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Mucho Gusto

La Vie d’un Banane: du Fruit au Pain

From the moment I met you, I knew our time together was fleeting. I remember the day…. No. The instant we first crossed paths like it was just last week. 

It was a slow Sunday afternoon, the kind where time feels ethereal. I had a mountain of assignments on my mind, but before I could consider any of them I had to contend with the nagging void at my core. I was really hungry. 

I found myself wandering from aisle to aisle, lost in the romantic lighting and gentle Ed Sheeran of the Chestnut Hill Wegmans. I didn’t know what in particular I was searching for—I miss when my mom bought my groceries—but all doubt left my mind when I finally stumbled into the produce department and laid eyes on you. 

You were so youthful. Your peel was smooth, unblemished, and the perfect shade—mustard yellow with traces of vibrant green on your edges and stem. Once I had found you, I knew you would be coming home with me. 

Checkout was a whirlwind of passion and excitement. I bagged the rest of my groceries quickly and carelessly, but you received my full attention and gentle care. I placed you gingerly at the top of all my bags, careful not to bruise or bump you before leaving the store. I was 15 cents poorer in my bank account, but I felt infinitely richer in my soul. I thought we would be happy together for a long time, but every romantic story needs its conflict, right? 

I was naive and failed to consider the truth. Bananas change. I put you on top of my microwave, expecting you to always be there when I needed you, but where was I when you needed me? I got caught up in class, assignments, friends, and a million other excuses, and the entire time you were there, atop the microwave, waiting for me. 

When I discovered you again, you were no longer an embodiment of youthful beauty. Your peel had become thin, flat, and dull. Your original yellow color had become tarnished and populated with brown and black spots. All green was gone. You were a different fruit than the day on which I met you, and I was devastated at that moment but only because I had yet to realize the truth… the truth of your inner beauty. 

Time had made you sweet and soft, perhaps too sweet and soft to be consumed alone, but you now had the opportunity to be a part of something greater than yourself. I preheated the oven, collected the rest of my ingredients, and began the passionate dance of mashing and mixing. 

You emerged from the oven more beautiful than I could have imagined, and filled my apartment with tantalizing aromas of banana, vanilla, and browned butter. At that moment, I felt the kind of happiness that I imagine a parent feels when they first meet their newborn or a cat lady feels when she receives a new kitten. You had become a beautiful banana bread. Thank you. 

Jokes aside, I’ve been making this version of a banana bread recipe I discovered on Food Network since high school, and the small additions such as browning your butter or adding vanilla and chocolate chips turn something already classic and delicious into one of the best desserts I’ve personally ever made. I hope you give it a try next time your bananas aren’t looking too spry!

Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ripe bananas 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (optional) 
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional) 

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 325℉. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until the solid milk fats have separated. Remove from heat when the milk fats are just beginning to turn blonde and let butter cool. Next, in a large mixing bowl, mash ripe bananas before adding granulated sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Once sugar and spices are incorporated, add eggs one at a time, mixing between. Add milk and now cooled butter to the wet mixture and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Fold the dry mixture into the wet ingredients until few lumps remain and there are no dry spots. Pour half of the batter into a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan, and sprinkle chocolate chips in an even layer. Cover chocolate chips with the remaining batter and bake for one hour to one hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs but no wet batter. After removing the bread from the oven, brush the top with honey while still warm. You’re now ready to enjoy some amazing banana bread, warm or cold (if it lasts that long). Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Simply Recipes

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Mucho Gusto

Hatian Banan Peze and Pikliz

Papers, projects, and presentations are adding up, forming daunting piles and exhaustive to-do lists. Finals are looming, threatening GPAs, sleep, and sanity. Meanwhile, the days are getting longer. The weather is getting warmer, and the plants are getting greener. These next few weeks are those in which motivation matters the most, but it’s a struggle to stay productive when spring is in swing and anyone would rather be sitting in a hammock than studying. It’s easy to feel burnt out or defeated at this point in the semester, and many underclassmen (sorry seniors) are looking forward to the end of the semester, especially after a fleeting glimpse of freedom during Easter vacation. Despite how badly we may want to start our exotic vacation plans or awesome internships, the hay is in the barn, and the last few weeks of the semester have to be finished. The things getting me through until summer are those I associate with summer, my family, and the memories we’ve made together. 

Banan peze and pikliz are Haitian fried green plantains and spicy pickled vegetables. They can be eaten as side dishes alongside a meal, or banan peze can be enjoyed as a standalone dish or snack with pikliz as a condiment. Both dishes are staples in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, and in Haiti, banan peze and pikliz are eaten regardless of the season, so there isn’t really a cultural correlation between the two dishes and the summer and spring seasons. Cultural history or not though, family memories and traditions have led me to strongly associate them with the warming of the weather. 

