Culinary Creations

OMG, I just made creme brulee.  I’m not gonna lie — I’m pretty proud of myself right now.  I’ve been on a cooking streak and have tried out dozens of new recipes in the past few weeks, most of which have been pretty darn delicious.  Take dinner tonight, for instance: Chicken en Papillote (actually, in foil because where or where is parchment?  You’ve got me…) with garlic, onions, basil, and tomatoes over lentil pilaf.  With rosemary scones.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I made rosemary scones and they are delicious.  So good I am having a hard time saving one for Charlie!

And for dessert, creme brulee.  Which I am going to try momentarily.  After I finish bragging.  For the chicken I used my quarter of a chicken from Bernard, the local chicken man I met at the market on Saturday.  The chicken was delicious, although I did have quite a time hacking it apart with a knife; it was fun to play butcher for a few minutes.   I hacked through some chicken bones and everything. Quite an experience.  I’ll have to ask Bernard for some tips next weekend.

Earlier this week I made braised and roasted chicken thighs with leeks… another WOW recipe.  I suggest trying all of these, because not only were they as good as meals from your favorite gourmet restaurant, but they were actually really easy, which I always appreciate.  Then there were the oatmeal cranberry muffins I made — my new favorite breakfast.  You should make those too.

Okay, now I am eating the creme brulee and it is insane.  I caramelized the brown sugar on the top of it by sticking the whole darn thing in the toaster oven and broiling it for a few minutes until it looked dark and bubbly… and it turned out perfectly!  I just cracked it with my spoon (I agree with Amelie, it’s so fun) and boy was it exciting.

It is fun to have time to make anything I want… And with a free bus to Roseau (the capital city, an hour away) on the weekends, I can go to the good grocery store there (Save a Lot) and stock up on basics that are more expensive here in Picard and get treats that are not available anywhere else — like asparagus, portobello mushrooms, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, cream, yogurt, real milk, and meat.  I usually pick up a few random treats from the list above and then spend the next few weeks figuring out what tasty treats and meals I can make with them, using my pantry items and fresh market produce.  It is a good challenge, and I know Charlie appreciates the good food.

Last night I made enchiladas and they were yummy.  You should try them.

Spinach, Green Chile, Black Bean and Cream Cheese Enchiladas

These are my own adaption of AKPB’s turkey enchiladas she used to cook up on the Boulie and on Hanover… minus the turkey and enchilada sauce + green chiles for fun.

Ingredients:

  • tortillas, flour or corn, whichever you fancy or have handy (or make your own if you’re an overachiever — I’m not.)
  • black beans
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 1 package of chopped frozen spinach
  • 1 can of diced green chiles (not a big deal if you don’t have them or like them, just a fun addition)
  • green onions, sliced
  • salsa
  • enchilada sauce (optional)

Cook a package chopped frozen spinach.  I did it in the microwave because it involved not lighting burners with flames, but the stove top works too.  It’s frozen spinach, there’s no trick.  Once the spinach is cooked add a block of cream cheese and stir, so that the spinach melts in the hot pan, and you get a good cream cheesey spinachy mixture.  Add a can of chopped, dice green chiles with their juice and stir in.  Stir in some cooked, drained black beans or a can of black beans, drained.  Mix it all together, careful not to smash the beans.

Spoon mixture into some tortillas, flour or corn.  I used corn tortillas last night because I had them, but flour tortillas work too.  Fold tortillas in half and place in a baking dish.  (Here is the part where you can pour some enchilada sauce on top of them.  I searched the island for enchilada sauce and none could be found.  I prepared myself to make some from scratch, but the only chili powder I could find in town had bugs crawling on it.  So we passed on the enchilada sauce.  I supposed you could also add some cheddar cheese, but with all the cream cheese inside, I think it sounds a little excessive.  But hey, tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, so just follow your heart).

Stick the casserole dish in your heated oven.  My oven is crazy and confusing and in degrees Celcius, so I just make stuff up — last night I turned it to 200 (whatever that means) and cooked them for about 10 minutes, until the torillas got slightly brown and crispy on the outside.  When they look good, remove from the oven.  I am always too ravenous to let anything cool, so if you’re like me, grab your spatula and plop a few of those suckers on your plate.  Top with salsa and sliced green onions.  YUM!

If you are in a cooking rut and need some new recipes or just feel like making something delicious, I also highly recommend the recipes below.

Chicken en Papillote with onions, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Serve over rice or lentils.

Chicken en Papillote with Basil and Tomatoes — I didn’t have cherry tomatoes so I just used regular heirloom tomatoes.

Rosemary Scones — make. these. now!

Creme Brulee — make the day before, they must chill overnight.  Ceramic ramekins probably work best, but you can also use a shallow pan, or I found some little metal, heart baking dishes which worked great.

Pan Roasted Chicken and Leeks — YOWZERS, this was good!

Beets with Toasted Walnuts and Grapefruit over Watercress — I used pink grapefruit because the regular ones make me gag.  I also just used some store-bought balsamic vinaigrette and added a little honey to it instead of making my own because 1) I was lazy and 2) I didn’t have any straight up balsamic vinegar.  Do what you like!

Portobello Mushroom and Red Pepper Pizza on Homemade Thin Pizza Crust*  I am obsessed with basil and like to add so much of it to everything that you could probably overdose on it.  SOMEHOW I forgot to add the basil to this (what!?!).  It was delicious without it.  But probably would have been extra delicious with it.  So don’t stress if you don’t have basil…

*If you have never tried the pizza dough from Trader Joe’s, you must ASAP.  In their refrigerated section, by the hummus and deli meat, they have bags of fresh pizza dough (wheat, white, and herb) for 99 cents (I think) that you take home and roll out and cook yourself… it makes ridiculously good pizza.  If we had a Trader Joe’s here in Dominica, first I would die, and then I would just buy that dough.

