Hot Tropic Jam

Fruit, juicy… about a nice tropical punch? Sheesh, did that commercial really make anyone want to buy Hawaiian Punch?  I have to admit, I did like artificially flavored and colored sugar water when I was a kid, but now I know it was a poor imitation of the real thing, which is a refreshing beverage made by steeping dried hibiscus flowers and sweetening the resulting “juice” to taste (this is known in Mexico as agua de jamáica).  A tall iced glass is so good on a warm day, and the fruity flavor, floral aroma, and vivid red color will no doubt let you imagine yourself on a sunny beach with a tropical breeze blowing through your hair.  I made the agua not long ago and thought, why not try to capture that taste in a jar?  I tossed in fresh ginger and scotch bonnet peppers for some tropical heat, cooked it into a jam, and ¡caramba!  The result is sweet, tart, spicy, and delicious.  I can think of so many uses for this jam: plop it over a brie round, cover with puff pastry and bake, or spread it over a block of cream cheese and dig in with your favorite crackers, or mix some of it up with a little soy sauce and use it to glaze baked or barbecued chicken.  What the heck, eat it with a spoon!

jam and cream cheese

The recipe includes a few specialty ingredients, but they shouldn’t be too hard to find, and if they are, I have some suggestions for substitutions. You’ll need the dried hibiscus flowers, which are often found in the Hispanic foods section of large supermarkets (and you are certain to find them in a little Mexican store if you have one in your vicinity – ask for flor de jamáica), some fresh ginger, a few hot peppers (habanero, scotch bonnet, or something along those lines), guavas (I used canned), and the clincher is Pomona’s Universal Pectin (I ordered it from Amazon).

If you can’t find the hibiscus flowers, brew some strong hibiscus tea (I would say 12 teabags for two cups of boiling water) and top off the rest of the liquid needed with pomegranate juice.  If guavas are not available, swap in chopped pineapple or another fruit.  Don’t substitute another kind of pectin, though, because the Pomona’s will let you sweeten your jam to taste (plus the ratio of pectin to other ingredients in the recipe is based on Pomona’s but would just be a guess with another type of pectin).  And speaking of sweetening to taste, let your own preference be your guide in spicing as well.

flor de jamaica

scotch bonnets


all mashed up

Spicy Hibiscus and Guava Jam

  • 2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 – 2 cups sugar (I used 1 1/3 cups)
  • ¼ – ½ cup minced ginger
  • 4 hot peppers, halved (I think mine were scotch bonnets – handle carefully to avoid a burn!)
  • 1 ¼ cup chopped guava (20 oz. jar, drained)
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 1 box Pomona’s Universal Pectin (mix calcium water according to directions and use 4 teaspoons calcium water and 1 tablespoon pectin; there will be enough of the package left over for two or three other recipes)

Before you start, prepare jars and lids by washing and sterilizing in boiling water (number depends on the jar size; the recipe will yield about 3 ¾ cups).  Mix the calcium water according to package directions, ½ teaspoon calcium powder in ½ cup water, and mix 1 tablespoon of the pectin powder with ½ cup of the sugar.

Put the dried flowers and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, then scoop out the flowers with a slotted spoon. Add the minced ginger and halved peppers and simmer gently for another 20 minutes or until the liquid tastes as spicy as you would like.  Strain through several layers of cheesecloth, rinse the saucepan and pour the liquid back into it (except for the little bit of sediment that will settle out).  Stir the lime juice, chopped guavas, 4 teaspoons calcium water, and the ½ cup sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon pectin into the hibiscus liquid and bring to the simmering point again, stirring to dissolve pectin.  Taste and add additional sugar until the mixture is at the desired sweetness, then bring to a full boil and cook for two minutes.  The jam will still be rather saucy, but it will thicken when it cools.

Pour jam into hot jars, seal, and process in boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove from canner and allow to cool completely before checking seals.  The jam is a nice deep claret color. Add a glittery ribbon or bow, and these are ready to hand out for Christmas.

close up

jam outside


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Cha cha chayote


dear santa


I know they’re not tropical, but I wanted to share these letters, because sometimes your dog gets run over by your school bus, and sometimes you just want books to read, and maybe having books will help you learn to spell better, too, oof. #childhood

And with that, here’s today’s recipe!