My mom hated the smell and cleanup of frying so she would always wait until a nice weekend day to set up and fry outside on the patio. We would take advantage of having the grill out and make kebabs, hamburgers, hotdogs, or whatever my mom was already planning on throwing in the oven for Sunday dinner. Oftentimes the pool would be open when it was still too cold for swimming so it remained serene, save for the occasional ripples of a gust of spring wind or a fallen petal. Aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends would stop by for “a quick bite” and stay until the sun was beginning to sneak behind the trees. We would all comment on how deceitful the lengthening days are and make excuses for talking longer than we had intended because “we hadn’t seen each other since the fall.” All the while, we would enjoy freshly fried banan peze with pikliz. Summer had yet to arrive, and our weekend gatherings were far from pool parties or family reunions, but those small moments were my reminder of even more fun and freedom that had yet to come. 

Even now I can imagine the taste of my mom’s banan: hot, crunchy, and salty complemented by the crisp, acidic pikliz. It conjures sights, smells, and sounds of long days at the beach, late nights around a fire, and busy family barbecues.
Food and the associated senses can serve as a bridge between experiences, memories, and emotions. Dishes like banan peze and pikliz remind me of my family and warmer weather, and keep me going at challenging points in the semester. Although this recipe may not have the same emotional oomph for you that it does for me, I hope you will still enjoy these fantastic dishes. If nothing else, let them be a reminder to you of the work you have already done and the fun that is to come as you complete finals and whatever challenges that come with the end of the semester and the start of a new chapter.

Ingredients: 

Banan Peze: 

  • 1 cup vegetable or other high heat oil
  • 3 green plantains, peeled and chopped into 1 ¼ inch lengths
  • Tosternara 
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 

Pikliz:

  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage 
  • 1 large carrot, julienned 
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 6 scotch bonnet pepper, minced
  • 1 white onion, julienned 
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white vinegar 
  • ½ lime, juiced

Directions: 

Banan Peze:

In a large bowl combine the hot water, white vinegar, salt, and garlic powder. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan preheat oil over medium low heat to about 325℉. Fry the plantain pieces in batches so as to not crowd the pan, turning often for approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Remove and let drain on paper towels.

Press your fried plantains to between ¼ and ½ inch thickness using a tostonera or the bottom of a smooth pan utop a cutting board. Increase your oil’s temperature to about 375℉. Quickly soak each pressed plantain in the seasoned liquid before carefully lowering into the oil. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally. Work in batches, be sure not to overcrowd the pan, and be extra careful since there is a lot of moisture introduced to the oil. Drain plantains on a paper towel before serving hot. 

Pikliz: 

Mix the cabbage, carrot, bell and scotch bonnet peppers, onion, scallions, garlic, and peppercorns together in a large jar or other airtight container. Combine salt, vinegar, and lime juice and pour over the cabbage mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 days before serving. The pikliz should stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Cover photo courtesy of The Foreign Fork

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Mucho Gusto

Make Your Own Fries

Fun fact: McDonald’s french fries aren’t vegetarian (in the United States).

For most individuals who enjoy trips to Mickey D’s this knowledge changes nothing, but when a friend innocently informed me of the ingredients of Ronald’s scrumptious potato morsels I was crushed. The third ingredient in McDonald’s ‘World Famous Fries’ is none other than “Natural Beef Flavor,” making them neither vegan or vegetarian friendly. I felt like a fool. Were the past eight years of vegetarianism a lie? I was left questioning both my sanity and my new spot for late night fast food until my friend pointed out I still eat gummy bears. After she reminded me of my glaring imperfections my anger towards fast food clowns subsided a bit, but I became curious about others who have made this discovery, and I fell down the rabbit hole of fast food french fry faux pas.

McDonald’s menu and recipes are notoriously resilient but even they were targets of the late 20th century’s war on dietary fats. Fast food establishments were obvious first scapegoats for America’s health concerns, so after enduring years of lobbying and public scrutiny, in 1990 McDonald’s made the decision to modify a recipe that had not changed since the 1950s. They switched from cooking their fries in beef tallow, rendered beef fat, to frying in vegetable oil. The decision received mixed reactions. Many diehard fans were enraged that their once flavorful fries were neutered by corporate appeasement, but vegetarians and individuals who abstain from eating beef rejoiced that they could finally partake in a famed piece of potato product history. 

Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. In 2001, McDonald’s found themselves in legal hot water after a Hindu American discovered the truth about the ‘natural ingredients’ in Mcdonald’s fries from an India West newspaper article. McDonald’s circumvented adding beef or beef flavoring to the french fries’ ingredients list by using ambiguous labeling and lumping together flavorings and additives. Several individuals took legal action and in 2002 McDonald’s settled a class action lawsuit, awarding 11 named plaintiffs $4,000 each. They also donated $10 million to Hindu and other organizations, made an official statement on their website, and vowed changes in their labeling policies. Now at the bottom of the McDonald’s online menu you can find the fine print message, “We do not promote any of our US menu items as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free.” 

