Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Islands of Indulgence

Tonight’s long awaited meal comes from the Southeastern Asian archipelago of Indonesia. My friends Ben and Jenni both had the amazing opportunity to live in Indonesia. Their parents are brave missionaries in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. A lot of tonight’s meal was inspired by Ben’s descriptions of some of his favorite foods that he has missed since he had to move back to the US for college. He has been telling me that I should cook Indonesia for months now, but I wanted to wait until I had enough time and the right ingredients to do it justice. Thankfully, right before spring break the head chef at the cafeteria I work in asked me if I wanted any lemongrass. It was the long desired ingredient that I had been waiting for but could never get my hands on! This happened to come about right before spring break when I knew I would have enough time to put together my Indonesian meal without getting too concerned about falling behind on homework. The stage was set for success. All I had left to do was recreate the dishes I had been drooling over for months.

 
 
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Before I go into the cuisine of Indonesia and my culinary endeavors, I should probably share a bit more about the country and its people. One thing I didn’t know was that Indnesia is the fourth most populated country in the world. Its 252 million people live on 922 of the country’s 18,307 islands. (Wow! That’s a lot of islands!) The 742 languages spoken are represented by 300 different ethnic groups. The majority of the people are Javanese, and they control most of the politics, cuisine, and culture of Indonesia. I could go on and on about all the diferent aspects of Indonesia, but it would take me all day. From the island of Bali with its unique heritage and culture to the capital city of Jakarta to the complex and ritualistic Sundanese wedding ceremony, Indonesia is definitely not devoid of culture or tradition.



 
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Indonesian food…… For my menu tonight, I wanted to go all out and try everything. Ben had pretty much convinced me to spend two whole nights on Indonesia, but I’ll never get through all the countries if I start cooking multiple meals from each one. I had to narrow down my choices to the best menu. I gave Ben two options, and he picked the one that he thought was the best and most traditional. The dishes are gado-gado which I have been dying to have since my mom and I first sampled it at an Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam two years ago, lontong which represents the staple of rice always present on the Indonesian table, your traditional chicken satay aka sate ayam, the necessary sambal kacang peanut sauce for the gado-gado and sate, soto ayam which Ben claimed was his favorite food on earth, and the famous and tedious beef rendang.



I first tried gado-gado back when my mom and I traveled to Amsterdam. Indonesia was a past colony of the Netherlands, and the influence of Indonesian cuisine has crossed over the many miles to reach the small European country. I had heard about Amsterdam's great Indonesian food, and wanted to try it out. Neither my mom nor I had ever had Indonesian food before, so we decided to try the rice table, or rijsttafel. The actual meal is a Dutch invention, but the dishes are Indonesian in origin. Rice tables incorporate a bunch of different Indonesian dishes that vary in taste, color, texture, and cooking methods. My favorite dish on the rice table was the gado-gado, a salad of blanched veggies topped with a decadent peanut sauce. I was so excited to finally get to recreate my meal. Gado-gado literally means mix-mix, and that's exactly what it should be- a mixture of everything yummy on earth!
 
 
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Gado-Gado
1 small head of cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
a handful of string beans
1 red potato
1 cup mung bean sprouts
romaine, Chinese cabbage, or other leafy greens
sambal kacang

Optional garnishes:
tomato wedges
cucumber slices
boiled eggs
karup (prawn crackers)
fried tofu

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Have another bowl filled with cold water ready to dunk your vegetables in after blanching them. First boil the cabbage for 1-2 minutes until crisp tender. Dunk it in the cold water and drain well. Arrange the romaine or other leafy greens on a large serving plate with the cabbage in the center. Next boil the carrots and string beans separately for 1-2 minutes each and repeat the dunking and draining process. Arrange them scattered about the top of the salad or in individual sections. Cook the potato for about 8-10 minutes. Allow it to cool before peeling and slicing into ¼” thick disks. Finally, blanch the mung bean sprouts for about 45 seconds. Dunk them in the cool water, rinse, and arrange them on top of your salad along with the potatoes. Garnish with your desired garnishes and douse heavily with some delicious sambal kacang. You can enjoy gado
gado warm, at room temperature, or cooled.
 

