Live from New York

WP_20141126_001

NY, I’m back! Thanks for the warm welcome and my welcome back snowstorm.

It’s been a long time. I’ve missed blogging, but the last few months have been crazy busy with me moving across the country. The good news is, I’m so much closer to the source of information I need for more recipes. The bad news is that I’m currently kitchen-less and commuting several hours a day, so the actual cooking may have to wait.

I miss my kitchen. It wasn’t the best, and I had my issues with it, but at least it was mine. My parents have a kitchen of course, but I just can’t get comfortable. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes.

While I wait for my new home to be ready, I’m doing some research. I have a recipe that I’ve been promising to post for months, but it’s just not where I want it to be. I tried it out on a couple of friends. They liked it, and I agree it tasted good, but there was just something missing. I’ll find out and post it the right way soon, I promise. I do have a bunch of other recipes I could post, but I need to refresh my memory on actual measurements. Of course, this requires that I make all this food, so for my friends in the NY area, be prepared to be a taster.

Here’s a taste of what’s to come (though not necessarily in this order):

1. Sos Pwa Frans (Green Pea Sauce): I know, the name leaves a lot to be desired, but it is what it is. It tastes really good, especially if you can get your peas from Haiti.

2. Whole Turkey: I may have missed the boat on this one. If so, you may have to try out the recipe next year.

3. Haitian Oatmeal: You’ve never had oatmeal until you’ve had it Haitian style. It will probably change how you feel about this particular food.

4. Rice and Peas: One of my favorite ways to eat rice.

5. Fried Plantains: easy but oh so good!

I have a list of twenty or so more, but I think this is enough of a teaser for now. Plus, now that I’m in NY, I’ll be trying out recipes I was too afraid to try out in Seattle (and bugging my mom and aunts for the secret recipes they have as yet declined to share). As soon as I get my kitchen back, I’ll keep the recipes rolling in.

Baby, it’s cold outside

20140210-183539.jpg

We got a little snow yesterday! My dog Ruby had the chance to experience snow for the first time, and she loved it as much as I do. My friends in NY would probably give me the evil eye for saying this, but I miss snow. We sometimes get a little bit in Seattle, and I enjoy every 1/2 inch of it. I know, I know, there is something about too much of a good thing, so I won’t blame all of those who’ve had more than their fair share of snow this year for thinking this is a ridiculous statement. But before you attempt to throw something at me, just here me out.

I fully admit to having a strong desire to hibernate in the winter. Snow always seems to make things quieter and prettier (at least at first), and (other than playing in it for a little while), it’s a great excuse to stay inside and curl up with a good book and a blanket. It’s also a really good excuse for me to make some of my favorite cold weather recipes. For me, cooking is easier in the winter mostly because I’m okay with being inside cooking, but also because it’s colder so working up a sweat in the kitchen is far more comfortable than it is with high summer heat and humidity. I have my favorite summer foods and traditions too, but winter is for warmth and comfort.

Of course, Haiti has a tropical climate, so these dishes do get eaten in warm weather. However, I prefer some things in the winter, and there are a couple of soups and drinks that make my list as winter comfort foods. I think I’ve mentioned my mom’s pumpkin soup before, but I’m not quite ready to share a recipe on that one yet. Some of my other personal favorites are Bouyon (beef stew) and hot chocolate, both of which will be making an appearance on this blog in the next few weeks.

I know it’s the middle of winter, and most of you are way past over it, but hopefully the recipes will give you some new reasons to appreciate the cold.

 

Super Bowl Party

I am a fan of football. I don’t get to watch a lot of games, but I keep track of what’s going on during the season, and I am always guaranteed to watch the Super Bowl. Since I’m going to be watching anyway, it’s as good a reason as any to have people over to watch with me.

Super Bowl parties were sort of an annual tradition growing up, but mostly because it was an excuse to get people together. Whenever my family was hosting, my siblings and I would plan for all the American food that seemed to go with the big game (pizza, wings, sandwiches), but my mom would always insist that we couldn’t have a party without the necessary Haitian staples (which included rice and beans at the very least).  So the “kids” would pile up to watch the game and eat American food, and the “adults” would come over for the Haitian food, but never actually watched the game.

New York never struck me as a place with football fever, but I remember clearly the 1991 game (Giants vs. Bills) game where everyone was talking about it in school and I was asked who I was routing for and I picked the Giants mostly because I had a friend who said I knew nothing about the game and she was routing for the Bills (I wanted to prove that I, too, liked football). I attended my first Super Bowl party that year, became a lifetime Giants fan, and watching the Super Bowl became an annual tradition. For me, though, a Super Bowl just isn’t a Super Bowl without a party, and a party isn’t a party without food.

When I first moved to Seattle, I kind of expected the love of football to be greater than it was. Maybe it was because I was new, or maybe it was because no one realized that I could possibly like football, but I ended up watching the game alone that year. The next year, however, the Giants were playing and since I couldn’t be in NY, I decided to revive my position as hostess and get a bunch of people together to help me cheer them on.

Now that the Seahawks have had an amazing season, I am finally seeing love for football shine in Seattle. There’s so much excitement in the air, and this year’s party should be loads of fun. I’m busy menu planning, and at least some of these recipes will end up on this blog. Maybe I’ll include Haitian food to honor my mom’s tradition, but whatever I include, I’m hoping it will tingle the taste buds. Go Hawks!

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.

When Life Gives You Limes

Haitian cooking uses a lot of limes. Not lemons; we never used lemons in our house as my mom is a firm believer in the power of the lime. We used it for cleaning, for medicinal purposes, as well as in food. Have a cut or a sore throat? Limes are good for that. Need to clean your meat? That’s what limes are for. How about juice or tea? Then you’re definitely going to need limes. Limes are the one thing I will always consistently have in my kitchen.

You’ll notice most of my recipes use limes for cleaning meat. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but the cleansing process is a very important step in Haitian cooking, and the lime is the traditional method for cleaning. This process was so ordinary to me, I was under the mistaken impression that this was how most people cooked.

It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle that I realized how much of life I took for granted. I ran in to people who had never even met a Haitian before, let alone had any Haitian food. I quickly realized that if I wanted Haitian food, I was probably going to have to make it myself. Unfortunately, in this new place, one of the most interesting challenges I faced was where to get my groceries. There were tons of grocery stores, of course, but not a single one of them seemed to sell all the items I was used to finding easily.

In New York (at least in Spring Valley and the places I lived in Brooklyn), if you walk in to a grocery store, you can expect to find key ingredients for Haitian cooking: plantains, scotch bonnet peppers, beans, rice, spices. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same in Seattle and so I had to find a way to make the best of my surroundings.

The good news is, I’ve been able to find most of the things I need or make substitutions, and what I learned will help me (and you) in finding these things a whole lot faster in the event I’m not in a town without a large Haitian population.

Finding limes was easy enough (although significantly more expensive); finding spices and decent vegetables took a little more work. And then I learned that almost everything I needed could be found at the nearest Asian or Hispanic market.

The food is different, so it never occurred to me that we might be using similar ingredients. Thankfully, I discovered that the basic ingredients were close enough to find exactly what I was looking for (or at least a decent substitution). I still can’t find scotch bonnets, but I can find habaneros; I may not be able to find djon-djon, but at least I can find rice and beans. And the next time I happen to be in a city where there aren’t a lot of Haitians, I know I can go to alternative markets to find what I’m looking for.