A native of Ghana, Chef Selassie Atadika studied at The Culinary Institute of America and also earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in geography from Dartmouth College. Now back in Ghana after working for the United Nations, Atadika takes advantage of the cocoa beans as well as the spices and herbs that thrive in her country’s terroir to craft Midunu, her line of truffles that are distinctive not only because of the complex layers of taste but also because they each etched with delicate and colorful designs. Midunu, which means “let us eat” in Ewe, a language spoken in Togo and Ghana, is a call to embrace all that the table offers – great food, conviviality and connection.
Chef Selassie took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about her truffles, the ingredients she uses, and her commitment to bringing to the fore what is quickly becoming a major culinary trend–New African Cuisine.
I didn’t realize Ghana was the second largest producer of cacaothough most of it is exported. Can you tell us about why it is such a wonderful place to grow chocolate and if it differs in taste and quality from other regions?
Cocoa needs hot temperatures, humidity, and good rainfall. The ‘Cocoa belt’ is within 20 degrees of the equator. Every region has its unique qualities, and the West African terroir gives the ‘chocolatey’ flavor, which chocolate consumers worldwide know as chocolate.
The traditional process of fermenting the cocoa beans in plantain/banana leaves in Ghana provides the second layer of flavor to the beans, which you don’t get in other countries.
How does your team of female chocolatiers go about incorporating locally and regionally sourced ingredients to create your chocolates?
Inspiration comes to me from everywhere. It might be a fruit or spice I see in the market, an element I taste in a dish, or a memory that comes to me from childhood. Sometimes, the ingredient is at risk of being forgotten in a culinary sense or lost in terms of biodiversity. So I try to see how it would pair with chocolate and then play with it in our kitchen.
Can you describe some of the herbs and spices and other ingredients you use?
The Afua truffle features the buttery, nutty, and caramel notes of prekese, one of my favorite West African spices, infused in a milk chocolate ganache, enveloped in dark chocolate.
AṣaIntroduces you to scent leaf, a wonderfully herbaceous variety of basil from West Africa infused in a white chocolate ganache, wrapped in dark chocolate.
The Azar truffle will transport you to North Africa’s souks. Get ready for the bright, tangy notes of sumac infused in milk chocolate, then enrobed in dark chocolate.
My cooking philosophy is what I call New African Cuisine. It celebrates culinary heritage where culture, community, and cuisine intersect with the environment, sustainability, and economy by employing local, seasonal, and underutilized ingredients, including traditional grains and proteins, to deliver Africa’s bounty to the table.
And when are you going to write a cookbook?
Great questions. I’m setting aside time right now to work on my book proposal.
Looking for a last minute Halloween treat that’s not only yummy, but healthy to counteract all that Candy Corn, caramel corn, and other candies we’re going to overeat? We’ve got good news for you. Catherine McCord has you covered. McCord, founder of Weelicious, a website created as a motivating guide combining her own experiences in creating healthy and delicious meals with fact-based research on children and food.
McCord, the author of Weelcious: One Family. One Meal featuring 140 original “fast, fresh and easy” recipes and Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunchbox, takes one of her childhood favorite desserts—pudding cups and recreates it into Chocolate Tofu Pudding Cups served in small clay flowerpots for a perfect Halloween treat. And honestly, it’s so good, no one will realize that it’s healthy.
Chocolate Tofu Pudding Cups
14-ounce package soft silken tofu (McCord suggests House Foods soft silken or Mori-Nu firm silken)
1/3 cup pure cocoa powder
1/3 cup agave nectar (feel free to use a little more if you want it sweeter)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
24 chocolate wafers (McCord likes using Famous Chocolate Wafers)
Gummy Worms (Okay, it’s candy so we’re open to suggestions for a wholesome substitute that people would want to eat. But until then, either skip the Gummies and lose the great visual presentation or just focus on how healthy tofu is for you,)
4 small clay flowerpots
Place the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and blend to combine.
