27 February 2010

Travelling to Haiti with FOODalogue and Macaroni au Fromage

 
Macaroni au Gratin

Joan of FOODalogue  started the year off with another armchair travel adventure with her Culinary Tour 2010 - South of the Border . At the beginning of the year she planned carefully and chose countries she felt would inspire us all to create a dish outside of our comfort zone and experience new taste and food sensations. Visiting South American countries has not been at the top of my travel wish list in the past, but I must admit that after researching each country and learning more about the people and their diverse cuisine I have definitely changed my mind!!!!! The next country on her tour is:

 Haiti 

Since it was rocked by a devastating earthquake, Haiti has been in the forefront of public consciousness ever since. Joan's original plan to travel to this island nation took on a different perspective than the paradise on earth we were hoping to visit virtually. The country of Haiti is part of the western Caribbean island of Hispaniola.  Hispaniola, is the island which contains both Haiti and The Dominican Republic and was named by Christopher Columbus who discovered it and settled there. Hispaniola means "Little Spain".

Cuisine in Haiti is often considered to be similar to the cuisine of the other Caribbean nations. However, in reality Haiti has its own completely unique flavour. Cuisine in Haiti is based on African, Creole and French cooking styles. This is very different from the Spanish-influenced cuisine of it's neighbour the Dominican Republic. The Haitian cuisine is something no cook or food enthusiast should miss!!!!  Those who are not familiar with Haitian cuisine may also assume that everything is hot and spicy. It is true that chilies have an important place in the pantry, but, good Haitian cooking is more accurately characterized by it's piquancy in delicate balance with the heat of the chilies, garlic and thyme, vinegar, tangy citrus or earthy beans. The flavours are vibrant, a perfect approach for livening up an essentially blank canvas. And try many good Haitian dishes we did!!!

Rice, beans, millet, corn, sorghum (a drought-resistant grain), almonds and peanuts have become the staples of their diet. Tropical fruit such as pineapples, mangos, oranges, bananas, coconut, and grapefruit round out their cuisine and take it over the top. We picked up some sugarcane prepared and sold by a street vendor and enjoyed it at our temporary home as a tasty snack. We found meat to be scarce because the cost is too high for a good portion of the population. There is often a choice between feeding your family and  raising animals who also need to be fed. When we stepped into our virtual hosts home you were in Haiti and we were offered the best they had to offer. Whether it was the rich aroma of macaroni au gratin and poule frit drifting from the kitchen or waking up every morning to the sound of La Dessaliennes blaring on her grandmother's Radio Tropicale, the feel of Haiti permeated the very fabric that sustained the household and made our virtual tour memorable.

 During our weeklong virtual stay we were treated with many delicious meals specifically rice djon-djon or jon-jon. This dish was prepared with Haitian black mushrooms. The stems of these mushrooms were used to colour the rice black.  We also enjoyed some of the other popular native dishes that rule the roost in Haiti such as Calalou made of crabmeat, salted pork, spinach, onion, okra and peppers; pain patate that is a sweetened potato form; Grillot (fried island pork); Tassot de dinde (dried turkey); Riz et pois (rice and peas); Langouste flambe (local lobster); Ti malice (sauce of onions and herbs); Grillot et banane pese (pork chops and island bananas). This was all washed down with Haiti's national drink...Barbancourt rum. This particular rum is made by a branch of Haiti’s oldest family of rum and brandy distillers.

In honour of the Haitian people I cooked up some Macaroni au Gratin. This is normally made with a cheese sauce and the macaroni cooked in evaporated milk from what I have read. It is a Haitian delicacy typically served with Black Rice(Du Riz Djon Djon) and Chicken. I was unable to find out much about the influence and variations of this dish in Haiti but it is interesting to know that Haitian children under normal circumstances are eating mac 'n' cheese just like our own children. Pasta, no matter the shape or size, is one great comfort food, easy to master, and very affordable.

But the eyeopening fact is, the island nation of Haiti has suffered from poverty, malnutrition, and high food prices long before any tragic hurricanes or earthquakes. With very little fertile farmland, a large population to support and political corruption and instability preventing quality of life improvements, the country of Haiti suffers from chronic poverty and a serious lack of food. The need for fuel has resulted in the cutting down of fruit trees and soil erosion. Farming, while depended upon by the majority of the population, is very hard work in Haiti. All of this compounded with the latest tragedy and loss of lives due to the earthquake in January leaves a nation struggling to regain a sense of normality.

