A Tropical Blast

I’ve been to the Caribbean humm, probably a half a dozen times. Whether it be a cruise, or actually visiting the island itself. I so enjoy the relaxation of the ocean waves, sipping an island cocktail, lying on the beach, sun in my face, and cooling off in the clear, aqua water.

Yes! I have deep day dreams of my travels to the Caribbean. Well, we are in full winter, and about this time of year, I’d be planning my “winter escape”!

Unfortunately, this covid pandemic (a word I thought I would never use in my lifetime), has prevented travel tremendously. But, here we are, a fear of getting sick or worse, fear of not recovering from the illness.

Although, my blog is also about traveling, that’s not happening right now. So I will talk about my food. I love talking about food, I love creating dishes, and I love deconstructing southern dishes my mom taught me how to make.

The dish I’d like to introduce is a dish I created, derived from my Caribbean travels.

“A tropical blast” is what a friend called it, (and hence the name of the dish) when I asked her to come over and be a taste tester for me. I added much exotic flavors that work well together and compliment each other.

Francie’s tropical blast

This dish consist of sweet plantains, grilled blackened shrimp and a mango salsa that will perk up your taste buds wanting more! 👅

Ingredients

Fresh Shrimp (large)

Garlic powder

Black pepper

Cumin

Turmeric

Sazon seasoning pack

Adobo

Medium Ripe Plantains

2 cups of canola oil

(Depending on the yields or # of plates. Each plate should consist of 1/2 a plantain, 2-3 shrimp, 3 spoonful of salsa on top, and a lime and lemon wedge for garnish.

Mango Salsa Ingredients

2 mangos

Cilantro

Jalapeños

Red onions

Red bell pepper

Fresh Lemon & lime juice

Salt to taste

How to make

This dish is made up of three components. The salsa should be made first, and put in fridge directly after completion of mixture of vegetable, peppers, mangos, and lemon and lime juices. It should all be small dice.

I used a grill pan for the shrimp. Large sauté pan for plantains. Use a cup of oil for shrimps and a cup of oil for plantains. More or less depending on how many shrimps and plantains you are making. Heat pans with oil.

Clean and devein shrimp. Use 1 tablespoon of each of the dry spices for at least 10 pieces of shrimp. Could be more or less depending on how many shrimps you use i.e. For 20 pieces of shrimp use 2 tablespoons of dry ingredients. After seasoning the shrimp, set aside.

Heat the sauté pan with oil, slice the plantains from top to bottom, then in half. When pan is heated add the plantains, cook till golden color. Set aside to cool.

Add oil to Grill pan, and prepare to grill shrimp. Shrimp should take no more than 3 to 5 minutes to cook. Please! Do not overcook the shrimp. Watch and flip them over accordingly. Once done, set them aside. It’s time to combine the dish.

To plate this dish, plantains are layered on bottom, about 3 or 4 half’s. Then about 3 or 4 shrimps on top of plantains, and last, but not least, spoon on top the mango salsa over the shrimps. Add a slice or lime and lemon for garnish.

I really enjoyed making this dish, because it took me back to fun times. And, it gave me pleasure watching my friends enjoy devouring it.

A little Ceviche, and falling in love with a spice called Cilantro!

The last time I was in Mexico, was 19 years ago. I wasn’t into my food dairy like I am today. Although, I have to admit, the moment I stepped off the plane in Cancun, I swear I smelled cilantro! It was a heavenly smell, I kept asking my friend who accompanied me on the trip, “do you smell that beautiful aroma?” It was like a perfume fragrance, it put me in a calm atmosphere. My best friend said “It’s cilantro!” And, from there, I’ve been using the spice ever since. Any who, on a particular occasion about a year and a half ago, one of my adult nieces picked me up from work on a cloudy afternoon, and suggested we go to this new, hip, cozy Mexican restaurant in her neighborhood. She had told me about it a couple months prior to this day, and she said, “the food and drinks are so delicious!” Getting off from a hard days work, having a drink sounded good to me! A short walk later, we were at “La Chula Taqueria Resturant, in Harlem.” The restaurant is a little small, but cozy, there was a free table and we sat down immediately. I ordered a margarita, ceviche and a pastor soft taco. My niece ordered the same, with the exception of the ceviche, and we had guacamole with fresh corn chips. Our food consisted of just appetizers, needless to say, it all was delicious. Unfortunately, the food and drinks were devoured so quickly, and the conversation was a pleasant distraction from a busy work day, that I hadn’t taken any pics of the meal.

Couple weeks later, I decided to have my own little homemade La Chula experience. I used fresh ingredients, I enjoyed using these ingredients, because I had not used a couple of them before. Putting the flavors together stimulated my palate. I enjoyed making these dishes.