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A popular saying in Indonesia is if you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten. Rice is their staple, and is the center of their meal. All of the other dishes build off its foundation. I now know why. Indonesian food is pretty flavorful and spicy. You need the mellow and spice-cutting properties of the rice to combat all the different tastes exploding in your mouth from the side dishes. Lontong is a compressed rice cylinder boiled inside of a banana leaf. I don’t have banana leaves growing outside my apartment, so I had to sub tinfoil. You can eat lontong with peanut sauce covered dishes like gado-gado or soups and curries with a coconut base like rendang and soto ayam. Lontong is served cut into disks chilled or at room temperature.



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Lontong
1 cup cooked rice (I used jasmine rice.)
tinfoil

Form the hot rice into a log on the edge of a rectangle of tinfoil. Roll the tinfoil around the rice so that it is tightly compressed. Twist the ends to seal and refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut the log into disks and serve chilled or at room temperature.


 
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Sambals accompany every Indonesian meal for dipping sate in, scooping over rice, adding flavor to dishes, and just to serve as a delicious condiment. There are over 300 varieties of sambal in Indonesia, and they can be mild or spicy. This sambal is peanutty, slightly spicy, and absolutely to die for. It's a must!


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Sambal Kacang
3 ounces coconut milk
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup peanut butter
2 tsp sambal oelek
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
6 ounces water
2 tsp oil

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot. Cook for about 8 minutes until the onion is golden and fragrant.  Combine the remaining ingredients into the pot, stirring to fully incorporate everything together. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Allow the sauce to cool slightly before pureeing it in a blender.

 
 
 
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Sate, or using its more modern spelling satay, can be made up of any kind of meat imaginable. I went with sate ayam which is a chicken sate. The dish is strung onto wooden skewers (or traditionally a coconut palm frond) and grilled over high heat. It originated in Java, Indonesia, and now is famous worldwide. Be careful to make sure and soak your skewers so they don't burn up while you're cooking the meat.



 
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Sate Ayam
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1” ginger, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 chilies, chopped
1 pound chicken thighs, cut into ¾” cubes
6 sate sticks, soaked in water for 2 hours
sambal kacang

Combine the chicken, chilies, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic together in a large plastic bag. Marinate for at least 2 hours. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brush off any garlic or chilies that may have stuck to it. Thread the chicken onto the soaked skewers. Either preheat your grill or broiler to high. Cook the chicken as close to the flame as possible for about 5-7 minutes per side or until nicely charred. Serve with the sambal kacang for dipping.

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Soto is an Indonesian soup made out of broth, meat, and vegetables. Soto ayam is specifically made out of chicken. Mung bean noodles and boiled eggs are common garnishes. It's like Indonesia's version of comforting chicken noodle soup.
 
Soto Ayam
serves 4-6
2 pounds chicken thighs
6 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
1” fresh turmeric, minced
1” fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp oil
1- 6 ounce package of mung bean noodles, prepared according to the package’s instructions
boiled eggs, to garnish
sambal oelek, to garnish
sliced green onions, to garnish
lime wedges, to garnish

Bring the water, broth, chicken, and one stalk of lemongrass to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot, allow it to cool, and cut it into cubes. Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium heat a tablespoon of oil in it. In a food processor, process the shallots, garlic, ginger, and turmeric together. Add this paste along with the remaining stalk of lemongrass to the pan. Sauté for about 6-8 minutes until the mixture is golden. Pour this into the pot and bring the broth back to a simmer. Cook for another 30 minutes. Divide the mung bean noodles between serving bowls as well as the chicken. Strain the broth over each of the bowls. Top with boiled eggs, green onions, lime wedges, and sambal oelek.