Scrape down the sides of the food processor. Blend again to make sure everything is incorporated.
Place 4 whole chocolate wafers in the bottom of the clay pots so none of the pudding goes through the hole at the bottom of the pots.
Divide the chocolate tofu pudding between the 4 pots.
Place the remaining 20 wafers in a Ziploc bag and using a rolling pin, crush into small pieces resembling dirt.
Sprinkle the crushed wafers on top of the pots and then place the gummy worms in the pots.
2 English muffins, cut in half
8 teaspoons pizza sauce
2 mozzarella cheese sticks
3 green olives with pimentos
Preheat oven to 400℉.
Place the English muffin halves on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.
Remove muffins from oven and spread 2 teaspoons of the pizza sauce onto each English muffin half.
Peel the mozzarella sticks into strings and decoratively arrange them on top of each English muffin. Slice the green olives into 1/4 inch thick rings and place them on top of the cheese to create eyes.
Bake mummies for 3 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Travel back into the past by car or aboard the Treno Gottardo, a VIP train trip along an ancient trade route that crosses the fantastical Gotthard Pass, a north south journey connecting the German speaking region of Uri to the Ticino, the Italian speaking area of Switzerland.
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings in the Alps
In 2011, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee added the remains of prehistoric pile-dwelling also known as stilt house settlements in and around six Alpine countries that were built from around 5,000 to 500 B.C. on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands to their list.
The sites provide glimpses into what life was like in prehistoric times during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Alpine Europe as well as the way communities interacted with their environment. In an exciting new find, archaeologists diving in Lake Lucerne discovered pile dwellings from the Bronze Age.
Exploring Roman History
Augusta Raurica near Augst/Kaiseraugst, a 2000-year-old settlement on the southern bank of the Rhine, is located near the beautiful city of Basel. Named after the Celtic Rauriker tribe and the Roman Emperor Augustus, the city at its peak had a population of around 20,000 with workshops, commercial enterprises, taverns, temples and public baths closely strung together. Because no new towns were established during the Middle Ages or our modern area, Augusta Raurica is amazingly well-preserved.
Visitors can view the myriad of wonders discovered here like the largest silver treasure dating from Late Antiquity, a Roman domestic animal park with ancient animal species, and the architectural remnants of the city, the museum offers great insights into the daily lives of the people who lived here around the time of Christ’s birth.
On May 5 was the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon I on the island of St. Helena, where he was placed in exile. His stepdaughter Hortense des Beauharnais also lived in exile at Arenenberg Castle and Napoleon Museum in Switzerland.
As the only German-speaking museum on Napoleonic history, a special exhibition during the “Année Napoléon 2021” will take place from October 10-24, 2021, showing the long lasting influence of Napoleon on Switzerland even today.
Inventing Milk Chocolate
Food and beverages reflect a country’s culinary traditions and customs. Many of today’s Swiss cheese brands go back to the 12th century, but Daniel Peter’s much newer creation in 1875 really took the world by storm—a passion that continues today. Peter was able to solve the problem of how to combine chocolate and milk. Most Swiss cities offer chocolate tours and several chocolate brands features visitor experiences.
Newly Restored LGBT Pioneer’s Spectacular Painting Returns to Monte Verità
After a lengthy restoration, the super large circular painting “Il Chiaro Mondo dei Beati” or “The Clear World of the Blessed” by Estonian artist and LGBT pioneer Elisàr von Kupffer (1872-1932) is on display at the Monte Verità museum complex located in southern Switzerland near Ascona.
Instead of destroying more than one hundred historic buildings, many of them farmhouses, were instead carefully taken dismantled and rebuilt at the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.
