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Mucho Gusto

Haitian Hot Chocolate

The holidays are here; the year is coming to a close, and for many of us this season is a time for reflection and resolution. I have put a lot of time and thought into my resolutions this year and, after looking in retrospect at my immense two decades of wisdom, I’ve decided to denounce the winter season. You may wonder, “how could he say something so controversial yet brave?” or exclaim, “but, Christmas is my favorite holiday!” By the time you finish reading this, though, you too may reconsider your relationship with Jack Frost. 

The winter season has been romanticized incessantly by popular culture. Between cheesy Hallmark movies, holiday specials of your favorite shows, family ski trips, the Winter Olympics and so much more, we have been spoon fed pro snow propaganda for centuries. 

The first and most common pro winter argument you may hear is the beauty of the winter landscape. While I can’t argue with the breathtaking view of a fresh snowfall or glistening ice, I can remind you of the aftermath. The pure white snow only stays white for so long before becoming a beige, slushy mess, and the glassy icicles on trees and buildings often become concussions and insurance claims. It’s absurd we’re expected to tolerate damp socks and wear hardhats for a quarter of the year just for a pretty short-lived view. 

Another reason people romanticize winter is the weather. Oftentimes, those who prefer winter will base their preference on their disdain for the heat and humidity of the summer season. This is a fair justification, but proponents of this hot versus cold debate often overlook the many negatives of this tradeoff. Consider the following scenario: You wake up on an average winter day in an area that regularly receives snow. You check the weather forecast and it will be between 15℉ and 25℉ plus windchill all day. You consider wearing a stylish pair of shoes. Nope, boots only. Your toes might freeze off. You consider wearing a nice outfit, but what’s the point if you’re going to cover it up with a coat all day? Changing songs or responding to a text on your walk to class or work is now an arduous process if you choose to wear gloves or mittens. After you’ve finally made it indoors, you now have to find a place to put your massive fluffy coat, or else the heat, which is almost always cranked to max, will cook you alive. The back of your chair is oftentimes the only storage option, but standing up or adjusting in your seat almost always drops your coat onto the floor and into the aforementioned beige slush that has been tracked in on everyone’s shoes. By themselves, these minor inconveniences seem tolerable, but by the time spring rolls around, they’ve accumulated and can turn even Wim Hof into a passionate winter hater. 

The final and weakest winter myth I’ll debunk surrounds food. Winter creates the perfect environment to enjoy hot, hearty foods and beverages, right?… Wrong! While a hearty tomato soup or hot cup of tea are fantastic remedies for a gross winter day, the existence of Haitian Hot Chocolate shatters the box we’ve lived in for so long. It’s a deliciously rich hot chocolate traditionally made with aromatic spices and unrefined chocolate. This adaptation, though, uses cocoa powder instead of raw Haitian chocolate for its accessibility.  Despite the Caribbean heat and sun, my parents grew up drinking it year round. 

Although I personally can’t afford to move away from winter as a broke college student and leech on my parents, I hope I’ve convinced you to make the superior choice. If not, I hope you make this hot chocolate regardless. Whether you have a winter wonderland outside your window or are lounging under the hot sun, it’s truly a treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unprocessed cacao powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise 
  • 1 ¾ cups evaporated milk
  • ⅓ cups white granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Instructions

In a large saucepan combine the water, cacao powder, cinnamon stick, and star anise and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly to avoid clumps and sticking to the saucepan. Simmer for approximately five minutes or until your cocoa powder is well incorporated and mostly clump free. Add the evaporated milk and sugar and simmer for an additional five minutes. Strain your hot chocolate with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, add the salt, and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Yummy Medley’s Haitian Hot Chocolate: Perfect for Cold Winter Days! 

Cover photo courtesy of Yummy Medley

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Mucho Gusto

Apple Coffee Cake

For most college students, the arrival of the fall holiday season causes mixed emotions. The changing of the leaves and brisk temperatures not only indicate that it’s the best time to bust out your sweaters, but they’re also associated with midterms, homesickness, travel, and many other stressors. Sometimes, it can feel as if the joy has been sucked out of the season we’ve looked forward to all year; however, in my experience, appreciating the little things that mark the holiday season is what reinvigorates me. What you associate with fall may differ for each person, but my go to each time the season rolls around is anything and everything apple. You may make an argument for pumpkin being the supreme fall flavor, and I am not here to squash that debate, only to share a fantastic apple coffee cake and some facts about America’s second favorite fruit

Apples have a long history on the Eurasian continent, but were first domestically cultivated in Central Asia nearly 10,000 years ago. They made their debut in North America between the 1600s and 1700s and were cultivated by European colonists. During the 19th century, before the shift to industrial agriculture, there were over 14,000 recorded, distinct varieties of apple grown throughout the United States, but today the modern apple industry relies only upon about 90 varieties for commercial distribution. The immense variety of the 19th century was due to what could only be described as a colonial obsession with apples. Like many other non indgenous crops, such as peaches, apples were familiar, easy to cultivate, and did exceptionally well in some of the climates and soils of North America; almost every farm in New England kept it’s own orchard or trees. 

