Secrets of Mom’s Kitchen

The good news about sharing a kitchen with my mother is that I get to ask her questions. Don’t ask me why I never noticed some of these things before, but a few of her answers  have made me realize I may need to go back and edit some of the recipes I’ve posted.

Thankfully, I hadn’t yet posted this week’s recipe for green pea sauce. When I asked my mother what she puts in it, she told me that she uses two kinds of peas (regular green peas and petite peas) and that she adds onions. I had no idea! These simple additions may explain why my version never quite tasted the same. She did mention that she doesn’t always use two kinds of peas and that if she can’t get both, she prefers petite peas. For this recipe, I’m going to go with just petite peas since that’s what I had when I was making it.

There are a lot of different versions of this sauce, and you can try it out with almost any bean. This one is my favorite, and as a child, it was the only one I enjoyed (something about this always felt like a treat, which was not the case with the other versions). It generally gets served with white rice, and my mom also likes to serve it with fowl (in sauce).

I struggled with what to call this. In Creole, the name of this recipe (Sos Pwa Frans) doesn’t seem nearly as silly. My sister says I should call it pea soup since they are essentially the same thing, but I think soup generally has more ingredients and still contend that this is a sauce and not a soup, and the name in Creole actually literally translates to Green Pea Sauce. I’m also having fun calling it pea sauce, though, so I’m going to go with it.

I’ll probably come back and tweak this recipe as well, but here’s take one for now.

Green Pea Sauce

Ingredients:
1 (16 ounce) package frozen petite peas
3 cups of water
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 yellow onion, minced
2 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon seasoned salt

Directions:
1. In a large pot, add the olive oil, garlic, and onions and stir on high heat for one minute.
2. Add the water and the frozen peas and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the remaining spices and stir well. Continue to cook until the peas are well softened, about 15 minutes.
4. Take half the contents of the pot and blend until smooth. Leave the other half cooking.*
5. Add the blended peas back to the pot and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Be careful that it doesn’t get too thick!

*You can take more than half out. I just like half because I like having some of the peas not blended. If you prefer, you could probably blend all of it.

The Versitile Fruit

I love plantains. It’s a fruit that is in the same family as the banana, but unlike the yellow banana, a plantain can’t be eaten raw. It’s also a fruit that can act like a vegetable, which makes it even more awesome in my book.

Last week, I mentioned that cooking for myself is important. Chances are that if I’m cooking for myself (or a small group of people), it’s almost positively going to involve plantains. I’ve had plantains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; I’ve had them boiled, baked, fried, and pureed. They can be eaten when they are green and ripe but also when they are practically black and old. They are great with protein (like eggs for breakfast or griot for dinner) or in a soup, but I’m also happy to have them alone. It is without a doubt one of my favorite foods.

I often serve fried pressed plantains as an appetizer, but one of my all-time favorite dishes is plantain porridge (labouyi bannann). I believe this is typically served at dinner in Haiti, but I’m also perfectly happy to have it for breakfast as well. It’s one of the dishes that friends and family will usually make for me when I go back to visit New York as a way to show they’ve missed me and want to share something they know I’ll appreciate.

You might be asking how this fruit can turn in to porridge. I’m not sure that the translation is totally accurate, but once prepared, it sort of has the same consistency as cream of wheat (which is why it probably always seemed more like a breakfast food to me). Although I think of this as one of the ultimate comfort foods, it’s not one that I normally serve to guests, but I love making for myself. It’s filling, fairly fast and easy to make; it’s one of the only foods that I don’t mind having for leftovers; and it’s guaranteed to be worth the time it took to make.

I do have a couple of friends who mentioned that they’d like to try non-party Haitian food, and so I occasionally serve them some of the food I would make for myself (or family) but not for a large crowd. The traditional recipe calls for evaporated milk, but since one of my friends is lactose intolerant, I’ve also tried this with soy and rice milk, so feel free to swap out the milk in the recipe for one that you prefer.

Plantain Porridge

Ingredients:
1 green plantain
1/2 can evaporated milk
1/4 cup finely grated coconut (or coconut milk)
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
Pinch grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

Directions:
1. Peel the plantain and cut into 1/2 inch slices.*
2. Add the plantain and 1 cup of water and blend until smooth.
3. In a small pot, add 1 cup of water, cinnamon stick, coconut, and star anise and bring to a boil on high heat.
4. Lower the heat to medium and stir the plantain puree into the boiling water.
5. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent from clumping.
6. Stir in the milk, sugar, lime zest, and vanilla extract and cook for an additional 5 minutes while stirring.

*To peel the plantain, cut off the ends (about an inch on each end) and slice the peel from one end to the other (be sure not to cut in to the plantain itself, but also be sure to cut through the whole peel). Remove the peel by pulling the peel away from the incision you just made from top to bottom (or use a knife). If the peel is not coming away easily, try making another incision on the opposite side and then peeling.

