July 11, 2012

I haven't neglected you, promise!

At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to update the blog at least once a month. I was doing well too. About June though...

Last year I disappeared for a bit because of exam prep and University applications, and last month I received all the decisions. After weighing all my options I have decided to accept an offer to do my degree at a University in New England.

Yeah, what a drastic change, right? From the Caribbean to New England...

I'm not looking forward to the weather so much, but I am happy with my decision.

With all that said, it's been a whirlwind of activity. I haven't had time to cook much, much less write any posts. I tweeted a while back about these amazing make-ahead oatmeal shakes that I have for breakfast on crazy mornings and promised to share the method with you guys. Since then I've seen half a dozen posts about the same idea on other blogs (I still have a secret little surprise kick to mine though, so I'm not discouraged)

I'm saying goodbye to the tiny apartment I've called home for the past year and a half, and moving back to my parents' house to get ready for school. I guess I'm going to miss my kitchen a bit, but it's mainly the freedom I have in it. My mother has an amazing kitchen, but it's not MINE... if you get what I mean. (She reads my blog, I can't say that she's controlling... Hi Mommy!)

I'll (hopefully) have a few weeks of peace after I'm back home and not running off to work every day, so I will definitely take the opporunity to write some posts and share some really great recipes I've discovered or made over the two months.

*Spoiler Alert! These recipes include a jerk sausage and herb goat cheese pizza! Sooooo good!!*


Until then, read my Avateur Lasagna recipe from last year this time. The pictures were terrible (my phone again) but that scallion pesto in place of the ricotta was a stroke of genius.. if I do say so myself :)

Thanks for stopping by!!

-The Avateur Chef


May 21, 2012

Five Things I'm Scared To Make

Over the weekend, Julie at The Little Kitchen posted a list of five things she's scared to make. She ended the post by calling the rest of us out asking for our feedback on the topic and the list :)

Julie: "Now that I have aired my dirty laundry and told you what I’m scared of trying…is there anything you’re afraid of trying to make at home in your kitchen? Tell me your five things. And if you have ever made any of the five from the above, tell me about it…I want to know all about it."

I'm not going to share her whole list (go read her post!), BUT a few of her items are things I've been dying to try and just too scared to. Let's just say, I give Mario Batali dirty looks through my TV on a regular basis. He makes it look SO.EASY.

Without even thinking twice about it, I commented on her post with my own 'five things I'm scared to make' list. And just in case I didn't bring enough shame to myself there, I'm going to share my list with you guys here.


Note that these were the first five things that came to mind. And they are things that I actually WANT to try making and just haven't had the guts to yet. I am, after all, just an avateur.


1. Bread. Sounds simple enough, and I’ve found some awesome no knead recipes.. But I’m terrified that I’ll make a dense, doughy mess. And I love bread too much to do that to myself.

2. Souffl√©. As cliche as that is, I’ve been hearing about how finicky it is before I even started cooking. So.. No.

3. Yogurt/Cheese. Whether I’m scared or just lazy is debatable.

4. Sausages/Anything requiring me to grind my own meat. Have you read/watched Sweeney Todd??

5. Nut Butter. My boyfriend makes fun of my peanut butter obsession. It's a little disturbing how fast I go through jars of the stuff. I would love to start making my own (my wallet wouldn't mind either), but I don’t like chunky/crunchy nut butters.. and I’m yet to find a food processor (that’s not industrial grade) that gets homemade butter as smooth and creamy as the store bought ones.

I will add one that I hadn't thought of when I was writing my reply: I love pastries and long to make fresh ones at home.. flaky crust is very tricky (seems that way to me, anyway) and, like bread, I really don't want to subject myself to a heavy, dense crust. Luckily, one of my close friends did a pastry course in France so I have a ready supply of √©clairs and croissants. *happy dance*

Your turn! What are you scared to make?? Don't be shy!

I also welcome any tips/tricks/recipes to help me get over my own fears.

