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Food chronicles: November comfort

Yes, it is. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving! If like me, home cooks from all over are thinking about, planning, and even prepping their Thanksgiving menu extravaganza. In my household, we’ve been talking about the Thanksgiving dinner since the beginning of November.

I made turkey broth with smoked turkey wings three weeks ago. I froze the delicious product. It occurred to me I may need another batch of broth since I make soups weekly and have been using up my stash. Therefore, I’ll be making another batch this Tuesday or Wednesday with the leftover roasted chicken we’ll have for dinner tomorrow. That’ll be the third batch of homemade broth I’ve made in November. My main motivation is the health benefit In case you don’t know, collagen (bone broth is a source) is amazing for hair, skin, and nails.

I wrote my Thanksgiving menu three weeks ago and reviewed it with my husband, Bryan. Since then, I’ve been strategically ensuring I have all of my ingredients. I’m not one to wait until the last minute for something this important.

Yesterday, I was so excited to pick up bags of sweet potatoes from my local grocery store at $0.14 cents per pound. Can you believe that? I bought 12 sweet potatoes for $2.10. The sweet potatoes were the only major ingredient where I waited to purchase because about a week ago a grocer told me that this deep discount was coming. We’re all looking forward to my sweet potato pies. I might do something different with the sweet potatoe side dish instead of making my usual scrumptious mashed sweet potatoes.

This year, possibly today if I’m up to it, I will do something different and make pumpkin bread. I have no idea if I have the right pumpkins considering we picked these up from our churches’ front lawn last month. No, we didn’t steal them. Our pastor told us to take them home.

Beautiful Sunday morning at church. LPC

I don’t want to waste the pumpkins, so I will make pumpkin puree for smoothies, bread, and whatever other ideas I conjure up.

Naturally, because this is turkey month, I’ve gotten caught up in sharing my ideas on the Thanksgiving meal when this blog post is REALLY supposed to be about the other comfort foods I’ve conjured up this month. You know I’ve been cooking up a storm.

I love fried plaintains, which is a Haitian staple. I don’t make them often and I’ve been thinking about why that is. It partly has to do with it being a fried food, which I tend to not consume often. And they are not just fried once, they are double fried. You fry them once, remove them from the oil, then smash them in the plaintain peel, and return them to the oil to fry again.

Plaintains are also in the carbohydrate family. I actually “googled” their health benefits recently, which caused me to gain more of an appreciation for them. They would probably be a regular part of my diet if I liked them boiled like my mom did, but I don’t. No bueno. Fried is best.

A few weeks ago, I decided to indulge and picked up two from the grocery store. I’m so glad I did.

Fried plantains or banan. LPC

Soup is the ultimate comfort food in my book. Last month, my daughter and I took a trip to an Asian Market. I stocked up on noodles and rice. The noodle prices were a bargain for the amount I purchased, but I didn’t think so much so on the rice. Regardless, I also purchased a large bag of brown jasmine rice.

Thai shrimp and noodles soup. LPC

My son and daughter loved this soup. I loved this soup. I woke up one Saturday morning with a taste and believed I could carry out a thai soup. I’m using the word “thai” loosely here, but it worked. I got to use my thai red chilli curry paste, which I’ve had for a while. It was also my first time cooking an egg in liquid. My homemade broth made this recipe SHINE.

I’ve learned the preferred method is to soak rice noodles in warm water instead of boiling them prior to adding to a dish. This epiphany has been “GAME CHANGING”!

My daughter could eat tacos everyday. She loves them. I’ve loved tacos since I was a little girl growing up in Chicago. We all love them and the combinations are limitless. In one week, I made sauteed chicken tacos with black beans, taco soup, and breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and leftover chilli. All I can say is YUM, YUM, and YUM!!!

Sauteed chicken breasts for tacos. LPC

Sauteed chicken, black beans and pico de gallo. LPC

Finally, I don’t stray too far away from my Haitian roots and the dishes I grew up with. I pulled out my mortar and pestle or “pilon” to make rice and peas with oven fried chicken.

I used my brown jasmine rice, which entailed a longer cooking time and produced a softer texture than I’m used to, but the flavor profile was on point.

Oven fried chicken wings, rice & peas with salad. LPC

Light lesson: It just occurred to me that cooking is an expression of my creativity. I love to cook and being creative connects me to my divine source, which is probably why I enjoy being creative in this way so much. I can’t take credit for linking creativity to God because I’ve read about this before. To make this connection in my own life is reaffirming.

So what sides are you conjuring up this week for Thanksgiving. If not through cooking, how else do you express your creativity?

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Hug in a bowl

In my last blog post titled Comfort, I noted how I have been prepping to make my mom’s Haitian Bouillon (beef soup) since last weekend. Although I’ve been living in Texas for 22 years, my body knows I was born and raised in the midwest and I tend to crave comforting foods this time of year….just in time for fall. I couldn’t let this weekend go without sharing the outcome of my efforts.

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1 week old watercress. LPC

I rarely hear anyone talking about watercress, especially in Texas, but when I grew up, my mom, aunt, and cousins used it often. It has a peppery taste and many nutritional benefits. Growing up in Chicago, my mom would go to “Commercial” to buy all of the unconventional produce (e.g., malanga) she needed for her Haitian dishes. “Commercial” is a predominantly Mexican area of the city.