Ceviche
Guacamole with Pita chips

Making ceviche for the first time, was a little intimidating, because I didn’t want to be over powering with the hot spices. Thank God for neighbors who don’t mind being guinea pigs! Also, them being of Spanish decent gave me great insight to being close or to far from how my ceviche should taste! My ceviche was spicy, just like La Chulas, but to me, also just as good. 😋

Ceviche ingredients

Fresh seabass

Shrimps frozen in the bag already cooked

Serrano peppers

Cilantro

Tomatoes

Red onions

Cucumbers

Fresh Lime juice or lemon

Salt

Pita chip ingredients

Pita bread

Fresh garlic

Olive oil

Salt

Guacamole ingredients

Avocados

Fresh garlic

Jalapeños

Cilantro

Olive oil

Fresh Lemon juice

Red bell pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

How to make

Ceviche

Please keep in mind for those who don’t know, ceviche is a raw dish. The seabass is cooked in the lemon or lime juice. However, the shrimp should be peeled, clean and boiled for couple minutes.

Peppers and vegetables should be cut small dice (for extra spiciness, leave some pepper seeds) optional of course. Seabass should be cut in medium size cubes.

Combine the mixture with fresh lime and/or lemon juice either one or both. Make sure you add salt for taste.

Serve chilled.

Pita chips

Instead of making corn chips, which would of taken hours. I made some pita chips for a more flavorful experience.

To make the pita chips, slice the bread in triangles. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Garlic should be cut small dice.

Brush olive oil over pita slices, then sprinkle garlic. Bake for 7 minutes.

Sprinkle salt over pita chips directly after coming out of oven.

Guacamole

Avocados should be nice and ripe. Peel and use a fork to gentle separate avocados. Especially, if you want it a little chunky. 😋

Jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, and red bell pepper should be small diced. Add to mashed avocados. Mixture should be thoroughly combined. Add a little olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Margarita recipe in the future!

Enjoy!

Friday Night Fish fry

Fried Tilapia

Growing up in Spanish Harlem was a wonderful experience! Some people may associate Harlem with the riots back in the 60’s. However, the urban culture of this place was full of life, love and good food! My childhood was far from what some may think this area should be. Poverty and drug addiction did not define my neighborhood, only love and families was and still is the front and foremost of what my neighborhood was.

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Spanish Harlem, and it was probably a tradition that was taken from the southern part of America, where my parents were born and raised. “Friday Fish Fry!” Every Friday my mom would fry up some fresh whitings that she bought from a heavy set man, that we referred to as the “Fish man!” Every Friday afternoon in the Summer time, the Fish man would fish all day, and by 3 or 4pm, in the back of his beat up station wagon, had the freshest fish for people to buy. My mom would always send me or my sister, (we were 8 or 9 years old) to buy some fresh fish. The Fish man would always gut, and scale the fish right in front of us. I use to think that that was awful to watch, however, from a culinary point of view, cleaning and scaling fish is a beautiful thing.

Watching my mom fry up the fish, and although I was a little girl, I remember my dad enjoying my momma’s cooking after a hard days work. The weekend always started out right with a Friday night fish fry.

The above picture is my take on a modern day fish fry. I added a couple of sides that not just compliments the fish, but I gave it a Spanish Harlem flavor to this southern dish! Coconut rice infused with cilantro, sweet plantains, with a soft avocado and spicy cucumbers.

I enjoyed making this dish, not only did it bring back special memories, but it also reminded of the love we shared growing up in my household.

Check out my IG: franb1965

Mediterranean Night!

Hello people! Sorry that’s it’s been awhile since my last post. The holidays, and pandemics don’t mix well for me. However, I have been busy with my cooking.

Speaking of pandemics, I decided to do something nice for two essential/hospital workers.

In the beginning of this pandemic, two relatives of mine that work, and continue to work in the hospitals, shared some real scary stories of covid 19 patients. Some were very sad, and some of their experiences were hopeful.

As we enter into a second wave of this pandemic. Although there is a small light in the middle of this tunnel, because of a vaccine having entered this bleak picture of our world now. I wanted to do something special for our frontline workers.

Rack of lamb
Mediterranean Buddha bowl with homemade
hummus
Greek roasted red potatoes with yogurt sauce
Couscous

I’ve always wanted to make Mediterranean food. Not as my niche, but because I love to play with spices and Indian and Asian foods do that for me.

I remember in culinary school when Asia was on our menu for the week. I had never really worked with spices like tahini, cumin, and turmeric. It made me proud that I used these spices for something I was making. And, I don’t want to brag, but everything looked and tasted so damn good.

