THE GOOD FAT……COCONUT

I love wholesome foods. And to me, the coconut falls under that umbrella. The trouble is, not all the time I hit the nail on the head when purchasing same. You see, once in a while I make the unfortunate choice of bringing home a tainted coconut. I hate when that happens.

Thankfully, most of the time I select a healthy product. And, my last visit to the farmer’s market I struck ‘bingo’. As depicted in the pic attached, you can see the beautiful milky flesh that is just waiting to be plucked and utilized in different dishes. I can certainly see a wicked coconut curry chicken on a bed of Jasmine rice. Or, maybe a turned cornmeal (polenta) with coconut curry shrimp. Hmm, my lips are salivating. I’m happy!

 For many of us who have busy lives, the coconut is conveniently processed in the form of a pure coconut cream or an already squeezed milk in can. I like that option especially when I’m strapped for time. However, I still prefer the wholesome product. I love the idea of selecting by executing my special shake of the fruit. It brings back childhood memories in Jamaica.

Coconut was and is still a popular food product in kitchens on the island. It seems like people in the Caribbean (including Jamaica), Sri Lanka and other domains knew about this amazing product for several years.

The health community in the United States is catching up and has taken a renewed interest in this spectacular food. Research and studies have proven that coconut has good fats (monounsaturated). This type of fat prevents blocked arteries.  Moreover, studies have shown that it will not spike the glucose level in the body. As a result, it’s excellent for those with diabetes. This fiber packed food keeps one satisfied for hours.

Already, I knew about the unbelievable enhancement coconut gives to a dish, so to learn of the health benefits is like music to my ear. Whenever I purchase a coconut, I go through the ritual of shaking to see hear that sound of the hopefully, refreshing water. Nine times out of ten, it’s a healthy product. I then take it home a give a rinse under tap water. A coconut consists of a set of three unique eyes. One is generally soft. It is this soft eye that I like to prick with a pointed knife or ice pick. I always get a high watching the water gush from this awesome fruit.

When I was a kid, I used to suck the water from this so-called eye. In fact, my siblings and I used to compete to see who could nab the flow. Oh, it was fun. Now, I sometimes try to use a straw to retrieve or simply hold the fruit over a glass or mug. Because this is a mature fruit, the shell is porous. And the trick is, everyone has their way of extracting the flesh. One excellent way that works perfectly for me is to cover the coconut with a dish towel. Then, I whack the hard shell with a hammer I’ve on hand.

This action breaks open the sturdy shell to expose the milky flesh (see attached pic). I then use a dull knife and pluck or lift out the flesh from the shell. I chop up the coconut in small pieces and store in the freezer in a ziplock bag for future use. If I have time on my hand, I place the chopped pieces in the blender, add water and blend to gain nature’s milk. I then use a strainer to separate the milk from the residue. Note that the residue can be used as a great snack by adding a little sugar. The milk is then poured in individual Tupperware and freezer.

I know, I know, the whole process sounds a bit tedious, but believe it or not, it takes merely a few minutes to complete. To me, the rewards are priceless.

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DUTTY GAL (DIRTY GIRL) MEAL…..JAMAICAN DISH

Don’t let the name fool you. ‘Dutty Gal’ dish is one originated in the island of Jamaica as a poor man’s dish. It’s basically a meal consisting of good omega fatty acids that are heart healthy. I really don’t know how the meal got its name. And frankly, I don’t care; because, this amazing fish (mackerel) is packed in delicious tomato sauce that is succulent.

The past week I realized my diet consisted of too much meat. Yes, the dishes were fantastic and tasty, but, deep down I knew that I wasn’t having a balanced diet. I always like to have canned fish like sardines, tuna and mackerel on hand. As a result, I  ventured to my pantry and came upon a can of Grace mackerel packed in tomato sauce. Now that was a sure winner. It brought back memories of my days in the good old JA (Jamaica). My dear nephew who was spending part of his summer with me reminded me that the dish is called “Dutty Gal”. Oh boy, he couldn’t wait to dig in.

As such, I went to work. I softened an onion in a few teaspoons of olive oil. I also added a couple chopped plummy tomatoes. I love that. I knew for sure that I was gaining  needed lycopene, lutein, beta carotene and other nutrients from my tomatoes. And of course, I added minced scotch peppers (got to have my spice) with a splash of vinegar and a squeeze of lemon. Dutty Gal was sprinkled with cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt.

