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2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 3 0

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Sahar

A little late. But here it is…

***********

Friday was my busiest day and it dawned early for me. Too early.

I was up late into Thursday night starting prep for my cooking class and was exhausted by the time I fell into bed.  However, even after 16 years of teaching cooking classes, I never sleep well the night before because I tend to worry too much about everything that might go wrong.

So, long story short, I laid there in bed for another 2 hours trying in vain to go back to sleep.

Then, the alarm went off. It was time to get up and head to the Cowboy Breakfast at Fort Davis.

It was a chilly, overcast morning and perfect for a nice hearty chuck wagon breakfast.

Chuckwagon time.

Chuck wagon time.

Mr. Moreland's pantry.

Mr. Moreland’s pantry.

The chef that morning was Glenn Moreland, a champion amongst chuck wagon cooks.  And, after eating his food, I can see why. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, Dutch-oven Biscuits, and cream gravy with sausage.

Perfect.

Oh… Yeah…

Let's not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

Let’s not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

While we all agreed that while the eggs were very good, but nothing special, the biscuits and cream gravy were the best we’ve ever had.  And, after living in Texas for as long as Mom, Dad, Steve & I have, that’s saying something. It wasn’t greasy, flour-flavored wallpaper paste; it was a lovely, not-too-thick, flavor balanced amalgamation of sausage, flour, and milk.  There are many restauranteurs who should take cream gravy-making lessons from Mr. Moreland.

Then, there were the biscuits.  Fluffy as a new pillow.

Buscuits ready for the campfire.

Biscuits ready for the campfire.

Baking biscuits.

Baking biscuits.

And, of course, our scenery made everything go down easy.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view at breakfast.

The view at breakfast.

After breakfast, Steve & I drove back to Alpine while my parents went with Mom’s friend Betty (we happened to run into at the breakfast) to her home and then took a trip into Marfa for lunch.

I had to get back to the hotel to prep for my class.

On Thursday night, I cut & marinated the meat for the kebabs and cooked the eggplant for the Baba Ghannouj; Friday, I did everything else.  My class was on Middle Eastern Mezze. The menu consisted of:

Hummous

Ful Mudammas

Baba Ghannouj

Fatoush

Shish Kebabs

I taught a very similar menu last year that proved popular, so Stewart & I decided that it would work again.  And, while the prep was easy (especially since I’ve done all these recipes dozens of times), it took me about 4 hours to get everything ready to take to the hotel. So, yeah. I was just a little stressed.

Prep. Whew.

Prep. Whew.

Because I didn’t have any hard-and-fast numbers, I had no idea how much food to make.  So, I went with a triple batch of each recipe.  I figured, if nothing else, I could leave the extra food for the kitchen staff at the hotel.  Actually, my biggest fear was no one except Steve and my parents showing up.

Well, my fears were unfounded. More than 3 people showed.  By Steve’s estimation, I had 25 – 30 for my class. And, I made just enough food.

A few members of the class.

A few members of the class.

A few more students watching me behind the counter.

A few more students watching me behind the counter. I can’t remember what I was making at this point. Either hummous or baba ghannouj.

From my vantage point. And my mess.

From my vantage point. And my mess. Looking at al the food that was already on the counter, I must have been talking about the kebabs.

Stewart joining me at the end.

Stewart joining me at the end.

It was a good group.  They listened, took recipes, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to enjoy the food.  I admit I felt a strong sense of relief.

Overall, I think the class went well.  There was just enough food for the class with a little left over for the kitchen staff. Except for the kebabs. Those were gone.

I must give credit to William Paynter, the Century Grill General Manager, who was a great help. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and his staff.

At the end of class, after Stewart & I announced the gin-and-oyster party in the Holland Loft Courtyard, I cleaned up and cleared out as quickly as possible so I could get some oysters and put my feet up for a while.  I didn’t really care about the gin drinks. Although I did have a few sips of Mom’s and Steve’s drinks.

Lots of gin.

Lots of gin and mixers.

Oysters. Lots of oysters.  I think I  had 10. I didn't want to seem greedy.

Oysters. Lots of oysters. I think I had 10. I didn’t want to seem too greedy.

The party was actually just outside Steve’s & my room, so we and my parents were able to get our food and drinks and hide out inside.  If we wanted more, we could just walk two steps out the door and partake. Since I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast, I was grateful for the snack.

We chatted for a while, I got cleaned up, and then we headed to our next event: The Tito’s Vodka Cocktail Dinner at the Granada Theater.

The whole event was, in a word, incredible.  The food was catered by the Saddle Club by Chefs Stephen and Jonathan Wood.  The cocktails were mixed by David Allen, whose book “The Tipsy Texan” was an event at the festival in itself.

The dinner started out with a “passed app” of Slow Roasted Cabrito with Avocado Mousse, and salsa on flour tortilla cups.  The cabrito was perfectly cooked – a lovely shredded melt-in-your-mouth treat. The mousse was simple and the salsa added just the right amount of heat.

 

The "Passed App"

The “Passed App”

The cocktail was a mason jar full of the “Little Miss” made with Tito’s (as all the cocktails were), roasted pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon/clove syrup, and bitters.  I only had a small taste of the Little Miss.  Wow.  If you weren’t careful, these could be dangerous.  They tasted almost like a spicy lemonade. (Full disclosure: I’m allergic to cinnamon. So, I only had a small taste of this cocktail and the dessert.) Mom and Steve enjoyed it.  Dad sipped.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

My alternate cocktail.  Basically vodka and ginger beer.

My alternate cocktail. Basically vodka and ginger beer.

The first course was a Pork Belly Carnitas with Marinated Grilled Artichoke Bottom, Pickled Watermelon Radishes, and Bacon Creme.  (For those of you unfamiliar, carnitas is basically pork that’s been braised or roasted then pan fried.)

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Artichokes aren’t my favorite vegetables, but I’d eat them every day if they could taste like this. The carnitas had just the right amount of flavor, richness, and textures.  And the creme; well, everything’s better with bacon.  The pickled radishes added just the right amount of contrast to the rest of the dish and cut right through the richness.

First Course

First Course

The paired cocktail was “Southern Days”.  It was made with vodka, watermelon, mint, and sugar.  A very refreshing summer-sipping-on-the-porch cocktail.

Refreshing

Refreshing

The main course was Jalapeno Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, Bacon & Pepper Jack Hominy Cassoulet, Chayote Squash, and Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Cream.

This was my favorite course, hands down.  The tenderloin was at least 4-5 ounces of Chateaubriand cut cooked to a well-rested medium rare.  While I don’t believe the tenderloin is the most flavorful cut of beef (or any animal for that matter), Chef Stephen found a way to make its grass-fed goodness shine.

I think I found a new way to make chayote squash – a vegetable I rarely use.  I should’ve asked him how he made it, but it seemed to me to be very simply pan seared.  It still had some crunch to it.

One of my favorite foods is hominy.  And by pairing it with bacon and cheese, it was moved to new hights of possibilities.

And the Bacon Creme? What do you think?

Main Course

Main Course

The paired cocktail was “Tito’s Martinez”.  Made with vodka, Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth), Luxardo Maraschino (a cherry liqueur), and bitters, it acted as a digestif to help counteract the richness of the course.

Dad didn’t like it.  Mom & I split it.

Strong.

Strong.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try to much of dessert: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  It looked like a wonderful amalgamation of creaminess with a cinnamon brulee crust.  I did try a couple of bites of Dad’s portion and detected coconut as well.  However, no one else could confirm this.

Steve's dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

Steve’s dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

The final cocktail more than made up for my lack of dessert experience: the “Iceberg”.  Made with vodka and frozen Cremes de Menthe and Cacao it tasted like melted chocolate chip mint ice cream.  I was only sorry they served it to us in shot glasses.

Yum.

Yum.

After the meal and some well-deserved applause for Chef Stephen and his crew, we made it back to our room in a relatively straight line.

After discussing meeting up at the Farmers Market the next morning and relaxing a bit, Mom & Dad went back to their hotel.

Steve & I were in bed by 10.  We’re old.

 

Day 4.  Soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 2 0

Posted on April 12, 2014 by Sahar

Thursday started a bit earlier than Wednesday.  Well, truth be told, much earlier.  Not only was it Park Day, but it was also moving day.

A little background.  When we arrived at the Holland on Wednesday, we found out that the room we were originally booked for (more specifically, a loft) wouldn’t be ready for us until Thursday.  So, we were put in a regular room for Wednesday night.  The hotel would move our things the next day; but, of course, we needed to be packed up.

Fine.  Although, I kinda felt bad for the person who had to move our stuff.  It was more than the usual suitcases.  We also had a cooler and bins full of food and accoutrements needed for my class at the Holland on Friday.

After cleaning up and packing, Steve & I went to grab a quick breakfast from the hotel spread.  It was the usual variety of pastries, cereal, and granola.  I will say, though, it was certainly a step above the average hotel breakfast fare.

 

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were grreat.

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were great.

And what's a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

And what’s a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

After breakfast, we went to pick up my parents at their hotel for another sojourn to Big Bend National Park.  Steve & I have been there, oh, I think, 10 times now. Dad, a couple of times.  Mom had never been, so we decided now would be as a good a time as any to take her.  Plus, it always seems to be just a little different every time we go.

But first, a quick stop in Marathon.  Mom had to go to the post office.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Task completed, we headed down the road to the park. For those of you who haven’t been out here before, nothing is close together.  The three largest towns out here – Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis – are all 30 minutes away from each other and the park itself is an hour from Marathon (or, as the locals call it, Marath’n).  If you factor in getting to the park headquarters (which is what the road signs measure), it’s almost 2 hours from Alpine.  But, the scenery makes the drive worth it.

Driving to the park.

Driving to the park.

If you leave early enough in the day, you will (hopefully) see the buzzards sitting on the fence posts with their wings spread warming themselves up.  They’re sinfully ugly and kinda gross birds, but they’re fun to observe.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

If you want to take pictures of buzzards (or any carrion bird), you have to be careful.  If you startle them, their preferred method of defense is throwing up the contents of their stomach. And, since they eat already dead things, you can just imagine the smell.  Well, maybe you can’t.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

On into the park.  We just hit the time between the wildflowers and the cactus blooms.  So, not much color foliage-wise, but still, as always, beautiful in its own desert way.

Chisos Mountains.

Chisos Mountains and the Chihuhuan Desert

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Big sky.

Big sky.

Yucca in the desert.

Yucca in the desert.

i can only guess at the size of tarantula that's in this nest.

I can only guess at the size of tarantula that’s in this nest.

Looking up.

Looking up.

After the many stops requested by Dad & me so we could take photos, we finally made it to the park headquarters, Panther Junction.  So, we decided to eat lunch at the lodge in the park.  The Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Lunch was, in a word, dull. The food was edible but, like all places that cater to large, diverse crowds, boring.  The best part of the meal was the appetizer, Texas Toothpicks.  Basically, deep-fried onion and pickled jalapeño pieces.  They weren’t greasy and the dipping sauce – a kind of chili-mayonnaise thing – that wasn’t bad.

Texas Toothpicks.  The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were 4 of us eating.

Texas Toothpicks. The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were four of us eating.

Mom went for a BLT. She says it’s the only sandwich she eats at restaurants because it’s not too messy.  She said it was good.

Mom's BLT with fruit on the side.

Mom’s BLT with fruit on the side. Everything looked fresh.

Dad went for a burger.  He said it was dry.  The pattie definitely looked like it had been cooked immediately from its frozen state.

