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, April 29, 2006

Doing dessert - Part One

Franka's Sticky Toffee PuddingI won't be able to call myself a great cook until I've mastered baking and dessert making.
I know a lot of people say they don't have the patience for making bread, pastry and cake but I think it's fundamental for a proper cook to master these skills.
In the past I've made decent Christmas fruit cake, good Trinidadian bake and sweetbread but I'm not particularly confident about bread, sponge cakes and pastry. I'm not fussed though, one day I'll get it right.
I was asked to contribute a dish to a traditional British Sunday lunch that took place last Sunday, so instead of doing something easy like roast chicken, I plumped for the challenge of making a classic British dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Sticky Toffee Pudding - which happens to be my favourite dessert - is a moist sponge cake made with fine chopped dates and served covered with toffee sauce.
I agonised so much about it, I woke up at 4am on Sunday to make it so if anything went wrong the first time, I'd have the chance to try again!
Although the method is relatively straightforward, I couldn't help but panic a bit.
I kept asking myself whether the sugar was supposed to be totally dissolved in the butter before I added the eggs. And I wondered if I was folding in the flour properly or knocking the air out of the mixture.
So you could imagine my relief when the cake rose evenly in the oven and didn't sink after I took it out!
It turns out my worrying was in vain, because everyone said they enjoyed it and some even asked for seconds.
I didn't think my effort was too bad but it could have been a bit more moist.
I think next time I make Sticky Toffee Pudding, I'll either bake it in a bain-marie or just take it out of the oven a bit earlier.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
225g (8 oz) dates, chopped
290ml (1/2 pint) tea
110g (4 oz) butter
170g (6 oz) caster sugar
3 eggs
225g (8 ozs) self raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp strong coffee

1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F).
2. Soak the dates in the hot tea for 15 minutes.
3. Grease a 22cm (8.5 in) deep cake tin and line the base with a circle of oiled greaseproof paper.

4. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale.
5. Beat in the eggs gradually and then fold in the sifted flour
6. Add the soda, vanilla essence and coffee to the dates and tea and fold into the cake mixture.
7. Turn into the prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1-1.5 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8. Pour the warm toffee sauce over the hot pudding and serve immediately.

Toffee Sauce
2 tbsp brandy
110g (4 oz) butter
55g (2 oz) demerara sugar
2 tbsp double cream
1. Put all ingredients in saucepan and heat until melted. Bring to boil and allow to thicken slightly.

Recipes taken from Leith's Cookery Bible.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My favourite market

Artichokes at Borough MarketI've always been fascinated by markets. As a child, I was mesmerized by the smells, sounds and tastes of the market.
I can still remember the sweet and spicy tamarind balls from the fat lady in the Central Market in Port of Spain, the crunchy khurma from the Indian lady in San Juan Market and the vivid imagery in the picong (serious heckling) between the vendors at both markets.

For a lot of people in the Caribbean, going to the market with your mother or granny is a ritual that many of us continue into our adulthood.
When I go back to Trinidad, I usually hit the market with Madge. We usually head to the San Juan Market - just ten minutes from where we live in Barataria - to buy potatoes, garlic and saltfish from 'the potato lady' and fruit from 'Pops'.
Here, I've got into the habit of going to Borough Market at least two Saturdays a month and now that I work near Shepherds Bush, I head down to the Shepherds Bush Market if I want a lunchtime jaunt. I also go to the Marylebone High Street Market some Sunday mornings.
What is it with me and markets then?

