Cuban Black Bean Stew

Three years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba for a week of vacation. That year was definitely a world wind of travel, as my Cuba trip was sandwiched in between my visits to England and Morocco. I am so very grateful for the small window to time I was able to visit the once restricted country. Cuba being so close and full of culture was definitely a must to explore. I encourage everyone to visit Cuba at least once in their lifetime. I am trying to make my way back soon myself.

This Caribbean island is of course known for its fascinating 1950s colorful aesthetic seen in the architecture and classic cars. The fusion of Spanish and African is apparent throughout Cuban music, dance, history and cuisine! While I was in Cuba I definitely enjoyed the flavorful, fresh dishes. Every morning I looked forward to my Cuban breakfast made of fresh fruits, Cuban bread and the strong full bodied coffee. It was during my second evening of my Cuban adventure that I first discovered the best tasting black beans I had ever experienced.

I decided to walk a few blocks from where I was staying in Old Havana to enjoy an authentic Cuban dinner. I ordered this amazing fresh grilled fish dinner that came with a side of some savory legumes. The beans were so delectable and full of flavor. You could tell with each bite that some serious love and time had gone into these beans. I just had to discover how I could recreate such full flavor once I returned home.

I purchased my authentic Cuban cookbook prior to my departure back to the States as tradition. Once I got back to Los Angeles I perused through my book and found the source of Cuban black beans flavor. Cuban sofrito is the base of many Cuban recipes. It’s that umami flavor you taste when eating Cuban food like beans, rice and stews. The primary ingredients in Cuban sofrito are onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Common secondary ingredients include tomatoes, dry white wine, oregano, bay leaf, cilantro and other spices.

I decided to take my newly discovered culinary skills and create my own recipe for a delicious and palatable meal. My Cuban Black Bean Stew is made with my own sofrito recipe and some other unique flavors. It is completely vegan but I promise you won’t even miss the meat. This stew can be made and served at any time of the year as well. This is honestly one of my favorite recipes because it’s so versatile. I usually like to eat alone with garnishes I mention below. I also like to serve it as nachos, tacos, enchiladas, etc. This recipe makes a large quantity, but it also freezes very well so no worries.

Check out my recipe below and make sure you save this one!

Cuban Black Bean Stew

Step-by-step video Cuban Black Bean Stew

Ingredients

1 medium onion, quartered (about 1 cup)

10 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large bell pepper or 4 miniature peppers, cut into large pieces

1 Anaheim (or large mild pepper), seeded and cut into large pieces

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tbsp. ketchup

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 quart (32oz.) reduced-sodium vegetable broth

1 can (1 ½ cups) canned chopped tomatoes

1 ½ cups of water

32 oz. dried black beans or 8 cans rinsed but not drained

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 bunch cilantro, for garnish

juice of ½ lime, for garnish

Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Vegan grated cheddar, for garnish

Directions

Make black beans. In a large pot add black beans and triple the amount of water. To the pot add 3 bay leaves, onion scraps and peppers scraps and allow beans to soak overnight. Once beans have finished soaking overnight, cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender, an hour or more. Remove vegetable scraps and bay leaves from the beans. Add salt to taste after beans have finished cooking. Allow beans to cool.

Meanwhile, make a sofrito. Add onion, garlic cloves, bell pepper and Anaheim pepper to food processor or blender. Pulse vegetables until they are finely chopped, almost a paste consistency. This is your sofrito.

In a large heavy pot or dutch oven add vegetable oil and cook on medium heat until oil begins to smoke. Stir in the sofrito and continue to stir until fragrant and begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 4 minutes. Stir in the oregano, cumin, chili powder and cook until you can smell it, about 1 minute. Stir in ketchup and Worchestershire sauce and cook for another minute. Deglaze bottom of the pot by adding the broth, tomatoes and water and scrapping of bits off bottom. Cover pot and allow stew to simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes. Stir in the beans, turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup is bubbling gently and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow stew to cool to above room temperature.

Place stew in a bowl. Garnish the black bean stew with vegan cheese, cilantro, green onions and fresh lime juice.

This stew gets better the longer it sits, so its even better the next day!

Mardi Gras King Cake

I absolutely love New Orleans! I mean how could you not love a city full of such history, culture, music and amazing food? This is the birthplace of Jazz and the epicenter of melodic cuisine. I was fortunate enough to spend four years here during undergrad and I try to get back there as often as I can.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, New Orleans and Louisiana culture runs deep in my blood and spirit. Both sides of my families have roots in Louisiana so I don’t play when it comes to representing the authenticity of its traditions. Every year during Mardi Gras, whether I visit the boot shaped state or not, a King cake is an absolute must. The further I travel outside of Louisiana the harder it becomes to obtain one of these delicacies. I took my frustration and turned it into a recipe. I have been tweaking my King cake recipe over time to keep it fresh and also classic. Check out my King cake recipe below that comes with the options of two fillings: the customary cream cheese filling and also banana foster praline filling.