My relatives were surprised what I made for them. But, I really wanted them to know how appreciative I was for their service. We had a great night! We ate, we talked, we drank a little wine. And, we relaxed. And, that is what I only hoped for for them.

If interested in any of these recipes, please email me at lucky1905@aol.com. Or check out my IG: franb1965

Day 40! Lemoncello is ready

Well, day 40 of fermentation of my lemoncello. These 40 days have actually went fast. There were days when I thought of just doing 10 days, or just 20 days, of fermentation, because I can’t wait anymore. But, I want it to be perfect. So, that meant 40 days, no more and definitely no less.

Day 39, mixed my fermentation with water, sugar and vodka syrup
Step by step complete mixture of ingredients, drain, fill bottles, then chill.

In Italy, this drink is served after a meal to refresh the pallet. About 80% of the country make Lemoncello, and they’ve been doing it for over a hundred years!

Ingredients

12 lemons

80 to 100 proof vodka 1 liter (any brand you like)

Sugar

Water

2 mason/fermentation jars (32 oz)

40 Days 😂

How to make

Peel the skins of the lemons, separate evenly into each jar. Pour half of the bottle vodka into each jar. Let the fermentation begin.

After 38 days, heat up 4 cups of water to 3 cups sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool, then pour/stir in 1 cup of vodka into the sugar/water mixer into each jar. Let sit overnight.

Day 39, strain the jars into a bowl, and with a funnel pour into air tight bottles (got mine from amazon) and chill overnight.

Day 40! You have Lemoncello!

My Lemoncello

I hope you’ll enjoy making this drink. I sure did!

Banana Pudding

I have to admit, I never liked banana pudding growing up as a kid. Even now being an adult, when I would go to parties, events etc., and if banana pudding was being served for desert, I’d always pass. However, going to culinary school, my pallet was developed to taste! Whether the foods looked appetizing or not. The lesson was to put all flavors in perspective. Basically, that means making a dish, and remembering flavors that I’ve come across to add to a dish, mixing or matching, combining with what taste great together, or not.

During this pandemic, my nice neighbor (again) was kind enough to look out for me, and spot me some groceries that she got from the food pantry. Because, I’m an essential worker, she worries about me and I appreciate it. So I rarely turn her down when she offers. I don’t like letting food go to waste, if y’all remember in my “Happy Fourth of July America” article. The same neighbor that had given me bags of apples, which I used to bake my first apple pie. She blessed me again with a bushel of bananas. What’s strange to me is my first thought was to make banana pudding. Yes, I’ve explain at the top of this article, I don’t like banana pudding. But, my goal was to not let these bananas go to waste.

So the decision was made, banana pudding it is. I told myself if I didn’t like it, my neighbors will have an awesome treat to enjoy. It was so simple, and easy to execute. After it chilled, I actually couldn’t wait to taste it. I swear, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it was the most delectable desert I’ve tasted. I was so proud of myself, couldn’t wait to share with my neighbor, and let her know, “this was your doing!”

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces vanilla wafers (approx. 1 box, may use more for trimming bowl)
  • 5 bananas
  • 1 box Jello instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large tub (16 ounce) Cool Whip

Mix sugar and pudding in bowl with milk and vanilla extract. Let thicken.

Add 1/2 tub of Cool Whip. Stir well until fluffy.

Layer bottom of bowl with vanilla wafers.

Next layer is 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Next layer is 1/2 of pudding mixture.

Next layer is vanilla wafers.

Next layer is last 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Pour rest of pudding mixture over that.

Top with final layer of Cool Whip.

Chill and serve!

My Mexican Breakfast/Avocado toast & Plantains

Avocado toast with sweet plantains

On Cinco de Mayo, of this year, 2020. It seemed like any other holiday, that just came and went, without acknowledgement. Although Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, I find myself actually celebrating it with friends. We’d go to the local Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood, (I live in NY, there’s a Mexican Resturant on every other corner). However, this year 2020, no restaurants open, there is takeout, but not the same feeling of being with friends and having some frozen margaritas.

I wanted to acknowledge the day by having my version of a Mexican breakfast.

Yes! Avocados and sweet plantains! Both are my favorites. Although, this may not be a traditional Mexican breakfast, it was delicious fulfilling, and fun.

Ingredients

2 Semi ripe avocados

Cilantro finely chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 small half red onion chopped

2/3 Tbsp of Olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

2/3 English muffins

How to make

Cut open avocados and put into a bowl. Use a fork to mash them, but not to much, because we want those chunky pieces. Add your ingredients in the same bowl and with a spatula, fold the ingredients in. At the end add salt and pepper to taste. I like to spread my avocado on a toasted English muffin, however you may use any kind of toasted bread you like.

