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:-

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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: And Then … Tom Made Smash Burgers

My husband wasn’t taught to cook, do his laundry or iron his clothes before he left home for University. When I met him, he had figured out washing colours and whites separately and when to wash in hot water and when to wash in cold. When it came to food, he ate like a student – Kraft Dinner, cereal, fast food (subs, hamburgers, hot dogs) and he lived in a condo building above a Taco Bell. Tom ate there so much that he earned himself a hat and t-shirt from the restaurant. The more I got to know him, I learned that instead of trying to diversify his palette, his parents pretty much gave in to him at meal time and proceeded to draw attention to his fussy eating habits at the table in front of their friends and in my presence as well, even though he was an adult. I always felt what they were doing was disrespectful and cruel and I was concerned that he would not be comfortable around my family  at mealtime. I am a Trinidadian and my culture revolves around food. We are all about cooking and enjoying a variety of food and flavors and I was not about to dull down my cooking to accommodate his basic palette but try and introduce new flavors to him, slowly and comfortably. In Tom’s defense, he didn’t grow up eating flavorful food. Back when we would eat at his parents’ home, my mother-in-law’s food was not terrible but she certainly is a salt and pepper only cook. To quote my husband, his “DNA was screaming for something different” and so, he chose to be with me. Wow! On so many levels other than cuisine, that was quite the avant garde move for him. He chose a a Heinz 57 wife, fathered  two Heinz 57 sons, and not only eats all kinds of food, he makes a repertoire of meals that are as flavourful and spicy (sometimes spicier) as anything I would cook. I  made it clear to my family that he was not to be singled out at the table. I did not tolerate any verbal Trini observations about his uncertainty around our food and my family and I never forced him to try different foods and flavours in our early years together. As time went by and a trip to Trinidad at Carnival occurred, Tom tried many different kinds of food. My husband, the son of a salt and pepper cook, eats doubles, roti, pelau, callaloo, curried everything, roast beef, Jamaican patties, samosas, a variety of Italian food, fried rice, Oriental styled chicken and beef and Korean food, thus ending the running “joke” of the little boy who only ate peanut butter sandwiches and hamburgers. And while he is not versed in what are my staple Trini dishes, the food he does make are his signature meals and he keeps adding to his menu every two to three months. Not only does he cook a variety of things, he has now added kitchen gadgets to the other gadgets out there that interest him. Tom is a reader and a researcher and not only can he build his own computers, brew his own beer and dabble in making his own music, the man has purchased some tools to help him cook what he knows well and try new creations as well. It is with great pride that I add Tom’s recipes to my Cooking in a time of COVID-19 Blog Series.

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When the kids were little, Tom made eating fun for them. Not wanting them to be picky like him, he not only made tasty and nutritious food, he made food fun and bestowed zany names upon everything he made for them. I remember picking up Logan from Kung Fu and Adam from somewhere else and asking them what Daddy made them for dinner. I was also giving a co-worker a ride home and she was appreciating their answer as much as I was when they both said, “Crabby Patty Explosions” with salad. They were big Sponge Bob fans at the time and Tom stole the name of the burger on the show, made their burgers with thick patties, melted cheese and a slosh of ketchup that went not only on the burger but smeared onto the plate much like if the burger exploded. He kept the top bun off and made putting the lid on the burger the boys’ job. That was just one of the many kookie meals he made for them when I was not home to cook. Adam ( albeit autistic ) and Logan ate pretty much everything we made for them and still do. Now young men, the Crabby Patty Explosion no longer exists but in honour of the important role this Daddy made burger had in their mealtimes, I give you my husband’s delicious-as-all-get-out, Smash Burgers.

As we entered our period of isolation because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, we realized we had more than enough food for our meals. Happy that this would cut down the time we spent in public, we started cooking food pledging to use everything we had and substituting ingredients wherever we could. This also allowed us to keeping an on going list of grocery items until we ran out of until it was a long enough list to warrant a shopping trip. Just before the isolation period came into effect, Tom had ordered another gadget he had his eye on that is now an integral part of our cooking adventures.

