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Banging Black Beans

Refried beans are synonymous with Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine, but are eaten in countless other Latin American cultures as well. They are a relatively new dish, popularized in the last century alongside many other Tex-Mex staples like fajitas or chili con carne. The name refried beans can cause some confusion because the beans are not literally fried twice—a more apt description would be “well-fried beans,” the direct Spanish translation of “frijoles refritos.”

Cooking refried beans can be as simple or complex as you’d like. The easiest iterations of refried beans consist of nothing but beans, a source of fat, and spices. Many recipes call for the addition of fragrant vegetables such as sauteed onion, pepper, or a sofrito. In northern regions of Mexico and most of the United States, this dish is traditionally made with pinto beans, but can be made with any bean you prefer. Black beans are the second most common choice, and my personal favorite. No matter which bean you choose to use, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying refried beans in any form, you certainly understand why the dish came to be so popular. The uses for refried beans are almost inexhaustible: it can be served as a dip on its own, or can be combined with other dips and condiments like your favorite guacamole and queso to make a 7-layer dip, a crowd-pleasing game day staple. Refried beans also make a fantastic enchilada filling, and on rice it becomes a deceptively simple standalone meal. They’re simple, filling, and make a fantastic accouterment or even main dish whenever you decide you’re craving some Tex-Mex food.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼  large red onion, finely chopped
  • ½ poblano pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 cups black beans, cooked and drained 
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder 
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large saucepan, saute the onions and peppers in the olive oil over medium-high heat until softened and beginning to brown. Add the black beans, cumin, and chili powder to the saucepan, toasting them briefly, about 30 seconds, before adding the vegetable stock and bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer. Lower the heat and reduce the mixture, stirring occasionally until the beans are tender and the liquid has reached a saucy consistency. This will take about three to five minutes. Mash with a potato masher or fork until the beans reach the desired consistency, mix in the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. You’re now ready to enjoy some banging beans however you please!

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World’s Best Almond Milk

College is a challenging and rewarding new experience. Young and idealistic teens anticipate going for years. Everyone knows to expect hard tests and raging parties (global pandemic permitting, of course), but the most impactful moments are often unexpected. Let me give you an example from my own experience. You’re a happy-go-lucky college student, who has a sudden hankering for a bowl of cereal. You fill a bowl with your cereal of choice; your excitement builds as you do. You open the fridge, reach for the carton of milk, and pick it up only to be met with immense disappointment. There’s no milk. This harrowing experience is what inspired this recipe. Making plant based milks is a relatively straightforward and easy process, but before discussing how to, we’ll take a look at the main ingredient of my preferred milk, almonds. 

Almond refers to both the almond tree and it’s seeds. The tree itself is a deciduous tree of the botanical name Prunus dulcis. It belongs to the Rosaceae family, which encompasses several other popular foods including but not limited to pears, cherries, and apricots. Almond trees grown for agricultural purposes can grow anywhere from ten to fifteen feet tall and their flowers are white or pale pink. The almonds themselves are not technically nuts, but instead the seeds of the almond fruit. The technical term for an almond fruit would be a drupe, which is any single seeded fruit. Almond fruits are not much larger than almonds and are similar in shape but have a greenish brown leathery flesh that surrounds the seed. 

Almond trees are native to Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, and later spread throughout Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. They are a culturally significant crop in almost every region they have reached, which can be attributed to their early cultivation. The first mentions of domesticated almond trees began as early as the bronze age, approximately 3,000 BCE to 2,000 BCE. 

Almonds made their way to the United States in the 1700s and have since found a comfortable spot in the Western United States. Supplying ninety percent of the world’s almonds, this nut is one of the most valuable and highest exported agricultural goods of California, which has the perfect warm climate to grow the Medterranean plant. Despite the crop’s importance to California’s export economy, there are debates about it’s sustainability due to the high water consumption of almond trees. A single almond takes over a gallon of water to produce. This may seem wildly unsustainable at a glance, but when placed into the context of other milks and milk substitutes almonds are still a good option if you’re concerned about their environmental impact. For example, the nuts in a gallon of almond milk will use about 84 gallons of water. This may seem unreasonable, but a gallon of dairy milk will use about 880 gallons of water, more than 10 times as much as it’s plant based counterparts. If sustainability issues were what was stopping you from enjoying some delicious nuts, just know you can enjoy your almonds in moderation.

