The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
If you were to ask my parents if they eat fruits and vegetables with their meals, my mom would immediately respond with something along the lines of “We eat maduritos on a weekly basis.” And while I don’t really consider maduritos (what my family calls fried sweet plantains) to be on the same level as steamed broccoli, it’s true that in Nicaragua, it’s common to have this tropical fruit as a complement to whatever entree you’re serving.
Maduritos, also known as maduros, are common in Latinx restaurants and in our Nicaraguan home, and I would never be one to turn them down, so trust me when I tell you that my family’s plátanos maduros horneados (a.k.a. baked sweet plantains) scratch that same itch but are even easier to make.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been eating this baked plantain dish, along with jamón and relleno, during the holidays with family in Nicaragua. That meant having it on Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family in Chinandega and for lunch on Christmas Day at my dad’s parents’ house in Managua. Lucky for me, we’ve carried this tradition with us to the United States and I’ve recently turned it into a go-to for my own family as an early autumn comfort food, too.
Keep in mind that many of my Nicaraguan family recipes are never written down exactly as they are made, but are instead improvised and improved constantly over time—this is no exception. To make the plátanos maduros horneados, you’ll need butter, brown sugar, and yellow plantains. You’ll know your plantains are ready for this dish when they are more black than yellow and a tiny bit soft to the touch. They don’t have to be fully black, but the more the better. Sometimes you can buy them already ripe; if not, you’ll have to buy them in advance and let them ripen at home.
Start by preheating your oven to 350° and buttering your baking dish entirely. We use a 9×13″ baking dish (or simply “a Pyrex,” as my family calls it), but you can change the baking pan size depending on the amount you want to make or the number of plantains you’re using. Peel the plantains—it’s easiest if you score them first by making shallow cuts down their lengths. You can place them whole in the buttered pan, but I slice them in half lengthwise—it’s just a matter of personal preference. You can also adjust the plantain size as needed to make them fit better in your baking pan.
To finish, sprinkle brown sugar all over the plantains (you need to use enough so that it can melt and caramelize) and bake until they are golden brown, anywhere from 1–1½ hours. Oh, and if you are worried about too much brown sugar, don’t be. I can guarantee you will not mess it up.
We serve our plátanos maduros horneados straight out of the oven with a spoonful of either cream cheese or sour cream on the side. The generations-long debate of which dairy product goes best with this side dish is still up for discussion, but I know neither will disappoint.
Melissa Paniagua is a freelance writer who loves green juice and coffee in equal measure.
The more plantains, the better:
Montreal Restaurateurs Shuttered for Another Month At Least
As many across the city had predicted, Montreal restaurants will remain closed for four more weeks than initially planned. Quebec premier Francois Legault announced that red zone restrictions that originally went into effect on October 1 would be extended until November 23 during a press conference yesterday evening.
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Legault said that though the number of new COVID-19 cases across the province had plateaued, they remain at 800 to 1,000 per day, with roughly 10 deaths per day. “I don’t know if some people are getting used to that, but I’m not,” Legault said. “We have to lower that number, how many new cases we have, and that’s why we’re going to have to make efforts for another four weeks.”
The premier assured that the emergency financial assistance that was provided for the first four weeks of red zone restrictions would be extended into the following four weeks. However, several restaurateurs commenting on the Association Restauration Québec Facebook page say they have yet to receive any aid for the month of October.
Meanwhile, some restaurateurs like Michele Forgione (Impasto, Gema, Chez Tousignant, Vesta), David McMillan (Joe Beef), and Kevin Demers (Cold Room, Parliament El Pequeño) have taken to social media to air their discontent at the provincial government failing to provide scientific data as to why restaurants and bars in particular should remain closed (unlike shopping mall and other retail outlets). In an interview with CTV News, Jon Cercone, a co-owner of Tavern on the Square, said, “Show me evidence that I’m a superspreader, show me evidence that I’m harmful, instead of arbitrarily closing me.”
After Monday’s announcement, two restaurant owners started a public Facebook group, now boasting 480 members, called “Ouvrir Tous Les Restaurants, Bars et Services Alimentaires au Quebec” (French for “Open All Restaurants, Bars and Food Services in Quebec”). In a message posted to the group’s page, co-founder Stuart Abrams (executive chef and owner of Saint-Henri restaurant L’Ambroisie et L’Espace Canal) says, “They say there are 50,000 hospitality employees in the greater Montreal region, that’s a lot of people affected by these closures!! We need to get all of them on this group, then we will have a strong enough voice to be heard!”