If you are frustrated in the ability of getting your Mardi Gras King cake or have never had one, definitely give this recipe a try. Nothing beats a fresh King cake! I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Finished traditional King cake

Original recipe Blog post from: Confections, Crafts, Couture

Mardi Gras King Cake

Dough:

2 (¼ oz.) packets dry active yeast

½ cup of warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup butter, melted

½ cup of warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)

2 eggs yolks

1 ¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. lemon zest

½ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

3 to 3 ¾ cups all purpose flour

½ cup of light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

Bananas Foster Praline Filling:

3 medium ripe bananas

½ cup of bourbon or whiskey

1 tbsp. AP flour

½ cup of prepared caramel (see recipe here)

¼ cup condensed milk

1 cup chopped pecans

Glaze:

2 to 2 ¼ cups confectioners sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. milk

2 tsp. water

dash of salt

*optional traditional cream cheese filling:

8oz. cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups of confectioners sugar

2 egg whites, room temperature

Mardi Gras Sprinkle Mix for decoration, optional

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Using hand and stand mixer, add sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While dough is resting, make your filling. Cut up bananas into ½ inch cubes. In a large skillet cook bananas on medium heat until they began to soften. Turn heat down to low-medium heat. Remove pan from heat and add your bourbon or whiskey. Flambé bananas by lighting liquor on fire. Continue to cook until flame has extinguished. Whisk in flour. Cook until sauce begins to thicken.  Add the prepared caramel and milk. Lightly stir together until caramel is incorporated and smooth. Allow filling to simmer for approximately 5 minutes until it tightens. Turn off heat and fold in pecans. Allow filling to completely cool. Set aside.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16-in. x 10-in. rectangle. Combine cinnamon and brown sugar; sprinkle over dough over all of dough. Do not leave a border. Fold dough in thirds lengthwise (like a letter). Roll out dough again into a 16 x 10 inch rectangle. Place filling on top of dough, leaving a ½ inch edge. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with beaten egg.

Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. For glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, milk, salt and enough water to achieve desired consistency. (Glaze should be tacky glue consistency). Spread over cake. Sprinkle with Sprinkle Mix while glaze is still wet. Allow glaze to set. 

Devour and Enjoy!!

*for optional cream cheese filling: In a medium size bowl whisk together cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar and egg whites on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Set aside. Once cinnamon and brown sugar have been applied to dough and dough has been rolled out again into a 16 x10 inch rectangle, place cream cheese filling on top of dough. Smooth out cream cheese on top of dough evenly leaving a ½ inch border. Continue to roll up dough jelly-roll style. Continue remainder of directions above. 

Joshua Tree, Just for Me

Last time around this year I was preparing for the trip of a lifetime. I had recently resigned from my position of 5 years and had planned this elaborate three week solo Asian excursion. It was a much needed trip after dealing with a beyond stressful job and relationship. I just had to escape to re-center myself and regain the mental strength I needed to start my new year off on the right foot. While across the world, I had the opportunity to bathe elephants, eat amazing food, pamper myself, pet a tiger and swim in the most known infinity pool and hotel in the world. Little did I know that that trip to Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore would be my last international trip for at least another year. Last December prepared me for more than I could have ever expected to happen in a matter of the next 365 days. The enlightenment I gained on my previous December trip also provided clarity on the importance of self time and care. When I arrived back to the States safely, I decided to make my own holiday tradition. I would go somewhere every December by myself to ready for the next year to come.

Hanging with elephants in Thailand

A few months ago I requested my time off for December thinking it’ll definitely be safe to travel somewhere by then. As my vacation time grew near and the pandemic got worse I slowly begin crossing possible travel destinations off my mental list. By November I knew that wherever I decided to go I didn’t want to depend on air travel. I also did not want to consider quarantining for 14 days or worse illness on my trip because of exposure. My travel list got smaller and smaller until it eventually dwindled down to nothing. There was no way I was to going to spend my week off at home after working from home for the majority of the year. Where was I going to go? Then I thought to myself, “you live in California. There are plenty of places to go and feel like you’re on the other side of world.” In the back of my mind I had always wanted to visit Joshua Tree, CA. I had read about it multiple times in several travel blogs and magazines. I finally decided to give Joshua Tree my time and attention. I booked my AirBnB and started researching how I was going to spend my little window of time. In the few days I was able to spend in Joshua Tree, I loved every bit of it! It was the perfect escape that I needed to accomplish my mission. You can read about the highlights of my trip below.

