Aruba, Jamaica…Oooh I Wanna Take Ya–to the West Indies!

March 2016 Fam Din

I need a vacay in the worst kind of way. Somewhere tropical where I can lounge on soft sand while getting my share of vitamin D from the warm sun, while listening to the sounds of water lapping on the shore.

Yeah, yeah…I live in coastal San Diego where I can pretty much get that 80% of the year but a gal needs options! So with no foreseeable break in my near future, I bamboozled my sibbies into our latest theme for Family Dinner in hopes that our dishes could transport me to a fabulous destination– the West Indies!

Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, and more……they were calling to me!

March 2016 Fam Din

So we converged upon our seester’s house and got to cooking –all while I pretended that the palm trees and bistro lights in her backyard were not in Tustin but actually somewhere in the Bahamas.

And of course I had to snap some pics of the kiddos to balance all of the food shots.

I mean, look at Lucasaurus‘ face….that kid just kills me.

March 2016 Fam Din

I don’t have a clue what’s going on here but if I had to take a gander, they were practicing to become back up dancers for JT or even the Bad Boy Family Reunion concert!!!

An auntie could only dream…..

March 2016 Fam Din
And doesn’t it look like our fur babies could use a vacation too?

Who am I kidding–those two live THE LIFE!

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As for our cocktails, there’s no way we could hop to the Caribbean without a Dark’n Stormy! Okay, maybe more like a few of them….

Dark rum, ginger beer, lots of fresh lime juice over ice—fantastic and goes down wonderfully smooth.

March 2016 Fam Din

Since we were in the West Indies, much of our time was consumed with chopping lots of aromatics, herbs, chilies, and toasting spices. Unfortunately I couldn’t wrestle up any scotch bonnet peppers like most of the recipes called for and opted for habaneros instead. Both have similar heat ranges on the Scoville scale so it was a fair substitute and in the end were SPICY, SPICY, SPICY!

March 2016 Fam Din

We ended up fixing two appetizers to nosh on before dinner. First up were my seestrah’s Conch Fritters.

March 2016 Fam Din

Conch is said to be the ultimate Bahamian food and its many iterations are the country’s national dish. You’ll find it in salads, grilled or as a fritter. Fresh conch was difficult for us to get so we ended up resorting to grabbing some frozen ones.

After they were defrosted, seester took a mallet and beat the heck out of them to tenderize the flesh a bit. Conch, after all, is a big ol’ sea snail and can be rather chewy. And if you’re grossed out by sea snails, just forget I called them snails and pretend I said squid or clams.

March 2016 Fam Din

The recipe she used didn’t call for any baking soda or powder but were surprisingly light and fluffy after they were fried up—probably from the egg? She also added chopped red bell peppers for some additional flavor and crunch and served them up with a spicy mayo sauce.

I could have eaten a dozen of them! Um…well, I ate 1/2 a dozen of them but they were barely the size of a ping pong ball! Regardless, they are a keeper!

March 2016 Fam Din

For our second appetizer, I made a batch of Curried Jamaican Beef Patties.

March 2016 Fam Din
I’ve often said that many of the world’s cultures have some form of the a “meat pie” and the Jamaicans are no exception!

This version starts off with a flaky pastry dough filled with butter and flavored with curry powder. I added some turmeric for extra color as well. Despite the instructions on the recipe, you’ll want to pulse the dried ingredients with the cold butter a bit before adding the liquid ingredients in.

March 2016 Fam Din
Next up came the incredibly savory beef filling. Definitely follow the ingredients to get the wonderful layers of flavor—and the beef broth and Worcestershire sauce is a must!

After the dough had chilled and rested and the filling cooled, we began assembly. The recipe said it made six 6-inch patties but that was way off for us. After rolling out the dough into 1/8 inch, we used a 5 inch biscuit cutter to form circles. This yielded about 22-24 perfect patties for us.