Barry Topp, Borough Market's cider manThe easiest thing would be to say it's a habit because I used to go to the Brighton Market when I lived there too, but now that I've moved to London, I have to say it's a deep love, particularly for Borough Market in London.
I can't remember how found out about Borough Market, but I learned it was highly recommended by lots of London's best chefs and food writers.
My first visit was in December 2003, a few weeks after moving to London from Brighton.
The first thing that strikes you about Borough Market is the atmosphere. There's a buzz and a vibe about it says 'this place is happening'. Then there's the wide variety of stuff on offer, it's not just fruit and veg, there's fish, game, wild boar, cakes, oyster, mutton, artisan bread and cheese, olive oil, cider, fudge, authentic English pies and so much more.
Borough also has some great characters, and I've got to know a few of them after buying from them for regularly.
There's Tony, the fruit and veg man from whom I get things like soursop, white asparagus and the best blackberries.
Tony is also very cheeky. When I took Madge to Borough Market, he told me he was keeping her and that she didn't need to go back to Trinidad. To this day he always asks 'how's your Mum?'
For the smoothest cider, I check Barry Topp at
New Forest Cider. Barry's orchards are in Somerset and Dorset and his cider is off the chain! He also makes a line of delicious liqueurs.
Barry calls me the 'Holy Terror' and tells anyone who would listen that I want his body. I'm always promising to visit his brewery in the New Forest and this year I think I will.
Paul, right, and his excellent chip chip
Imagine finding Tobago-style coconut chip chip in the middle of London! Well I found it at Dark Sugars, a stall run by a solid brotherman, Paul Sutherland. He's got Jamaican roots so we have a Caribbean one love going on.
He sells cake and chocolates to die for. Personally, my favourites are banana bread, lemon polenta cake and coconut chip chip!!!
I love oysters. Let me say that again, I love oysters! Every time I visit Borough Market, I have a couple of oysters and a clam from Richard Hayward Oysters. Richard's family has been in the oyster business for seven gnerations, that's more than a century.
His oysters come from West Mersea in Essex and er, did I mention that I love oysters? Talking about oysters, I heard about a recipe for mutton and oysters that I'm going to try using Herdwick Mutton from
Farmer Sharp. Andrew Sharp is one of the most engaging people you could meet, and he talks about the process of raising good lamb and mutton with great passion. When you taste his meat, you know those animals were happy and well fed.
Richard Hayward and his oystersThe last time I visited, I discovered a stall that sells ostrich in the newly refurbished part of the market. The next time I go, I'll pick up two steaks to try out. These ostriches aren't bred in Australia or Africa, but in Nottinghamshire at the Gamston Wood Farm. Ostrich eggs are so huge you could probably cook a meal for ten with one egg.
I fell in love with big, cuddly Ian Hartland and his pies from day one, ask Nazma Muller how I swooned over this loveable man from Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire.
Anyway, Ian's got a lovely wife named Nicola and together they run Mrs King's Pies with Ian's brothers. I love their pasties and sausage pies. They also make the traditional pies with fillings like leek and pork and apricot and pork.
At the moment, Ian and Nicola are in Europe having a well deserved break!
Wild boar have a reputation for being very fierce, they can inflict serious damage with thos tusks. But on the plus side, their meat is very tasty. Wild boar is more flavourful than pig which makes the meat perfect for sausages and bacon. If you're ever at Borough Market, try
Sillfield Farm's wild boar meat, you won't regret it.
I go to Borough Market for the vibes, to pick up specialty items and for a good Saturday eating experience. Admittedly, stuff there could be a bit pricey but you are paying for great quality goods.
I've never had anything bad there, and everyone that I've taken there has had a positive experience.

Andrew Sharp with some Herdwick MuttonThe other thing is that the stallholders are usually friendly, willing to speak about their produce, and they don't try to force you to buy anything.
You'll come to realise that there's a sense of camaraderie among them, and no one is heistant to point you to someone else's stall if they can't help.
If you love food and you're in London, then you must check out Borough Market. But in the meanwhile, you can see more of my pics at Flickr. Do enjoy!

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Fishy adventures at dawn

Last Thursday, I was at the Billingsgate Fish Market before sunrise for a pescatorial adventure. I spent the day at Europe's biggest fish market skinning, filleting and boning fish.
For about three years, I've been thinking about doing
Billingsgate's Knife Skills course but the timing was always wrong. In January, I pledged to spend the next few years learning as much as I can about food and cooking.
Ideally, I'd love to take some time off and do an intensive cooking course, but since I can't do that, the next best option is to find short courses to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
This course was near the top of my 'food things to do' list and believe me, the three-year wait was worth it.

