World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: October, 2006

The Baker’s Passport – Aruba


Most of the Caribbean Islands are, or were European colonies. Aruba, a small island located off the coast of Venezuela was originally colonized by the Spaniards and later ruled by the Dutch; as it is today an independent state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The food of Aruba includes cala (bean fritters), ayacas (leaf-wrapped meat rolls), and the white, sweet, mild-tasting fish grouper commonly found in the form of a sandwich.  Dutch influences can be found in many dishes but one of the most so is keshi yena (filled cheese shell).  A soupy concoction that combining Gouda cheese, spices, and meat or seafood in a thick brown sauce. This dish is sometimes served with funchi, a cornmeal pancake, or pan bati, a corn pudding. Savory and filling this traditional dish, is today more often found during Christmas.  Essentially the cheese shell is scooped out, filled with spicy chicken or beef, baked in the oven or steamed in the top of a double boiler. In a more dramatic version the filled Edam, with the red wax intact, is. tied in cheese cloth and suspended in boiling water for twenty minutes. The wax melts away in the hot water, leaving a delicate pink blush on the cheese.   

Sweets include banana breads, coconut cakes, flans , tert, cocada (which seems to come via Brazil),  and a homemade version of ponche crema  a creamy rum-based drink somewhat similar to eggnog.  Also I’m not sure how native this muffin recipe called Aruba Duba Do is but I thought I’d capture the link here as it’s interesting–sweet potato, mango and papaya!

Recipe research for this effort is turning into recipe development and refinement.  It was naive of me to assume that all recipes are written in the same manner as is done here in the States. Many recipes are written as if from your favorite aunt.  You know that aunt, the one that doesn’t fuss much with amounts, cooking times or sequences. In some instances I’ve taken the essence–the ingredients and forms and applied some methodology for easy doing.

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The Baker’s Passport – Cuba


Cuba is high on my list of "just once."  Most likely because its off limits to Americans. I can imagine myself out late meeting a suave dark Cuban and learning to rumba while sipping on a mojito, Cuba libre or daiquiri cocktail.  We’d roll on into the morning and have a typically Cuban breakfast of tostado and a cafe cubano.

Cuban bakeries are famous for their finger foods, such as pastelitos, croquetas, bocaditos, and empanadasPastelitos are somewhat like American turnover–a warm flaky exterior wrapped around a filling of either meat, cheese, coconut, guava, or a combination of guava and cream cheese. Bocaditos are small bite size sandwiches layered with a ham spread.  A popular dessert called capuchino.  These small cone-shaped cakes start out are baked until hard and then are soaked overnight in a syrup made from sugar, water, lemon and orange rinds, plus cinnamon and that very sweet liqueur, anis.  The name refers to the shape of the hoods worn by Capuchin monks.

Another local treat that pairs well with a cafe con leche are these cookies from, Moron, in the province of Camaguey. The town is widely known for these cookies. Many bakers who fled Castro’s oppression in the early 60’s brought their recipe for the cookie to the mainland.  Today the lime sugar cookies can be found in Cuban bakeries in "Little Cuba" in Miami. Sometimes they can found all dainty, sprinkled with sugar or all tarted up with colorful sprinkles.Torticas de Moron

Cuban Sugar Cookies

Adapted from a recipe from the Cocina Cubana Club

1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp lime juice
1-1/2 tsp grated lime rind

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix shortening and sugar together.

Slowly add flour, a small bit at a time incorporating well each time.  Watch the dough as you don’t want it stiff but not dry.

Add the grated lime juice and rind. When thoroughly mixed, roll the dough into a Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Slice the cookies about 1/2-inch thick. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for 30-60 minutes.

Place on cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

The Baker’s Passport


I’ve been having problems sleeping lately.  I reason this as work related stress from the upcoming launch of a new travel catalog program, recent personal events and the changing of the seasons.  But the upside is that my dreams have been lucidly entertaining.  One dream had me visiting a friend only to open her fridge and find it full of pomegranate in all ways–clear bottles of deep red juice, bowls of glistening seeds, whole cubed fruit seeds still intact. This morning I had a work related dream episode where a management meeting had us shout out a ‘feeling.’ Mine? I’m curious, challenge me. Boy that speaks volumes.

So in order to channel that latent bubbling energy I am going to turn to my writing and launch an idea that I’ve had simmering for a while now–The Baker’s Passport

I’ve often daydreamed about being a flanuer.  Simply outfitted with my passport, camera and boundless curiosity I explore the world near and far to learn about food cultures.  Short of cash but not on desire this project will view the world through that of a baker. Another way to look at it would be this, if I was to travel to that country in mind what would be the one sweet treat that I would  need to seek out and savor.

Any effort of this sort is overwhelming at first. In evaluating this quest I’ve shaped it as follows: I will learn a bit about the culture of food and place and in turn post a recipe that defines that country.  Now my political friends will now ask how are you defining a country? To quiet that discussion I am going to lean on the United Nations. If they so say it so say I.  How many is that?  Eek. That’s 192. Sixteen dozen recipes–if I’m lucky.  I’m also wanting to learn about the food culture in each country as this helps me see the similarities and appreciate the differences.  The trip holds a lot of promise.  If your coming bring your sweet tooth.