Dad's burger.

Dad’s burger.

Steve & I both opted for the fish tacos. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe the flavor. We liberally poured on the appetizer dipping sauce to help out. It did. Kinda. It also looked as if they tried to warm up the tortillas but waited too long to get them to the table, because by the time we got them, the tortillas were stiff and dry.

The rice and beans were good, though.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

After lunch, we decided to take a short walk around the Basin.  We’ve made this walk before but never during the daylight hours.  So, it was nice to see the Window in its daytime glory.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

Heading out.

Heading out.

At the south entrance.

At the south entrance.

We came in through the north entrance, as we always do, but decided to leave via the south entrance heading towards Terlingua. We wanted to stop at the General Store there and check out the ghost town.

Steve & I have been to Terlingua Ghost Town maybe 5 or 6 times at this point. Sadly, it becomes more and more dilapidated every time.  The ravages of time and humans have taken their toll.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

We made a quick stop in the General Store for some t-shirts and Topo Chico. (For those of you who don’t know, Topo Chico is a Mexican carbonated mineral water.) Then, the 90-minute drive back to Alpine.

We dropped my parents off at their hotel and went back to ours to get the keys to our new room and clean up for the Viva Big Bend Food Festival opening night party.

Stewart had reserved a loft for Steve & me.  I needed it so I could prep for my class the next day without getting in the way of the kitchen staff at the hotel restaurant.  When we finally walked in, we were thrilled.  A nice large living area with a serviceable kitchenette and a huge bedroom area with a whirlpool tub and large bathroom.

Jackpot.

We cleaned up and headed towards the party at the Railroad Blues, a great music venue in Alpine.  The local telecom company was giving away free fajitas and coozies with magnets. Very handy.

Dinner. Perfect.

Dinner. Perfect.

The fajitas were very good. Most of the time, the skirt steak is so undercooked, the meat is chewy.  This time the meat was cooked through and was very tender. (Although, admittedly, I don’t know what cut of meat this was.) Plus, they didn’t overdress the fajitas.  Just grilled onions, peppers, and some excellent salsa. Steve got us both seconds. After my parents arrived, he went with Dad to get food and got himself a third one.

After conversing with my parents and Stewart, Steve & I went back to the hotel to begin prep for my class.  Mission accomplished, I went to bed.

 

Day 3… Coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 1 0

Posted on April 10, 2014 by Sahar

Yes. Husband Steve & I are out in the gloriousness that is Far West Texas. Again. Honestly, it’s one of those places where I look for any excuse to go.  Like New York.

I was invited back to teach and help out at the 2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival (http://www.vivabigbend.com/food_events.html) by its founder, Stewart Ramser.  I gladly said yes.  Stewart’s a great guy and I certainly hope I can play at least some small part in helping this festival succeed.

But first, Steve & I, along with my parents who met us out here, had a day and a half to entertain ourselves.

On our way out from Austin, Steve & I, as is our wont, stopped in Fredericksburg for some leg stretching, lunch, and gas for the car. (As an aside, since we are now down to one household car, we decided to rent one for this trip. It’s a behemoth that I’m terrified to drive.)

We stopped for lunch at a little bakery/deli on Main Street called Java Ranch.  Steve had a club sandwich while I had a BLT.  Simple sandwiches that you have to work really hard at to screw up.  The sandwiches were good, if serviceable. Nothing of note, really.

Steve's Club Sandwich.

Steve’s Club Sandwich.

My BLT

My BLT

After eating, grabbing a cookie for me, an iced latte for Steve, and filling up the car, we were on our way once again.

Something about this that chases the blue meanies away.

Something about this that chases the Blue Meanies away.

Sigh...

Sigh…

Breathe...

Breathe…

Steve & I finally made it to Alpine about 6:30.  We checked into our room at the beautiful Holland Hotel (http://thehollandhoteltexas.com), cleaned up, changed, and headed to pick up my parents at their hotel.  We were off to Marfa to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Cochineal (http://cochinealmarfa.com).

Steve & I chose to take my parents to Cochineal because we both knew they, and especially my mom, would enjoy it.  Their food is exquisite (not a word I use lightly in reference to food), their wine list is excellent, and their cocktails are outstanding.  And the space? A quiet minimalism.

We started off with cocktails. Well, all of us except Dad.  He opted for Diet Coke.

Dad's Diet Coke.

Dad’s Diet Coke. His drink of choice.

Mom's Campari.  Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She'll know.

Mom’s Campari. Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She’ll know.

Steve's Gold Rush.

Steve’s Gold Rush. He said it was very bourbon-y. He drank it down, though.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it's my favorite.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it’s my favorite.

Next came the bread.  It tasted like a sourdough with a very dark hearty crust and a soft crumb.  It was served with a soft butter sprinkled with black sea salt. Lovely.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Next came the appetizers; or, as listed on the menu, small plates.  When they came to the table, my family being my family, we finished them all in less than 10 minutes.  By no means a record.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn't as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it was a very good effort.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it had great flavors and was a very good effort.

Scalloped Oysters.  This was a kind of throwback dish.  They were baked in a cream sauce with crakers on top. The oysters weren't overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Scalloped Oysters. This was a kind of throwback dish. They were baked in a cream sauce with crackers on top. The oysters weren’t overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Vegetable Tempura.  Well, Cochineal's version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn't the usual heavy tempura batter.  Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

Vegetable Tempura. Well, Cochineal’s version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn’t the usual heavy tempura batter. Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

After this repast, it was on to the main entrees. Everyone was very happy with their choices.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Dad’s choice: Pork Tenderloin with a Herb Sauce with Crispy Crushed New Potatoes and Asparagus. I suspect the potatoes were purple new potatoes.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Mom & Steve’s choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.  Mom said her steak was cooked perfectly.  Steve just ate.

My choice:  Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I'm not sure what the vegetables were confit in, but I'm guessing clarified butter.  The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish.  And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

My choice: Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I’m not sure what the vegetables were confire in, but I’m guessing clarified butter. The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish. And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

Dessert was a bit limited.  The one item Mom wanted, the Ginger Pot du Creme, was apparently an aspirational dessert and, according to our server, wasn’t good enough to actually serve to customers.  The other dessert, Creme Brûlée, was sold out.  So, that left Carrot Cake and Chocolate Souffle with a Molten Center.  You can guess which one we went with.

That's right. The Chocolate Souffle.

That’s right. The Chocolate Souffle.

The molten center. As far as I'm concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle.  It had great flavor, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

The molten center. As far as I’m concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle. It had great flavor and the crust had a slightly crispy chewiness that I liked, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

Overall, our meal was wonderful.  This was the second time Steve & I had been to Cochineal and both times have been a delight.  It’s definitely a destination restaurant; no doubt about that.  Even if you lived in the area, this would be a special occasion place.

Mom pointed out that not only was it an excellent meal, but the portions were reasonable.  She said (and I agree with this) that she would rather pay more for a good meal she can actually finish than pay less for a meal where she either stuffed herself or couldn’t finish.

After a walk around a closed and rolled-up-for-the-night-Marfa, we drove back to Alpine, dropped my parents off at their hotel, went back to ours and promptly fell asleep.

Because we knew Thursday was park day.

 

Next up… Day 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namourah نمورة 0

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Sahar

When I was (much) younger, I have to admit, I really didn’t like Arabic sweets.  They tasted strange and were too sweet (even for my sweet tooth).  Of course, as I’ve grown older and my palate has become more sophisticated, I’ve come to appreciate their flavor, complexity, and their place in my own heritage.

Namourah is a perfect example of a dessert I loathed as a kid but love now.  In fact, I take it to parties sometimes and it’s usually one of the first items to be devoured (and there is a lot of food at the parties I go to. Food people, you know).

Namourah is a dessert that is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  The basic recipe (which I’ll be showing you in this post) is made with a simple syrup flavored with orange or rose water.  However, it is also made with honey and some recipes add coconut.  I like to keep it simple.

This recipe is a classic Arabic dessert in that it’s very sweet and rich.  It’s meant to be eaten in small doses with a group of friends and family with small cups of Arabic coffee.  In a typical Arab home, these types of desserts are served only when there is company over.  Otherwise, fresh fruit is generally in order.

 

This is an eggless cake made with semolina flour.  As a result, this is a very dense cake (especially after the syrup is poured on). And, what leavening that takes place (and there isn’t much) happens when the baking soda and baking powder react with the acids in the yogurt.

You can make this cake vegan is you like by using soy or coconut yogurt and vegan margarine.  However, I can’t guarantee your results will be quite the same.

Traditionally, the baking dish is greased with 2 tablespoons of tahineh.  However, I prefer to use regular pan spray.  I find the ease of cleaning outweighs tradition in this case.

This recipe also uses clarified butter and qatr (simple syrup).  To see explanations of how to make these, please see my post from October 31, 2013, Knafeh (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=1973).

This recipe is an adaptation from what is, to me, my holy grail of Arabic cookbooks, “Sahtein”.  It was originally published in 1976 by the Arab Women Union of Detroit.  It was my first Arabic cookbook and still my first go-to for many recipes despite my now 20-book Arabic cookbook library.  My mom’s original 1976 printing is held together with rubber bands now.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as "smeed" سميد

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as “smeed” سميد

 

2 tbsp. Tahineh or use pan spray

4 cups smeed (Semolina سميد )

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/4 c. laban (yogurt لبن) (I prefer to use full-fat yogurt; I prefer the flavor and texture)

2 tbsp. yogurt

3 c. Qatr (simple syrupقطر)

1/2 c. whole blanched almonds

 

1.  Either grease with the tahineh or spray an 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together the smeed (semolina), sugar, and butter.  Set aside.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

4.  Add the yogurt mixture to the smeed mixture.  Blend well.  It will be a little crumbly and dry-looking.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly-looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

5.  Take the mixture and spread it in the baking dish as evenly as possible.  Use your hands if necessary.

The cake batter spread in the pan.  Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

The cake batter spread in the pan. Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

6.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of yogurt evenly over the top of the cake.  With a very sharp knife, cut the cake into roughly 2″ pieces either in diamond or square shapes (this is necessary so the syrup will soak evenly into the cake after baking). Top each piece with a blanched almond.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I'm terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I’m terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

7.  Bake the cake in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, rotate the cake and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and cut along the original cut lines, if necessary (and it usually is).

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.  As you can see, I had to cut the pieces again along the original cut lines.

8.  Pour the qatr over the cake and let it soak in (trust me, it does).  When the cake warm to room temperature, it’s ready to eat.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

 

 

Really Good Oatmeal Cookies. I promise. 1

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Sahar

Now, let’s face it.  Oatmeal cookies kind of get a bad reputation.  Basically, well, because they’re made mostly of what many people consider the most healthy yet mushy and tasteless breakfast food of all – oatmeal.  And, usually raisins – which I personally consider to be Satan’s candy.

Many times, through many recipes, oatmeal cookies tend to be overly dry, or overly soft & doughy.  Not much flavor is another negative in the oatmeal cookie column.  And no amount of added chocolate chips or dried fruit will fix it.

In my quest to come up with a good oatmeal cookie (because, yes, I do like them; always have), I made many batches, researched recipes old and new, and ate more cookies than I care to admit.  I even made my husband take them to work to use his co-workers as tasters.

I finally hit upon the idea of making the cookies with dark brown sugar, adding some oat flour, and a little maple syrup for flavor.  It just made a wonderful combination.