In case you're wondering why I had to be there so early, it's because the market's business hours are from 5 am to 8.30 am and the first part of the course was a tour of the market with a market inspector.
Our inspector was the extremely engaging Barry O'Toole. He showed us the extensive range of seafood available at the market and more importantly, how to guage its freshness.
Billingsgate certainly caters to London's multicultural society as it has a wide variety of 'exotic' fish from seas all over the world. I saw fish we use regularly in Caribbean cooking like grouper, cavali and kingfish. I was especially struck by the shellfish - huge crabs, meaty mussels and succulent looking tiger prawns.
The atmosphere on the market floor was amazing and now that I've seen the excellent quality seafood at such reasonable prices, I'm ready to make regularly early morning pilgramages to east London.
Duncan LucasFor the practical part of the course, we were lucky to have Duncan Lucas as our instructor. Duncan is one of the UK's top fishmongers and a damn good teacher. His passion for the fish and his depth of knowledge was breathtaking.
Duncan has been the UK Fishmonger of the Year on five consecutive occasions and he runs a seafood business called
Passionate About fish with his partner Sue. What Duncan doesn't know about fish, probably isn't worth knowing. The man is like a walking seafood encyclopaedia.
I can boast that post-Duncan, I'm now able to (among other things) fillet a plaice, skin lemon sole and gurnard, prepare squid and gut a snapper without gashing the belly.
Duncan also teaches the shellfish course at Billingsgate and as soon as I find a suitable date, I'll be there.
At the end of the day, I had a huge bag of fish (worth about £50) to bring home, including the lovely snapper that I'm going to stuff with coriander, parsley, grated ginger and chopped garlic before deciding how to cook it. I can hardly wait!

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

What a Great Friday!

Khary, left, Sean and BonnieLast Wednesday, EJ announced that the much anticipated Good Friday housewarming lime was off.
After a few despairing emails back and forth among the crew, I suggested that we move the lime over to my house, so Good Friday became the Great Friday lime.
We stuck to the original plan of everyone bringing something for the meal.
Sean and Bex said they'd bring pumpkin and geera pork with bodi.
Bonnie offered channa and Khary took on his regular role of bringing drinks and ice.

I cooked fish, rice, curry mango and dessert of strawberry ice cream and hot cross buns.
Since we were due to eat at around 5pm, I felt an early start would be best so I was up at 7am kneading the dough for hot cross buns.
The buns were made from a recipe by Hayzel Brathwaithe, a great friend and one of Trinidad's rare artisan bakers.
As planned, I cooked the fish using the recipe I adapted from Sylvia Hunt's book but instead of sea bass, I used a whole croaker I picked up at the Shepherd's Bush Market, near to my office in West London.
Bex tackles the pumpkinOf course in typical Trini style, when five o'clock came pots were still bubbling away.
My dishes were long finished but the kitchen was then filled with the aromas of Sean, Bex and Bonnie's pots.
They sensibly opted to cook here instead of toting hot food across London on the train.
An added bonus for the evening, was what I call the unofficial launch of Sean and Bex's t-shirt line, Kangaroo and Manicou.
The t-shirts feature some common Trinidadianisms like Steuuups, Suck Eye, Choonk-a-loonks and Famalee.
My friends know that I like t-shirts with witty sayings on them - I have one that says Jesus is coming, look busy - and I welcome t-shirts that truly reflect Trininess.
The Great Friday lime was one to remember. I'm looking forward to the summer when we'll certainly be eating al fresco.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Trini Stew starring online

I'm so happy today. I've scored one for me and for Caribbean cooking!
A few weeks ago, UKTV Food (the British equivalent of American cable channel, The Food Network) commissioned a recipe for Stewed Mutton from me.
I gladly obliged and now you can see my recipe on their website.

The folks at UKTV said they'll link the recipe to a feature on mutton, which will appear around April 23, St George's Day. This feature will celebrate old fashioned English dishes, as well as the multicultural food world we now live in.
I based the recipe on the traditional Trinidadian method of stewing meat which uses caremelised sugar to give the meat flavour and colour.
This mutton recipe is also quite topical since there's a mutton revival, going on in the UK. Prince Charles and Gordon Ramsay are among those urging people to use more mutton.
I can't blame them because mutton is a very interesting meat.
Have a look at my recipe and take a look at the UKTV Food website, I'm sure you'll find lots of interesting foodie things there!
More importantly, try the recipe and tell me what you think!!

