My first Zinger

27 08 2008

Since this is a family and food blog it could be easy for me to just ignore the Olympics. But Karen and I did watch a fair amount of events, and we did enjoy most of what we saw.  But nestled in there tightly among the hours and hours and hours of beach volleyball televised by NBC was something I truly found inspiring.  I was inspired by an athlete who did what few others in his situation could do.  He celebrated his silver medal.  

It never ceases to amaze me when sportscasters and TV hosts act all disappointed in people who “settle for silver.”  Like Bob Costas could do better.  But there, after the men’s 100m dash final, was Richard Thompson from Trinidad & Tobago celebrating his silver medal as if he’d won gold.  It was obvious that he felt he’d run the race of his life, and he was truly proud of his accomplishment.  All Karen and I could do was wonder how long the fete would be in Trinidad.  I’m sure nobody went to work for a week.  

So, being that a Trini won the title of the World’s second-fastest man, I got to thinking once again about Trinidad food.  In particular, what kind of Trini food makes me get up and run.  This usually includes a fair amount of pepper.  Actually it most likely only involves a little pepper, but humor me, okay?  So I thought of the one food that has scared me off by its very name: The Zinger.

The Zinger is a fried chicken sandwich from KFC with plenty pepper.  I’d never heard of a Zinger before, and I’m pretty sure they don’t sell them here in the States.  Here’s KFC’s website from the United Kingdom talking about the Zinger.  Yes I know that KFC sells the Zinger in other countries too, but I first heard about it in Trinidad, where half the street vendors have “Flame” or “Fire” in their name.  

I started with a basic chicken marinade found in the Naparima cookbook.  It includes the following:

Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Pepper sauce
Trinidad green seasoning

After marinading the chicken breasts I dredged them in some flour, paprika, and cayenne pepper and pan fried them.  They came out crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.  

Okay, maybe the outside was a little charred, but it was crispy.  

Sliced up and put on a bun with some lettuce, ketchup, and mustard with fries chips on the side.  How yuh like dat, boy?  The sad thing was, there really wasn’t much zing to this sandwich.  The pepper sauce in the marinade never really made its way into the chicken, so the only trace of heat was in the breading.  And since I sliced the chicken I took away most of that.  Let’s call this one a work in progress.  

Next time I’m going all out.  I’ll trim the breasts down so I don’t have to slice them.  I’ll use a real batter with serious pepper, and they’re getting deep fried.  Oh, and I’m also making my own fries chips.

Doubles part II

29 01 2008

Trinidad weekend means doubles for lunch on Saturday. I’d make them for breakfast but honestly, who wants to get up that early? To me those overnight cinnamon twists are the best breakfast food ever, since they’re basically ready when you wake up. I should also try Alton’s overnight oatmeal. Good stuff. Wait, I was talking about doubles wasn’t I?

almost makes the house feel warm

Bear with me on this, okay? This post is for my own benefit. You see, when you make something three times a year it’s tough to remember exactly how you did it the last time and how well it worked. This time it worked, and I’m writing my process down before I forget it. I start with this recipe.

Let me first say that you should make twice as much bara bread as is in that recipe, but make the same amount of channa. Trust me.

My doubles recipe called for “enough water to form a soft dough.” Anyone know what that means? Good for you, don’t rub it in. I added the water a little at a time and it looked like the dough would take an endless amount of water. So I added a lot and guess what? It was too much. Way too much. My thoughts immediately went to my blog, you know “Mark Ruins Lunch?” Not wanting to start all over, I decide to knead in more flour and hope for the best. I probably added a half cup of flour to soak up all that water.

Guess what? Something strange happened. When it came time to form the baras I noticed that they were more pliable than before. I’m guessing, of course, because I don’t remember the last time I made doubles. Karen postulated that the kneading made the baras softer and stretchier (is that a word? spell check let it go.). But there was nothing said about kneading in the recipes. Any trinis out there knead their doubles? It turned out great today.

