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Mucho Gusto

Spring’s Spicy-Sweet Potato Crisps

In my habitual attempt to advance a controversial opinion, I have decided what I want my new statement-piece penny thought to be: if spring had a flavor, it would be sweet and spicy. 

My nonconformist calculation derives itself distinctly from one, and only one, piece of evidence—the New England weather.

Is the season sweet with the sun emerging in and the winter parka disappearing in the back corner of your closet? Or, conversely, is it the “spiciest” few months in the Northeast with forecasts far more unpredictable than reliable? I assure you, it’s a bit of both. There is a simultaneous beauty and nearly worrisome spontaneity to spring, yet the season harmonizes the uncertainty and brings us months that we must savor. 

With a taste of spring on our tongues in the first week of April, this maple chili sweet potato crisp recipe proves the unmatched matrimony of sweet and spicy, and demands us to relish in the flavorful spirit of the season. This dish fits as the perfect complement to spring greens or that first piece of chicken cooked out on the grill. As it is surely time to let go of the chunky, dense sweet potato bites that remind you of that old winter sweater, these thinly-sliced sweet potato crisps will give you that crunch to prelude a summer plate of fish and chips – while, of course, adding some of the heat we are so desperate to see on the forecast. 

You’ll find that the flavors mutually amplify one another in every bite. It is the gift of their pairing, with nothing else quite able to compare. It is a perfect balance that appears contradictory, yet guarantees to intrigue one’s taste buds in every bite.

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves minced

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 425 °F. Then, prepare the sweet potatoes. First, slice them in half lengthwise. Placing them on their flat side, slice the potatoes thinly, just under a quarter-inch to guarantee a crispy product. Next, soak your potatoes in a mixing bowl filled with cold water and a few ice cubes for 10-15 minutes. The cold water is a quick and easy trick to help your potatoes cook more evenly. After this, drain the water and pat the slices dry. Transfer your potatoes into another mixing bowl and add olive oil, maple syrup, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the potatoes well to evenly coat them in the spicy syrup mixture. Then lay the potatoes out on a baking sheet and drizzle with honey and fresh minced rosemary leaves. Once the oven is preheated, place in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until desired crispy texture. Be sure to turn over the potatoes roughly halfway through to ensure they are evenly cooked. Once finished, top your sweet and spicy potatoes on a summer salad or include them as a side to any meal. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Delicious Meets Healthy

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Mucho Gusto

Mascarpone Stuffed Dates

Loved by many cultures and incorporated into many dishes and traditions, dates are one of my favorite foods. From snack time to dessert, their gooey, caramelized sweetness and jammy, chewy texture are always a pleasant surprise. On their own, they are a great source of natural sugar for whenever you want an energizing snack. I know dates can be a bit controversial (perhaps for their appearance and gummy texture), but they actually complement many foods really well. Some of my favorite unusual date combinations are sticky-sweet dates stuffed with any nut butter, PB&J, ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, mixed nuts, or even tahini. When an exploding pocketful of flavor only takes a few minutes to prepare, why not cut your date down the middle and stuff it with goodies! It’s like the ultimate, upgraded version of Gushers—a favorite childhood snack you know and love, but a little more mature and complex in the flavor profile. 

With Easter coming up, there’s no better time to test out a new combination in your own home! These pomegranate-pistachio-and-mascarpone-stuffed dates are Floreani family approved, and I guarantee they will be a crowd pleaser in your own home too! With a harmonious balance of sweet date, rich mascarpone cheese, salty pistachios, and refreshing pomegranate seeds, this unique treat is an exciting flavor experience. This finger food is also fun to eat because of its diverse textures; each bite is filled with a nutty crunch, followed by a gush of mascarpone and gooey, chewy date, and finishes with a juicy pomegranate-seed-pop in your mouth! An interesting twist to add to your Easter appetizer plate or an upgrade to your charcuterie board, these dates are so simple to make and can easily be adapted to fit tastes of all ages. For a more savory take, wrap them in bacon or prosciutto; for a sweeter version, add drizzles of honey, maple syrup, and spices. Plus, with their unique colors and shape, they even look a bit like Easter eggs—tasty and festive!