Apologies to anyone who can no longer enjoy McDonald’s fries in good conscience, but there is an alternative: Make your own fries. Creating a product that stands up to something out of Ronald’s kitchen may seem daunting at first, but with the wisdom and scientific approach of culinary legend J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, anyone can cook like a clown. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch by ¼ inch fries
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 quarts peanut or other neutral flavored, high heat oil

Instructions:

To prevent oxidation, keep the cut potatoes submerged in cool water until ready to use. First, combine potatoes, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of salt in a saucepan with 2 quarts of cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Carefully drain the fries and lay them out in a single layer on a paper towel to dry for at least 5 minutes. 

Heat your oil to 400°F in a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot while waiting for the potatoes to dry. Ensure your frying vessel is large enough so that the oil level is not above half before the addition of your potatoes. Once the oil is heated, cook your fries in three batches total. The oil temperature should drop to about 360°F after adding a batch of fries. Cook each batch for approximately 50 seconds before removing to a paper towel lined plate or baking sheet to cool and drain. After letting the fries cool to room temperature, either fry them immediately, or freeze them for up to 2 months before final fry. 

To finish the fries, heat the oil to 400°F and fry until crisp and golden brown, about 3 ½ minutes. Fry in two batches and keep the oil temperature around 360°F after adding the fries. Remove the fries to a paper towel lined plate or bowl and season immediately with salt to taste. Enjoy your vegetarian fries hot and fresh!


Recipe adapted from Serious Eats – The Perfect French Fries Recipe

Cover photo courtesy of Heather Christo

Categories
Mucho Gusto

St. Valentines Dinner for One

St. Valentine’s Day is one of the most divisive holidays, in my opinion. It’s well loved by many, especially couples and romantics, but for a lot of people (myself included) it only serves as a painful reminder of how single you are. Growing up means Valentine’s Day mailboxes made of cardboard and construction paper are replaced with sappy Hallmark cards and love letters. Cheap candy is displaced by gourmet chocolates and intimate dinners. I don’t mean to establish myself as the Grinch of romance, but for an outsider looking in on the festivities, whether you’ve just gone through a breakup or you’ve been single since you can remember, it can be a lonely time. Despite this though, I’m taking a different look on Valentine’s Day this year, a perspective I got from a very special person in my life, that I’d like to share with anyone else feeling a bit of the St. Valentine’s blues. 

My parents divorced when I was a very young age, so for a significant portion of my youth, it was just myself, my older sister, and my mom holding down the fort. Being a black woman, an immigrant, and a mother are all challenging enough, but throw in single on top, and you have a challenge that seems insurmountable. That never stopped my mom from being one of the best moms I could ask for. No matter what challenges we had to overcome as a family, she still always took the time to make my sister and I feel loved, and Valentine’s Day was no exception. 

Mom always told my sister and I, “there’s one person you have to love before you love anyone else: yourself.” I failed to see it then, but she tried to teach and embody that simple sentiment with any opportunity she had. Every Valentine’s Day until I got to high school, my sister, mom, and I would all cook and enjoy dinner together. It didn’t matter how busy we were, or how inconvenient it was, my mom was adamant that the three of us take the time as a family. She always made sure she did something special for “her Valentines,” and after every dinner there were cards waiting for each of us. In them, my mom always added a reminder of not just how much she loves us, but a reminder to love ourselves as well. 

I look back on these memories of cooking, eating, and just receiving and expressing love so fondly, but with a little bit of frustration that I didn’t grasp the true importance of her lessons until now. My mom was trying to show us that love goes beyond the romantic. It is something that you of course can find in and give to others, but it’s also something that you should find in and give to yourself. This Valentine’s Day, I plan on keeping only love in my heart regardless of how single I am, and I hope you will do the same. Get a pedicure, take a bubble bath, write down some positive affirmations, or… make this delicious vegetarian carbonara. 

Ingredients: 

¼ pounds your preferred pasta

¼ pounds asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-3inch pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced or grated

1 pinch smoked paprika

1 large egg yolk

¼ cup vegetarian Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions: 

In a large pot, cook your pasta in salted water until very al dente, about three minutes less than package directions. Add your asparagus when the pasta is about one minute away from finished. While your pasta is cooking, in a skillet or wide bottom pan, combine your olive oil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic is just beginning to turn blonde. Remove the pan from heat, add paprika and set aside. In a medium sized, heatproof bowl, add the egg yolk and gradually add a quarter cup of pasta cooking liquid, whisking constantly. Season the now tempered egg yolk with salt and pepper. Once your pasta and asparagus are cooked, drain them, reserve at least one ½ cup of pasta water and add the pasta and asparagus to the olive oil mixture in the pan. Toss your pasta and asparagus in the olive oil mixture over medium low heat to coat. Next, while tossing constantly, add the yolk mixture, ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, and Parmesan cheese to the pan; you may want to reserve some Parmesan cheese for topping the final dish. Cook over medium low heat while tossing constantly until the cheese is melted, and the sauce has reached a silky consistency. This will take about 5 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add additional pasta water to loosen. Put your pasta in a nice dish (or eat it straight out of the pot, I won’t judge), top with additional Parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper, and enjoy. 


Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit’s Vegetarian Carbonara

Cover photo courtesy of Glamour

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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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Mucho Gusto

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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Mucho Gusto

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