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Warm food memories

I was looking at a message board on a food site and I came across a thread about 'food that evokes good memories'. Although I've eaten good food at restaurants, some of the most memorable meals I've eaten over the years has been at the homes of friends and family.
The best food in the world is usually simple and cooked with lots of love.

My list of great food memories is in no particular order but I have to put my mom's food at the top of the list, where it belongs. Madge is an exponent of keeing it simple and playing to her strengths and that is what I've taken from her.
These are the things she does best: pelau (which tastes better when it's a day old), ochro and rice, macaroni pie, lentil peas, porridge, red beans, fish broth, stew chicken, stew flying fish, coconut bake, saltfish buljol, wholewheat bread, black cake, black cake, black cake, sweetbread, sweetbread, sweetbread. If I could only make sweetbread like my mother!!
It's all about Aggie's Tofu Nut Balls. Aggie was the first person to cook tofu for me about ten years ago. I'm sure if I didn't have such a pleasant introduction to bean curd, I wouldn't like it at all today.
I think the secret to Aggie's tofu nut balls was the delicate seasoning and a perfect ratio of nuts to tofu.
Auntie Mavis is a great cook but what I love most is her fish balls. Somehow I seem to remember the fish balls being accompanied by lentils, yummy!! I wonder if I could get the recipe from her???
I have a load of adopted aunts and one of my favourites is Auntie Molly. She's a gentle lady who is like an Italian mama in the way she likes to ensure that you're really well fed when you're at her house. Her roti has this melt in your mouth quality that no roti shop could ever top!
Not far behind Auntie Molly in the roti making stakes is Cherrie's mum Nora. That's another homemade roti that melts in your mouth.
One of the simplest and most satisfying things I've ever eaten is cornmeal porridge.
Sally (Auntie Molly's sister) made it for me when I went to drop something at her house one morning. It was supposed to be a flying visit and I was eventually late for work but for that porridge it was well worth it.
If you've followed this blog from the beginning, you'd know that I love oxtail, especially oxtail soup. My friend EJ's oxtail soup is so good, he could sell it to Marks and Spencer or Harrods! EJ's oxtail soup is the perfect comfort food on a grey, sad winter day.
Roast bake is one of my favourite things. It's a staple in the Trini food repertoire and since most people learn to make it by watching their mothers and grandmothers, there's no one recipe and no two homemade roast bakes are ever the same.
For the non-Trinis who might be reading this, let me explain what bake is. It's an unleavened bread and one of its main ingredients is usually finely grated coconut. These days, health conscious bake makers leave out the coconut and use wheatgerm, sesame seeds and the like.
Pearl Eintou Springer is a poet, librarian and cultural activist and I think she should add bake maker extraordinaire to that!
Her bake isn't really 'bready', it's more delicate and the dough comes apart in soft layers in the way that a flaky pastry does. It's difficult to explain but just know that Eintou's bake tastes amazing.
There's also fried bake, also known as float or johnny cakes in different parts of the Caribbean. I think the key to great fried bake is to roll out each bake quite thinly and make sure the oil is really hot so it cooks through quickly and isn't oily.
My father's sister Auntie Doo Doo has this down to a fine art. I had her bake on my first visit to New York, when I was nine. There's a bit of a story behind this. For some strange reason, Daddy thought I didn't like fried bake, so he told Auntie Doo Doo not to make too many because I won't eat them. He was so wrong!
Not a lot people can boast of having friends who are trained chefs. I'm glad to say I have two cheffy friends.
Debbie Sardinha-Metivier is the first woman to become an executive chef in a Hilton in the Americas and she's one of the region's leading chefs.
Debbie did some baked fish for me at her home a few years back and I was totally bowled over. Being fed by Debbie is an honour and it's an opportunity for which a lot of people pay very handsomely these days!
Denise is also a trained chef, at no less a place than the Culinary Institute of America. Unfortunately, she hasn't found a space where she could enjoy cooking for a living and that's a shame.
Denise comes from a Chinese background, so hanging out with her was something of an education in traditional Chinese food. One dish I remember distinctly was tenderly poached chicken with watercress soup. I wasn't only impressed by the taste but also by how so few ingredients could make such a great meal.
For most people, cooking is a necessity not a pleasure. That's the case with Sharon. She's not a dab hand in the kitchen but she loves to eat. She's also a woman with very good taste so even if she's buying in food, it'll be good.
Sharon's favourite is Ragu and pasta, I know it sounds ordinary but it's not as idiotproof a dish as it sounds. To Sharon's credit, she's one of the few people I know who can cook pasta perfectly - al dente. That perfectly cooked pasta and Ragu with extra herbs for more flavour and a bit of cheese was the ideal fast food before heading out to lime.
When I was at university in Trinidad, I had the pleasure of managing the Student Union bar and cafe. It was there that I met Mary Samuel, a very hearty Tobagonian woman who cooks like an angel.
Mary is an extremely versatile cook but she was at her best when doing proper Tobago dishes. Her Curry Crab and Dumpling is the stuff of legend and my Friday evening would not be complete without Mary's Curry Crab and Dumpling and a cold Carib beer.
From Tobago to Barbados and Ma Graham's sumptuous Green Fig Coo Coo. I stayed at Ma Graham's home for a few weeks in 1986 and she was the perfect host. It was also the first time I had mashed green fig (green bananas) that was as soft as mashed potatoes.
She mashed the boiled figs by hand with lots of butter, milk, garlic, salt and white pepper. It was divine served with well-seasoned fried flying fish. Ma Graham passed away a few years ago but she left some indelible food memories behind.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

