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Mucho Gusto

A Coconut Shrimp Creation

Some people simply have a unique dexterity for design—an aptitude for artistry that extends to each modality of their lives. My mother, Lisa, and her friend, Helen, embody such distinct nature. While their professional lives reflect a gift for fabricating magnificent spaces with exquisite interior design, their talent refuses to switch to idle in other dimensions of their days. Their creative minds constantly remain simmering, awaiting new opportunities to cultivate taste, beauty, and movement. 

Their lives are their labs, every action an experiment. This recipe recounts their most recent undertaking: a test kitchen for sweet and savory coconut shrimp. This dish presents the perfect summer appetizer with the ease of skillet. Typically, coconut shrimp is fried, but this recipe works to revise its traditional preparation to create an appetezier that is fit to anyone’s cooking ability, without the fuss of frying. With simple ingredients and a few steps, this dish is easy to make but guarantees to portray anyone behind the stove as a widely-experienced creator of cuisine. 

The credit for this recipe can be served to Helen and Lisa, who delivered the perfect balance of savory and sweet in this dish to bring us a new twist on coconut shrimp — just in time to reacquaint ourselves wish seafood for the season. 

Sweet and Savory Coconut Shrimp

Ingredients:

2 pounds colossal shrimp uncooked, frozen (approximately 30 pieces)

½ cup liquid coconut oil 

¼ cup rice wine vinegar 

1-2 tablespoons hot honey

2 tablespoons lemon marmalade 

¼ teaspoon smoked sea salt 

3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce

2 cups coconut flakes, sweetened 

½ cup salted butter, melted

¼ cup chive blossoms for garnish 

Directions:

First, defrost the shrimp by running them under cool water in a strainer or leave them out at room temperature until thawed. If not already done, rinse the shrimp and remove the shells.

To prepare the marinade, combine the coconut oil, rice wine vinegar, chili garlic sauce, lemon marmalade, hot honey, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended. Taste the marinade to make sure there is a balance of sweetness, heat, and salt.

Place the shrimp and marinade in a sealed gallon plastic bag to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Always remember that fish doesn’t need to marinate as long as meat.

Once sufficiently marinated, heat your grill or grill pan on high. Lightly oil the surface. Using a pair of tongs, remove the shrimp and place them on the grill. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until pink and the edges begin to caramelize. Remove the shrimp and place them in a bowl while you complete the other steps.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, toast the coconut, constantly stirring until the coconut begins to brown. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the microwave. When the coconut is toasted, remove it from the burner, and add the melted butter and hot shrimp to the pan. Toss to coat. Using a slotted spoon, place the shrimp on an oblong platter. Once in place with the slotted spoon, place more coconut on top. Garnish with the beautiful edible chive purple poms. Serve with toothpicks at room temperature, and enjoy!

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Mucho Gusto

Lamb Meatballs with Cannellini Hummus

The freezer at my house is a bottomless pit.  The bottom two drawers are dedicated to various cuts of meat that have been carefully vacuum-sealed by my dad, who has a habit of buying whatever “looks good” at the grocery store.  Because my dad, the primary dinner-preparer, is away for the week, my mom and I have made it our mission to clear out the freezer one meal at a time.  

I came home from work to a pound of thawed ground lamb on the counter and a request for meatballs.  Part of me felt like I was on an episode of Chopped, but instead of four mismatched mystery ingredients, I had a basement pantry stocked with items that my dad insists on buying in threes and fours.  God forbid we run out of roasted red peppers or rigatoni.  I grabbed a can of cannellini beans and ran upstairs to scan the fridge and kitchen cabinets.  I found a bunch of parsley, a few lemons on their last legs, and some sweet red peppers.  

Putting together a meal without a recipe is a combination of doing what you know, trusting your intuition, guesswork, and a lot of tasting spoons.  For components of the dish that you can’t taste as you go, I’ve always found it helpful to use a few different recipes as a guide for proportions and measurements.  Taste anything and everything you can along the way, because it’s unlikely that whatever you’re making will taste exactly how you want it to on the first try.  This recipe is an ode to freestyling: add what you have in the fridge, taste each component, and feel free to approach these instructions as nothing more than loose guidelines.  