 

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Rendang is a method of slow cooking with a bunch of different spices and seasonings that yields a very spicy and dark curry-like dish. It is commonly served at festivals and ceremonies or to honor a special guest. Although the cooking time seems a bit ridiculous, DO NOT cut back. There are three stages during the cooking process. If you stop cooking the meat before the third stage, you will not have rendang. The first phase is gulai which is reached shortly after the coconut begins to boil and the meat is cooked. The mixture will be green at this point. Next comes kailo, or wet rendang. The mixture will still look a little greenish at this stage is still moist and light brown. Rendang is finally reached when just about all of the coconut milk has evaporated and the beef is dark brown/ black but not yet burnt. Rendang was a great invention back before refrigeration. Because of the antimicrobial properties of garlic, shallot, ginger, and galangal, rendang can last up to a month without refrigeration! Mine didn’t last that long, but feel free to try it out for yourself.



 
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Rendang Daging
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into small cubes
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
4-6 red chilies
1” ginger, minced
1” galangal, minced
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp coriander
1 tbsp lime zest (my substitute for kaffir lime leaves)
20 ounces coconut milk (from a can)
8 ounces water

Combine all of the ingredients except for the meat and liquids into a food processor. Process until you have a nice spice paste. Bring the spice paste, water, and coconut milk to a simmer in a pot over medium heat. Add the meat and reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the rendang is dark brown. This takes about 4 hours.



 
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Indonesian food sure is a process to recreate. After two days of cooking, I finally got to sit down to my meal well after midnight. It was worth every minute, though. I would do it all over again just for some more of that gado-gado. I'm still drooling! As for  the lontong, it was better than I expected. Cold rice might seem a little odd, but I thought it was great, and it really helped to cut the heat in some of the spicier dishes. The sambal kacang was amazing. I literally was licking it off the spoon by itself. It was like peanut butter's spicier cousin. The sate was really good as well. I loved the slightly spicy and salty flavor the marinade left behind, and cooking the meat over high heat created the perfect amount of char while leaving the meat nice and tender. My biggest regret of the whole meal. I should have strained out the spice mixture before adding the noodles. The taste was amazing, but I couldn't get passed all the splinters of lemongrass getting stuck in my teeth. Last of all, the rendang had a very unique flavor. I could not decide if I loved it or hated it. I'm still thinking about it. I did love freaking my roommates out with all the facts about it being shelf stable for so long. My one roommate, Rachel, refrigerates everything. (Even popcorn and tortilla chips.) She could not imagine anyone leaving the rendang out at room temperature for so long.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Birthday Balloons!

I just cooked a HUGE Indonesian feast last night, and I am super excited to blog about it. Right now I am in the midst of packing and preparing for spring break which starts tomorrow, so I want to wait until I have a sufficient amount of time to give my Indonesian meal the justice it deserves. (I spent over 8 hours cooking it and about 6 hours researching it, so blogging about it is probably going to be another extensive time commitment.

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Tonight I wanted to just share with you real quick a super simple card idea. I like to make personalized and intricate cards, but when I'm in a rush it is always good to have a design or two that I can churn out quickly. All you need for these adorable birthday balloon cards are giant circles (glittery paper makes super cool balloons, but any paper will do), a small heart punch, a birthday stamp, and some twine. Ba-bing! You have a stack of cards ready to be sent out within minutes.
 
Have a nice night and look forward to Indonesia!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spread Your Wings

I really love how this inspirational greeting card turned out. Everything from the punched stamps to the sentiment to the fancy embellishment all fit together perfectly. It is not a super complex card, but I think the recipient will appreciate the subtle beauty and time that was put into it. Who knew that you could write a description like this just to talk about a simple card? I amuse myself too much in these blog posts.