I served my Dutty Gal with boiled bananas and dumplings along with fried plantains.. A side dish of kale was also added. Would’ve loved steamed callaloo (Jamaican spinach), however, kale substituted quite well. A cool and refreshing drink of lemonade completed this awesome dish. My nephew and I were over the moon. Yea mon!

SIZZLER QUENCHERS

Who can resist? When the temperatures and the humidity are on the upswing on the outskirts, one great way to relieve me and my loved ones’ thirst is to indulge on sweet and mouthwatering melons.To me,they are two of the most cooling fruits of summer.

As you know, we first eat with our eyes; therefore, I used my handy dandy scoop and extracted the juicy fruits. Then I garnished my cantaloupe and water melon with a chiffonade of mint. This addition provided a refreshing finish to my fruit cups.

As always, be kind to your loved ones as well as your beautiful palates.Happy summer!

MACARONI & CHEESE ‘WEAK IN THE KNEE’ GOODNESS

The past week-end, I had the pleasure of having my dear nephews over. Just looking at their tall structures remind me that time has certainly moved on. Anyway, whenever they are around, I know for sure that I’ve to prepare their all time fave, good-old macaroni/cheese. And, the past week-end was no different. They could eat it endlessly.

Like my nephews, I love a good macaroni/cheese dish.I feel like a kid again. I love the smooth and cheesy delight that always puts a smile on my face and set my palate skipping for sheer joy. The trouble is, when it’s really good, I oftentimes overindulge a bit more than I should.However, I’ve found the perfect solution that makes me and my loved ones guilt-free.

My solution lies with my well used muffin tins which I’ve made many cupcakes and muffins over the years. Boy, if only those tins could talk. As a result, the past week-end found me dusting off my twelve cup muffin tins which turned out to be the perfect serving for each person.

In the past, I used to make my macaroni/cheese with different  cheeses. And, I must state that my loved ones had great reviews. However, lately, I’ve been turned on and enticed into making my macaroni/cheese with only sharp cheddar. And, that’s what I did over the week-end.

What I like about cheddar cheese is its tangy and nutty taste. And because it has a complex flavor, it doesn’t need to share the spotlight with other cheeses. It can stand on its own and create an awesome dish.

Therefore, on the week-end when I once again chose to make my cheddar macaroni and cheese goodness, it didn’t disappoint. It was delicious and succulent. Those cheesy cupcake goodness were awesome. And of course they were greatly approved by those tall and handsome nephews of mine. They were happy and so was I.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

 A few days ago, I had a party to attend. I was told to bring something sweet. I really didn’t wish to bring a store-bought product. And then, a light bulb moment came. I remembered that I had some left over assorted candied fruits. These fruits were spiked with good Jamaican white rum along with some fruity burgundy wine from last Christmas.

I thought, “This should do!” After all, I baked these last Christmas and they were a hit with loved ones. I immediately knew I made the right choice when I opened my package and everyone rushed over to claim their perfectly round cupcake. Like Christmas, everyone was filled with great joy. Their sweet-tooth problem was solved. I realized then and there that sometimes, all one needs is a fruity spiked cupcake.

In my head I chimed, “Ho, ho, ho!”

A MEAL TO WARM MY HEART AND KEEP ME SATIATED

The past Sunday for me was one of revisiting my roots. That meant my Jamaican culinary side of things. I did by indulging in a delicious stew peas – Jamaican style. And for those who are aware of this sumptuous meal, you know how calorie laden it is.But, who can resist?

When it comes to my diet, I believe in a fine balance. That’s the reason why I took the opportunity to redeem myself and went on the light side of things. Thus, for Monday supper, I prepared a quick and easy spread that consisted of:

1. Pan-seared salmon with capers/olives brushed with a ginger and soy sauce
2. Mashed sweet potatoes with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cinnamon
3. Garlic spinach
4. Avocado (nature’s butter)
5. Pickled cucumber

I completed my omega fatty acids meal by sipping on a refreshing yet light wine (Moscato)by Barefoot Wine. Moscato is an inexpensive sweet and crisp wine. It complemented my fish meal very well. By the way, this wine also pairs very well with a fruit and cheese plate.

My heart healthy meal warmed my heart and kept me satiated. I’m happy!

NAUGHTY DAY – JAMAICAN STYLE…YEA MON!!

I believe if Santa Claus worked overtime (beyond Xmas), I would be rewarded generously for my efforts in the way of balance in my diet.