Although today the apple obsession has somewhat died down, apples are still one of the most popular fruits in the states and have resulted in many of America’s cultural cornerstones. From butter, to sauce, to pie, if you put an apple in it, it will probably end up tasting delicious and smelling like fall. This cake is no exception, enjoy!

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ teaspoon salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into ¼ inch cubes

Batter

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into approximately ⅛ inch cubes 

Instructions

To make the topping, combine your flour, sugar, oats, salt, and pumpkin spice in a bowl. Add your butter and incorporate with a fork or pastry blender until coarse crumbs form. Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350℉ and grease a 9×12 inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray. To make the batter, in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and the mixture’s color begins to lighten. Add your eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each. Next, add your vanilla and yogurt, and mix until homogeneous. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until no dry spots remain and the batter is mostly smooth. Add your chopped apples to the batter and mix until evenly distributed. 

For assembly, layer half of the batter in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over half of the streusel topping in an even layer. Carefully dollop and smooth the remaining half of the batter over the layer of streusel and top with the remaining streusel. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely, then enjoy!


Recipe adapted from: Foodwishes and King Arthur Baking

Cover photo courtesy of KingArthurBaking

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Mucho Gusto

Diana’s Favorite Rum Raisin Cake

As the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, I always look to my childhood sources of comfort to cheer me up. One such tradition I still rely on is baking. Every fall and winter holiday, my mother and I spend hours together in the kitchen, mixing batter and decorating desserts. I was always too indecisive to pick just a single favorite, but to this day, my mother’s is rum raisin cake, a rich and fragrant treat. A piece of rum raisin cake fresh out of the oven can make even the dreariest of autumn days a little sweeter. Although the finished product doesn’t have an alcohol content, you can’t call it rum raisin cake without the rum, which provides the opportunity for a brief discussion of the spirit’s history. 

In popular culture, rum is primarily associated with swashbuckling pirates and Caribbean getaways, but it actually has a long and complex history. It is a liquor made from fermented molasses, cane sugar, or cane syrup, that is then distilled to varying degrees depending on the desired color and clarity. Rum and its associated industries had a large impact on the slave trade, the colonization of North America, and even the eventual independence of the United States. 

Rum’s success in colonial America was due largely to the demand for cane sugar. Though sugarcane was first introduced to South America and the Caribbean regions in the 1400s, the early 1600s marked the beginning of the crop’s dominance. In what was dubbed the “Triangle Trade,” slave labor was used to cultivate sugarcane, which was then processed into sugar and its byproducts. The incredibly high supply of molasses meant that rum was plentiful and cheap, so it quickly became a favorite of colonial Americans. The British colonies especially took a liking to the beverage, and distilleries appeared throughout New England.

Despite the incredible volume of exports from the British colonies to Europe, Britain continually imposed higher taxes on sugar, rum, and other commodities, which caused tensions between New England and England. Of course, there were a variety of other factors that contributed to the eventual independence of the United States, so it may be a bit dramatic to say rum led to the American Revolution, but the fact that it had more than superficial ties to the history of the United States is fascinating. 

I hope this cool-weather treat brings you as much joy as it does to me and my family. 

Ingredients

Batter

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened 
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 4 cups white bleached flour 
  • 1 ½  teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup raisins 

Topping

  • 1 cup rum
  • ½ cup raisins 
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon 

Instructions

This recipe will make two nine-inch bundt cakes. Soak the raisins in the rum for two to six hours. Refrigerate before separating ½ cup and any remaining liquid for the topping. Preheat the oven to 350℉ and grease two nine-inch bundt pans with butter or cooking spray. 

To make the cake batter, combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the ingredients together until the mixture is fluffy, homogeneous, and approaching a light color. After the butter and sugar have been creamed, add the egg yolks and mix until fully incorporated. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. In another bowl combine the 3 tablespoons dark rum, whole milk, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in four parts and the wet mixture in three. Begin with the flour mixture and alternate additions of the dry and wet mixtures to your butter mixture. Make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated before each subsequent addition. 

Next, whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks and gently fold them into the batter. After the egg whites, gently fold in one cup of soaked raisins, divide the batter between both pans, and smooth the tops. 

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for at least an hour and turn onto a plate or serving dish. 

To prepare the topping, combine the ½ cup of raisins and liquid you set aside earlier in a small saucepan with the brown sugar and an additional ⅓ cup of water. Simmer gently, stirring constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture has thickened into a slight syrup consistency. This will give time for the alcohol to evaporate as well. Let the syrup cool before adding a pinch of salt and the cinnamon. Pour this topping over your cakes and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Myrecipies

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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!

Cover Image

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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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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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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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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