A Curry option for Easter

Plans are afoot for a big lime on Easter Friday.
EJ and Cherise are having their long-awaited housewaming party in Finchley, North London and in typical EJ style, he's cooking up a real Trini favourite.
The last time he cooked for us, it was oxtail soup and this time, he'll be doing Curry Duck.
Curry isn't a traditional Easter option but I know EJ is desperate to cook the two ducks he got in Sainsbury's a few weeks ago.
To make the occasion more lavish, they've asked everyone to bring a dish to accompany the duck and after thinking about it, I decided that I'll make the percect accompaniment - Curry Mango.

I got this recipe from my good pardner in Trinidad, Jillian Joseph-Lall, who makes the best curry mango I've ever tasted! The recipe calls for julie mangoes, but even though we don't have those here, I'm sure I can still can do justice to this recipe.

Jillian's Curry Mango

Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins - one hour

6 large unripe mangoes
2 tbsp oil
6 ozs anchar massala (or a mixture of 3oz coriander seeds, 2oz onion seeds and 1oz geera roasted and ground)
2 tsp salt
150g sugar
8-10 garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 large hot chillies or Scotch Bonnet peppers, chopped finely

1. Wash mangoes, slice through to make 1cm rounds and remove the nutty bit inside the seed.
2. Boil for 20-30 mins to soften slightly. This will also get rid of the some of the acidity of the mangoes.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole.
4. Add half the garlic and pepper, cook until slightly burnt and remove from pan.
5. Make a thick paste with the massala and water and pour into the saucepan with the oil, stirring constantly for about 5 mins. This process is called 'chunkaying' the massala.
6. Add the mangoes to the massala, stir and add a bit of water so the mixture won't stick to the pot, but not too much, as mangoes will release water as they cook.
7. Add sugar, salt and the rest of garlic and pepper. Cover and let simmer.
8. After about 20 minutes, taste and adjust sugar. More sugar might be needed depending on the acidity of the mangoes.
9. Cook for a further 20 minutes or until the mango pulp is very soft.

The secret to a good curry mango is to let it rest for a few days in the refrigerator as this allows the flavours to develop. Serve as an accompaniment to any curry dish or as a light snack with some plain crackers, preferably Crix.

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The Easter fish tradition

With the glorious four-day Easter weekend coming up, I'm going to take the opportunity to relax and do some special cooking.
The plan is to cook a wicked fish dish at some point over the weekend, so I could feel at one with the thousands in the Caribbean who follow this tradition.

Fish is a staple of Caribbean cooking and moreso at Easter time when the majority Christian population celebrates the end of Lent with a big fish dish.
My mother Madge told me she'll be cooking a simple dish of Baked or Steamed Fish with Provisions, Buttered Vegetables and Salad on Good Friday.
While we were comparing our plans for Easter cooking, she told me about the exorbitant cost of fish in Trinidad this year. It's not unusual for the price of fish to shoot up at Easter because of the high demand but apparently it's worse this year because lots of people have stopped eating chicken after a strange disease - not avian flu - killed hundreds of chickens on a farm in east Trinidad.
Madge told me that kingfish which normally costs TT$20 (approx £2) per pound is now being sold at more than TT$40 (approx £4) per pound. This is quite staggering and clearly out of the reach of the average Trinidadian.

