I almost always think about the recipes my mom taught me as a kid and credit her with a lot of what I’ve learned, but, this Father’s Day, I need to give some credit to my dad. Father’s aren’t always seen in the home kitchen, especially in our culture, but there are plenty of men that cook. Actually, the majority of U.S. chefs are men. Why there are only a mere 20 percent of women chefs in the U.S.? Well, that’s a story for another day. I digress.
My father came to this country with the American dream in his pocket. He came to build a life full of opportunity, not just for himself, but more for his future family. His first job was at Pizza Hut as a manager and evenly district manager. It’s funny, he told me when he was younger, he thought pizza was some sort of dessert! Guess he found out otherwise.
Our home was full of Pizza Hut-branded merchandise like cups, plates, t-shirts – but, the thing we kept over the years were four little brown clay baking dishes. I cherished just the sight of these little dishes coming out of our cabinets because it meant that dad was going to make us all his famous baked spaghetti. Dad’s recipe wasn’t anything out of the ordinary—boxed spaghetti noodles, jarred tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese—but, he treated the process as if he was making magic. And, he always quietly told us that a little sprinkle of sugar was the secret ingredient in his sauce. Getting to hold on to these four dishes in my own kitchen today is special, not just so I can bake pasta, but so that I can relive those tender moments of happiness and joy.
The recipe below is a modern ode to my dad’s original recipe. This Cheesy Baked Mushroom Penne Pasta is full of flavor and is so easy to make. The way the mushrooms are cooked are meant to mimic the ground beef we’d typically use in the recipe – trust me, even mushroom haters can’t hate this! I hope you enjoy making this recipe and, bonus points to you if you make it for Father’s Day, if not for your father, for yourself to enjoy.
Olive Oil, 2 tbsp
Onion, 1, diced
Bell Pepper (any color), 1, diced
Jalapeno Pepper, 2, diced
Garlic Cloves, 6, minced
Diced Tomatoes, 2 cups (canned is fine)
Italian Seasoning Blend, 2 tbsp
Brown Sugar, 1 tbsp
Make the meat.
In a skillet on high heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add in the finely diced portobello mushrooms. Cook for about 6-8 minutes or until the mushrooms water content cooks out and they become slightly crisp. Add in the liquid smoke and the salt then mix together. Set aside.
Cook the pasta.
Bring a pot of water to a rumbling boil and add about 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Once the water comes to a rumbling boil, cook the pasta according to the box instructions. I typically cook for about 7-8 minutes to get firm pasta. Immediately drain the pasta under cool water, but be sure to reserve a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Make the tomato sauce.
In the same skillet on medium high heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and garlic cloves. Saute until lightly golden and soft. Now add in the diced tomatoes and mix everything together. Finally, mix in the Italian seasoning and brown sugar. Transfer the chunky sauce to a mixing bowl and use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. *Alternatively, wait until the chunky sauce has cooled down then use a blender to puree the sauce.
Mix it all together and bake.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Now add the cooked pasta, pasta water, mushroom meat, tomato sauce, and parmesan to your pot. Toss everything together until evenly mixed. Add the pasta to a baking dish and top with the mozzarella slices and parsley. Bake just until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Done!
It is officially that time of year—the holiday season. There’s nothing like Christmas and New Year’s in the West Indies. Between the pepperpot in Guyana and the palm trees decorated in lights in Trinidad, the home food, warm weather and laid-back ambiance makes us wish we could escape the cold and head back to the Caribbean. Most of us, however, cannot “take holiday” and find ourselves hungry for fresh dhal puri and doubles. But, thanks to these Indo-Caribbean food bloggers, we can bring the motherland to our kitchens.
From Diwali mithai specialties to curry chicken, Matthew is creating a name for himself as a young Guyanese food blogger. He makes a great effort to incorporate Hindu holidays and traditions on his Instagram account, in conjunction with the customary foods and sweets associated with these religious events. However, his expertise does not end there, with new and alternative recipes for classic dishes such as curry chicken and bhara, Matthew takes center stage sharing both traditional Guyanese dishes as well as specific religious dishes made for festivals. His most popular YouTube video, with 1.4 million views, features his grandmother and focuses on the best tips to make the softest Guyanese paratha roti. In addition, his YouTube account is home to many videos offering guidance to Indo Caribbean cooking. Find recipes at @mattews.guyanese.cooking
Natasha Laggan of Trini Cooking with Natasha is wildly popular throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. With humble beginnings, Natasha credits her love of food to her family’s business. She speaks of the nostalgia home food provides her as she reminisces memories of her grandmother’s cooking and helping her mother make sandwiches early in the morning. Featured by Forbes, Natasha grew her Facebook following quickly throughout the pandemic by posting old YouTube videos. Today, she has more than 1 million followers on Facebook and over 200K followers on YouTube. She uses her passion for cooking and Trinidadian culture to bring easy-to-follow recipes to viewers. Her following has now reached the West Indian diaspora globally as she has also become a brand ambassador to two well-known food companies. Follow the food expert @trinicookingwithnatasha.
With over 100K followers on YouTube, Ria is quite the expert when it comes to making roti. Her dhal puri, sada roti and paratha roti tutorials have over 1M views! However, her expertise does not stop there. Of the 180 YouTube tutorials, her recipes vary from curry to other Trinidadian favorites like macaroni pie and pigtail soup. Just scrolling through her YouTube page makes your mouth water. From doubles to classic Trinidad bakes like pound cake and sweet bread, she provides precision and anecdotal commentary while guiding you through the familiarity of home food. Check out Ria’s page at @cookingwithria.
Known as Chef Devan, Devan Rajkumar embraces his Guyanese Canadian heritage by creating recipes combining flavors of both the East and West Indies. His love of food has allowed him to expand his role to judge in a popular Canadian cooking show: Food Network Canada’s Fire Masters. His cooking often blends the flavors of multiple cultures but also creates the classic recipes of his motherland. With a multitude of interests, Chef Dev uses his social media platform to connect with followers by sharing various aspects of his life that go beyond cooking. His most recent YouTube video provides a trailer for an upcoming video “Tastes Guyana” which shows him exploring Guyana from the inside, specifically deep parts of the inner country. To learn more about Chef Devan follow @chefdevan.
Reshmi is the chef behind the growing blog, Taste of Trinbago. A Trinidadian native who now resides in Texas, she uses her love of food and Trinidadian culture to share hacks, tips and easy recipes with West Indians throughout the globe. She finds a way to simplify traditional West Indian meals, that we once watched our elders make with curiosity. From holiday specialties like black cake to Diwali delicacies, Reshmi has brought vegetarian and non-veg recipes to followers in an extremely accessible way. She even posts recipe cards on her IG highlights for followers who may need written instructions. Her IG profile is a mix of various West Indian foods while also sharing bits of her life and even her secrets to baby food. Follow her @tasteoftrinbago.
These are just five Indo Caribbean food bloggers sharing their secrets to easy cooking. The once very daunting recipes and food instructions our parents gave have been simplified by most of these bloggers through video, voice over and modernized recipes. We no longer have to estimate a “dash, pinch or tuk” of any masala. We are just days away from Christmas and this is the perfect time to find the best-suited recipe to make that paratha for Santa.