Not Just for Special Occasions

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In last week’s post, I mentioned that I don’t know my wine, and to be fair, I’m not much a connoisseur of alcohol in general. However, there is one special Haitian beverage that I think deserves a post.

It’s called Kremas in Haitian Creole, and it’s a decadent, rich, sweet adult beverage similar to eggnog. When I was younger, it was very rare to see a bottle of Kremas, and maybe because of this, it was doled out in extremely small quantities. At best, you were going to get half a shot glass, and there would be no seconds. It would come out of someone’s fridge (or cupboard) in an unlabeled bottle.

I’d say that Kremas was even rarer than the elusive Haitian cake. The first time I tried it, however, I definitely wanted to be able to go back for more. Why would we be so stingy with such greatness?

I couldn’t find anyone who knew how to make it, personally, but I once again took to the internet to see if I could find a recipe.

The first time I made this, I remember the shock on people’s faces: “Wait, where did you get a bottle???” they cried. When I proudly pronounced that I had made it, the reactions were priceless. Yes, friends, somewhere out there, people are writing these things down, and I have joined their ranks.

It’s a pretty simple recipe, and there are also many variations out there. When I found a recipe that looked promising, my biggest challenge was finding a container large enough to mix it in. As with most Haitian cuisine, the recipe was apparently designed to share. Even for me, this was a little too much, so I’ve scaled it down (and made other slight modifications). If you’re planning on sharing a bottle, this recipe can also be scaled up so that you have more to share. I also highly suggest either purchasing a glass bottle to store it in or using an old wine bottle (those wasted bottles of White Zinfandel did finally come in handy!).

The beauty of learning how to make this is that I no longer have to wait for someone else’s special occasion to bring this out, and it no longer has to be served in thimbles.  Granted, I wouldn’t suggest drinking a whole cup (it is a little rich), but you should at least give your guests an opportunity to really taste and enjoy it.

I usually serve this along with dessert as I think it goes best with Haitian cake, but sometimes I’ll serve it alone if the mood is right.

Kremas (Haitian Eggnog)

Ingredients:
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
½ 15-ounce can cream of coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 anise stars
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ lime (for zest and juice)
1/3 bottle dark rum (or to taste)

Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher.
2. Strain and pour into bottles using a funnel.

The Importance of a Good Butcher

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One of my all-time favorite party foods is Griot (Haitian fried pork). Not only do I love the flavor, but since it was generally only served at parties, for me it will always be tied to a good time and fond memories.

As I mentioned last week, there were certain things that were so easy to find in most grocery stores, and finding pork shoulder cut in to small pieces (which is what the recipe calls for) was easy to find, much like finding beef for beef stew or chicken drumsticks. Can you even imagine going into a grocery store and not being able to find chicken pre-packaged and ready to go?

Technically, pork shoulder was always available, but it only came in roast form. I tried a few times to ask at the meat department (in multiple grocery stores) if they could just cut it for me, but they looked at me like I was insane. One person even told me they had to go ask their manager about it like it was seriously that big a deal.

In the interest of removing aggravating scenarios from my grocery shopping, I decided to just pick up the whole roast and then go home and cut it myself. It was then that I realized that I’d signed up for a project that I was unequipped to handle. I spent hours trying to cut that roast, and considered giving up halfway through. There were people coming, though, and I had promised a Haitian dish. Since I already had the pork, I persevered, but I vowed that this would be the last time I made this dish in Seattle.

I suppose I could talk about the importance of a good knife as well, but what I quickly decided was that if I wanted to save time, I’d better find a good butcher who would happily cut the pork for me.

The experience was night and day. They didn’t look at me strangely; they didn’t flinch or go for backup when I asked them to cut my pork shoulder as if for a stew. They just cut it, and then asked what I was making and inquired about what made it different. And I vowed always to get my pork from the friendly butchers.

Fair warning about the recipe: it’s definitely party-sized because this is generally a party food. Since it’s made for sharing, be sure to invite your friends to enjoy it with you.

Griot (Haitian Fried Pork)

Ingredients:
5 lbs of Pork Shoulder, cubed (like you would cut for stew)
2 limes
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons season salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoon adobo
5 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Table Blend
7 cups water
1 quart frying oil

Directions:
1. Clean the pork shoulder with 1 1/2 limes; save the last 1/2 for later.
2. Rinse with cold water and drain.
3. Mix in remaining ingredients (including juice from the 1/2 lime) except for water and oil and toss.
4. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least 4 hours).
5. Cook on high heat with 7 cups of water for one hour (or until tender). Add water as necessary to prevent from drying.
6. Add the oil to a deep pan and heat on high for 5-10 minutes (it should be hot enough to sizzle). Reduce heat to medium.
7. Fry the pork in the oil for 1 minutes or until golden.*

*You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan. The pork should be completely submerged in the oil for even frying. I actually use a deep fryer, which makes to frying more consistent and less messy.

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.