Ingredients:

  • 18 large Medjool dates
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature (can substitute cream cheese)
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon orange zest
  • ¾ tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, salted and roasted
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • Pinch of sea salt

Procedure: 

Start by preparing your dates. With a knife, slit the dates down the middle, enough to form a pocket, but without cutting all the way through the date. De-pit the dates. After letting the mascarpone cheese soften at room temperature, put it into a mixing bowl. Combine the mascarpone cheese with the lemon zest, orange zest, honey, and salt. Mix until it is smooth and uniform. Using a spoon, stuff each date with a generous scoop of the mascarpone mixture. The ratios of mixture-to-date can be varied to suit your preferences and the size of the date. Then, add the pistachios and pomegranate seeds to each date by hand, keeping the amount proportional to one another on each one. Top with a pinch of flaky sea salt and arrange on a platter. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. If you want the mascarpone to melt a bit, and the dates to be caramelized, put them in the oven at 375 °F  for about 4 minutes, or just until warm. Enjoy!

Adapted from Mascarpone Stuffed Dates with Orange, Pistachio, and Pomegranate

Cover photo courtesy of Spices In My DNA

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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

Chocolate Oatmeal

Can’t decide if you want breakfast or dessert? Why not have both? Thick and creamy, chocolate oatmeal is packed with protein and chocolate goodness!

Oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfasts; it is easy, delicious, and versatile, and never feels repetitive! I am one of the most indecisive people I know. Yet after discovering that I could combine two of my favorite things–chocolate AND oatmeal–this recipe became my go-to breakfast treat!

Last summer, I nannied for my neighbors every day. Before I left in the early morning, I would whip up a variation of an oatmeal recipe to fuel myself for a long day of playing tag or princesses with the two girls I watched. These were busy and full days, but I loved them.

Each morning, I would make breakfast for the girls. At the beginning of the summer, I would  usually just make a bowl of cereal or frozen breakfast sandwiches that their parents left out for them. However, as the weeks went on, they were tired of eating the same things, so I decided to change it up by flipping pancakes or scrambling eggs.  

Yet when I got the chocolate oatmeal down to a science, I thought, “AHA! Why don’t I share my new creation with them!?” After eating it for the first time, they were hooked. It became an everyday request. After all, who wouldn’t love this combo?  And what better way to start the morning than with some oatmeal!  When I discovered chocolate oatmeal and found that the proportions in this recipe were perfect, it became a keeper. 

So simple yet yummy, I promise this recipe will not disappoint. It makes 1-2 servings, depending on how hungry you are.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups and 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • 1 egg white

Toppings:

  • chocolate chips
  • strawberries 
  • any of your choice!

Instructions:

First, place the oats and salt into a saucepan on high heat. Add 1 ½ cups water, and bring to a boil. 

Cook the oats for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water is fully absorbed, or your desired consistency is reached. Continue stirring for a thicker texture, or remove from heat, if you prefer it to be more liquid-based. 

Next, in a small bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons of water into the 2 tablespoons  cocoa powder, forming a smooth sauce. 

Add the cocoa sauce and vanilla to the pan and stir. Turn the heat down to low. Add the egg white and whisk immediately so that is completely  incorporated into the oatmeal. The egg white not only adds some protein but also creates a fluffy and whipped-up texture! 

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and stir until well combined. Remove from heat and serve with your choice of toppings!

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Avocado Toast

Whether you love it or hate it, avocado toast is the quintessential brunch dish. Though some call avocado toast “basic,” its popularity is well deserved. Be it the crunch of the toast, the buttery texture of the avocado, or the satisfying golden run of an egg cooked to perfection, avocado toast has a little bit of everything you want in a dish. 

Humans began cultivating avocados in Mexico around 500 B.C. and the fruit eventually made its way to California in the 19th century. Over the years, avocados gained popularity for their unique nutty flavor and oily texture, which was perfect for guacamole, as a taco topping, and— especially in the  2010s—in the form of avocado toast. According to the USDA, the American per capita consumption of avocados has tripled since the early 2000s. 

Now, I can’t say whether the avocado toast trend contributed to this, but regardless, avocado toast is both simple and delicious. The everything bagel seasoning adds a salty crunch to the toast while the slight drizzle of sriracha combined with the egg yolk provides a creamy, sweet and spicy finish to the dish. To give the recipe more flavor, I like to add lemon juice to the avocado.