Oh–and after a quick egg wash, we sprinkled the tops with some sea salt flakes.

March 2016 Fam Din

After they baked, not only was the dough wonderfully flaky and buttery but it had an awesome spiced flavor to it. As for the filling, it was delish. I would DEFINITELY make these again–and in fact, I’d double the batch and freeze them so that I could bake them off any time I had a hankering.

March 2016 Fam Din
And since Nini helped assemble these bad boys, she was forced to pose with them. She’ll thank me years from now….maybe.

March 2016 Fam Din

One of the side dishes we served up was a Trinidad Callaloo. Callaloo is the local name of a leaf vegetable known as amaranth. However, the dish callaloo is made up of slow cooked callaloo (or dark greens), with onions, coconut milk, spices and sometimes seafood. Although found on various Caribbean tables, I’ve been told that the Trinidadian version also uses okra so I used them as well.

March 2016 Fam DinMarch 2016 Fam Din
Since I couldn’t procure the callaloo leaf, I opted for collard greens as I figured its sturdiness could hold up to the long cooking and coconut milk. And instead of crabs, I threw in shrimp.

Now before you question how the finished dish looks, let me just say–TRY IT FIRST! It’s rich, creamy, earthy with a few kicks of spice. I also added a few splashes of fish sauce to further bring out the seafood notes since I didn’t use crabs and I found that it paired so well with the heat from the jerk chicken.

For those of you familiar with Hawaiian cuisine,  callaloo is quite comparable to Squid Lu’au.

March 2016 Fam Din
And of course– JERK CHICKEN! It would be silly to have a West Indies inspired meal without some kind of jerk dish!

Seester marinated a bunch and I’m talking a BUNCH of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs in a myriad of jerk seasonings. It was hybrid of this recipe and this recipe which created one heck of a juicy, flavorful jerk chicken!

It would be fantastic as a pork marinade too!

March 2016 Fam Din
And of course dessert because it’s not a Fam Din without one–or two!

March 2016 Fam Din

To finish up our meal, seestrah whipped up this Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie that drew upon all the sweet flavors of the Caribbean.

Light, fruity and perfect!

March 2016 Fam Din

And I realize that the pic of the pie below is terribly out of focus but his toothless smile just makes my heart melt.

March 2016 Fam Din

Yes–I may not have gotten my vacay but my belly sure did get transported to the West Indies. And I’ll definitely take that…. FOR NOW!

Until next time!

 

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu
West Indies – Caribbean

Cocktails: Dark n’ Stormy
Appetizers: Conch Fritters, Curried Jamaican Beef Patties
Entrees: Jerk Chicken
Sides: Callaloo, Rice and Beans (not shown)
Dessert: Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie

Pomegranate Mojitos – A Super Cocktail!

Pomegranate Mojitos

Is it in poor taste that I’m starting off the week with a post on Cocktails?

Nah!!!!!!!!

Especially when the cocktails are these fab Pomegranate Mojitos! Mint + Pomegranate Juice + a little Booziness —how could that be bad?

Pomegranate Mojitos

And aren’t pomegranates a super food? So as far as cocktails go….you could think of this one as being somewhat “healthier” for you.

Yup. You’re welcome.
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Pomegranate Mojitos
Serves 1

Ingredients:

15-20 Fresh Mint Leave
½ lime, cut into small wedges
½ tablespoons sugar
2 ounces light rum
4 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces club soda
1-2 cups crushed ice

In a cocktail shaker, thoroughly muddle the mint leaves, lime wedges and sugar. Add rum, pomegranate juice and fill the shaker with ice. Vigorously shake for 20 seconds and strain the liquids into a tall glass filled with ice. Top off glass with club soda. Garnish with lime slices and mint leaves.

Tiramisu–Molto Delizioso!

Tiramisu

I remember the first time I ever tried Tiramisu.