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I hope my card inspires you to get crafting!!
 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Peanutty Paradise

I love being in college and being able to meet so many diverse people from different backgrounds, nations, and ethnicities. In addition to being super cool to learn about the culture of people from all over the world, it gives me a great source for researching my countries. What is a better way to find out what people eat in Guinea than by asking someone who lived there? Luckily, my friend Luke grew up as a missionary kid in the Republic of Guinea, so he was able to share some insight into the traditional cuisine served in this West African country. The 24 ethnic groups that make up Guinea speak over 40 ethnic groups and are mostly Islamic. There is a small percent (8 and 7 respectively) that are Christians or practice traditionally religions. The current Ebola epidemic started out last year in Guinea, and has spread to be an international crisis. All of Western Africa needs continuous prayer so that this horrific crisis can finally come to an end. The consumption of bats is one cause that leads to this horrendous disease. I can't imagine eating a bat, so I was very glad to find other delicious options to choose from when I cooked Guinea. My friend Luke suggested a dish called mafe tiga, so I went with his advice.


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Mafe is a West African peanut stew/ sauce that The Guinean people love their rice, so I decided to go with it as a base for my stew. You can also serve mafe over other starches common to the area like cassava. Mafe originated in Mali, and now is consumed widespread throughout this region of Africa. I know why! The stuff is delicious!
 
 

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Mafé Tiga
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tbsp oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 habanero chili, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
dash of cayenne pepper powder
½ cup natural creamy peanut butter (preferably sugar free)
salt and pepper, to taste               
rice, to serve

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and habanero. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir it constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Now pour in the chicken broth, lemon juice, diced tomatoes, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper powder. Mix this all together, cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and then stir in the peanut butter. Continue to simmer the sauce for an hour, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat and brown the chicken pieces. Add them to the sauce and cook for another 45 minutes, continuing to stir every so often. Serve over rice.
 
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I know I say this a lot, but this meal was one of my favorites. I love African food, I love everything peanut butter, anything with sautéed onions is automatically top of my list, and chicken is my favorite meat. Putting all these things together surely created one amazing dish. I would be okay with making mafe tiga tomorrow night for dinner. And the next night. And the night after that. Thursday night sounds good too, and why not Friday as well? Yeah, I'd be fine with having this every night for the rest of my life!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nontraditional Cupcakes

These aren't your typical cupcakes, and they aren't covered with your typical frosting. Don't expect your general Kroger birthday cupcake. These healthy treats are better in my opinion. They don't have that artificial and plastic taste to them, and with their secret ingredient, you can actually feel good about eating them.


Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes with Chocolate Sweet Potato Frosting (5)
What is my secret ingredient that makes these decadent cupcakes guilt free enough to eat for breakfast? It's sweet potatoes! I have made muffins before with sweet potato muffins, but I wanted to try something more on the dessert side of things. Also, I wanted to switch it up and not actually use the sweet potatoes in the muffins. That's right- sweet potato frosting! Sweet potatoes lighten up your traditional shortening laden buttercream or chocolate frosting while still keeping that creamy texture that you love. Chocolate sweet potato frosting is the perfect way to round off chocolaty coconut muffins topped with toasted shredded coconut and pecans. Enjoy!

Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes with Chocolate Sweet Potato Frosting (4)
 
Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes with Chocolate Sweet Potato Frosting
Makes 15-16
For the cupcakes:
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups coconut cream or coconut milk (from the can)
¾ cup yogurt (preferably coconut)
1 cup applesauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
 
For the frosting:
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
milk, as needed for thinning
 
For the topping:
Toasted coconut
Toasted pecans
 
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and oil a cupcake pan. Using a high speed blender, blend the oats into a flour. Stir the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cocoa powder together in a large bowl. Use the blender again to blend together all the remaining ingredients. Add the wet and dry ingredients, stirring until just mixed. Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. While the cupcakes are baking, blend together all of the frosting ingredients until they reach a spreadable texture. Frost the cooled cupcakes, and sprinkle on the toppings to serve.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pyrenees Perfection

I generally get the strangest looks when I tell people that I’d one day love to visit Andorra. I used to thing that they had something against the beautiful Pyrenees mountains, skiing, Europe's highest capital city, tax free shops, or the 300 days of sunshine Andorra gets a year,but I have come to realize that my fellow Americans simple do not know where (or even what) Andorra is. This is one thing that I have loved about my trip around the world and back again- I have learned so many things about so many different places through my culinary explorations. One of these being about the small Pyrenees country jammed between Spain and France called Andorra.
 
