Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Island Time

I will have to say that the inspiration for this month’s dinner didn’t come from the weather, which has been pretty dismal so far. And while I’m extremely grateful not to be living somewhere that’s currently underwater or blanketed in debris from the latest killer tornado, the ever-present rain this Spring has been a little bit… disheartening.

In spite of that, we opted for a little Caribbean inspiration for this month’s dinner. If nothing else, the bright colors and warm weather flavors at least hinted at the promise of better weather.

I hear August is looking promising.

I will have to say that although we still had enough food to feed a small army, we at least were more in the neighborhood of a small regiment than an entire platoon.

No idea if that made a bit of sense.


Carley’s menu was inspired by the cookbook Modern Caribbean Cuisine by Wendy Rahamut. First up was Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi with a Pineapple Salsa. Carley said the fish pieces were dipped in a little flour, egg and coconut and then simply fried in oil. They were really light and tender, and the salsa was a great pairing.

Pineapple and Fresh Herb Salsa

1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
Juice of 2 - 3 large limes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped chives
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 hot pepper, seeded and chopped

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving with fish or chicken.

* * *

Next was a rice dish which had a nice, subtle spice to it but a lot of flavor all the same.

West Indian Spinach Rice with Nutmeg and Peppers

2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pimento pepper, seeded and chopped
½ hot pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cups fresh spinach leaves, cleaned, dried and chopped
1 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup rice
2 ½ cups water
1 Tbs butter

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add the onion, garlic and pimento. Sauté a few minutes until softened. Add hot pepper and spinach. Cover and cook until spinach is tender. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add rice and stir to combine. Pour in stock, stirring gently. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Gently stir in butter.

* * *

I believe these were my favorites. The recipe calls for optional cheese, which I don’t think Carley included in hers. If she did, it was very subtle. Anyway, they were REALLY tasty and would make great picnic fare as well. No utensils required!!

Shrimp Arepas with Spicy Tomatoes and Cheese

2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp brown sugar
½ cup butter

2 Tbs vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 lbs shrimp, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup chopped chives
¼ cup French thyme (fresh)
½ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese (optional)

To make the pastry, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and sugar. Add the butter and rub it into the mixture. Add enough warm water to make a soft dough. Divide into 16 pieces and cover with a damp dish towel.

To make the filling, heat oil in a sauté pan. Add the garlic, pepper and onion and cook until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook for a few seconds, then add the chives and thyme and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomato sauce and season with salt. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes, then add the cilantro (and cheese, if adding). Set aside to cool.

Heat the oven to 375º. Form each piece of dough into a ball. Press down each to form 4 - 5” circles. Fill with cooled filling mixture, then fold into a half moon shape and place on a baking sheet. Brush the arepas with oil and bake for about 20 minutes.

* * *

To get us in the island spirit, I decided to try out the new ice shaver I was given. First I froze a couple of different juices (one was a mango/orange blend and the other was a pineapple/coconut blend) in ice cube trays. We used a combination of the two types of frozen juice and added gold and coconut rums to the shaved ice. This was ladled into glasses with fresh pineapple spears and topped with a rosé champagne (for color). I will have to say, they were pretty tasty.

Next up for me were a couple of appetizers. I’m a big fan of gazpacho and love to try it in different variations. This was a pineapple-cucumber gazpacho…

Pineapple-Cucumber Gazpacho
adapted from New York Magazine

1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
4 cups peeled, chopped English cucumber
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 Tbs thinly sliced scallions (use mostly the white part)
1 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1 tsp sea salt
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped macadamia nuts for garnish

Combine all ingredients except nuts in a large bowl. Add in two batches to a blender. Using a pulse setting, blend the ingredients until combined but still a bit chunky. Stir in macadamia nuts.

Allow to sit in fridge for at least an hour to combine flavors before serving. Garnish with additional scallion and jalapeno, if desired.

* * *

The next appetizer was a shrimp cocktail using a spicy mango sauce rather than a traditional cocktail sauce. I peeled all but the tails from some large shrimp and boiled them for a couple of minutes in a court bouillon mixture. I served the shrimp and the sauce cold.

Mango Sauce

2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded and diced
1 ¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs freshly grated ginger
1 Tbs ketchup
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground English mustard
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Add vegetable oil to a saucepan. Cook onion and garlic briefly over medium heat, then add the ketchup and spices. Add mangos and water to the mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 - 15 minutes. Cool slightly and blend using an immersion blender.

* * *

For a main course, I opted for a Jerk Chicken, which I marinated and baked. The weather didn’t cooperate enough to grill it, although that’s the method I would have preferred to cook it. The chicken was garnished with fresh pineapple chunks and sat on a bed of fried plantains. The plantains were easily prepared by cutting them into 2” chunks, frying them in a bit of olive oil until brown on one side, and then I smashed them down to form coins, cooked a bit longer on the first side, and then flipped them over to finish cooking on the other side. Then they were simply seasoned with some sea salt.

I also sautéed a head of Napa cabbage with some onions and a sweet and sour sauce. Nothing terribly special, and at the time of this posting, I haven’t actually found the recipe I used!

Jerk Chicken
adapted from

3 scallions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 habanero chiles, stemmed and seeded, then finely minced
¼ cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Kosher salt
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs fresh thyme
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
3 lbs chicken (I used boneless breasts)

Combine all the ingredients but the chicken in a gallon sized plastic freezer bag. Close the bag and shake a few times to combine the mixture. Add the chicken pieces, seal the bag and then turn once or twice to make sure chicken is completely coated. Place in fridge and allow to marinate, turning once or twice, for about 6 hours. Allow chicken to come to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat oven to 375º. Remove chicken from bag and place on a baking sheet lined with foil, making sure not to crowd the pieces. Place in oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until just cooked through. Turn broiler to high and allow the chicken to brown for a minute before serving.

* * *

For dessert, Carley made a wonderful lime cheesecake with a chocolate crust. I would like to add a photo here, but it appears we were so quick to scarf it down that we didn’t take any. Suffice it to say, it was good. Really good.

Caribbean Black-bottomed Lime Tart

20 chocolate cookies
2 Tbs chopped almonds
4 Tbs melted butter

1 lb cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ Tbs lime zest
¼ cup fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 350º. To prepare the crust, finely crush the cookies and almonds in a food processor. Add the melted butter and combine. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Refrigerate until ready for use.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Gently beat in the sour cream, lime zest and juice.

Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for 40 - 50 minutes until the cheesecake is slightly puffed and the center is set. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

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