Oh. And as for the dried fruit – I use dried cherries and cranberries. They are my two favorite dried fruits and I simply like the way they go together. However,  you can use any dried fruit you like: apricots, apples, blueberries, and, yes, raisins.

You can also use chocolate, white, or cinnamon chips as well. If you want to.

Now, admittedly, I tend to make these cookies rather large.  That’s because making cookies is not one of my favorite things to do.  I simply don’t have the patience for it.  I tend to only bake cookies during the holidays – these included.  You can make them any size you like.  But, I will say this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  With the larger size that I bake, this recipe will still make about 5 dozen.  Smaller cookies? At least 6 dozen.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

Oat and all-purpose flours.

Oat and all-purpose flours.

The oats.

The all-important oats.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

 

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 c. sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. maple syrup

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 c. oat flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. dried cranberries

1 c. dried cherries

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Line your baking sheets with foil and parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Set aside.

2.  In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides as needed.

Creaming together the butter and sugars.  Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

Creaming together the butter and sugars. Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

3.  Turn down the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the eggs.  Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly.  This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

Adding the eggs. Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly. This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

4.  Add in the vanilla and syrup.  Beat on medium-low speed until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

5.  Sift together the dry ingredients – all-purpose flour, oat flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. I use it all the time.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. It’s still my favorite.

The dry ingedients ready for sifting.

The dry ingredients ready for sifting.

Sifted.

Sifted.

6.  Turn the mixer to low speed and, in small scoopfuls (about 1/4 cup), add the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time.  This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time. This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

7.  Turn the mixer off, lower the bowl or lift the top of the mixer, and add the oats and fruit.  Lift the bowl or lower the top of the mixer, and, on very low speed, fold them into the dough.  (You can also do this step by hand.)

Mixing in the oats and fruit.  Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Mixing in the oats and fruit. Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Cookie dough. Done.

Cookie dough. Done.

8.  Drop tablespoons full of batter onto the baking sheets.  Leave at least 2 – 3 inches in between.  These cookies spread a lot.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet.  These are soup spoons, by the way.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet. These are soup spoons, by the way.

The cookies ready for the oven.  These are going to spread out a lot; so, don't crowd too many onto a sheet.  This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2" x 17").

The cookies ready for the oven. These are going to spread out a lot; so, don’t crowd too many onto a sheet. This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2″ x 17″).

9.  Bake the cookies 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time.  Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  (This will result in a fairly crispy cookie.  If you want the cookies slightly chewier, reduce the baking time by 2 – 3 minutes.)

See how much they spread?

See how much they spread?

Try to resist. I dare you.

Try to resist. I dare you.

Enjoy!

 

Jamaican Odyssey, Part 2 2

Posted on February 25, 2014 by Sahar

Moving on…

The next 2 days of the trip were the days Steve & I were looking forward to the most.  We were finally leaving the resort to see something of the “Real Jamaica”.

Day 3  January 31, Friday

Steve & I started off the day quite excited of what we were about to experience. But first, a small breakfast.

We decided to go with room service one last time and just get a fruit plate and juice.

Day 3 breakfast. How fruit can be so mediocre on an island filled with amazing indigenous produce is amazing to me.

Day 3 breakfast. How fruit can be so mediocre on an island filled with amazing indigenous produce is unfathomable to me.

Sigh… At least the pineapple was edible.

After this disappointment, we headed downstairs to wait for our guide.  We didn’t have to wait long.

I will say that Steve hit the jackpot in our tour guide, the wonderful Lynda Lee Burks.  She is an American ex-pat who has lived in Jamaica full time for most of the last 20 years.  She has her own tour company that focuses on specialized tours, Jamaica Tour Society (http://www.jamaicatoursociety.com).  She was a wonderful guide and companion for the next two days.  I love her.

Steve & I wanted to go into Montego Bay to visit the produce market and look for some music.  We also wanted to try the national dish of Jamaica, Ackee and Saltfish.  Lynda Lee said she rarely gets requests to go into the city, so she was happy to take us.

The market was a maze of sensory experiences.  They sell everything there from tobacco to clothes to kitchenware to produce.  I’m not sure of the age of the market, but considering the importance of the city as a port, the market has likely survived in one form or another for at least 350 years.  However, the building we saw along with the current fixtures was probably built in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

Some of the bounty at the Montego Bay market.

Some of the bounty at the Montego Bay Market.

As we began walking around the market, it was clear to me that this is a country that takes a lot of pride in its food.  While some of the produce was imported (we saw huge bags of onions, carrots, and potatoes), most of it was native grown.

Lynda Lee also gave me some advice as we began walking around: Always ask to take someone’s photo.  If you don’t, if seen as an invasion of privacy and/or they think you’re a journalist looking to make money off of them.  Since I’m not one who would naturally walk up to random strangers and ask to take their photos, I found the easiest way to approach this is to buy something from the stand. I figured the vendors would be much more receptive.  Luckily, they were.

Pumpkin and Soursop. I'd never heard of saoursop before this. It was quite the revelation.

Pumpkin and Soursop. I’d never heard of soursop before this. It was quite the revelation. It is sour in its underripe state and gets sweeter as it ripens.

Otaheiti Apples. These are actually indigenous to the Pacific Islands. They grow well in tropical climates, and are grown and extremely popular in Jamaica.

Otaheiti Apples. These are actually indigenous to the Pacific Islands. They grow well in tropical climates, and are grown and extremely popular in Jamaica.

Papayas, known as Pawpaw in Jamaica.

Papayas, known as Pawpaw in Jamaica.

As we moved through the market, we did run across a stand that had the components of one of the national dish of Jamaica: Ackee.  It has a mild, creamy flavor and texture that works well with the very salty fish in the dish.

Ackee. These are indigenous to west Africa and were probably brought to Jamaica abord slave ships.

Ackee. These are indigenous to west Africa and were probably brought to Jamaica aboard slave ships.  Parts of the fruit are toxic: so, if prepared improperly or eaten underripe, it can lead to severe hypoglycemia.

Bananas still on the stalk.

Bananas still on the stalk.

After walking around a bit more, we all decided we were hungry enough to stop by one of Lynda Lee’s favorite cook shops in the market and finally get our Ackee & Saltfish.

And, here are the ladies who made us this culinary delight.  Esther and Janet.

Ester and Janet. They introduced Steve & I to Ackee & Saltfish. And, they were absolutely lovely.

Esther and Janet. They introduced Steve & me to Ackee & Saltfish. They were absolutely sweet and lovely.

Their tiny cook shop in the market seems to be quite popular. It was actually one of the first places we stopped when we got into the market.  After Lynda Lee chatted with them for a few minutes (she knows them well; they usually have roasted breadfruit, one of Lynda Lee’s favorites, in season), Janet agreed to set aside some of the Ackee & Saltfish for us when we came back by.  They apparently sell out quickly.

To prepare the recipe, salt cod is soaked and boiled (although Janet used mackerel that morning), then sautéed with the cleaned ackee, onions, habanero (Scotch Bonnet) peppers, tomatoes, and black pepper and allspice (pimento). It  is usually served as breakfast with breadfruit (when it’s in season), tomatoes, fried or boiled dumplings, boiled yams, and fried plantain or boiled green bananas.

All I can say is: Wow.

Our real breakast on Friday. And, finally, a taste of the real Jamaica.

Our real breakfast on Friday. And, finally, a taste of the real Jamaica.

Ackee & Saltfish. Absolutely delicious.

Ackee & Saltfish. Absolutely delicious. Typically, it’s made with salt cod. That morning, Janet made it with mackerel. I’ve never had mackerel, so I had two new food experiences in one.

The full breakfast was Ackee & Saltfish, boiled yams, sweet potato, tomatoes, fried dumplings, and boiled bananas.

Like many cuisines in developing nations, starch figures pretty prominently in Jamaican cuisine.  It’s a cheap, generally nutritious, and filling way to receive one’s sustenance.  Not that I’m opposed to starch.

After we ate breakfast, we moved next door so Steve could speak with a gentleman named Bunny so he could buy some old-school Jamaican music.

Bunny's shop.

Bunny’s shop. Or, it may have just been a sign that Steve liked.

Steve and Bunny listening to music. I think Steve bought 5 cd's.

Steve and Bunny listening to music. I think Steve bought 5 cd’s.

While Lynda Lee and I were waiting for Steve to finish up with Bunny, we watch a gentleman dance to the old-school dub that was coming out of the speakers.  But, I didn’t want to pay him for taking his photo (which can happen). So, I just have the memory.

After Steve bought his cd’s, we wandered around a bit more as we worked our way out of the market.

Pineapples. These were a smaller variety than we're used to seeing here.

Pineapples. These were a smaller variety than we’re used to seeing here.

This gentleman was an artist in pineapple carving. I think he rather enjoyed having his picture taken.

This gentleman was an artist in pineapple carving. I think he rather enjoyed having his picture taken.

Yams. These and other starches like potatoes and cassava are quite prominent are Jamaican cuisine.

Yams. These and other starches like potatoes and cassava are quite prominent in Jamaican cuisine.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers. Otherwise known here as Habaneros.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers. Otherwise known here as Habaneros.

Sorrel flowers.  They are generally used to make tea and are a traditional rememdy to clear up respiratory inflammation.

Sorrel flowers. They are generally used to make tea and are a traditional remedy to clear up respiratory inflammation.

Nutmeg with the mace still on.  The redder the mace, the fresher the nut. I bought some and nver have to but nutmeg or mace ever again.

Nutmeg with the mace still on. The redder the mace, the fresher the nut. I bought some and never have to buy nutmeg or mace ever again.

Bags of spices.

Bags of spices.

Various flavorings, traditonal remedies, molasses, and chocolate.

Various flavorings, traditional remedies, molasses, and chocolate.

Another of the wonderful people in the market. I bought some Jamaican chocolate from her.

Another of the wonderful people in the market.

One of the old-school vendor stands.  You could conceiveably have 6 vendors at one stand.

One of the old-school vendor stands. You could conceivably have 6 vendors at one stand.

As we left the market, I needed to change some money, so Lynda Lee took us over to Andy’s Market.  It is directly across from the produce market and gets quite the trade in money exchange and simply making change.  It looks like a dry goods store, but the money exchange takes place in a rather strange way (to us anyway). High above the floor is a room where someone will reach down while you reach up with your cash, they will take it, count it, and give you the exchange. It’s all very efficient.  Given the crime rate in Jamaica, it makes sense to have the extra cash as difficult to get to as possible.

Lynda Lee told me that all (or most) of the markets (dry goods and grocery stores) in Jamaica are owned by Chinese.  After emancipation in 1838, Chinese were brought over as indentured servants.  Over the years, after the practice was ended in 1920, the Chinese went into the mercantile business.  Their descendants and more recent immigrants have become very successful and have, of course, become a very important part of the Jamaican economy.

After this, we drove to downtown Montego Bay. Steve was on a mission to find Empire Records.

Downtown Montego Bay. It still has some elements of Georgian archetecture.

Downtown Montego Bay. It still has some elements of Georgian architecture.

There was this gem.

There was this gem. It was called “The Cage”.

The short history behind "The Cage".

The short history behind “The Cage”.

Downtown Montego Bay looking from Sam Sharpe Square.

Downtown Montego Bay looking from Sam Sharpe Square.

Statues of Sam Sharpe and 4 of his followers.

Statues of Sam Sharpe and 4 of his followers.