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Andorra, or officially the Principality of Andorra, is the sixth smallest country in Europe. You can find it wedged between France and Spain if you look close enough on a map. The government is a co-monarchy with the president of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell serving as co-princes. I think it's a little weird that their monarch is a democratically elected president, but it is not the Andorrans who elect him. Only the French people vote for him, and the Andorran people end up with him as the prince. It gained its independence from Aragon in 1278, but was shortly occupied by France during the 1930s. The official language is Catalan, and a little over a third of the population claims this as their native language. Next comes Spanish with 35% of the population, followed by Portuguese with 15% and French with 5%. This statistic surprises me a little since France borders Andorra and they share a president. Why is there so much Portuguese influence? I guess it stems from the high rate of immigration. Also something that I found interesting is that Andorra does not have its own airport or post office. They rely on their French and Spanish neighbors for these services.

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The cuisine of Andorra is mostly Catalan with a little bit of French flare and a unique Mountainous aspect all its own. For my Andorran meal, I wanted to showcase the three main cuisines of the small country. One recipe (the trinxat) is purely Andorran in nature. The salad is a Catalan dish, influenced by the Spanish Catalans. Lastly, the omelet is of French origin.

 
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Trinxat would have been the perfect dish to serve earlier this week for Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s basically boiled cabbage mashed together with potatoes and bacon. You would never guess that this very Irish sounding dish hails from their fellow European nation of Andorra. In Catalan trinxat means chopped. A lot of chopping does go into this lovely dish whether it be the crispy bacon, tender cabbage, boiled potatoes, or fragrant garlic cloves.
 

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Trinxat
serves 4
1 head green cabbage, cut into fourths
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 slices bacon
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the cabbage to a boil in a large pot of water. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. Add in the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes. Drain and allow the cabbage and potatoes to cool. Once cooled, squeeze and excess water out of the cabbage and then mash it together with the potatoes. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until it is golden. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until it’s crispy. Crumble up the bacon. Mix two slices worth of crumbles into the potato mixture along with the garlic. Spread the remaining bacon around the bottom of the pan along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Scoop the potato mixture over the top and press down to form a cake. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the bottom is golden. Using a plate, invert the trinxat onto the plate and then slide it bottom-down back into the pan. Increase the temperature to medium high heat and cook until the bottom is browned as well. Serve the trinxat bacon side up.



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Fresh spinach sautéed in high quality olive oil topped with toasted pine nuts, plump raisins, and fried garlic makes for a great vegetable side. I'm almost positive the spinach in Andorra is a lot better than what I could get ahold of, and I know that the raisins sure are. Andorra does not grow many grapes, but those they do are transformed into yummy raisins just destined to be a salad topper.
 
Espinacas a la Catalana
1 bunch spinach with the stems removed
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ounce pine nuts
1 ounce raisins

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until it is golden. Combine the pine nuts and raisins with the garlic and continue to cook until the pine nuts are toasted. Add the spinach, and cook until it has wilted. Toss everything together to fully mix and serve.

 
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First of all, I just want to brag a bit about my perfect looking omelet. How did I reach such high levels of omelet making abilities? Lots of practice, a bit of good luck, and the right proportion of eggs to oil to filling to pan size. Anyway, this omelet (or truita in Catalan) showcases the French influence found in Andorra.

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Truita de Bolets
serves 4
3 eggs
6 egg whites
2 tbsp milk or cream
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp herbs de Provence
10 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
¼ yellow onion, chopped
2 ounces shredded manchego or parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the eggs, egg whites, and milk. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook the onions until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 6-7 minutes until they are tender. Remove the onions and mushrooms to a bowl and stir in the herbs and seasonings to taste. Clean out your skillet and place it back over medium heat. Pour enough oil in to barely cover the bottom and allow it to get hot. Carefully pour in enough of the egg mixture to make a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Allow the eggs to set, flip (you may need to use a plate to assist you in doing this), and top with the mushrooms and cheese. Fold the omelet in half and carefully slide it onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining egg and filling.





