize I only have a few photos of this, but my attention was on showing him what he had to do.

Dad thought it went very well with beer

This is a very quick and easy dish to prepare that is tasty and flavorful. we even had a little bit left over which I believe he ate later that night as a snack, as per usual.

  TA DA!

Try this at home if you have the ingredients and us know what you think. Remember to share your recipes too. This is a good time to cook what you have in your freezer teach your kids to cook and experiment a little. Stay home. Stay safe. #flatten the curve. If we all do it , we will beat this virus sooner rather than later. ~ Daniella and family.

Cooking in the Time of COVID-19: I Found Some Roti Skins in My Freezer … Ta Da!

Part of this odd kitchen adventure we are on takes us on expeditions to the frozen lands that are our freezers. Yesterday I found roti skins or roti bake as we Trini’s call them and people started saying whether they wanted beef or chicken.

The order was 2 beef for Logan and me and Adam and Tom opted for chicken. As I mentioned in my previous post, we seasoned quite a bit of meat this week so having chicken and beef thawed, seasoned and ready to go was a time saving bonus. Now, while I know how to make curry dishes, I am by no means an expert in roti. I don’t make my skins, I buy them and I buy the dhalpuri roti as my sons look forward to the dried split peas embedded in their roti bake. Fortunately, I had gone to the West Indian supermarket in mid February to get some ingredients to make food for my visiting guests but of course, typical me, I had so much food we never got around to making roti while they were here. So, tonight it’s roti for four, 2 beef no pepper, 2 chicken, 1 with pepper. Here’s how I did it:-

I  

I didn’t thaw the roti skins overnight as I had planned so in order to have everything ready in time for dinner, I placed them (with the parchment paper between each) on a sheet of foil, sealed them up and placed in the oven to warm at 200 degrees F in a pressure cooker like the Instant pot.for an hour. This would thaw them and warm them keeping them nice and soft.

With the skins in the oven, it was time to prepare the beef and the chicken curry. For the beef, I decided to use the Instant pot to cook it quickly and to give it that tenderness I like. No one ejoys having to gnaw on food that is tough, so for me, every time I cook stewing beef, I do it either in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot.

I am a little stuck for brands so when I stock up at the West Indian grocery I buy Chief curry powder as it is a flavor I am familiar with and I’ve been cooking with it for years. I add a little hot water to the powder, make the paste, melt some butter in my pots and added the paste in. For the chicken, I used my iron pot knowing that cooking the chicken in this would time out perfectly for when the beef was done in the Instant Pot.

     

Throw in a cube of coconut milk for flavor

So here, once the butter and paste cooked together, I added the chicken and potatoes, added a little coconut milk (I freeze coconut milk in an ice tray and put them in a freezer bag so I can use it in my cooking without having to run out and buy a can all the time) and covered the pot and reduced to medium heat, occasionally stirring. While this was happening, I did the same with the beef, covered the instant pot and let it do it’s thing for about 20 minutes.

     

Since I started cooking, from the moment I put the roti skins in the oven until the meat was done, about 40 minutes had gone by so I turned off the oven, took out the bakes and for the most part they were soft and warn. A couple of them tore in spots where they were a dry and some of the dhal spilled out a little but that was no big deal. I then put the meat on the roti bake/roti skin and folded it and wrapped it in wax paper and put them on the table labelled with one of the rotis (Adam’s) made to go because we told him we would walk it over to his apartment. That boy will not tolerate being excluded from enjoying a roti. In Trinidad, my family like many would accompany a roti with a red soft drink(pop), sweet drink or as we would call it (cutting off the last letter of the first word) a sofdrink or a sweedrink. Of course, I didn’t have one because a) I didn’t buy any when I was at the West Indian Shop, b) we don’t buy pop and c) we are supposed to be social distancing so I got creative and made a cranberry spritzer instead…Look, it red oui, and I was happy to pretend.