Joshua Tree Travel Vlog

Where I stayed: I stayed at the cutest and quaint AirBnB located in the city of Joshua Tree, CA. Joshua Tree is definitely as small and secluded as it seems. My country dwelling was literally located on a back dirt road, so all-wheel drive is recommended. I appreciated the tranquility of being in the middle of nowhere and the silence and peace that accompanied it. I honestly have never seen as many stars at night as I did in Joshua Tree. This house was great because it had all the necessary amenities and then some. I truly took advantage of not only the full kitchen and the fireplace but also the hot tub, the fire pit and barbecue outside. I loved all the huge windows in the home that let in all the natural sunlight in the morning. Although secluded this house is in a prime location. The Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum is less than a mile a way and right up the street. Also the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park is about a 20 minute drive away.

More information about the AirBnB here.

What I did: I honestly enjoyed my time disconnected from the world and with myself. I let Jhené Aiko be my soundtrack for the week. I sang and danced like no one was watching because I knew no one could if they wanted to, being in the middle of nowhere. I soaked in the hot tub until I looked like a California raisin and literally drank Rosé all day. I brought one of my books I have been trying to finish forever to read. I also brought my travel journal I purchased last year. I dusted it off and replanned my travel and life goals for next year. I did have a chance to venture out as well. I enjoyed my quick trip to the Outdoor Museum one afternoon. Joshua Tree apparently has a happening art scene so I tried to soak up as much as I could.

Of course I had to visit Joshua Tree National Park. I am definitely a morning person. I like to get my day started with the sun. I highly recommend getting to the park early as well as it really got crowded the closer it got to the afternoon and I was there on a Wednesday. I decided that I wanted to check out the Barker Dam Trail, which was recommended to me by my AirBnB booklet. As I mentioned above it took me about 20 minutes from where I staying to get to the park entrance. It then took me another 20 minutes inside the park to get to the trail. The drive inside of the park is so picturesque. You get a chance to take in all the desert life forms that rarely are seen. I also appreciated that once inside the park you may return using the same fee/pass for 7 days. I will be returning and taking advantage of this offer next time to check out some other hiking trails.

More information about Joshua Tree National Park here.

I stopped by Art Queen, which is located on the main road in Joshua Tree, on my way back to LA. Art Queen has a world famous Crochet Museum and also places to pick up some eclectic pieces and gifts. Apparently I stopped by too early as they were still closed. I will definitely be attempting Art Queen again on my return to Joshua Tree.

I am so very grateful and thankful for the time I was able to spend with myself in Joshua Tree. It was an amazing experience and I will be doing it again soon when I need to recharge my batteries. I am not going to say that I am all together prepared for what is in-store for next year. What I can say is that I am in better place mentally, physically and spiritually from my Joshua Tree tour. I’m still looking forward to the finale that is 2020.

Thanksgiving in L.A.

Here we are winding down on the year 2020. It has been 11 months of social distancing, catastrophes and no international travel. Despite all the disasters this year has thrown at me, I still remain with a smile on my face. I am truly happy and blessed that have the opportunity to work from my fabulous Mid-City home and I’m healthy. Although I may not be able to do all the traveling that my soul thirsts for and I am thankful to live in one the world’s most sought after travel destinations, Los Angeles. I am grateful to take advantage of the great weather and backdrop that defines Southern California.

Of course Thanksgiving and the remainder of this year’s holidays are going to be different than the normal. Most of the expected socialization and traditions will have to be postponed at least until the new year. Usually my California family on my mom’s side hosts a huge Thanksgiving pot luck where everyone brings their assigned dish and we all eat like kings and queens. I, like many others, will be celebrating at home with a much smaller crowd this year. California is the land of perpetual sun and produce. Being that it is November and I am still holding down the 213, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try some new, healthy, plant based recipes for Thanksgiving. 2020 has given me perspective and motivated me to put myself and my health first. I spent some time deciding on how I was going to be able to enjoy all the taste of the traditional food feast but keep it fresh and hearty. I came up with this menu below for my plant based Thanksgiving dinner. You can also find my step by step video and complete recipes below.

MENU

Directions

For the Lentil Loaf: Place the lentils in a large saucepan of cold water. Bring the water just to a boil over high heat. Carefully drain the boiling water and rinse the lentils. Meanwhile, in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add the rice and return the liquid to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover the rice, and gently simmer without stirring for 10 minutes. Stir in the shallots, onions, carrots, bell pepper, celery and lentils. Cover and continue cooking without stirring until the rice and lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes longer. Turn off the heat. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Cover and let stand for 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile the rice and lentils are cooking, make the greens.

