Monday, May 4, 2015

Mini Pot Pies

What is better than a pot pie? Mini pot pies! It's homemade comfort food made both portable and significantly cuter. The crust is made out of crescent rolls and the inside is a mixture of veggies, turkey, and melted cheddar. What's not to like?
 
 
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Here's a peek into the inside of these flaky, creamy goodies. Mini pot pies would be perfect for a party, on-the-go lunch, or any other time you want a personal pie treat.
 
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Mini Turkey Cheddar Crescent Roll Pot Pies
makes 4
1 package crescent rolls (with 8 crescents total)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup milk
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounces cooked turkey, chopped
6 tbsp mixed veggies (canned or frozen)
2 green onions, sliced
 
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll half of the crescent rolls into disks and press them into the mini pie pans. Bake for 5 minutes. Once you remove the pans from the oven, push down the crust if it has puffed up to allow space for all of the filling. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour once the butter has melted, stirring constantly until it is thick. Slowly mix in the milk and bring to a simmer, continuing to stir constantly. Add in the cheddar and allow it to melt. Once the cheddar has melted, combine the turkey, veggies, and green onion into the pan. Divide the filling between the prepared pie crusts. Roll the remaining crescent rolls into circles and press them over the filling to match up with the bottom crust. Make crosses in the top of the crust with a knife. Bake for another 12-14 minutes until golden. Allow the pies to sit for 5 minutes before removing them from the pans.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sweet Cupcakes

What's the next best thing to getting a giant edible cupcake on your birthday? A cupcake card, of course! And just like regular cupcakes, this card comes in a variety of "flavors"; each as equally sweet.
 
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This one is perfect for the birthday boy or even blue-loving birthday girl. I love the little cupcake decal sticker. It matches the paper perfectly. 
 
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And here is a more girly rendition of the card. Either way, they are sure to make someone's birthday spectacular!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Meatless in the Middle East


Like the West Bank, Gaza is another disputed Palestinian territory that I have decided to include in my Meals Around the World Project. (Why pass up an opportunity to have even more delicious Middle Eastern food?) The Gaza Strip was accorded non-Member Observer State status by the UN in 2012. Israel has direct external control over Gaza, and they also control many of their airways, waterways, and roads. Officially, Israel does not have direct control of the nation/ territory, but considering their economic and governmental power, it seems that they are still pretty influential. 1.82 million people live in the 141 square miles that makes up Gaza, and the population is rapidly expanding. Recently, Gaza has been in conflict with Israel. Over 2,200 people have died. A cease fire was declared last August 26th, but hostilities still persist. Pray for this area of the world. They really need it.

 

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Gaza’s cuisine is a blend of Levantine and Mediterranean. Fish and other seafoods are common due to Gaza’s proximity to the ocean. Rice is a staple, and salads and dips are common accompaniments to most meals. I chose to make a simple meal of a lentil-based dish along with a fresh salad.

 

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My main dish is a lentil and rice one-pot dish served topped with fried onion slices. “Mujaddara” means “pock-marked” in reference to the lentils that stand out like pock-marks in the rice. Recently, the dish has gained a lot of popularity in Middle Eastern restaurants here in the United States. There are variations of mujaddara served all over the Middle East. Some use bulgur instead of rice, others use green lentils instead of brown. Any way you serve it, mujadarra is sure to be a filling vegetarian meal fit for any occasion.

 
Mujaddara
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 onions, thinly sliced
olive oil, for frying

Bring the chicken broth, lentils, cumin, and seasonings to taste to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the rice and water. Bring the mixture back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Allow the pot to stand with the lid on it for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onions until golden brown (about 30 minutes). Drain off the excess oil. Scoop the rice mixture onto a plate and top with the onions to serve.

 

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Salads and vegetables are an integral part of Palestinian cuisine. Bakdoonsiyyeh uses Italian parsley topped with a tahini dressing to create a lovely and flavorful side. In Gaza, you can find this dish served alongside fish. I think this would make a great pair, but the salad also went well with my mujaddara.

 

Bakdoonsiyyeh
1 bunch Italian parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup tahini
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Mix together the tahini, lemon juice, and water to produce a thick dressing. Salt to taste. Toss the mixture with the parsley and serve immediately.