The museum is nestled in the beautiful pastoral landscape of the Bernese Oberland and can be reached by bus from Brienz. The many hands-on activities were created to provide insight in old traditional crafts like forging, weaving, and herbal medical treatments
In Madrid, we take a cobblestone street down a narrow street between Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to El Pasadizo San Gines and happen upon Chocolatería San Gines, the oldest churro shop in the city, having opened in 1894. There are two shops, just across the way from each other and both have long lines. But it’s our last night in Madrid and we are willing to wait. Ordering our churros and chocolate along with cups of coffee we find a outdoor table and sit down to wait–impatiently–for our treats. The churros when they are arrive are thick ropes of sugar coated dough fried to a golden brown and hot to the touch. We tear off chunks and dip them in deep bowls of thick rich chocolate and then taste. Sublime.
I think of churros as originating in Spain where they may have first been by shepherds, their name coming from the horns of the Churra sheep they tended. In turn the Spaniards, when they invaded Mexico, brought along their foods including churros and buñuelos–a similar dish. Churro and chocolate shops are now common throughout Mexico. But their history may be more complicated as Portuguese sailors returning from China may have carried the recipe for youtiaos, another fried bread snack.
It’s close to midnight when we finally finished but this being Madrid the streets were just a lively and people still stood in line for their churros and chocolate.
Back in the U.S., I was desperate for my churro fix. Fortunately, there’s Take & Bake Churro Kit from San Diablo Artisan which beats making these treats from scratch. The company says they’re the only churro kit maker in the country making it a one-of-a-kind gift. There’s no messing with dough, making your own filling or frying them up. Instead, the kit contains 13 pre-made and chilled mini churros already fried to a golden brown and dusted with sugar and cinnamon as well as a selection of fillings such as Nutella, dulce de leche or sweet cream already packaged in squeeze bottles. Just fill the churros and pop in the oven or air fryer to reheat.
For the real foodie who wants to do a deep dive into churro making, San Diablo Artisan, a Utah based company, also sells churro dough so you can roll your own. And if you want to go all out when it comes to making churros, you can buy their recently introduced kit with a churro maker and nine different shapes of interchangeable nozzles.
San Diablo Artisan Churros specializes in creating artisan-filled churros for special events and celebrations. The proprietary, award-winning churro dough recipe is made from scratch and fried on-demand. The fried golden brown, hollow-centered churros are filled with “happiness”—gourmet fillings of choice. In a relentless search for churro perfection, the menu has expanded to include seasonal flavors, savory churro offerings, and nationwide at-home delivery. San Diablo members enjoy outstanding quality artisanal food that is undeniably fresh, delicious, and delivered with a unique style of fun. Like their Artisan Churros, San Diablo is filled with social good: supporting local, national, and international non-profit causes.
Maple syrup, one of the original cash crops, is the rich and delicious gifts the sugar maples give us every spring–at least for those willing to tap and collect the thin sap that is then boiled down to a thick amber consistency. For Eric and Laura Sorkin of the Vermont-based Camp Runamok, who make barrel-aged and smoked maple syrups, it’s more than just a pancake topping in the morning. One of Runamok Maple’s core missions has always been to educate consumers about the versatility of maple as an ingredient and they recently upped the ante with a variety of fascinating products such as their special-editions syrups including Cocoa Bean Infused made with only two ingredients–organic maple syrup and cocoa bean nibs
The Sorkins also produce jazzy Maple Sparkles (yes, just like the name implies it’s sparkly), and Strawberry-Rose Maple Syrups that can be used as a topping on pancakes and waffles and also in such recipes as Crepes with Sliced Bananas and Peanut Butter Pie.
Now they’ve upped the ante with their their new collection of cocktail mixers includes four syrups – Maple Old Fashioned, Maple Tonic, Smoked Old Fashioned, and Ginger Mule – and three different kinds of bitters – Floral Maple, Aromatic Maple, and Orange Maple. All are made with 100% pure Vermont maple syrup. The cocktail syrups can easily take the place of simple syrup, and will leave cocktail enthusiasts wondering why they hadn’t previously opted for the rich, complex flavors of maple syrup instead. The maple-based cocktail bitters are jam-packed with earthy, botanical flavors and will quickly elevate cocktails with just a few drops. Customers can purchase 250 mL bottles of the cocktail syrups for $16.95 each and 100 mL bottles of the bitters for $11.95 on runamokmaple.com.
