Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Chinese Food His Way.

My son and I love Chinese food, Vietnamese, Food, Japanese and Korean…it’s our jam, one of our genetic bonds. Ever since he was little, we’d have a special lunch and he always picked Asian cuisine. I remember he had done something really cool at a group he was in at the local YMCA and he was so proud, he suggested we celebrate over Chinese food. He was just 4. For for six consecutive March Breaks, we have been on the All Chinese food get away. It started as a 3 day trip then it dwindled to 1 day as he got busy with hockey and his life, but we made time for it. We start with Dim Sum and any meal we eat on those three days or that one day is Asian cuisine. We also made a deal with each other that if we ever had anything special to tell each other, we would do it at Rol San on Spadina in Toronto, if possible.

With this love of the same cuisine, it was only fitting he felt, that I teach him how to make something close to Asian food. That, and the fact we were not able to head to Rol San for March Break this year because of the Covid 19 virus. Logan decided to try making vegetable fried rice, fried chicken and a vegetable dish. There was not a lot of variety in the grocery when it came to the seasonings we would want to use because of the effect the Covid-19 pandemic is having on deliveries. So, we used what I was able to buy along with the seasonings we have on hand and get creative.

I am teaching Logan to cook using all his senses. He smells the food, the seasonings and is able to identify them by smell and sight. He listens for the sound of the oil to know when he can add food to the pot. He touches everything to experience the different textures and he tastes the food as we go along. He is learning the way I learned from my mother and there is so much more than cooking going on. There is conversation and not just about things going on in his life or what is happening in the world with this virus. I’m telling things about other countries, talking about the different currencies around the world. I give him tidbits about history, climate, all the bits and pieces of trivia my mom and dad told me randomly, so that I would know more than just what was in my school books. I’m talking about art and music and he’s listening. You see, I think as parents we get lost sometimes in the boxes we put ourselves and our children into without realizing that the most successful of us were allowed to be creative. We had open, honest conversations and we were encouraged to think and to try and to fail and to try again. sure, Logan is doing his school work but he is learning from us as we have this time together while we are locked down. He is not scheduled to go to college until January and he still needs to figure out where and when he will start playing hockey again and his plans to go out east to university in 4 years  is still in place. We will take his path as we have always taken it – one day at a time and while we wait for this virus to be defeated, we will teach, he will learn and he will be more prepared to venture out on his own.

And Now – Chinese food Logan’s way.

Fried Rice – Boil some white rice. We used Jasmine rice because that is what we had in the pantry. Once done, set aside. Next he put some sesame oil in his pan and scrambled 2 eggs.

   

   

Next, he added in his ginger, mushrooms, peas and carrots, corn and chives and chopped onion and gradually folded in his rice. He mixed in some Soy sauce and a little Hoisen sauce, tasting all the while until he got the flavor and color he liked. The fried rice complete, he set it aside and started on the chicken.

Logan seasoned the chicken with black pepper, garlic, onion powder, ground ginger and cooked it up with some sesame oil in a large iron pot. Once again he added in soy sauce and some black bean sauce we found. He let it cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally adding a little water to the pot if he needed it so that the chicken would not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. While that cooked, he made a vegetable dish.

  

Looking at what we had to work with he chose the water chesnuts, baby corn, bean sprouts, broccoli and green onion. He tossed them in a pan of peanut oil (any oil will do if you have an allergy to peanuts) and stirred in some orange ginger sauce. Once the veggies were coated he sprinkled with sesame seeds. Earlier, I cooked up some greens that were beginning to look a little sad. I didn’t want them to go to waste so I tossed them up in a little rice vinegar to go with Logan’s meal.

And there you have it – Logan’s homemade Asian meal. It had a great smell and it was full of flavor and most of all it was delicious and he was so proud of himself.  He has impressed us in the kitchen once again and now there is one more dish he can make. By the time he is on his own, he won’t always have to rely on take out when he wants Asian food. I do hope though, that we will continue to go to our favorite Asian restaurants once the pandemic is over, pick up our chop sticks and spend some mom and son time savoring all the flavors we love.