It was on a date with my high school bf at an Italian restaurant in Orange County. At the end of the meal, our server brought over a huge dish of Tiramisu, compliments of the restaurant. Who knows…..he was probably trying to help the guy to impress me.:)

Not one to ever pass on desserts, I quickly grabbed a spoon and took a big bite. My sweet tooth was forever changed. It was rich, creamy and yet somehow light and fluffy at the same time.

So good! Then again, it could have been the rum in it that was skewing my 16 year old taste buds.

Like my previous post of Oeufs en Cocotte, you absolutely MUST use the freshest eggs possible in this dessert as Tiramisu is not cooked. The Safest Choice™Pasteurized Eggs I received were perfectly put to use in this.

The recipe below is a slightly tweaked version from Gabriele Corcos & Debi Mazar from the Cooking Channel’s show Extra Virgin. They are such a cute pair and I absolutely love watching them. Their preparation is quite simple to do and yields delish results. One thing to note is to be careful not to soak the ladyfingers too long in the liquids or else it will get way too mushy. A quick dip of just one side of the cookie does the trick.

Molto Delizioso!

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Tiramisu
Serves 8
Slightly Adapted from Gabriele Corcos & Debi Mazar

Ingredients:

2 cups freshly brewed, strong coffee (cooled)
1/2 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone
5 eggs, separated
14 ounces savoiardi cookies (firm ladyfingers)
4 ounces sugar, plus 2 tablespoons or more, for the coffee
2 ounces dark rum
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup shaved dark chocolate, to garnish

While the coffee is still warm, add 2 tablespoons sugar and espresso powder. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool in a shallow dish. Once cooled, stir in the rum.

Whisk the egg yolks with 2 ounces sugar, and beaut until you obtain a creamy light mixture. Work the mascarpone in a bowl using a wooden spoon, making sure you eliminate any lumps, then add the mascarpone to the sugar-egg yolk mixture and continue to mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites, pinch of salt, and the remaining 2 ounces sugar, until they reach a somewhat firm, but fluffy consistency, then add them to the mascarpone mixture.

Quickly dip one side of each of the savoiardi cookies (firm ladyfingers) in the coffee mixture, and one by one lay them flat into a 7 by 11 pyrex tray, making sure you do not soak the cookies, as you want to make sure they maintain their firmness. Once the first layer of cookies has been laid out, spread a layer of the mascarpone cream on top, and dust with 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.

Now, again, prepare another layer of coffee-dipped cookies, cream and cocoa powder. Garnish the top of the cake with the shaved dark chocolate.

Cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 3 hours so the flavors can marry and the tiramisu can settle.

Fresh Strawberry Mojito


Fresh Strawberry Mojito

 

The beautiful warm weather always makes me want to be outdoors basking in the sun. I’m a sun driven gal—through and through.

And how better to enjoy the sunny warmth than with a delicious and pretty cocktail?

 

Fresh Strawberry Mojito

 

Mojitos are one of my favorite adult beverages but I rarely order them when I’m out because I’m rather particular on how they’re prepared. Most places skimp on the mint and limes——–and without enough, you’re pretty much drinking spiked-flavored-water. Bleh!

But when done correctly, Mojitos are just divine. Super herbaceous and refreshing.

 

Fresh Strawberry Mojito

I picked up a carton of fresh strawberries while I was at my farmers market and thought they would be a perfect addition to my beloved cocktail. The fruitiness of the berries paired beautifully with the mint and citrus.

The measurements below are my suggested amounts according to how I like my Mojitos. But if you like things sweeter or prefer more strawberries, adjust to your fancy. :)

Cheers!

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Fresh Strawberry Mojito
Serves 1

Ingredients:

15-20 Fresh Mint Leaves
¼ Cup Fresh Strawberries, diced
1 Whole Lime, cut into small wedges
1 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Ounces Light Rum
6 Ounces Club Soda
1-2 Cups Crushed Ice

In a cocktail shaker, thoroughly muddle the mint leaves, limes and sugar. Add strawberries and crush.  Add rum and fill the shaker with ice. Vigorously shake and strain the liquids into a tall glass filled with ice. Top off glass with club soda. Garnish with strawberry slices, lime wedges, and mint leaves. Enjoy!