     

2 Beef no pepper & a Chicken with pepper to stay. One beef no pepper to go. 

Makeshift “Red Sofdrink”

I am certainly not as good as any roti shop I would ordinarily buy from and even further away from the  top quality of the roti shops in Trinidad. Roti is something that any of my cousins know they could give me as a gift when I go home for a visit because there is nothing more tasty, more special and no better way to say “I love you”, in my opinion than bringing me roti and doubles. The other thing my friends and cousins know I crave when I go home, is Kibbeh from our Syrian/Lebanese community and they never disappoint. Oh Lord, I digress thinking about all the good food in Trinidad. Like I said, I am not  great at roti – for crying out loud I buy pre-made roti skins.but in a time when we are stuck at home, it was nice to be able to make roti for my family and put a satisfied belly smile on their faces. It tasted great and filled us up and there is a little more room in the freezer. No need to go to the drive through for fast food. No need to expose ourselves to COVID-19. No need to go against protocol and go outside. Comfort food in the form of a roti brought the comfort we all needed even if just for a little while. Look in your pantry and your freezer and see what you have that you can make with your family. Cooking through this time of isolation is a great daily distraction. It is cleaner and healthier and it is a nice time you can share with your family. Stay home, stay virus free and share your recipes as well. Inspire others to do the same – Daniella and Family

Cooking in the Time of COVID-19: How About We Make a Pelau Today?

Today I am going to show a real traditional, staple Trinidadian dish. If you are Trinidadian/Tobagonian and you can’t make Pelau, I don’t know what to say to you other than, you’d better learn. Pelau is a one pot meal, made with nutritious and tasty ingredients that fills bellies. I can’t think of a specific time when Trinis eat Pelau. It works any time of year, at any festival or celebration and is welcomed by all every time it is served.In my family Pelau happens at Carnival time, mid week for lunch, on a Sunday for lunch sometimes, at christmas, at the beach, at fundraisers, at Gaby’s rehearsal dinner, when Trini’s come back home for a visit, or when I have people at my home in Canada so that my guests can taste our heritage cuisine. It can be stored for the week in the fridge and the staler the Pelau, the nicer it tastes, in my opinion. Pelau can be frozen and thawed and eaten at a later date and again, it tastes even better. Many Caribbean islands claim to be where Pelau originated. The French West Indies claim it to be their traditional rice dish, and here is what the epicurious website says about Pelau:

“Pelau is one of those dishes that really exemplifies Trinidadian cuisine because it is an admixture of various cooking styles. Pelau, or rice with meats and vegetables, is a variation of East Indian pilau, which originated in Persia where it is called polow. The Anglicized version of the dish is called pilaf. The process of browning the meat in sugar for pelau is an African tradition and ketchup is a New World addition to the dish, although I suspect it has its basis in tomato chutneys available in British India and likely brought to Trinidad by the English.”

In my biased opinion, Trinidad & Tobago Pelau is the best because of the way we cook our food, the way we season our meat and the way we perfect it a little more every time we cook it. I believe, even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, every Trini, needs to know how to make a Pelau just as well as they know how to tie their shoes. Now isolated in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am teaching my younger son to cook and while I know perfecting Pelau will take him some time, I want him to get to the point I am at, where if I feel like eating it, I can make it anytime, once I have the ingredients.

 

As you know, at this time of isolation,we are using what we have in the house to make our dishes, so I had Logan take out the Basmati rice and measure out enough for the four of us ( so just under 2 cups). I showed him how to wash the rice and that he was to do so about 3 times or until the water becomes much less cloudy than the first rinse. Next, I had him open the last can of pigeon peas that we had, drain and rinse it. With all the cooking we have been doing we have seasoned meat ready to go. So if you are wondering, the seasoning is my Trinidad bottled green seasoning, garlic, onion, chives, thyme, salt and pepper, parsley and basil, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Logan wanted a chicken and beef Pelau, so I showed him how to brown the chicken and had him add the pigeon peas and rice to it. I like the beef tender so I showed him how to use the instant pot to achieve this texture.