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Visiting Andorra through its cuisine might not replace an actual trip to Andorra (which I would love to take while I’m in Spain this summer!), but it sure was delicious. The omelet was delicate, flavorful, and perfectly cheesy. I loved the sauteed mushrooms and seasonings and would have been happy to just eat the filling plain. The salad was also very good. I used high quality extra virgin Spanish olive oil that my mom gave me for Christmas, and I could really taste the difference in quality. Yum! The pine nuts and raisins complemented each other well. My only regret was that there was not more! The trinxat was my least favorite part of the meal. Boiled cabbage, bacon, and potatoes just don’t appeal to me at all. Thankfully, the actual dish turned out a lot better than I thought. It did not taste bad at all, just a little bland. It couldn’t compete with the other two dishes, but I still was able to enjoy it. Overall Andorra was a success! I hope to one day be able to share with you about an actual trip to Andorra and be able to try this yummy cuisine made by the Andorran people.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Loving my new stamps!

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I just love the stamp set I got for Christmas. It allows me to make layered stamps and then cut them out with a flower punch. Here is a very red thank you note that I made.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day with a Thai Twist

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! I'm not Irish, I don't drink, and I even forgot to wear green today, but I thought that at least I would post a green themed dinner tonight. My motivation was to counter the horrific green things that the cafeteria on campus concocted today. Don't get me wrong, I love the head chef, and he is an amazing cook. I just get a little freaked out with green eggs. I know they are just regular eggs that have food coloring, but I just can't mentally handle it. Also, they served cabbage and meatloaf for dinner. Most picky college kids don't go for this, so they all came to eat at the Lex where I was working. Let's just say I am not too thrilled with the results of the "Irish" feast. I am here to share a naturally green and even more delicious Saint Patrick's Day feast inspired by the opposite side of the world. Who's up for green curry and zucchini noodles? (Probably not picky college students, but I sure am!)

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This meal is green to the extreme. Yummy green curry loaded with spinach, chicken, onions, and zucchini sits atop a bed of pasta and zucchini noodles. The best part is that the curry cooks up in the slow cooker, and the zucchini noodles and pasta can be cooked in a flash to make a fast and easy weeknight meal. You can enjoy your meatloaf, green eggs, and boiled cabbage, but I think I will stick to my yummy curry. :)
 
 
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Slow Cooker Green Curry Chicken over Green Noodles
For the curry:
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast, cubed
3 tbsp Thai green curry
2 cups chicken broth
1- 15 ounce can coconut milk
1- 10 ounce bag frozen spinach
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp fish sauce

For the noodles:
1 package spaghetti noodles
3-4 large zucchini, julienned

To make the curry, heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the onions and cook for about 8 minutes until they are tender and golden. Stir in the curry and fish sauce. Pour in about ¼ cup of broth and whisk it well. Add everything to a large crockpot and cook on high for 6 hours.

To make the noodles, cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the box. During the last 3 minutes of boiling, toss in the zucchini noodles. Drain well and serve topped with the curry.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Chicken Salad Islander Style

The Northern Mariana Islands is one of the US's five territories. It's close to Guam which is also part of the Mariana Island group that include a section of Micronesia. Unlike Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands have a Commonwealth status. Puerto Rico is the only other US territory that has this, and it means that they are self-governed under their own constitution. The nation is made up of 15 islands, only three of which are inhabited. Over 29% of the population is Filipino, making it the largest ethnic group. Chinese comes in second with a little over 22% of the 53,000 inhabitants. The natives of the islands are Chamorro, and they only make up 21%. Other groups include the Carolinians who came over in the 1800s, Micronesians, Japanese, and Palauans. Although they are technically part of the US, 86% of the Islanders speak a language other than English at home. The three official languages are English, Chamorro, and Carolinian, but according to the ethnicity statistics, I'm sure that Filipino and Chinese are well represented languages. Lately the population has been decreasing drastically. It went from 77,000 to 53,800 between 2007 and 2010. This is due to the poor economy and all the issues that have been brought up surrounding the recession.