 Here are ten daily hunger facts about Haiti.
  • 3 million people may need humanitarian relief, including food aid, in the aftermath of the earthquake
  • Even before the earthquake, 1.9 million people were short on food, and needed aid to stave off their hunger
  • Only 50 percent of the Haiti population has access to safe drinking water (even before the infrastrcture damage)
  • Some 55 percent of Haiti's 9 million people live below the poverty line
  • The average household spends almost 60 percent of their income on food; the poorest groups more than 70 percent.
  • Chronic malnutrition affects 24 percent of children under five, rising as high as 40 percent in the poorest areas
  • Poor diet means many women and children suffer from food deficiencies. Anaemia affects 59 percent of children 0-5yrs
  • During 2008, high food and fuel prices triggered violent demonstrations and political upheaval.
  • In the same year, 3 hurricanes and 1 tropical storm struck Haiti, destroying 27,000 homes and raising the hunger level.
  • Food prices have dropped since September 2008, but remain higher than the four-year average.
  • A lot of help is needed to get the people of Haiti back to some kind of normality and to get them urgent supplies such as food, water and medical care.


I also want to take this opportunity for a gentle reminder of the H2Ope for Haiti Raffle. The event has been extended until March 7th. Please take the opportunity to learn more about the event and to browse through the list of generously donated prizes from your fellow bloggers such as an i-Pod Shuffle, autographed cookbooks from authors such as David Lebovitz, childrens's Olympic backpack and fleece blanket, French chocolates and so much more!!!!!!!!!! There are several prizes so far that have not been bidded on which gives you a much better chance of winning! As Jeanne says, "Although each person's donation may be small, even single drops of water will eventually fill a swimming pool."

Now on to the recipe......


For this stop in Joan's culinary tour I decided to make something comforting with ingredients that may be easy to find during their crisis. My understanding is that in Haiti they often boil the macaroni in evaporated milk and use the milk for the cheese sauce or sometimes even use canned cheese soup.

**Macaroni au Fromage**

1-3/4 cups (425 mL) elbow macaroni
1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
1/4 cup (50 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ( 2 mL) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) dry mustard powder or 1/2 tsp. (2 mL) prepared mustard such as Dijon
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper or black pepper
2 cups (500 mL) evaporated milk
2 cups (500 mL) shredded extra old or old cheddar cheese

Topping:

1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh breadcrumbs or crushed melba toast
2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter, melted
1/3 cup (75 mL) sliced almonds

Fill your largest stock or pasta pot (24 cup/8L) 3/4 full. Cover and bring to a full rolling boil. Add generous Tbsp. (15 mL) of salt and return to a boil. Add macaroni, stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Time cooking from moment water returns to a boil. Cook until tender but firm, about 8 minutes. Drain, but do not rinse. Return to pot.

Meanwhile, prepare cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour; cook, stirring constantly to cook flour, for about 2 minutes. Stir in salt, mustard and cayenne pepper.

Start pouring in the milk, stirring to keep sauce as lump-free as possible. When sauce is loose enough to use a whisk, change spoon for a whisk and whisk, gradually adding all the milk, until sauce is smooth and starting to thicken. Reduce heat to low and simmer sauce, whisking often, until smooth and thickened. Whisk in cheese; remove from heat to let cheese melt. Scrape over macaroni; mix to coat all elbows.

Scrape into a greased 9-inch (2.5 L) square casserole or baking dish; smooth top. In a bowl, toss together breadcrumbs, butter and almonds. Sprinkle over top of macaroni and cheese. (Make-ahead: Let cool. Refrigerate, lightly covered, for up to 1 day. Add 10 minutes to baking time and note pasta will have absorbed more of sauce so casserole will be firmer.)

Bake in centre of a 350F (180C) oven until crumbs are crisp and cheese sauce bubbles, about 40 minutes.

Serves 6.