Because avocado is such a versatile ingredient, this dish is also very flexible. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, use lime juice for a slightly different but nonetheless delicious citrusy edge. No everything but the bagel seasoning? Not to fear! Use a little bit of garlic salt and a sprinkle of black pepper instead. With so much adaptability, this recipe provides room for experimentation. I prefer a poached egg, but any style of egg will do. If you don’t like eggs, use a few sliced cherry tomatoes as a sweet and tangy topper instead. For an added kick, I like sriracha, but for those who can’t handle spice, a sprinkle of crushed black pepper will do the trick. With this recipe, the only non-negotiable ingredient is the avocado. 

Next time you’re craving a quick and filling breakfast (or if we’re being real, lunch or dinner), or simply want to impress your friends with a speedy, yet, scrumptious meal, this not-so-basic recipe has got you covered. 

Ingredients:

Procedure:

To begin, place a medium-sized pot filled halfway with water on medium to high heat. Bring the water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, toast the two slices of bread in a toaster for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Add the diced avocado and lemon juice to a bowl. Using a fork, mash the avocado until the mixture appears well-combined and textured. Once the toast is ready, divide the avocado mixture evenly between both slices of toast and spread evenly with a fork. Sprinkle the everything bagel seasoning onto the toast. 

Once the water is boiling, poach the eggs, two at a time. To do this, crack two eggs into the gently boiling water. Let the eggs sit in the boiling water for 1 minute and 15 seconds, or until cooked before carefully removing them from the water with a slotted spoon. Place both eggs on one slice of toast and repeat the process for the second slice of toast. Once finished, to add a kick, drizzle some sriracha over the eggs, sprinkle on a little black pepper, and voila! You have yourself two slices of avocado toast that rival any restaurant brunch. 

This recipe makes 2 avocado toasts (Feeds 1 or 2 people).

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Chicken Shawarma

From the aesthetically-pleasing whipped coffee, to the new-and-improved tortilla fold, and the infamous baked feta pasta, TikTok is leaving its mark on culinary pop culture. Since we’ve been swapping old-school cookbooks for social media and using scrolling as the new way to savor, I’ve pulled a page from TikTok’s book, taking inspiration from its new obsession with feta cheese for this recipe. 

Feta cheese combines a sharp flavor with a softer texture. While typically produced and purchased in a firm block, feta crumbles easily to make the perfect topping for many Mediterranean dishes. The cheese originates from Greece and continues to be a highly-consumed and produced good in the region. Its salty taste balances more mild dishes and ingredients, such as vegetables. Its use as a garnish never fails to make your meal look top-dollar even with limited prep time. 

After visiting GreCo, a casual Greek restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, I decided to intertwine my desire to indulge continually in Greek-inspired food and my wish to tackle the feta trend in one recipe. 

Here, I present an easy and undeniably tasty meal wrapped up in my favorite thing: bread. In this dish, warm pita pockets hold shawarma chicken, Mediterranean salad, tzatziki sauce, and—of course—feta cheese. Shawarma is the cooking term used to describe how the meat is stacked on a spit and slowly roasted in a traditional Middle Eastern kitchen. However, this recipe allows for the simpler approach of preparing the chicken on a stove. While not perfectly authentic to the Greek preparation, this meal guarantees to replicate many of the wonderful spicy flavors with ease for anyone new to the kitchen. And not to forget, the feta’s tangy flavor promises to complement the abundance of robust spices, while the creamy tzatziki sauce further mellows the dish. 

Ingredients:

Shawarma Chicken:

2 pounds boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mediterranean Chopped Salsa:

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 medium red pepper, chopped

1 small sweet onion, chopped

10-15 Queen stuffed green olives, sliced

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil to coat

Salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki Sauce:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons tzatziki spice (can be bought pre-made or made at home with the combination of 2 tablespoons of dill, 4 cloves of minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste)

4-6 pita pockets

Procedure:

First, cut the boneless chicken breast into thin strips. The strips should be roughly a finger-length long to make for an easy fit into the pita pockets. Next, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, lemon, oil, and spices. Toss the chicken well to be sure it is coated evenly in the mixture. Allow the meat to marinate while you prepare the salad and sauce. 

In a large bowl, combine all the chopped salad ingredients. Add just enough olive oil to coat the vegetables, then season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt and sour cream, then season with tzatziki spice. 

