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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

Homemade Hummus

Created in the 13th century, hummus is a well-known chickpea-based dish with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean origins. In fact, “hummus” literally translates to “chickpeas” in Arabic. Hummus has since spread across the world, becoming a beloved snack in countries everywhere. As a result, hummus has become very versatile, often used as a dip or spread onto sandwiches and wraps or served with falafel. Today, many unique variations of hummus exist. Some, for example, add beetroot to the hummus, resulting in a beautiful magenta-colored dip; others add fig and honey or cocoa powder for a sweet take on the traditional recipe.

With brands like Sabra sold in just about every grocery store, most people rely solely on store-bought hummus. As it turns out, however, hummus is actually quite simple to make, requiring a food processor and a few key ingredients, like chickpeas, olive oil, and tahini. Despite hummus’ widespread popularity, the inclusion of tahini, a sesame seed paste, is very controversial: while some people despise the slightly bitter taste of the tahini, others love the nuttiness that it adds to hummus. Even more, tahini excels at thickening the chickpea purée, creating the perfectly-textured dip. Personally, I always include tahini in hummus because I love the ingredient’s earthiness and richness. 

Ingredients: 

  • ¼ cup tahini 
  • ½ lemon, juiced 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika 
  • Salt to taste 

Instructions:

In a food processor, blend the tahini and lemon juice together until a smooth paste forms. After this, add the olive oil and garlic to the mixture and blend until well combined. Next, add half of the chickpeas to the food processor, and blend until a smooth mixture with no visible chunks forms. Repeat this process with the remaining half of chickpeas. Add the cumin powder, ½ teaspoon of paprika, and salt to the mixture, and blend until well incorporated. If the hummus is too thick, add some water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. When ready to serve, garnish the hummus with the remaining paprika. Feel free to customize this recipe with your favorite flavors! Some people enjoy adding more garlic or paprika, and others add red chiles, roasted red pepper, or fresh herbs. If you dislike tahini, you can add extra olive oil to thicken the chickpea puree instead. Serve as a dip with pita chips or vegetable slices, or use as a spread in a sandwich or wrap! Enjoy! 

Recipe Adapted from Easy Hummus (Better Than Store-Bought)

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Mucho Gusto

Peanut Butter Chip Oatmeal Cookies

On a school night, a hot summer night by the bonfire, or anything in between, there’s nothing better than a freshly baked cookie oozing melted chocolate. Ever since childhood, the cookie-eating experience is a fond memory that always warms my heart; the delectable, aromatic smell of vanilla and warm sugar fills my nose as I hold the soft yet crispy cookie in the palm of my hand. Every bite is bliss, especially accompanied by my Nonna’s caffè latte for dipping. I savor every last fallen cookie crumb, admiring how a few basic ingredients came together to form a sweet, comforting, homey treat. 

Chewy, gooey, caramelized cookies (topped with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course) are not just a common craving, but probably my all-time favorite dessert. It’s no wonder why: from the nostalgic experience to the mouth-watering flavor, freshly-baked homemade cookies have a way of making everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. Not to mention, cookies are so versatile! From classic chocolate chip, to festive nut and cranberry, to candied caramel, and even everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, the flavor options are endless! So, with such limitless options, how do you make a decision? What should you put in your cookie? What if you’re in a hurry, or not much of a baker? This recipe has you covered!

Peanut butter and chocolate are just about the best combination I can think of, especially when you have a hankering for a sweet treat! Whenever my sweet tooth kicks in, I crave this iconic pairing.  Simple and tasty, these peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies will do just that. Not only do these cookies  take only 25 minutes to make, but they only require one bowl and ingredients you likely already have on hand. Plus, if you ask me, the chocolate chip versus oatmeal cookie debate is flawed—clearly, the best combination is when these cookies join forces to form a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, and this one even has peanut butter! It can’t get much better than that! Take your late night snacking or midnight dessert to the next level with this fun, quick, and easy cookie recipe; you will be dreaming about it after!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ tsp sea salt (extra for topping)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup creamy salted peanut butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp chocolate chips (extra for topping)

Instructions:

Start by preheating your oven to 350℉ and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. As an alternative, you can also lightly grease the pan with cooking spray or butter. 

In a medium mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients: oats, flour, sea salt, baking powder, and brown sugar. Mix until the dry mixture is homogeneous and light tan in color. Next, add peanut butter, vanilla extract, and egg, and stir until well combined. A sticky but compact dough should form. If the dough is too dry, add more peanut butter, or a splash of milk. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour. Now stir in the chocolate chips. 

After you finish making the dough, scoop the dough out with a spoon, making each scoop about 1 ½ tbs in size. Form the dough into little balls with your hands. Place them on your prepped baking sheet and press each ball down lightly to form the traditional disc-like cookie shape. 