The cheaper options, which are also being sold at double their normal price, are carite at around TT$30 per pound and shark at TT$20. Although the demand for fish rises a bit around Easter time over here, I've never seen prices jump in the way they do in Trinidad.
This weekend, I'll do something simple that doesn't involve slaving over the stove for too long, so I'll do a recipe inspired by Trinidad's first celebrity chef, Sylvia Hunt.
I've adapted her recipe for Stuffed and Curried Cascadura from the book Sylvia Hunt's Cooking. And as it's unlikely that I'll find cascadura here, I'll sea bass instead. I think this will go well with basmati rice and salad.

Stuffed and Curried Sea Bass

3 small sea bass, scaled and gutted
2 limes
2 tsp lime juice
sea salt

For the stuffing
1/2 cup chopped herbs (flat leaf parsley, thyme, chives and coriander)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp curry powder

For the curry
2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp curry powder
1/4 tsp saffron powder
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 small onion quartered
1 green hot chilli pepper
1/4 tsp sugar

1. Clean and wash fish thoroughly with lime juice. Season with lime juice and salt.
2. Mix herbs and chopped onion with 1/2 tsp curry powder and blend into a thick paste with some coconut milk.
3. Stuff the herb mix into the fish cavity.
4. Heat oil in a deep frying pan, add garlic and fry until golden brown then remove.
5. To the remaining curry powder and saffron powder, add enough coconut milk to make a paste of a pouring consistency.
6. Add the curry paste to the oil and stir quickly.
7. When the paste thickens, add the rest of coconut milk and reduce slightly.
8. Put in stuffed fish, spoon over curry mixture, add quartered onions and the whole chilli pepper and simmer.
9. After 15 minutes, add the sugar, check seasoning, remove the whole chilli and cook for five more minutes.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I eat meat because...

Since I started this blog, quite a few people who knew me in my vegetarian days have asked what prompted me to eat meat again.
Two years ago, I began eating meat again after 12 years of going veggie. The reason was simple, I felt if I wanted to be a great cook, I couldn’t do so without knowing how to cook ALL kinds of food and that included meat. And how can a good cook not taste what they’re cooking?
So after tasty dish of venison fillet, I re-embraced the way of flesh.
This doesn’t mean that I eat just any meat. I'm still very mindful of the reason I stopped eating meat in the first place: intensive farming and its ills.

In his book, The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explores this topic in great depth. And although the description below is about the UK, in many cases, it would be quite appropriate for the Caribbean as well.
"The vast majority of our farm animals are now raised under methods that are systematically abusive. For them, discomfort is now the norm, pain is routine, growth is abnormal and diet is unnatural. Disease is widespread and stress is almost constant.
We have battery hens in wire cages so small they can’t turn around. We farm broiler chickens indoors for our fast food restaurants and supermarkets, in such close confinement and such huge numbers that premature deaths counted in the millions are considered the industry norm."
Hugh F-W is just one of a growing number who are concerned about this. In fact, the issue is quite big in the UK, and many are now choosing free range or organic meat. I do the same. I also tend to buy meat from butchers or game keepers who can vouch for the provenance of the meat: they know where the meat comes from, they know the conditions under which it was raised and slaughtered and for how long it was hung.
I’m a bit of a snob in that regard, I like good quality ingredients and to be honest, if I can’t have good quality meat, I do without. If I'm eating out and I’m not sure how good the meat is, I eat veggies. I’ll admit the only time I deviate from this principle is when I have the delightfully yummy but greasy fried chicken wings from Chicken Spot, my local takeaway.
That said however, chicken is not my meat of choice. I prefer strong meats like mutton, venison, game birds and lamb. Whenever I eat game, I wonder why our own tasty wild meat is not more popular in Caribbean cooking. Anyone who has had a good curry lappe or agouti will agree with me. Maybe no one’s found a sensible or profitable way to rear some of these animals while still giving them the space to be 'wild'.
I hope people in the Caribbean will soon wake up to the ills of the meat industry and demand better quality but the downside to better quality is higher prices and in many parts of the Caribbean, food prices are already too high.
Are any of our regional governments doing anything about this? Are they offering incentives for farmers who want to rear their animals in a less intensive way? I know that governments of the banana producing countries in the region already give their farmers incentives to go organic, so why can't this happen with livestock?
I can only remain hopeful this will happen sooner rather than later.
To hear an interesting discussion about the complex relationship we have with meat, listen to this edition of
The Food Programme from BBC Radio 4.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Comfort food for a rainy day

