Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lazy days and Corned Fish

Many West Indians can lay claim to a feeling of belonging to another Caribbean island by virtue of parents who would have immigrated. In my case my father came to Trinidad from Canouan. Going back to this place that I call my second home over the holidays was amazing.  In many ways this island and the people there helped shaped the person I am today.

View from the back of the house
Growing up, I spent my July/August holidays in Canouan. Every year I was filled with  the excited anticipation of meeting my cousins. No toys necessary. Just a bunch of us cousins having the run of an entire 3 1/2  x  1  1/4 mile wide island. We were like modern day Crusoes, gone from morning until night, reappearing only at mealtimes to be fed.
View from the front of the house
Once refueled we were off again to continue our explorations unfettered by grown ups. It was not uncommon for us to 'steal' out grandfather's boat and row out to distant beaches. It was on one of these jaunts that my cousin P and I took the boat and left the main group on Whaling Bay. Some ways from the shore we discovered that the moray eel caught earlier that morning was still very much alive and thrashing about at our feet in the water pooled at the bottom of the boat. Suffice to say, we hastily abandoned 'ship' and swam to shore to the annoyance of the boy cousins who unkindly pointed out that we had just set adrift our only means of getting home!

And that was one of our tamer adventures. Indeed when I think back on the times we had, I am amazed that we are all survived childhood.  Even some thirty something years later there is still the same excited anticipation of hanging with my cousins who now have children of their own. Seeing our children playing together, continuing childhood traditions is  awesome. It is beyond moving to share experiences of my childhood in the spaces that they occurred with my own children.

Google Canuoan and most links will tell about the fairly recent, super exclusive, private,  development that occupies a good portion of the northern part of the island. There is of course another face to this island. Here the beaches aren't swept free of seaweed, buildings aren't glamoured to look like the cookie cutter visions of  tourism. Village life is simple, reflecting the resourcefulness of a people used to getting by with little.

Beach bar, Mayreau

Canuoan's development was slower than it's larger Caribbean neighbours. In the 70's  there were only about 500 people living on the island with no pipe born water or electricity. Back then, my grandmother was still baking bread on an outdoor earth oven. Electricity only came to the came to the island in the 80's.  There were no shops or supermarkets so households had to be self sufficient. Basically you caught or grew what food was placed on the table. Everyone kept a kitchen garden and reared animals.  My grandparents kept chickens, goats, sheep, a pig and a donkey.

I will admit that initially it was upsetting for a child used to purchasing meat from supermakets to see animals being butchered for the table. Today, I am happy to say that my experiences have afforded me a  practical and not too romanticized view of food.  In those days if you wanted to eat you either grew it or caught and then butchered it. Too bad if you were squeamish about anything you just did not eat until the next meal. This sort of 'old fashioned lifestyle' was unimaginable to many of my friends but  I was delighted to be part of these seemingly magical rituals that were once an essential part of daily life.  One such ritual that continues today is that of corned fish.

Corned Fish

Of course today you can pick up salted cod in the supermarket but back when there were no refrigerators or even imported Alaskan cod, you salted and preserved your own fish by adding loads of salt and drying it in the sun. This process is called corning for reasons mentioned in my previous post on corned beef. Corned fish will keep for months and it is not unusual to see salted  fish on roof tops or strung out on fences to be preserved.. In Union Island I noticed that my Aunt used sea salt that she had harvested herself from the salt pond. Mostly I was surprised that the Grenadine islands have not yet seen the potential for marketing their salt to the world. Many of the islands have naturally occurring salt ponds, yet the sea salt I buy comes from France - go figure. Upon my return I noticed a 2 ounce container of sea salt for  $15.00 US at a local gourmet shop. Hello! Aunty Alice send salt, stat!.

Fisherman cleaning conch for dinner
The culinary highlight of any trip to the Grenadines is always freshly caught sea food. My memories are of my grandfather fishing and setting his lobster trap. Fresh fish, conch, turtle's eggs, eel, kelp and just about anything from the sea were regular items on the table.

Glossy Beach, Canouan
Canuoan does not cater to mass tourism so that means it isn't too hard to find yourself a deserted stretch of beach to call your own for the day. Seriously no one here but us and the pelicans

My husband had a hard time trying to decide which was the best beach. Glossy Beach reigned supreme in his estimation at least until the following day when we took him to another beach where he exclaimed anew, "Now this is the best beach on the island." Hmmm, let's just say that I heard that phrase a lot from him. 

Soon enough it was time to leave Canouan and hop across to the neighboring Union Island to spend a short visit with my Aunt.

You'd think by now we'd be sick of fabulous beaches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sunshine, cool breezes and a kaleidoscope of ever changing aquamarine and turquoise water- nope that never gets old!
Big Sand Beach, Union Island
From Union we made arrangements for a sailing tour to the Tobago Keys.  First stop was the private island resort on Palm Island.

Palm Island

Our next stop was at Salt Whistle Bay on the island of Mayreau. 

Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau

Tired of one beach, well then, walk about ten steps across a narrow strip of land and you'll find yourself on another.
Once in the Tobago Keys, it was a full day of snorkeling on the reefs. Anchored close by was the boat Scaramouche, better known as the Black Pearl in the movie Pirates of The Caribbean.

In the distance is Petit Tabac, the island where Jack Sparrow was stranded with loads of rum.

Petit Tabac, Tobago Keys
As much as I might have wished to remain stranded in the Grenadines it seemed that all too soon the time was upon us to return home. In fact the rainy and very gloomy weather that day matched my mood and reflected my feelings about having to say goodbye.  Huge hugs to my Canouan, Union Island and Carriacou family who made sure we were properly spoiled. Never fear we'll be back!
A gloomy goodbye

Monday, August 13, 2012

Homemade Corned Beef

In some parts of the world corned beef is seen as a festive dish that is associated with St. Patrick's Day. Usually it's a cut of beef brisket that has been soaked in  brine with pickling spices, then cooked. However in Trinidad corned beef is something that comes out of a can. I can't say that I am overly fond of this salty, gelatinous, tinned meat but it is quite useful for preparing a quick family meal when time is short.

