A Taste of the Caribbean – Tortuga Rum Cake

I don’t want to say I regret a lot of things in life, but there are a few. Like missing out on going to Greece (twice) and not purchasing this rum cake I saw when I was in Jamaica (even though it’s actually from the Cayman Islands – somewhere I have yet to explore).

Thankfully, in this wonderful country called Canada, we get many things imported and I was able to find it here! When I bought it, the cashier was shocked I found one because she said they sell like hot cakes. This only made me more excited about finding it! It comes in a bunch of different flavours, like chocolate and key lime but I had to go with the golden original. Opening the hexagon shaped package, it revealed this small, round, bundt shaped cake with walnuts on top.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but when I cut the cake it was super soft and felt really moist. It was a surprise to me, given that it was a prepackaged cake. However, it was vacuumed sealed!

Taking a bite (holy mackerel!), I was surprised at how strong the rum flavours were in this cake. The packaging indicates it contains less than half of 1% alcohol (specifically, aged 5 year old gold rum), but I felt like I took a shot in one bite. I’ve never had Tortuga brand rum before, but I’m going to assume it’s quite strong like this cake. It’s very soft and very moist, but it is definitely a rum cake. They recommend serving it à la mode (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) and I can see that being really good. The contrast of the sweet ice cream with the otherwise strong alcoholic flavoured rum cake? I see a match made in heaven. Yum!

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I’m Seeing Doubles

I remember being back in post-secondary school and the first time I encountered the term doubles, I was completely confused. Here’s how the conversation went:

Friend: Do you want doubles?
Me: Double what?
Friend: No, doubles.
Me: Coffee?
Friend: Food
Me: Uh, yes?

Exactly! So when said friend brought me one to sample, I realized it was in reference to a West Indian snack.

Doubles are constructed with two pieces of fried dough (bara) that are round and flat. It is then filled with a chickpea (channa) curry filling and sandwiched together. It’s salty, spicy and messy to eat, but it’s a tasty snack for on-the-go. Unlike aloo pie, the dough in doubles is made with tumeric which is what gives it that yellow hue.

In the end, the term doubles didn’t come out of nowhere. According to Wikipedia, it was based on a man that originally sold these as chickpea curry with a single piece of bara. However, he had so many requests for two pieces that it eventually became double the pieces of bara – hence doubles. 🙂

Aloo Pie

It’s a catchy name, aloo pie, but it’s not without rhyme or reason. Aloo means potatoes and pie is, well, a yummy pastry filled will meat, veggies or fruits. So when you put the two together, you get an aloo pie.

This is a West Indian specialty which is often associated with Trinidad. It’s basically a piece of dough that has been deep fried, sliced in the middle and filled with spiced mashed potatoes and a sweet sauce.

It doesn’t look like much, but aloo pie is a yummy snack (some even eat this for breakfast) that is good for on the go. The dough is very soft, somewhat like a naan even though it was deep fried. The sauce is a mango or tamarind chutney and although you can’t really see it in these pictures, this one was filled with delicious tamarind chutney. If you need a quick pick-me-up for the day and you happen to be near a West Indian restaurant, aloo pie! 🙂

Bake and Salt Fish

There’s a West Indian dish called Bake and Shark that I wanted to try, but there’s a lot of controversy about eating sharks, similar to shark fin soup. Instead, I went for an alternative type of Bake called Bake and Salt Fish. This is a West Indian, Caribbean style dish that is somewhat like a wrap.

The bread is known as the “bake”, although funny enough it’s typically fried as opposed to baked. It reminded me of roti bread, only it seemed a bit thicker. It was still a delicate bread to handle, but it was warm and fresh!

The salt fish is fish that has been salted and dried. Although cod fish is normally used in recipes, it can be replaced with other types of fish. The texture of the fish reminded me of pork floss, which can be used for things like congee or as a filler for Asian buns or pastries.

Biting into this two handed wrap, the salt fish had this light and flaky texture and smelled a bit on the fishy side. It had been seasoned with some spices and contained a few small pieces of carrots and tomatoes mixed with the shredded salt fish, though I’m not sure if this is typical of a bake and salt fish. It was definitely an interesting meal. I can’t really say I’ve had anything with this type of texture in a wrap before and I really enjoyed the freshness of the bake. Although jerk chicken is by far one of my most favourite Caribbean dishes (with extra oxtail sauce!), if you pop into a Caribbean restaurant give a bake a try. 🙂

 

Jamaica and the Jerk

In Jamaica, there’s relaxing reggae music, cool steel drum beats and beautiful beaches, but I must say one of the best things about the island is their food.

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Steel Drum Performance on the Beach

Festival, plantain, doubles….they’re all so good, but one of my top favourite Jamaican dishes is jerk chicken with rice n’ peas smothered in a ton of oxtail sauce. It’s spicy and super flavourful, like having a party in your mouth.

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Jerk chicken, coleslaw, corn, rice n’ peas, meat skewer and coco bread

For the most part, jerk seasoning is quite spicy and isn’t really for the faint of heart. It originated in Jamaica and is used to season meat like pork or chicken. It can come in the form of a dry rub or a wet marinade. Like most recipes, the ingredients vary depending on the chef but it is normally a combination of spices (all spice, clove, cinnamon, ginger, etc.) and scotch bonnet peppers or habanero peppers which is the thing that gives it a kick. While these peppers may be small in stature, don’t underestimate them because they can definitely pack a punch!