My friend Pat sent me a sumptuous oxtail recipe that she's loved since she was a child. She said, "would you believe I used to clean out the pot to get the last bit of bean sauce?"
Pat insists on getting fresh oxtail from the butcher, because somehow the frozen stuff just doesn't taste the same. It sounds like a dish that'll be perfect for a rainy Saturday.
Try it and tell me what you think.

Oxtail and Red Beans
by Pat Ganase

3 tbsp cooking oil
3 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 lbs "fresh" oxtail, butcher cut in sections
2-3 cm/3/4 inch ginger, finely chopped
Sprig of thyme
4-5 cloves garlic

1 lb red beans, soaked and boiled or tinned
1 large onion
6 mild chillies, chopped
1 Scotch bonnet pepper
450 g/1lb pumpkin, cubed
225ml/8 ozs tomato ketchup
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a deep iron pot (or pressure cooker),
2. Add sugar, caramelise until it's deep brown and bubbling - not burnt.
3. Add oxtail pieces and stir until they are nicely browned.
4. Add thyme, ginger and half the garlic.
5. Cover with water and cook at medium heat. (If you have a pressure cooker, cook on high for 10-15 minutes.)
6. After an hour or when meat is soft, but not falling off the bone, add red beans , onion, remaining garlic, mild chillies, pumpkin and salt.
7. At this point, ensure the sauce is the consistency of a thick stew, not too soupy.
8. Add tomato ketchup and simmer.
9. In the last five minutes, put the Scotch Bonnet pepper on top.
10. The oxtail is ready when the meat is just falling off the bone, beans are soft and melting and pumpkin is falling apart. Serve with steaming white rice and a salad of cucumber and onion marinated in lime juice.

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Last weekend, I was bristling with the joys of blogging about Trini food, the delights of Breadfruit Oildown and the evocative descriptions by my friends about their food memories in what must have seemed to be an idyllic time in Trinidad and Tobago.
Unfortunately, in the last week Trinbagonians all over the world were shocked and saddened to the core at the grisly murder of six-year-old Sean Luke in Couva.
Over the years, we've seen some horrible murders in Trinidad, but none like this case of a child being buggered to death by a cane stick.
I am so dismayed by the situation in Trinidad that I feel compelled to say something about it on this blog.

Crime has escalated in our twin-island nation in recent years with a record number of murders and kidnappings in 2005. The amazing thing about this is that kidnappings didn't even happen in Trinidad until about three years ago.
To those of us living abroad, reading the Trinidad newspapers is like having a daily dose of "Today's Crime", since it seems that nothing else is happening there.
Some people, including high ranking politicians and security officials have tried to play down the crime situation by saying that many of the murders are gang related and restricted to certain parts of the country. But when you visit Trinidad, people are always talking about the high crime rate, and I can sense there's underlying anger and tension.
Now there's nothing that the police could have done to prevent this shocking crime, because the alleged killers, aged 13 and 16 had a plan to harm this poor child. But their tardy response to the family's concerns about their missing child was appalling.
How do people begin to feel secure if the police aren't taking things seriously?
The worst thing about this is the sense of powerlessness that Trinidadians have. We have people in positions of power, but they aren't leaders. The Prime Minister and his lot are more concerned with short term policy measures that will win votes but they aren't thinking ahead and looking to stabilise the nation for the future. No one is saying how they can deal with the crime, or the causes of crime and the silence is deafening.
I would love to return to my homeland but the situation there is making me doubtful. The unfortunate thing is that there are many of us out here who want go back home to make a difference but now we're thinking twice about it.

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