For the greens: In a large pot or dutch oven heat up 2 tbsp. of olive oil on medium heat. Add finely diced onions and cook until fragrant and translucent, for approximately five minutes. Reduce heat to medium/low and add vegetable stock, chorizo, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and allow stock to simmer for 20 minutes. Add greens to the pot and place lid back on. Allow greens to cook down for additional 25-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread butter/ olive oil (vegan option) over a 10 by 4 1/2 by 3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, gently mix the lentil mixture, spinach, breadcrumbs, eggs/ flaxseed gel (vegan option), poultry seasoning, sage, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake uncovered until the loaf is heated through and the top is starting to brown, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile the lentil loaf is baking, make the cranberry sauce glaze.

For the glaze: In a small saucepan on low heat, add cranberry sauce, juice of fresh squeezed orange, juice of fresh squeezed lemon, honey/ agave nectar (vegan option), two sprigs of thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan and allow sauce to simmer until sauce is heated through. Using hand or stand mixer, blend sauce until smooth. Remove sprigs of thyme. Allow glaze to cool and thicken slightly.

Once lentil loaf has browned on top, pour on cranberry glaze and cook for an additional five minutes. Allow to cool.

Turn greens off and remove plant based sausage. Allow to cool.

For the sweet potato tart:

Crust: In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add in vegan butter to the flour and combine using your hands to rub butter into flour until mixture is texture of wet sand. Next add enough flaxseed gel until the dough comes together in a ball and peels off the side of the bowl. Take the dough out of the bowl and lightly knead dough into a smooth disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Take dough out of the refrigerator. Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes. Roll dough out into a 12″ diameter circle about 1/8″ thick. Place dough into 10″ tart pan and blind bake (cook dough weighed without filling) crust at 350F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile making the sweet potato filling: Using a hand or stand mixer, in a large bowl whip together sweet potatoes, avocados, brown sugar, flaxseed gel, vanilla, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until complete combined and smooth. Spread filling evenly into tart pan over crust. Bake tart at 350F for 30-35 minutes. Allow tart cool in fridge until time for dessert. When breast to serve tart, top with coconut oil whipped cream or nice cream.

Devour and enjoy!

I hope you have a safe and fabulous Thanksgiving!

Happy World Vegan Day

Another Fall month is upon us which means another chance for change. The leaves on the trees change from greens to reds, oranges and golds. I look at November as another opportunity for improvement in my life and health. I may not be able to travel, but that just provides me more moments to work on self care and my overall happiness at home.

Today just so happens to be World Vegan Day. Since I shared so many delicious but not necessarily healthy baked goods last month, I decided to balance that out by sharing more nutritional recipes this month. Check out my outright favorite Fall soup recipe, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. I absolutely adore this soup because its so easy to make but full of delicious flavors. The vegetables roast and caramelize in the oven which provides the perfect Autumn palate. This recipe is vegan but you don’t even notice because its so hearty and so good.

Recipe is below.

Roasted Butternut Squash soup
Music: Bed Peace- Jhené Aiko

Ingredients

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed.

1- 16oz. bag of baby carrots

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 purple onion, peeled and half diced/ half chopped

1 quart of vegetable stock

½ quart of water

2 sprigs of fresh sage (approximately 7-8 leaves)

Olive Oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F.

Using a large roasting pan, toss butternut squash, carrots, garlic cloves and half onion in olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper to vegetables. Roast vegetables in oven for approximately 30-35 minutes until vegetables are soft and caramelized.

While vegetables are roasting, in a large pot or dutch oven and olive oil on medium heat. Add other half of onion that has been chopped to pot. Add pinch of salt. Cook until onions are translucent and fragrant. Add vegetable stock and water to pot. Cover pot and turn heat down to low to allow stock to simmer.

Once vegetables have finished roasting in the oven add them to the stock. Add sage to the pot and stir. Using a hand blender or standard blender, blend soup until smooth but not completely pureed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add croutons (optional)

Devour and Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash soup

A Safe Staycation

It’s October of the longest year ever recorded in history and it was time for a break! I was at a point where I needed a change of scenery. I was beginning to feel like I was starring in Groundhog Day, waking up to the same four walls and same routine. Aside from visiting my mother last month and the occasional trip to the grocery store for supplies, I was feeling as though I was stuck. It was time for me to get away. I knew I needed some personal time to just disconnect from the weight of 2020. I required relaxation, nature and to de-stress. I decided to book a few days somewhere close by but feeling as though thousands of miles away, Terranea Resort. I spent Thursday through Sunday here for a little staycation and left feeling refreshed and renewed. I decided to spill my little secrets into why I cherish this place so much!