To make smash burgers, you need  regular sized hamburger buns because you don’t excess bread that will fill you up too quickly and prevent you from thoroughly enjoying every crumb of this burger. You will need 8 strips of lean bacon and about a pound and a quarter of medium ground beef (Tom uses a scale as he is a more precise cook than I am).

 

We get our meat from a local butcher and they taught us over the years that you need a little bit of fat in the meat in order to make a good burger. For those of you are afraid of what I just said, all I can tell you is exercise before you eat your food. get your quota of movement to balance your quota of food intake, okay? Okay, next…get your toppings ready. Sometimes we use tomatoes and mushrooms or peppers, but in keeping with our isolation rule of using all that we have before going out to shop, we just had onions and American cheddar slices. Next, form the ground beef into mid sized balls. Tom puts 2 patties on a bun so he makes a total of 8 to feed us. Tom has also made his own burger sauce which really gives the burger that Mom and Pop burger joint taste. Mix a bit of ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise and set aside to spread onto the burger buns later. Tom makes a jar of sauce. He stores in it the fridge in a small, sanitized  former Smuckers jam jar for future burger use. As with anything in cooking keep adding the ingredients gradually, mixing them  and tasting to ensure good flavor.

         

Oh, another thing to remember, if you are serving fries with your meal, you have to decide how to time that out so that they are ready to be served with your burgers. We use a Tefal Air “Fryer” that takes about 25 minutes to make the fries. We also don’t use the recommended table spoon of oil when cooking with it as you really don’t need to. The surface of the pan is non stick, easy to clean and it can cook anything from fries to chicken and anything you would ordinarily fry in oil. It can even cook vegetables if you want it to. By not needing oil you get healthier prepared fries that are just as tasty and crispy as those fried in oil.

We now use a Blackstone propane griddle and really enjoy cooking everything on it at the same time. When you have a hungry 17 and 20 year old to feed, you want things done quickly and efficiently so that you can keep the hunger beasts that live within them at bay. The griddle is one stop tasty cooking because it allows us to adjust the heat on parts of the grill to accommodate what we are cooking. If you want to try this and you don’t have a griddle (or crazy husband who will wear a coat and set this thing up in the garage because smash burgers can’t wait until spring) you can certainly use a frying pan on a stove top and toast your buns in the oven or a toaster. You can also cook your bacon in the microwave to utilize your time well.

 

First, Tom toasts the buns and fries the bacon and sets them aside before the real fun begins.

  The heat is equalized across the grill and the meat balls are equally spread across the surface. After they sear for about 20 seconds, the balls are ready to be smashed (he he he).

     Add salt and pepper and  let continue to cook for another 30 secsonds.

Look at the juiciness of the burger and the crust that forms on the surface that traps the flavor in the meat. Flip the burger and cook the other side for about a minute. The grill is hot and the meat is pressed thin so it will cook fast so be careful not to over cook or burn. Top with cheese and allow to melt.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, I spread the burger sauce on the buns.

Tom placed the burgers on the tray and brought them into the kitchen where we topped with bacon, onion rings and the buns with the burger sauce. We added the fries to the plate and served another quick and tasty lunch on another isolation day. Our time together at the table was not very long but we did manage to exchange a few words between moans of sheer delicious delight. I’m not sure I will ever eat a burger from a restaurant again. This burger was just too damn good. It was the right flavor, the perfect size and it was made in a clean environment and made out of love. With lunch devoured, digested and done, we looked towards dinner. My turn again hmmm…I’m thinking Trinidad stewed chicken and pigeon peas with macaroni pie. That should make them smile.

Feel free to try this and share your recipes as well. I like to think the more we share ideas and use the time to cook and create, the easier this time of home isolation might be. Stay healthy, stay home and try and enjoy your time at home.

 

 

 

 

Cooking in the time of COVID-19: No School. No Sports. No Socializing. Might As Well Learn To Cook.

With our family only going out for short walks and only one of us (me) going out for supplies when necessary, my 17 year old is stuck at home with us. He was supposed to be working towards graduation from high school, hanging out with his friends and girlfriend, supposed to be at hockey combines and tryouts to secure a place on a Jr. Hockey team and he is supposed to be starting college in January depending on where he plays. All this has ground to a halt because of the spread of COVID-19. But he’s taking it in stride, keeping it together as best as he can and has agreed to get a jump start on learning how to cook, considering how much time we have on our hands.

