I miss peanut butter. This is the most common food question for many Americans who come to Spain: Where can I get my hands on some good old American-style peanut butter? Luckily, if you’re in Madrid, the answer is easy. Actually, most towns that have a Carrefour or Mercadona will have peanut butter. (Now whether it’s any good is up to you to decide.)
But there are many other foods we crave. As good as Spanish food is, I know I have a list of things I like to eat when I get home. I crave spice, Ranch dressing, cottage cheese, and mainly anything from Trader Joe’s. (Someone please bring a bottle of their Champagne Pear salad dressing, stat. Oh—and some trail mix.)
So how have all these cravings made me a better cook? Easy—necessity is the mother of invention. Or so they say.
What can the American expat make in Spain instead of traipsing from Taste of America to Al Campo to El Corte Inglés?
- Brown sugar. Brown sugar is made using regular white sugar and molasses. Molasses is melaza in Spanish and actually easy to find. Plus, it’s actually more natural! Check out Joy the Baker’s homemade brown sugar recipe.
- Peanut butter. Making your own peanut butter is easy—if you have a food processor. I prefer homemade, natural-style peanut butters, so I can’t help you if you like yours mixed with lots of hydrogenated vegetable oils or mono- and diglycerides. However, if you want to attempt making your own peanut butter, let Alton Brown be your guide.
- Ranch dip. I love making my vegetables way less healthy by dipping them in things. (See: hummus.) Ranch dip is easy to make. I just buy full-fat Greek yogurt and garlic salt, dill, and perhaps oregano and some cut up green onion. Tastes just like it, and it’s a bit healthier too!
- Vanilla extract. Buy a bottle of rum. Put vanilla bean inside. Let sit for six weeks. Done, done, done!
- Brownies, cookies, cakes. I never understood why some would spend upwards of $8-$10 for a box of cake mix when you can make your own. Don’t even get me started on those cookie-dough rolls. Ick.
A pumpkin pie for my birthday/Thanksgiving in 2011
- Pumpkin purée. Okay, guys, it’s a shocker, but Libby’s pumpkin purée is actually made from a variety of butternut squash. So don’t waste your energy buying a pumpkin (if you can find one when it’s not Halloween). Buy butternut squash instead! And make the purée yourself. Now all you need is to make the pie!
- Spice blends. Buy all the spices you need; mix. Could it be any simpler? Pumpkin pie spice is a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice (maybe harder to find), and cloves.