Actually, this is more a guideline. And an invitation to experiment, if you will.

Chayote au gratin
Adapted from The Essential Caribbean Cookbook

For four servings:

  • 2 chayote squash
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Cheese, whatever kind you’d like, shredded or crumbled
  • Breadcrumbs or stale bread pulsed in a food processor
  • Salt, pepper, other spices to taste
  • Hot sauce or salsa to serve

1. Place the chayote in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 20 – 30 minutes, until squash can be pierced with a knife but still has a little give (in other words, it won’t be all the way cooked yet).

2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and beginning to color.

3. Once the chayote are done boiling, remove from the water and slice in half lengthwise. Allow them to cool enough so that you can handle them without burning your fingers. Using a spoon, scoop out as much flesh as you can, leaving the skin and a thin shell intact. Remove and discard the very inner core (you’ll see that it looks different from the rest of the flesh) and roughly chop the rest of the flesh.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked onions, chopped chayote flesh, and some cheese (use as much as you’d like!). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and other spices that you’d like to use. (You could try curry, red pepper, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, whatever. The world is your chayote.) Place the chayote shells in a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking dish and fill with the onion/chayote/cheese mixture. Sprinkle with a little more cheese and breadcrumbs.

5. Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the tops are golden and bubbling, and the chayote is easily pierced with a fork. If you think the tops are browning too much, cover loosely with foil until the chayote are done. These are great with hot sauce, and also reheat well.



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Tonight’s recipe is a leafy soup from the islands called Callaloo. Traditionally made from Callaloo leaves (which are, depending on whom you ask, actually amaranth or taro leaves), I made it with kale because that’s all I had, and because kale-a-loo has a nice ring to it. (Although, to be honest, I did not come up with the name.) This soup is very easy to put together, and it’s nice and green to make you feel good in anticipation of all the Christmas cookies on which you’re about to feast.

The original recipe called for crab meat, but I made a vegetarian version to serve to a vegetarian (the vegetarian, by the way, also came up with the name “kale-a-loo”), and don’t really see a reason to make it any other way. (In fact, the soup is even vegan. Take that.) I especially like the okra in this – it adds the perfect thickness and body.

hot hot hot

adapted from The Essential Caribbean Cookbook

  • 3 tablespoons oil (olive, veggie, whatever you have)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 fresh chile (I used jalapeño), seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, optional
  • 8 ounces okra, sliced (about 1/4-inch slices)
  • 1/2 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into large bite-size pieces
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • A few strands of saffron, optional
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Limes, cut in slices, to serve
  • Cilantro, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the chile, turmeric, and curry if using and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the okra and kale. Cook a few minutes, until the kale starts to wilt. Add the vegetable broth and saffron, if using. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 25 – 35 minutes, until the kale is soft enough to your liking.

3. Stir in the coconut milk and scallions, stirring to combine. Cook for about 5 minutes more, until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with slices of lime on the side and cilantro sprinkled on top.



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Five golden links


Five tropical links for you this evening:

Have you ever made Coquito? It’s Puerto Rican Egg Nog, and I think I know how I’ll use some of the giant bottle of rum recently purchased…


And, if I have leftover Coquito (though let’s be honest, why would I?), I’ll try this Coquito French Toast for breakfast.


My friend Kelly told me about a Puerto Rican lasagna of sorts, and I’m dying to give it a try.


I know I’ve told you about Braeden’s and my favorite rum, Mt. Gay, but if you haven’t tried it, please do so. Now. Sorry, Bacardi, but Mt. Gay is where it’s at.


And finally, a little trivia for you: what artist/song borrowed heavily from Funky Kingston by Toots and the Maytals? Give you one guess.

Don’t stop the party,

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Beef Curry

So remember those exciting announcements I promised a few posts back? Here we go!

In addition to having the wonderful, beyond amazing, crazy-busy, never bored job of being Joan‘s assistant, I recently got a job working at Bazaar Spices, a lovely little spice shop in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market. If you’re in D.C., be sure to stop by Union Market, and, more importantly, Bazaar Spices. The second you walk by your senses are almost assaulted (in the best possible way) by the smell of super fresh spices and herbs. It’s been great to expand my spice, herb, and botanical knowledge, and to talk to the different people who stop by. Next time, maybe it’ll be you!