For the longest while I have been intrigued by the idea of making my own corned beef but I figured it must take special equipment and a degree in meat preservation. After a bit of research into the topic, I happily discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make at home. Once you've made this I promise you will find it difficult to go back to the tinned stuff. The flavour is off the chart awesome. It is less salty, deeply spiced and tastes closer to a Christmas ham than corned beef from a tin. Once the beef starts to cook, the aroma alone makes the entire experience worthwhile.

Essentially corned beef is beef that has been preserved using salt. In times past, grains of salt were larger (about the size of corn kernels) and they were called corns of salt not grains, hence the term corned beef. Essentially there are two methods of preserving or corning beef, a dry cure and a wet cure. In the dry cure method the salt is rubbed into the meat to prevent spoiling. The wet-cure involves soaking the beef in brine.

Nowadays it is common to use a brisket or a round roast for corned beef but any cut of beef can be made into corned beef.  The most daunting part of the whole process was accessing some of the ingredients which aren't readily available in the local supermarkets. Brisket is not a common cut that is sold here but the gentlemen of Bloom's Imports sorted me out. I see now that they also stock already brined briskets so if you aren't up for home curing your own you can always try one of those.

Homemade Corned Beef

The Pickling Spice Blend
2 tablespoons peppercorns mixed
2 tablespoons mustard seeds ( I used mustard powder)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons allspice berries (pimento)
2 tablespoons whole clove
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 stick of cinnamon 

The Brine
1 gallon water (16 cups)
2 cups kosher salt
1 teaspoon pink curing salt#1
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons pickling spice (above recipe)
one 5lb beef brisket

Make pickling spice:
Lightly toast the peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds in a small, dry frying pan. use a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a broad knife to crack the peppercorns. Combine the cracked peppercorns with the rest of the spices. Mix well and store in an airtight container.

Make the brine:
Combine water, salt, sugar, pink salt and 2 tablespoons of the pickling spices in a pot that is large enough to hold 16 cups of water comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until it is completely chilled.

Get a container that is large enough for the brisket and the brine. I used my crockpot but a large Rubbermaid container works well. Place the brisket in it. Add the brine and weigh brisket down with a plate so that it remains submerged. Refrigerate for 2 weeks.

Cook the beef: 

Remove brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. If you plan on cooking vegetables with your corned beef you can reserve about 1/2 cup of the brine. Discard the rest. Place brisket in a crockpot. Add enough water to just cover the meat. Add the rest of the cooking spices and set to slow cook for 4 hours. Taste the meat at this point. If it is not too salty, set the timer and slow cook an additional 4 hours. However it it is too salty change the water. Add fresh water just to cover the meat and slow cook for 4 hours.

If you do not have a crockbot you can do this on your stovetop. In a pot that is large enough to hold the brine and the brisket add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil. reduce the heat, cover and  simmer for about 3 hours. At this point taste meat to check for salt content. If it is too your liking continue to simmer for an additional 3 hours or until meat is fork tender. If it is too salty pour off the water and add fresh water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for an additional 3 hours.

Remove brisket and serve warm with vegetables or use in sandwhiches.  Store corned beef in the fridge for up to a week.

About pink curing salt:
Pink curing salt is also called Prague Powder #1. I purchased mine online. It goes by various brand names such as DQ curing salt, Tinted Cure, Morton's Tender Quick and Instacure. The nitrate in curing salts preserves the pink colour of the meat. You can omit it from the recipe since by itself the salt will safely preserve the meat but be aware that the curing salt is what makes the meat retain a pink colour. Without it the meat will be just as edible but it will look grey.

IMPORTANT:  Do not use more than the suggested amount of pink salt because too much can be toxic. Store safely out of the reach of children who might mistake the pink candy like colour for sugar. Click here for more in depth information on curing salts.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dairy Free Chocolate Pudding (Vegan)

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I know what you are thinking.

You don't have to say it.

Chocolate and avocado together, well that's just crazy!

I will admit to having reservations when I first saw the recipe.  

I also had ten fully ripened avocados. And just so you know there is only so much of this or this that a person can eat.

Chocolate and avocado though.........hmmmmm.

Hey, look it's a no cook recipe!

vegan choc pud 4 logo
Niceness, it's starting to look better already.

Healthy too. Okay now I am backing off to being cautious again because ... honestly eewwww!

Let's play a word association game. I say dessert and you say ____________________?

I'll bet you didn't say healthy. Neither did you say chocolate and avocado pudding, am I right?

Bravely I forged ahead and tried one of the many recipes floating about the Internet for this unusual dessert.

I can not tell a lie people, it tasted ....hmmm.......uhmm...well it tasted healthy. And yeah that was a euphemism.

I stuck the thing in the fridge hoping it would taste better chilled. While I waited, Google and I got to work to brainstorm how I could make this work.

It turns out the answer was simple.  Salt!

That simple addition COMPLETLY transformed this into something that ended up in my tummy rather than the bin..

Thank you salt. Good save:-)

vegan choc pud2logo
Dairy Free Chocolate Pudding
1-2 servings

1 small ripe avocado ( approx 1 1/2 cup avocado cut into pieces)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup Agave nectar (you could use honey but be aware that it won't be vegan if you do)
1/4 cup almond milk, rice milk or vanilla flavored soy milk
a pinch of salt (not optional)

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Chill before serving.