Ingredients:

Cannellini Hummus

1 (29-ounce) can chickpeas

3 tablespoons tahini

5 cloves garlic

⅓ cup parsley, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoons harissa

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Quinoa Herb Salad

3 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

½ cup cooked quinoa

2 shallots, finely diced

½ cup parsley, chopped

½ cup spinach, chopped

½ cup any other vegetables you have on hand, diced (cucumbers, sweet peppers, and tomatoes all work great)

Lamb Meatballs

1 pound ground lamb

4 cloves of garlic, grated

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Black pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Start with the cannellini hummus.  Place all ingredients except for the olive oil, salt, and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor.  Blend until smooth, slowly streaming in the olive oil as the other ingredients break down.  Add salt and pepper, and blend once more.  Place the hummus in the fridge and allow it to sit while you continue to cook.  

When building the quinoa salad, begin by whisking together the olive oil, lemon, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl.  Add in all other ingredients and toss.  Set aside.

Next up are the meatballs.  Add all ingredients, except for the olive oil in a medium mixing bowl and, using your hands, mix until just combined.  Form golf ball-sized meatballs, about 9 or 10 total.  Heat the olive oil over medium in a wide skillet.  Place the meatballs in the oil, and fry on each side until crispy and cooked through, about 8 minutes.  Once cooked, remove the meatballs from the heat and place on a plate.

Build your bowls.  Add two hefty dollops (about ½ cup) of cannellini hummus to the bottom of each bowl, and spread gently in circular motions to evenly distribute it.  Layer the quinoa salad over the hummus, and place 4-5 meatballs on top.  Finish with good olive oil, an extra squeeze of lemon, and any leftover herbs.

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Mucho Gusto

Sweet, Salty, and Crunchy

Ahh, the beginning of May marks the end of the school year and the start of every student’s favorite time … Finals season. Although it feels like the work never stops at Boston College the beginning of May is no doubt the busiest time of the year. We crack open the books, brew the coffee, and sit in the library for hours at a time. Finals are full of stress, sleepless nights, and burnout but eating yummy food has always been my go-to break. 

Whether it is taking a minute and walking to get White Mountian, or ordering delivery food from a local restaurant in Newton enjoying food with others is an opportunity to relax amidst the stress. Snacks are an important part of any long study season and as many of my close friends know my go-to study snack is a trail mix packed full of nuts. 

Some may say I have an obsession but every bite is uniquely satisfying. Want something sweet? Dark chocolate almonds. Need something salty? Roasted lightly salted cashews. Want some spice? Cajun peanuts. Trail mix offers the perfect boost of energy and satisfies all your late-night cravings. The options are endless and concocting a trail mix to snack on always makes studying more appealing for me. This specific trail mix recipe is inspired by many late nights in O’Neil studying Spanish and days in Shiller drawing biology diagrams on whiteboards. Keep on studying and snacking! 

Ingredients:  

2 cups plain popcorn 

2 cups mini pretzels 

1 cup corn Chex 

1 cup cinnamon Chex 

½ cup lightly salted cashews

½ cup plain almonds 

½ cup plain pecans 

½ cup honey-roasted peanuts 

¾ cup peanut butter m&m’s 

Instructions: 

In a gallon-size ziplock bag combine all the ingredients. Tightly close and shake until the mixture is mixed all together. Portion the mix into smaller bags and grab them on your way to the library! 

Cover photo courtesy of Chelsea’s Messy Apron

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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

Pillsbury Dough Reimagined

It’s 4 AM. Birds chirp as I walk home from O’Neill Library. My head spins after countless hours spent on an International Relations paper, studying for a Microeconomic Theory exam, Econometrics projects, and Philosophy terms and definitions. An impending sense of doom filled my mind as I collapsed into my twin XL bed. Before I could process anything, my 8:25 AM alarm jolted me awake for my 9 AM class. Head and heart pounding, the only thing that ran through my mind was a question: Why? Why do I do this to myself? What does all this studying do for me, since I seem to still be doing poorly no matter how much time and effort I give? I returned to my feeble mantra: one day, all this work will pay off. However, as I often do, I proceeded to sacrifice mental, physical, and emotional health to complete my academic work.

As I reflect on my sophomore year, I have learned multiple things about myself and my choices. I will share two here: the first, I seem to be afraid of free time; the second, I restrict myself to the confines of my all-powerful schedule. Without my watch, I don’t know what to do with myself. In the rare case that I forget to wear it, I’ll be looking for any display of the passage of time: checking clocks all around me, asking a friend, or repeatedly checking my phone. If I don’t schedule my appointments, fitness activities, or meals with friends, I’ll become immensely stressed. As I cram and pour my energy into these assignments, I respond to school pressure by shutting myself into an isolated box in order to complete my work. Going through the motions of life is not a new process for me, I seem to have perfected my own game. Although I am familiar with academic challenges and high stress levels, the past months have become a new record for the most academically challenging and nerve-wracking. Despite encouragement from family, friends, and professors as to how to manage this work, among other stress-coping mechanisms, I inevitably return to old unhealthy habits without my own realization. However, I am blessed with wonderful friends and peers who know me well, and immediately know when something is off. I am eternally grateful for their kindness and support, and I will never take them for granted.

