SIMPLE TIPS TO REDUCE STRESS IN THE KITCHEN THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays are of great fun, laughter, reflections, traditions, and celebration. On the other hand,  they can also be stressful especially if you’re hosting and catering to others. Even if prepared, the season can leave one frazzled and tired.

As a host, it’s vital that you approach the holidays with the operative word in mind, ‘preparation’. Prepping and employing a few salient steps, will avoid you being overwhelmed with this special time of the year. Some of the ways to reduce stress in the kitchen are:

  • Signature drink – Create a signature drink. Example, rum punch, vodka/fresh cranberries. Cranberries are plentiful this time of the year which results in competitive prices in the marketplace. Already, you’re reducing the budget. Reduce cranberries in stock pot and make both a non-alcoholic and alcoholic batch for guests.
  • Instead of several meat dishes, make 1 meat, 1 poultry, 1 seafood and a few vegetable dishes. With this move, you’ll be catering to all and sundry.
  • Cook in advance – There are quite a few dishes that can be prepared and cooked in advance. For example, if you’re making a stew, or roast, this can be done a day or two before. Or, if a baked ham is on the menu, by all means, do this a day or two before the event. Bake those special fruit cakes, rolls, cookies, pies and tarts in advance.
  • Hire help or go store-bought – This is not the time to be a culinary god or goddess. Even Martha Stewart obtains help during these times. If needs be, grab that already baked spiral ham at the specialized store and add your favorite glaze. Wholesale stores like Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club carry prepared platters of cheese/crackers, veggies, salads, etc. Bring them home and place them on the your attractive platters. No one will know. They will be a little ‘over the moon’ from that vodka/cranberry drink.
  • Buffet-style – This is the time to be mingling and enjoying your loved ones. By all means, create the perfect setting. Have your loved ones and guests serve themselves.

It’s inevitable; although holidays are of great mirth and celebration, they also bring a little added stress in our lives. They can be emotional. However, employing a few of the above along with other tips, you can reduce some of the pitfalls when it comes to the culinary side of things.

Guys, Merry Christmas!! Feliz Navidad!! Happy Hanukkah!! Happy Holidays!! As always, be kind to your loved ones and well as your beautiful palates.

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GUYS, IT’S NATIONAL CUPCAKE DAY!!

 

I’m celebrating Cupcake Day with delicious chocolate cupcakes baked with a hint of white rum and left-over coffee (fr. this morn’s brew).

Chocolate cupcakes baked in a hint of rum/espresso. Topped with slivered almonds
Chocolate cupcakes baked in a hint of rum/espresso. Topped with slivered almonds

In American’s culinary world, cupcakes have been around since the 19th century; and continues to put a smile on everyone’s face. HAPPY CUPCAKE DAY GUYS!!

ONCE AGAIN, THEY HAVE US AT THE ‘BEANS’…COCOA BEANS

I love almost everything chocolate. I especially love the darker types. Maybe, because studies have shown that the darker type has a great amount of flavonols. Flavonols are antioxidants which give the cocoa its pungent taste. This ingredient is excellent in the reduction of heart disease in the body.

I like to indulge in a piece of dark chocolate at the end of a meal. One with a 60% to 70% cacao.  A small piece goes a far way because it gets my endorphins ‘kicking’. I enjoy a drizzle of melted bitter/sweet chocolate on my vanilla ice-cream. It takes it to another level. When it’s chilly on the outskirts, there’s nothing like a hot cup of chocolate/cocoa to warm my heart and palate. I love to indulge in a delicious chocolate cupcake with semi-sweet dark chocolate infused.

Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate cupcakes with a hint of espresso/rum sprinkled with slivered almonds

So, over the week-end, on the news I learned that Hershey and other chocolatiers are planning on a price hike of their products. Their reason for doing so is that production has decreased with producing territories around the globe. The United States grows approximately 13% of the world’s production and the balance comes from regions like the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Is this real? Is this so-called decline in production another marketing ploy to get us to indulge in more of the dark goodness? Who knows? But, my lay person’s take is that Valentine is a couple of months away, and these chocolatiers desire us to purchase even more. Basically, it’s a way for us consumers to start thinking about Valentine which in turn will maximize profits.