Sam Sharpe was a slave who was the leader of the Jamaican Baptist War of 1832.  He was unusually, for the times, well educated and his fellow slaves looked to and respected.  He became a leader and deacon of his church who preached about the evils of slavery. While he initially preached peaceful resistance to slavery, in December 1831, the resistance turned violent.  Plantation owners retaliated against the slaves and, in turn, the slaves burned the crops.  Hundreds of slaves and 14 whites were killed in the ensuing violence.  Within a few weeks, the rebellion was put down and the leaders of the resistance, including Sharpe, were captured and hung.   Sharpe is considered a Jamaican hero and along with the statue in Montego Bay, he is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

While we went on the quest to find this seemingly phantom record store, we were able to get a good look around the city.  It is a mix of Georgian and somewhat modern architecture painted in bright Caribbean colors.  Everyone seemed to have a purpose and a destination to get to, even if there wasn’t one.  It’s also a very young country; Lynda Lee told me the average age is under 30.  Everyone seems to have a dignity that one simply doesn’t see in many places.  And, everyone we spoke to was simply so lovely and kind.

A perfect example of this observation was this man: The Gospel Man.

The Gospel Man. Note his cart.  All hand arts in Jamaica have the wheel on the end to help steer.  This is what made the Jamaicans believe they could field a bobsled team.

The Gospel Man. He was blasting the sweet sounds of old-school gospel.  Steve bought some music from him, too.

Note his cart. All hand carts in Jamaica have the wheel on the end to help steer. This is what made the Jamaicans believe they could field a bobsled team.

After a bit more searching and general confusion about its exact location, we finally found the fabled Empire Records.    It was basically stacks of vinyl in a lottery shop.

Steve searching through the stacks. He said they were pretty picked over.  After all the searching he only found one record he was looking for.

Steve searching through the stacks. He said they were pretty picked over. After all the searching he only found one record he was looking for.

Steve said that he could’ve gone all day just searching through the thousands of 45′s that were there (at one time the music means of choice in Jamaica).  But, since Lynda Lee and I were waiting for him, he decided against it.

After this, we decided despite the rather substantial breakfast, we were hungry again.  So, it was off to Tastee’s for Jamaican Meat Patties (apparently this is the place to go; it’s like the McDonalds of Jamaica – only better http://www.tasteejamaica.com).  They’re a direct descendant of the English pasty.

Authentic Jamaican Meat Patties. Delicious.

Authentic Jamaican Meat Patties. Delicious.  One was a traditional style while one also had cheese.

The filling  was ground meat, most often beef, but it can be filled with other meats or even seafood, in a sauce and spiced with pepper, allspice, and some chiles.  The crust is flaky (the yellow color comes from either egg yolks or turmeric in the dough).

We kinda became addicted to these.  I really need to find a good source for frozen ones.  Or, better yet, learn how to make them.

After Tastee’s, we made our way back to Lynda Lee’s car for the ride back to the resort.  But, one last stop: Scotchies.  Scotchies is a very popular spot with locals and tourists alike.  They have an extensive menu of jerk items, sausage, and fish.

The popular Scotchies on the road from Montego Bay

The popular Scotchies on the road from Montego Bay

We opted to buy a little each of a lot of things:  jerk chicken, jerk pork, pork sausage, and grilled fish.  This, along with some produce from the market would be our dinner.

As a quick explanation, jerk seasoning is basically a dry rub or paste that is rubbed, traditionally, on pork or chicken.  It can be, however, used on other meats or even tofu. The two main ingredients in jerk seasoning are allspice (pimento) and habanero (Scotch Bonnet) peppers.  other spices can include cinnamon, black pepper, garlic, nutmeg, thyme, and salt.  Like any other indigenous spice blends in the world, it has hundreds of variations depending on the region and family.  The meat is traditionally cooked on pimento wood (allspice trees). But, you’re just as likely to find street vendors cooking jerk chicken over charcoal in barrels.

One of the cooks tending to the jerk chicken and pork at Scotchies

One of the cooks tending to the jerk chicken and pork at Scotchies.  Here, he’s cooking it over a charcoal pit with the pimento wood on top.  The corrugated sheet is placed on top to help keep the meat hot.

After this, Lynda Lee took us back to the resort.  We agreed to meet at 8am saturday morning.

She left.  We took our goodies upstairs, changed into our swimsuits and went down to the beach for a while.

Finally, we decided to eat dinner.  What we brought back was infinitely  better than the resort food.

The friut course: Pineapple, Apples, Papaya, Soursop

The fruit course: Pineapple, Otaheiti Apples, Papaya, Soursop

The inside of the Soursop. Lynda Lee picked this one out for us and it was perfect.  The texture was creamy and the flavor was jsut the right balance of sweet and sour.  There are seeds in the pulp, but they are hard enough that you'll catch them before you bite through them.

The inside of the Soursop. Lynda Lee picked this one out for us and it was perfect. The texture was creamy and the flavor was just the right balance of sweet and sour. There are seeds in the pulp, but they are hard enough that you’ll catch them before you bite through them.

The papaya. It was just short of being overripe.  I did try ome of the seeds.  They taste like raw radishes.

The papaya. It was just short of being overripe. I did try some of the seeds. They taste like raw radishes.

The apple.  The texture was unusual in that it looked like cotton but it was juicy with a good crunch to it.  The flavor is like almost like a mild apple (like a Golden Delicious) crossed with flowers.  Roses came to mind for me.

The apple. The texture was unusual in that it looked like cotton but it was juicy with a good crunch to it. The flavor is like almost like a mild apple (like a Golden Delicious) crossed with flowers. Roses came to mind for me.

The apple seed.  I thought briefly about bringng it home.  However, I'd've probably been breaking about 10 federal laws, so I opted to leave it.

The apple seed. I thought briefly about bringing it home. However, I’d’ve probably been breaking about 10 federal laws, so I opted to leave it.

Now, for the meat course.

The best of Scotchies

The best of Scotchies. From top right: Pork Sausage; Grilled Fish; Jerk Chicken; Jerk Pork

The fish was cooked with vegetables and chiles and steamed in foil.  Almost like an escabeche style.  The pork was tenderloin and very tender and flavorful.  The chicken, if a little dry, had a good spiciness to it.  Steve’s favorite was the pork sausage.  It had a good, if course, texture and a spicy flavor.  It all had a kick to it that I’m guessing is ubiquitous in Jamaican cooking.

We concluded that it was the best food day we’d had on the trip.  Well, the best day we’d had so far.

But, Saturday was coming and Lynda Lee was taking us out into the countryside.

 

Day 4, Saturday, February 1

Lynda Lee met us downstairs at 8am ready to take Steve & me into the wilderness.  We first made a stop in Montego Bay at a cook shop known as Poor Man’s Pelican for, what else? Ackee & Saltfish. Hey, eat what the natives eat.  It’s usually better.

Poor Man's Pelican.

Poor Man’s Pelican.

The breakfast here was a little different from the one in the market on Friday: The Ackee & Saltfish was made with the traditional salt cod instead of mackerel, the dumplings were boiled instead of fried, the yams were again boiled, and there was also a side of steamed & shredded cabbage.

Breakfast. This'll set you up for the day.

Breakfast. This’ll set you up for the day.

The more traditional Ackee & Saltfish made with salt cod.

The more traditional Ackee & Saltfish made with salt cod.

I can’t really compare the two.  They were equally delicious, but different.  I will say, though, I did like the boiled dumplings more than the fried.  And, the Ackee & Saltfish at Poor Man’s Pelican was a bit oilier (which probably helps to explain the boiled dumplings – soaks up some of the oil).

After breakfast, we headed the opposite direction towards the south and west coasts of the island.  We had an eventual goal in mind: The Pelican Bar in Pelican Bay.

The Jamaican countryside is not at all what I expected it to be.  I was thinking it would be all palm trees and sand.  The stereotypical vision of what a Caribbean island should look like.  Well, I was wrong.  It ranged from lush and green to hilly to brown and scrubby the further west and south we went.

No exactly the countryside, but we thought this sign was funny.

No exactly the countryside, but we thought this sign was funny.

Pictures from the car: Orange groves

Pictures from the car: Orange groves. I had no idea there were groves in Jamaica. Makes sense, really.

Pictures from the car: Fire Tops. They get their name from the red flowers that grow at the top of the trees.  I wish they grew closer to the ground so I caould get a better look at them.

Pictures from the car: Fire Tops. They get their name from the red flowers that grow at the top of the trees. I wish they grew closer to the ground so I could get a better look at them.

Picures from the car: Managed to get a good photo of this cook shop.  I wonder how the food is there.

Pictures from the car: Managed to get a good photo of this cook shop. I wonder how the food is there.

Pictures from the car: More Fire Tops with some hills.

Pictures from the car: More Fire Tops and the hills.

The island is ringed with basically one major highway (the A2) with smaller roads and spurs coming off of it.  Outside of the major towns, much of it is basically a two-lane road (at least what we drove on), and depending on the parish administration, can either be a well maintained road or a rut-filled dirt track.

I was admittedly reluctant to ask Lynda Lee to stop so I could take photos because there were essentially no shoulders.  One side of the road was rock face and the other was drop off into a deep valley. I finally worked up the nerve to ask her to stop and pull over so I could take a few photos.  We picked a good place.

I'm not sure what town we stopped near (it was somewhere between Ferris Cross and Bluefields; possibly Cave).  This was a neighborhood bar that wasn't yet open for the day's business.  They obviously serve Red Stripe.

I’m not sure what town we stopped near (it was somewhere between Ferris Cross and Bluefields; possibly Cave). This was a neighborhood bar that wasn’t yet open for the day’s business. They obviously serve Red Stripe.

Jamaican Cat. Being a cat person, I can appreciate this.

Jamaican Cat. Being a cat person, I can appreciate this.

Breadfruit Tree.  They weren't in season yet, so we didn't get to try them.  You can just see the fruit in the tree.

Breadfruit Tree. They weren’t in season yet, so we didn’t get to try them. You can just see the fruit in the tree.

They're a little difficult to see, but if you look closely, you can see some white peeking through the foliage.  Those are above-gound tombs.  Think New Orleans.  Only in the family backyard.

They’re a little difficult to see, but if you look closely, you can see some white peeking through the foliage. Those are above-ground tombs. Think New Orleans. Only in the family backyard.

After we had been there a few minutes, a gentleman walked up to us to see if we needed help.  When Lynda Lee explained we were just looking around, he started talking to us about the fruit that he had in his hands – sweetcups.  They are relatives of the passionfruit and crack just like eggs.

Underrripe Sweet Cup. He said they are very sour at this point.  Aren't those magnificant hands?

Underripe Sweet Cup. He said they are very sour at this point. Aren’t those magnificent hands?

Ripe Sweet Cup.  He said at this point they're very sweet.

Ripe Sweet Cup. He said at this point they’re very sweet.

While Lynda & I were talking to him, a lady walked up to see what was going on.  She and Steve began talking.  From what he could glean from their conversation (we were pretty deep into the country by now, so her Patois accent was quite thick), she was on her way to a funeral.  The man was shot, she said, and his body was frozen until they could bring him home. She was quite open about it.

She was dressed in what was likely her best clothes and wanted Steve to take her picture; so he did.

The lady on her way to a funeral. She just wanted her picture taken.

The lady on her way to a funeral. She just wanted her picture taken. Her shoes were magnificent. They had beaded snowmen on them.

After a few more nature shots:

I suspect this snail died of old age given the size of the shell. Who knows.  I didn't keep it.  There was something rattling around in there.

I suspect this snail died of old age given the size of the shell. Who knows. I didn’t keep it. There was something rattling around in there.