One Sunday night, before a hellish week filled with exams, someone close to me saw that I was struggling. He woke up the next morning, went across the street to buy Pillsbury cookie dough from Richdale’s, and made me cookies all before he went to his classes. The moment I received the tupperware, with his handwritten note on top, I felt an immense sense of relief, mixed with gratefulness and humility. In my sleep deprived state, I went outside and cried. On the outside, it appeared as though my lack of control demonstrated weakness, maybe my inability to control things. However, I think that this display of emotion shows internal strength. Accepting help from others requires you to let go of what you think you can control (in my case, stubbornness). The realization that you cannot control everything, no matter how much you try, is a core part of the human experience. Regardless of how we respond to this fact—whether we run, hide, or refuse to accept—does not matter. In the end, the truth remains that we must be open to receiving help from others. That day, I learned that his simple thoughtfulness and kindness in the act of preparing me those cookies was everything I needed to get through my work. He laughed when I said that these were the best cookies I’ve ever had, but I meant it. I hope you’ll experience this same release when you try this classic childhood recipe.

Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Ingredients

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and egg with an electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with a spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
  3. On an ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool 1 to 2 minutes; transfer from cookie sheet to wire rack.

 This article is dedicated to Nik Simonsen.

Cover photo courtesy of King Arthur Baking

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Mucho Gusto

A Crispy Crowd-Pleaser: Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

 “The brussels sprouts never fall from the favorite,” is a thought that I would never expect to stir in my mind as I deliberate what to bring for the perfect potluck performance. 

For most of my life, brussel sprouts only entertained the twiddling of my fork on the margins of my plate. They were never to be eaten or looked at, only self-served as a politeness before exclaiming that “I’m too stuffed for more.” Needless to say, I would have never considered them as more than the most distasteful green vegetable—a competitive title to receive by my judgment. 

My mother tried everything to make them more palatable to my pickiness, even going as far as to wrap them in a circumference of crispy bacon but to no avail. I planned to abstain from their bland, unappetizing character. 

And so, I successfully avoided them for several years, all until my freshman year in college, when an upperclassmen teammate cooked them for dinner and insisted that their caramelization in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup would guarantee I change my mind. 

Now, they consistently perform as a personal favorite and my most confident crowd-pleaser. This recipe adapts and honors the first bite of brussels I enjoyed, with my additional lessons from trying to recreate the perfectly crisp, salty-sweet mouthful which assures to adjust any anti-brussels attitude. 

Ingredients:

1 pint brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic glaze

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Heat the oven to 425℉. Trim the bottom of the brussels sprouts. Slice each brussels sprout lengthwise (from top to bottom) once or twice depending on its size. I have found that only slicing the larger brussel sprouts in half makes it more difficult for them to crisp and cook evenly. Since you will typically grab a mixed bag of brussels sprouts, it is important to survey your sprouts and decide which ones will need an extra slice. Once cut, move the brussels sprouts to a large mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, and maple syrup. Stir well so that the ingredients can mix evenly. Pour the dressing over the brussels sprouts. With a large spoon, toss the sprouts until they are evenly coated in the dressing.

Evenly distribute the brussel sprouts onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast the brussel sprouts in the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until the sprouts are beginning to crisp on the edges. Be sure to shake the pan to toss the sprouts every 5-10 minutes so they cook uniformly. Once cooked and crisped to your liking, remove from the oven, serve, and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of feedfeed

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Mucho Gusto

Chickpea Pancakes

This recipe was born out of an almost-empty fridge and a can of chickpeas found in the storage ottoman / makeshift pantry in my dorm room.  I wasn’t working with much: a questionable bunch of parsley, a few eggs from the week-old carton in my mini fridge, a lemon, and some seasoning essentials.  

I toted my ingredients across the street to 2k and shot a quick text to warn my friends that I’d be taking over their kitchen for the next 30 minutes.  I knew what I wanted to make, I just hadn’t the slightest idea how to execute it.  A few weeks prior, I saw a recipe in The New York Times for crepe-like chickpea pancakes.  I wanted something sturdier.  I knew how to make a decent meatball, but what I had in mind wasn’t meant to serve the same purpose as a meatball.

