Can Cook, Must Cook

The food adventures of Franka P, a Trinidadian journalist living in London, UK. I'll write about my forays into all types of food and cooking, particularly Caribbean food. I'll also review books and recipes by the leading food writers and talk about the issues making headlines in the gastronomic world.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

It's official, Trinis love Oildown!

The results of my very unscientific 'Trini's Finest' food survey are finally in. Despite the attempts by some of my friends to engage in acts of voter padding - no Bonnie, I can't make paratha roti and pumpkin win - the favourite was Breadfruit Oildown.
I sent out 80 emails and 47 people responded. Forty-five respondents named a definite favourite while the other two praised the all round goodness of Trini cuisine.

Breadfruit Oildown - 11 votes
Pelau - 9 votes
Roti - 6 votes
Ochro and rice - 4 votes
Provision and saltfish - 3 votes
Coconut bake - 2 votes
Coo Coo and Callaloo - 2 votes
Oxtail Soup, Curry Crab and Dumpling, Curry Wild Meat, Cowheel Soup, Stew Chicken and Callaloo, Doubles, Shark and Bake and Macaroni Pie each got 1 vote.

An interesting note came from Martin (whose favourite was Curry Crab by the way), who said one of his childhood favourites was Chip Chip Accra. I know I can't get Chip Chip here but I'll try British shellfish, maybe cockles or clams.

The next step is to cook Oil Down for a discerning crowd, some of whom I have never cooked for! I'll make sure and record it for the blog, complete with photos and the recipe.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Good food in Brixton

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best person to ask about eating Caribbean food in London. I've not been terribly impressed by what's on offer mainly because most of the places that sell 'Caribbean food' are just takeaway outlets offering versions of Jerk Chicken, Jamaican patties and Curry Goat.
Unfortunately, the average Brit thinks this really is the sum total of Caribbean cuisine, so much so that when some people hear you're from the Caribbean, they ask 'can you make jerk chicken?'.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the goodness or otherwise of jerk chicken or Jamaican food. My beef is about the absence of any top notch restaurants with a menu that reflects the diversity of Caribbean cuisine.
But it's not fair to bang on about this and not speak about the good stuff that's on offer. That brings me to the Bamboula Restaurant in Brixton.

A few days ago, seven of us (including a Brit and a Trini-Aussie) checked out the restaurant that boasts among its directors Virginia Burke, author of Eat Caribbean, which I reviewed quite recently on this blog.
Bamboula is also something of a London showcase for Walkerswood Foods, the Jamaican company known for its seasonings and sauces. It was therefore not unreasonable for us to expect finger licking goodness.
Bamboula is small, it can probably seat about 20 people - if so many. But I think this is part of its charm as it's a cosy and intimate setting. The decor was dominated by bright colours and Caribbean motifs, like fig leaves painted on the tables.
The pretty lengthy menu was anchored by Jamaican staples like Ackee and Saltfish, Jerk Chicken, Escoveitch Fish, Curry Goat and Pick Up Saltfish, all of which were ordered by our group.
I started with Top Gully, ackee and saltfish encased in a strip of fried plantain. The sweetness of the plantain was a good contrast to the saltiness of the ackee and saltfish.

Alice, the sole Brit among us had the Pickup Saltfish, which we thought was a dish Trinis call Buljol, but the presentation was totally different and the saltfish a bit too salty.

She also ordered callaloo, which I was eager to taste, since Jamaicans make callaloo with chopped spinach, instead of dasheen leaves like they do in Trinidad. Bamboula's callaloo was tasty but I prefer the Trini way of making it like a soup.
Choosing my main course wasn't difficult, I went for the Oxtail Stew with Festival, my favourite Jamaican delicacy. Festival is a bread like dumpling that's made with a bit of cornmeal. It went well with the oxtail stew which was very tender and succulent but a tad salty. I didn't get to taste what everyone ordered, but I liked Rebecca's tasty Escoveitch Fish and Sean's unctuous curry goat.

Overall the Bamboula experience was positive, the service was a bit slow but friendly, kinda like back in the Caribbean.
I'd recommend it, because the food is quite solid and unpretentious. The servings were generous and it wasn't very expensive. The bill for seven came up to £110 including drinks, so by London's standards, it was good value for money.
Bamboula Restaurant, 12 Acre Lane, Brixton, SW2 5SG

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cute, furry and really tasty

I've been meaning to blog about the wild rabbit stew I cooked last Sunday.
I know some people will ask "how could you eat a cute, furry rabbit??"

Well, I'm sure that rabbit was cute but it tasted damn good!
I bought the rabbit on impulse two weekends ago at the Marylebone High Street Market in Central London. The kindly gentleman from Manor Farm Game suggested I try it, and at only £3.50 for a whole rabbit, I didn't think I could go too far wrong.