My, Oh-My….MAI TAI Time!

Mai Tai

 

Years ago I was lucky to have been a staff member for Semester at Sea. Working with college students, sailing the world…..it was an incredible, life changing experience.

I got the chance to revisit the motherland since it was one of our port stops and travelled around with my friends from the ship.  We stayed at a quaint beach “resort” in the coastal city of Mũi Né to take in all the wonders that Việt Nam had to offer. One night, we had dinner on the lanai with the cool ocean breeze blowing and the sounds of the water lapping on the shore. Just bliss. With our amazingly fresh seafood dinner, my friends and I decided to order Mai Tais. I know….Mai Tais aren’t exactly a cocktail you think of partaking in when you’re in Việt Nam. But hey, the restaurant was also randomly playing the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing throughout dinner—so Mai Tais weren’t exactly too crazy for the scene.

It took a long time for our drinks to be brought to our tables but with one sip we completely forgot about the long wait. They were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Deliciously fresh in flavor, well balanced, and strong! Who knew I had to travel all the way to Việt Nam to have the BEST Mai Tai of my life!

Needless to say, we enjoyed several more throughout our stay in Mũi Né—in fact, they even made a few of them “to go” for us to enjoy during the ride back to Sài Gòn. Seriously. They poured the Mai Tais in plastic bags, stuck a straw in them, and tied them up with rubber bands. Think of “juice pouches”…..but WAY better. My peeps are quite ingenious.

 

(Left) Gail, Joy, and Joe enjoying some Mai Tais. (Right) Kate posing with our Mai Tai pouch.

 

I couldn’t figure out what made their Mai Tais so darn delish until I heard them puréeing something while we were sitting at the bar. Then it hit me…..they were using freshly pressed pineapple juice! DOH! NO WONDER! Tropical fruits in Việt Nam are amazing and the pineapples are no exception. They are so fragrant and sweet. So you can only imagine how incredible a cocktail will be when fresh pineapple juice is used. OH–MY—GAWD.

 

 

Mai Tai

 

With the rainy weather we’ve been having, I wanted to mix up some Mai Tais to urge on the sunshine.  And although I didn’t have pineapples from Việt Nam on hand, I did have some fresh Hawaiian Gold Pineapples that I puréed. By using fresh pineapple juice and tons of citrus, these Mai Tais were almost as good as the ones back in Mũi Né. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love sipping on a pretty drink with a paper umbrella in it?

Here’s to finding delicious things in the most random place–Salut!:)

Note: The original Mai Tai from the 1940s did not contain pineapple juice……Boy, they sure were missing out!

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Mai Tai
Serves 1

Ingredients:

3 Ounces Fresh Pineapple Juice (or bottled)*
1 Ounce Orange Juice
2 Ounces Light Rum
1½ Ounces Dark Rum
1 Ounce Grand Marnier (or Cointreau)
½ Ounce Fresh Lime Juice
½ Ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
Dash of Grenadine
Crushed Ice

Fill a large cocktail glass with crushed ice. Drizzle grenadine in bottom of the glass.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add pineapple juice, orange juice, light rum, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and lime juice. Vigorously shake for 10-15 seconds.

Hold a large spoon over the grenadine. The spoon should be inside the cocktail glass, against the edge, facing down. Very slowly pour the liquids from the shaker over the back of the spoon allowing it to settle on top of the grenadine. Float the dark rum on top by following the same “spoon method” as described above. Garnish with fruit, straw, and paper umbrella.

*To “juice” or press your pineapples, cut the fruit into large chunks. Place them in a blender and puree until liquefied. Strain the liquids to remove any fibers.