Putting a little olive oil to prevent the meat from sticking and I chose saute on the instant pot and started cooking it for just over a minute. Then, I set it to “pressure cook” for about 20 minutes and set aside.*Note about the instant pot. I have made Beef Pelau in the instant pot before but I cannot guarantee the bottom layer of food will not stick to the pot so in the interest of not wasting or burning food, we just used it to soften the texture of the stewing beef.

Pelau is all about cooking down the food together. So since we used about a cup and a half of rice I added just under 2 cups of water to the peas and chicken, added the beef,

     

and a tablespoon or two of coconut milk which is an ingredient I always have on hand in cans or my freezer. However, you don’t need coconut milk to make Pelau though it is a nice touch when it comes to flavor. I also did not have a Scotch Bonnet pepper so pepper was added to people’s plates as needed.

Allow your Pelau to come to a boil then simmer. giving it the occasional stir. Once the water starts to diminish, cover and lower heat. The cooking and prep time for me is usually about 45 minutes, maybe a little longer. It is a pot that has to be watched as it simmers down because you don’t want what is at the bottom of the pot to burn. It will take Logan some time to learn this but after years of making Pelau, I have found that sweet spot in the cooking time where my dish is not overly dry and not soggy. My Pelau is moist and does not stick to my pot and I consistently use my iron pots from Trinidad.

Here is the finished product of Logan’s chicken and beef Pelau. Pelau can be made like this, with beef as the only meat, with chicken as the only meat or ox tail as the only meat. Of course, my mom, who makes the best flavored Pelau I have ever eaten is loaded with dark chicken meat, beef and ox tail…because she is granny and when she “throw down” a Pelau, she silences everyone. My mother comes from a large family of brothers and sisters who knew how to cook. I could taste my grandmother’s hand in all their dishes, each sister’s dish slightly different from the other’s with their own signature. The base taste for all however, is Ma Juanita Yee Foon’s hand. My cousins can cook. We were all brought into the kitchen at an early age and while some may say they aren’t as good as others, I have never had a meal at any of my cousin’s homes that was not tasty. I am loving passing on this skill to my son. I think he is enjoying it and moves comfortably about the kitchen. I hope he feels the same pride I do, having the ability to make my heritage dishes and I hope he gains as mych joy as I do spending the hour or so it takes to make a meal.

For those of you trying this for the first time, I have included a recipe for chicken Pelau. Cooking new dishes is something we can do during this time of Pandemic isolation and social distancing. Stay at home. Step away from the news and spend the time cooking with your family and best of all, eating with them. This time shall pass, why not use wisely and productively. Stay safe. Stay germ free. Wash your hands. Stay home. Feel free to share your recipes as well and comment on how your Pelau turned out.

INGREDIENTS

    • 1 cup dry or 1 (12-ounce) can pigeon peas, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas
    • 2 cups long-grain rice (or whatever rice you have)
    • 3 tablespoons canola oil (to brown meat)
    • 3/4 cup sugar (white or brown to use in browning meat)
    • 1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 cup canned coconut milk (use just a tablespoon or two for flavor. Too much can overpower the taste)
    • 1 bay leaf (optional)
    • 2 teaspoons green seasoning ( if you have green seasoning. see Tips, below)
    • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
    • 1 sprig thyme
    • 5 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
    • 1 small whole Scotch bonnet pepper
    • 1/2 cup ketchup of tomato paste

PREPARATION

    1. If using dried peas, soak them overnight in 3 cups of water. Drain. Bring 3 fresh cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the peas. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until cooked almost completely through. Drain and set aside. If using canned beans, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside. Wash the rice by placing it in a colander or fine-mesh sieve and running cold water over it until the water runs clear, about 1 minute. Drain well and set aside.
    2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pot. Add the sugar and swirl in the pot, stirring constantly; allow it to caramelize to a dark brown color. Add the chicken and stir well to coat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
    3. Stir in 2 cups of water, the coconut milk, bay leaf, green seasoning, parsley, thyme, carrots, and scallions. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
    4. Stir the rice, peas, hot pepper, and ketchup, into the chicken. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the peas and vegetables are tender. Remove lid and fluff the rice. The rice should be moist but not sticky.