Oatmeal Muffins — I think these are fairly healthy, as far as muffins go!  I loved them and Charlie did, too.  I added chopped walnuts and some dried fruit mixture from Trader Joe’s (shipped in our barrel).

P.S. — I have become totally hooked on some of the fabulous food blogs that are out there, and find that I am finding most of my recipes these days from them.  I am also a huge fan of some of the easier recipes from Food & Wine Magazine, which are always insanely delicious, provided they aren’t too complicated and the ingredient lists don’t get too wacky.

Food blogs I love:

Bon appetit!

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Saturday, Market Day

market in Portsmouth

Most of you probably know that I am hardly a morning person.  I come from a family of infamous sleepers who have been known to sleep for 16 hours straight through hours alarms, ringing phones, and blinding daylight.  (I wish I were kidding!)  We hate, hate, hate mornings.  Even here, where I get tons of sleep, I have a hard time waking up early on weekday mornings.  But somehow, I love getting up early on Saturday mornings to go to the market.  Okay, maybe I don’t love the getting up early part, but I do love going to the market.  It is exciting and full of color, and is truly an experience in itself, not to mention that you leave with bags full of goodies.

Dominica has the most incredible fresh produce.  The tropical climate and volcanic soil make the fruits and vegetables fluorish, resulting in a fabulous bounty at the Saturday morning market.  The market is open air with a covered section as well.  Vendors sell their bounty at tables or out of the backs of  trucks.  It begins around 5 am and lasts until everything is gone, probably around noon or so.  Everyone says you must get there early, like 5 am, to get the good stuff, so I was initially overwhelmed and intimidated, since I have rarely been known to get up before 7 am unless it involved a redeye flight.  The first week here I set my alarm for 6 and finally erected my zombie-like self from bed around 6:45, throwing on clothes, and running down the road to catch a bus, worrying that everything good would already be snatched up.  Five weeks in to life here, I realize that this is ridiculous.  Yes, maybe the most perfect tomato or best pineapple will be someone’s first pick, but there is so much delicious, fresh food that you can arrive at 8:30 and still get more than enough tasty stuff.

what I got at the market this morning

This morning I set my alarm for 6:00 am.  I am not sure if it even went off… but eventually I woke up at 7:45 and headed to the market around 8.  I still got everything I wanted and more: green peppers, lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, scallions, basil, pink grapefruit, mangos, cabbage, christophene (jicama), green beans, carrots…  I also bought a beautiful bunch of flowers (birds of paradise and anthurium) from my favorite lady who I buy my fruit from (she reminds me of Whoopi Goldberg) for 5 EC ($1.85)!  AND I discovered Bernard, who sells local chicken fresh from his farm, so I snagged some of that, too.  So wonderful!  Eveyone is friendyl, although some of the vendors can be downright pushy trying to sell their veggies, but you learn to keep walking, be friendly, and pick what you want from wherever it looks the best.  Many of the vendors love to chat and will tell you what unfamilair things are and how to prepare them.

A friend of mine had a hilarious conversation at the market last week.  She touched a strange looking fruit (?) and the Dominican lady behind the table looked at her and said, “You not like that.  You not Chinese.”*

“Okay, well what is it?”

“You not like it.  Don’t touch.  You not Chinese.”

“I know I’m not Chinese.  I just want to know what it is.”

“I don’t know name.  Only Chinese people like it.  Not for you.  Don’t touch.”

Alrighty, then…

(*There are Chinese all over the place in Dominica.  The Chinese government gave Dominica aid money to help build roads all over the island and sent Chinese workers to complete the project… so everywhere you go, there are a million Chinese restaurant, construction vehicles and backhoes marked with Chinese writing… And apparently the market carries special items, for the Chinese only.)

The market is colorful, lively, and bustling, and although I hate mornings, the market makes them worthwhile. Other market items that are usually available are bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, celery, spinach, ginger, pumpkin, paw paw (papaya), okra, beets, bok choy, radishes, sugar cane…  Seasonal items include guava, passion fruit, oranges, pineapples, avocados (HUGE ones!), sorrel, watermelon, squash.  The market in Roseau has an herb man and last week I bought dill, rosemary, basil, leeks, and watercress from him.  You can also get small bags of spices.

My eyes still look a little squinty from my morning excursion, but all is well!

The grocery stores here don’t have any fresh produce — they only have shelf items — canned and packaged goods, bags of flour, sugar, etc. — so if you want to eat anything fresh, you really have to go to the market.  If you miss it, there is a lady on campus who sells fresh produce, but it is much cheaper if you go to the market and get it yourself.  I have been doing lots of delicious, healthy cooking for us here, and we are eating vegetarian meals a few nights a week, substituting eggs, beans, and lentils for protein.  I pride myself on being a good cook, but am a novice baker… so I have also been working on my baking as well and making some good progress: I made pizza with homemade dough (made from scratch), plus peanut butter cookies, shortbread cookies, and pound cake for a bake sale.  It all turned out pretty well.  After 16 months here, I expect to be an excellent baker!

In short: we are having fabulous adventures — culinary, scientific/intellectual, and otherwise!

P.S. - How cool looking is the inside of this watermelon????