To cook the chicken, heat a cast-iron skillet until hot. To test if it’s ready, drop a bit of water on it; if the water sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Add a little oil and then some of the chicken to the skillet. It’s important not to overcrowd the pan. Allow the pieces to brown for 1 to 2 minutes before turning them. Because the pieces are thin, they will cook in only 4 to 5 minutes. When the chicken slices are done, transfer them to a bowl to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the chicken. 

Next, halve your whole pita breads to create open pockets that can deliciously and effectively carry the chicken and Mediterranean salad. Once halved, lightly warm the pita pockets in a skillet. Place the chicken in the opening of the halved pita pockets with the salad and tzatziki sauce. Garnish the top of your open pita pockets with crumbled feta cheese, serve, and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Blue Jean Chef

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Mucho Gusto

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

Who doesn’t love pie? From the crunchy yet buttery, golden-brown crust, to the gooey cheese and aromatic, vibrant tomatoes—yes, cheese and tomatoes!—pie is the ultimate comfort food. I’m not talking about your grandma’s favorite dessert, but rather a Chicago classic: deep-dish pizza. We Chicagoans nickname this dish “pizza pie” for its signature thick, pie-like crust, straight out of the pie pan! This pizza is an absolute staple for any trip to the Windy City, and if you ask me, it’s the best—although perhaps I am a bit biased! I know New York is the city of dreams (and pizza), but as a proud Chicagoan and Italian-American, I must say that Chicago might have them beat with this popular city staple! Some may say that’s controversial, but I don’t think anyone can deny that deep-dish pizza is a unique, unforgettable dish. When I’m homesick, I crave this traditional slice of local comfort; when I am home, I still crave deep-dish pizza at least once a week! What’s not to love—it’s the same cheesy tomato and crust combo you know and love, but much larger and richer, in the perfect fusion of Italian and American cuisine! Plus, this pizza is special because it always means sharing time and food with friends and family; it’s a big meal requiring an hour or so to prepare, which allows everyone to gather around the table together and make memories. 

In the era of  COVID-19 and travel bans, it’s difficult to be adventurous, visit different places, and try new foods. However, thanks to this recipe, you can have an authentic taste of Chicago in your own home! You can enjoy the comforting warmth of a thick slice at your own kitchen table with your loved ones. Over winter break, my dad taught me how to make his beloved secret recipe, and it was the perfect cure for the quarantine blues. Topped with fresh, high-quality ingredients and a hearty heap of cheese, everyone loves this spin on pizza, and making it at home is always a fun activity. Take a bite, and welcome to my hometown, where “home, sweet home” is always a slice of pizza pie! 

Ingredients:

Dough

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 package quick-rise yeast
  • 1 cup water, room temperature
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • ½  cup olive oil, plus additional oil for the bowl

Sauce

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, well-drained and crushed by hand
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup white onion, diced finely

Toppings

  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds
  • 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 green and/or yellow bell peppers, sliced
  • 3/4 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for topping and garnish
  •  2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish

Procedure:

To make the pizza dough, mix the sugar, yeast, and water together. Add the flour, salt, cornmeal, butter, and olive oil to this mixture, and combine for about two minutes. Next, let the mixture rest for about 15 minutes, allowing the yeast to bloom. Knead the dough gently for about seven minutes, until moistened, smooth, and elastic. If necessary, add extra flour to stiffen the dough. If the dough is too stiff, fix the ratio so that there is more water to hydrate the dough. Thoroughly oil a separate bowl, placing the dough inside, making sure it is evenly greased. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place overnight, if possible. However, a minimum of 30-40 minutes can work as well. By this point, the dough should have doubled in size. Punch the dough down and let it sit for another 15 minutes. 

While the dough rises, make the pizza sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the canned tomatoes, olive oil, seasonings, 1 tablespoon of basil, and the garlic cloves. Add about ¼ of the chopped onion to the mixture as well. Cook the sauce for about six minutes, stirring often. At this point, the sauce should be smooth and fragrant, and the onions should feel soft. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add more basil and olive oil to taste.