My Terranea weekend highlight reel
Music: Pink Matter by Frank Ocean
  1. Location, Location Location- Terranea Resort is located approximately 20 miles outside of Los Angeles right on the Pacific coast in Rancho Palos Verdes. The Palos Verdes Peninsula to me feels like being transported to Eastern Europe. Check in time is 4pm, so even with traffic you’ll be arriving in about an hour from the city. This leaves plenty of time to settle in your room and walk the grounds before sunset. You’ll never want to miss a sunset here. Who can resist watching the Autumn colors slowly fade into the liquid abyss of the ocean? Every sunset I’ve witnessed has been absolutely amazing. The sunrises come in a close second. I love being able to leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing to shore. I also love just being able to wake up, step outside and be encompassed by the ocean.
  2. Nature comes first- Terranea Resort prides itself on keeping the essence of California as close to authentic as possible. This extremely eco-friendly resort was founded on the philosophy of ecological sustainability. I love coming here because you truly see the beauty of Mother Nature and are reminded of how important it is to keep her that way. They also offer several nature activities like kayaking, archery and fishing. Terranea’s minimal impact ideology “is dedicated to protecting the valuable coastal resources that define the Palos Verdes Peninsula and make this singular destination one of the most valued natural locations in the world.” Only at Terranea do you get to see so many different plant and animal species while relaxing by the pool, meditating or my favorite, going for a hike. Which brings me to my next point.
  3. Exercise- Terranea has been a favorite of mine since my first visit a few years back because of its hiking trails. There are several hiking trails incorporated into the landscape of this resort. Not only that, every hiking trail comes with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The trails are clearly marked and as easy to follow. There are also several pools to choose from to get a nice swim. The pool at the gym actually has one of the best views and is literally adjacent to the ocean. Although the gym is technically closed at this time because of Covid, the staff is still there to provide cleaned equipment outdoors for use. There are also sanitized spin bikes set up outside the gym that overlook one of the nature trails and the ocean as well.
  4. Health and Safety is priority- Terranea Resort opened up after the COVID hiatus in June of this year. They spent time making sure that when re-opened they would follow every CDC / LA County guideline, but still allow for optimal relaxation. From my personal experience I felt extremely safe here. From my first step on grounds all staff were masked up. The reception area had a thermal infrared temperature check in the lobby before check in. At the actually reception desk, after a thorough check in with safety updates, you are given a sanitary pack with wipes and a fresh mask. While on grounds you are required to where a mask at all times except when eating, lounging at the pool or in the pool. There are signs posted throughout the resort grounds as reminders as well. It was mandatory to wear masks to the pool bar and bathroom. Even while poolside and in the pool, social distancing was maintained. Because Terranea was built with nature first, maintaining social distancing was easy and didn’t require much change to the traditional atmosphere.
  5. Pink for October- This was my first visit here since COVID and during the month of October. I wasn’t ready for the surprise. Terranea has several efforts in store during this month that support the breast cancer community with proceeds benefiting Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They have specialty pink food items at the restaurants and the coffee shop. I recommend the pomegranate hibiscus margarita featured in my video that tasted incredible! They also have proceeds from spa treatments and rounds of golf. The hueless highlight of the weekend was the main fountain in the foyer turned a perfect shade of pink. I genuinely appreciate every effort made to continue the fight against this disease that affects us all in some way.

I truly do enjoy this property every time I visit. I am in no way being compensated for this blog post. I want to share this information so everyone will hopefully get a chance to enjoy as much as I do. Especially if you’re like I was and desperately need a change of scenery. One day here can make a difference. Even if the resort is too pricey and not in your price range, you can always make reservations for dinner.

More information on Terranea Resort click here.

Pumpkin Spice Beignets with Caramel Sauce

Here we are in the middle of my favorite season! The days are definitely getting cooler and shorter. To my standards that means I need to be surrounded by pumpkin. From the windows to the walls I need pumpkin spice everywhere in the Fall. I don’t feel there is a thing as too much pumpkin spice when it comes to baking during this season. I try to incorporate pumpkin in as many culinary concoctions as I can.

I was rummaging through my pantry and found some Café Du Monde beignet mix I still had in my possession from a Mardi Gras party earlier this year, pre COVID lockdown. I love this mix because every time I make these beignets, it transforms me back to the French Quarter where I first experienced all that Café Du Monde has to offer. After one bite of beignets, I also get the sense of being in Paris at a quaint little French bistro. What a fantastic way to mentally escape and travel the world.

