Cartagena

Chocolate Nutmeg Cookies

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It has been years since my home-made cookie dough days. Store-bought cookie dough is extremely tempting for me. No demons of laziness here. Just busy. Time has an effect on cooking and baking. Strangely, time also reappears to connect our taste buds to memories every time. Inevitably, fresh batches of home-made warm cookies kept popping out of my head. If not for taste and aroma, then for health. Lack of chemicals and additives in home-made dough will surely please health conscious friends.

Taking it a bit further, home-made cookie dough can feed our imagination and creativity. For example, this is my original recipe. It’s a simple, surprising improvement over good old chocolate chip cookies. The original ingredient: Nutmeg!

Cycling back to taste buds and memories, my Dad was absolutely crazy about nutmeg. He wanted his home-made fruit juices topped with freshly ground nutmeg.  (At the time Cartagena food stores only carried whole nutmeg.) He wanted my Mom to add nutmeg to every home-made cake she made. This small, powerful ingredient can surely turn a boring drink, cake or ice cream into a whimsical event!

Recipe

Ingredients: 1 cup oil; 3/4 cup brown sugar; 3/4 cup white sugar; 2 eggs; 2-1/4 cups sifted flour; 1/2 tsp baking soda; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp vanilla; 1 (1-oz) square baking semi-sweet chocolate (shaved); 1 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix all the above ingredients. Use a wooden spoon to combine and mix well.

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Form spoonfuls and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake them at 400(F) degrees , for 10 minutes.

Watch them bake and rise…

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Take them out, let them cool and..

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Enjoy! 🙂

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Cuba Cuba – Havana-Cartagena Culture Connections

A native from the Caribbean cannot help but look for any evidence of his/her colorful, unique culture, even if it’s in a sandwich bite along the Rocky Mountains. With that in mind, I had to visit Cuba Cuba. Simply, a Cuban Sandwich place. I was gladly surprise to see ’empanadas’ and ‘tostones’ (or ‘patacones’) in their menu as well. I had both as appetizers accompanied with a gloriously strong ‘cafe Cubano’ and a ‘Café con Leche’ (obviously.) The Cuban Coffee options were amazing: “Cafecito”(single or double shot), “colada” (triple shot), “cortadito” (single shot with evaporated milk) and “café con leche” (single shot with steamed milk.) Then the Cuban Sandwiches came. Fantastic!

Pictures of Cuban men playing dominoes decorated the walls. My eyes turned right away! Cartagena and Havana share a great deal of the picturesque but relaxed tone. To my point, in Cartagena (my home town), elderly gentlemen play dominoes all afternoon long, at the “Plaza Fernandez de Madrid” between the Inquisition Palace and the Cathedral. This tradition is as old as my dear 480 year old UNESCO world heritage city. When you walk by, time literally freezes… Consequently, worldly worries, stress and little vanities become meaningless. It’s contagious. You want to stop. Actually, you do. It’s quite relaxing!

As we were leaving Cuba Cuba, the shift manager told us that the restroom had an awesome picture of Cuban boys playing baseball in the middle of busy narrow streets. We took the picture and I had to include it in this post, without any doubt. The boys in the picture are wearing sandals. In Cartagena, kids go a bit farther and play baseball bare-feet, while keeping the same setting: Among cars awkwardly parked on the sides of the old city’s narrow streets. Also, a game can last a long time as it’s often interrupted by pedestrians, or passing-by cars. Amazingly, every one knows your name and where you live. This comes in extremely handy for when a “hit” manages to break one or two windows. 😉

Havana and Cartagena enjoy the same rhythm roots and wonderfully refined Latin jazz, salsa, fast as well as slow beat softer melodies, all often accompanied by honest, simple messages. Cuba Cuba had the music too, so I was truly enjoying a full taste of home. In the end, Cuba Cuba fed me great flavors and authentic familiar memories. 🙂

Salad Recipe Collection – Warm Eggplant Salad – 4 of 5

Warm Eggplant Salad

Eggplant was frequent at home, since our Dad was of Middle Eastern descent, and he loved this warm eggplant dish! It is extremely easy to make and if you have enough eggplants, it can be served as an entrée dish. My aunts taught my Mom all they knew about authentic Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine and we loved every dish! Our Mom handed down every recipe, tip and trick learned. Eggplant is a power ingredient, low-calorie, potent source of energy and foundation for versatile and unique dishes. We were fortunate to enjoy delicious, extravagant, flavorful recipes. I intend to continue with the tradition and pass these recipes down to my kids as well.