Preheat the oven to 450 °F. Using your hands and a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large, thin circle. The dough should be stretched evenly. Add flour as needed throughout the process to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface. Be careful not to dry the dough out, or it will break. Grease a large 12-inch cast-iron skillet, stretching the rolled-out dough over the pan, almost like a pie crust. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides to form a thick crust. Place the slices of fresh mozzarella on top of the dough to help bind everything together. Place this in the oven for a few minutes, or until the cheese has melted and formed a complete layer. Then, sprinkle the grated mozzarella, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, shallots, garlic, and Italian sausage on top of the pizza. Ladle the sauce on top and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. You can place foil on top of the pizza to prevent browning. Let the pizza rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pie-like slices. Enjoy! You’ll need a fork and knife for this one!

Adapted from Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza Recipe & Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

Cover photo courtesy of Saving Room for Dessert

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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

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Lilly’s Holiday Honey-Roasted Pear Salad

This is the fifty-eighth 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!

The word “pear” occasionally slips past our tongues in December when we hum the infamous Twelve Days of Christmas refrain, imagining the gifted partridge in company. Yet other than in tune, pears rarely draw near our taste buds in the modern holiday season. Perhaps it is a consequence of the winter fruit paradox—the nudge of fruit to the periphery of our minds as the North begins to frost over. However, despite our neglect of pears, they are the national fruit of December, with the day of the pear fast-approaching on the 8th. 

Dating back to 5000 B.C., the antiquity of pears remembers praise by Homer as the “gift of the Gods.” Now, the historically-popular fruit rarely appears in anecdotes of public appreciation despite the prolific pear orchards in the temperate North West, United States. As agricultural production expanded in the U.S., finicky pears failed to grow in the New England climate, only later to find success in their cultivation in Oregon and Washington. Although, posing pears to their opposition—apples—indicates that their dissipation from popularity is, more so, a reflection of our demanding consumer culture. Pears require an additional one to two months after being picked to ripen before being eaten. Compared to the readily available apples that overwhelm the produce aisles this time of year, the pears’ lack of casting in leading roles in pies and other seasonal dishes is somewhat predictable.

However, though we may overlook pears today, they continue being a Christmas favorite. Since the 1800s, pears have been a treasured part of Christmas celebrations, admired for their elegance, versatility, buttery texture, and sweet taste as an adored present under the tree. Though we have shifted away from receiving and gifting fruit in stockings, the nostalgia of pears in the holiday season evokes a personal desire to recreate some recipe favorites that adorn this winter fruit as the centerpiece. Several pie recipes and other dessert dishes utilize the flavor of pears to perfection. However, I decided to showcase a recipe for a honey-roasted pear salad. This dish fosters sentimentality coupled with modern festivity that guarantees to please our quarantine-sized crowds for this holiday season. 

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Honey Roasted Pears

  • 2 ripe but firm Bartlett pears
  • 2 bunches fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup  honey
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Salad

  • 1 medium-sized bag (about 7 oz) of arugula 
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts
  • ½ cup of crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 pomegranate

Dressing

  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon  fresh thyme leaves

Instructions:

To prepare the pears, first, preheat the oven to 400 °F. On a cutting board, halve and core the two unpeeled pears. Then, place the pears cut-side down and put your knife at their stems. While keeping the pear uncut at the top, thinly slice into quarter-inch long sections to the bottom of the fruit. On a baking sheet, scatter the thyme sprigs, placing the pears on top while gently expanding the overlapping slices out while they remain attached at their stems. This fanning technique takes its name from its comparative structure to old-fashioned hand fans, seemingly adding an elegant display to your salad. However, you can easily replace this step by completely slicing the pears and removing their stems with no effect on the fruit’s rich flavor. Next, lightly drizzle the four pear halves with honey and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake the pears for 15 minutes, or until they are tender. Let the pears cool for 30 minutes.

The walnuts function as an additional garnish to your salad, complementing the flavor of the pears while simultaneously preserving the holiday theme. Place the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat, sporadically moving them around to avoid burning, and toast until lightly brown and aromatic. Allow the walnuts to cool in a small bowl. 

With your palm, roll the pomegranate on the cutting board to loosen the seeds. Then, slice the fruit in half, remove the seeds, and set aside. The pomegranate seeds, a bit tart, balance the sweetness of the pear and honey while brightening your salad with a festive touch of red.

To make the dressing, whisk the champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, shallots, and fresh thyme together in a small mixing bowl. Place the arugula in a large bowl and add the dressing. Be sure to toss and coat evenly. 

Finally, divide salad onto plates, placing the pear halves on top while garnishing lightly with goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and pomegranate seeds to taste. Enjoy!