Generally, I’m a very good girl. Five to five & half days of the week I try my utmost best to have a balanced diet consisting of fresh fruits/veggies, lean protein, whole grain, nuts and fish. I try to eliminate the process foods from my diet. Soda and high sugary drinks are products of the past. I’ve reached a stage where I don’t crave them at all.

Guys, the fact is that I’ve been a very good girl. Santa would be proud and actually issue me a pass for today. And because dear Saint Nick doesn’t work during this time and possibly wouldn’t care less of my guilty pleasure, (by the way, have you checked out dear Saint Nick’s structure?),I’ve decided to treat myself to something a bit high calorie and entirely delicious. Hence, on this day, I’ve decided to make a revisit to my colorful and flavorful roots. Yes, I’m taking about Jamaican style, Stew Peas and Rice.

Stew peas/rice is a staple dish in the Jamaican households. Just penning about it warms my heart tremendously. I can recall those childhood days and as an adult, the many times I had consumed this succulent dish. It was mainly cooked in the middle of the week in my home as well as the restaurants. It was and is still a huge favorite for many.If you want to consume a dish of stew peas/rice, you had to reserve and actually show up quite early as the demand is/was high.

As I became an adult and moved out on my own, my dear mom and I developed a secret pact. Whenever, she cooked stew peas/rice, she gave me that special telephone call. Many a times I would hop in my car and made my secret runs.The moment I entered the yard I could smell the aromatic flavors beckoning me to our kitchen. I would gleefully make my way by following the exotic aromas.

And as always that special pot was perched on the stove. It was always full of love. Mom cooked those red beans to a soft and smooth consistency. Those beautiful beans were mingled with fork-tender pig’s tail and bite-sized pieces of beef chunks. Tucked among them were little spinners (dumplings). I can picture my dear mom lovingly making her mark by rolling those spinners between her palms. Adjacent to the pot of goodness was always a pot of fluffy rice along with Jamaican spinach, (callaloo).

So, as I indulge in this pleasurable recollection of my culinary past, I would like to introduce or reintroduce stew peas/rice to you. Dear mom, Beryl would be proud. And, if I could dare say, Santa would give me a pass for being naughty on this day.

Ingredients:

Pig’s tail
Oxtail
Red beans
Coconut milk
Ginger
Garlic
Green onion (escallion)
Onion
Thyme
Scotch bonnet pepper
Celery
Black pepper/salt

Method:
Soaked red beans in water beforehand (overnight)to cutback on cooking time.

Extracted excess sodium from pig’s tail pieces by boiling for approximately ten minutes and rinsing with cold water.Cut in pieces by chopping at the joints.

Marinated oxtail pieces with salt/pepper/garlic.

Tossed water from beans and add fresh water along with coconut milk.

Add pig’s tail and oxtail pieces to pot with beans along with crushed garlic,ginger, all spice (pimento),and cover with water.

Allow ingredients to cook and become fork tender.

Make dough and add spinners (dumplings) to put along with diced onions, green onions, thyme, celery,scotch bonnet.Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer on low heat until stew becomes a thick consistency.

Make sure to stir at intervals to prevent sticking and burning.

Serve over a fluffy bed of rice along with plantain, and any veggie of choice.

Guys, do bear in mind that pig’s tail/oxtail pieces can be substituted for turkey,salted/unsalted  beef,chicken feet or any protein of choice.Also, cooking time could be shortened by utilizing a pressure cooker.

Happy cooking!And remember, always be good to your loved ones as well as your beautiful palates.Thanks for joining me on my Jamaican journey. Yea mon!!

FREEZER FINDS ON A PRECIPITOUS DAY

Maybe, the scientific community can explain the odd reason for me and others who crave a comforting meal when it precipitates. You see, on my way home to my abode the previous evening it began to rain cats and dogs. Clearly, it wasn’t one of those summer showers, because there was a weather system in the area that brought on continuous rain. And boy, it came down in buckets.

I was home. I was safe; and guess what? I had food on my mind, real food. Okay, I love my green and crispy salads, but for some reason whenever it’s raining on the outskirts, I’ve to indulge in something comforting and filling.