Banana Split Cake


Sometimes we are tough on ourselves. We try a new receipe, in a new kitchen in an unfamiliar oven and think ‘eh, it’s ok.’ As I continue to bake my way through recent happenings I came across a recipe in of all places a Better Homes & Garden magazine called Holdiay Baking 2006. The magazine is full of dessert recipes with peanut butter as a feature ingredient. We all know by now how central this ingredient is in my baking including the Gourmet cover girl.

This receipe appealed to me as it has some techniques I hadn’t come across before (perhaps because I don’t read these magazines?). And the other factor was I had a banana and I hate to waste food. I’m also adjusting to moving around a kitchen with a 18″x 12″ workspace. At some point when I feel more settled into my IBK I will share some of my kitchen adaptations. I am continually surprised by how little you really do need.

This marble cake requires about 40 minutes of prep, if you follow my method. Baking time is about one hour. I’m not sure about those kitchen people at BHG. But the recipe gets a bit confusing. I’ve restructured it below as all sense got whipped out of it. The results? I brought it to work–these efforts don’t stay in my cottage–astounding. Workmates came in to my office with chocolate on their fingers and crumbs on their file folders asking “Is there more? I only got two pieces.”

We never know how good something is standing alone in your kitchen. After all isn’t the reward of baking sharing with others?

Ed. Note: A second post in a week purely because of this recipe and the image taken with my new digital SLR! It’s a beauty, eh?

Banana Split Cake

1 cup butter

4 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 large)

1/2 cup dairy sour cream

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup strawberry preserves

Few drops red food coloring

1/2 cup preseweetened cocoa powder


8 oz. chocolate chips

6 oz. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, grease and flour a 10" bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a separate and small bowl, combine banana, sour cream, milk and vanilla; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until fluffy. Add eggs, on at a time, beating well after each addition.  Alternately add flour mixture and banana mxiture to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.

Prepare two small bowls.  In the first small bowl, stir together 1 cup of the batter, the strawberry preserves, and red food coloring.  In the second small bowl, stir together another 1 cup of the batter and the cocoa powder. Spoon half of the remaning plain batter into the preapred 10" bunt pan. Add strawberry batter. Top with remaining plain batter, then chocolate batter. Use a narrow metal spatula to gently swirl the batters.

Bake 55-65 minutes until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan.  Cool comptely on wire rack about 90 minutes.


In a small saucepan, heat chocolate and butter together until just melted. Take off heat. Continue stirring until melted and shiny. Drizzle over cooled cake.

Ed. Note: The cocoa powder and batter stage is a bother. The dry powder made for a bread dough consistency. My remedy was to carefully thin with sour cream and a smidge of milk. Be patient, slowly count to 30 as you add these two ingredients in small amounts. Do they really test these recipes in home kitchens?! Recipe adapted from Holiday Baking 2006, BHG.

Cooking up a Bowl of Comfort


"We want to go back to a time when life was not so complicated — or, at least, when we look at it from a distance, it was one that seemed much simpler…”     Marian Burros

There are times in all of our lives when life is a bit too much in size.  Waves of uncertainty, confusion, absolute clarity and then back to overwhelm have washed over me the last few days.  My 98-year old paternal grandfather, “Pop” passed away this week, oddly at the same time as R.W. Apple. At the same time I learned that my father’s cancer has returned. Real and unpredictable I’m managing. What’s the adage, life doesn’t serve you up what you can’t handle.”

A recent news article suggests that the term "comfort food" first appeared in print in 1977, but really became more prevalent during the 1987 stock market crash “when, according to New York Times food writer William Grimes, "many restaurants took $30 pastas off the menu and replaced them with less expensive comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese.” We saw this again when many restaurants post 9/11.  Whatever the origin and use the idea of feeding the soul with food that heals is certainly not a new one.

Food nourishes your soul allowing you to connect to a place and a time and pull in strength that you can lean on. The steamy bowl of matzo ball soup, pork chops made with chicken noodle soup, the creamy bowl with a crusty top of macaroni and cheese, or the rich taste of a homemade brownie what we seek is personal, intimate. It’s the touch from our pasts that says, ‘all will be well again.’

Comfort food’s strength comes from its simplicity and certainty. You know it can bolster your spirit, offering reliability in its familiarities. It makes us feel protected and taken care of with its connection to home or past memories with friends.

For me the intersection in times of stress and personal crisis I retreat to the kitchen. Last night, I made a roast. Pop, a teamster who delivered bread and pies for Table Talk after serving in the Navy in WWII was of English descent. A proper meal was defined as meat, potatoes and a vegetable. My effort clearly therapeutic as I live alone and there’s now a cooked roast for six in the fridge was right. The aromas filled my tiny cottage for three hours transporting me back to Sunday dinners in the West Roxbury duplex with my cousins, the faint tinny sound of the Red Sox game playing on the radio. While that was the 1970s, the foundation may be the same my interpretation the Sunday roast is a coffee rub from Prather Ranch cooked in abobo sauce with a basting of local apple cider.