FYI this is the same way I make my guacamole. And, if you like you can substitute any of the ingredients for your liking. If you don’t want onions, take out and put finely chopped bell or red peppers. It’s all up to you and your flavor spot.

Plantains

Plantains, cinnamon, 1 cup vegetable or canola oil.

Semi/ripe plantains, make sure they are brown on outside, but not so much, as long as the yellow comes through the outside coloring.

Once peeled, slice at an angle. No need to add any seasoning while frying.

In a hot pan with the oil, lay your plantains flat, cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side (depending on the softness of the plantains).

Once done, transfer to a plate, and sprinkle some cinnamon on top while hot. And, yum. 😋

I enjoyed making this dish, hope you will too.

Homemade vs. Restaurant Part II

Chicken and waffles, a classic southern restaurant dish

Guilty, guilty, guilty. I’m guilty of the love for this sinfully, totally delectable delish of a dish!

I’ve been to many southern restaurants in the United States. Most times, if chicken and waffles are on the menu, I’ll order it. Some are a hit, and unfortunately, some can be a big miss. But, due to the country’s current status of a “real” pandemic, homemade cooking and baking has become the leader of the pack. Although, eating out is slowly becoming the norm again, because of Summer, restaurants are allowed to serve outside as long as protocols are met with the state’s guidelines. And, with Fall fast approaching, restaurants will be allowed to serve guest inside, but with only a 25% capacity. I think that’s great, however I will still be doing my own thing of recreating restaurant dishes at home.

I’m actually not a waffle eater, but when it comes with fried chicken I’m sold! Once again, when I get a craving for foods that only restaurants can provide, I challenge myself to make the dish just like it. I could go for takeout, but I’d rather not waste money on something I’ll just want again and again. We have no idea how long this new existence will last.

Got a waffle maker for $30 bucks, on Amazon. The rest for me was easy peasy!

Ingredients for batter

2 1/2 cup AP flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

3 Tbsp melted butter

1 Tbsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups milk

How to make

Sift the flour first, and add the dry ingredients next. Combine throughly. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients, and add it to the dry. You may need to add a little more milk if ingredients together are still a little dry. Stir until you have a thick consistency.

When the griddle is hot. Spray on pam or lightly brush on some vegetable or corn oil.

Scoop the batter with a medium size measuring cup, and pour into the middle of the griddle. Cook according to the directions of your waffle maker. Hint, when the smoke dies down, your waffle is ready.

Fried chicken

Seasonings: Adobe, sazon, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes

You can substitute any seasonings you like to your preferred taste.

I like to deep fry my chicken, and I use vegetable, corn, or canola oil. Use a pot and about 6 cups of oil. More or less. Heat oil to about 160 to 175 degrees.

Fry chicken for 20 to 25 minutes. Depending on how crispy you want it. I’d go the whole 25 minutes.

Chicken should be nice and crispy, but juicy inside.

I enjoyed making my homemade chicken and waffles. Hope you will too!

Homemade vs. Restaurant

My recreation of Vegetable Tempura, and baby-back ribs. From restaurant “Texas BBQ”

Clearly, I’m still having comfort food cravings. However, this particular craving comes from a restaurant that I frequent here in New York with my family and friends. The restaurant’s name is “Texas BBQ’s.” The name is simple, right! But, the food is all about comfort. I’ve celebrated birthdays, retirements, first dates, girl’s night out, (did I mention they have the best Pina Coladas in town). And, a host of other fantastic treats.

Of course, in this day and age of a pandemic, take out is mostly the option for people to still experience eating their favorite foods, from their favorite restaurants. I’ve gotten into the habit (and, wanting to expand my culinary skills also), to challenge myself, and recreate some of my favorite restaurants. foods.

I don’t know why, I’m seriously not trying to brag, but it came out delicious. Especially the tempura. While in Italy last year, I tasted some cod fish that the batter made with sparkling seltzer water. I’ve often heard that it makes a huge difference in the taste of the food you fry in it. However, I didn’t try it until recently, and I it’s true, the natural flavors of the food burst in your mouth. I was amazed by the flavor of all the veggies. The sweet potato, zucchini, broccoli and bell peppers, were all just so mouth watering.

Ingredients for batter:

2 cups flour

2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 Tbsp salt

2 eggs

2 cups seltzer water

And, a host of cut up vegetables of your liking. I.e carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. It’s up to you.

I invited a couple of friends over, and I played it up, by serving my tempura dish in Chinese takeout food containers, with chopsticks. (Amazon has them) It’s fun, and my guest got a kick out of them.