 

Cooking in the time of COVID-19: The Pancake Smile.

It is the second week of lock-down as we try to stop the spread of COVID-19. I woke to more bad news of it’s impact around the world and I was disappointed to learn there are still people gathering in large numbers, refusing to heed the advice of medical officials, begging them to stay at home.

MIAMI BEACH, FL – MARCH 17: People eat at a restaurant along Ocean Drive on March 17, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida in spite of warnings from government and medical officials worldwide. Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Opening up the curtains in my kitchen, I looked up at a perfectly blue sky; white wispy clouds like puffs of cotton drifting by. It is business as usual for Mother Nature as spring blooms. I could see shoots of my annuals pushing skyward from the earth, little chickadees popping in and out of our birdhouse and a pregnant robin and her mate, perched on a nearby branch of the massive Russian Olive tree in my yard. Yep, that’s my girl, Mother Nature, the greatest force, doing her thing in spite of the pandemic that is raging through every country on the planet.

I may be disappointed in mankind, but I was uplifted by the beautiful day and wanted my family to wake up to something welcoming. So, I decided to make pancakes. The recipe is etched in my mind after watching my mother make them for us every Sunday for years. I remember she would set up her special Teflon pan. It was a Sun Beam and it had it’s own power source and stand and she had special cooking utensils she used to prevent the surface from scratching. Seems like she had that pan forever – I think it may have made the trip up to Toronto when our family migrated. That pan is a significant part of my childhood memories and I liked that it was a big deal, even though there is nothing easier than making pancakes from scratch. I remember her telling me that making it from a boxed mix took the same amount of time than making it from scratch and why would one want to sacrifice taste and texture by a heavy box mix? Oh Mom, you are so right and I am so happy I have never made pancakes from a box or poured my family’s dinner ready-made out of a can. Thank you for extending your sweet hand to both your girls and just so you know, it is a pleasure for us to cook alongside you. This recipe I am about to share I have also taught to my son, Logan and I have to say, they guy makes a damn good batch of pancakes, ensuring that granny’s recipe is still being extended through the generations.  My mother always had a smile on her face when she made pancakes for her family because she was making them with so much love. I wanted to smile today in spite of all that is unfolding around us, so I gathered the ingredients on the counter and got to work.

Since there is no school or sports to get to, I decided to make a smaller batch that yields about 20 mid sized pancakes. Usually, I can make about 30 to 40, so this morning, this will be quick. Sift 1 1/2 cups of unbleached flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of brown or white sugar and mix. Throw in a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon if you have it and mix again. By now, you should be smiling.

 

Next, add a tablespoon of olive oil (or vegetable of whatever oil you have available), a splash of vanilla and an egg to the dry ingredients.

   Measure out 1 cup of almond milk or regular milk (we use lactose free milk) and add to the other ingredients. Mix well with a whisk, adding a little more milk or water if batter seems too thick.

 

Place a seasoned pan on stove on high heat for about a minute. As mentioned in a previous post, I like The Rock line of cookware because food never sticks to it and it is so easy to clean. I usually use the Rock mini griddle pan for pancakes but I think it grew legs and left the house, so today I am using a big frying pan which means I’ll be done sooner because I can make 3 at a time if I want to.

(A seasoned pan is a pan coated evenly with butter or olive oil. Pan must shine without having excess oil that could change the consistency of the batter)

    

Once the pan is hot, lower burner temperature to medium/low heat. Place a small amount of batter in pan and wait for it to bubble before flipping it. This is the runt pancake.

    It will either be too light and look under-cooked or it will be too dark and spongy. Such is the plight of the runt pancake which used to be called the “doggie” pancake when we had a dog. The runt pancake is very normal. It happens every time. The next pancakes come out perfectly – they rise a bit, are nice and tender and are are a nice medium brown colour with a lighter brown, smooth underside.