Today, I decided to add to his repertoire of hot dogs, English muffin breakfast sandwiches, pancakes ( that he makes from scratch I might add), eggs two ways and anything he can take out of a box, follow directions and make. I decided to start with spaghetti and meatballs. This is a simple meal he can make for the family or when he is living on his own and needs an easy decent meal after practice or school.

I had him season a bit less than a pound of ground beef. I encouraged him to look at and smell the different seasonings and spices in the cupboard to see if he could recognize what I use when I make meatballs. Logan chose Worcestershire sauce, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and salt and pepper. Trying our best to stay home, we only want to go out when we have enough items on our grocery list to warrant a trip to the store. So, in lieu of garlic cloves and onions, which we ran out of, he used the powder instead. Next, I had him fold in some bread crumbs to keep the meatballs in tact and showed him how to get his hands in there and shape them. With short demos and verbal guidance, I watched Logan prepare our meal like he’d been doing it for years. Yes, it was a simple meal but he did it mostly on his own and was very confident in the way he was moving about the kitchen. I had him use the slow cooker and explained to him that this was a way to prepare food and have it cook safely and thoroughly.

This is a time for us all to share – but not to share germs. We need to share kindness, love and understanding by taking the responsible measures to wash our hands, keep our belongings clean, to stay home and only go out when necessary. It is a time to reach out via social media, phone calls, texts and e mails. It is a time to care not just about ourselves and our loved ones but about everyone. Utilize the time to try something new. For me, there is no excuse not to work on my book during this time. I have so much time now, that I can cook more with my family and share my ideas of using what you have to make tasty meals. I encourage you to try them and feel free to share your ideas with me. Use up what you have in the kitchen before you absolutely have to go grocery shopping. As half of a pair of financial advisors I will also tell you that it is a good time to try and hold on to your money. Use what you have to make meals until you really need to replenish supplies. There is no need to spend money hoarding. Driving less means less wear and tear on your vehicle and less need to fill up the gas tank (even though the prices are super low now). Sleep longer, read more, listen to your thoughts and if you are so inclined, meditate or pray. We could all use some more peace and serenity in our lives. This is our chance to have it. Isolation is hard but if we do it, it will be shorter than if we don’t.

So, without further ado, here is my younger son’s contribution to my Cooking through COVID-19 blog series.I present to you Mr. Logan James’ spaghetti and meatballs dinner. – a recipe in pictures.

Once he seasoned with a teaspoon of the following – oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper, onion powder and Worcestershire Sauce and a table spoon of herb seasoned breadcrumbs, Logan formed 15 mid-sized meatballs.

Using 1/2 can of spaghetti sauce and about 1/4 cup of his dad’s home made tomato sauce, Logan placed the sauce and the meatballs in the slow cooker and set the time for 3 hours on low, stirring occasionally.

   

Next he got his pasta going in lightly salted water.I passed onto him the unnecessary but traditional family ritual (from my side) of breaking the dry spaghetti in half before putting it into the boiling water. Logan is quite a physical male child (lol) who really enjoyed doing this. Once a few minutes passed, I showed him how to carefully pull a strand of spaghetti to check if it had become al dente because no one wants to eat a bowl of soggy noodles and reminded him to drain the pasta leaving a bit of the water in the pot to keep that slightly salted flavour.

While the pasta was boiling, I had him utilize the time to shred the cheese showing him how to be careful with his fingers and how to be the first James man to not have shredded cheese all over the counter during the process. Logan likes a cheese that will melt easily but he does not like the light flavour of mozzarella so he chose a 2 year old cheddar instead.

     

Adding his father’s signature garlic bread as a finishing touch, Logan plated and presented us with our very tasty and filling meal.  Oh!  We are so proud of him!

     Look for more recipes from Logan as he learns to cook during this time of isolation as well as recipes from his father and me. If you have time please try our ideas and feel free to share some of your favourites that you are cooking while isolating at home. We can all do our part to stop the spread of this virus and have a little fun and family time while we wait this out.