Some in that group and elsewhere on social media are suggesting that restaurants and bars take a cue from gyms, which have gone on record saying they will reopen their doors on October 29 unless the Quebec government can provide evidence of a correlation between their establishments and COVID-19 outbreaks. Legault said during the press conference that institutions that follow through with this plan will be fined.
Beloved Old Montreal Polish restaurant Stash Café posted to its Facebook page that as a result of the extended restrictions, it will be closing its doors entirely and no longer offering takeout as it had been doing since October 1. The restaurant will revive operations once the government reopens dining rooms.
“We will take this time to prepare menu options for the upcoming holiday season,” the post reads. “It is our hope that the Legault government will also take this time to reflect and reevaluate their unjust treatment of the restaurant industry, an industry they accuse of being conducive to large uncontrolled gatherings, whereas we are of the view that we can provide a safe and healthy environment for families and couples to unwind.”
While Legault emphasized that reopening before November 23 was unlikely, he did say that the government would re-assess the situation in two weeks and ease restrictions if the number of cases and deaths significantly drops.
In ‘Memorial,’ Houston Author Bryan Washington Uses Food to Connect Queer Love, Culture, and Place
Author Bryan Washington is a native Houstonian, something immediately evident while reading Memorial, his much-lauded debut novel. Named for the sprawling neighborhood that’s home to tens of thousands of Houstonians, Memorial is a stunning debut, one that digs deep into relationships both familial and romantic, what it means to love and be loved, and the healing power of food.
Set in Houston and Osaka, Japan, Memorial follows preschool teacher Benson and his partner Mike, who works as a cook at a restaurant in Montrose. The city’s culinary scene and diverse demographic identity lend both inspiration and conflict to the novel as it explores Mike and Benson’s relationship when the couple is pulled apart by thousands of miles, with Mike traveling to Japan to care for his ailing father and Benson staying behind in Houston alongside Mike’s mother Mitsuko, whom he’s never met.
Memorial offers a visceral, sometimes uncomfortable look into how the bonds we form with other people are impacted by our upbringing. Simultaneously, it’s also an exploration of how food can connect people from disparate backgrounds in profound ways. Its casual prose eschews pretentiousness and overwrought turns of phrase in favor of the kind of real-ass, familar language that made Washington’s first work, a collection of essays called Lot, a literary smash-hit.
And of course, media executives seized on the book’s undeniable relatability. Last week, Deadline reported that the book had been optioned by production company A24, and will be adapted by Washington into a television series over the coming months.
In their respective cities, Mike and Benson cook and eat — a lot. In Osaka, Mike helps his father run the izakaya he’s owned for years, steaming rice and cooking okonomiyaki while repairing a relationship strained by absence and time. Back in Houston, novice cook Benson gets a crash course in culinary basics from Mitsuko, who teaches him how to make seafood curry, udon, and how to break an egg in one hand.
These situations make for moments that reveal the tensions inherent to the evolving relationship between queer people and their families, both their own and those of the people they love. It’s in these moments where Washington explores how homemade dishes can function as a language; how stirring eggs together can plug the silences in awkward conversations or serve as a quiet expression of love.
Eater sat down to talk with Washington about Houston, food, and how his experiences in the city shaped one of the year’s most exciting new novels.
Eater Houston: Are you riding out the pandemic in Houston?
Bryan Washington: I am. I was in Toronto in February for about a week, then I went to New York. The week after that, New York closed and a few weeks later Houston shut down. Since then, I’ve been in Houston.
What are you eating right now to comfort yourself and, you know, stay alive?
It varies really wildly. Like everybody else, I’m cooking as much as I’ve ever cooked. I’m not comfortable sitting in restaurants just yet. I’ve been eating a lot of tomato and egg dishes, a lot of curry. There’s a restaurant called Korean Noodle House and I pick up kimchi there every two weeks. I am staying inside, I am avoiding people, but I am going to get my kimchi. Also a lot of banh mi, that hasn’t really changed — I go every couple days and pick up croissants and baguettes. Trying to balance between staying inside and supporting restaurants that are dear to me.
At the beginning of Memorial, Benson says that Mike works at a Montrose restaurant “where they butcher rice bowls and egg rolls,” which seems like a nod to the neighborhood’s gentrification. Is this a specific spot, or just an amalgam of trendy Montrose restaurants?