VARIATIONS: When you're combining cooked macaroni and sauce, you can always add about 1/2 cup (125 mL, or more if desired) diced ham or cooked chopped bacon to the macaroni or about 1 cup (250 ml) quartered grape tomatoes or cubed roasted red peppers.

TESTING FOR DONENESS: Have you ever taken a casserole out of the oven and when you started to serve it discovered that the centre was just lukewarm? Even when the top is crisp and the edges bubbling, the centre can still be cool. To test that the centre is as piping hot as the food around the edges, press a paring knife into the centre of the casserole and count 5 second. Remove the knife and feel the blade. If it's piping hot, serve the casserole. If it's lukewarm, return the casserole -- in this case the macaroni and cheese to the oven until that knife comes out piping hot.

FRESH BREAD CRUMBS: Fresh crumbs crisp up more deliciously than store-bought dry bread crumbs. To make fresh crumbs you can tear slices of day-old bread by hand into small pieces. Or, cut bread into quarters and whiz in food processor until evenly crumbly. Bread that gets stale such as baguette or Italian or sourdough bread is best.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Content must be credited to this author.
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19 comments:

  1. OMG, mmm, mmm, mmmmmm, that looks soooo good, I will have to try that this week when I make dinner for the family.

    Tiffany
    http://liferequiresmorechocolate.blogspot.com/

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  2. As I read your post about Haiti .. I think of Chile where a very strong earthquake hit this morning. So much suffering!

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  3. There has been quite a bit more seismic activity in the southern hemisphere. Haiti and now Chile needs so much help. Macaroni au Fromage looks delicious!

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  4. Sadly startling facts about a beautiful island and really beautiful people with great perseverance. Thank you for your thoughtful message.

    P.S. I didn't realize that the population ate pasta. I thought they got their starch strictly from rice and some root vegetables.

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  5. A comforting dish! So yummy!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  6. Mmm, is there anything more comforting than mac and cheese?

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  7. i was just over at Joan's blog and mentioned how so much of our food is similar. naturally, our resources, climate, soil and ethnic backgrounds play a huge role in that; so it's neat to see how much i can relate to (give or take the shellfish, which is akin to both, since they're islands). As for the mac n cheese, the Bajans take LOTS of pride in their "macaroni pie," but we make ours much like the Haitians and use evaporated milk, too! :) You make do with what you have!

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  8. This is just gorgeous. As the rain starts to fall, I think I'll have to make it. Where'st eh cheese?

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  9. Thank for the very timely and informative report. I will confess to knowing next to nothing about the cuisine in Haiti. I love the recipe - and I truly sppreciated the information. A reminder that when Haiti is not front page their needs will remain great.

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  10. Great post Val! This looks wonderful...I love exploring different countries versions of popular dishes. The "mac and cheese" is a classic!

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  11. Leave it to pasta (macaroni and cheese no less) to be the great unifier. What a delicious recipe for mac and cheese. I loved your description of Haitian food and what has influenced it!

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  12. this post packs a double whammy--there's a great recipe and an appropriate call for our attention. nicely done, val. :)

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  13. Thanks for the info, Val. I'm happy to learn more about Haiti and their cuisine. Mac and cheese is a universal favorite comfort food.

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  14. Comfort food is very much the same all over the world. My mother uses evaporated milk in her macaroni cheese as well. And hers is the best that I've ever tasted! I had no idea that it was eaten in Haiti. Learn something new everyday!

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  15. A wonderful post about Haiti and the macaroni sound so comforting and delicious - I like the method of making them with evaporated milk and will have to try that.

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  16. I have friends who have visited the Domincan Republic and Cuba, but I don't know anyone who has visited Haiti. It's hard to imagine such poverty existing in what should be a fertile beautiful country, regardless of natural disasters. The real disaster is the politicos. Good post!

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  17. Everyone likes pasta, even in Haiti! It's timely that this nation with some bad luck gets a positive spotlight, including its food.

    I too add some dry mustard in my mac n cheese.

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  18. Yummy! Isn't it amazing how different we can all be, but still be connected with food?
    This recipe looks very delish!

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  19. Thanks a lot for this informative post! You gave us so many interesting information. And your maccaroni au gratin looks awesome. Is there anybody who doesn't like mac 'n' cheese? I don't think so ;-).

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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