Even though nothing compares to homemade food, I am by no means an expert in Jamaican cuisine so I have to rely on pre-made jerk sauces and rubs. Thankfully, I have discovered some good sauces. And now that it’s BBQ season (it’s also National Barbecue Month!), we can now get the grill going.

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BBQ’ing some jerk chicken

Doesn’t it look good? Jerk chicken smells and tastes great being on the BBQ because it acquires some of the smokey flavour, but it’s also good to have some sides to complement the picante meat.

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Jerk chicken, grilled veggie kebobs and macaroni salad

Side note: hot peppers can be dangerous to handle if you’re not careful. Even after washing your hands meticulously a thousand times, some of the spicy oils can remain on your hands. As a precaution, avoid rubbing your eyes or wear gloves otherwise you will have to face the wrath of the burning pepper sensation. Yikes!

 

 

 

Tasty Tostadas

Tostadas are crispy tortillas that have been either deep-fried or toasted. They can be eaten alone or topped with a number of ingredients, somewhat like crackers or bread. In fact, I would like to consider it the Mexican version of crackers or bread.

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Beef Tostadas

A tostada topped with all the fixings is sort of like an open-faced taco. The tostadas above are just one version I had in Mexico and are topped with red onions, lettuce, cheese and beef. It’s a bit difficult to eat because the tostada tends to break easily, but like any fun finger food it’s ok to get messy. They can be eaten as an appetizer or even as a main dish, but my preference is for the former because the deep-fried tostada shell can be quite greasy.

Tostadas are easily found in grocery stores now, but they resemble more like huge, round tortilla chips than the deep-fried ones pictured above. Try experimenting with different toppings. The world is your oyster…though I don’t know if I would recommend putting oysters on top. ¡Buen apetito! 🙂

Crème Brûlée

I love crème brûlée. It’s so simple, yet so good. When I went to Mexico, they made it with fresh vanilla bean straight from the pod. That made all the difference in the taste because artificial vanilla just doesn’t quite stack up in comparison. Normally, they are baked in little ramekins but our Mexican resort served very generous portions. Here’s to the biggest bowl of crème brûlée I’ve ever had!

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A Big Bowl of Crème Brulée

A good crème brûlée will have a smooth, creamy and rich custard with a thin, burnt, sugary crust on top that is crunchy like hard brittle candy. Most recipes only call for a few ingredients, like sugar, eggs, vanilla and cream. It is baked in ramekins on top of a roasting pan or cookie sheet filled with water. The burnt sugar part comes after baking, where a torch is used to caramelize the sugar into that crunchy candy top. Mmm….

For those who want to make crème brulée but lack a torch in the kitchen, you can just make the custard part and omit the torch part. It’s not quite the same, but the custard itself is also divine.

“No More Tequila For Me” said the Chef – A Teppanyaki Experience

Teppanyaki is a fun way of dining. Teppan means iron plate/griddle and yaki translates as grilled or pan-fried. It’s a Japanese style of cooking where you get to sit in front of a huge grill and watch the chef cook right before your eyes while doing nifty tricks with his/her spatulas and ingredients. I was at one recently in Mexico. Here’s our chef hard at work.

He balanced the eggs on his spatulas, built a pyramid of onion rings with a fire explosion and threw broccoli florets at the audience to catch in their mouths. Unfortunately his aim wasn’t that good. One lady got it on her forehead and mine was so far away it didn’t even come close to touching me, but it was all in good fun. In the end, he did say in a joking manner, “no more tequila for me”.

Before he started the show, we began with a deep-fried cheese appetizer.

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Deep-Fried Cheese Appetizer

The app was hot and fresh when it came out. When I bit it in half, the ball of cheese inside was melted into perfection and left a nice, long stringy trail of gooey cheese – just the way I like it. Delicious! We also got a second appetizer and I chose salmon nigiri, which is sashimi on a bed of rice.

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Salmon Nigiri

He then proceeded to do his fancy egg show, demonstrated his crazy vegetable chopping skills and served us fried rice with optional Sriracha sauce. I obviously said yes to the Sriracha and he drew hearts and happy faces on those who opted to add spice on their fried rice.

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Fried Rice With Happy Sriracha Sauce

I’m normally not a fan of the fried rice at all inclusives because it’s usually just drowning in soy sauce, but he put some seasoning on it that made it taste much better. After, he just cooked our chosen meat/fish and served that to us (I got surf and turf). To finish the meal off, we got dessert. I ordered the deep-fried ice cream.

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Deep fried ice cream

It was drizzled with chocolate syrup and what I believe were bonito flakes (or some imitation) and had vanilla ice cream in the middle. To my surprise, it wasn’t soup in the center and it was still frozen! The batter on the outside remained crispy. It was so good! Overall, probably one of the best (and entertaining) meals I had on this trip.

Sushi Towels!

Almost every Caribbean all inclusive resort has a Japanese restaurant. The chef cooks teppanyaki in front of you while twirling and throwing the spatulas in the air and creating fire explosions for extra pizazz. Normally the food is just full of soy sauce and the sushi isn’t that great, but when I was in Jamaica they did something a little different. They had hand towels in the shape of sushi rolls.

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It’s cute right? I’ve seen towel animals and flowers, but never any food inspired shapes. For wiping though, not eating!