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Jamaican Coco Bread

It’s been years since I ate a coco bread, that soft, sweet, usually warm, folded-over bread that is the perfect folder for the flaky, spicy and usually hot, patty.

Perhaps it might seem redundant to marry a patty, a meat pie, with a puffy, buttery coco bread (one inventive student at my high school called the combination a coco-pat) but it works, somehow.

It’s like biting through layers of dough and finding a sweet spot — the spicy meat filling — the coco bread absorbing the heat that builds in the patties as they bake and tempering its spiciness.

The coco bread and patty combo is a filling, inexpensive on-the-go meal that is popular with everyone, from students to working people.

And because of its price, ubiquitous in Jamaica. Every fast food outlet and food shop sells it. The same is true here in the New York area. In fact, it is even sold online at amazon.com. Despite its popularity, no one I asked could explain why it’s called a coco bread since it’s not made from coconut or cocoa.

But coco bread shouldn’t be confined only to a meat filling. It’s delicious with cheese and, I would add, stews, even soup. And with its buttery flavor, it can even be eaten as is.

Yesterday, the distinctive fresh-baked smell of the coco bread tickled my nose and brought back such delightful memories, I stopped and bought one on the way to work. With a cold blast of winter air here in New York yesterday, instead of a patty, it made me feel for soup. Biting into its warm deliciousness took me momentarily back to the sun.

Jamaican Coco Bread
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Ingredients
  1. 2 packages yeast
  2. 1 teaspoon sugar
  3. 1/4 cup warm water
  4. 3/4 cup warm milk
  5. 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  6. 1 egg, lightly beaten
  7. 3 cups flour
  8. 1/2 cup butter melted
Instructions
  1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in water then stir in milk, salt and egg.
  2. Add 1/2 of the flour and stir, continue to add flour until you have a dough that can be turned out of the bowl.
  3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until smooth but firm.
  4. Oil a clean bowl and turn the dough in it until coated.
  5. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise for 1 hour
  6. Cut into 10 portions and roll each piece into a 6-inch diameter circle.
  7. Brush with melted butter then fold in half.
  8. Brush with more butter and fold in half again.
  9. Set breads on a oiled baking sheet and let them rise until they double in size.
  10. Preheat oven to 425 F set a pan of hot water on the lowest oven rack.
  11. Bake for about 12- 15 minutes or until golden brown (on upper rack, set to middle).
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/

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Searching for Authentic Poutine in Montreal

Last Thursday, as my friends and I chatted excitedly about our girls’ weekend in Montreal, our discussion turned to food, specifically what and where we were looking forward to dining. On Judy’s list was a recommendation from a work colleague that she should not miss poutine.

Poutine, pronounced put-in, a local favorite, was created in rural Quebec in the 1950s. Once only available in the province, it has made its way across Canada and to as far away as the UK.

I doubt I’d had poutine and when Judy explained that it was fries covered with cubed cheese curds and gravy, I knew for sure that I hadn’t – I would have remembered cheese curd. We had our first opportunity to try poutine at lunch on Friday.

As the waiter approached, Judy’s eyes locked on and followed the dish until he placed it on the table. Right away, her face changed from excited anticipation to disappointment. This poutine didn’t have the cheese curds her colleague had mentioned.

“This isn’t authentic,” she grumbled but she didn’t let that stop her. She dug in immediately and pronounced her first taste “good.”

“Have some,” she urged. I looked on skeptically. I would have preferred fries with gravy, which I used to love when I was at university, or even plain fries, but fries with cheese curd just didn’t appeal to me.

I searched the plate for a few fries that hadn’t been touched by either cheese or gravy. They were fine. But even though this poutine didn’t have cheese curds, I wondered whether I had let my dislike for them keep me from enjoying a good dish.