By the time I reached the apartment, I still had no idea how I was going to throw together a chickpea pancake with no guidance.  I was quickly distracted by warm “hellos” and hilarious conversation, forgetting why I had come to see my two friends in the first place.  My growling stomach reminded me of the task at hand: chickpea…Pancakes?? Patties?? Whatever it was that I was making, I had to get cooking.

I decided to trust what I knew, and I loosely followed part of my recipe for meatballs.  Sautéed onions would add some sweetness, parsley would brighten things up, and lemon (not generally a player on the meatball roster) would bring in a bit of zing.  I needed binders to hold everything together: egg and cornstarch would have to suffice.  

Once my batter was made, I turned on the heat.  I spooned a few globs of my chickpea mixture into the pan and hoped for the best.  The edges sizzled in the oil: the first green flag.  Within a few minutes, I could smell the onion and crispy crust as the pancakes browned: another good sign.  Next up was the dreaded flip.  The test of all tests.  The pancakes falling apart would guarantee the failure of my freestyle recipe.  I held my breath as I shimmied a spatula under the first pancake and plopped it over.  A slight splatter of oil on the stove, but an otherwise perfect flip AND a perfect golden crust on the bottom of the pancake.  Sweet success.

In just a few minutes, I took the five pancakes off the pan and sautéed some heirloom cherry tomatoes and garlic and oil until they burst and became slightly saucy.  I quickly fried two eggs over easy and assembled my meal.  Two pancakes went down first.  A hefty spread of tomatoes on each pancake, and eggs placed ever-so-carefully on top so as not to break the yolks.  A few dribbles of chili crisp and some leftover parsley to seal the deal.  

A few bites in, and I knew this one was a winner.  Soft and steamy on the inside and crispy-crunchy on the outside, these pancakes were exactly what I had in mind when I first set out to make them.  The chickpeas provide a blank enough canvas to get creative with the herbs and spices; so feel free to improvise with what you have on hand.  Reheat your leftovers in a toaster or air fryer to keep that crunch.  

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

½ sweet onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour

Directions:

In a medium skillet over medium heat, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in the chopped onion.  Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes until soft.  Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.  Remove the onions and garlic from the skillet and set aside.  Turn off the heat, but leave the onion-y oil in the pan.

In a medium bowl, crush chickpeas with the tines of a fork, leaving only some intact.  The chickpeas should be broken down, but not smooth and hummus-like.  Add in the egg, and stir well to combine.  Sprinkle in the chopped parsley, lemon juice and zest, crushed red pepper, salt, and a few generous twists of cracked black pepper.  Stir once again until everything is incorporated evenly throughout.  Add in the cornstarch or flour to bind the mixture.  The batter should be slightly thicker than a muffin batter, but it shouldn’t hold its shape easily.

Reheat your pan to medium high and add in the rest of the olive oil.  The skillet should be more than generously coated; this will allow for a crispy fry on each pancake.  Spoon the batter into medium rounds (about the size of the palm of your hand) in the hot oil.  Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan.  Fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the bottom of each pancake is golden brown.  Flip and fry for 3 more minutes.  Remove from the skillet and place onto a plate lined with paper towels.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon and extra parsley.  Enjoy as a stand-alone bite or with toppings.  

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Mucho Gusto

Dad’s Favorite French Toast

As I step into the front hall of my house, my five siblings crowd around me as I wonder what the next few days will bring. I come home for short school breaks, during which I attempt to fix my sleep and eating schedule. My house is always loud and bustling with activity, and I have grown so accustomed to it that I don’t notice our chaos anymore. My dad, the clear ringleader of our chaotic lives, always makes breakfast on the weekends. As a child, I impatiently anticipated the Sunday scent of fresh eggs and pancakes. The whole house smells delicious and warm and lively. Throughout my life, his meals have been ones of comfort and joy. 

At school, I rarely, if ever, have breakfast. It is my second nature to roll out of bed and start my day without consideration or fuel for my body. Most days, I settle for an easy on-the-go protein shake, which limits my ability to relax and reflect on what I am doing that day. A few weeks ago, when I returned home on a Friday evening, I was exhausted and needed sleep desperately. I quickly made my way to my room, and fell asleep peacefully. I woke to music playing downstairs, my siblings watching TV, and a delicious breakfast on the table. I hesitated, my college routine disrupted by the care of another person. I took a deep breath, and refused the meal; I didn’t even know what my dad was serving me. The only thing I registered was that someone else would be feeding and taking care of me—an uncomfortable and foreign feeling, to say the least. 