After letting the dough rise, punching it down, and letting it rest again, I contemplated cooking them. Fry in oil, I know, but how to form them? Naparima cookbook says to shape the baras in your hand with some water as a lubricant to keep them from sticking to your hands. I tried that and it sucked. Then I tried ripping some dough off the big dough ball and coating it all over with flour (shaking off the excess). I was able to roll the dough once or twice in each direction so it wouldn’t get all lumpy, then finish shaping with my fingers before I dropped it into the oil.

Cooking time: 30 seconds per side. Previously, I used to “eyeball” the baras to see if they were done (I always cooked them too long), but this time I tried timing it. They were perfect. Well, not perfect, they could still be a little thinner, but this was the best batch ever. So authentic I could hear the coconut man and his cutlass by the UWI doubles vendor.

I almost can’t believe it myself

And that’s why I’m writing it down. Maybe next time I’ll cook with some pepper in with the channa.

Just like Trinidad, only freezing

21 01 2008

This was our second annual “Trinidad Weekend.” The time in the dead of winter where we cook nothing but Trinidad food. The only thing is that it didn’t make it seem any warmer. I picked this weekend because it was so cold. But next year I think we’ll do it around Carnival.

So no, it still seemed cold this weekend but it went well. I made some doubles (more on that later), Karen made curry chicken, channa & potato with bus up shut roti on Saturday, bake and shark for lunch Sunday, and stew chicken with macaroni pie and pigeon peas for dinner Sunday. Good times. I finished the weekend off on Monday with a solo run on Mummy’s oxtail soup. Well, not completely solo, Karen made the dumplings.  I followed her recipe exactly, and noticed some things that I apparently forgot to write down. But I managed it all right and Karen said it rocked. And guess what secret ingredient I added:

and don’t forget the bat’s fangs!

Do you see it in there? Yes, I know it looks like witches’ brew, but pay attention. I added a habanero pepper in to the soup, just like everyone says you’re supposed to. It didn’t burst, and the soup wasn’t hot at all. And it looked a lot nicer in the bowls, too. Even Jonathan and Ben tried some and liked it. Ben likes all my soups. Good boy.

Guest contributor: Mummy’s oxtail soup

25 10 2007

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted about Trinidad food. Not having grown up there I don’t have a full arsenal of dishes at my disposal. Besides, Karen’s the expert in our house, and the only dishes that I’ll post about are the ones she doesn’t make.

Oxtail soup

Karen made oxtail soup once when we were newlyweds. This was long before I truly opened myself to foods from other cultures, so as expected my reaction was less than enthusiastic. Apparently this was quite traumatic to my young bride so she’s never made it since. Her mother is visiting us right now, so I asked if she’d be willing to share her recipe and wisdom with me and my blog for posterity. She graciously obliged.

My blog is called “Mark Ruins Dinner.” Did you know just how skilled I am at this? I can ruin dinner even if I’m not the one cooking. How, you may ask? First, I lose the rocker that goes on top of the pressure cooker that regulates the pressure. Without this, the pressure cooker is just a covered stock pot.

Karen found it later…

But Mummy knows this recipe like the back of her hand, so even my best efforts didn’t ruin the soup. It did, however, take about three times as long to cook. Here are the oxtails after an hour:

after an hour it still wasn’t done

That’s not what they look like when they’re done. And the split peas don’t look like that when they’re done either. They’d been in for a half hour at this point.

Also because of me there was one ingredient missing:

blame me, I can take it

Usually they’ll put one of these habenero peppers into the soup whole and let it steep. But I’m a wimp so they left it out. Can I blame the kids?

Any negative comments about this dish will be deleted.  This is Karen’s mother, after all.  Recipe follows.

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Bake & Mark

7 06 2007

To all yuh Trinis out there, I apologize in advance for what you are about to see.