Ferns on the rockface on the opposite side of the road. I really had to watch for cars.

Ferns on the rock face on the opposite side of the road. I really had to watch for cars.

On the rockface.

On the rock face.

Soon, we were off again.

Steve and Lynda Lee headed to the car.

Steve and Lynda Lee headed to the car.

 

Our next stop was the small fishing village of Bluefields.  Lynda Lee had done some work there with USAID about 10 years or so ago and wanted to show us around a bit.

Fishing boats at Bluefields

Fishing boats at Bluefields

Looking out into the bay at Bluefields

Looking out into the bay at Bluefields

Fishermen working on their boats

Fishermen working on their boats

 

She said that while USAID basically provided the funding and got the program going, the local fishermen took it upon themselves to clean up the bay, begin fishing further out into the sea, and allow the fish to repopulate the bay.  They learned how to manage a sustainable fishing model.

One of the other things they started in Bluefields is a recycling program. All recycling barrels should be this festive.

One of the other things they started in Bluefields is a recycling program. All recycling barrels should be this festive.

As is my wont, I started wandering around.

A very petrified starfish inside a fish trap.

A very petrified starfish inside a fish trap.

Another one of Jamaica's beautiful flowers.

Another one of Jamaica’s beautiful flowers.  Lynda Lee said these are basically a wildflower that grows all over the island, but she couldn’t remember the name.

Boats in various stages of construction.

Boats in various stages of construction.

We all liked the name of this boat

We all liked the name of this boat

Steve & Lynda Lee

Steve & Lynda Lee

We continued on our way from Bluefields to the Pelican Bar.

The Pelican Bar has become quite the attraction since it was first built in 2001.  It was built originally by a fisherman, Floyd Forbes, as a place where he and his fellow fishermen could hang out after a day’s work.  He built it in Pelican Bay (so named because of the large number of pelicans who nest and roost there) on a sandbar.  Before long, the local hotels saw the potential of promoting the bar as a way to attract tourists to the area. In 2004, the bar was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.  Floyd didn’t have the money to rebuild. However, a local hotel owner donated money and materials so the Pelican Bar could rebuild.

And a legend was born.

Before we left to go to the bar, Lynda Lee pulled out a rather sinister looking tool and told us that it was used to open jelly coconuts.  That’s when I learned jelly coconuts are simply fully ripe coconuts that haven’t dried yet (becoming the coconuts we’re all familiar with).  She cut the stem out with this tool – it looked like a very thin, curved, sharp trowel – and we all had a refreshing glass of jelly coconut water.

Lynda Lee and the jelly coconut

Lynda Lee and the jelly coconut

The bar itself is about a 10-minute boat ride from shore.  You simply hire a boat to take you out and the bartender will call when you’re ready to be picked up. Or, you can also set a time for the driver to pick you up. I think.

Our first glimpse of the Pelican Bar.

Our first glimpse of the Pelican Bar. That’s it on the horizon.

Once you get up to the bar, the driver ties the boat to the steps and you carefully get out.

This is the first thing Steve & I saw when we stepped inside:

Austin was here.

Austin was here.

Obviously, some people brought memorabilia to leave here and there is a lot of carving of names in the wood:

The leavings of previous visitors

The leavings of previous visitors

More visitor memorabiia

More visitor memorabilia. There was also more “Keep Austin Weird” stuff.

Steve & I both looked at each other and said, “Who brings a license plate on vacation?”.

After getting past the tourist-left rubbish, I made a point to just enjoy the beauty of the place.

The Pelican Bar in all its rustic charm

The Pelican Bar in all its rustic charm

The pelican roost.  There awere a lot of them out that day.

The pelican roost. There were a lot of them out that day.

Lynda Lee went snorkeling, Steve was inside drinking a Red Stripe, and I sat on the steps in the water and just decided to revel in the sounds of the sea.

The Caribbean was litlerally chest deep here.

The Caribbean was literally chest deep here.

Lynda Lee was snorkeling out there somewhere

Lynda Lee was snorkeling out there somewhere

After awhile, I moved to the back to dry off and get a little more sun.  Steve got in the sea and swam a bit while Lynda Lee joined me.

Interesting juxposition, I thought.

Interesting juxtaposition, I thought.

One more view from the Pelican Bar

One more view from the Pelican Bar

While Lynda Lee and I were talking, a fisherman docked at the bar and asked us if we wanted to buy some of his catch.  We declined.  However, you can buy seafood from the fishermen and they’ll cook it up for you at the bar.  Or, sometimes, the bar has something already made.  We were still full from breakfast, so we didn’t eat anything.

But, the fisherman did join some of the other gentlemen in the bar for a game of dominoes.  It seems to be a contact sport here.  At the least, it’s taken very seriously.  It was fun to watch.

A game of dominoes in progress.

A game of dominoes in progress.

About this time, we asked the bartender to call to shore so our boat could pick us up.  The wind was starting to pick up and we could see clouds on the horizon, so we decided it was a good time to go.  Also, another boat of tourists was coming towards the bar.  Call me anti-social, but I wasn’t having any of that.

But first, since we had to wait anyway, a little more relaxation and photos.

Basically, the back dock. I'm pretty sure this is where most of the fishermen will dock their boats. That's me & Lynda Lee under the canopy.  I had a sunburn by this point.

Basically, the back dock. I’m pretty sure this is where most of the fishermen will moor their boats. That’s me & Lynda Lee under the canopy. I had a sunburn by this point.

Sunning crabs. I'll bet they're delicious.

Sunning crabs.

Our boat arrived and we were ferried back to shore.  After hosing ourselves and our belongings off  - kinda – we headed back towards Montego Bay.

We ran into some pretty heavy rain and the reality of the rut-filled dirt roads hit hard.  They become mud pits.  Lynda Lee smartly had a 4-wheel drive; so, while problematic, the roads were passable.

On our way out, we passed through a town called Whitehouse where they were setting up a row of cookshops for the Saturday night crowd.  Coming back, the shops were open for business and we decided to stop.

Some of cookshops in Whitehouse getting ready for Saturday night.

Some of cookshops in Whitehouse getting ready for Saturday night.

We were immediately surrounded by vendors hocking their wares.  It all looked really good.  Lynda Lee, in her quiet way, told them we were just looking and they seemed to back off rather quickly.  One lady did say that she had some fish fresh out of the fryer.  Lynda Lee said that was the person to see.

Fish fresh out of the fryer.  She had parrot fish and red snapper.  We opted for parrot fish.

Fish fresh out of the fryer. She had parrot fish and red snapper. We opted for parrot fish.

Bammy Bread.  A very heavy and soft flat bread made with cassava.

Bammy Bread. A very heavy and soft flat bread made with cassava.

Snack time.  We had some fried parrot fish, bammy bread, and pepper shrimp (better known to us as crawfish)

Bammy Bread, Pepper Shrimp, fried Parrot Fish.

Bammy Bread, Pepper Shrimp, fried Parrot Fish.

It was, quite honestly, the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten.  I don’t know what she did, but it was magic.  If I ever get back there, I’m gonna ask her.

My dad told me when he was going to college in Florida, he and his friends would just throw these back.  Boy, did he miss out.

My dad told me when he was going to college in Florida, he and his friends would just throw these back. Boy, did he miss out.  The fish has a delicate flavor and texture.

Steve doesn't normally like crawfish, but he enjoyed these.

Steve doesn’t normally like crawfish, but he enjoyed these.

Bammy Bread. Another starch-heavy component of Jamaican cuisine. Perfect to help mitigate the spiciness of some of the food. And damn delicious.

Bammy Bread. Another starch-heavy component of Jamaican cuisine. Perfect to help mitigate the spiciness of some of the food. And damn delicious.

Lynda Lee told us that these cookstands really cater to the locals rather than tourists.  I concluded that’s why the food is so good.

The lovely Janet. The maker of the best fried fish I've ever eaten.

The lovely Janet. The maker of the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten.

As we moved further into Whitehouse, we stopped at Peter Tosh’s house.  It was one of Steve’s goals that we find it (his first reggae album purchase was Tosh’s “Legalize It”).  It wasn’t easy to find.  The entrance is tucked behind a coffee shop.

Steve took a quick tour of the grounds with the caretaker and had a rather lengthy conversation with him about Tosh’s music.  Steve seemed to be enjoying himself.  It could’ve also been the wafts of ganja emanating from the caretaker and the whole place.  Lynda & I could smell it and we were in the car.

A quick biography of Peter Tosh: He was an original member of Bob Marley & The Wailers but had a falling out with Marley and left the group in 1973.  He went on to a solo career and released nine albums, including “Equal Rights”, “Bush Doctor”,  and “Mama Africa”.  He was killed in September 1987 after a group of gunmen, one of whom he knew, invaded his home and demanded money.  After he told them he didn’t have any, he was shot and killed.

Peter Tosh's tomb. Steve gave the guide $1000 Jamaican to help build a proper museum.  However, Steve suspected the guy was going to spend it on ganja.

Peter Tosh’s tomb. Steve gave the guide $1000 Jamaican to help build a proper museum. I hope they meet their goal.

Again, we were off.

Lynda Lee had been extolling the virtues of this one jerk stand to us even before we set foot in Jamaica: Border Jerk.  It sits on the border of Westmoreland & Elizabeth Parishes, hence the name.

Once again, she didn’t disappoint.

Yes. Welcome.

Yes. Welcome.

I suspect because Border Jerk caters more the local population as opposed to tourists, the food is made with a bit more care as opposed to assembly-lining it. (Not to say they did that at Scotchies. But they had so much made that had no doubt sat around for awhile it took something away from the whole experience.)

Our Border Jerk Dinner:

Our Border Jerk Dinner: From the top: Jerk Pork; Jerk Chicken; Festival

Again, it was like comparing apples and oranges with Scotchies.  While we agreed that the chicken was most definitely better at Border Jerk – tender, juicy, and just the right balance of spicy – the pork was a different cut (I couldn’t quite tell what it was) while the pork from Scotchies was tenderloin.  They were both equally wonderful. And, we finally got to try Festival.  A slightly sweet fried flour fritter.  All this paired with a Red Stripe? Ambrosial.

Beautiful periwinkle flowers. Frustratingly, I couldn't find the names of these, either.

Beautiful periwinkle flowers. Frustratingly, I couldn’t find the names of these, either.

It must have been a strange set of circumstances for a boar's head from Florida ended up in the Jamaican countryside.

It must have been a strange set of circumstances for a boar’s head from Florida ended up in the Jamaican countryside.

We finally made it back to the resort, exhausted, around 6pm.  After some hugs, almost tearful goodbyes, and promises to stay in touch, we took our leave of Lynda Lee.

It was a great day.

There was a “Farewell to Jamaica” party sponsored by the resort and our tour group that evening.  Steve & I opted to just stay in our room and then take a late walk on the beach.  That’s about the time we decided we really wanted to come back someday.  Just hire Lynda Lee for a week and just tour around the island and see and experience as much as we could.

And, to bed.

 

Day 5, Sunday, February 2 – Departure Day

We didn’t think to bring any food back from our Saturday travels to have for breakfast, so we lurched downstairs and back to Port Maria for their breakfast buffet.  We were prepared to be underwhelmed and we weren’t disappointed.

In fact, I won’t even bore you with the details.

But, we did get this great last view of the beach:

Last view of the beach. Sigh.

Last view of the beach. Sigh.