 
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The Gaza Strip yielded great meal. I really like lentils, so the mujaddara was right up my alley. I was also a big fan of the tahini dressing on the salad, but I think the parsley was a bit much. I would really like to make the dressing again to pour over some butter lettuce with a grilled chicken breast and some feta. My only other complaint was that the mujaddara was a bit under seasoned. If I make it again, I will be sure to add some garlic and maybe a bit of spice to jazz it up a bit. (I do love my spices!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Creative Nachos

Have you ever tried lentils? I used to be afraid of the tiny, pebble-like brown legumes, but now I know better than to judge a food by its appearance. Lentils are full of protein and fiber, have a great texture, and are super versatile. I use them all the time for soups and stews, and I thought it was about time for me to try something new. I had some amazing Mexican Chihuahua cheese and I was in the mood for nachos. Unfortunately, we had no ground beef. My creative solution turned out to be better than I could have hoped for. Lentil nachos for the win!

Lentil Nachos (2)
 
Lentil Nachos
serves 1
½ cup lentils
1 cup chicken stock
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp roasted bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp oil
¼ tsp cumin
dash of ground coriander
dash of cayenne pepper powder
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Chihuahua cheese
tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Pour in the stock, seasonings, and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir every so often. If all the liquid has not evaporated after 20 minutes, remove the lid and cook over medium heat until all the stock has evaporated. Arrange the chips on a plate and top with the cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts, about a minute. Add on the lentils and enjoy!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Kid Friendly Abacus

Carson is one of the smartest toddlers I have ever met. Alright, let's be real here. She is the smartest toddler I have ever met. What other 2-year-old can count past 20, say and identify her ABCs, spell her first and last name, and recite several Bible verses? Most kids this age cannot even form a coherent sentence. Anyway, I wanted to encourage Carson's development by giving her an educational toy that was not loud and obnoxious or electronic.

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This abacus-like craft was my solution. I just punched some holes in a piece of cardboard covered in construction paper. Then I strung beads onto thread to create a way for Carson to count the beads. She liked it a lot, and can count off the pumpkins or dinosaurs. My only hope is that she does not destroy it. We do not call her Destructo for nothing. :)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nordic Noshes

Never tell a Finn that they are Scandinavian. Although their proximity to Sweden and Norway would lead you to believe that Finland is indeed a part of Scandinavia, this Nordic country actually associates itself more closely with Estonia and Hungary. The Finns, like the Hungarians and Estonians, speak a Uralic language which is one of only four non Indo-European language part of the official EU languages. "Finland" is actually the Swedish name for Suomi which means "Finland" in Finnish. Why do we call Finland by its Swedish name and not its Finnish one? A lot of it is probably due to the fact that Finland was part of Sweden from the 1100s to 1809. It was then controlled by the Russian Empire until 1917 when the Finns declared independence. I cannot imagine living in a country where winters reach -49 degrees and last for 200 days. The coldest region of Lapland experiences permanent snow from October until May. The 5.4 million Finns who call this icy nation their home have made the best of it. Just look at the amazing saunas they have constructed to battle the cold and promote relaxation. I'd like to take a steam bath for several hours to sweat off all my worries.

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Finnish cuisine contains influences from the indigenous Sami people who were (and are) reindeer herders living in Lapland. The Karelian people of Eastern Finland (aka North Karelia) also have contributed many features to Finland's culinary repertoire. Fish, rye, mushrooms, potatoes, and other food sources that can survive the harsh climates of Finland create the basis of most Finnish meals. I tried to touch on as many different aspects as I could to create my Finish table.

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Karelian pasties are rye crusted treats filled with a variety of different fillings. The most common filling is a type of rice pudding that is combined with egg yolks to make a golden center. Traditionally the crust is made out of pure rye flour, but wheat-rye mixed versions are also common today.

Karjalanpiirakat
makes 8
For the crust:
1 cup rye flour
6-8 tbsp water
¼ tsp salt
flour, for dusting
 
For the filling:
½ cup rice
1 cup water
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
dash of salt
melted butter and milk, to glaze
 
To make the filling, bring the water and rice to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add in the milk and bring back to a simmer. Continue to cook until the milk is absorbed as well and the mixture resembles rice pudding. Allow the rice to cool before whisking in the egg and salt.
 
To make the crust, mix together the rye, salt, and water. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Roll them out into disks on a lightly floured surface until they are about 1/8” thick. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out while they are being assembled.
 
To assemble, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and cover a baking pan with tinfoil. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling into the center of each rye disk and spread it out to be about ½” away from the edges. Pinch in the edges and brush with the butter and milk mixture. Arrange the pastries on the prepared baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.