Part of the Bazaar Spices job includes contributing to their Spicy DC Blog, and I wrote a recipe for Brown Butter Cinnamon Cookies with Crystallized Ginger Studs, based on my mom’s recipe for Polvorones. They’re pretty delicious, if I may say, and would love a spot on your holiday cookie rotation. (AND, and, and, the recipe was featured in Union Market’s Thanksgiving shopping list. Boom.)

Also, the blog now has a Twitter account! Follow us @thetroikatable to get random musings and pictures of food from yours truly.

And, coming soon, there will be a WHOLE ‘NOTHER PAGE on the blog! I’ve been compiling a running list of recipes I want to make from the pages carefully doggy-eared in cookbooks before bookmarks and the internet was a thing (aka, when I was 12), websites I’ve bookmarked only to never look back, and pages that I’ve saved to Pocket (and no, I still don’t have a Pinterest, but I’m sure that will come any day now). I decided that it’s about time to actually DO something with them, and putting the list on the blog and actually, you know, making them and telling you all about it would be just the ticket.

Anyway, time for the 9th day before Christmas special: Beef Curry!

Beef Curry

This Beef Curry is adapted from The Essential Caribbean Cookbook edited by Heather Thomas, a spicy little book full of recipes from throughout the Caribbean. The original recipe, Colombo de Porc, is a Pork curry from Martinique. After doing a little research, I discovered that Colombo Curry is a spice blend commonly found in the French West Indies (Martinique, Guadalupe, St. Martin, to name a few), and that Colombo Curry blends typically have toasted, uncooked rice ground into the mix, lending a nutty flavor and acting as a natural thickener.  Maybe my recipe isn’t a Colombo at all, but it’s still pretty tasty.

I changed the recipe quite a bit to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand, and came up with something very delicious. The curry is fairly spicy and quite saucy, with a nice creaminess from coconut milk, and the curry would love it if you made tostones to dip up its juices. Don’t take my word for it, though, just make it; you’ll see.

almost ready

Faux Colombo de Bœuf (Beef Curry)
Adapted from The Essential Caribbean Cookbook

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 to 8 allspice berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 to 2 hot peppers (such as jalapeños), sliced (remove seeds if you want less heat)
  • 3/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 chayote squash, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 to 2 poblano peppers, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 to 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, or 1 small can of tomatoes, or about a cup of leftover slow-roasted tomatoes (can you guess which one I used?)
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Cilantro, to garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides.

2. While the onions and beef are cooking, make your curry paste: Mash the coriander seeds, allspice berries, turmeric, mustard seeds or powder, and peppers in a mortar and pestle to make a paste.

3. Add the curry paste to the beef and onions, stir, and cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring once or twice.

4. Add the pineapple juice and water, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the beef is starting to be tender. (Or, if you have a pressure cooker, cook at high pressure for 10 to 12 minutes with a natural release, then proceed as directed.)

5. Add the chayote, poblanos, tomatoes, coconut milk, salt, and pepper, and cook uncovered for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the chayote is easily pierced with a fork and the beef is tender. Serve with rice, or tostones, and garnish with cilantro.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

all dished up



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Cookie Island

Hello, it’s me…..the slacker who used to contribute regularly to this blog.  I know, it’s been about a year since I’ve written any recipes.  What can I say?






So yeah, Caribbean life is really good, and sometimes I feel like we landed in paradise.  Sure, traffic tends to be crazy, work can get hectic, and there are lots of things yet to be done around the house.  But I do like my new island home, especially the kitchen. It’s smaller than our last one, but after almost eleven years in Germany, I enjoy having a full-size refrigerator and oven again.  One reason I’m so happy with the kitchen is the way some of our furniture found its way in here and works really well.  For example, check out how my cookbooks and Polish and Italian pottery fit into these two stacked Ikea shelving units.