   

 

Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Humility Served by Logan in the Form of a Fish Sandwich on Good Friday.

There is a certain humility that comes with Good Friday. I was born and raised Roman Catholic in Trinidad and to me and my family, when it came to food, it meant a meatless, egg-less simple breakfast. The fanciest thing we might have had was smoke herring with bake or bake and buljol (saltfish aka cod) or maybe for Daddy mackerel or sardines with bake.  Lunch would have been served late, like between 2 and 3 pm as we would have gotten up late that morning anyhow and Lunch would fill you up until bedtime. My mother would do her salt salmon with her lemon and capers olive oil and onions. She served it thank God, with dumplings and what we call “blue food” so, cassava, dasheen, yam and eddoes which off set that salt.

Sometimes she would do a potato salad as a side with it, or if she felt like cooking, some callaloo that for me helped to off set even more of the fish’s saltiness. Sometimes in stead of a potato salad she might do a green fig salad. That was the way she learned to do Good Friday Lunch and thankfully, some of my cousins still do and I think it is the kind of dish my sister will attempt as she has easier access to the West Indian markets than I do. It was not a favourite of mine but I did eat it and still will, but to say I will carry it on is doubtful because salt salmon is not something readily available where I live and I don’t think my guys will gobble it up. I was even looking on line for a photo but couldn’t find a true Trini Good Friday Salmon plate of food to show you what it looks like, but I had no luck.

This year Good Friday is taking place at home. There are no stations of the cross to go to, no Masses this weekend, no Christian services and for our Jewish brothers and sisters, a very different Passover. With everyone in isolation to stop the spread of this virus, it has been nice to see that we have gotten creative and are connecting with each other  with IMO, House Party, using the Amazon Echo Show , Facetime, Google Home etc. services are being live streamed and we are sharing in a way that’s uniting us with family, friends and long lost friends more that ever. A lot of good has come from so much bad in a month and a bit and it’s nice to recognize the positive perks when the day gets boring or rough.

This Good Friday, we used the Bassa we had in the freezer to make our lunch. No one wanted to cook a lot but we wanted something tasty and a little different from how we usually serve it. Logan cooks on Mondays and Fridays so that he can learn a new dish with a little supervision from me. Knowing it was fish for Good Friday, he thought that maybe we could do some sort of sandwich. Instead of using Kaiser buns, I asked him if he would be interested in using bake and he was eager to learn how to make it. You must understand that when a Trini says bake, it means that chances are, the dough is fried. Sometimes we call it float as it floats in the hot oil as it fries. Now there are bakes that you do bake in the oven but sometimes to differentiate between the two we call it roast bake which, if if is made with coconut, can be called coconut bake and in some recipe books you will even see floats or fry bake, called Johnny bake. Whatever you call it, they all taste good. So,now that I have confused anyone not from the Caribbean, just try and keep up.

For the Bake you will need – 4 cups of flour, 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, 4 teaspoons of baking powder and some water and enough oil for frying. (if you are looking for 8 bakes then ½ this recipe. This will be enough to make sandwiches for 4 people)

 

Sift your dry ingredients together, add enough water to make a soft dough and knead for about 10 minutes. Cover and let the dough rest for ½ hour or more.  Cut in pieces and roll each to 5 to 6 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Fry in hot oil turning once and draining on kitchen paper. Place bakes in a dish, cover with foil and put in oven on the Warm setting while you cook the fish.

 

Always, vegetables are served with meals in this house so to make it interesting, I had Logan cut up some carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes and cabbage to top the fish and to use up lingering ingredients in the fridge. If you have been following me, you know how I feel about lingerers.

 

How about a Sauce? So, there were two that I did very quickly. The first was poured out of the bottle – lol – I have tamarind sauce and it has quite a hot kick to it so for sure that was a must and the other was a quick mix of mayonnaise, relish and a pinch of salt for a tangy kick for anyone not interested in the heat of the tamarind sauce.