Bake the cookies for about 6 minutes, and then take them out to add more chocolatey-goodness—top each cookie with a few more chocolate chips and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Pop them in the oven again so that the chocolate chips on top start to melt, about 4-6 minutes, or until they are golden brown and the edges are lightly crisp. The total baking time should be about 10-12 minutes. By the end, the cookies should have doubled in size. After removing them from the oven, let the cookies cool on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. 

This recipe makes about 12 cookies. Share with friends and enjoy this easy, sweet treat whenever your sweet tooth kicks in!

Adapted from The Minimalist Baker’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cover image courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Mucho Gusto

Spring Salad

As the seasons change, so do cravings. Specific dishes just make sense in different parts of the year. On rainy autumn days, I always want to curl up with a bowl of warm soup; on frigid winter days, a steaming cup of hot chocolate just hits differently. In the upcoming sunny, spring days, when the air smells fresh and flowers bloom, the world will begin to crave something fresh to eat. Or, at least I will. 

Salad in any form, with its combination of fresh ingredients, seems like the embodiment of spring in a dish. By definition, a salad should have fresh leafy greens, which reminds me of the return of greenery in springtime. Whenever I think of salad, I tend to gravitate towards a spinach base, but alone it is too plain. The addition of tomatoes, black beans, and pasta, however, can elevate a salad, freeing it from its relegation as a side dish and transforming it into a full-fledged meal. A delicious pasta salad can provide the perfect transition dish from those richer winter meals to the lighter spring and summer dishes.

In my opinion, pasta in salads just makes them more filling and delicious. For salads, the best pastas have unique shapes. The more fun their shape, the better. With their ridges and curves, pastas like fusilli, campanelle, farfalle, and radiatore, are able to collect the salad dressing and grated cheese, adding more flavor in each bite. Mixed with black beans and cherry tomatoes, this salad has hints of earthy and sweet flavors, which are enhanced further by the balsamic vinegar glaze. The sprinkle of parmesan cheese adds some saltiness to the dish, complimenting the pasta well. While these ingredients seem like they would clash, they are pantry staples, and, I swear, their flavors actually go surprisingly well together! Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy dish for lunch, or something light to eat on a fresh spring day, this salad is sure to satisfy. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 box pasta (16 oz.)
  • 1 container of spinach (12 oz.)
  • 2 cans black beans (15 oz.)
  • 5 cups cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup balsamic glaze 
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Heaping ¾ cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

First, bring a pot of water to a boil, add the pasta to the water, and cook according to the instructions on the pasta box, which vary depending on the pasta type. Next, rinse and halve the cherry tomatoes. Similarly, rinse the spinach and canned black beans. As with any salad, the ingredients are flexible. Arugula or baby kale are good substitutes for spinach, and garbanzo beans or lentils are alternatives to black beans. You can always add chicken or tofu to make it more filling. 

After the pasta has finished cooking, strain and place into a large bowl. Next, pour the black beans and cherry tomatoes onto the pasta, and top with the spinach. With salad tongs, mix the salad until all ingredients are equally distributed. To top it off, drizzle the balsamic glaze and olive oil over the salad and mix a second time to incorporate the dressing. Finally, add the parmesan cheese and some freshly ground pepper and salt to taste, and voila! You’ve got yourself a quick, easy, and delicious spring pasta salad. Enjoy!

This recipe serves 3-4 people.

Cover photo courtesy of Pinch of Yum

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Mucho Gusto

Blueberry Brie Grilled Cheese

Writing this recipe, I imagine myself sitting in the conference room of Runway Magazine; well-acquainted with the infamous fictional character Miranda Priestly. I see her furrowed brow, I shiver from her glaring eyes, and I hear her cold tone as she sarcastically remarks, “Fruit? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” 

Fruit, like florals, evoke this exaggerated eye-roll in the name of an outdone, over-used, and repeated theme when introduced as the statement piece in a Spring dish. They are the equivalent of florals of a spring clothing line—severely lacking the element of surprise. How many times have fruit, specifically berries, been the cover of food magazines this time of year? Probably far too often. Yet, despite my hesitation to choose this recipe in an often dire need to move away from the status quo, I pick this blueberry-based dish because it is, in fact, groundbreaking.  

This recipe presents a new take on a classic comfort food, exquisitely repurposing blueberries in an unpredictable combination. Pairing the bitter flavor of arugula with the creamy texture of brie and the salty-sweet trade of honey and balsamic vinaigrette, the homemade blueberry compote perfectly enhances every bite of this sandwich, creating a redefined grilled cheese. 

Posing as strong contender to the pineapple-on-pizza debate, this salty-sweet pairing may open the floodgates to controversy. However, the buttery brie, and the sweet, fresh berries, in this grilled cheese guarantee to win over any skeptics. And while this recipe may stretch the traditional, and simplistic, definitions of a grilled cheese, it proves to enhance the glory of the original sandwich to make it a Spring must-try.