Even better, what about this island Jerry made out of another shelving unit and the oak butcher block that used to serve as an office work table when it topped a couple of small filing cabinets in our old house?

kitchen island

cookies on island

Yes, indeed, the kitchen island is perfect for cookie production, and I have a perfect island-inspired cookie recipe to share.  I first made these cookies last spring as an experiment when I wanted to take a treat to work.  They’re really a basic oatmeal cookie, but instead of the typical cinnamon and raisins, I stirred in cubed guava paste, a sure bet to appeal to Puerto Rican tastes, and sure enough, the cookies prompted several requests for the recipe.  I’ve actually developed sort of a reputation among my colleagues as a baker, and it all started with these cookies.

Oatmeal and Guava Cookies   

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (quick-cooking oats will work, but I like old-fashioned better)
  • About 7 ounces guava paste, cut into small cubes (I used a third of a 21-ounce container of Goya guava paste, available from Amazon if it is not in your local store)

Cream together the butter and sugars, then mix in the egg and vanilla.  Stir the flour, baking soda, and salt together, then blend this mixture into the creamed mixture.  Mix in the rolled oats and gently fold in the guava cubes.  Refrigerate the dough for an hour or more (I’ve left the dough in the fridge for close to a week and it was fine).

sliced guava

guava cookie dough

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Drop the dough by tablespoonsful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are just starting to brown around the edges.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then slide the parchment onto a rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for two or three days, or freeze for longer storage.

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

me on beach


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The 11th Day

On the 11th day before Christmas (I know, it’s past midnight and thus technically the 10th day before Christmas, but these things happen), The Troikas gave to me: TOSTONES.

I first sampled these fried plantain slices in Puerto Rico, when visiting Mom and Dad at their new Puerto Rican headquarters. They were delicious, salty, and often served with a salsa or something saucy. I made them to go with a beef curry (recipe coming soon!), and they were the perfect thing to sop up the spicy curry juices.


adapted from Saveur 

Vegetable or olive oil for frying
3 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch thick rounds
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Pour about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.  Heat over medium-high heat until about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you don’t have a thermometer, just stick a piece of plantain in the oil, and once it starts sizzling, it’s ready to go).

Fry plantains until soft, about 8 minutes, turning over half way through. (Work in batches if needed, as you don’t want to overcrowd your skillet.) They might start to crisp on the outside, but that’s fine. Remove the plantains to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, but don’t take the oil off the heat. Increase the heat a little bit, so that your oil is about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Or, if you don’t have a thermometer, just increase the heat a notch. It’ll be fine. I did it without a thermometer, and so can you.

half smushed, half not

Smush each plantain piece with the palm of your hand into a disk. (You can put a paper towel in between your palm and the plantain if you don’t want to get too oily.) Once the oil is heated a bit more, fry the plantains until crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. I’d suggest relining your baking sheet with new paper towels, but do what you gotta do. Lightly salt the tostones while they’re still hot.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, or beef curry.

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

the beginning

Happy frying!


P.S. If you live in Washington, D.C., I highly recommend you go to Pelican’s Rum on U St. We just had the Stewed Chicken (served with rice and peas and some cabbage), and I want to eat that chicken every day for the rest of my life.


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It’s that time of year again: every day for the next 12 days, we’ll bring you something extra special, extra delicious, and extra tropical to help you get into the holiday spirit. Sort of a Christmas-in-July-in-reverse sort of thing.


On the 12th Day of Tropical, The Troikas gave to me Coconut Rum, Pineapple, and Ginger Beer. 


This one is really easy, so don’t blink or you’ll definitely miss it.

The Cocyounut
For one drink:

  • 2 shots coconut rum (I like, maybe even love, Cruzan’s Coconut Rum)
  • 6 ice cubes
  • pineapple juice
  • ginger beer
  • Angostura bitters, optional
  • Dark rum (preferably Mt. Gay), optional

Pour the coconut rum into a tall glass. Add the ice cubes and stir to chill the rum. Pour pineapple juice to reach halfway up the glass. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir to combine. If desired, tip a few drops of Angostura bitters on top, followed by a tablespoon-full of dark rum. Drink right away. The little paper umbrella is optional, but highly recommended.

Old San Juan

See you tomorrow,


P.S. We know that The 12 Days of Christmas actually begin on December 25 and end on January 6, but by then we’ll hopefully be eating foods less full of butter and starch. Let the countdown to Christmas begin!