Bakes.  The Naparima Girls High School Cookbook also calls them “floats,” which is a more descriptive name than “bakes” since they’re fried.  And when they puff up (quite spectacularly) in the oil they do indeed float.

Wednesday was Jonathan’s birthday so he got to choose what was for dinner.  Karen gave him some choices and he chose fish.  When the kids say “Yay! Fish!” in our house it means one thing: Bake and shark.  But we don’t have shark available here usually so we use catfish or (even better) tilapia.

Question to the Trinis.  About a month ago I actually saw mako shark steaks at the local butcher / fishmonger.  I thought this meal was prepared with fillets since they’re fried and they’re so thin.  But Karen said the steaks would work.  My inner Trini is coming out so I don’t trust her.  What do you think?

Back to my point.  Karen worked 9-5 on Wednesday so I decided to make the Bake & Shark.  Karen has her own recipe for bakes but I couldn’t find it so I looked in the Naparima cookbook.  It looked easy enough.  I added the flour, salt, baking powder, and a little bit of the water and started mixing it with a spoon.  Horrified, Aliyah took over.  Apparently you’re supposed to use your hands when mixing bread dough.  Who knew?  Aliyah kneaded the dough and shaped the bakes while I seasoned the fish. 

Unrelated side note: The Naparima cookbook has a recipe for green seasoning and it makes a cup.  Does anyone make a cup of green seasoning at a time?  I thought people made 5 gallons at a time to give to everyone in your family.  But I don’t know for sure because Karen’s green seasoning comes from a good friend of her mother.

So I’m supposed to fry the bakes and the fish at the same time, and I’m as good at multitasking as I am with substituting ingredients in recipes.  Aliyah made the first few bakes really small because she knew I’d need a few to ruin before I got it right.  Those things went from white and raw to black and burned in about 15 seconds.  “You’d better turn them now” she says.  Oh well.

It’s not burned, it’s blackened.

Most of the bakes turned out okay, but Karen didn’t say anything about the fish.  I assume that means they were seasoned properly, but I’m afraid to ask.  I did burn myself while turning one of the fillets.  I then overcooked it and then dropped it on the floor when I was taking it out of the skillet. 

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My proudest moment so far…

31 05 2007

I finally did it.  It took twelve years but I finally made a dinner and Karen didn’t need to add any pepper sauce.  My secret ingredient:

Pepper Sauce Dia-foom-foom

Now you know why.  This is the pepper sauce that Karen puts on everything.  No, not everything.  Not stuff like Italian food or the boring white people food that I prepare.  This stuff is dynamite, trust me.  She puts 5-6 drops of it in her food and she’s good to go.  They don’t mess around with pepper sauce in Trinidad, and until now I’ve never opened up a jar or a bottle of it.  I’m afraid to. 

Actually she prefers the homemade pepper sauce from a friend of her mother, but when that’s not available there’s Chatak.  One word: ZOWEEEE.

So I found this recipe for shrimp cakes and I thought it looked good.  Then I got down to the part where it says it needs hot sauce.  We don’t have what typically passes for “hot sauce” in our house.  Tabasco is like ketchup to this girl, we only carry the good stuff.  So I used a teaspoon of Chatak for what turned out to be 10 cakes.  I didn’t have time to make the corn &  avocado salsa so I used some vegetable – penne medley Karen had made the night before.  I’d had these grandiose plans for making corn chowder to go with it but by the time this was done the kids were already in bed.  So here it is, my moment of triuph where Karen says “Wow, this doesn’t even need pepper!”

Shrimp cakes not for the faint of stomach

I’d like to thank Cooking Light magazine for the idea, and Chatak pepper sauce for being in my fridge but most of all I’d like to thank Karen for advising me to not use as much as the recipe called for.  If you want to know how I made it, click <more>.