Guys, my take is that we’ll be fine. I’ll continue to enjoy my dark chocolate as I so wish. I’ll not stockpile this amazing product for future consumption. Once again, it’s another way to hike their prices by getting us by the ‘beans’.

A CAULIFLOWER DISH THAT IS THE ‘STAR’ OF THE MEAL

Who would have thought that this former forgotten veggie could be celebrated as this. Cauliflower has somewhat emerged as a bright star among its counterparts. Step back broccoli and cabbage and in enter this cruciferous member. This creamy white and  tight veggie is standing out on its own and seems to be stealing the stoplight from its family members. Well, that’s my observation.

Head of Cauliflower
Head of Cauliflower

And, the great thing is that cauliflower has numerous health benefits. Based on studies, it is excellent in preventing different cancers, like ovarian, prostate, and cervical. In addition, it is ideal for the lowering of the blood sugar in the body. It’s low in calories and as a result, it’s perfect in the area of weight management.

Chefs have created many dishes that seems to compliment this flower veggie. As a home cook, I’ve cooked cauliflower in the form of a mash, soup, roasted, and steamed. However, the last I’ve checked I realized it can be had many more ways.

One of the ways I’ve decided to cook this amazing veggie is to roast it in coconut milk. But, first I cut it in huge slices. Then, I soaked it overnight in coconut milk which was seasoned with a pinch of salt to taste along with paprika, and  black pepper. I also put a  sprinkle of cinnamon for added flavor….winner!  Nutmeg would also be perfect as well.

Cauliflower sliced
Cauliflower sliced
Cauliflower in coconut milk ready for roasting
Cauliflower in coconut milk ready for roasting

In a 400 degree oven, cauliflower pieces were roasted for approximately 45 minutes until fork tender and coconut reduced.  It was then placed under the broiler for another five minutes with shredded cheddar cheese for a quick melt and browning on top.

Final dish of cauliflower with melted cheddar cheese topping
Final cauliflower dish with melted cheddar cheese topping

Guys, this dish is excellent for a perfect side dish at your holiday meal or any meal for that matter. It’s a crowd pleaser dish and will have everyone returning for seconds.

Guys, as always, be kind to your loved ones as well as your beautiful palates.

 

OFFICIALLY, I’M A SICK ‘PUPPY’……I ATE OUT OF THE ‘BOX’!! RUFF!RUFF!

Guys, maybe its the dip in the temperatures; I don’t know. You see, South Florida, the sunshine state is  experiencing unseasonably winter-like temperatures (well, Florida-style). That means we’ve to grab hold of our boots, ear muffs, turtle necks, gloves…..the works. I’m telling you guys, my HEATER IS ON!!

For me, when the digits plummet, my palate sometimes becomes a little ‘out of whack’. It craves unusual eats. So, what do I do? I figured I should go with the flow. It didn’t feel like the typical dinner or supper menu dishes. You would think that, okay, it’s cold, maybe a big bowl of soup would do the trick. But no, it felt like having breakfast for dinner.

And so, I did! I crushed an over-ripened banana, shredded a McIntosh apple along with a pinch of fresh ginger. With a combination of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, sugar, melted butter and spices, I had the perfect batter for apple/banana/ginger pancakes. I topped this with fresh raspberries I had on hand. Of course, I could not resist, a couple of pieces of crispy apple wood bacon had to be on the side.

Now guys, IT’S THE CHRISTMAS SEASON!! And in honor of the Christ child who would later turn water into wine, I decided to sip on a little red wine. But, what I did was to warm my wine, YES I DID! After all, it’s breakfast for dinner. On the side, I placed my cinnamon stick for dips, a great way to add extra flavor. HO! HO!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

WHAT’S THE NEXT MOVE FOR STARBUCKS?…..A SINGING BARISTA AT YOUR DOOR…EH!?