Me at a quaint bistro in Paris

I also obtained a large tub of pumpkin pie flavored hummus from Costco a few weeks back. Since I was moving at a glacial pace eating it all by itself, I thought the perfect way to use both of these ingredients is with a new recipe. I decided to combine both the pumpkin pie spread with pumpkin puree and stuff it inside some authentic beignets. Then I would top them off with cinnamon and powdered sugar for that beignet authenticity . Not only that, I decided that these fried masterpieces needed to be topped off with a caramel dipping sauce to add even more flare.

I must say that I was even impressed with results of these treats. I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie at all, but I would eat these Fall inspired beignets any day of the year. Check out my recipe and DIY video below.

Music: Meet Me in Paris- Darien Brockington

Ingredients

(Make approximately 12 beignets)

Beignets:

2 cups Café Du Monde beignet mix

7 oz. of water

Filling:

1/2 cup of Delighted By Pumpkin Hummus (Buy some here)

1/2 cup of pumpkin puree

1 quart 1 liter vegetable oil for frying

Topping:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tbsp. cinnamon

Caramel Sauce (optional):

(Click here for recipe)

Cosmic Shimmers (optional)

Directions

Make caramel sauce (optional) .

Make topping by combining confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon in a small container or shaker. Set aside.

Using a large bowl, following package directions on beignet mix to make the dough. Once dough has formed set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together pumpkin pie hummus and pumpkin puree. Mix together until fully combined.

Roll out dough onto floured surface in a form of a large rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick and 11″ x 14″ in size. Using floured knife, cut large dough rectangle into smaller rectangles approximately 2″ x 3″ in size. Using a tablespoon, spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons onto each rectangle. Fold and seal up each beignet to prepare for frying.

Using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up vegetable oil to 370F. Fry beignets 2-3 at a time for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up.

Place beignets on rack to allow oil to drain and cool. While beignets are still warm cover them with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon topping.

Dip beignets into caramel sauce or drizzle on top of beignets.

Devour and enjoy!

Pumpkin spice beignets with caramel dipping sauce

Pumpkin and Crispy Tofu Curry

I can’t believe we have reached October of this year! It has been a long and hard road stuck here in California not being able to venture out across the world. I am thankful that I am safe at home, but I miss traveling with a passion. My last trip before I would be handcuffed to the West Coast was Southeast Asia. I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend three weeks overseas for an unforgettable adventure. I was able to visit Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore and eat and explore to my heart’s content.

Going through travel withdrawals for these past nine months has required me to be inquisitive on how to cure my addiction. I made travel shadow boxes which features some of my most treasured collectables from my worldly explorations. (Here’s the link to my DIY guide). I even rewatched seasons one through twelve of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown for the 100th time, which definitely is one of my favorite series. After all that I still have a longing for packing my colorful suitcase and waking up someplace new. If I can’t travel somewhere why not at least create something for my tastebuds to travel to.

Curries of Thailand

Since it’s my absolute favorite season I decided I would incorporate Fall’s favorite fruit into my dish. I brushed off one of my latest cookbooks from my last trip and decided to try my hands at pumpkin curry. To be honest living in L.A. has allowed me to never have to make my own Thai food as there are some amazing places to order from. I rather enjoyed making this dish. As I chopped up the pumpkins and squashes, I was reminded of when I was in Chiang Mai at an elephant sanctuary feeding elephants of all ages out of my own hands. After I took my first bite of this curry, I was brought back to my fabulous curry dinner I had in Phuket. This curry dish is spicy, hearty, flavorful and its definitely worth giving a try!

Step by step video
Music: Yellow- India.Arie

Ingredients

Broth

1 quart (32oz.) of vegetable stock

4-5 sprigs of lemongrass

2 cups (approximately) of celery stalk

Curry

1 pack extra firm tofu, drained and dried out

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tbsp. ground coriander

2 small/ medium sized pumpkins

4-5 large dried chilies, soaked in water to soften

2 tbsp. (2 cloves) garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. seaweed powder (substitute for shrimp paste)

2 tbsp. of lime zest (approximately 2 limes), finely chopped (substitute for kaffir lime zest)

2 tbsp. of lime juice (approximately 2 limes).

¼ cup peeled shallots, finely chopped

1 ½ tbsp. lemongrass, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. of fish sauce (use seaweed powder for Vegan option)

28oz. (2 cans) coconut milk

1 tbsp. of coconut sugar

¼ cup basil leaves (substitute for Thai basil)

coconut oil

salt/ pepper to taste

additional vegetables of your choice (optional)

cilantro

Directions

In large pot simmer together vegetable stock, lemongrass and celery stalks until it comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow stock to cool completely. Refrigerate overnight if possible, otherwise let sit for a few hours.

