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September 24 2015

How singer Kelis went from 'Milkshake' to cookbook

R&B singer Leis is dishing the delicious details of her life through food, and finally writing a coobook.

Kelis

Kelis

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Though her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, it’s with her Arroz con Gandules that Kelis says made them want to stick around.

After releasing an album called “Food” – with songs including “Breakfast”, “Friday Fish Fry” and “Biscuits N’ Gravy” – her own “Saucy and Sweet” show on the Cooking Channel, and a line of sauces called Bounty & Full, Kelis is well prepped in the kitchen department. Now, she’s ready to serve up some actual dishes with the release of her first cookbook, “My Life on a Plate: Recipes From Around the World.”

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“All the recipes are a part of my life – they’re the different elements that represent me," says the 36-year-old singer, who is currently pregnant with her second child. "I grew up in a very food-centered family and it was always a big part of our day. We always ate dinner together."

But a young Kelis Rogers didn’t only sit down at the table. “My mum had a catering service, so she was doing major events – it was serious cooking. But she taught me quickly and I learnt by example.”

Brought up in Harlem, Kelis could enjoy a smorgasbord of world food. Her Puerto Rican heritage had a huge influence on her cooking style as well. “I love making Pernil – it’s roast pork shoulder, or alcapurrias, that I grew up eating. I really got to enjoy Malaysian and Thai food when I was traveling. I’d already experienced those flavors before, but to be there and eat them was really exciting.”

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After her fourth album “Kelis Was Here” in 2006, she took a hiatus from music and trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. But don’t ask her to pick between her two passions: “My journey was really important. I think I got to the place where I went to culinary school and fell in love with cooking because I had already accomplished something else that I thought I was meant to do – I had made a career.”

Cooking, like songwriting, takes creativity. So, does her album “Food” get Kelis in the mood for making a feast? “I don’t listen to my own music when I’m cooking,” she confides, but admits that whether she’s making food or music, both outlets are a way of her sharing her heart.

Kelis is passing on her family tradition of cooking to  her son, 6 -year-old Knight, whom she had with ex-husband Nas. “I cook with my son in a very relaxed way. Sometimes he is just casually watching, sometimes he wants to get involved, so I bring him in. I always give him some sort of job; he likes using the electric mixer, or cracking the eggs.”

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Like every other mom, she doesn’t get to spend hours in the kitchen every evening. “On a normal day, I always have vegetables and some kind of meat. I like one-pot dishes like stews; they are healthy, quick and easy and they always work.

"But to be honest, I go through times when I’m cooking every day and then I go through weeks when I’m not [laughs]. When I’m working a lot, it’s hard to come home and cook. I’ll always make something – I have a kid, so I have to – but it’s nothing exciting, just basic stuff to feed the family. And then there are times when I’m experimenting and making really interesting fun, delicious things.”

"My Life on a Plate"; Arroz con Gandules

"My Life on a Plate"; Arroz con Gandules

Recipe: Arroz con Gandules

“When I started traveling as a musician, I realized that, whether it’s risotto in Italy, fried rice in China, or paella in Spain, every culture has a seasoned, colored rice dish with flavorful ingredients. Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), is ‘mine.’ A staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, arroz con gandules is something we as a family identified with.”

Note: Gandules, also called pigeon peas, are a legume common in Caribbean cuisine. You can get fresh gandules at Latino grocery stores, particularly where there are large populations of Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. If you can’t find gandules, use frozen green peas or butter beans instead.

Ingredients

• 60ml plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 125g Sofrito
• 1/2 large yellow onion, very finely chopped
• 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
• 425g can green pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
• 370g long-grain white rice
• 3 tablespoons Sazón or 1/4 teaspoon achiote paste (crumbled with your fingers)
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
• 710ml low-salt chicken stock

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron pan or 5.7-litre saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the sofrito and onion, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and sauté, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until the onion is tender and translucent.

2. Add the peas and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the rice, achiote, pepper and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until the rice is lightly browned.

4. Pour in the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to the boil over a high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes until the rice is tender.

5. Uncover the pan, add more salt and pepper to taste and fluff up the rice with a fork.

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