 
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Lanttulaatikko is a common Christmas side casserole in Finland. I wanted to try it out because it seemed interesting and used rutabagas which I had not yet cooked with on my trip around the world. Keep reading to learn of my impressions surrounding this interesting dish.
 
Lanttulaatikko
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed (aka swede or yellow turnip)
1 slice sandwich bread, toasted
3 ounces milk or cream
1 egg
dash of nutmeg
2 tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rutabaga for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a blender or food processor, blend the sandwich bread into crumbs. Add the remaining ingredients except for the butter to the blender and blend until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes. Spread the mixture into a baking dish, top with small pats of butter, and bake for 40-50 minutes until the top looks dried out.

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Two popular Sami dishes are poronk√§ristys and lohikeitto. Since the first option is pretty much defined as saut√©ed reindeer and the latter would use up the salmon I had sitting in my freezer, lohikeitto won the draw. Reindeer is not a easily found commodity here in Tennessee, and, frankly, the thought of eating Rudolph is a little disturbing. Thick, and luscious lohikeitto is a soup that would warm any Sami up on a cold winter night. I have no problem understanding why it became so popular. 
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Lohikeitto
1 pound skinless salmon, cubed
2 leeks, diced
1 tbsp butter
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried dill
½ cup cream
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
salt and pepper, to taste
 
Heat a large pot over medium heat with the butter. Sautee the leeks in the butter for about 6 minutes until they are golden brown. Add the 6 cups of water, bay leaf, potatoes, and dill to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Mix the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water together. Swirl the mixture into the pot, making sure to stir it all together thoroughly. Add in the milk or cream as well as the salmon. Cook for another 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Season to taste.
  
 
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The Finns do not have as big of a sweet tooth as their Swedish neighbors, so do not expect sugar-laden desserts following every meal. Instead, pancakes or porridge with just a hint of sweetness and fresh berries or lingonberry jam are the norm. I really enjoyed this comforting semolina porridge. It rounded out my meal very well.
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Mannapuuro
1 cup milk
2 tbsp semolina flour
sugar, to taste
pat of butter
lingonberry jam
berries
Bring the milk to a boil in a small pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and whisk in the semolina, making sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the porridge has reached your desired thickness. Add sugar to your liking and top with berries and lingonberry jam.

 

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I’m still not really feeling Europe. They made really good breakfasts, but their dinners have been lacking. It’s kind of ironic since the African breakfasts were a bit of a nightmare, but Africa has yielded some of my favorite dinners. I guess each region just cannot have two good dishes in one day. Maybe Eastern Asia or South America are great lunch destinations since neither their dinners nor breakfasts have particularly stood out. Who knows? The lanttulaatikkois was one of the only things that I just could not force myself to choke down throughout my journey around the world. The rutabaga-nutmeg combination just was not going for me. I should have known that the dish had little potential when my roommate Rachel asked me if the chopped up rutabaga was a mango and then later on Anna asked me if the finished product was cornbread. I hate throwing food out, so I asked my three roommates if they wanted any lanttulaatikkois. I totally butchered the name, but they got the point that the weird cornbread/ mango stuff was foreign. Hannah wouldn’t even look at it, Anna tried it and had the same thoughts about it as I did, and Rachel was okay with it. (She is absolutely not picky at all, so her liking the dish is not surprising.) Other than this unfortunate dish, I enjoyed the rest of my Finnish meal. I'm not really a salmon or dill person, but the soup was not bad. I really enjoyed the pastries as wells as the porridge. They were perfectly unsweetened just like I like my sweets to be. :)


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Is that something green in my scone?

Zucchini is a very versatile squash. You can use it for just about anything from savory zucchini boats, zoodles, and fritters to sweet muffins, bread, and smoothies. Thankfully this amazing ingredient is not only delicious, but incredibly healthy too. Here is an amazing scone recipe sing the best properties of zucchini combined with the always amazing addition of chocolate chips. And they're healthy too!

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Scones (10)
 
 
 

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Scones
makes 15
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup quick oats
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup sugar
2 egg whites
½ cup applesauce
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 ¼ cup grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and oil a large baking dish. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk the sugar, egg whites, applesauce, yogurt, and vanilla together. Mix the zucchini into the wet ingredients. Combine everything together, folding in the chocolate chips. Roll out the dough 1” thick on a lightly floured surface. Use a 3” cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut out 15 scones. Arrange them 1” apart on the baking dish and cook for 12 minutes. Allow the scones to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.