The line of cocktail mixers will feature four different syrups – Maple Old Fashioned, Maple Tonic, Smoked Old Fashioned, and Maple Ginger Mule – along with three different kinds of bitters – Floral Maple, Aromatic Maple, and Orange Maple.
“At Runamok Maple, we have been creating cocktails using our infused and smoked maple syrups since we started production,” said Laura Sorkin, co-founder of Runamok Maple. “Through our experimentation over the years, we have come to realize that our maple-based creations are, to this day, some of our favorite cocktails. With the launch of our new cocktail syrups and bitters, we want our customers to experience those same flavors that we have been sharing with our family and friends.”
Most cocktails feature a touch of sugar, which most commonly comes in the form of simple syrup, but the process can be tedious, particularly for the home bartender, and the taste of the granulated sugar dissolved in water is sweet but plain. Runamok Maple’s new cocktail syrups feature the rich, robust, and nuanced flavors of organic Vermont maple syrup, along with additional flavor notes from high-quality ingredients such as ginger and orange. The cocktail syrups, which are priced at $16.95 per 250 mL bottle, also have the added bonus of already being in syrup form, eliminating the extra step of dissolving sugar.
Made with 100% pure Vermont maple syrup, the Maple Old Fashioned cocktail syrup is an infusion blend of real herbs and spices, without any refined sugar. The syrup features a slight bite from Runamok Maple’s very own bitters, along with the subtle essence of orange and cherry, making it the perfect all-encompassing mixer to add to your favorite bourbon or whiskey. Similarly, the Smoked Old Fashioned cocktail syrup is packed with all of the classic Old Fashioned flavors – only this time Runamok Maple uses its Smoked with Pecan Wood maple syrup to add a unique flavor dimension. Maple syrup and whiskey are the perfect pairing, with each offering complex flavor profiles that bring out the best in the other. The added element of smoke creates the perfect drink to enjoy near a fire on a crisp fall evening.
In addition to the Old Fashioned, Runamok Maple drew inspiration from two more classic cocktails, the Gin & Tonic and the Moscow Mule, for its other cocktail syrups. The Maple Tonic combines Runamok Maple’s signature organic maple syrup with the addition of quinine extract, lemon, and lime, giving the mixer a bright, refreshing taste that will have cocktail drinkers quickly forgetting about traditional tonic water. Mixing the Maple Tonic cocktail syrup with gin and seltzer water makes for an easy and delicious summer cocktail. Like the others, the Maple Ginger Mule cocktail syrup features 100% pure Vermont maple syrup as its base. Runamok Maple then infuses fresh ginger and lime into the cocktail syrup to give it a crisp, zesty flavor profile and a cleaner overall taste than mixers that use artificial flavors.
On the back side of each cocktail syrup bottle and on their website, customers will find a suggested cocktail recipe to use with each syrup, including the Amber Old Fashioned (using Maple Old Fashioned), Tapper’s Tonic (using Maple Tonic), Leather & Velvet (using Smoked Old Fashioned) and Green Mountain Mule (using Maple Ginger Mule).
Launched alongside the cocktail syrups is Runamok Maple’s collection of cocktail bitters. Made in the traditional way with all-natural herbs and root extracts infused in alcohol, Runamok Maple delivers its version in a maple base. Though they’re maple-based, the bitters pack a punch, like traditional bitters, and just a few drops can take a cocktail to the next level. Each 100 mL bottle of bitters is priced at $11.95.