It’s not based on any one specific place, and there are a few different Montrose restaurants that could probably be described in that way. This description, though, is from a person who is pretty jaded about his partner’s place of work, so I don’t know that I would necessarily describe the restaurant that Mike works at in that way.
A really interesting thing about Montrose specifically, and Houston generally, is that you have all these coffee shops and restaurants that are blending various cuisines and flavor profiles very fluently, and they’re very cognizant of the cultures that those cuisines come from. It’s done in a way that is respectful.
Scenes in Memorial are often set at restaurants in Houston. Benson and Mike go to an Irish pub in the Heights and have drinks at a bar in River Oaks. Does name-checking these neighborhoods help tell the story of Houston through the lens of its bars and restaurants?
These places were really grounding and helpful in establishing a certain tone. If I write that a restaurant is in the Heights, that implies something wildly different than a restaurant that’s in Chinatown on Bellaire. The tricky part on my end was making it clear enough to the reader that didn’t have the shorthand for what that meant, while also appealing to someone who would know exactly what that meant. It also seems like it helps get at exploring the way that a person’s economic class impacts what they’re exposed to, even in a place like Houston. Mike and Benson have very different upbringings in that respect.
The differences in their experience are refracted every time something as simple as the cost of a meal comes up or being in a neighborhood that Mike would have never stepped foot in otherwise, even though he’s deeply fluent in the city. I don’t think it’s a secret at all to say that there can be a staggering dissonance between the food that folks are eating and how they think it gets to them on the table.
What do you mean by that?
The image that a person might have of the back-of-house or a restaurant as a whole can stray wildly from the reality of it. When you have a litany of Chinese restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants and Korean restaurants whose diners are coming from all over, and the entire back-of-house staff is mostly Latinx. Those communities aren’t being given equitable compensation or credit for what they’re bringing to the table.
Conversely, when you do have a restaurant that is primarily staffed by folks of the background, or of the culture that they’re cooking from, and you have white diners that come in and expect to pay little to nothing under the guise that ‘It’s under this part of town, so I don’t have to pay over a certain amount.’ I don’t think that those conversations are divorced from the ones that Benson and Mike are constantly having.
A cool thing about Houston, as far as major American cities go, its residents are hyper-conscious of that. Simply because you have to be to live here. You live amongst so many other folks from so many different places, it’s just understood that those systems are interconnected together.
Memorial is set in Houston and Osaka. What do these two cities have in common. How are they different?
I think I wrote the book to try to and figure that out, and I still don’t think I know the answer to that. They are both cities that i’ve had the privilege of experiencing an excess of warmth and generosity, whether from friends or from strangers. Trying to put that warmth on the page was really interesting to me, and also seemed like a challenge that I wanted to undertake, partly because Houston is such a deeply diverse city.
And yet, even though so many of the communities might be parallel from one another or seemingly disparate, they constantly find a way to make things work together. Whereas with Osaka, it’s pretty culturally homogenous within a deeply culturally homogeneous country. But there’s been so much warmth, as a complete outsider, that I have experienced within that city from folks who absolutely did not have to share it with me. It felt like it would be interesting narratively to see what that warmth and generosity and sensitivity to your neighbors could look like on the page, even it wasn’t the primary part of the narrative.
Were there specific restaurants in Houston — or in Osaka — that inspired the setting in Memorial?
I visited a litany of places through the process of writing. In Osaka, I was eating at a lot of food stalls and yoshuku, or Western-style diners. I spent a lot of time at izakayas with friends and by myself, which was really helpful in building ambiance in Mike’s section. In the time I spent editing the book while I was in Japan, it was just so comforting to eat home-cooked meals with friends.
The types of dishes that Mike cooks for Benson — sopa de pescado, yams, macaroni, and rice — feel so distinctly Houston. How did your own upbringing here influence Mike’s culinary identity?
This is the really interesting thing about growing up in this city. It’s something you can’t plan for and have to be grateful for if you’re privy to it. I grew up in a white neighborhood, but our actual cul de sac was deeply diverse. I had Filipino neighbors, Cuban neighbors, Japanese neighbors, Iranian neighbors. It wasn’t a big deal to have pancit on Saturday evening and black beans on Sunday morning and then have yakisoba on Sunday evening and then ackee and codfish on Monday morning.
As a kid you don’t appreciate how you live, but I’m so grateful to have it now. You get older and you see the context behind how and when folks pick up their culinary vocabularies. It’s a very rare thing for most parts of the country, but it’s not very remarkable or special for someone growing up in Houston to have access to this litany of cultures from a very young age.