In addition to their diversity and versatility in the kitchen, almonds provide a host of health benefits. They are packed with fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins, which can be beneficial to  the brain, the skin, and cardiovascular health. Turns out digging into a tub of almond butter or a box of French macaron might have secondary benefits outside of tasting great.  

Although this recipe is for almond milk, the same processes can be applied to make all sorts of plants based drinks, whether it may be other nuts or even oats. It is a little extra effort, but what you gain will be one of the best milk drinking experiences of your life. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (optional)

Instructions:

Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with water. Let the almonds soak for 12 to 16 hours in the refrigerator. After the almonds have soaked, drain the nuts and transfer them to a blender. Add 3 cups of fresh water and blend on high speed for 60 – 90 seconds. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and add salt or sweetener if desired. You’re now ready to enjoy some of the best almond milk in the world. Whether it’s with cereal, in coffee, or just to sip. This recipe will make 3 cups. Enjoy!  

Cover photo courtesy of From The Larder

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Mucho Gusto

Hotel Room Guacamole

Sometimes life places us in difficult or unfamiliar situations. For example, you may find yourself isolated in a hotel room for the foreseeable future, desperately craving a fresh and tasty snack because the prepackaged ones just aren’t cutting it anymore. You may look at this completely hypothetical dilemma and wonder, “what should I do?” Well, fret no more, reader! I have the perfect solution: hotel room guacamole. It’s fresh, tasty, and surprisingly easy to make, even with minimal resources! In my opinion, all you need is avocado, lime, and the ever-controversial cilantro. 

Coriander, also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants, making it related to carrots, parsley, and celery. Cilantro has been used for millennia, dating as far back as 5,000 BCE in the Medditeranean. Its first major cultivation was by the Egyptians, who used cilantro for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Romans are credited with spreading coriander to the rest of the Eurasian continent, while the Spanish brought the herb to the western hemisphere in the late seventeenth century. 

The semantics of the herb are convoluted. In the United States and Canada, coriander usually refers only to the plants’ dried fruits; elsewhere, coriander refers to the entire plant. The word coriander is derived from the Greek word koris, which translates to bed bugs, because the  ancient Greeks thought the aroma of the plant was similar to that of the insects. Cilantro is the Spanish name for the coriander plant, but in North America, cilantro has come to mean only the leaves and stems of the plant. 

Despite its long history and significance to many cultures, cilantro isn’t loved by all. Even culinary legend Julia Child proclaims her hate for it. This widespread disagreement goes beyond personal tastes; there is a scientific reason some people don’t like cilantro. Scientists have identified more than three genes that negatively affect our perception of the herb. The genes in question concern our olfactory sensors, which allow us to smell and taste. Individuals with these genes perceive cilantro as tasting overly strong or “soapy,” and it can overpower other ingredients. When cooking for others, it’s often a good idea to make sure they’ll eat cilantro beforehand or have a suitable replacement ready. 

Even though I must acknowledge the unfortunate individuals that can’t enjoy cilantro, I can’t relate, and my guacamole would be incomplete without it. The bright herbaceous flavor of cilantro pairs perfectly with avocado. Beyond its controversial ingredient, this guacamole recipe is as simple as it gets. It is truly a barebones rendition of what guacamole can be, so feel free to modify, add, subtract, or substitute as you please. This recipe is a fantastic dip, condiment, or snack that can be made and enjoyed anytime or anywhere. Eat it with chips or toast, or use it to zest up your meals in quarantine.

Hotel Room Guacamole 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 ripe hass avocado 
  • ½ lime 
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp finely-chopped jalapeno, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or cilantro substitute, chopped 

Instructions: 

Peel, pit, and chop the avocado into large chunks. Add the zest and juice of half a lime to a bowl containing the avocado chucks. Add the onion, jalapeno, and cilantro to the bowl, and mix until the guacamole has reached your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, give the guacamole one final mix, and enjoy. It’s as simple as that! Feel free to dress it up—or down—as much as you’d like. You can try using different peppers, onions, or even spices. I even like to add a few drops of honey or agave nectar to introduce some sweetness, which compliments the acidity and spice of the guacamole. 

