Season to taste

Creole Chicken

I have never seen a Haitian woman use a recipe, and that includes my mother. I remember the very first time my mom gave me a cooking lesson. She called me in to the kitchen and said something like this: “Today you’re going to learn to start cooking. You watch what I do and the next time, you do the same thing.”

And that was it. She used no recipes, no measuring spoons, nothing to aid a novice cook with what, exactly, she was trying to do. Just watch and learn, she said, and so that’s what I did. But how would I know if I had done it correctly?

The most important thing I learned in that kitchen is that the only way to know if it tastes right is to taste it. Sounds perfectly logical, right? It’s a little harder to do in practice because the thought of tasting something that just came off of raw meat sounds a little sickening (especially if the whole concept is new), but she was right. If it doesn’t taste good before it’s cooked, it certainly won’t taste any better after. At least before it’s cooked, you have the opportunity to fix it.

It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a cookbook with my sister. Haitian food is so good, but it’s really hard to come across unless you know a Haitian. I know of one Haitian cookbook written in English, and I honestly think we can do better than that. Granted, with the internet, you can certainly find tons of recipes and YouTube videos on the subject, but I still think I have something to share.

The biggest problem with the recipe idea is that I never write anything down. How do you write a cookbook if you don’t have any recipes?

So that’s my new project. For the purposes of this blog, each week I’m going to make a classic Haitian recipe and actually pay enough attention to what I’m putting in it to write it down. Having said that, I still suggest you taste it as you’re going along and make sure it suits you!

There’s only one other problem. Most Haitian recipes are nameless. Chicken is just chicken; sauce is just sauce. For the purposes of this blog, I will be attempting to name the recipes I’m providing (and hopefully I’ll get pretty creative, but I wouldn’t bank on it).

With that, I give you the very first thing I learned to cook.

Creole Chicken (Haitian Chicken in Sauce)

Ingredients:
Chicken:
6 chicken drumsticks
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 cups of water


Sauce:

2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock (from the cooked chicken)
1/4 green bell pepper, sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, sliced
1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. Clean the chicken by rubbing the lime over all the drumsticks. Rinse with cold water.
2. Add all the ingredients to a small pot and toss together. Make sure all pieces are evenly covered.
3. Add the three cups of water and cook on high heat for 25 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Add water as necessary to keep from drying.
4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
5. In a small sauce pot, add olive oil and tomato paste over medium heat.
6. Cook the tomato paste until it is somewhat melted (about a minute). Use a spoon to spread around the pot.
7. Add salt and Creole Seasoning and stir well.
8. Add remaining ingredients one at a time and keep stirring.
9. Let sauce cook for 3-5 minutes.
10. Add the cooked chicken and sauce to an oven-safe pan and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Food is supposed to taste good

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My mom cooked for the family. As a child, I sometimes preferred eating cereal or bread to whatever homemade dish was being served that evening, but as an adult, I quickly realized that it was a rare gift that I had taken for granted my whole life. When I went off to college, I realized how much I loved my mother’s cooking, and I yearned for a traditional Haitian meal. Fortunately, I was in NYC, and I learned to expand my horizons and never had to struggle to find good food to eat.

And then I moved to Seattle.

First of all, I’d like to state for the record that Seattle has tons of good places to eat. However, unlike my experience in NY, I found that I had to search out good food.

I realize everyone has a different sense of what tastes good, and I’d like to think I’m not fussy (although there’s room for debate on that one). Unfortunately for me, it seemed at first that food I found to be edible (we’re not even talking about delicious or even passable) was not always a guarantee.

My search for good places to eat, for food that I didn’t have to cook myself forced me to talk about food constantly, more than I ever had before in my life (probably combined). My friends and coworkers started calling me a foodie.

A foodie? No, no, not me. Aren’t foodies slightly pretentious people who insist on only fine dining experiences and eating at exclusive restaurants? That in no way defines my experience.

Turns out that’s not how people were defining it. In the minds of all these new people who were labeling me as a foodie, it just meant that I liked good food.

I’m sorry, but shouldn’t that define everybody? Why would anyone want to eat bad food (or food that’s not really food) on purpose? I don’t get it.

That’s in part where I got the name of the blog. If you’re taste buds are working, I believe it is your responsibility to treat them with respect like you would other parts of your body.

And on that note, I’ll share my first recipe. It’s actually my mom’s recipe and partially responsible for my being labeled as a foodie at work. It’s always a crowd pleaser, and it’s probably the easiest thing I make. It’s Haitian Mac & Cheese, the ultimate party food.

Haitian Style Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:
• 1 (16 oz) box of penne
• 1/2 30 oz jar of mayonnaise
• 16 oz grated parmesan cheese
• 1 can of evaporated milk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Cook penne according to box instructions.
3. Once the penne is cooked, drain most of the water (but don’t strain completely). Mix in all the ingredients and stir well.
4. Pour mixture into a casserole pan and sprinkle remaining parmesan on top.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

I probably shouldn’t have started this today

There are so many things I want to do with my life, theoretically. I think about them; I dream about them. Unfortunately, I don’t usually get around to doing them. I decided that today would be different.

I recently found out that a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. This isn’t the first such announcement I’ve had recently, and I can’t imagine a situation where this is ever good news. But this one hit me hard.

Perhaps I was at a moment where there was just enough bad news to go around and I was at my breaking point. Perhaps I just needed a way to share my feelings semi-anonymously since all the people I really want to talk to today live on the other side of the country. Perhaps it’s partially based on a conversation I had with a great person who pointed out that the only person who can try to make this situation better for me is me.

Whatever the reason, I’m starting this long-deferred dream today.

I spoke to my friend this afternoon. Technically, she’s actually my mother’s best friend, but has always felt more like family, an Aunt I could always count on for a positive outlook, and today was no different. Her first thought today was not for herself but for my mom. After saying it was good to hear from me, that we would all have to come to terms with what was going on as best we could, she said to me that we were going to have to take care of my mom. Keep in mind that she’s in the hospital and has just found out that she has cancer. Her thoughts were not about herself, they were about how to take care of other people.

I’m not a crier by nature, but right then, I couldn’t hold it back.

I grew up around a number of great women whose goal in life seemed to be to help others find joy, to see to their comfort, and to very rarely worry about themselves.

It’s going to seem cliché, maybe, but one of the ways they’ve always done that is through food. Good food and dinner parties were a way of life for me, so it’s probably no surprise that I’ve learned this love from them.

My goal is to share this love of family and friends through the moments we share and the food we eat. Perhaps my next post might even include some actual recipes or food tips 🙂