I checked the weather back in Fort Worth.  It was 30F.  Ugh. I told Steve this and we dressed accordingly.  Many of our fellow travelers were about to embark wearing their summer togs. I figured they’d be in for a surprise.  Or, they just wanted to enjoy the experience a little longer.  I didn’t hear one person say they were anxious to go home.  I wasn’t surprised.

Many of our fellow travellers either didn’t leave the resort or went strictly to the tourist areas on the island.  I tried not to pass judgement.  A vacation means different things to different people.

So, it was back on the bus to be shuttled to the airport.  After the usual fun of getting the boarding passes, checking the bags, going through security, and finally making it to the gate, Steve & I spied some storefronts selling records, Jamaican foodstuffs, and meat patties.  You can guess where each of us went.  I think Steve bought 4 albums that he hadn’t been able to find in Montego Bay (in fact, the store owner told him to find vinyl, he’d have to go to Kingston).  I bought some jerk seasoning that Janet at the market recommended to me and some Jamaican honey.

We then made our way to the shop with the meat patties.  Our final meal in Jamaica:

Our final meal in Jamiaca.

Our final meal in Jamaica.

Steve went back the shop after we ate and bought two more for us to eat on the plane.

Yes, it was really cold when we made it home.  After basically being waved through customs and finally finding my dad, we were on our way back to my parents.  We did stop for fried chicken to take home to Mom.  Yeah. it was good.

The next morning before we drove back to Austin, Steve & I went to breakfast with my parents.

And, I saw this.

Ice. Wecome home.

Ice. Wecome home.

Kinda drove home the fact that we weren’t in the Caribbean anymore.

 

Once again I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Jamaica has a reputation, sure.  Some of it is deserved, some not.  But, as Steve & I discovered, when you let the scales fall from your eyes, you can find a whole new world you never expected.  The people of Jamaica are lovely, wonderful people with a lot of pride in themselves and their country.

I highly recommend the journey.  And hire Lynda Lee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaican Odyssey, Part 1 0

Posted on February 13, 2014 by Sahar

When my husband, Steve, called me last October from work to inform me that we had “won” a trip to Jamaica, it’s fair to say I was underwhelmed.  For one, Jamaica was never a place that was on my radar as a desired destination.  I honestly imagined it to be either full of walled-off resorts hosting pasty tourists frying themselves to a collective crisp trying to tan; or, outside the resorts, to be like the legendary tough streets of Kingston with clouds of ganja smoke hanging in the air.

Needless to say, Steve was disappointed in my reaction.

A little background on the “winning” of this trip.  Steve & I own a small restaurant he inherited in his hometown of Vernon, Texas (it’s about 20 minutes from the Oklahoma state line).  The lady who leases the restaurant from us does business with a food distributor in far north Texas (they’re based in the Panhandle) that, every year, gives away trips to a few of its customers as a thank you for their business.  Now, our lady has taken a few of these trips herself – and she deserves it – but, this year, she asked if it could be transferred to Steve & me.  She knows we enjoy travel to farther-flung lands than she is used to (Las Vegas is the height of excitement for her), and Jamaica just wasn’t for her, she decided.  Plus, we have passports.

That’s how we ended up in Jamaica.

I let Steve do all the planning (normally my domain) for our extracurricular activities.  My only stipulation was that we find a way to get away from the resort for at least one day so we could see something of the “real Jamaica”.  We decided that if we were going to actually go somewhere that we knew next to nothing about except for jerk chicken, Red Stripe beer, rum, reggae music, Bob Marley, Rastafarians, and Yardies, we’d better do some boots-on-the-ground learning.

So, off we went.

Steve & I drove up from Austin to my parents’ house near Fort Worth on Tuesday, January 28. Our flight was scheduled to leave Wednesday morning.  And, since our tickets had us leaving from DFW, up we went.  We got a later start on Tuesday than we would have liked because it had iced over the night before.  We weren’t able to get on the road until about 2:30 pm.  Then, of course, we hit the legendary Fort Worth traffic right at rush hour.  Lovely.  We finally made it to my parents reasonably sane.

 

Day 1 – January 29, Wednesday

Keller, TX/DFW Airport/Miami-Dade Airport/Montego Bay, Jamaica (Iberostar Resort)

Our day started at 4:30 am (at least mine did).  Since our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:10, we needed to arrive at  the airport by 7.  (Now, I’ll just admit here that I’m a bit of an obsessive when it comes to getting to the airport early. I’ve missed flights before [some my fault, some not] and there are few things that ratchet up my anxiety level faster.) 

Mom made us one of my favorite food memories from her kitchen – fried egg sandwiches.  It was a  slightly more grown-up version with whole grain bread instead of Mrs. Baird’s.

Now, as we all know, you can make something for yourself that your mom used to make when you were a kid and it tastes pretty good.  But, there’s nothing like Mom making it for you.

Dad loaded us up, Mom gave us each a hug and one more admonition not to bring them back anything because “you’re going to get it back anyway”, and, off we went. Dad drove, he and Steve conversed, and I was half asleep.

Airport check-in was relatively painless. (I do have to say DFW has this stuff down.) And, as always, the TSA security screening was an unexpected adventure. A full body scan or a pat-down? Always an unpleasant decision.

We finally made it through to the secure area.  I changed some money (as a FYI, the Jamaican Dollar is worth roughly $.01), and we headed towards the gate.

A bit of art in Terminal D. The disks on the floor are lights that, when they light up, make a tonal noise. The glass panels amplify the tones and keep them from echoing.  Interesting concept for an airport.

A bit of art in Terminal D. The disks on the floor are lights that, when they light up, make different tonal sounds. The glass panels amplify and direct the tones and keep them from echoing. Interesting concept for an airport.

After about 15 minutes of sitting at the gate, Steve & I decided we were still hungry.  So, off we went to forage for food. Well, decent food anyway – sometimes very hard to find in the airport.  We settled on Einstein Brothers Bagels. I know it’s a chain, but it’s a decent enough one. Plus, I figured we wouldn’t be eating again until we reached the resort, so this would set us up for a while.

Einstein Brothers Bage version of the Everything Bagel with Lox & Cream Cheese shmear.  Meh.

Einstein Brothers version of the Everything Bagel with Lox & Cream Cheese shmear. Meh.

After a rather cramped flight where almost everyone was playing musical chairs because, inexplicably, the travel company didn’t seat couples together, we made it to Miami.  We were rushed to our next flight (2 gates away) where it was hurry up and wait again. There was another round of musical chairs when we were able to board.

About 2 hours later we landed at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  It definitely wasn’t DFW. But, we all caught, what was for most of us, our first glimpse of Jamaica. My first impression? It was very green.

There is some small comfort that Passport and Immigration control officers are about the same everywhere: fairly robotic and slightly rude – at least with non-citizens.  Jamaica was no exception to this rule.

The lines at passport control for us non-citizens. I took this before I saw the sign not to take photos.

The lines at passport control for us non-citizens. I took this before I saw the sign not to take photos.

After about 30 minutes – a surprisingly short wait time considering the lines – we retrieved our checked bags and headed to the buses waiting to take us to the resort.

Heading towards the bus.

Heading towards the bus.

I couldn't help but think of ZZ Top at about this time.

I couldn’t help but think of ZZ Top at about this time.

It was about a 30 minute ride from the airport to our resort.  At least from the bus, anyway, we saw a little of the real Jamaica.

Off we go.

Off we go.

One of the better photos from the bus.

One of the better photos from the bus. It’s hard to see in this photo, but it’s fairly typical for Jamaican homes, if they can afford it, to put bars on the windows and doors. If they have a patio, they bar that off, too. A direct result of the crime rate.

One more from the bus.

One more from the bus.  Not sure what this building is. Apartments aren’t common, so this might be a government building or school.

We finally made it to the resort.  I was thrilled because I wanted a shower. Steve was just glad we were done traveling for a few days.

The company booked our group in the Iberostar Rose Hall Grand Resort. The 5-Star side. All inclusive. Fancy stuff.  The room was lovely and this was our view:

Our view. Nothing to complain about here.

Nothing to complain about here.

After our bags finally arrived to our room, Steve & I cleaned up and headed down to the “Welcome to Jamaica” buffet the resort arranged for our group in the Port Maria restaurant – an open-air buffet restaurant next to the beach.

The food was resort food – beautifully presented, plentiful, and bland.  But, it was open bar. So, there was that.

The cold cuts selection.

The cold cuts selection.

A few of the compound salads.  I will say this, they did lay out quite the selection of salads and fresh vegetables.

A few of the compound salads. I will say this, they did lay out quite the selection of salads and fresh vegetables.

Chafing dish station.

Chafing dish station.

Our overly laden plates included: Salad, Ham, Salmon, Lamb Chops (which I suspect were goat), Bass in Pepper Sauce, Shrimp in Romesco, Pasta Salad, Rolls, Filet Mignon, Swordfish, Broccoli with Almonds, Seafood Salad, Cheeses, Lamb with Caraway Sauce (again, I suspect goat), and Rice Pilaf (really, just boiled white rice. It did have flavor, though.)

Steve's plate.

Steve’s plate.

My plate. Honestly, I did feel a little ahamed.

My plate. Honestly, I did feel a little ashamed.

Shared plate #2. I should've just stuck with the cheese and goat. I'd've been a lot happier with my meal.

Shared plate #2. I should’ve just stuck with the cheese, rice, and goat. I would have been a lot happier with my meal.

The photo is a little dark, but this is part of the dessert table. Sadly, the desserts were pretty marginal, too.

The photo is a little dark, but this is part of the dessert table. Sadly, the desserts were pretty marginal, too.

Our shared dessert plate: Mango "Sushi" (really just thinly sliced mango rolled around cake with gelled strawberry filling), Lemon Custard, Chocolate Cake, and Almond Cookies.

Our shared dessert plate: Mango “Sushi” (really just thinly sliced mango rolled around cake with jellied strawberry filling), Lemon Custard, Chocolate Cake, and Almond Cookies.

But, the drinks were excellent. I went all '80's and had a couple of Pina Coladas. Steve stuck with Red Stripe.

But, the drinks were excellent. I went all ’80′s and had a couple of Pina Coladas. Steve stuck with Red Stripe.

After a short nighttime stroll on the beach, we decided we were done with the day and headed up to sleep.

 

Day 2, January 30, Thursday

Iberostar Resort, Dunn’s River Falls

This was the one day we decided to do a group activity.  We were going to climb Dunn’s River Falls.

But first, breakfast.  We decided on room service. I was feeling it from the night before (and not in a good way), so I opted for something reasonably light.  Steve took on the full breakfast.

Breakfast. It was all right - as hotel breakfasts go. At least it wasn't a cook-it-yourself waffle bar.

Breakfast. It was all right – as hotel breakfasts go. At least it wasn’t a cook-it-yourself waffle bar.

My breakfast: MAngo Juice, Hot Chocolate, Egg White Omelete with Pumpkin Flowers (however, this appreard to be simply diced pumpkin).

My breakfast: Mango Juice, Hot Chocolate, Egg White Omelette with Pumpkin Flowers (however, this was simply diced pumpkin), hash browns, and toast.

Steve's Breakfast: Coffee, Orange Juice, Eggs with Cheese (American Style, they called it), Bacon, Hash Browns, Toast.

Steve’s Breakfast: Coffee, Orange Juice, Eggs with Cheese (American Style, they called it), Bacon, Hash Browns, Toast.