Preparing and cooking the fish. I cut the Bassa into 4 pieces, rinsed them and patted dry. Logan seasoned some flour with thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon zest of ½ a large lemon and added some chopped green onion. He coated the fish with the seasoned flour and covered the bottom of the frying pan with olive oil. Once the oil was hot, he fried his fish turning 3 or four times, removing and draining on a paper towel once golden brown with a light crust. Drizzle the fish with the juice of ½ a lemon.

 

And there you have it. Good Friday lunch served made with just what we had in the house. Logan’s version of a fish sandwich. In my head I was imagining shark and bake however what he did with the Bassa was very tasty. It was simple and humble in keeping with what Good Friday is supposed to mean to Christians. It was a meal that went along with the quiet reflection we are supposed to do on the day Christ died. We reflect on what that means in our religion – the sacrifice and love and compassion and forgiveness it represents and in this time of pandemic, we could use this time in isolation to reflect on how we live our lives, what we are learning to do to achieve our simple goals, such as keeping our students engaged in learning, using the money we have for what we need as opposed to using it for what we want. We are practicing selflessness by staying indoors to prevent not just ourselves but others from becoming ill and we are patiently lining up at the grocery store and showing tolerance and respect for the protocols in place to keep us safe when we have to be outdoors. We are making masks to help those working with the public and we are shopping on behalf of others too compromised to go out. We are showing the goodness we hold in our hearts and it is wonderful to see. This Good Friday was not just part of the usual Easter long weekend, it was exactly what it is supposed to be – a time of selflessness, humility and reflection.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay healthy ~ Daniella and family.

     

   

 

Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Let’s Throw Together Something Thursday

Tomorrow is Thursday. Again. I think we have all been home about a month now, in Canada. Life is very different and keeping your spirits high is important. I am finding that the hardest part about this pandemic is leaving the house.  I prefer to e at home. I really do. Going out to shop is draining and a little frightening as you have your guard up the entire time you are out. I don’t mind lining up and the sanitizing of the carts and our hands when we go to the grocery. I don’t mind waiting 2 metres away from the person ahead of me in a lane if they are reading package instructions or price comparing. What I do mind are the inconsiderate people who refuse to glance down at the entrance to an aisle and see what direction we are supposed to move. The arrow means follow the arrow down the aisle. This avoids multiple people moving in opposite directions and accidentally coughing, sneezing or touching each other. This has been put in place to prevent us from spreading this virus. If you see an X at the end of the aisle, it means you are going the wrong way. It’s not that hard to figure out. I also lose my mind when you and your husband bring your baby and your toddler to the grocery and to top it off, yell DON’T TOUCH when your baby reaches out for something that has caught her eye. Oh, and another thing that got on my nerves today – the need for people to socialize while social distancing in the line to get into the store. Spit flies! It flies all the time when you talk. The more you talk, the less you realize you have moved a bit closer to the stranger you are trying to distance from. Can’t we just line up and shut up? And when the person ahead of them gets to enter the store, the person lleft in line, looks like they’ve lost a friend and feel the need to turn around to maybe try and talk to the brown girl….wait, no never mind, the brown girl looks kinda angry. That’s right lady. I don’t need a longer Christmas list. I don’t need any more friends and I certainly don’t want to risk your spit landing on me. Turrrrnnn Arounnnnd. That’s right.

Today, let’s see what is still lingering in the fridge from some of the great meals we have had. I found extra plain boiled macaroni from Tom’s mac & cheese. I found some meat sauce left over from the day Logan made his first Lasagna and the very last of some cheddar and Parmesan and some mushrooms that need to be put out of their misery. I found a bottle of red wine dying to be drained and and the remainder of a yellow, red and an orange bell pepper.