I’m not advocating sorrow as an excuse to mindlessly indulge in comfort food. But if you are going to seek refuge make it the best quality. Take care of yourself by wrapping yourself in the comfort of a chocolate chip cookie. This past weekend one of my comfort meals was a butternut squash with cheddar cheese biscuits. Next up it may be a cheesecake made with the brownies, an effort from Saturday, or a bundt cake or some pork tamales. The bowl of comfort is working its magic.

Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

Adapted from Recipes from Home © 2001

This recipe takes me up to today and my frequent Sunday dinners with S&K.  The recipes in this cookbook are a contemporary tribute to American cooking. 

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

Generous pinch of kosher salt

1/4 pound (1 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½” pieces)

1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup cold buttermilk

2 pieces cooked bacon, thick-cut, chopped


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Toss in the grated Cheddar. Gradually stir in the buttermilk, mixing only until dough is formed.

Divide the dough into 8 to 10 pieces and roughly shape each piece into a ball. Place the biscuits 2” apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.     Makes 4-5 biscuits;   Ed. Note Recipe can be doubled as the original recipe is for 8-10 biscuits.

Little Miss Muffet goes to School


I am an absolute freak when it comes to goats. I can’t explain it. Hearty and spunky what’s not to like, including their milk in all its forms. Be it Humboldt Fog, cajeta,  or LaLoo’s ice cream. This fascination also includes long entertained flights of fancy of becoming Little Bo Beep and having my own heard.  I’d make cheese, soap and lotions and sell it at a nearby market. And then I took a class at the newly opened Cheese School of San Francisco.

Many of you like myself will now ask why, in this city of food-crazed dwellers has there not been a formal education outlet until 2006?  It’s such a smart idea. Sure, there have been classes offered through many local cheese shops such as those taught by Judy Creighton (who is list as faculty) at Leonard’s 2000 now Cheese Plus. The cheese school, is in Russian Hill and was founded by Sara Vivenzio, who arrived in the City a year ago, after a time in NY advertising (no wonder the graphics for her school are clean and inviting), to live out cheese-filled dreams here in the land of fog and artisanal splendor. Today, she is a professional cheese monger and buyer at the nearby Cheese Plus

Now I’m not naive, but let’s just say that I was lacking in herd management knowledge. Will Edwards of Harley Farms in Pescadero led the class and focused on the flow of milk–from goat to cheese. The farm is organic and sustainable.  Little touches go a long way. The whey is feed to the goats which increases the butterfat in the cheese.

Will is absolutely passionate and enthusiastic about the goats and the cheese. He shared some of the questions that he gets during tours of the farm, ‘Which part of the goat do you use for cheese? Do you milk male goats?’ Yet another reminder of how disconnected many are from food sources.

Harley Farms was started by Yorkshire-born Dee Harley who married the owner of Durate’s Tavern–a landmark eatery, don’t miss the pie!–they settled down at his father’s 1910 farm. Will, joined shortly after things were getting a bit too productive on the farm for Dee. They do not call themselves cheese makers, the goats do the work so they wear that title. There are about 220 American Alpine goats roaming the 9-acres of coastal pasture down in Pescadero. These goats are excellent milkers. Goats need to be milked twice a day every 12 hours. This cycle produces a gallon of milk which yields one pound of cheese. Milking a goat by hand takes about 15 minutes. With a milking machine that process is seriously compressed to 3 minutes. And here’s the big surprise, in the Spring goats give birth to twins or triplets. The herd can grow to over 500! 

Will mentioned in passing that currently there are just a mere 12 farmstead cheese goat operations in the U.S.  Here’s what I can find to so far:

      1. Achadinha Farms, California
      2. Amaltheia Dairy, Montana
      3. Capriole Farms, Indiana
      4. Elk Creamery, California
      5. Harley Farms, California
      6. Haystack Farms, Colorado
      7. Bodega Goat Cheese, California
      8. Pug’s Leap, California
      9. Redwood Hill Farms, California
      10. Rollingstone Chevre, Minnesota

      The Harley Farms tasting include a Monet, with fresh flowers and herbs d’ Provence, an apricot pistachio and a tomato basil.  These 4-day old chevres were not goaty in flavor.  The Monet and the tomato which was paired with a lush Stephen Vincent Merot (2003) are new favorites. We also sampled other California farmstead cheeses including, a Fiscalini 30-month bandage wrap cheddar; Bellwhether Farms San Andreas and a crottin from Redwood Hill Farms. At the end of the class we moved into the kitchen and watched Will complete the makings for fresh ricotta cheese.


      Future classes include a Pub Tasting, Cheeses of Spain and if you really want to indulge there’s a Valentine’s event with pairing bubbles and triple crèmes. Check out the schedule–there’s something for the Miss Muffet in you.  For me I’ve got to start envisioning the whole cycle of life–how did I miss that?

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