Pat dry tofu. Cut tofu into bit size pieces. Add tofu to a medium sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp of curry powder, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. Mix tofu and coat with coconut oil. Bake tofu at 425F for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Cut pumpkins in half and clean out seeds with spoon. Coat pumpkins in coconut oil and add salt pepper to taste. Add pumpkins to baking sheet and bake at 425F for approximately 20-25 minutes.

While tofu and pumpkins are baking, in a large pot or dutch oven heat oil oven medium heat. Add peppers, garlic, bay leaves, shallots, lemongrass, remainder of curry powder, coriander, cumin, seaweed powder, half of lime zest and lime juice and salt/ pepper to taste. Stir-fry until fragrant. Deglaze pan by adding half of vegetable stock. (Save other half of stock for making your rice). Remove bay leaves and chilies from the pan. Add coconut milk.

Once pumpkin is finished cooking. Remove outer rind, chop it up and add it to the curry. Continue to stir-fry. Add remainder of lime zest and lime juice and season with fish sauce (seaweed powder) and coconut sugar. Simmer over low heat until pumpkin is very tender. Add tofu, basil and additional vegetables of your choice. Turn off the heat.

Make jasmine rice according to package instructions with additional vegetable stock. Serve in a bowl. Garnish with basil and cilantro.

Devour and enjoy!

Central California During COVID

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my mother during her birthday weekend. I must say that although I was looking forward to the time well spent with my fabulous matriarch, I was anxious about traveling during the middle of the continued COVID pandemic. These last past months I remained bunkered down in my Los Angeles chateau only venturing outside when absolutely essential and of course masked up. This trip not only would be my first time traveling outside L.A., it would also serve as my first time back on a plane since the Coronavirus reared its ugly head in the U.S. I, being the experienced traveler that I am, made sure to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 traveler requirements for myself and the airlines. I was also weary about all the fires along the West Coast and how that would affect my travel plans as well as my allergies. I booked my ticket, got my masks cleaned and packed, secured my Flonase and prepared for a wonderful and safe adventure in central California.

My Central CA Trip
Music: Blessed by Jill Scott

Where I stayed:

Carmel, CA- A quick 20 minute drive from the Monterey Airport and nestled inside Monterey County lines off the coast of California is the small city of Carmel. Fun fact, Clint Eastwood once was the major of Carmel. Another fun fact, my mother being born and raised in San Francisco always wanted to retire in this naturally beautiful city. Although she may not be retired just yet she bravely moved here a few years ago and loves her community every day. Carmel is naturally picturesque with views of 100+ year old evergreens on the mountainsides and the beauty of the world renown California coastline just a short five minute drive away. What she and I also love about Carmel is the sincerity that comes with its quaintness. People are indeed friendly to not only each other, but the environment and definitely dogs. There are also some great natural hiking trails intertwined into the Carmel Valley landscape. On Sunday, my mother and I went for a nice hike along a trail by the Carmel Valley River.

(Here’s more information on the city of Carmel, CA) 

What we did:

Paso Robles- About an hour and half drive away from Carmel is the valley laid city of Paso Robles. This was my first visit to this city and it definitely won’t be my last. Paso Robles is home to several well known wineries including JUSTIN and Halter Ranch Vineyards to name a few. This particular visit to Paso Robles was for another venture so we saved the wine tours for a different time. My mother and I happened to stumble upon the downtown area after I looked up a dinner choice on Yelp. I enjoyed the small town vibe, but there were also tons of good food options with outdoor dining and excellent wine selections. I must also say that this city was on top of their COVID safety practices. Everyone outside was wearing masks, all of the restaurants had only outdoor dining available and were cleaned well. There was also social distancing being upheld in the large park located in the heart of downtown.

(Here’s more information on wine tours available in Paso Robles)

Sensorio- Honestly this place has been on my radar for longer than I can remember. My mother and I were discussing, and I can’t recall how I originally found out about this experience, but I am so thankful that I did. I originally had plans to visit Sensorio last year but couldn’t fit it into my busy physician schedule. Sensorio was also temporarily closed during the beginning of this year, of course related to the pandemic. It is now open and rightfully so. If you are unfamiliar with this place, imagine Willy Wonka meets National Geographic in this intersection of art, technology and nature. Its an outdoor exhibit filled with colors and wonderment. I purchased two general admission tickets about a month prior to our visit as there are limited amount of entries daily to allow for social distancing. I honestly don’t think the VIP tickets are necessary. From what I observed, VIP status allowed for a 5 minute head start upon entry and a patio to observe the Lights. Luckily if you arrive at least 15 minutes before 7pm, you will have front line access to entry to the Field of Lights. There is also plenty of seating inside the exhibit. My mother and I found a large bench and sat in the middle, so we could have the perfect view to watch the Lights come on. The exhibit also has strict COVID guidelines. Everyone was required to wear masks at all times inside the exhibit, except for when eating or drinking. Upon entry to the exhibit everyone underwent thermal temperature checks as well. Social Distancing was observed also in the food truck dining areas not only the exhibit. The Field of Lights is definitely a must see to anyone who enjoys art, nature and chromaticism.