While we're on the subject, let me show you what happened the first time I used a piping bag *covers face* 

So I made these key lime tarts a few years back when I just started to get over my fear of baking. Went out and bought a piping bag to start decorating my desserts... and when I was done it looked like a 5 year old made them -_-

May 10, 2012

Avateur Chef's First Anniversary and Lunch in Negril

On April 22, 2011... a hesitant, self-conscious, fumbling home cook and food blog lover decided to chronicle her own cooking episodes. Thus, The Avateur Chef was created. So named as a play on her amateur efforts in the kitchen and her unusually tall stature (like the Na'vi from the movie, Avatar... get it now?).

Those who follow the blog will know that I wasn't always a food lover. I was a finicky child and a picky eater... averse to trying new things. That all changed when I moved abroad for college, got my own kitchen, and attempted to recreate the few things I would eat from back home (Jamaica). It was in that tiny campus kitchen that I discovered I enjoyed cooking. The newfound desire to create dishes forced me to experiment with flavours and foods that were new to me, and I found myself becoming more adventurous (with food, anyway... baby steps.)

It's been over 6 years (and about 20 pounds *sigh*) since I discovered my love for food and cooking, and to this day I'm still learning and trying new things, and sharing the experiences here on The Avateur Chef.

Today though, I'm getting out of the kitchen for a little field trip to Negril. Some friends and I went to try the food at The PushCart Restaurant at The Rockhouse Hotel. The menu at Pushcart is inspired by Jamaican street food, and the restaurant boasts spectacular views of the beach and the gorgeous hotel nextdoor. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food, and after stuffing ourselves we ventured to Rick's Cafe, a famous spot for cliff-jumping and viewing of the sunset.

Thanks to all you readers for stopping by and for sharing your feedback with me over the past year, I was so nervous about starting this blog that I only told a handful of people about it. I genuinely appreciate all the words of support and encouragement and hope to be sharing many more kitchen adventures with you :)

Here are some photos from my road trip to Negril. I'm still working on my photography skills... I think they've improved, right??

A view of Rockhouse Hotel from the Pushcart restaurant
Enjoying a Red Stripe while waiting for the food.
Ackee Patties - Ackee sauteed with peppers and onions and baked in a flaky pastry.
Jerk Fish Salad - Fresh snapper fillet rubbed with jerk and grilled. Served on top of local greens tossed
with tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumber slices
Seafood Fritters - Conch, snapper, squid and shrimp folded into a batter and pan fried. Served with spicy relish.

Curry Conch - Fresh conch tenderized then cooked slowly in West Indian Curry with root vegetables.
Served with steamed rice and steamed vegetables.

Steamed Fish - Whole fish steamed with local vegetables, served with bammy and water crackers.


Perfect end to a fabulous day

April 11, 2012

Avateur Breakfast... Cake.

What happens when I let my erratic cravings get the best of me?
And just how fine is that line between genius and insanity?

Everyone likes pineapple upside-down cake, right? It's one of those foods that take you back to your childhood and warms your heart. One that, no matter how fancy the restaurant or how gourmet the ingredients, only tastes RIGHT when your mom makes it and you're eating at home with your family.

So what happens when you're craving THAT cake, and you live alone.. 4 hours away from the only cook that makes it the way you like?

You suck it up.

Or so I told myself.

My favourite dessert to make for myself is apple crisp. It's so simple and I can tailor the amounts easily to get the perfect single serving. Not to mention how obsessed I am with everything containing apples and cinnamon. They're my go-to oatmeal mix-ins. They're the snack I take along with me when I anticipate a long wait while running errands. They are the epitome of a PERFECT flavour combination.

So, to recap. I really like my mom's pineapple-upside down cake. I really, really like apples and cinnamon.

Cool.

This morning I woke up at 3am and could not go back to sleep. Insomnia looked me in the eye and laughed. Hard. And for 2 hours I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and all I could think about was cake.

I think I have a problem. One should not be dreaming about cake at 4 in the morning.

At 5am I conceded defeat to insomnia and decided to go ahead and get my day started. My usual weekday breakfast options are pancakes (no, not from scratch. I said weekday, right?), apple-cinnamon oatmeal, or granola and greek yogurt with fruit.

So there I was at 5am, staring into my pantry at the box of oats and the packages of pancake mix trying to decide what to make, and all I could think of STILL... Cake.