This is a no-brainer really. Grab the left overs that would work well together and combine them. Place them in a casserole dish and bake. That tomatoey, tangy-ness and that hint of red wine and the sharp taste of the melted cheese all come together to make me feel good inside. My mom used to make this with her left overs for us. Usually on a Friday. It was mom’s version of fast food. I think when we asked her what it was she called it Italian Delight  because it was delightful. Delightfully made with whatever left over ingredients she had along with some kind of pasta and meat sauce or cooked chicken. After a day (3.5 hours) of being out of the house to get groceries, spending more time lining up and avoiding people while shopping and looking for alternatives to the things I wanted that were no longer in stock and of course add in the time it takes to sanitize everything. I have a spray bottle of Dettol with me, paper towels and gloves and I have a decontamination routine which involves wiping down the gear stick and the steering wheel and the entire dashboard of my car, the seat belt , the seat belt clasp…I wipe down everything I touch in the car and yea, I spray the groceries and the grocery bags. I shopped for my son who lives on his own, I shopped for my un-well in-laws and for our home. So I am taking a break tomorrow and not putting too much effort into Thursday’s meal but I am  looking forward to it and I can imagine the taste of it  – that same delightful taste that Mom captured on random Fridays when we came home starving from school.Delightful times from the past, captured in a dish made of left overs, hoping today for delightful times to come.

Cooking in the time of Covid -19: Throw together something on a Tuesday

I got to a point in this lockdown where I was almost at the end of grocery supplies and I was grabbing things that needed to be finished off from the fridge and their containers recycled or thrown out. I call these ingredients  the lingerers.   

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The first lingering thing I saw in the fridge was a radler. I like radlers but the fact that there are 3 in the fridge is an obvious indication that I am not a drinker. I have occasional gin and tonics, pretty tropical drinks, bloody ceasars and radlers but I can count the number of drinks I have in a year pretty much on one hand. That’s just me and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. But on Throw Together Tuesday I figure I’ll drink this while I cook and get serenaded by Alexa.

Ok, what’s next. Ah…I found a lone can of red kidney beans at the back of the pantry, on it’s side, just pushed over, most likely when we were looking for another ingredient or when younger inhabitants re-stock our shelves. The can was almost a casualty of overcrowding. Now to the fridge. What have we here? Balsamic vinegar dressing  – about an eighth of a bottle. Ok, what can I do with these? How about drain and rinse the beans, thinly slice a clove of garlic, chop the sliver of onion from the fridge and lets throw them in a saucepan with the balsamic vinegar dressing and let’s add some Himalayan salt and some fresh ground pepper.

    

I let the mixture simmer for a bit on medium heat, added in the beans, stirred to make sure they were all coated with my concocted brew, before covering and reducing the heat to low.

  Earlier this morning, I realized I had one more bag of seasoned chicken in the freezer.with this being cooked and consumed today, chicken is on the grocery list for tomorrow. I want to make it quickly and easily without using oil that causes the lingering smell of fried chicken in the house (and you know this recipe is all about ridding the kitchen of lingering anything). So, I am going to use my Tefal “air-fryer” and fry 6 pieces at a time for 30 minutes. While that cooks I am going to rummage through the vegetable crisper in the fridge. I am in constant battle with myself to use up all the vegetables I buy. I lose my mind when a half used cucumber or half a bell pepper goes soggy and floopsie. Its a waste of money, and more importantly, a waste of food. I was raised not to waste either. I found 1/4 bag of carrots and some red, yellow and orange sweet peppers (bell peppers) and smidgen of bottle of maple syrup (about 2 tablespoons worth). Let’s see what I can do with that.

I found a couple pinches of dried oats and a handful of salted sunflower seeds in a little baggie in one of the kitchen cupboards. So to counteract the sweetness of the maple syrup, I stirred in the oats and the nuts and stuck it in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 F. The result was a nice blend of sweet and salt that glazed the veggies to perk up the meal.