With notes of cardamom and ginger, the Floral Maple bitters combine botanical complexity and subtle aromas with a smooth maple base. The addition of rose, citrus, and clove makes these bitters perfect for any gin or vodka cocktail. Built on a warm base of maple, cinnamon, clove, and allspice, the Aromatic Maple bitters meld perfectly with the flavors of darker spirits, like bourbon and whiskey, and even feature subtle tasting notes of sarsaparilla and vanilla bean. Lastly, the Orange Maple bitters are perfect for brightening up any cocktail – whether fruity or neat. The citrus aromas, layered on top of a subtle maple base, make it a wonderful addition to cocktails made with vodka, gin, and even bourbon.
Runamok Maple’s full collection of products – including specialty maple syrups like Bourbon Barrel-Aged, Cardamom-Infused, Cinnamon + Vanilla-Infused, and Pecan Wood-Smoked – are available on runamokmaple.com. The products can also be found on the brand’s Amazon page, as well as at specialty food shops across the country.
For making cocktails, there’s a selection for mixing Manhattans as well as several types of bitters and with Mother’s and Father’s Day coming up, the gift packages should make any parent happy.
The following recipes are courtesy of Camp Runamok.
Roasted Pears with Royal Cinnamon Maple Caramel
2 pears, ripe but not too soft
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup Runamok Royal Cinnamon Infused Maple (can also use Sugarmaker’s Cut Pure, Cinnamon+Vanilla Infused or Whiskey Barrel-Aged)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 375. Peel the pears and then cut them in half. Remove the cores with a melon baller or pairing knife. Slice the pears starting an inch down from the stem, keeping them still attached (if a slice comes off, just roast it next the the pear in the pan and add it at the end).
Find a pan that fits all four halves snugly but in one layer. Put the butter in the pan and heat on the stove until melted. Place the pear halves in and fan the slices gently. Baste with a the melted butter and then sprinkle the sugar on them evenly. Place the pan in the oven and roast for about ten minutes or until they have just begun to brown. Remove from the oven, take the pears out with a spatula and set aside. Pour the maple syrup into the pan and heat to a boil. Add the cream and stir, cooking about another five minutes until the sauce has thickened.
To serve, put two pear halves on a plate and drizzle with the warm maple caramel sauce. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream if you like. Serves 2.
“If they are not crispy, chicken wings can be a big disappointment,” writes Laura Sorkin in this introduction to Wings with Maple Hot Sauce. “I never cared for them until I tried a recipe that involved baking them in high heat for almost an hour. Wow, what a difference. Most of the fat is rendered, leaving crispy skin and tender meat. Wings are now my son’s yearly request for his birthday dinner and we are always game for trying new sauces.
“Runamok Consiglieri, Curt Alpeter is all about wings and developed this sauce using the Cardamom Infused Maple for the sweet counterpart to the heat of Texas Pete’s. Curt is from Ohio which is near enough to Buffalo, New York that we are going to allow that he is a wing expert by proxy. He has related to me that the chopped scallions and cilantro are key. I did not include measurements because it should be a little-of-dis, little-of-dat kind of dish.”
Wings with Maple Hot Sauce
Salt and pepper
Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce or similar
Runamok Cardamom Infused Maple Syrup
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 400. Place wings in a sturdy pan, making sure there is enough room for a single layer. Drizzle just a tad of vegetable oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the wings over and return to the oven. Bake until crispy and brown, about another 20 – 30 minutes.
In the meantime find a bowl large enough to hold all the wings. Pour equal amounts of hot sauce and maple syrup and butter. If you are cooking a few pounds of chicken, try 1/4 cup of each. Combine with a fork, mashing up the butter and blending it. Don’t worry if the butter leaves chunks, it will melt when you add the hot wings.
When the wings are fully brown and crisp, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the sauce. Add scallions and cilantro. Toss until coated and serve immediately with plenty of napkins.
Sparkly Maple Bourbon Smash
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Runamok Maple syrup (Sparkle Syrup or Sugarmaker’s Cut)