Along with breakfast, we received a copy of one of Jamaica’s daily papers, The Daily Gleaner. It was an interesting read.  One story about a man who was killed contained the line, “…when police asked about the (man’s) lifestyle, the family fidgeted nervously”.  Then, there was the phonetic spelling of the Patois (the local dialect) of the witnesses.  Then, there was a take-down by the reporter of the “thugs”.

You just don’t get kind of reporting here anymore.

Dunn’s River Falls are east of Montego Bay at Ocho Rios (another popular tourist spot).  The falls drain directly into the Caribbean Sea – one of the few falls in the world that drain directly into the sea or ocean.  Another claim to fame is in 1657 when the British defeated a Spanish expeditionary force from Cuba during the Battle of Los Chorreras.  It was also used as a location for “Dr. No”.

Dunn’s River Falls is an approximately 800 foot tall waterfall that is terraced and is actually not too difficult a climb, as waterfalls go. Not to say it isn’t tricky in spots.  Generally, a human chain is formed before you head up the falls to help support each other along. (I ended up holding hands between Steve and a gentleman named Al.  Al was great.  So was his girlfriend, Emily.) You’re grateful for the lagoons so you can stand is some calm water for just a few minutes.

My first glimpse of Dunn's River Falls.

My first glimpse of Dunn’s River Falls.

Each group is given a guide.  Ours was the very affable Mr. Wilson. He liked to hug the ladies. But not in a creepy way.

Mr. Wilson in the center in the blue shirt. Lovely man.

Mr. Wilson in the center in the blue shirt. Lovely man.

Each group was also given a videographer.  His sole purpose was to take photos and film your embarrassment so you could buy it on CD for $40 at the end of the climb. He was very enthusiastic and managed to get just about everyone in our group to do some “whoop-whoop” noises. Steve & I did not participate in this.

Our assigned videographer. Sadly, I can't remember his name. Very enthusiastic.

Our assigned videographer. Sadly, I can’t remember his name. Very enthusiastic guy.

While I was waiting for video guy to finish his pep talk, I wandered a bit.

A lovely day at Dunn's River Falls.

A lovely day at Dunn’s River Falls.

One of the beautiful flowering plants in Jamiaca - Ixora.

One of the beautiful flowering plants in Jamaica – Ixora.

Then, it was time to climb the falls.  We formed our human chain and got started.

A quick glimpse back at the Carribbean.

A quick glimpse back at the Caribbean.

A glimpse forward. This about the time we hit the first lagoon. Quite the mass of humanity there that day.

A glimpse forward. This about the time we hit the first lagoon. Quite the mass of humanity there that day.

We had a great time. Got very wet. As one would when they’re climbing a waterfall.

It was also fascinating to watch the guides climbing the falls, in some cases, all their lives.  They were climbing those rocks like goats on a mountain.  I just know I’d never be that nimble.

At this point, we're about halfway up.

At this point, we’re about halfway up.

Oh, the humanity.

Oh, the humanity.

Another lagoon stop, another photo. Despite the crush of people, the falls were actually quite lovely.

Another lagoon stop, another photo. Despite the crush of people, the falls were actually quite lovely.

At about the 3/4 up the falls mark, Steve stepped into a hole in the rocks, tripped, and fell square on his right knee.  He already had a broken toe on the same side, so that didn’t help.  Once Mr. Wilson and I got him up and into the next lagoon, we decided enough was enough.  One of the ladies leading our group, Brittany, was just lovely and stayed with us until she was sure Steve was all right. (He was. Just a little sore.)

Our only complaint about the climb up was the amount of people they were trying to push through at once.  Not only was there our group, but there were perhaps 6 others plus two cruise ships had come in.  So, it was either a waiting situation until there was an opening, or you were rushed up the falls to make room for the next group.

The guides are well trained, friendly, and efficient.  I suspect there are few truly serious accidents.  And I’m sure that they are used to the waves of tourists coming through.  Overall, people seemed to have fun.  I know we did.  I was also proud Steve & I got as far as we did.

We left the falls area and just wandered slowly through the rest of the park.

One of the many Banyon trees that dot the island.

One of the many Banyon trees that dot the island.

I thought these were beautiful flowers.  However, sadly, I can't find the name of these. But, they do look similar to daisies without the large pollen cluster in the center.

I thought these were beautiful flowers. However, I couldn’t find the name of them.

Ginger. It's everywhere.

Ginger. It’s everywhere.

Another of Jamaica's flora.

Another of Jamaica’s flora. Swamp Hibiscus.

I say we wandered slowly.  That was true, until we hit the souvenir stands.  Oy.  It was like a run for the hills trying to get through there. The sellers were really sweet and generous until they found out we didn’t bring any extra cash.  Their M.O. was to walk up to us and give us each a “free” wooden figurine (quite cute, actually).  Then, they would ask our  names so they could carve it into the wood.  That’s when we would stop them and say we didn’t have any extra cash on us.  Then, the figurine wasn’t so free.

Oh, well.  They have to make a living, too.  One vendor did give us each a free necklace, though.  Free after Steve bought a small carved wooden cat from him with what little cash he did have on him.

It started to rain lightly, so we made our excuses and finally got back to the bus.  Most everyone slept at least a little on the way back to the resort. I know I did.

We made it back to the resort just in time for a quick change for the beach and lunch.

For lunch, it was back to a buffet at Port Maria.  The food was a little better than the night before. There was more seafood, so that made us happy.

Between the two of us, we had Lobster tail (which, much to my disappointment, was chopped, mixed with a cheese sauce, and put back in the shell), fried fish, a version of Caprese Salad, Squid Romesco, Conch Fritters, Broccoli au Gratin, cheese, fried potatoes, sausage, boiled shrimp, and crab claws.

Our only excuse for the amount of food was that we were really hungry after climbing the falls.

Steve's plate.

Steve’s plate.

My plate.

My plate.

I managed to snag some of the last chilled shrimp and crab claws. They were the best part of the meal.

I managed to snag some of the last chilled shrimp and crab claws. They were the best part of the meal. Those and the conch fritters.

Dessert. Top: Fruit & Custard Cups; Bottom: 1000 Leaves

Dessert. Top: Fruit & Custard Cups; Bottom: 1000 Leaves

After lunch, we made our way down to the beach to relax.  We found a couple of unoccupied beach chairs, dragged them down to the water’s edge and just lazed for a couple of hours.

I did do a little walking around and took photos.  Steve did take a dip in the sea.  We both read and dozed. A lovely afternoon.

Lifeguard stand. There are several of these on the beach, but I never saw this one used.

Lifeguard stand. There are several of these on the beach, but I never saw this one used.

Rock jetty at the boundary of the beach.

Rock jetty at the boundary of the beach.

Looking out to the Carribbean Sea.

Looking out to the Caribbean Sea.

The Carribbean Sea.

The Caribbean Sea.

Sun & Clouds.

Sun & Clouds.

Some beach activities going on. We stayed well away fom those.

There were some beach activities going on. We stayed well away from those. Surprisingly, though, the beach, while full, wasn’t overly crowded. Many people chose the pool area instead.

After a quick rinse to get off the excess sand, Steve & I went to our room, cleaned up, and eventually, went to dinner.

We did have reservations at the Japanese restaurant, but Steve really wanted to go to Galleon, the resort’s steakhouse. We ran into Brittany, who, after asking about Steve’s knee, was able to get us into the restaurant despite us not having a reservation.

I wasn’t really hungry and I honestly could’ve gone the rest of the night without eating.  But Steve didn’t want to eat alone and he didn’t want room service.  I opted to just get an appetizer as a compromise.

My dinner. Spider Crab Terrine with Lobster in Consumme.

My dinner. Spider Crab Terrine with Lobster in Consomme.

Basically, this was a glorified, bready crab cake with a very thin slice of lobster somewhere in the center.  The consomme was almost jelly-like with what was no doubt the liberal addition of cornstarch.  It also tasted like celery. Celery’s fine as a flavoring, but it shouldn’t be the dominant flavor; certainly not with seafood.  The dish wasn’t terrible.  Just disappointing.

Steve's Surf & Turf.

Steve’s Surf & Turf.

The sides for Steve's Surf & Turf: Caesar Salad and Asparagus.

The sides for Steve’s Surf & Turf: Caesar Salad and Asparagus.

Other than saying the food was good, Steve really didn’t have anything to say about it.  He ate it all.

Then, there was dessert.

My dessert: Cheesecake with Mountain Fruit.

My Dessert: Cheesecake with Mountain Fruit.

What to say.  I’m not sure where the “Mountain Fruit” part came from since, unless I’m woefully ignorant about this, blackberries, grapes, and watermelon don’t grow in the mountains.  Plus, the jellied strawberry topping/glaze seems to be a popular go-to in the pastry kitchen.  The cheesecake was lighter in texture than one would think of when they think of cheesecake and tasted fine. Not great; just fine.

Steve's Dessert: Chocolate Cake

Steve’s Dessert: Chocolate Cake

Fancy. He was happy. Note the use of more Strawberry Glaze.

I went back up to the room to read and go to sleep.  Steve decided to go listen to a reggae band playing near the pool area, smoke one of the cigars he bought, and enjoy a Rum Punch.

Thus, Day 2 ended.  Day 3, we were going off the reservation.  We couldn’t wait.

 

Part 1, fin.  Part 2, soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Goals for 2014 0

Posted on January 06, 2014 by Sahar

I’m a little late here, but a very happy 2014 to you all.

As we all have at this point in the year, there are a few goals that I’d like to accomplish, or at least try, in 2014.

1.  Really get my garden going.  2013 was a year of life and other things getting in the way so I couldn’t get too far into it.  I’d like to get my garden built, prepped, and planted so I can start harvesting in May or June.

2.  Post on this blog more often.  It’s good practice for me.  And, I would like more of you to read and enjoy what I write.

3.  Promote my blog.  That means for me to delve even further into the world of social media.  You know, join 2014.

4.  Continue to get better at my photography.  I think I’m rather good at it given the tools I’ve had.  I now have a great camera as well as a couple of workshops under my belt.  Plus, I’ve learned that white and natural are always the way to go.

5. Stretch my cooking abilities and challenge myself.  Like most cooks, I’m prone to fall into ruts from time to time.

6.  Bake more. Especially breads.  Even try gluten-free and vegan baking.  I also have plenty of sourdough starter, so have at it, Me.

7.  Take a few cake decorating classes.  Because I’ve always wanted to.

8.  Teach myself to make the following:

a) Corned Beef

b) Cured Salmon

c) perfect Rice Pudding

d) Mansaff (a Bedouin dish of lamb and yogurt; one of my favorites that I’ve never been able to master)

e) my grandmother’s pie crust

f) true barbecued Brisket

g) tempered chocolate

h) fresh veggie burgers

i) seitan (a meat substitute made with flour and wheat gluten)

j) pastrami

k) pita bread

l) a really good shrimp curry

m) and other things that I haven’t thought of yet

 

 

Have a lovely 2014!  Hope you all reach your goals.

 

See you all soon.

 

 

 

Sea Salt Caramels: An Addendum With Chocolate 0

Posted on December 24, 2013 by Sahar

For whatever reason, I was feeling just a little compelled to play with sugar again today.  And, even after spending the last two weeks making jams, preserves, and candy for my annual Xmas Giveaway, I decided to expand on the recipe I posted yesterday, Sea Salt Caramels.

I added chocolate.  Yes. Chocolate.

Chocolate Caramels. So wonderfully decadent.

Chocolate Caramels. So wonderfully decadent. But, oh, so worth it.

Here’s how you do it:

Follow the original recipe.