I served the finished meal with a side salad of mixed greens. And there you have it, a meal thrown together with lingering ingredients that needed to be used up. The alternative was them going to waste. Now I have the time to really look at what I have, use it all and make grocery lists as I deplete ingredients, I have saved money, reduced my time at the grocery and realized that the cooking skills I have acquired from my family have allowed me to be creative while feeding my family nutritious, satisfying and tasty meals. We all have to stay home, keep our distance and stop the spread of a terrible pandemic. We can all get organized, we can all use our creativity and flare and daring. I have learned to let cooking centre me, relax me and give me time to think, solve problems, strategize, pray, and put a smile on my face when I remember learning to make meals with my mother and later my sister, and now I am doing the same thing with my husband and my son. With every meal, we make a new a memory and to me that’s pretty comforting. Stay home. Stay safe. Stop the spread and make memories. Let’s take what we have discovered about ourselves now with us when we transition to safer, healthier times. ~Daniella and family.

 

Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Tom’s Instant Pot Mac & Cheese

Tom is leading the way with a Meatless Monday popular comfort food using the Instant Pot to make a creamy comfort food at a time in our lives that includes the words lockdown, peak, flatten the curve, epicentre, virus, masks, death, infected, quarantine, isolation, social distancing….at least for a little while, we can put those words out of our minds and create something warm and tasty.

Let’s cook!

First, measure the macaroni (this is about 450 g) and your water (about 4 cups) and put into the Instant Pot. Cover and set for 8 minutes on the Manual setting. Manual seems to be the go to setting for almost every dish we make in the Instant Pot. Make sure the toggle is set on Sealing. When the time is up, move the toggle to Venting. To prevent the mess from the starchy spray spittle, place a sheet of paper towel as shown above. Notice where his arms are – AWAY FROM THE STEAM. As the paper absorbs the steam it will curl forward. Crumple and throw out. You will have less starchy mess to clean. Great tip, Tom. I remember Tom was great at feeding babies back in the day. It was his least favorite pastime as a parent but he was always well prepared. He was always armed with a damp washcloth or damp paper towels, a bib for the baby and a make shift table cloth bib for himself as a shirt protecting shield, or he’d be shirtless along with the baby for post feeding showering for them both. Good times!

Moving on! These are the ingredients he stirs in to the macaroni in the pot while it is still piping hot.

Follow the pictures to see how he makes the macaroni cheesy and smooth.

Stir in about 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine.Then add about 2 to 3 table spoons of the Queso and fold. Next add in the evaporated milk (adding too much obviously makes the dish too watery; adding too little makes it too sticky so you add enough to make it creamy and smooth. You will feel the texture as you stir the macaroni and the ingredients with your spatula)

As you stir and the liquid is absorbed and binds with the macaroni, it looks like this:-

Plate, season with a little fresh ground pepper and serve with a slice of garlic bread (Tom’s special garlic bread recipe coming soon), smile and enjoy. Happy Meatless Monday boys and girls. Stay Home. Cook together. Share recipes. Take comfort in comfort food. Pass the time cooking and creating delicious meals for yourself and your family. ~Daniella and family

If you don’t have an instant pot, you can still make this dish. It will take a bit longer but it generally is done in 1 pot, Boil the macaroni, drain and using the same ingredients you can make a smooth pot of mac and cheese. You can also do it in a slow cooker but do check on line for a recipe for guidance for using a slow cooker.

Cooking in the time of Covid-19: Fish Friday. (or any day) Easter is upon us now.