Of course, it didn’t take me long to hatch a plan.I was tired and ravenous. My dear beloved freezer is not just there for making ice and storing uncooked meats/poultry and other foods. You see, whenever I have time on my hands or when I want to unwind, I always cook extra batches of dishes and store in the freezer. Oh,  it seems like I’m a hoarder of cooked grub. You go into my freezer and you’ll never know what you will discover. Call me a little nutty, but often times, I try to date and name the food on the container. One thing hate to do is to pry open a container and have to decipher the contents. That drives me ‘bananas’ especially when I’m hungry.

Anyway, so with a few steps I ventured to my freezer and retrieved a serving of rice and pigeon peas along with braised oxtails. I cooked this over the past week end. The wonderful thing about oxtails is that although it takes quite sometime to tenderize, I can just stick in the oven or on top of the stove and allow it to do its thing until its falling from the bones.

In conjunction with my oxtails, I bought a bag of pigeon peas from the frozen aisle that required just a few minutes of cooking time. This I cooked with an infusion of coconut milk, thyme,garlic, minced onion and green onions. I seasoned with salt and pepper and then added my rice and allowed it to cook to a fluffy finish.

All I needed to do was to defrost my beautiful oxtails and heated it through. I proceeded to steam a quick serving of baby spinach along with left-over carrots/beans. And, for us in Jamaica, no dish is ever complete without a serving of sweet goodness. Therefore, I decided on a few slices of plantain. I finished off my dish with a piece of ‘nature’s butter’, crushed avocado.

Rain, no problem. As I watched the rain formed puddles on my patio, I knew for sure that my stomach was happy and satiated. I smiled and watched the ducks waddled their behinds. Ah, I was happy. Guys, that was a winner of a dish.

And, as always be good to your loved ones as well as your beautiful palates.

MONDAY BLUES BREAKTHROUGH FOOD

It was a Monday. I can vividly recall because I was having the ‘Blues’, A touch of the ‘Monday Blues’ . I believe it afflicted me since I began my working life. It’s a few hours of feeling forlorn until about noon. Come to think of it, it generally begins late Sunday evening. It’s that unexplained feeling that seems to linger and builds up to Monday morning until noon.

I commute to work by train. And on that particular morn as I made my way to an available seat, I could sense the familiar feeling taking ownership of my being. Clearly, I wasn’t alone. I could also feel my fellow passengers were also experiencing the dreaded ‘Monday Blues’. From the looks of it, they weren’t happy campers. I’m quite sure many of them hated their jobs. Well, based on statistics, a huge percentage abhor their jobs. I can only imagine some of them were deep in thoughts on how they were going to approach that unappreciative boss about a raise or promotion. Or, a few might be still going through the old hang-over symptoms from the looks of the dark shades.

Judging from these people’s countenances, you would think they were heading to a place of incarceration. But, I knew better. They were experiencing the ‘Monday Blues’. And, as I did a quick scan of their faces around me, my heart ached for them. I knew I couldn’t aid my fellow passengers. But, I thought, “If I can’t help them, I could help myself.” After all, I’ve been suffering from this malady far too long. I realized I had a choice.

I had an epiphany. Right then and there, among those blues riders, I had a brain storm. Or, should I say, it was more of an awakening. By nature, I’m an optimistic person. So, like a champion, I went to that place in my head. Far too long I’ve been experiencing this malady. I thought it was time for a change, a change from those Monday Blues.

As I rummaged through my I-phone, I allowed my fingers to do the talking. And so it did. It led me to an app, a free one.  All was needed was for me to install. So, right at that moment, I installed the Cooking Channel. Immediately, my outlook was transformed.

A clip called ‘Extra Virgin’ caught my eyes. I was intrigued, so I continued. Extra Virgin was started by an American actress call Debi Mazir who visited Italy and subsequently met her present Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos who happens to be a chef.

Already, I was hooked. I always wanted to visit Italy and explore the vineyards and indulge in the amazing pasta dishes infused with good old olive oil. Anyway, as I continued to view Extra Virgin, it became clear as a bell in my mind. At that moment, I knew exactly what my supper was going be.

It was simple. Already, I had all the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator. I was going to prepare a linguine pasta dish with roasted tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. And, instead of prosciutto, I would utilize the bacon I had on hand.  To this beautiful dish I would garnish with parsley. The Pinot Grigio was chilled.

Slowly my Monday Blues were been obliterated. I smiled. As I disembarked from my train, my outlook was drastically transformed from dim and dreary to brilliant sunshine. I realized that I had the power within. At some point, I know that I will be revisited by the Monday Blues; but, I have back-up. I’m conscious. I know where to go.