  

Continue to spoon the batter into the pan, wait for all the bubbles to appear then flip.

  Repeat this until you run out of batter. The kitchen will have a gorgeous inviting smell and I guarantee you will catch yourself smiling, especially when it comes time to plating and serving it to your family.

   If you have fruit of any kind, now’s a nice time to serve it up. I usually have frozen raspberries or frozen strawberries or pitted cherries.Today, I decided on raspberries, so I took them out of the freezer before I started making the pancakes, so they thawed and juicy by the time I was ready to plate. Like my mom, from time to time I like to make a small production of the presentation of my pancakes.

As you can see, I served the pancakes with a few raspberries on top, a drizzle of maple syrup and a light dusting of icing sugar to make it a little special with some sliced banana on the side.

The pancake scent wafted throughout the home and soon, I heard the thundering of feet up the stairs bringing hungry bellies to the table. With smiles on their faces, the only words said were “Pancakes! Thanks, Mom.” They were smiling, I was smiling and there was a feeling of warmth, comfort and love inside my home this morning in spite of the harsh reality of the pandemic outside.

During this time of isolation, make comfort food for your family, check in with each other and try and enjoy this time as we slow ourselves down, hunker down at home and contribute to the efforts being made to bring this virus down. Stay at home, leave only for supplies and limit your time in public. Wash your hands, wipe down and clean all surfaces and do all you can to stay healthy.

 

Cooking in a Time of COVID-19: “Left Overs” Shepherd’s Pie

 

As our boys got older, my husband and I have more time to do the things we like to do and more time to try new things. One thing we share is a love of food, cooking, eating and sharing with others. These past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. Two weeks ago, I spent a week working on diminishing the effects of sciatica and the following week we had to pair down our business and set ourselves up to work from home because we are following the COVID-19 protocol that has been put in place by the government and health care professionals. Not wanting to go out unnecessarily, we are trying to utilize the ingredients we have at home to make our meals. I wasn’t in the mood to do a big dinner, so I looked in the fridge to see what I could use to throw together something tasty, filling and easy. (I am also using this lock down to get a head start on teaching 17 year old Logan to cook) After all, while we practice social distancing to overcome this virus, making a quick tasty meal means a fast return to streaming the shows I’ve been meaning to watch for months.

So, in case you want to try something quick, easy and tasty, here’s how I made “Left Overs” Shepherd’s pie for dinner in the time of COVID-19….

I found a mish-mash of potatoes – an open bag of mini red potatoes and 2 large Russets which I washed, cut up and boiled until tender.

 

In the fridge there were some peas, carrots and corn left over from another meal I was preparing earlier in the week and an extra pound of ground beef that my husband thawed when he took meat out to make burgers on his new griddle.

            

We love flavorful food so seasoning is really important when we cook and being Trinidadian, I really don’t know any other way to cook. For the meat, I add a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and in a small bowl I combined a pinch* of  sea salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin and four healthy cranks of the pepper mill. I threw in some thyme (the leaves of three stalks) parsley flakes and a little basil.

(every time I say pinch I mean a healthy pinch, like a pinch that would make someone say “OW”!)     

Next I chopped up half of a small onion I found in the crisper and 2 cloves of garlic. I put about a tablespoon  or so of olive oil in a mid sized pan to heat.

I like to use the Rock cookware as I am not a fan of Teflon and I have found it the best way to teach my boys to cook without worrying about the food sticking and burning or worrying about utensils scratching the surface.

  

I sweat the onions and garlic in the oil to draw out the moisture and the flavor as their starches converted to sugar. Not only did it smell great, but sweating the onions and garlic reduces their bitterness as well. Once the onions appeared soft and translucent, I added the beef to brown as my Trini mom says. Keeping flavor in mind, I went back in to fridge to see what was there. I found some spicy pepperoni and bacon and decided to chop that up and cook with the beef. It also was an opportunity to use out ingredients that could have been forgotten in fridge and eventually thrown out. Considering I want to limit our ventures into public spaces, using the food we have and making lists of what we need is vital to keeping us and others safe and healthy.