As soon as I got home, I got out my Meat Book and followed the instructions for jointing the rabbit. And while cutting it up, I marvelled at how little fat there was on the rabbit, all I could see was deep red - almost purple - muscle. I saved the blood and the liver, rinsed the meat and seasoned it with salt and black pepper before putting it in the freezer.
I imagined that rabbit should be cooked with a deep, rich sauce and many of the recipes I looked at said this. In the end I plumped for an adaptation of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe for Jugged Hare from the Meat Book.
Essentially, to make Jugged Hare you sear the meat and cook it with shallots, carrots, garlic and smoked bacon. Once the meat is browned all over, pour in a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, brandy and water seasoned with a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaves and cooked in a low oven for about two hours.
When the rabbit was done, the meat was so tender it was falling off the bone but the dish wouldn't be complete without a robust sauce. I strained the remaining sauce and mixed it with the rabbit's blood and finely chopped liver. After a bit of salt and pepper and a few minutes of gentle simmering, the sauce was ready.
My friends who tried the rabbit seemed to enjoy it. Heather (who took the accompanying photo) asked for seconds and my flatmate Maurice was impressed by the tenderness of the meat and the subtleness of the flavour. Anita, a great cook who doesn't eat meat was impressed by the look and smell of the dish.
And what did I think? I absolutely loved it. The rabbit was flavourful and very tender. I was expecting it to taste quite 'gamey' but it wasn't.
Rabbit is quite versatile, and can work in different styles of cooking quite easily. Unfortunately, rabbit isn't a meat that's commonly used in Caribbean cooking, but I think it would be great in a Trini style stew with dumplings or curried with vegetables and rice.
The next time I buy one, I'll certainly be cooking it in true Caribbean style.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Nation's Favourite Food

A few nights ago, I was testing a recipe for Trinidadian Stewed Mutton and started thinking about the dishes that really turn Trinis on.
With that in mind, I embarked on the ‘Trini’s finest’ food survey.

This very unscientific survey took the form of an email shot to about 70 of my Trini friends from different backgrounds and with varying attitudes to food.
I asked them to tell me what their favourite dish was and why.
I promised my friends that when the votes are all counted, I'll cook the winner and give my verdict on the blog.
I thought it would be a good idea to blog about this, because I felt the range of responses would show off the diversity of Trinidad's cuisine. Personally, I think ours is the most varied in Caribbean cooking.
Within one day, I received about 40 enthusiastic responses and so far, Breadfruit Oil Down has taken a handy lead ahead of Pelau as the favourite Trini dish.
In a few days, I'll declare a winner and tell you when I'm going to cook this meal.
Some of my friends waxed lyrical about their food and I have to admit I got hungry reading some of their emails.
Here's a taste of what some of them said.

Food is like music - there is one for every mood that you are in.
You cannot deny that for a Panaroma or impromptu beach lime or for cricket in the oval that a well bubbled chicken or beef pelau hits the spot, under a card lime or parang session a powerful pig foot souse with your water cress and cucumber just punctuates the occasion suitably especially if it's a tad spicy meshing well with the fire that is associated with Latino ethnicity.
Or what about after a fete - what better than a corn soup with dumplin, or a boil corn on the way to the beach or even a shark and bake when you get there.

For me it is cowheel soup, the nutrition aspect is really top standard, but I always remember my Grandmother making soup for me when I used to visit her in the country, and for my mom house in T&T soup day was always Saturday.

There is nothing in the world to beat doubles and a good roti - specifically a roti from Dobson's.

I love - and don’t laugh - provisions (eddoes, sweet potato, dasheen) fry up with saltfish, and tomato choka and sada roti. We usually make this after Easter when they have a lot of left over provision. You do the cook up with lots of garlic and pepper and the provision is in small bits and kinda soft. Fry in iron pot till its kinda sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Lisa G

A good, and I repeat GOOD, pelau has to be my all time favourite. Just something about a sticky pelau, hot off the stove, loaded with peas and the right amount of pepper....comfort food without being dessert. Could just curl up and sleep after!

My favourite dish is oil down - with lots of fat pieces of pig tail and a
ton of coconut milk just seeping into the breadfruit and causing it to melt
all over everything!!! Oh gorm, now I'm starving!!!!

Ah guess it goin to have to be a good coconut bake and saltfish/smoke herring. De smell alone does make you even more hungry, yuh does want to buss it up but really a heavy breakfast like that does keep you full until you have a Trini Sunday lunch which must include a good callaloo etc. Remember lunch is usually later on Sundays since you might have church, yuh washing, yuh cleaning and preparing your various dishes for Sunday lunch.

I love ochro rice with pigtail. I like the slippery feel of the ochro sliding down my throat and I like the salty surprise of the pigtail between the rice.

Stewed oxtails, white rice and pigeon peas. It is the most succulent meat once properly stewed (soft meat, completely browned) and when placed on a bed of steaming white rice with peas, it is the perfect meal.