Cover photo courtesy of Love and Lemons

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Mucho Gusto

Hatian Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Personally, pineapple is my favorite fruit. It has a unique texture, somehow managing to be crunchy, juicy, and silky all at once. No matter the ripeness,  it has the perfect balance of tart and sweet flavors. A pineapple’s flavor provokes images of leisurely summer days and picturesque tropical getaways. My personal bias aside, it is clear that pineapples have a wide appeal and are one of the world’s most popular tropical fruits, sharing clout with other superstars like mangoes, avocados, papayas, and bananas.

Pineapple originated in the Paraguay River drainages, and was later spread and domesticated throughout South America and the Carribean by the Mayans and Aztecs. Christopher Columbus introduced pineapple to the eastern hemisphere in 1493, where it came to represent wealth among the European nobility due to its accessibility. For almost three centuries, pineapples were used as decorations or centerpieces and were rarely eaten

The spanish introduced pineapple to Hawaii in the 18th century. The first commercial plantation opened in the 19th century, beginning the state’s long history and association with the fruit. James Dole, the most famous of the early pineapple investors, and his company were the basis for the eventual Dole Food Company empire. After the decline of Hawaiian pineapple production in the 20th century, most of the pineapple production moved to South America, Southeast Asia, most notably the Philippines. The Phillipines quickly became one of the world’s top exporters of pineapple, exporting 21% of the global market share last year.

Apart from their  long and unique history, pineapples have other fun facts that set them apart from other fruits. They are relatively acidic and contain high concentrations of the enzyme bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Aside from making pineapple useful for tenderizing meats, this means eating pineapple can strip the mucus membrane in your mouth. The common joke is that pineapple eats you right back, but that has never stopped anyone from enjoying a pineapple filled dish. 

I am sharing a recipe for Haitian pineapple upside down cake that has been in my family for generations. In fact, the original recipe is still in French. This cake  has made an appearance at all of my Christmas celebrations, and I have been baking and decorating these cakes with my mother since I could reach the countertop. This recipe uses a Haitian cake batter, which is heavily spiced and includes plenty of butter. This recipe has brought joy and the holiday spirit to my family and friends for as long as I can remember, and I hope it can do the same for yours. 

Haitian Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ingredients

Decorations

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 (20 ounce) can of pineapple rings in juice – drained
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • Maraschino cherries 

Batter 

  • 2 cups butter – softened 
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs – yolks and whites separated
  • 4 cups white bleached flour 
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • Zest of 1 lime 
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder

Instructions : 

This recipe will make two nine inch cakes. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Coat two baking pans with butter and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the top of the parchment paper, and cover the bottom surface of the pan with brown sugar, removing excess that does not stick. Decorate the bottom of the pan with the raisins and pineapple rings. Be creative! This part of the recipe is very open ended and flexible. 

Next, make the cake batter. Combine the  butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and using an electric mixer, whip the ingredients until the mixture is fluffy, homogeneous, and approaching a white color. After the butter and sugar are creamed together, add the egg yolks and mix until no streaks of yellow remain. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In another bowl, combine the pineapple juice, lime zest, rum, and vanilla. You will add the flour mixture in four parts and the juice mixture in three. Begin with the flour and alternate additions of the dry and liquid mixtures to your butter and egg mixture. Make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated before the next addition. Add the baking powder to the final dry addition. 

Next, whip the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently incorporate the whipped egg whites into the batter. After, divide the batter between both pans, smoothing the tops. 

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Let them cool completely before inverting the cakes out of the pans, transferring them onto a serving dish. Decorate with your maruchiro cherries and enjoy!  

Image courtesy of Caribbean Green Living

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Mucho Gusto

Mom’s Special Soup

Gusto’s fall issue is almost here. In order to get it to readers safely, we will be distributing the publication through a signup option. If you would like a copy, fill out this Google form by November 13.


This is the fifty-fifth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Adorning cornucopia, dining tables, windowsills, and mantles, winter squash are fixtures of the fall and winter seasons, similar to auburn leaves and wool scarves. They introduce vibrant colors into the home, come in all shapes and sizes, and the best part—they’re delicious! Winter squash are found across the world, but it is easy to wonder how they became such a salient artifact of Western tradition.

The term winter squash encompasses a staggering amount of gourds, ranging from decorative pumpkins to sweet butternut squash, but what makes winter squash unique is the time of year they are grown, their maturity, and how long they can be stored.  Winter squash are planted in late spring after all danger of frost has passed, since the seedlings are incredibly delicate.  Most  varieties are harvested during late summer and early fall. Unlike summer squash, which are eaten at a comparably juvenile stage of growth, winter squash are mature at the time of consumption. Their late harvest is what lends the winter squash’s hard rinds and drier interiors, both of which result in a longer shelf life. Winter squash were a Native American staple for this very reason: they could be harvested throughout the fall season and eaten throughout winter. 

