Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have a blooming good New Year!

Once again the time has come to say goodbye. How do you plan on saying farewell and ushering in the new year? Whatever your plans, I'm guessing it will include something bubbly.

Hold on to your glasses because I am about to blow you away with the most amazing garnish for your champagne. It's charming, elegant, exotic and fun.

Take a few minutes to appreciate the awesomeness that is sorrel in syrup.

Wait! Did you just do that typical dismissive West Indian thing?

You DID NOT just steups (suck your teeth at me)!!!

Sigh. You did, didn't you?

It might interest you to know that people pay upwards of $10.00 US for a jar of just eleven of these flowers.

That's right, $63.00 for eleven flowers. And you were grumbling about the high price of sorrel this year at $5.00 or .80 US cents per lb. Not 'steupsing' now are you?

Let us take some time to appreciate the brilliance of the man behind all of this. According to wildhibiscusflowers.com, Lee Etherington is the man who invented this product 11 years ago. Whaaaaaaat??? And all these years I thought God held the patent for wild hibiscus. Maybe Lee thinks he invented the concept of putting sorrel in syrup. Again, this is old news. In the Caribbean we have been boiling and preserving this thing in sugar long before Mr. Etherington was even born. It's an old recipe but Lee has looked at it in a new way. Bloody brilliant. Forget about, out with the old and in with the new. How about keeping the old and making it new.

Lee is to be admired for an effective marketing strategy and branding of this product. Just look at the pretty packaging and the hype he has created about the way these flowers open up, or appear to bloom when placed in an effervescent drink.

This is what the sorrel or wild hibiscus flower looks like. There are several varieties, even a white one but only two are shown here as these are the ones I used.

The one on the left that looks like a jester's hat is less tart and is better suited to making the traditional Caribbean, Christmas time sorrel drink. The flower on the right had a superior flavour when cooked. This is the one to use in your champagne cocktail since it is closed and will 'bloom' when you pour your drink.

Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup (Hibiscus sabdariffa) or
Mock Caribbean Cranberry Sauce

*adapted from the Naparima Girl's High School Cookbook

Makes 2 8oz jars

1 lb sorrel
1 lb granulated sugar
1 stick of cinnamon

Remove the seeds from the flower (* I left the seeds in the flower because I wasn't sure that the flowers would not float to the top of the glass. That, and I was lazy.)

Put sorrel and the cinnamon stick in a pot and just barely cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from the heat and measure sorrel. Add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit and juice. Return to the heat and bring to the boil. Cook until water thickens to a thick syrup.
Pour into hot sterilized bottles.

Cooking for a longer time will make sorrel jelly which is good too. The jam does not take too long to cook and sets up rather quickly in about 15 minutes.

Wishing you all a blooming good 2010!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Black Cake

For most West Indians it's not 'chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Jack Frost nipping at your toes' that evokes feelings of Christmas but black cake soaked in lots of rum. It just wouldn't be Christmas without it. So much so that I have actually had to mail tins of this cake to friends and family abroad who craved a taste of home.

Black cake is also used for weddings. As per tradition I saved a layer of my wedding cake which we consumed in celebration of the birth of our first child - six years later! I confess to being more than a bit skeptical as I contemplated that well-aged slice of cake. Curiosity won out. I ate it and crossed my fingers that there wouldn't be any ill effects. My fears were unfounded. No one was poisoned and the cake tasted about the same as it did on the day of my wedding. Delicious.

This year's black cake was baked by November, wrapped, soaked in rum and put to cure for Christmas. Because of the hectic season, I am only now finding time to post this amazing, fragrant and boozy treat that we will be enjoying well into January.The New York Times has a good recipe for Black Cake.

My own cake is not the traditional black colour. Click here to see the colour that it should be. Some years I get it right, some years not. This year I chickened out and removed the sugar from the fire too soon. You'd be surprised how quickly the sugar goes from dark brown to a bitter charred mess. It takes experience and careful watching to get it right. If you have read about my struggles with custard then you will know that I am an an impatient cook. The lighter coloured cake is no less delicious than a dark one.

The NY Times recipe suggests that you brush the cake with rum. I don't know anyone who does that. Here is how we soak our cakes. Make small holes all over the cake with a skewer. Throw away the brush and drench the cakes in rum. Nothing less than a full bottle will do.

On Christmas Eve the caterers at my husband's firm served black cake. A co-worker decided that since it was the last day of work before a holiday there was little chance that the drug and alcohol tester would show up. Turns out he was wrong!

Here are some sites that talk about this cake

A fruitcake soaked in the tropical sun

Black cake - a dry run

Black Cake

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Birthday Meat and Potatoes

Say the word birthday and one invariable thinks of cake. In fact the celebration of a birthday may seem incomplete without cake. For my birthday, I asked that there NOT be any cake.

I will explain.

Every week during the month of November, there is a birthday in my family. That's one cake every week. This translates to a slice of cake almost everyday if it is not to go to waste. By the time my own birthday rolls around in mid December I am pretty much sick of cake! Yes! It absolutely can happen that you can have too much of a good thing.

So this year instead of cake , I wished for a family dinner. I decided that it would be nice if for a change we could all sit down to eat together. I applaud all of you for whom that is a normal occurrence. In our home it seems like at least one person is always standing, doing something or other while some are eating.