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Time goes by









Exciting announcements (and more importantly delicious recipes) coming soon.



Jalapeños, long over due

If you pay attention to our little blog, you might have noticed that we’re a teensy bit obsessed with these candied jalapeños. So obsessed, that between the three of us, I’d say we’ve made more than 50 pounds of candied jalapeños. 

That’s a lot of jalapeños. 

They’re so good, that I decided they could probably even win a prize.



Or hey, why not two prizes?

The D.C. State Fair (yes, I know D.C. is not a state, thank you) took place last month, and at the gentle prodding of friends and family, I entered the obsessive-worthy candied jalapeños. Apparently other people thought they’re pretty great, too, because they won second and third place. (They lost to some pickled martini tomatoes, which I guess I understand. Martini tomatoes are probably pretty great.) 

I changed the recipe up a bit to make it my own, experimenting with ginger and garam masala in one batch and coriander and cumin seeds in another. I really, really like the ginger jalapeños, because I really, really like ginger, but the judges liked the coriander and cumin jalapeños better. 

If you have to choose between just making one type, though, I’d go with ginger. Just trust me. 

Sweet, spicy, and addictive, the jalapeños are excellent on crackers with cream cheese, nachos, tacos, burritos, breakfast sandwiches, all sandwiches, hummus, baba ganoush, or, straight from the jar. They make the perfect gift for just about anyone or may also be hoarded in your cupboards.

(Prize winning!) Candied Jalapeños with Ginger or Coriander and Cumin
Adapted from a Candied Jalapeño recipe found here

Recipe easily doubles (or quadruples). 

For both types:

  • 3 pounds jalapeños
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 6 cups sugar

For ginger jalapeños:

  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger (about 50 grams or 2 ounces), peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (yellow or black, or a mix of both)

For Coriander and Cumin jalapeños:

  • 4 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch (or two) of cayenne


  • large pot with rack on bottom for canning
  • canning tongs or normal tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends (use these to transfer your jars into and out of the canner)
  • about 9 half-pint jars, or about 5 pint jars

1. Prepare your canning materials: fill your canning pot with water and bring to a boil (this will take a while), wash your jars, and place jars in the pot of water while it heats. Once the water comes to a boil, allow the jars to boil in the water 10 minutes to sterilize the jars. Remove the jars, emptying the water back into the pot, and place on a towel.

2. Meanwhile (while water is coming to a boil and jars are sterilizing), slice the jalapeños into 1/8-inch rings, leaving core and seeds as intact as possible. Slice the jalapeños as uniformly as you can. And, be sure to wear gloves or your hands may burn later. Set aside.

3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the vinegar, sugar, and either ginger spices or coriander/cumin spices to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking often. Lower the heat and simmer liquid for five minutes, whisking occasionally.

4. Add jalapeños to the vinegar/sugar pot, bring the heat up to medium-high, and cook jalapeños for four minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so to ensure even cooking. It will seem like there is not enough liquid (the jalapeños will not be completely covered in liquid), but don’t fret.

5. After the four minutes is up, immediately move jalapeños to your prepared jars, using a slotted spoon. Turn up the heat and boil the syrup at a rolling boil for six minutes. Turn heat off and funnel liquid into jalapeño-filled jars, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 –inch in head space. Wipe rims clean with a damp paper towel and affix new two-piece lids to finger-tip tightness. ALSO: if you have leftover syrup, don’t through it away. You may can it as well, or you can just keep it in the fridge for a while. It’s great in a home-made vinaigrette, to glaze vegetables or meats, or anywhere you need a spicy-sweet-vinegary kick.

6. Process jars, covered in at least two inches of water, for 10 minutes (if using half pint jars) or 15 minutes (if using pint jars). When done processing, transfer jars to a spot where they can remain undisturbed for 24 hours. After a few minutes, you should hear the ping of the lids sealing. If any jars do not seal, store in refrigerator for up to a month or so. Sealed jars are shelf-stable for up to a year. Enjoy the jalapeños the next day, or allow to mellow for a few weeks. The longer you wait to open them, the more they will mellow.




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