I'm not too sure what happened next.. can't really explain what my thought process was at this point.  I had 3 hours of sleep followed by 3 hours of desperate cravings, I.do.not.know.
The oven was lit. I had butter melting in the bottom of a baking pan. I had a cutting board out with 2 small gala apples cored and sliced. Pancake batter was sitting in a bowl nearby.


Let me just pause here to actually tell you what the final product was.
Apple Cinnamon Upside-Down Baked Oatmeal Pancake
WITH
Maple Cinnamon Greek Yogurt Drizzle.


There is no explanation. I have no idea where it came from. But here's how I did it:

I preheated my oven to 350F and melted 3 tablespoons of butter in a 9" square baking pan. While the oven preheated, I prepared the pancake mix according to the package, then added half a cup of rolled oats. I cored and thinly sliced 2 small gala apples. Once the butter was melted, I sprinkled 3 tablespoons of brown sugar over the bottom of the pan, followed by 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. I arranged the apple slices on top of the cinnamon and sugar, then poured the oatmeal pancake batter into the pan.

While the pancake was in the oven, I mixed 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a tablespoon of maple syrup into half a cup of plain greek yogurt,

The pancake took approximately 10-15 minutes to bake. I waited 5 minutes after it was out the oven to flip it onto a plate.

Apple Cinnamon Upside-Down Baked Oatmeal Pancake


I went a bit overboard with my yogurt 'drizzle'. It was really yummy, couldn't help it. I intentionally didn't mix the maple syrup all the way in, I like how the swirls look :)


March 20, 2012

Late to the party..

So apparently this has been common knowledge for years, and I've just been tucked away in the jungle of Pandora.. oblivious to the fact that if you freeze bananas and blend them...

THEY TURN INTO ICE CREAM.

Yes, technically it's not 'cream'.. but as far as I'm concerned, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.. (This coming from someone who went vegan for a semester in college and was surprised to discover that there was more to dairy substitutes than just soy milk.)

My revelation came one day while Stumbling around the internet. I said Stumbling. If you don't have Stumble Upon, go get it now. I've discovered 9/10 of my favourite food blogs while Stumbling, as well as other amazing tips and tricks like this banana ice cream amazingness.

I stumbled upon this post on the Kitchn blog, headlined "How To Make Creamy Ice Cream with Just One Ingredient!". It drew my attention because I don't have an ice cream maker and, well, I love ice cream. I feel like there's never any reason to justify wanting to find out how to get ice cream. Period.

When I read the post I was skeptical. It was too good to be true. There had to be a catch. I know there are pictures and all, but sometimes things can seem so simple until you attempt them yourself (I see you, roux). So it actually took me a couple months, and an excess of bananas in the garden, to try it at home.

It was so blissfully simple. And creamy. And YUMMY. 

Then, with the enthusiasm of 10 year old, I called my mom. And messaged my friends. And tweeted. And called some more friends.

"Did you know that if you blend up frozen pieces of banana they turn CREAMY?!"

"Uh... yeah. Didn't you?"

"Oh yeah, my mom used to make that for me when I had a sore throat as a kid"

"Yeah I heard about that, is it good?"

Everyone knew but me. And my mom. I wish I could say that it dampened my spirits a bit, but alas, here I am yet again exclaiming at the sheer genius of this trick. Hoping that someone else will get as excited about it as I am. 

If you already know about it, just humour me, and pretend that I am about to make your day.

Thanks.
I sliced the bananas into disks about 2 inches thick and left them in the freezer overnight.
The original Kitchn article warned that the mixture would look crumbly and piecemeal initially, but I didn't have that issue. The only difference between mine and theirs was the length of time the bananas were in the freezer (they froze theirs for just 1-2 hours). I plan to experiment with the freezer time some more to see if it affects the ice cream texture. After the mixture reaches the desired consistency, add in your favourite mix-ins. I added a teaspoon of cocoa and a drizzle of honey.

I completely underestimated the amount of ice cream my bananas would produce so I put some in a container to put back in the freezer. As you can see, the mixture in the glass has a soft consistency, the article I read said that it would come out the texture of soft-serve ice cream (which I love) so I went ahead and had some right away.