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I’m #1 for Trinidad cooking

7 03 2007

I’ve seen some blogs where they list interesting search strings that bring people to their site from google or yahoo or somewhere else.  Some of those are very entertaining, and it makes me think that my blog must be kind of boring.  But yesterday I got my first hits from people looking for doubles recipes.  And when I went to Google to investigate I found out some interesting things.  Here are some search strings that I’ve noticed, followed by my ranking on Google for them:

The top 10 returns are on the first page.

“How to make Trinidad food”  – #1
“How to ruin a dinner”  – #6
“Farting shampoo bottle”  – #2
“Invisible pizza”  – #10
“How do you get the burned taste out of soup”  – #3
“Farting daddy”  – #3
“Gordon Ramsay rabbit recipe”  – #2
“Mario Batali pizza peel”  – #7
“Invisible string”  – #8
“Bara recipe for doubles”  – #8
“Invisible string trick”  – #5
“Bara for doubles”  – #13

I included two variations on “invisible string” because I get more hits from that search string and its variations by far.

Karen is offended that I am the #1 google hit for “how to make Trinidad food” since I’m not from Trinidad and I’ve only made one Trini dish, and even that I’ve only made once.  Maybe if she posted about making channa and potato roti, or perhaps how to caramelize brown sugar to make Trini stewed chicken she’d be #1.

I’m making pizza this Friday again.  Let’s see what state I can make it look like this time.

Two doubles, slight pepper

24 02 2007

My wife was showing very little faith in me.  For years I’ve wanted to make doubles, and have only heard “They’re hard to make.”  Now I know better.

For those who don’t know, I will explain.  Doubles are in Trinidad what donuts are here in the U.S.  The perfect mid-morning snack that everyone craves.  Also, just like donuts here, everyone has their own favorite spot to purchase these little creations.  They are different from donuts in that they are not sweet.  At all.  Doubles consist of curried chick peas (hereafter called channa) in a very flavorful sauce, between two pieces of bara bread.

In Trinidad, often you need to tell the food vendors how much pepper sauce to add.  Once again, this is in addition to the hot peppers already used in cooking the food.  There are three choices when asking for pepper: “no pepper” (that’s what I always say), “slight pepper,” and “heavy pepper” (also known as “plenty pepper”).   When ordering your doubles with heavy pepper, don’t forget to also ask for the 2-gallon jug of ice water that you will need to deaden the pain you will be inflicting on your poor unsuspecting palate.  And please, please, don’t forget to wash your hands before doing something stupid like rubbing your eyes or you will be introduced to an all new kind of pain.

This weekend, since it has been so cold here lately, I suggested to my lovely wife that we have a Trinidad weekend, meaning of course that all the food we eat this weekend will be Trini food.  A much better idea would be, of course, to go to Trinidad and eat all this great food on the beach, but since that’s not an option, we’ll settle for this.  Karen is making curry chicken and pelau for dinner tonight for us and our guests, and tomorrow we are having bake and shark for Sunday lunch (with tilapia). 

So this lovely Saturday morning I decided to tackle Trinidad’s favourite breakfast.  Using the official cookbook of T&T, the Naparima Girls’ High School cookbook, I set to work early this morning right after Benjamin woke me up.  I haven’t used or needed an alarm clock in 5 years.  The dough needs to rise for an hour and a half, so I started on that first.  The recipe said “Add water until it forms a soft dough.”  Remember how great I am at judgement calls with dough?  I woke up Karen.  She added the water, and we let it rest.  In the meantime I cooked the filling.  I formed the baras and it became apparent that we would need more, so Karen made a second batch with rapid rise yeast.  We were glad we made two batches, because we learned some things during the first batch:

  • They were a bit too thick
  • They were a bit too big around
  • We fried them for a bit too long

But the second batch came out very close to perfect.  The result is here, but it’s from the first batch:


That second piece of bara goes on top to finish the sandwich.  They were very tasty, and next time I think I’ll put some chopped serrano chiles in with the channa.

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