Monday, December 29, 2014

Jamaican me hungry!

The Caribbean island of Jamaica was first inhabited by the Taino and Arawak Indians who were well established in their own communities when Columbus came and declared "Santiago" a possession of Spain. Later, Britain won against the Spanish and made Jamaica the English speaking nation that it is today. Jamaica is a commonwealth realm, so it shares a monarch with the UK. Although English is the official language, Jamaican Patois is what most Jamaicans speak. It is a mixture of mostly English words along with some Native American and African words. I think it sounds super cool. Just like the language, the food of Jamaica is a mixture of cultures. I found the dishes that I cooked tonight to rely heavily on African origins with the addition of spices that were a result of British influence.

Jamaican jerk seasoning not a foreign concept to most Americans. As my dad pointed out, "You can buy this at a restaurant." Most Americans, however, have not concocted up their own jerk marinade. Jerk seasoning was actually brought over to Jamaica from the African slaves. The blend of produce, spices, and juices was adapted over the years, including elements from the island and flavors imported under British rule. However jerk chicken evolved into existence, I surely am thankful. It imparts an impressive delicious and juicy flavor to the chicken. Do not fear some of the weird additions. They all meld together to make a perfect flavor.

Jerk Seasoned Chicken
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For the marinade:
4 green onions, finely chopped
3 scotch bonnet or jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced dried onion
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp allspice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp ground pepper
½ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup white vinegar
juice of 1 orange
juice of 2 limes

Mix together the marinade. Pour the marinade over the chicken in a large bowl with a lid. Make sure the chicken is covered. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days. Preheat your grill to 400 for 10 minutes. Brush the big chunks of the marinade off the chicken and put it on the grill. Cook each side for 5-6 minutes, or until the center of the chicken registers to be 165 on a thermometer.

According to my family, this bread was the highlight to a delicious meal. They loved it, and my mom and Sydney ate two loaves each. Even though it is made out of coconut milk, there is not much of a coconut taste to it. I think the coconut milk only helps to make the bread exceptionally flaky and moist. Coco bread is not too sweet, and people in Jamaica actually use it as a burger or sandwich bun. I told my mom this, and she started dreaming up a salmon and aioli sandwich between a halved coco loaf. Yum!!

Coco Bread
makes 8- 10
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 ½ tsp dry active yeast
1- 14 ounce can coconut milk, heated to 110 degrees
1 egg
4 tbsp melted butter

Mix the yeast, coconut milk, and sugar together in an electric mixer. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Beat in the egg. Slowly add in the flour on low speed. Run the mixer until all of the flour is fully incorporated into the dough. Cover the dough in a large bowl and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and heavily flour a clean work surface. Flour your hands and take a handful of the dough. Roll it into a circle, adding flour generously. Butter the inside of the circle, fold in half, and butter the top. Arrange the bread on a baking pan and let it sit for 10 minutes. Cook the bread for 25 minutes, or until golden.

Peas and rice is a deceptive name for a popular Caribbean dish consisting of rice and beans. Red kidney beans are the typical bean of choice in Jamaica, and coconut milk along with green onion and thyme are added to flavor things up. The dish derived from the African waakye rice and bean meal, and adds in thyme, a spice introduced to Jamaica from the British. I was so proud of Harper for trying the beans and rice. She is so good about exploring new things. She and I were not fans of the peas and rice, but the rest of the family loved them. Carson successfully picked out every single bean, and refused to try them even though she would have liked them. You can't reason with an obstinate two year old.


Peas and Rice
2 cups rice
1-14 ounce can coconut milk
2 cups water
1- 14 ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 green onions, sliced

Bring the water and coconut milk to a boil. Add in the rice, garlic, thyme, oil, and green onions. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the beans, cover, and turn off the burner. Allow the rice to sit for 10 more minutes with the lid on the pot. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Wow, Jamaica blew us all away. My super picky dad practically licked his plate clean, and said it was the best meal I had made yet. (That he had tried.) Everyone adored the bread, and Carson pitched a fit when her little bit of coco gold dropped on the floor and the dog got to it. Later on, my mom admitted that she had low expectations for the bread after her epic bread failure last week. Apparently her bread dough and my coco bread dough looked very similar. Thankfully, everything was great. Thank you Jamaica!

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