Guys, ‘good ole’ neighborhood Starbucks is trying the utmost best to please all and sundry. Just a few weeks ago it has been announced in the press that a delivery service will be up and running. Yes guys, no longer will you’ve to suit up and join that long queue to retrieve your morning brew. That’s service is coming soon.

You can actually get your java arrived on your front porch or office door. I wonder how many pints you’ve to order so as to obtain free delivery. For one, there must be a minimum. You know, just like your Chinese eatery. I’ve to order at least $10 before they show up for ‘free’.

Well, everyone I know likes their coffee piping hot. What if it gets cool en route  to your door. Will a skilled barista arrive and offer to heat for me? Will there be a deduction or a free cup of brew? We’ll have to see.

The latest is, dear Starbucks has developed an ‘app’. This app will allow you to make your selection of java before you arrive at the store.  You’ll be able to pay for it online and then retrieve it at the store. Eh…, I wonder if one could choose the origin of the beans. Can you imagine a disgruntled consumer, “I distinctly requested and paid for beans from the hills of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, or I said Columbia; or, this isn’t Cuban coffee!”

Guys, my take is that you can’t please everyone. Starbucks should try to perfect their brand in-house. And that means reasonable prices. Remember there’s competition from other coffee houses. WiFi is also available at McDonald’s and other places. They are in the business of serving coffee….well, a few other ad hoc items. We do appreciate the savory and sweet food items.Take care of your staff and you’ll derive excellent rewards/service from them. They in turn will provide superb service to customers and the establishment/s will be viable.

Hmm., I’m still thinking about a hot barista with bulging muscles (not too big of a biceps, 6-pack abs, not 8, that’s freaky) showing up at my door, uttering, “I’m here to serve you…coffee!” Maybe, I’ll pay for that. However, the coffee had better be piping hot.

Kudos to Starbucks for thinking outside of the box. I wish them well.

CHRISTMAS AND TRADITIONS INCLUDING JAMAICA’S LIQUORED FRUIT CAKE

What is it about Christmas and traditions? If you should talk to anyone who actually celebrate this beautiful time of the year, one would state that it’s time to gather with family members and loved ones. A time to exchange and give presents, decorate and put up that special tree.  A time to be merry, eat and drink and spread good cheers. And of course, a time to actually remember and celebrate the birth of Christ.

For me, this time of the year puts me in a nostalgic mood. It’s a time when I reflect and remember when life was simple but seemed rather rich. There was great laughter, fun, amazing foods and the belting out of Christmas songs with my siblings. A time to attend church and sing noels and watch Christmas plays.

My mom, Beryl was huge on Christmas. It was her special and most wonderful time of the year. I guess I have a little of her within. Two to three months before the Christmas season arrived, mom would actually begin the preparations. As soon as a wisp of autumn air agitated the drapes within my  mom would utter “It’s Christmas breeze!” That meant it was time to white wash the walls and picket fence on the outskirts.

Christmas was a family affair. Therefore, my dear uncle Brownie who was a professional painter was deeply involved in the sprucing up of our interior and exterior of our home. Although he was busy and extremely booked he carved out a little time to come over and do a spectacular paint job on our home. We never had to pay him. That was his gift to us. All he required was a little spirit rum. Yes uncle Brownie was big on is rum. Give him a slice of fruit cake laced with rum and the job would be done.

Talking about fruit/rum cakes, back then, my siblings and I used to make dozens of the liquored cakes. It took us hours to cream up the butter and sugar. Once in a while the old cake mixer was overworked and started to smoked, so we had to go manual. To us it wasn’t work. It was a joyful occasion. We all took turns to churn the good old butter and sugar. You see, our immediate family was quite large. Moreover, there were extended family made up of uncles, aunts, cousins, close friends, and neighbors.

Now a days, as an adult, this is what I do. Because some of my dear folks are no longer with us and moreover most of us are scattered all over this globe, I try to carry on the traditions as it comes to baking that fruit liquored cake. Although it’s easy to cream and churn the butter and sugar, it not the same, there were more loving hands.