Easter weekend will be here soon. My mom, who lives with my sister and her family, is very into her religion and her church going, was so happy to witness several Palm Sunday services yesterday. I think she might have done a marathon or a binge watch. It is not the same as being there but she was happy to watch what we affectionately are calling “Church-flix” of “Mass-flix”. I feel sad that she can’t be with her church buddies but she understands how serious this virus is and that we are doing all we can to keep her from getting it. She never complains, she texts and calls us and we are doing video calls now so she can see us and her grandsons talk to her often. Still, this is as hard for her as it is for the younger members of our family. I hope she doesn’t feel trapped and like all of us, is looking forward to the first time we can do a really BIG cook and have all of us together again. In keeping with our tradition of fish on Fridays, especially at Easter, the recipe I am going to share is a far cry from salt salmon and dumplings with okra that my mom would make for us to eat on Good Friday. But, every memory I have of her preparing that dish for us was with me as I maneuvered about the kitchen alone. While I like cooking with my family, I like cooking by myself too because that is the time I remember – remember every relative, every gathering, every time I learned something new in the kitchen. The women in my family naturally flock to the kitchen, not because it is our place but because it is OUR place. We aren’t expected to be there. We belong there because because the women in our family own our kitchens. There is a great deal of pride and love that gives rise to each dish we create. Cooking brought us together in the happy times, the sad times and any time. Watching the women in my family cook when I was little to cooking with them when I got older, showed me how much strength and power I am made of. As I cut, season, flour and stir, I am provided with the strength and comfort I need to get through this time of isolation with my family. Cooking and remembering the people who made me, gives me the inner peace I have  that allows me to be ready for anything that might come our way during this time of Covid-19 and in a time like this, I hope sharing my cooking ideas with you will provide you with something different to do, something to distract you or something to provide you with the comfort you might be seeking. Let’s get to the cooking.

So, for this dish, I decided to use the Basa that was in our freezer. I took out 3 large fillets and cut them into 4 pieces each to serve four of us. That left me with another 3 pieces I could use for another dish I have in mind for Good Friday  I seasoned it with salt, black pepper, lemon zest, thyme, basil, ginger red pepper flakes and for some reason, I grabbed the oregano. Dunno why.

After I seasoned it, I added some gluten free breadcrumbs and a little of Tom’s double zero flour that he uses for his pizzas. I was looking for something that would give the fish the light crisp I was looking for. I don’t like thick batters that hold onto the frying oil. i like my fish to taste lemony and light with just a little crunch. I am not a fan of thick batters because as I like to say, fish don’t wear coats. I don’t want the bite of fish to be 90% thick breading….I want it to be 98% fish and 2% coating.

Use enough oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. My oil of choice – sunflower oil. Place pieces of fish in the pan with ample space between pieces to allow turning. Cook for 8 minutes, turning every two minutes. Fish should turn golden brown on both sides when done.

   Place fish on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Pat top side with a paper towel as well. Squeeze lemon juice evenly over fish pieces and place in the oven (on warm setting) to stay warm and crispy. I found a jar of cous cous in the kitchen cupboard and Adam who likes beans with everything, asked that I include lentils in the meal, so…I did. Measure out 1 cup of cous cous and 1 1/2 cups of water or broth. I used water and added all purpose seasoning, garlic powder and a little onion powder.  

        In a medium saucepan, bring the water or broth to a boil and with a little butter or margarine (say a teaspoon). I chose avocado margarine today. While you wait on the water to boil, drain and rinse a can of lentils. Once the water comes to a boil, add in the cous cous and fold in the lentils. Cous cous cooks quickly so make sure to reduce the heat after adding the cous cous to the boiling water. Once the water is absorbed, remove the saucepan from the heat and fluff with a fork. If you would like add a little Trinidad hot sauce or whatever hot sauce you prefer.Today I used a bit of Trinidad pepper sauce made by my cousin’s wife’s father.

   This meal was very tasty and filling and didn’t take very long to make. It was a hearty fish dinner enjoyed by all.Happy Fish Friday, Happy Easter, Happy Cooking and eating. Please stay inside and stay healthy~ Daniella and family.

 

 

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My Musings of the Last Three Weeks as the World Fights a Virus.

I woke this morning to the smell of disinfectant. I used to like that refreshing, reassuring smell of clean after a weekly scouring. Now that I am at home like everyone else, I have the time I don’t usually do, to wipe surfaces and spray doorknobs, handles, stair railings and light switches once a day — twice when one of us goes out to grocery shop and on those days, I sanitize the interior of the car. I’m not in love with that clean disinfectanty smell anymore because it’s constant and it signifies a really dark time on the planet. A time, quite frankly that was going to come sooner or later.