However, once you have brought the cream to a boil, stir in 6 ounces of chopped (or chips)  semisweet or bittersweet chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate has completely melted and you have a smooth mixture.

Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

The resulting caramel will be a bit more dense and chewy than the regular caramels.  For those of you who like a firmer caramel, this will be welcome news.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Sea Salt Caramels 0

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Sahar

Like most of us in my generation, we were raised on the good old standby, the Kraft caramel.  Nothing wrong with them, really.  In fact, we loved them.  They came in tiny individually wrapped morsels and were only found during the holidays, starting with Halloween.

Now, those were fine when we were kids. Basically, because we didn’t know any better.

However, for me anyway, once I had my first soft, small-batch caramel, Kraft just didn’t do it for me anymore.  I decided to learn how to make my own.

And, here is the result.

*************

A short history of the caramel by Samira Kawash from www.gastrnomica.org:

“Caramels first appeared on the American candy scene in the 1880s and its lineage is obscure. In flavor and character, what we know today as caramel candy is closely related to British toffee and butterscotch, which appeared in the early 1800s.  British candy historian Laura Mason suggests that caramels might have evolved in the spirit of dental charity—a softer counterpart to the hard-on-the-teeth British toffee. Stephen Schmidt, author of Dessert in America and an expert in the history of American desserts, looks to the other side of the Channel for caramel origins: “The inspiration behind American caramels were French caramels, which came to this country during the vogue for French cooking of the Gilded Age.”

Whatever its British or French origins, the caramel candy that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century was uniquely American. Home recipes most closely resembled the French version, employing basic combinations of butter, sugar, cream and flavorings. But more unique confections were spilling out of professional candy kitchens: In their quest for market share and profit, commercial producers would experiment with such ingredients as paraffin, glucose, coconut butter, flour, and molasses to alter the texture, firmness and quality of the candies.

As Catherine Owen attempted to explain to her 1887 candy-making aspirants: “Caramel is really sugar boiled until it changes color, but the candy understood as ‘caramels’ is something different.” Sara Rorer’s 1889 Home Candy Making, for example, gives a recipe for “caramel” that includes only sugar and water, boiled to “the consistency of molasses.” This would be sugar cooked to a very high temperature, over 330 degrees. Caramel candy recipes, in contrast, cook sugar with milk or butter at lower temperatures.  This is the flavor prized today as “caramel,” but for Americans in the 1880s and 1890s, that distinctive taste was not so closely attached to the caramel candy sensation. Even in caramel candy’s heyday, chocolate’s appeal and marketability were undeniable. Hence the famed Philadelphia Caramel, which was, as everybody on the eastern seaboard knew, a chewy morsel of chocolate.

Milton Hershey, who would go on to found the Hershey’s chocolate empire, began as a caramel man; his Lancaster Caramels were advertised to include a mix of 30 varieties. Prior to Hershey’s chocolate innovations of the 1890s, milk chocolate was a closely guarded European secret. Chocolate bars for eating were imported, expensive delicacies. Caramel, in contrast, could be made for every taste and budget. Caramel candy in that era was not a specific variety, but a generic form: so Hershey sold chocolate, strawberry, coffee, maple, and coconut caramels. Our familiar plain caramel would have been known in that day as another flavor, vanilla. Soon, the caramels got fancier. Nuts, cream centers, or even chocolate dipped. One day, Hershey looked at those chocolate dipped caramels and saw a new direction for his company. Exit caramels, enter the Hershey Bar.”

***********

Candy making, for the most part, is pure common sense.

1.  Don’t touch or spill the hot sugar. Especially on yourself or anyone else. There’s a reason pastry chefs and candy makers call this stuff napalm. Have no distractions (i.e. kids, pets, alcohol, etc.) in the kitchen when you are working with molten sugar.

2. Don’t make candy on a humid day.  Believe it or not, the difference between 25% and 50% humidity can affect the way the candy sets up. The wetter the day, the quicker the sugars will break down before setting up completely. In other words, the sugar in the candy will absorb the extra moisture in the air, causing it to become a sticky mess.

Conventional wisdom holds that candy is best made on a cold, dry day.  Like, say, in Texas, February.

3.  Use a candy thermometer.  A reliable candy thermometer.  Mine is a Taylor brand that I’ve used for so long, I’ve managed to scrub off the numbers:

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My thermometer is the older-style mercury type.  If the bulb on this breaks, because mercury is, well, poisonous, I’ll not only have to throw away the thermometer and what I am making, but the saucepan as well.

The newer thermometers are made with alcohol that’s been dyed red.  These aren’t as dangerous if the bulb breaks.  You can at least clean out the saucepan and use it again.

These should go from tempering chocolate (90F) up to roughly 400F.  A good candy thermometer will also be labeled with the stages of cooking sugar (thread, soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack).  Also, most good candy thermometers can also be used for deep-frying as well.

4.  Don’t let the bulb on your thermometer touch the bottom of the saucepan. (The better thermometers have the bulb about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the bottom).  Otherwise, you could get a false reading.

5.  Use the right sized saucepan for what you’re making.  Too large and the sugar will cook too quickly and burn.  Too small and the sugar will boil over and burn not only the stove, but you.

Also, invest in some heavy-bottomed saucepans.  Flimsy, thin saucepans (or any cookware) are no good for anything, but especially bad for candy making.

6.  Read the recipe carefully and thoroughly before starting.  Have everything ready to go.  Your ingredients should be measured, your utensils ready to go, your pans prepared, and a clear path made.  There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” in candy making; but when things start to happen, they happen fast.  Pre-preparation is essential.

7.  Watch for crystallization.  This happens when the liquid in the saucepan can no longer absorb the sugar. You end up with just a big cake of sugar in the saucepan.  There’s no fixing this.  If it happens, you have to start over.

The best way I’ve found to combat this is to simply make sure all of the sugar is moistened before I start to cook it.  I just gently push the sugar down and around in the liquid (usually water and corn syrup) until it is completely moistened. Then, I put the saucepan over medium-low heat and let it cook without stirring the mixture.  I let the sugars dissolve on their own.  The more you agitate the mixture, the more likely you’ll get crystallization. So, fight every instinct you have and DON’T STIR.

If you do happen to get some sugar crystals on the side of the saucepan, take a pastry brush, dip it some water, and brush the sides of the saucepan to dissolve the sugar.  If there are any solid, un-moistened crystals, they can also cause crystallization.

Once the sugar comes to a boil and all of the sugar has dissolved, you can, carefully, stir to your heart’s content.  The danger for crystallization has passed.

8.  Don’t cook the sugar too fast.  Medium-low to medium heat is ideal.  You want to give the sugar time to dissolve and the moisture to begin to evaporate before the mixture comes to a boil.  This also gives you more ability to control the temperature and greatly reduces the risk of the sugar burning.

9.  Do not double up a recipe or substitute unless you’re an experienced candy maker.  Candy recipes, along with baking recipes, are like scientific formulas.  If you throw it out of balance or change an element, the whole experiment could fail.

Or, be a spectacular success.

***********

a) If you want to have unsalted caramels, simply use all unsalted butter and omit the salts.

b) In this example, I use a combination of brown and white sugars. I think the flavor and color are simply better. However, if you prefer to use all white sugar, go ahead.

c) I used almond extract in this example.  Again, because I like the flavor.  The more traditional flavoring is vanilla, so, if you have that, use it.  Just make sure, either way, you’re using pure extract, not artificial flavoring.

d) Use cream and butter. This is non-negotiable.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

 

Cream and butter.

Cream and butter.

1 c. sugar

-or-

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. light corn syrup

3/4 c. heavy cream

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. Fleur de Sel or flaked (Maldon) sea salt

 

1.  Line  9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper or foil.  Make it as smooth as you can. Make sure there are no holes in the foil or paper as you press it down.  If you accidentally poke a hole or make a tear, you need a new piece.  Spray or butter the paper or foil and set the pan aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, place the cream, butter, and 1/2 tsp. sea salt and bring the cream to a boil over medium heat.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Take the pan off the heat, add the extract, cover the saucepan and keep warm.

3.  In a medium saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.  I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.
I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil (don’t stir!) and cook until they syrup reaches 302F (Hard Crack).

(Note: This is the progression of the syrup on my stove. Your times and temperatures may vary.)

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We're ready to go.

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We’re ready to go.

At 5 minutes over medium heat.  There is still some undissolved sugar.  Don't stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur; especially if you disturb it.

At 5 minutes over medium heat. There is still some undissolved sugar. Don’t stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur, especially if you disturb it.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point.  The crystallization danger has passed.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point. The crystallization danger has passed.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

20 minutes at 250F. Things start to move fast at this point.  It took about 3 minutes more for the syrup to his 302F.

20 minutes at 250F. Now, things start to move fast. It took less than 5 minutes more for the syrup to hit 302F.

Once the sugar gets past 285F – 290F, it will begin to caramelize.  Be sure to swirl the pan so the sugar doesn’t burn (especially of you’re using only white sugar)

A tip: When you’re using a larger saucepan, the thermometer may not reach down to the syrup.  Carefully tilt the saucepan so the syrup covers the bulb of the thermometer so you will get an accurate reading.  Also, be patient.  It will take some time for the thermometer to read accurately.  Wait until the mercury stops moving.

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doens't flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doesn’t flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

4.  Once the sugar has reached 302F, take the saucepan off the heat, and CAREFULLY pour the warm cream mixture into the syrup, stirring constantly to combine.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to stir.

If the syrup begins to harden, place the saucepan back on the heat and continue to stir.

Stirring the cream and syrup together.  Trust me. It will come together.

Stirring the cream and syrup together. Trust me. It will come together.

5.  Cook the mixture to 240F (Soft Ball).  At this point, it’s OK to stir occasionally.

(Again, these are based on my stove. Again, your times and temperatures may vary.)

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I'm done cooking.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I’m done cooking.

This will make a soft caramel.  If you want a firmer caramel, cook to 245F (Firm Ball).

6.  Take the saucepan off the heat, give the caramel one more good stir, and carefully pour the finished caramel into the prepared pan.

The caramel in the pan.

The caramel in the pan.

Wait 10 – 15 minutes and the sprinkle on the fleur de sel or flaked sea salt over the top.  Let the caramel sit until set, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don't have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won't work.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don’t have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won’t work.

7.  Lift the cooled caramel out of the pan with the paper or foil.  Cut the caramel into pieces as big or as small as you like.

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8x4 and get 32 out of a recipe. If you cut it 8x6, you can get up to 48

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8×4 and get 32 pieces out of a recipe. If you cut it 8×6, you can get 48 pieces.

Keep them in an airtight container either individually wrapped or between layers of wax paper for up to 2 weeks.

If you decide to wrap the pieces, you can do it simply with wax paper you no doubt have already in the drawer. Don’t go out and buy the fancy wrappers – unless you really want to.

I start off with pieces that are about 4" wide.  You don't really want them any narrower than this.

I start off with pieces that are about 4″ wide. You don’t really want them any narrower than this.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

What you should end up with.

What you should end up with.

Start by placing a pice of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1" from the end closest to you.

Start by placing a piece of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1″ from the end closest to you.

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Carefully twist the ends to seal.  If the paper tears, start again with a new piece. This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Carefully twist the ends to seal. If the paper tears, start again with a new piece.
This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Wrapped.

Wrapped.

Unwrapped.

Unwrapped.

 

Hey. It’s the holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makes approximately 32 – 48 pieces.



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