Also I must confess that we let the kids look at television while they eat. We are going to parent hell, I know. In our defense it's a welcome distraction for the younger ones. If it's a school night we usually use this time to pack the children's lunches for the following day while they eat and look at their favourite shows. Hey don't judge me. Hire me a maid and I'll focus on etiquette 101. Until then Sponge Bob you are my #1 man in square pants. I so heart you.

So in the interest of being less like cave people, my one wish for my birthday was for us to all sit in a civilized manner and have dinner together. In my mind's eye, I envisaged a perfect evening, sharing a delicious and lovingly prepared meal with the people I cherish most in this world.

Here is how it actually went down.

The baby screamed LOUDLY and a lot. He screamed as we attempted to guide his spoon to his mouth. He is learning to self feed and wants to do it all on his own. He screamed with frustration when we did not help and food was unintentionally catapulted out of his bowl. He screamed with joy when he finally got it right and into his mouth instead of my hair. Cheers all around.

My eldest doesn't like pak choi (bok choi), so lots of grumbling on her part with threats on ours in order to get her to eat it. BTW, a ban on Nitentedo DSi can be a powerful tool in getting a child to eat their veggies:-)

The four year old whined. He was upset that the TV was off, therefore no Sponge Bob.

At first I was distressed that my little soirée seemed to be a disaster. My darling husband tried his best to help me rally our mutinous troops by pouring us both, very, VERY generous glasses of wine. We needed fortification. My son took this as a cue to stop whining about cartoons. He raised his juice cup. "Hey mummy let's ching ching." Glasses were raised and a toast was made. Happy Birthday was sung.

After the usual reminders to use the cutlery provided and not eat with your hands, my son then picked up his knife and fork asked "So mummy, how was your day?" My husband's eyes smiled at me across the table. I lifted my glass to him as I beamed at my 4 year old's gentlemanly attempt to make conversation. " My day was perfect sweetheart. Just perfect." And then I picked some potato out of my hair.


Roasted Potato With Rosemary
Serves 6

Potatoes don't need to be boiled before oven roasting. However boiling them first, results in a better texture that is very much like steak fries.


2 1/2 lbs of potatoes
1 or 2 tablespoons herbes de provence *
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper


Wash potatoes. Boil them with 1 tsp of salt until just tender. (5- 8 mins) Drain and cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Small potatoes can be left whole. Drain the water (reserving some if you are making a gravy).

Arrange the potatoes in a baking tray with herbes de Provence, then drizzle the olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake the potatoes for about 40 to 50 minutes or until the potatoes turn crispy and the flesh is tender.

* you can season potatoes with which ever is your preferred spice blend

Braised Pak Choi Recipe

2 lbs pak choy
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large oniions sliced
4 cloves of garlic (sliced in slivers)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1. Trim the base of the pak choy, then chop off the leaves. Cut the base in half lengthwise, then cut the halves crosswise on a diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Cut the leaves crosswise on a diagonal into 1 1/2-inch-wide strips.

2. Place a large wok or a pot large enough to hold all the pak choy over high heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry until browned. Then add the onions. Cook , 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pak choy and season with the salt and pepper. Cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6.

Pot Roast in the Pressure Cooker
I have never done a pot roast in the pressure cooker before, so I followed the recipe from Cook's Illustrated as closely as I could. It was good but I feel it can be made more to my taste with a few adjustments. For one thing the the cooking time of 1 hour needs to be shortened. Great for sandwiches. Not so great for slicing and serving.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Bread from Venezuela - Pan de jamon

Every year for the past four years this Christmas bread from Venezuela has graced our table for breakfast on the morning of December 25th. Oh wait, every year except last year.

You see, we have an electric range and my bread was in the oven about ten minutes when poof! There was a power outage that lasted all day and I was left with raw dough mess.

I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried. Seriously for real, I cried. Do you know how much a ham costs? I was angry that my money and the ingredients had been wasted. Maria, my Venezuelan neighbour cried too. She has not had this taste of home for years and was so excited when I told her that I was making it.

This year I am beside myself with joy. I have found a Venezuelan run establishment that sells pan de jamon. Christmas breakfast has been saved!

Don't have a Venezuelan bakery in your neck of the woods, then click here to link to the recipe. Click here for a picture of one of my early attempts at baking pan de jamon. I am happy to report that my pan is pretty darn close to the real deal.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Salad for Christmas

'Tis the season and every one is busy with Christmas preparations. The countdown is on. Like many of you, I am also planning the meal for the big event. This is the salad that I plan to serve on Christmas Day. Salad? Yikes! Where is the ham? Where are the pastelles, the cake and other edible indulgences of the season? Who cares about salad on Christmas Day?

Let me plead its case. Trust me, it too can be a star of a holiday menu. It's light, crisp and fresh. Oranges are in season now and citrus is perfect for awakening your palette. This salad is a perfect pairing for all the heavy, decadent, traditional goodness of the season.

Don't drown this salad in dressing. With all the rich main and side dishes to be served alongside, a sprinkle of salt and some cracked black pepper may be all you really need.

Do you have a favourite holiday salad? I'd love if you would share it with me.

© 2009 Wizzythestick

More of a guide than an actual recipe
Orange Onion Salad
Romaine lettuce (shredded)
Onions ( red or white chopped finely)
Kalamata olives
oranges (peeled and segmented)
Toss all the ingredients together.
Salt and black pepper to taste.