I am an independent and strong person, and I don’t often let others take an active role in my life. My friends and my sister are the closest people to me, but the rest of my family remains at a distance. Growing up, I never felt like I could gain this distance and apparent freedom. I didn’t realize that this was so important to me until I went to school, 3 hours from home. To me, getting older is learning to let go and accept change. Although I have struggled deeply with this for a long time, I am getting better and adapting to change more calmly. I am able to take criticism and learn from my friends, but I cannot do the same with my family. Emotions and stubbornness prevent me from doing so. This is why, that spring Saturday morning, as my dad handed me a beautiful plate of French toast, I refused. His caring act of home-cooked food repulsed me. However, I realized that I was not against my dad’s cooking; I was simply opposed to the concept of accepting help and love from others.

 Nevertheless, he insisted, and I admittedly was intrigued by the scent of Vermont maple syrup and fresh berries. I sat down, and indulged in his offer. I can say with full honesty– and without exaggeration– that it was the best breakfast I have ever had. In between bites, I asked him his secret recipe. He laughed, and smiled, as though seeing me with new eyes. I hope you have the same breakthrough when you taste your first bite.

Famous French Toast: makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

½ teaspoon butter

½ loaf bread of choice

5 Eggs

1 cup Milk

¼ cup Brown sugar

1 pinch Salt (add extra for more flavor)

Vermont Grade A maple syrup

Fresh berries (optional)

Instructions:

Heat a pan to medium heat, add butter, and stir until melted. Mix the eggs, milk, and salt in a large bowl. Place bread in the large bowl and let it soak for 15-30 minutes. Add brown sugar to the mixture and place individual pieces of bread on the pan. Let cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from the pan and add syrup, berries, and additional toppings of your choice.

Cover photo courtesy of Unsplash

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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

Homemade Garlic Butter

Consumed by a need to overachieve, I often find myself with a constant craving for complexity. The incessant demand to consistently create an innovative and sophisticated palate coincides with my refusal to accept a shorthand of perfection. 

Recently, I’ve noticed how these tendencies manifest themselves in my cooking—a desire for elaborate recipes and flavors which present themselves as manifold. With a vast assortment of ingredients and possibilities, it is easy to entangle ourselves in the complicated. Yet, in an effort to resist my inclination to overachieve, I’ve sought to revert to the simple and truly appreciate the bounty in the basic. 

In order to fully avoid the persuasion of the perplexing, I’ve chosen to prepare and savor the simplest spread of all—butter. Butter is distinctly a commonplace in many of our meals, with its genius largely ignored; but there’s nothing that quite matches the comforting enjoyment of its soft and smooth texture that’s accompanied by the perfect complement of salty and sweet. Whether it coats a warm slice of sourdough or melts perfectly on your steak and roasted vegetables, it serves a crucial function. 

This recipe is simple yet possesses unlimited potential as you can decide to omit any of the additional ingredients such as the garlic or parsley or include your own personal flair with the addition of honey or truffle. While butter is rather simple to make, its homemade preparation guarantees gratification. From this experience, I’ve learned that more often than not, it’s the creation of small and simple things that leave us feeling the most accomplished.

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon salt, preferably flaky sea salt

4 cloves garlic

¼ cup finely chopped parsley

Directions:

Pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, or if you intend to use a hand-held mixer, a mixing bowl with tall sides to avoid spillage. Begin stirring at a low speed, gradually increasing the speed to beat the cream as the mixture starts to thicken. 

As the mixture starts to resemble whipped cream, continue to mix at increasing speed until the cream reveals the thick, lightly clumpy butter consistency. At this point, you should be able to see the separation between the fat solids and the liquid buttermilk that rests on the bottom of the bowl. 

Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer to allow the liquid buttermilk to drain, leaving you with thick, creamy, homemade butter. The drained buttermilk is useful in other recipes, including pasta sauces, if you would like to reserve it for later. When you are left with the aggregation of fatty solids in your strainer, continue to rinse under cold water to allow the butter to further mold together. 

With your hands, work to shape the butter into a ball, place it in the container of your choice, and move it to the refrigerator for 30 mins to cool. During this time, finely mince your garlic cloves and chop your parsley. Then remove the butter from the refrigerator and fold in the garlic, parsley, and salt until evenly combined. 

Spread your delicious butter spread on a warm piece of sourdough or any delicious food of your choice (it is just as delectable by itself as well). Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Cooking Classy