The picture to the left shows the ice cream after being in the freezer for about 2 hours. It's thicker than the initial consistency, but not quite at that of traditional ice cream. The image to the right shows the mixture after 24 hours in the freezer. I found that there were a few ice crystals/flakes straight out the freezer, but after sitting out for 5 minutes the mixture was smooth and creamy but still thick.

I feel a little less guilty about lying around on the couch in Hershey's pajamas knowing that it's bananas in my ice cream glass. You should too. If you don't lie around the couch eating ice cream.. Well, you obviously have a life and no reason to feel guilty at all. I'll have an extra scoop for you.



February 29, 2012

Hoppin' Avatar? ...and other rice and bean confusion.

I could never EVER have imagined that there were so many variations to rice and beans. (Rice and peas? Beans and rice? Peas and Rice? Arroz con frijoles?) Almost every culture has a way of preparing this classic combination, and that's probably because it maximizes your economic AND nutritional buck. Rice and beans are two staples in almost every household pantry. They're relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare.

In Jamaica, a traditional 'Sunday Dinner' is a roasted chicken with rice and peas. Actually, it isn't usually even peas, but kidney beans (called red peas in Jamaica). Rice and peas in Jamaica is almost always made with kidney beans, except during the Christmas season when pigeon peas (called gungo peas) are more common.

Growing up I hated kidney beans. My dad would take my plate and pick all the kidney beans out the rice for me so that I could eat my dinner. After much coercion, my parents finally got me to try rice and peas made with pigeon peas... and, much to my surprise, I loved it. So from then on my mom would stock up on pigeon peas while they were in season and freeze bags of them so she could make rice and peas with them year round.

So from pigeon peas I branched out to trying and enjoying several other kinds of peas and beans. Black beans and lima beans are a few of my favourites that I keep on hand. I don't know if it's because I grew up pairing the two in my head, but whenever I cook with beans I always serve them with rice. They just marry perfectly I think.

Now the dish Rice and Peas in Jamaica is not just rice... mixed with peas. In my research, not one of the rice and bean dishes in any culture was as simple as just the two ingredients. The flavours came from herbs and spices and broths and cooking liquids that the rice and/or the beans were simmered in. Jamaican rice and peas is traditionally prepared by cooking the peas first and then adding the rice along with lots of herbs and spices such as pimento seeds, garlic, thyme, scallions and a type of chili pepper common in the Caribbean called 'Scotch Bonnet'. The entire mixture is simmered in coconut milk until the rice is cooked through.

My mom's rice and peas made with pigeon or 'gungo' peas. So good my dad's making his second plate.
All that being said, I have never attempted to make rice and peas. I've also never roasted a whole chicken like my mom does every Sunday. This week makes a year since I moved out of my parents' house but I still can't bring myself to make our family Sunday Dinner for one, and then sit and eat it alone.

I do, however, cook with rice and beans quite often. Like I said, I consider them to be pantry staples... and we all know how I love recipes where all the ingredients are right on hand. I mostly cook with lima beans or black beans. Curried lima beans and rice is one of my easy, go-to weeknight recipes. Another is Mexican inspired black beans and rice with a corn salsa on the side.

The last time I went grocery shopping and was stocking up on canned beans, I noticed black-eyed peas and wondered how I had never tried them before. Especially since I love the song "My Humps" so much. Get it? No? Okay....

Today I decided to make rice and beans for lunch and figured I'd go with one of my tried-and-true (and a little tired) recipes.. until I saw the can of black-eyed peas on the shelf. So I figured I'd cook them with some spices and serve it over  rice. The rice was cooking on the stove and I was in the process of sauteing onions and peppers when I noticed a recipe on the back of the can of beans.

Hoppin' John Over Rice

huh?

Never before had I head of Hoppin' John. A quick scan of the recipe revealed that it was quite similar to the dish I was in the process of making. Onions and peppers and beans and spices on top of rice. The major difference was that the recipe called for ham which I do not have since I'm going meatless until Easter. As I do when I come across I dish I've never heard of, I made a mental note to look it up and find out it's origin. It's a southern (US) dish for those of you in the dark like myself. From there I read about several similar dishes from other cultures; there are dozens of variations in each region. I thought it would be fun to travel around the world through rice and bean dishes, so I will start with my vegetarian take on Hoppin' John today, and post about others in the coming weeks.

