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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Taste of "Home"

A Taste of “Home”

If you, like me, have lived in many different places -- I wonder: did they all feel like home at some point? Did it take you just a few months to acclimate? I have lived in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Western New York, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Baltimore. They all felt like home after a while. In different ways. Connecticut is where I daydreamed in pine trees, made pots out of the natural clay in the stream and left them to harden in the sun, and spent endless summer (and spring and fall) days in our pool. Massachusetts is where I was the new kid, where I figured out who my friends were and where I had my first boyfriend. In Western New York, I found my “zone” of not being shy anymore, found creative ways to have fun in the middle of nowhere (sledding on cafeteria trays and rearranging the campus center to be an obstacle course!), and basically just had a blast learning, growing, and having fun. In Costa Rica, my world was challenged with a new language and a new knowledge of my country and how it affects other countries. Nicaragua taught me how to be a leader and how to love a country and its people in the midst of sadness, defeat, victory, and corruption. Baltimore found me my church, my husband, and my passion of cooking, baking, and serving others.

All this to say that I have many homes. And each home tastes different. After six months in Nicaragua, it felt like home. Even though Nicaragua is not recognized on a world-wide culinary scale, they have some good dishes that you grow to love if you spend enough time there. The gallo pinto (a rice and beans dish that, literally translated, means “painted rooster”) is so familiar and satisfying, especially when it comes with a cool tomato salad and a dollop of crema √°cida (sour cream, but I love the direct translation: acid cream). Their tostones are incredible. They are plantains cut into 2-inch pieces, fried, flattened, and then fried again. One acquaintance of mine pronounced tostones to be the best thing he had ever eaten in his life. There are also sweet plantains, pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken with incredible seasonings), and whole, fried fish – head and everything. And the fruit! Warm mango, fresh bananas (different than you find elsewhere), papaya, guava, pitaya, pineapple…I know it’s apple season here, but some of the tropical fruit just blows me away.

So, the long intro is to give you a background on this dish I made the other day. It's not necessarily specific to Nicaragua. It may be served in many Latin American countries. But the ingredients and flavors make me think of "home." With the black beans, you can add whatever you like: cumin, cilantro, peppers, even ginger. Just be sure to include garlic and onions. That's the basis of this recipe (plus, they're really good for you!). The recipe I include here is an estimate since I usually just add whatever I'm in the mood for.

I served my black beans with sour cream, diced tomato, whole grain tortilla, and sauteed sweet plantains. The diced tomato is nice with cilantro and a small amount of thinly sliced onion. Other great accompaniments are avocado slices and sharp cheddar.

Black Beans
Serves four

1/2 pound dried black beans
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
optional: 1 bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon cumin (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
a bunch of cilantro (about 1/2 to 1 cup)

1) Cover 1/2 pound of dried black beans with 2-3 cups of water; soak overnight. Drain water from beans and add 2-3 cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for about 20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, sauté the garlic, onion, and jalapeno (and bell pepper, if you use it) in olive oil over medium heat until tender Рabout 10 minutes.

3) Drain beans, keeping just a bit of water with them, and add to garlic and onion mixture, along with cumin, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and red wine vinegar. Stir together and simmer for a few minutes, adding water if it seems too dry. (The idea is to have beans that stick together somewhat but aren’t mushy). Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Sweet Plantains
Serves four

4 plantains (Choose plantains that look overripe. The green ones are better for tostones)
Canola oil
salt, if desired

Peel plantains. Cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces. Saute in 1-2 tablespoons canola oil until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt if desired (but taste them first!! Usually they're perfect without salt).

What does home taste like to you? How many different places have you called home?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peach Picking!

I went peach picking a couple weeks ago, and we brought home a full bushel. What does one to with a full bushel of peaches? Make every peach recipe imaginable, that's what!

Some friends and I made a plethora of peach-y goodness. Some of them are pictured. Since a lot of them involved canning and freezing, I haven't tried every last recipe yet, but here is what we made:

Peach Ice Cream (the flavor was amazing, but somehow it turned out too icy)

Blueberry Peach Cobbler (this one was definitely a keeper, although we used blackberries instead of blueberries)

Peach Salsa (delicious!)

Peach Tea (very refreshing)

Grilled Peach, Arugula, and Feta Salad (loved this, especially after all of our hard work)

Peach Chutney (haven't tried this one yet -- I'm waiting for the right recipe to use it on!)

Baltimore Peach Cake (had to choose a local recipe for my local fruit -- it smelled delicious out of the oven, but I put it in my freezer and it's still waiting to be eaten)

Maple Vanilla Peaches (haven't tried this yet either, but a friend says they're great in oatmeal)

We also made jam, which is the one recipe I don't have available, but there are plenty out there you can use. I'll have to let you know how these goodies taste as a slowly get through them.

I also made peach pancakes with some of the fresh peaches. They were nice. I used an oat-based pancake recipe, cut up peaches to add to the batter, added pecans, and made a peach syrup to drizzle over top. And, of course, since we're all about toppings at the Kuk household, we doctored them up with granola, yogurt, and extra peach slices. Use your favorite pancake recipe, but grind up oats in a blender to make into flour, and use in place of regular wheat flour. Add whole oats as well. Buttermilk makes a nice flavor addition too.

What is your favorite peach recipe? Do you plan to go fruit picking this Fall?