For Mike, it was really just trying to have a character that was so ingrained into the city, that he would think nothing of cooking enchiladas for his boyfriend. Nothing of cooking black bean stew for his black neighbors and turning around helping out his Honduran neighbors with a meal for themselves. It’s someone who is comfortable in a number of different cuisines.
How did you set out to capture the sheer awkwardness of two people — Benson and Mitsuko — who don’t know each other and are becoming acquainted in this really intimate way, by cooking with each other?
A lot of drafting and editing. I was trying to get a sense of how the dialogue moved on the page, and what a silence between Benson and Mitsuko would mean on the page. What was underneath that silence. I kept thinking of this film Still Walking, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, that largely takes place in one house over the course of a few days. For the overwhelming majority of the film, people are cooking and eating and preparing food. And there’s so much drama in how a dish is placed on a table, or the speed at which someone is shaving daikon. Trying to find a way to put that on the page when you lose the visual element was tricky.
While Mike’s running the izakaya, Benson’s at home cooking with Mitsuko. Did you cook the seafood curry, udon and abura-age, and other dishes that are mentioned in the book?
For almost every dish in the book, I cooked it in some variation. Even if only because I wanted to have a sense of whether Benson or Mike could be cooking while simultaneously doing other things. It was really important to me — and I don’t necessarily expect the reader to pick up on this or even care — to show Benson’s arc. He is someone who went from being shocked that people crack eggs in a pan and then scramble them to someone who is comfortable in the kitchen. I wanted to go through what he was cooking and what he was learning and the mistakes he made.
For Mike’s arc, it was a little bit less difficult because he had a more stable culinary foundation. The question for him became more about what someone would be cooking when they’re using food and cooking as a language, using it to fill gaps in the conversation. Mitsuko was just as challenging because she’s someone who is very confident and comfortable in the kitchen, and trusts herself with the decisions she makes. For her, I wanted to know what someone would cook when they’re just super aware of what the people they’re cooking for need.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Four Loko to Launch the Quibi of Getting Absolutely Shitfaced
Four Loko releases new flavored shots because nothing matters
After a brief foray into the intersection of wellness and apocalypse with the release of a Four Loko hard seltzer last fall, the brand whose boozy energy drinks were once known as “blackout in a can” has returned to its dirtbag roots with a new line of flavored, bottled shots. Available in Sour Blue Razz, Lemonade, and Sour Peach varieties, the ready-to-drink shots clock in at 13.9 percent ABV (except in Tennessee, where it’s 10 percent). Their official name is “Pregame,” which tells you everything about the way these baby Four Lokos are meant to be consumed: hard, fast, on your buddy Mike’s stained living room futon surrounded by people who you know you will see fighting a bouncer by the end of the night.
In a time when some college students are getting busted for throwing parties despite the risk of COVID-19 transmission, one might be tempted to ask Four Loko, “Now, really?” But this is a company whose FAQ boasts the question, “Is Four Loko currently banned or illegal anywhere?” (The answer is no.) Its mission is proudly, unrelentingly one of getting people fucked up. For now, that will only be in the Southeast states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. Just hope that those shot drinkers are pregaming nothing more than a quiet night in.
And in other news…
- Despite a huge number of permanent business closures during the pandemic so far, there are also a “significant number” of new restaurant openings, nearly in line with numbers from 2018 and 2019, according to Yelp data. [Forbes]
- Which grocery stores fared the best from March through September? Local and regional chains saw the smallest decreases in business, while Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods suffered the most. Trader Joe’s eventually recovered, but Whole Foods still hasn’t quite rebounded. [The Takeout]
- Months after holding a virtual summit in which McDonald’s CEO vowed to fight systemic racism and discrimination, the chain has filed a motion to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by more than 50 Black former franchisees. The corporation called the suit “illogical” for its accusation that McDonald’s “steers” Black franchisees into low-income areas with high crime rates and underperforming sales. [NRN]
- As part of its Halloween promotion, Burger King is giving away free Whoppers to fans who visit shuttered rival fast-food chain locations, which seems … questionable, in a pandemic in which thousands of eateries have closed and millions of people have lost their jobs. [CNN]
- Chipotle’s digital ordering system now comes with a sustainability tracker for all ingredients. [Restaurant Business]
- KFC’s fried chicken-scented fire logs are back. [MarketWatch]
- Behind the Times’ decision to credit the original sources of recipes in its Cooking section bylines. [NYT]
• All AM Intel Coverage [E]
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