(Here’s more information on Sensorio.)

Posing at Sensorio
Field of Lights

Carmel Beach- Although this natural treasure is technically located in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel holds the fame of the name. This beach is renowned for its good surf and breathtaking sunsets. This beach is also surrounded by the architectural and unique homes of Carmel-by-the-Sea which makes for a great backdrop and walking views. This beach does have limited parking so get here early. I like this beach because it not as busy and known as beaches frequently visited in Big Sur, CA, which is about a 20 minute drive away.

Masked up on the beach

What we ate: 

TASTE! Craft Eatery located in downtown Paso Robles. 

I discovered this place after searching for some nutritious vittles on Yelp nearing the end of our car ride. I made the right choice and would definitely recommend this place to anyone planning a trip to Paso Robles. TASTE! Is located in the heart of downtown and directly across the street from the park. There was plenty of available outdoor seating with social distancing in mind. I loved that all the staff was masked up as well. The staff also cleaned every table throughout each dining experience, which was reassuring. The food at this place was also very satisfying. This place offered a variety of healthy and vegetarian food options, from their sliders to their salads. It was also my cheat day, so I also indulged in some local red wine and garlic fries.

(Here’s my complete Yelp review here)

I am continuing to send my thoughts and prayers to all those in California and along the entire West Coast directly affected by the continuing wildfires. I pray also for all the fire fighters throughout the state and country on the front lines of these catastrophic natural disasters. Climate change is real! Do your part to decrease your carbon footprint.

(Here’s more information on how you can do your part)

The Best Time to Visit Fiji

Fijian boat ready to sail off

The Best Time to go to Fiji

Fiji is a land made of up of more than 300 tropical islands. It inhabits the South Pacific Ocean and has some of the best resorts worldwide. Fiji also offers unforgettable snorkeling / scuba adventures, great nature parks, breath taking beaches and much more. With so much land and islands to explore, choosing the best time to visit is essential to guarantee a great time. No matter the time of the year Fiji is a beautiful nation to visit and experience at least once. Here are some things to consider before booking your next vacation

1.  “Fijian Winter.” 

Many consider best time to visit Fiji is during the dry season, between the months of May and September; this is known as Fijian Winter. Since Fiji is a tropical climate, it remains warm and humid year round. The average temperature in Fiji is 77°F (25°C). During the summer months (December and January) the temperature can average above 86°F (30°C), not taking humidity into consideration. During Fijian Winter the climate is less humid and slightly cooler making it a pristine time to explore. Since this time is considered ideal for travel, you can expect more tourists and higher prices during your trip. This time is also considered winter break for many Australians and New Zealanders so expect more families during your stay. 

Some events to check out during this time: Bula Festival (July), Fiji International Jazz and Blues Festival, Fire Walking Festival (July or August), Hibiscus Festival (August), Sugar Festival (September).

2.  Cheaper Travel

November through April constitutes Fiji’s typhoon season. During this time of year, you are more likely to run into warmer days and daily storms. Although the weather during this time is not ideal, if you are looking for a travel bargain this is the time go. Many airlines and hotels are looking to fill empty spots so you are more likely to get discounts on your flight or accommodations during your stay. Also are you not only able to get more for you money during this time of the year, you are more likely able to take advantage of the less crowded, secluded beaches. There are less people visiting the many islands of Fiji during this time so it can feel almost like your own private island. 

Some events to check out during this time: New Year’s Day, Holi (February /March), Easter (March/ April). 

3. Diwali 

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is a very celebrated tradition in Fiji. With approximately half of the population of Indian descent this celebration is celebrated by both Hindi and non-Hindi.  The five day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon. This celebration is considered one of Fiji’s major festivals and is displayed with fireworks; homes and businesses light up and fill with gatherings and course amazing food. Diwali is very festive time in Fiji and one the most important holidays to witness. 

Getting my henna for Diwali

4. Fiji Day/ Week 

This is a public holiday that celebrates the anniversary of Fiji’s independence from British colonial rule in 1970. This holiday includes a week of festivities centered on Fijian and Indian cultures that concludes on October 10th. This holiday includes celebrations expressing the countries diversity including parades, street parties, traditional dances, and singing performances. Most local cities and towns have their own unique way to remember this important day. 

Fiji has something amazing to offer everyone any time of the year. Embark on your dream Fijian vacation with myself as your Acanela Ambassador!