Poutine
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Ingredients
  1. 4 lb. russet potatoes, skin-on, washed and dried
  2. 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  3. ¼ cup flour
  4. 1 shallot, minced
  5. 1 clove garlic, minced
  6. 4 cups beef stock
  7. 2 tbsp. ketchup
  8. 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  9. 1 tbsp. whole green peppercorns
  10. ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  11. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  12. Canola oil, for frying
  13. 2 cups cheddar cheese curds
Instructions
  1. Cut potatoes into lengths of about ¼" x ¼" x 4". Place in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and garlic, and cook, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add stock, ketchup, vinegar, peppercorns, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep gravy warm.
  3. Pour oil to a depth of 3" in a 6-qt. Dutch oven, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Drain potatoes, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Working in small batches, add potatoes and fry, tossing occasionally, until tender and slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
  4. Drain on paper towels, and let cool for 20 minutes. Increase temperature to medium-high, and heat oil until it reads 375°. Working in small batches, return potatoes to oil, and fry, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer fries to paper towels to drain briefly, and then divide among serving bowls. Pour gravy over each serving of fries, and top with cheese curds; serve immediately.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
We spent the next day looking for poutine and each time we saw it on a menu, Judy would ask if it had cheese curds. She refused to have it without the curd. It’s not authentic, she’d say. She agreed finally, that poutine with melted cheese could probably be just as good as that with cheese curd but we had no basis for comparison. She also decided that next time someone recommended a local favorite, that she’d ask where to find it.

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A Return Visit to Harlem’s The Cecil

One of the best things about living in New York area is the variety of restaurants the city has. At any given time, if you’re so inclined, you could eat your way around the world with just your Metrocard as your passport. (Of course, you’d also need to take your credit card along.)

With so many restaurants, it’s sometimes difficult (for me, at least) to settle on a favorite. But I have. The restaurant I can’t get enough of is The Cecil. I go there every chance I get, recommend it to others and take visiting friends and family.

Located in Harlem, The Cecil is the creation of businessman Richard Parsons, formerly chairman and CEO of Time Warner, and chef, restauranteur, and author, Alexander Smalls.

The menu boats an eclectic fusion of African, Asian and American ingredients. Dishes are spiced with or accompanied by ingredients as varied as kimchi, piri piri sauce, tamarind, ginger, and coconut.

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

With Lorraine at The Cecil

When my cousin, Lorraine, told me she was coming to New York on business, I knew right away where I wanted to take her. She’d taken me to her favorite Thai restaurant when I was in Toronto on business earlier this year. Now it was my turn to reciprocate.

For days before her arrival, we exchanged text after text about the restaurant, the menu and finally which day we’d go. She was as excited to go as I was to take her and even though she twisted her ankle the day we planned to go, not even that stopped her.

Here’s what we had:

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Portuguese Sausage Dumplings from The Cecil

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Crispy Soft Shell Crab

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Jollof Rice with Shrimp

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Citrus Jerk Golden Snapper

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Feijoada

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Avocado Crema

 

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Seafood Dishes From the Road

Like a lot of people, I look forward to the foods of the cities I travel to as much as the sights and activities. I am passionate about food and because of that, there are places I’d return to just so I can satisfy my craving for the food.

On the other hand, there are some places I doubt I’ll visit because I have no interest in the food.

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I tasted foods similar to what I’d have in Jamaica – but with a twist. One morning, for example, I chose gallo pinto, the desayuno típico of Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is rice and beans, fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I swapped the scrambled eggs for sausages and left out the cheese. I was almost finished eating when I remembered that I hadn’t taken a photo.

In Jamaica, we usually leave rice and beans for dinner. About 10 years ago, it was reserved for Sundays and special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

Since we were staying near the coast, we had fish or seafood almost every day. One evening for dinner at a restaurant, I had grilled snapper accompanied by risotto.

Three Meals from the Road

Avocado & Shrimp Salad

Three Meals from the Road

Grilled Snapper with Risotto

Near the end of my week-long visit, I took a day trip to Granada, Nicaragua where lunch was sea bass with rice and salad. I can still remember the sharp taste of the lime on the fish.

Three Meals from the Road

Rice and Sea Bass

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