My favourite dish is pelau.
Reason? When I was finally living, working, had my own flat in Trinidad (not just visiting), my brother and I held a flat-warming party. We made sandwiches (yes, sandwiches!) and got a real Trini cussin' from our friends with plenty of advice about cooking REAL food for Trini parties.
Later that week, I asked the then cook, canteen, and general welfare matron at Radio Trinidad (in the days when we still had a tea trolley arriving in the newsroom!) to show me what to make. She gave me a list of ingredients and showed me how to make the best damn pelau on the planet.
But, pelau is still my party food of choice for Caribbean and British friends alike (and I keep modifying the recipe when needed).
Debbie R

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Bittersweet delights

I've not given up on blogging my dears, it's just been really hectic in the last week.
But in between an intensive project management course, loads of meetings and trying to work my body into shape, I still managed to get some reading and cooking done!
I'm almost through reading English Food by Jane Grigson.
Jane Grigson is hailed as one of the UK's best ever food writers and her books are recommended reading for any serious foodie. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1990 but she left the food world with some real classics.
I was struck by the robustness of her writing, the depth of her research and the breadth of the recipes in this book.
And I was pleasantly surprised to see a recipe that included one of my favourite vegetables: the much maligned carilli or bitter melon.

Carilli (Mormordica charantia) is a bumpy green gourd that's not exactly the easiest thing to eat because it's soooooo bitter.
In Trinidad, lots of people dismiss carilli as 'poor food'. But it's actually quite a delicacy among the East Indians and Chinese.
I remember my father used to boil carilli and drink the resulting yucky bitter tea to help his high blood pressure. It wasn't until much later however, that I discovered how a bit of seasoning and cooking could transform this ugly and bitter gourd into a fantastic dish.
Jane Grigson's recipe for carilli - she calls it kerala, like the Asians do here - is Three Gourd Garnish which she recommends as a wonderful accompaniment for smoked chicken, roast duck or lamb. She says it also goes well with salmon and firm white fish.
Here's her recipe which serves six.

4 small to medium caralli
8-12 small courgettes or zucchinis, halved lengthways
Half a cucumber
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons mixed chopped parsley, coriander and chives
Slightly salted butter

Halve the carilli, scrape out the seeds and remove the white pulp. Slice thinly and soak in salt water for at at least an hour to remove some of the bitterness.
Blanch for three minutes, drain and set aside.
Cook the courgettes gently in some butter with a pinch each of garlic and black pepper in a covered pan. Peel and slice the cucumber in long thin strips, fry briefly to heat through and soften slightly. Finish the carilli in a little butter with a pinch of garlic and pepper.
Arrange to one side of a serving dish, beside the poultry, lamb or fish. Keep warm while you toss the remaining garlic and the caralli seeds in a knod of butter to heat through. Add herbs and pour over the dish.

I'm going to try this recipe once I could put my hand on some caralli but I'm not too sure about using the seeds in the way Grigson suggests. Maybe if someone knows about this, they can drop me a line and let me know.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

A tale of Dodgy Doubles

Carnival is the highlight of the year for most Trinidadians, especially for those across the diaspora who make the annual trek to wine and jam.
In the seven years I've been living in the UK I've only been back for Carnival twice. And to think that before that, I'd have opted for water torture rather than miss a Carnival! Me, a Carnival baby miss the festival? No way!
But the old folks have a saying, 'after one time, is two time'.
This year, some of us Trinis in London decided to pay homage to that staple of Trinidad Carnival - the All Inclusive Fete.

For those who don't know, an All Inclusive Fete is a party where you pay a hefty sum to eat and drink all you can. This year, the more popular All Inclusives in Trinidad cost anywhere from TT$400 (£40) to $TT1,000 (£100).

Apparently in the really exclusive parties, there's gourmet food and the bars serve Johnny Walker Blue, a blended whisky that Trinis think is really posh.
Anyway, our version of the All Inclusive was called the Carnival Saddos Pretend All Inclusive Fete. The name says it all eh?
We didn't have Johnny Walker Blue, but we had Fernandes Black Label Rum and a mock Malibu called Cubanabay. And since we couldn't exactly afford a gourmet chef like Gordon Ramsay, I did the cooking!
What did I cook you ask? The staples of Trini food - Pelau, Roast Bake and

The pelau and the bake were amazing, but the doubles were a bit dodgy!
I tried the doubles recipe from the oft quoted Trini cookbook, the Naparima Girls Cookbook and it simply didn't work. And I tried to be as authentic as possible, I had small squares of wax paper to wrap the doubles like they do back home! It wasn't that they were inedible - my friends ate every last one - but the bara didn't have the melt in your mouth quality like the doubles you could get in an all inclusive fete in Trinidad. I guess that's why our party was a 'Pretend All Inclusive'.
We intend to make the Pretend All Inclusive an annual event, which means I have a year to learn to make proper doubles. But I mightn't need to, after all, next year I could be wining in Trini Carnival!

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