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Taste of the Caribbean

09 Jul

The Chinese may have their holy trinity of garlic, ginger and chilli, the Cajuns onion, peppers and celery, but my personal favourite trifecta of deliciousness would have to be banana, chocolate and nuts. Oh my god, the 3 combined are so amazing together, plus give the eater such an immense feeling of comfort that it’s impossible to resist. Allergies aside, if you don’t eat nuts then you are really missing out on baking perfection. Get over hating on nuts, and embrace nutty crunchiness in your cakes! Yesterday, feeling tired and run down, I decided to bake Banana, Chocolate and Pecan Bread from Wahaca – Mexican Food At Home by Thomasina Miers, to help cheer me up. Having a blackened claw of too ripe bananas was all the encouragement I needed – fate was on my side! – to get the mixing bowls and wooden spoons out. You may be wondering to yourself what this bread has to do with Mexico, land of chillies, coriander and cheese. Well, it’s also the land where chocolate originates from, so naturally it is a Big Deal out there and Mexicans take the stuff very seriously (I’ve always liked Mexicans, such wise people) and include it in a lot of their recipes, even in savoury meals like chilli. Plus, bananas are a Caribbean fruit, and pecans…. Well I’m not too sure about pecans and where they come from, but they certainly belong in this recipe. It’s fairly easy to whip up, but it’s really pushing it to call this a bread. Make no mistakes, it is a loaf cake, and I would like to give Thomasina a big kiss on the cheek for putting this *bread* in the breakfast section of her book. “Oooh no, it’s far too early for cake…. Hang on a sec, this is in the breakfast section! I’ve no choice but to wolf down a big slice at 7am with a coffee”. So went my internal monologue first thing this Monday morning. This recipe really is delicious, the cake itself is moist and dense, full of banana flavour and with gooey melty dark chocolate chips, and crunchy toasted pecan nuts. I prefer milk chocolate normally, but the cake itself is so sweet that you need the slight bitter edge that 70% dark chocolate gives. This banana, chocolate and pecan bread is simply gorgeous, and also went down very well in the office.

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Not stopping there with the Caribbean theme, this evening I cooked up a dinner that originated in Cuba. Cuban food isn’t really well known, and even when I was in Cuba, the only authentic Cuban ingredient I tried was the rum,and very nice it was too. It was only in Florida that I tried proper Cuban food, at a restaurant called Columbias in St Augustine. Go, go, go, the food is good, the atmosphere vibrant, and the sangria strong. What more could you ever ask for from a Spanish-Cuban restaurant? At Columbia’s I had filet salteado, and this is what I replicated today after finding the recipe on the restaurants website. It’s not posh, fussy restaurant fare and this is what I loved about this dish when I had it in Florida, you can easily see this meal as being something a Cuban would cook at home while a hurricane is raging outside. It’s the Cuban equivalent of a stew in my eyes, and is made with beef chunks cooked with chorizo, vegetables and red wine. You can see the significant Spanish influence here, and the prevalent flavour here is paprika from the chorizo. It’s a very tasty, homely dish but absolutely not what you’d expect from a sun drenched country. When most people think of food from Cuba and the Caribbean, they think pineapples, mangoes, spices, rum and cocktails, so its quite nice to turn that preconception on its head and see that actually, British and Cuban tastes aren’t so different after all. We may be thousands of miles apart, but at the end of day no nation can resist the comfort of beef stews and banana bread.

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