by Chef Jenn Farmer
Lately I have been on a tropical foods kick. I love our local cuisine, and since we are on an island with a maritime history, the local food has long been influenced by exotic flavors from other locales. Whether it is Asian or Caribbean it has been on my menu. To be honest, I guess it is not entirely a craving, but a wish. The food is fulfilling a desire for summer to arrive. It sounds silly but, let me explain my reasoning. Since it has not been the warmest weather lately, I have been trying to pretend to live in a hot climate. This is not as easy as one might think. The music must be right, reggae, is good for creating an illusion that I am somewhere balmy. Next, there is the attire. I am ready to don shorts and sundresses, but something gets lost when I must layer up sweaters and a down vest over them. Eating warm Caribbean seasoned food, and drinking cocktails that contain pineapple and rum, seem to help somehow. They have become my latest attempt to ward off the chill in the evening air, and it appears to be working. After eating some chicken kebabs with banana ketchup and drinking said pineapple and rum cocktails, I began to forget that it was a nippy night.
Suspecting my new therapy was working, I felt I should continue with the experiment. So I ate some stuffed meatballs, and had another rum beverage ( I ended up using the last of the pineapple juice when cooking). I felt warmer and happier already. I did not have plans for going out into the night, but I had genuinely forgotten about the chill in the evening air, and I ran out of rum. Feeling carefree (whimsical even) throwing caution to the wind. I donned my sundress and sweater down vest, and flip flops and went out to find a sailor (tisk tisk, a drink of Sailor Jerry’s rum, mind you, not the other kind of sailor ), and have a nightcap to ensure my dreams would be of warm water, and sunshine. I know it was the right thing to do. Something like a rain dance in some cultures, my “sun dance” may soon take off. The warm weather will arrive, and I will be truly prepared.
Meatballs have made a comeback! Last time I made turkey meatballs with cranberry glaze, but this time I was craving something different, and I found this old handwritten card in the back of my recipe box. It is a little time consuming if you are making a lot for a group, but very enjoyable. The sweet and savory elements are what make it work.
- 12 prunes
- 12 pieces of Pineapple (about 1 inch each)
- 1/2 pound ground beef (ground pork is very good in this recipe too!)
- 1 egg, whisked well (reserve one tablespoon of the egg aside for dipping the meatballs in before cooking)
- 6-8 T milk
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 6 Tablespoons oil
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 cups water
- Nutmeg, freshly grated to taste
Stuff the prunes with the pineapple and set aside. Begin the process of making the meatballs by mixing most of the egg (remember to set aside a tablespoon of the egg for later); milk, breadcrumbs, and season with a little salt and pepper. Mix very well and divide into 12 equal portions. Stuff each with a prune, and make a nice round meatball. Coat each meatball with egg. Heat the oil in the skillet, and cook the meatballs on each side until browned nicely (they do not need to be cooked through). Remove from the skillet onto a plate. Sauté the shallots in the oil, until they are translucent, then add the flour and cook until it becomes a golden roux. Add the water and mix, creating thin pan gravy. Return the meatballs to the pan, and cook until they are done, and the gravy has thickened a bit (15-20 minutes). Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and serve as an appetizer or an entrée. Serves 4
One of my new favorite condiments came from a friend in Jamaica, but he said it was nearly identical to a recipe that another cook from the Philippines that he knows makes. Ketchup (or Catsup) is a food sauce that is sweet and tart-like chutney. The main ingredient can vary extensively. Here in the United States, we have grown used to eating tomato ketchup, but it can be made from mushrooms, or even pickled fish. Typically it is eaten on pork, or chicken, but I have tried it on shrimp and even beef with great success. Banana ketchup is sweeter than the tomato ketchup Americans are accustomed to and a bit spicier as well. For added spicy heat you can add fresh chopped jalapeno or scotch bonnet peppers during the first step along with the sultanas.
- 2 ounces sultanas (raisins can be substituted)
- 3 ounces onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 ounces, tomato paste
- One and one half, cups cider vinegar
- 4 very large ripe bananas, chopped
- 3 and one half cups water
- One half cup dark brown sugar, packed
- One half teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 ounces honey
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- Three quarters of a teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Three quarters of a teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
- One half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- One quarter teaspoon ground cloves
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- One teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Combine the raisins, onions, garlic, tomato paste, one third cup vinegar in a food processor, and mix until smooth. Then transfer to a heavy saucepan. Add the banana chunks and one third cup more vinegar to the food processor, and mix until smooth, add this to the heavy pan. Add the remaining vinegar, brown sugar, water, salt, and cayenne to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to very low, and allow the mixture to cook un-covered stirring occasionally. The mixture needs to reduce for about one and one half hours, adding a little water if the ketchup begins to stick to the pan. Add the honey, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and cloves to the ketchup. Increase the heat to mediumlow and continue to cook the ketchup for about 15 minutes or until it is
thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Stir in the rum, and remove from the heat allowing the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Force the ketchup through a fine sieve or food mill, pressing the solid bits down hard to extract all the flavor and liquid. Allow it to cool, and store it in a covered container in the fridge for up to a month. Yield 3 cups banana ketchup.
SUNSHINE DANCE DRINK
- Two parts rum
- One part pineapple
- lime juice or squeeze of lime
Mix ingredient and serve over ice. It makes me sunny just thinking of it.