Monday, December 31, 2012

Trini Christmas is de best!

Pastelles are a very Trini Christmas dish. They are savory cornmeal dough rectangles, filled with a seasoned mixture of ground meat, olives, capers and raisins. There are beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian pastelles (usually made with ground soya). Delicious by itself or on a plate with some Christmas ham and hot chow! When you visit during the Christmas season, and your host feeds you pastelles, well...that's just a bess Christmas lime!

A couple years ago on a visit home, I bought my own pastelle press to bring back to South Florida with me. Like many Trinis, I grew up making pastelles with my Mom and Granny, and making them today brings back fond memories of long hours standing in the kitchen, using all the strength in our little arms to press down the lever, and sneaking spoonfuls of the yummy filling while Mom wasn't watching. Pastelles are typically wrapped in banana leaves, which we would ask a neighbor or family friend for since we didn't have any banana trees in our yard. A day or so before making, we would take a large sharp knife and choose the biggest and best banana leaves off their tree to cut. At home we would wipe them clean, "burn" them on the gas flame stove (to make them more pliable), then cut them into squares with scissors. The cornmeal dough was always mixed by hand back in those days, but now I have thankfully discovered that I can use my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to mix it, reducing some production time and energy. 

So below I share my recipe, of course make the filling to your tastes and preference, some like it very spicy, some not at all. I find frozen banana leaves (Goya brand) in my local grocery store, but if you can't you can use aluminum foil to wrap them. You lose a little of the flavor and a lot of the beautiful presentation with foil, but at least you have an alternative!



Cut 36 pieces of twine, each about 2 feet long.

Two packs of the Goya leaves: Prepare banana leaves by first thawing, wiping clean, then cutting into 36 pieces (about 12 inches x 12 inches). Use a little vegetable oil to grease one side of each leaf.


Cut 36 pieces of foil. Use a Use a little vegetable oil to grease each piece of foil. (No twine necessary with foil.)


5 lbs ground chicken or ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
3 green onions or scallions, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup sliced green olives stuffed with pimentos
4 oz capers, drained
1 1/2 cups raisins
salt and black pepper, to taste
6 tbsp hot chow, optional
hot sauce, to taste, optional

1. Season meat with onion, garlic, parsley, green onion and thyme.
2. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add meat and cook until browned.
3. Stir in olives, capers and raisins, and let cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add hot chow and pepper sauce if desired.


5 cups yellow cornmeal (I suggest P.A.N. brand or Promasa)
1 cup butter
3 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
5 cups hot water
5 tbsp vegetable oil, plus about 1/2 cup more for the leaves

1. In a food processor, combine cornmeal, butter, salt and sugar for about two minutes. Add 4 cups of the hot water and the 5 tbsp oil. Let mix to make a soft dough. If needed, add a little more water. 

2. Divide the dough into 36 balls. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent from drying. Using the pastelle press or tortilla press, place a ball of dough between two greased banana leaves. Press down to flatten until very thin. Open press, remove top leaf, and place three tablespoonfuls of the filling onto the middle of the dough. Carefully bend sides of leaf inwards so dough can "fold", then fold the leaf around the pastelle. Tie. Repeat.

If using a rolling pin, roll dough out between leaves until thin.

3. Steam (using a colander or steamer basket in a large pot) for about 35 minutes over medium-low to medium heat.

4. Pastelles can be frozen unsteamed for months, and when you are ready to eat them, just pull them out of the freezer and steam. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shrimp and Grits

I was flipping through Everyday Food magazine the other day and came across a delicious looking recipe for shrimp and grits. Believe it or not I have never had grits before, and the recipe seemed simple enough so I decided to try it. The result was a quick dish with lots of flavor and spice. The chipotle in adobo sauce has a delicious almost fruity flavor. With some steamed collard greens on the side, this dinner was quickly devoured at my house :)

(recipe from EVERYDAY FOOD Nov 2012)

3/4 cup quick-cooking grits
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (2 ounces)
3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped, plus 1 tbsp sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 pound  frozen large shrimp (31 to 35), thawed, peeled and deveined (tails left on)
1/4 cup lime juice (from 2 limes)

1. In a medium pot, cook grits according to package instructions. Stir in cheddar and season with salt.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium. Add scallions and chipotle and sauce; cook, stirring, until scallions are tender, 4 minutes. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Add shrimp and cook until opaque throughout, 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice and remaining 2 tbsp butter* and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. **Season with salt. Top grits with shrimp and sauce.

Notes - *the only changes I made to the above recipe was to add 2 tbsp flour to thicken up the sauce (after adding the last 2 tbsp butter), and ** I also added about 2 tsp sugar to the sauce when seasoning with salt.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Caribbean Steamed Fish

I'm on a Caribbean kick this week, having fun working with such comfortingly familiar ingredients. Yesterday was Jamaican callaloo with shrimp, which came out pretty good, but I want to work on the recipe some more and remake it before I post it. Today was tilapia steamed in foil packets with Caribbean seasonings and ingredients such as onion, thyme, pimento pepper, cilantro and pumpkin. The result is one delicious piece of fish, perfect for lunch with some steamed rice. Note that you can use a scotch bonnet pepper, habanero or jalapeno instead of the pimento pepper, according to your heat tolerance level.


8 tilapia fillets

juice from 1 lime

1 tsp coarse sea salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tbsp butter

1 small onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 stalks green onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 bunch fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 pimento pepper, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 cups chopped pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, season fish with lime juice, sea salt, pepper and thyme.

2. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Cut 8 pieces of foil, about 12 inches by 8 inches. Lay out foil and place a piece of fish on each one. Put a small dab of butter on top of each fillet. Take a small handful of the other mixed ingredients and place on top. Fold packet closed on all four sides.

3. Place packets (folded side up) on 2 baking trays and put in oven. Let cook until fish is white and flaky and pumpkin is tender, about 40 or 45 minutes.

To serve, place the entire closed packet on the plate with the rice, so folks can open it themselves. Be careful when opening because of the steam. Also don't let the sauce escape! You will want to pour it over your rice.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Prosciutto & Sticky Rice Cakes

I had so much fun creating (and eating!) my Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma recipe that I decided to make another dish featuring the delicious Parma Ham. I have made sticky rice cakes before with different veggies, but incorporating the Prosciutto this time took it to a whole new level! It is topped with a poached egg, and when the egg is broken into, the soft yolk becomes the sauce for the cake. Sounds good huh? :) These are perfect for brunch, or whenever you feel for them!


6 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, chopped

4 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped

1 1/2 cups cooked sticky white rice

1 cup panko bread crumbs

4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

7 eggs

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place 3 of the prosciutto slices onto a greased baking sheet. Bake until almost completely crisp, about 6-7 minutes. Set aside for later use.

2. Chop remaining 3 slices of prosciutto. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Saute shallot and chopped prosciutto for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute for 2 more minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine sticky rice and the cooked prosciutto, shallot and mushrooms. Add panko bread crumbs, basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Lightly beat 1 of the eggs and add that to the bowl.

4. Moisten hands with water to reduce sticking. Using your hands, form 6 round cakes from the mixture, each about 1/2 inch thick.

5. Heat the remaining 4 tbsp olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook sticky rice cakes until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes per side.

6. In a large pot, heat 4 inches of water to boiling. Reduce the heat so the water gently simmers. Break 1 egg into a cup. Hold the cup close to the water and slip in each egg gently. Repeat with the 5 remaining eggs. Cook for about 4 minutes, until the whites are set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and let drain.

7. To serve, place a sticky rice cake on a plate and top with a poached egg. Crumble the reserved crispy prosciutto and garnish the top of each egg. Serves 3-6.

For more info on Prosciutto di Parma, visit

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma

Who doesn't love a good creamy risotto? I do for sure! Challenged to make a recipe featuring Prosciutto di Parma, I knew a risotto would make a wonderful vehicle for it. Prosciutto di Parma, also known as Parma Ham, is a deliciously famous ham cured near Parma, Italy. I found it at my local store where the friendly meat guy shaved a few slices off for me.

Starting off, the prosciutto is sauteed along with shallots, so its full-bodied flavor is infused into the dish. The saltiness goes so well with the creamy risotto, sweet raisins and fragrant basil. The dish is topped with toasted pine nuts and crumbled crispy prosciutto. Delicious!


6 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1 small shallot, chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

3 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

7 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/8 tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/8 cup pine nuts

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place 3 of the prosciutto slices onto a greased baking sheet. Bake until almost completely crisp, about 6-7 minutes. Set aside.

2. Chop remaining 3 slices of prosciutto. In a medium pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add shallot and chopped prosciutto. Saute for 2 minutes.

3. Add rice and saute for 2 more minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of the chicken stock. Continue stirring until liquid is almost all absorbed.

4. Gradually stir in remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until almost all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.

5. When the final 1/4 cup of chicken stock is added, stir in basil, raisins, sea salt and pepper. When rice is slightly firm (but not mushy), about 25-30 minutes, remove from heat. Risotto should be thick and creamy.

6. In a small pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat until slightly browned, about 3 minutes.

7. Crumble or chop crispy prosciutto slices. Plate risotto and top with toasted pine nuts and crispy prosciutto. Serves 2-3.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I Scream for Dim Sum!

I'm back after a long hiatus, which included pregnancy and giving birth to my second child. The hubby and I have a new baby boy! Bugs is just thrilled to be a big bro and constantly gives the baby kisses.

So in an effort to restart our monthly date nights and get a bit of a break form the boys, we enlisted the help of some close friends to babysit so the hubby and I went out to eat. I chose the spot this month (as I always do haha), Chinese dim sum at Hong Kong City BBQ in Tamarac. We had never been there but I checked out some online reviews and they were pretty good, so we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant was pretty interesting, as you walk in you are greeted by a case of hanging barbecued meats, such as whole ducks and chickens. Their dim sum is actually different from what I'm used to, they don't push the carts filled with selections but cook it to order. Check out our orders below!

My handsome dinner date!

The menu

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns...yum! These are the best!

Shrimp Toast...delicious!

Stuffed Bean Curd Skin

Sticky Rice in a Lotus Leaf...I should have asked if the leaf was edible lol, did not eat it. But it did give the (very) sticky rice inside a nice flavor. There were also bits of pork and shrimp mixed into the rice. 

Beef Tripe with Ginger & Scallion Sauce...surprisingly really liked this one! Tripe is very chewy and has a weird "prickly" texture for lack of  a better word. The sauce was more like a broth and very flavorful. 

Steamed Chicken Mushroom Bun

Fried Stuff Eggplant...we could identify shrimp in the filling, topped with an oyster sauce. So good!