I’ve only been able to find watercress at a couple of stores in Austin. I bought one bunch last weekend. On second thought, I probably should have waited to ensure absolute freshness, but oh well! I’m not wasting any food. I ended up using the whole bunch in my soup.

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Beef bone broth. LPC

What I didn’t mention in my last blog post (you can read about it here), is that last weekend, I also made a large pot of beef bone broth from some bones I bought from Central Market. I wanted to ensure my soup had depth of flavor and richness. Also, I’ve been reading on the benefits of bone broth. It has collagen which is good for the skin, hair, nails…plus there are other nutritional benefits. I’ve been making my own chicken broth for years, but this might have been my first bone broth adventure. I let the beef bones simmer with herbs and vegetables for hours. I skimmed the layer of fat off the top when ready to use.

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Scratch made french bread before the rise. LPC

I was really feeling myself yesterday because I had the nerve to make French bread from SCRATCH. I’ve made it before, but this was by far my best product. It’s also mind blowing how easy it is to make bread. I simply “googled” a recipe online. Why don’t I make bread more often?

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One day old homemade french bread. LPC

I attribute the bread’s deliciousness to the organic flour. I forgot to take a picture of the brand, but I’m so glad I got it on sale. This might have been my first time buying organic flour. In the past, I’ve used pastry flour, which also makes a beautiful bread.

Fall in Chicago is by far my favorite season because it reminds me of comfort, change, coziness, cooler temperatures (not in Texas), friends and family. I’ve had a lot on my plate (no pun intended) lately, and cooking, especially the dishes my mom taught me how to make, soothes me and allows me to feel closer to her.

My bouillon had so much depth of flavor and richness. It’s also full of healthy ingredients: onions, garlic, plantains, carrots, malanga, watercress, herbs, spices, homemade beef broth, and beef (iron rich). In every way, it reminded me of my mom, who I miss so much. I would be talking to her about some of my woes if she were here. I poured my heart into my bouillon, thinking of what she taught me to do. My husband and daughter loved it, especially with the bread.

I wonder what other cravings I’ll have in the coming weeks. What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

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Comfort

Last weekend, I found myself craving my favorite comfort foods, so I had to indulge. In Texas, we have at least another month or so of the hot heat, but that doesn’t stop my taste buds from wanting slow cooked soups, chilis, and stews, roasted meats, and other pots of deliciousness. My body knows we’re approaching the fall season.

In my first few years living in Texas, I would get tremendously homesick in September. The seasons are so distinct in Chicago and fall was my favorite. There really isn’t a fall season in Austin, Texas. December and January are more like fall to me. My body knows fall starts close to September.

August has been a stressful and busy month. Cooking my favorite foods is a way to sooth myself. Two of my favorite vegan soups are recipes from the vegan cleanse I do at least once a year: Fennel Lentil and Coconut Ginger Zoodles (I modified the recipe into a soup).

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Coconut Ginger Zoodles Soup. LPC

I even got the idea to cook a Haitian soup, or Bouillon, my mom used to make when I was growing up. It’s basically a beef soup with lots of vegetables including lots of watercress. I initially thought I would make it last weekend, but I spent that time gathering the ingredients from different stores. I’m still in need of a few more items.

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Malanga. LPC

I’ve only made this Haitian soup once since I’ve been living in Texas. I remembered that I found Malanga at one grocery store in Austin….Fiesta. Malanga is like a potato with a gummy texture….my favorite part of the soup followed by the broth and watercress. I was disappointed by the Malanga selection, but I still picked up a few. I had intended to pick up the watercress from the same store, but they looked more pitiful than the Malanga. I made a trip to Central Market to pick up the watercress.

I learned early on from my mom the importance of marinating meats. The foundation of a delicious dish is a well seasoned protein. In Cajun and Creole cuisine, there is a trio of flavor called “mirepoix”, which is celery, onion, and bell peppers. I do enjoy that combination, but I believe the “mirepoix” of Haitian cooking is parsley, green onions, and garlic. I make a marinade often that includes, parsley, green onions, garlic, a pepper of some kind (jalepeno, hatch green chili), olive oil, fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I made a large batch enough to marinade my chuck roast and cornish hens. By Sunday, I decided I’d make the Bouillon the upcoming weekend since I’d gone through so much trouble and still didn’t have all the ingredients. I still need to buy potatoes, plantains, and carrots. On Monday, I eventually put the chuck roast in the freezer.

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Roasted Cornish Hens. LPC

The cornish hens with rice and beans (not pictured) were delicious although I was disappointed I was the only one who ate Sunday dinner. My two teenagers had eaten fast food earlier and I don’t remember my husband’s excuse. However, he made up for it the following days because he did what he said he would do, “Since you made it, I’ll eat it!”

I enjoy cooking and eating delicious and healthy food. It makes me happy. I also find cooking stress relieving.

I can’t wait to let you know how the Bouillon comes out. I took the marinated chuck out of the freezer to dethaw. I’m looking forward to my Saturday dinner!