Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Burban Chocolate Chip Cookies

Three things are dead giveaways that—despite all efforts to conceal it—I grew up in the 'burbs. First, I eat processed cheese. But only Kraft Singles (I do have standards). Second, I've got a soft spot for amaretto, the most drinkable thing at a bush party.

And third, I make cookies with shortening.

Don't get me wrong—I love butter. Can't get enough of it. But shortening makes cookies soft and gooey and delicious, and even when the rest of the world got all transfat phobic, I turned a blind eye.

But then today, as I was whipping up another batch of chocolate chip goodness, I decided to see *just* how bad this love affair was. Turns out, as of 2004, Crisco is now transfat free! Or close enough for a girl from Ajax. Time to celebrate with more cookies.

I got this recipe from my friend Kari years ago and tweaked it just ever so slightly with a topping of fleur de sel--a souvenir from a recent trip to Amsterdam. (At 2 euro a bag, I should have bought two). It's pretty standard recipe, but you'll make it fantastic if you take a little extra time with the hand blender. Make sure your wet mixture is light and fluffy like a jar of marshmallow fluff.

Substitute with butter if you must, but know that you're missing out. Huge.

'Burban Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips
fleur de sel

With handmixer on high, blend together shortening, eggs, vanilla and both sugars until mixture is light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Sprinkle in salt and baking soda, then slowly blend in flour until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon on to parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle each cookie with fleur de sel. Bake at 350F until lightly golden around the edges, about 8 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cuban Food--friend or foe?

Everyone had warned me: The food in Cuba is crap. Now, I love food but I have dreamed of going to Cuba, especially Havana, for years, so I was undeterred. We just loaded up on Cliff bars and figured we'd be fine.

After 24 hours of traveling, we made it to Havana and were famished. Hunger being the best chef and all that, we found a place by the water and ate the meal pictured above. We were delighted! Grilled fish, roasted chicken, rice, salad and Cristal beer...all delicacies we'd become very familiar with over the following week. There was nothing fantastic about the food, it was simple and "undisturbed" by many spices (due to the many embargos, Cubans simply do not have a lot of selection for flavour or food variety) but the hunger combined with outrageously low expectations meant we enjoyed our meal that night immensely.

We discovered that Cubans LOVE their ice cream and have dedicated an entire cafeteria-style-themepark to it (La Coppelia). Many of the delicious ice creams were made with condensed good! We ate it right out of the tub on the sea-wall (Malecon).

This was our first breakfast at our Casa Particular (Bed and Breakfast, kind of, in a beautiful old colonial style house) in the neighbourhood of Vedado, just outside of old Havana. Again, simple. Papaya, pineapple, coffee, guava juice and a (dry-ish) bun with precious butter (cannot assume butter will be available). I had requested tea instead of coffee in my broken Spanish and discovered no tea, just coffee. Okay, any milk? Nope, no milk (add milk to list of things that may or may not be available). So we learned to enjoy black coffee that week just fine.

Over the next several days, we enjoyed white beans in sausage sauce (vegetarians, don't judge me! I did what I had to :), plantain "cups" stuffed with mayonnaise or something, root vegetables, and black beans prepared in every conceivable way humanity can configure.

We discovered that one of Havana's solutions to being an island suffering from serious embargos was to cultivate urban agriculture. We didn't see as many gardens as we had hoped, but we did get a glimpse of this plot, right near the Plaza De La Revolucion. Viva!

We couldn't resist buying the baking we would pass by. This handful of cookies (below) were ubiquitously displayed by themselves on shelves in random kiosks on the street. No variety, no icings, no bells and whistles...the message is just: "here's what we got, do you want it or not?" I was not particularly impressed with the baking, but again, the buying and eating of what is available (not necessarily being able to choose whatever you like) seemed part of the Cuban/Habanero experience. We also relished the pizza (pretty good, and popular!) and being able to drink a beer with that in a public City Park (here we are on the Prado). Yum!

I also must feature this photo (below): Cubans are very proud of their lobster ("Langosta") and this one came with a banana on top of it. Double delicacy, really. What I should mention is that a wicked cuban salsa band played the entire time I ate this, as was the case everywhere that we ate dinner, or lunch, or had a and food/drink were nearly always a synonymous experience. Hooray for that!
After 5 days in Havana, we relaxed for 2 days on the beach with variations of rum drinks in hand...pina coladas, mojitos, cuba libres. Who am I kidding, we had plenty of those in Havana too. Because no matter what you think of Cuban food, you just can't beat their rum.

So, back to the question: Cuban food-- friend or foe? Answer: who cares? As long as I'm in Cuba.