I try my utter best to recapture those flavorful cakes. Present day Christmas season, I ship quite a few fruit cakes to loved ones both near and far. This is what I do:

Stewed and liquored (rum/red wines/brandy) fruits ready for input in cake batter
Stewed and liquored (rum/red wines/brandy) fruits ready for input in cake batter
Creamed butter/sugar along with eggs and molasses
Creamed butter/sugar along with eggs and molasses (Excuse the rimmed spill)
Liquored fruit cakes ready for oven
Liquored fruit cakes ready for oven
In the oven they go along with a water bath to keep them moist
In the oven they go along with a water bath to keep them moist

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Finished fruits cakes ready to be devoured by loved ones
Finished fruits cakes ready to be devoured by loved ones

Guys, this is just a snippet of what my loved ones and I do during Christmas. I know you have tremendous to share about this special time of the year. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!! FELIZ NAVIDAD!!

SARDINE OMELET & PAN-ROASTED APPLES

Woke up and felt a wee bit out of it. It’s so amazing how one can rein-in balance just by doing a few simple things. And, that’s what I did. Despite the doldrums within, I fetched my workout pants and old sweaty shoes. I must remember to get me a new pair. Anyway, I ventured on the outskirts and burst a few beads of sweat. As usual, fifteen or so minutes within  I already felt a great shift as I stretched my legs.

I then returned to base (abode) and watched those precious ducks do their paddles in the water at the rear of my dwelling. After a few stretches and moves I went to my kitchenette and whipped up this amazing sardine omelet. With the sprinkle of a little salt and black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon my sardines were ready to be immersed the beautiful and silky egg wash in my hot skillet.

In a few minutes after layering my heart healthy fish from the tin, I carefully did my flip and fold of a tasty omelet. I served my sardine omelet with pan-roasted apple slices sprinkled with a pinch of sugar and cinnamon along with a pat of butter and a drizzle of water. I still have a few of those raspberries so I topped my apples with them.

Guys, the combination was quite divine and needless to say very satiating. With a hot cup of java, I’m now on top of the world. I’m over the moon and feel like I can conquer absolutely anything. It’s so funny how one can make a shift with simple steps.

A DOUBLED-BACK MEAL….##FROZEN WILD SALMON

When it comes to seafood especially fish, I like to secure the fresh kind. Maybe, it’s because I’m from an island domain where there is continuous access to fresh seafood on a daily basis. Moreover, my dear uncle was a fisherman in his village in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.

Looking back, I realize how blessed and rich I was to actually reap my omega foods from the source. In fact, later on as an adult life I was fortunate to be able to purchase fish as soon as the fishermen came to shore with their catch.

So,  a couple of day ago when I went shopping to replenish my food supplies as I grabbed a few frozen spinach packets I was drawn to the fish section. The shiny packet said frozen wild salmon. On close inspection it showed that the bag contain four sealed fillet pieces. Moreover, it was on sale. The ego in me questioned, “why a sale? Is it fresh?” I was about to continue my shopping but, I had a change of heart and fetch a package.

Packet with frozen wild salmon
Packet with frozen wild salmon

When I brought home the fish I decided to defrost a couple of the fillets overnight. I wasn’t too enthused to see the residual water left on the plate. But, on the other hand, I was happy to note that they weren’t smelling fishy. I rinsed and dried the pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper along with a little crushed garlic.

In a hot skillet, I drizzled olive oil and seared fish after I removed the garlic and added a light dusting of bread crumbs. After a few minutes on each side, my fish immediately came alive with a beautiful crust. I set aside and added an additional drizzle of oil to pan along with a pat of butter. I did a quick pan roast of onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. And because I know that fish love acid I added a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as well as a few chopped olives and capers.

Fish was served on a bed of smashed sweet potatoes with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I then added pan roasted veggies as topping with fresh lemon and parsley as garnish.

Finished wild salmon dish
Finished wild salmon dish

The combination was amazing. The savory and sweet were just what the dish needed. I was pleasantly satisfied with my frozen wild salmon dish. I was happy.