Recipe:

Ingredients: 1 Eggplant, oil, onion, tomatoes, ground beef (optional)

1. Cut the eggplant sideways in mid-size portions carving out the inside. Discard the ends. Add beef or vegetables (I added tomato and onions) and top with any skim milk cheese (I used Ranchero) as it keeps its consistency while melting at the same time. Saute the eggplant on a pan with oil, after adding the toppings.

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2. After the eggplant skin part is cooked, transfer to a cookie sheet and then into the oven at 350F for 20 minutes.

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Once done it will look like this..

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Salad Recipe Collection – Cartagena Fishermen’s Salad – 2 of 5

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“Avoid seafood in the months without an ‘R’, May through August, the gestation months..” Colloquial Quote by: Fishermen from Cartagena de Indias (my home town.) This salad has been around in homes in Cartagena for decades. This was the first time I had tried to make it, and everyone at home was happy to be my Guinea pigs. It went well, though. 🙂 They said it was refreshing and taste buds were dancing all over their mouths.

Recipe:

shrimp_salad21. Boil 1 peeled potato with salt (1/4 tsp), and cut into cubes. Set aside.

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2. Clean 4 raw medium or jumbo shrimps, removing shell and tail, and place them on the grill adding salt and pepper after you turn them. Stop cooking when they turn pink. If you prefer to saute them (on the skillet) as I did, you can add butter and garlic to the pan first, before adding the shrimp. Don’t forget to add salt and pepper to the shrimp on the skillet. They will have added flavor.

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3. Take a couple of slices of an apple and cut them into small chunks similar in size to the potato cubes. I chose Red Rome Apple, for its sweetness, crunchy texture and because it’s my daughter’s favorite kind of apple. 🙂

Note: You may add mango as a second fruit. I would still suggest leaving the apple as it has more texture than mango.

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4. Assemble all ingredients together starting with the lettuce as holders of the potato and apple pieces, then add one shrimp on each side of the plate and finish with salt, pepper and a dollop of simple mayonnaise. Mix together in your plate and get ready to travel to my home town. 🙂

shrimp_salad9 shrimp_salad7Fishing is an important livelihood for Cartagena natives. They are not shy to promote wind surfing, canoeing or plain beach enjoyment from May to August. They try, although they don’t quite succeed, as fresh seafood is delicious in Cartagena. That said, they want both the fish and seafood to be left alone during the gestation period, so they do make fewer trips out to open sea. You can always enjoy fresh fish and seafood in abundance from September to April. After all, every day is a summer day in Cartagena! 🙂

Paletas

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Dictionary definition: “Latin American ice pop, usually made from fresh fruit.” In Mexico, Central and South America these are sold in little carts pushed by the “paletero” (ice pop salesman.) These ice boxes on wheels only fit around fifty “paletas,” a personal adventure. Leisurely, the paletero calls customers out of 90 degree homes during usually fierce warm weather of coastal cities (without seasons.) A simple, familiar, homespun, natural trade.  Overtime “Paleterias”, unique shops selling paletas, have been recently attracting foreigners in touristic towns. The experience is quite different although still somewhat magical, as in the case of “La Paleteria” in Cartagena in the old walled city. A long line of customers stands between you and the paletas. The bright colorful line of paletas stand neatly arranged bringing back childhood memories. Flavors are posted in the shop chalkboard: Coconut, mango, pineapple, lemon, papaya, tamarind, chocolate, vanilla, and many more. Finally the taste is absolutely refreshing and authentic. What a wonderful treat. Absolutely a must, if you are ever in Cartagena.