Additionally, winter squash are simply fantastic seasonal vegetables when considering both flavor and nutrition. They boast high levels of vitamins, particularly vitamins A and C, and are also high in fiber. This is not only beneficial for digestive health, but also means winter squash can be a hearty and filling addition to soups, stews, or when served as a side. Their versatility,  whether boiled, baked, or steamed, provides countless options for anyone looking to add them to their diet for their health benefits, or just to enjoy a fresh vegetable in season.

In my household and many other Haitian homes, winter squash is most commonly found in the form of soup joumou, a hearty soup filled with vegetables, noodles, beef, and pureed squash. The soup is a slightly spicy dish, filled with the hallmark flavors of Haitian cuisine, and holds a deep cultural significance. It is often enjoyed on New Year’s day, during celebrations of Haitian independence, and at significant personal events such as weddings or funerals. To me, though, joumou represents the epitome of comfort food. As days get shorter, evenings get colder, and the holidays approach, soup joumou is always on the table, to warm us up and bring our family together. Below you will find an adaptation of my mother’s squash soup recipe. It is a vegetarian dish that provides the Haitian flavors of soup joumou without beef.

Diana’s Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium calabaza squash, peeled and gutted
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and gutted 
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 to 3 ( approximately ½  pound) carrots, peeled
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-5 sprigs parsley 
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional) 
  • ½ lbs peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 piece stale white bread
  • ¼ cup heavy cream 
  • ¼ cup butter

Instructions 

Begin with the mise en place. Chop the calabaza and butternut squashes into approximately 1 inch cubes. Peel and chop the onions into roughly ½ inch pieces. Remove the stem and seeds from the bell pepper and chop into roughly ½ inch pieces. Cut the scallions and carrots into approximately 1 inch lengths. Peel and crush the cloves of garlic. The garlic does not have to be minced, just broken. 

Next, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the garlic, scallions, onions, and bell pepper; sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and the edges of the onion become translucent. At this point, add the squash, parsley, and carrots. If you want to make the dish spicy, add the scotch bonnet pepper as well. Cover the vegetables with 1 to 2 inches of water, and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking the vegetables until the squash and carrots are tender. Add the peas and cook until tender as well.  

Next, if used, carefully remove and discard the scotch bonnet pepper. Transfer the vegetables to a blender, and add enough cooking liquid to cover, and carefully puree. Be cautious, as the mixture will be incredibly hot. Once the vegetables have been reduced to a smooth consistency, add the white bread in small pieces through the feed port of the running blender. 

Transfer the pureed mixture into the pot with the remaining cooking liquid. Gently bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally until a desired thickness is achieved. A good measure is when it is able to coat the back of a spoon. 

Finally, add the heavy cream and mix. While constantly stirring, slowly add the butter, approximately ½ tablespoon at a time. Make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the mixture  before adding the next increment. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy! I hope this soup can bring you as much joy as it brings my family.

Cover photo courtesy of Love and Olive Oil

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Carol’s Sweet Potato Pie

This is the fifty-first installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

No individual raised on American culture, especially in the Northeast, can fail to recognize the cultural cornerstone that is pumpkin spice. From the infamy of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, to its incorporation into every baked good conceivable, pumpkin spice has come to dominate autumnal culture. If you were to ask what the flavor of fall is, anyone born in the last century would respond with pumpkin spice. It is clearly inescapable, but where did this flavor—or flavors—come from? 

A mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, pumpkin spice was first mentioned in American cooking and baking in early 20th century recipes. It only became the commercialized product we know it to be in the 1950s when spice giants like McCormick began selling pre-mixed pumpkin spice. Considering the age and historical significance of all its respective components, pumpkin spice is a relatively new development; a look at its individual ingredients is where we will find the most insights into the history and cultural significance of its flavor. 

Photo courtesy of BBC

First mentioned in Chinese writings of 2800 BCE, cinnamon is derived from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum, or true cinnamon tree, which is native to Sri Lanka. Different languages and cultures developed different names for the spice based on its uses or growing patterns, but the name “cinnamon,” as it is referred to in English, is derived from the Arabic word ‘amomon,’ which means fragrant spice plants. Cinnamon began its major worldwide transitions to other regions such as South America and the West Indies in the 18th and 19th centuries. It can be grown in most tropical regions, making it a very versatile spice found throughout cultures worldwide. 

Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the evergreen Syzygium aromaticum, which is native to Maluku Islands of Indonesia. Unlike the other elements of pumpkin spice, cloves were relatively slow to spread to the rest of the world. Their cultivation was limited to certain countries, notably Zanzibar, which previously produced a majority of the cloves in the spice trade. 

Nutmeg comes from the seeds of the nutmeg fruit, which grows on the Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree native to Banda. Nutmeg has an especially rich history; it was particularly significant to the Romans, who are thought to have discovered it and began using it around 1 CE. Much like the other spices in pumpkin spice, Nutmeg found its way to worldwide cultivation in the West Indies, South America, and other tropical and temperate regions. In the 13th and 14th centuries, like many spices, nutmeg was prized by the wealthy, particularly for its hallucinogenic properties. 

Ginger may be the oldest flavor in pumpkin spice. It is the root of the Zingiber officinale, a flowering plant originating from Southeast Asia. Ginger’s use in medicine means that it has seen widespread cultivation. It is mentioned in historical documents dating as far back as 5000 years ago in India and China, but ginger’s diversity means its specific origins are somewhat difficult to pinpoint.

The spices of pumpkin spice are diverse, each with a unique history, but they have still managed to come together in the past century to define our flavors of fall and winter. Their cultural omnipresence is undeniable, and sometimes polarizing. Critics of the pumpkin-spice-everything movement seemingly take up arms every fall season, fighting in zealous opposition of pumpkin, but the seasonal battle has yet to conclude. Although I cannot convert the critics or supporters of the pumpkin spice movement, I do have a recipe that may be able to appease both parties. 

My auntie Carol’s sweet potato pie has always been the household choice for enjoying autumnal flavor. It is sweet, rich and delightfully spiced. It is somewhat ironic that pumpkin spice goes into a pie that contains no pumpkin, but it’s a modification of the Southern staple that bridges the divide between pumpkin overload and the flavor of fall. 

This recipe will make two nine-inch pies. 

Ingredients

Crust (recipe adapted from foodwishes.com)

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour 
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, frozen, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 8 tablespoons ice water

Filling

  • 6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into approximately ½ inch pieces 
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon 
  • A pinch salt
  • 1 ½ cups margarine
  • A pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Instructions: 

Begin by making the crust. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl or food processor, combine the salt and flour. Add the cold butter to the mixture and pulse until the mixture has a texture similar to that of wet sand. Alternatively, if mixing by hand, cut together the butter and flour with a fork until there are some pebbles of butter remaining and the texture has reached that of wet sand. 

Transfer the dough to a smooth, sizable work surface. Slowly add the ice water, periodically mixing by hand or with a bench scraper. You may not need to use all the water, so add it slowly. Be careful not to overwork the dough as it may result in a less tender final crust. Once the dough has reached a shaggy but cohesive texture, wrap in plastic wrap or place into an airtight container and move to the fridge until ready to use. 

Next, move on to the pie filling. Place the sweet potatoes into a pot and add cold water until all the potatoes are submerged. Bring the water to a simmer over medium high heat, and cook until fork tender. Drain the sweet potatoes in a colander and leave them to cool, then transfer them to a large mixing bowl and mash. Add sugar, vanilla, evaporated milk, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, salt, and margarine to the mashed sweet potatoes, and stir until the mixture is homogeneous.

Then comes the assembly process. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into two equal halves. Flour your rolling pin and surface. Roll each half into a roughly circular sheet, approximately 1/16 of an inch thick and slightly larger than a 9-inch pie plate.

Drape a sheet of dough into each of your two ungreased pie dishes. Lift, drop, and press the dough so that it lines the walls and corners of the dishes. Trim excess dough from the edges and crimp, or press the dough’s edges into a pattern if desired. Dock or poke holes in the bottom of the dough with a fork or toothpick to prevent it from rising in the oven, then par-bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until the edges of the crust have turned a light blonde color. 

Evenly divide the filling between the two prepared pie dishes and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the surface of the pie has darkened slightly and the crust is golden brown. Carefully remove the pies from the oven and let them cool completely. If desired, sprinkle nutmeg atop the pie as a garnish. Cut a slice and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Betty Crocker