Image courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries

4 tablespoons (or more) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 slices sourdough bread, 1/2 inch thick

1 wheel brie cheese

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups arugula 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Place the blueberries into a saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter. Mash the blueberries softly and let them cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently. Move the pan off the stove and let the blueberries sit until they are ready to be used.

Cut the sourdough into 8 half-inch slices and lightly butter both sides of each slice. Cut the brie cheese into quarter-inch slices with or without the rind, depending on your preference. Place 4-5 slices of brie on each of 4 slices of sourdough. Drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle salt to taste. Spoon the cooked blueberries on top of the brie. 

Now, move onto the remaining 4 slices of sourdough. Lightly coat one side of each piece with balsamic vinaigrette, and then place a handful of arugula on top. When ready, flip these slices on top of the other slices prepared with brie and blueberries, making 4 closed sandwiches.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the skillet, depending on what fits comfortably. Lay another skillet on top to add weight, functioning like a panini press. Cook for about 4 minutes, while adding pressure on the top skillet so that the bottom of each sandwich turns golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over, adding a bit more butter to the pan if needed. Cover again and cook, pressing, until the other side is golden brown and cheese is fully melted. This should take about 4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into halves. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches. 

Cover photo courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

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Mucho Gusto

Peanut Butter Banana Sushi

If you ask any of my friends what my favorite food is, I guarantee they won’t think twice in saying “SUSHI!” This rolled up bite-size piece of yumminess is so easy to pop in your mouth for a delicious snack or meal. I love rice, fish, and soy flavors, so for me, the idea of sushi is a genius concept that puts these all together in a little nibble. The combination of sticky rice, crunchy cucumber, and silky fish is perfect, as it’s not overpowered by one taste or smell.

However, sushi is intimidating for many people as they are commonly deterred by the idea of devouring raw fish. In order for them to conquer their sushi fear, I believe baby steps are important. Whenever I’ve dragged friends, who were not the biggest sushi fans, to come along with me to get it, I always told them they had to start small.

A traditional safe choice, to begin with, is a vegetable roll such as avocado or cucumber. Even as a lover of true sushi with raw fish, you’d be shocked by how yummy a simple combo of rice, seaweed, and avocado can be! Next, I suggest they move to California rolls, where imitation crab meat—which is not actual seafood—is used. As they become more comfortable, I advise they try shrimp tempura, which is real fish, but deep-fried, and a next level up. Lastly, if they are ready for the raw flavor, I recommend they take a bite of one of my favorite rolls, the rainbow roll, which has slices of raw tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. 

With all things sushi constantly on my mind, I recently stumbled upon a trend online called “Mock Sushi.” This is the concept where your favorite snack can be rolled up and sliced into small bites—just like sushi! With this, you can do so much with a sliced-up roll beyond just fish and rice. It could be anything from a savory bread and cheese roll to a sweet waffle and Nutella one!

Why hadn’t I thought up this before!? I obviously love fish and the explosion of flavors in traditional sushi, but so much of the fun is the bite-size component that when I found this trend, my mind was blown. I became obsessed with this idea of Mock Sushi and wanted to try every and all types. 

Now, instead of convincing people to enjoy sushi by taking them through a process to enjoy raw fish, I suggest trying mock sushi. This way, it allows people to see that sushi—such an amazing concept—can be incorporated creatively in many ways! Maybe people will be more inclined to try authentic sushi rather than initially shutting down the idea of consuming fish.

My personal favorite Mock Sushi has become one with bananas and peanut butter. This combo has always been a classic snack, but now, incorporating it into a sushi form has taken the lead for one of my go-to’s. Here’s one of the TikToks that inspired my love for Peanut Butter Banana Mock Sushi! 

Ingredients:  

  • 1 medium-sized ripe banana 
  • 1 medium-sized whole wheat tortilla 
  • ~3 spoonfuls peanut butter (or any nut butter of your choice!)
  • ~1 drizzle honey 
  • ~2 teaspoons sprinkled cinnamon 

Instructions:

Scoop out a spoonful of peanut butter, or other nut butter, and spread evenly and smoothly on the middle of a tortilla with a knife. Repeat two more times, with two more spoonfuls of nut butter (enough to cover the entire surface of the tortilla). 

Next, lightly drizzle honey on top of the peanut butter to add some sweetness. Peel your banana carefully so as not to mush it and place inside the tortilla. 

Roll the tortilla up with the banana inside, making sure that the fold is face down on the plate, so the roll stays intact. Slice the roll with a knife into even sushi pieces, about half an inch thick. I recommend using a serrated knife so the pieces cut cleanly. 

Sprinkle the individual pieces with cinnamon, grab your chopsticks (or use your fingers), and enjoy! 

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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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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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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!