I steamed a cup of Jasmine rice (it's my favourite and therefore what I stock in the pantry) and set aside. I chopped a small onion and a green bell pepper and sauteed in a teaspoon of vegetable oil. I then added half a 16oz can of black-eyed peas (undrained), a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of hot pepper sauce and a teaspoon of dried parsley. I also smashed 2 cloves of garlic and added into the pan. I simmered the mixture for 10 minutes and then pulled the garlic cloves out before serving the bean mixture over the rice.

I really enjoyed the firm texture of the black-eyed peas against the soft jasmine rice. The crunch of the vegetables also added to the element. I didn't add salt because of the soy sauce which I thought balanced well with the fragrant rice.

January 20, 2012

An Avateur Attempt at "Bitchin'" Potato Croquettes

I know, I know. It has been 6 months. The Blogger website underwent a face lift, and I feel like a fish out of water. But I'm back. Entrance exams and applications took over my life for a bit, but I'm back.

While watching Bitchin' Kitchen the other night, inspiration struck. Nadia G. made Potato Croquettes as a side dish for a succulent filet mignon. And although there was this mouthwatering, juicy, tender piece of steak sitting on the plate... I couldn't help but long after the croquettes sitting next to it. And I thought about them ALL DAY. If you've read this blog before then you would have come to realise that I am powerless to my cravings. So here I am.. waiting for my potato mixture to cool so that I can form my croquettes and fry them up. I don't even know what I'm having them with yet... No, really.

To start: dice the potatoes, mince the garlic, and chop or slice the seasonings you are using. I had onions and parsley on hand, but Nadia used green onions in the original recipe. Boil the potatoes and saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until softened. You will notice I haven't peeled my potatoes, feel free to peel yours if you so desire.
Once the potatoes have boiled, drain them and combine with the sauteed onions and garlic, herbs, spices and parmesan. Then mash until the mixture is smooth. I added crushed red pepper instead of ground black pepper; and a touch of paprika for colour. I also added a pat of butter to help the mashing along, but that may have caused a problem... read on.
Chill the potato mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the breading station. Beat an egg and lay out some seasoned breadcrumbs. In the episode, Nadia makes fun of panko.. but that's exactly what I am using. I'm a texture junkie, and I really love the crunch. I have yet to find pre-seasoned panko, which is why I add the spices directly to my mashed potatoes. All I added to the panko here is some dried parsley. Form the chilled mixture into the croquettes, dip them in the beaten egg, and them roll them in the breadcrumbs. Fry in hot oil until golden brown

Here's where I goofed: either my oil wasn't hot enough and the cooking time was too long, or the butter/extra cheese I added (couldn't help it!) made the mixture too creamy... but while I was frying my croquettes I noticed they started to.. MELT?? It wasn't drastic, and obviously they still came out in the right shape.. but they aren't actually perfect cylinders. The tops and bottoms are almost flat, and the sides rounded. When I make this again I'll try without the butter (it didn't call for any in the recipe) and see if that's what caused the problem. Otherwise, the croquettes were delicious. And yes, I ate them by themselves.
 Parmesan Potato Croquettes - from Nadia G's "Bitchin' Kitchen"
content from Cooking Channel 

  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Olive oil, for pan frying

To make the Parmesan Potato Croquettes: Boil the potatoes in enough salt water to cover for 10 to 15 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain. Saute the green onions and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil for a few minutes, until the onions are translucent and garlic is golden. In a big bowl, combine the onion and garlic mixture with the boiled potatoes. Add Parmesan cheese, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and mash together. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Pour enough olive oil to come 1/4-inch up the side of a heavy fry pan and heat to 375 degrees F. Roll the chilled potato mixture into finger shapes. Dip the fingers in the beaten egg, then coat them in Italian-seasoned bread crumbs. Fry the croquettes in the hot oil for 30 seconds, until all sides are equally crispy and golden.