     

With all the meat cooked, I folded in the rest of a bottle of barbecue sauce I found in the cupboard (Just under 1/2 a bottle of Heinz Texas Bold) and added the vegetables.

     

With the filling cooked, it was time to attend to the potatoes. Warm to the touch, they were perfect to mash and season with a little butter, salt and pepper, I like the potatoes chunky but my hubby and son prefer it a bit smoother and I’m not fussy and could live with that request.

   

Once the I got the texture they prefer, I put the first layer of potato in the baking dish.

  This is one of my smaller baking dishes because son number one does not like Shepherd’s pie and wanted to stop by and pick up home made meat balls instead (made with another 1/2 pound of ground beef that yielded 12 meatballs). I wanted to make enough for dinner for 3 with enough left for Logan to have a second helping or for his usual late night snack. When you live with three men, two of whom are competitive athletes,cooking big is much easier than cooking smaller portions and it was no surprise that I ended up saving 1/2 of the filling in the freezer for another Shepherd’s pie while we wait for COVID-19 to subside in our country.

Next, I put on the filling and topped with 1/4 bag of shredded Tex-Mex cheese that I was happy to finish off.

 

My family loves things to have a lid. They like layered dishes like lasagna and therefore it is no surprise that they like the filling sandwiched between the potato. So ,I layered on the last of the potato

 

and topped with a bit of shredded 2 year old smoked cheddar bought at the factory just minutes away from our home. We are big fans of our local Mapledale cheese and again, for us it’s all about flavor.

A firm believer in buying local Canadian goods, I buy my meat from a local butcher who provides grass-fed, antibiotic free meat. I believe when it comes to food, you need to know what’s in it, how it was made and where it came from. My hope is that soon more people will demand better quality food at more reasonable prices. It is utterly unfair and ridiculous that sub-par and sugary food is cheaper than the food our bodies deserve but that’s another argument for another time.

This pie is hearty so if you are looking to cut calories you can have a small portion with a side salad or you can increase your physical activity so that you can enjoy it without feeling guilty. I’ll be honest with you, I do love my sports and my dance but after age 40, I added the desire to maintain my weight and stay healthy to my reasoning behind staying active. If I had my 20 year old metabolism, I wouldn’t care as much as I do about exercise.

With the pie layered, I baked it in a convection oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. For my bigger dishes I usually use my stove’s oven but this time with a smaller pie, I used our Breville Smart Oven. We bought one after falling in love with the one we bought for our son, Adam, for his apartment. Adam has special needs and needed an easy to operate oven that could work with a timer and shut itself off. The Breville Smart Oven gives us peace of mind that Adam can cook his meals safely now that he is living on his own.

You can see that the cheese is nice and crusty, not sludgy and greasy (the benefits of using good ingredients) and it smelled so delicious!

This is just my idea on cooking smartly during a time when we are all required to stay inside. Give it a try and see what you think. Also, with all of us doing our part by isolating ourselves as much as possible to kick the spread of this virus, take a look at what you have in your pantry or fridge and use your imagination to create something comforting and delicious. Share recipe ideas with friends on line, teach your children to cook and use the time to get rid of food in your pantry so long forgotten they have squatters rights. Get rid of junk that you really don’t need to eat. Go through your closet and see what you can wash and set aside for donation once this pandemic passes or grab those old t-shirts you no longer use and cut them into cleaning rags that you can use to wipe down surfaces. They can be either washed and reused or thrown out. There is a lot to do to keep us busy while we wait for this virus to no longer be a threat. It is hard to not go to work and earn. It is hard for young people to not be around their friends and significant others but staying apart from each other is a necessity. Hang in there everybody. It won’t be like this forever.

Stay safe and stay healthy and Bon Appetit!