 

 

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: Finding Peace and Perspective through Cheese Paste

I make myself laugh. Now, more than ever that I am older. I am, like you at home, trying to keep myself and my family safe and well and we have just gone through the first week …two more to go, maybe more, of social distancing. And while this has not been terrible, it has not been too easy either, especially for our younger son who wants to see his girlfriend and friends but understands that he can’t for a while. My boys are not indoor guys but they really are doing very well to abide by the medical advice we have been given. My biggest stressor is having to go out and shop for stuff. We are only gong out when necessary for supplies, following the hand washing, showering and washing clothes worn in public right away when we return home. To reduce this stress, my husband and I are using all the ingredients we have to make our meals while making grocery lists of items we absolutely need so that whomever goes out to shop will get in and out of the store quickly.

Today, after a workout, a check of the work e-mail and a movie on Netflix, I realized I was hungry. Adam went for a walk with Logan and had himself a chicken sandwich and Logan and Tom took down the rest of the Shepherd’s pie with a salad. I decided to rummage through the fridge and come up with something comfortable and I realized like in recent months, it was a good old Trini cheese paste sandwich. Any of you from Trinidad, Guyana and some other Caribbean islands will know what I am talking about. Once a month, or as long as I have known myself, I crave chocolate. Lately, I find comfort in a cheese paste sandwich on plain, soft, white bread. It is not the best nutrition and so many people look down on white bread but you know, life is short and when you need to comfort yourself while you live a life on lock down you should indulge.

I found exactly what I was looking for in my kitchen. I found extra old cheddar, and mayo. In my pantry I whipped out the black pepper, pinched a little cayenne and parsley flakes and I grabbed the mustard from the cupboard.

 

Making this simple pleasure, made me laugh. I remembered my Aunty Jean on the phone to Jacqueline’s Bakery ordering chicken puffs and cheese puffs for one of her girl’s birthday party. Cheese puffs are essentially a fancy cheese paste sandwich made with choux pastry instead of simple white bread. I remember my mom, running out of sandwich meat or just getting caught on a Friday with nothing exciting to make for our lunch boxes, except a cheese sandwich. If she was feeling to jazz it up, that cheese sandwich became a cheese paste sandwich. I caught myself smiling as I shredded the cheese onto the plate I intended to use for said sandwich. Grinning from ear to ear, enjoying mixing the ingredients, figure eighting it with my knife, remembering how much I loved the taste of this simple zesty sandwich that meant so much to me. I happily whipped out 2 slices of plain white bread and evenly spread the thick paste on each. Placing the slices together was accompanied by a satisfied sigh. I cut it in half into triangles and added a side salad for “wellness” and to relieve my guilt. Taking my sandwich into my office, I curled up on the daybed and ummed with every bite until it was gone.

 

This simple sandwich that only I consume and appreciate in my mostly male Canadian household, made me happy. It comforted me in a time when we are all concerned about everyone’s well being and it reminded me of a simpler time a time when we had less gadgets and slower lifestyles. I ate a cheese paste sandwich and I was reminded of a time when TV had a sign on and sign off time and when nothing was on for us to watch, we read books or played outside. Staying at home in this time of COVID-19 is not too different from life at a simpler time. There is much to do at home and there is a lot to think about. There are books to be read and conversations to be had, games to play and love to share. There is food to cook, music to play and rooms to clean and organize. Today I made a sandwich that was much more than a sandwich – it was a taste of the pleasure of simplicity. Life is going to get really simple in weeks to come.  The spread of the virus will peak. Please stay at home. Make whatever your comfort food is and know that if we could all sacrifice our way of life for a few weeks for the greater good, we will help stop the spread of this virus. Find peace through what comforts you and you will find your perspective on what is happening around us, will change in a positive way. For anyone who is afraid of what is to come, don’t be. Just stay home and stay calm and let’s be kind and helpful to each other. Find your ummmm food, your ahhhh movie, have a bath, turn up the tunes and sing out loud. Get some exercise, putter around in your garden if you have one, draw something, paint a picture or listen to some comedy on line. Find your cheese paste, my friends because this too shall pass.

 

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!