The cuisine of the Northern Mariana Islands is very similar to that of Guam because of their close proximity and similar ethnic backgrounds. Filipino, Japanese, Spanish, and American cuisines all have had their influence on the Chamorro's cooking styles. Spam and hot sauce are two very common menu ingredients, but I decided to steer clear of these US imports (that might not actually be food at all) and lean towards more of an authentic island menu.

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Titiyas siha (the plural version of titiya) are almost identical to their Latin American cousin, the corn tortilla. The word “titiya” was the Chamorro version of “tortilla” if you can tell by the similar pronunciation.  Both are made from lime treated corn flour, or masa harina. Both are rolled out flat and then cooked over an open flame on a pan called a comal (in Latin America) or a kommat (in the Mariana Islands). Unlike tortillas, though, titiyas siha are commonly cut into triangles and served alongside dishes such as Kelaguen Mannok. Traditionally a banana leaf is used in the process of making the titiyas siha to help roll it out and transfer it to the kommat. You can also find coconut titiyas siha which are sweet and contain wheat flour. I didn't think that they would go too well with the chicken salad, so I stuck with the original corn version.

 
Titiyas
makes 7-8
1 cup masa harina
7 ounces warm water
¼ tsp salt

Mix the salt and water together. Slowly add in the masa until a soft dough has formed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 10 minutes. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Separate the dough into 7-8 balls. Press them flat between two sheets of plastic wrap (I used a large oatmeal container lid to make the perfect circular shape) or by using a tortilla press. Gently place one titiyas at a time onto the preheated pan. Cook for a minute or so and flip. Continue to flip every 45 seconds or so until both sides are golden. Serve warm.
 

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Kelaguen is a popular Chamorro dish that can be made out of chicken, spam, beef, or seafood. The latter two rely solely on the lime juice to cook them, but the chicken version is grilled for health reasons. I decided to go with the chicken since I am not partial to completely raw meat unless it is prepared correctly. (At this point I do not trust myself to do that with the meat from Kroger.) Kelaguen is simple to make, and it is great party food or an easy dinner for a Mariana Islands themed weeknight.
 
Kelaguen Mannok
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded/ flaked coconut (preferably fresh)
juice of 4 limes
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
6 green onions, sliced
4 birdseye chili peppers, finely chopped

Mix together the chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic powder in a large plastic bag or bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Preheat your grill or broiler. Cook the chicken for about 6 minutes per side, or until it registers on a thermometer to 165 degrees and there is no pink in the middle. Allow the chicken to cool slightly, and then finely chop it up. Add the onions, chicken, green onions, coconut, chilies, and lime juice to a bowl. Stir until everything is well mixed, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve with a titya and perhaps some red rice and fina'denne.

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Kelaguen mannok took chicken salad to the max with the island flavors of zesty lime and sweet coconut. The marinated chicken was delicious and tender, and the onions added little pops of flavor. Can you tell that I was a big fan? The titiyas siha were delicious as well. They turned out to be the best corn tortillas that I have ever made. (I guess practice makes perfect.) So much better than my ugly pupusas from El Salvador. I also thought my final presentation of the dish was really pretty. The way that I laid out the titiya triangles with the chicken salad in the center looks quite appealing, don't you think?
 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ring by spring!

The whole "ring by spring" thing is very real here at Union. Like most small, private Christian schools, it seems like somebody is getting engaged every three seconds. One of my best friend's boyfriend asked her dad this past weekend for her hand in marriage. He sent us a picture of the ring for approval, and it is gorgeous. Tori knows that he's going to propose soon. I'm super excited for her! Another good friend of mine is getting married this summer as well as my RA from last year. That's just a few on the very long list. Long story short, I am going to be needing quite a few cards to send to all of these soon-to-be couples. Here is one of my favorites.

I saw the idea on Pinterest, and thought it was just too cute to pass up. The elegant bride's dress and the tux fold out to reveal a nice sentiment and a good bit of space to write a personal message.

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One nice thing about having so many Christ loving friends that are involved in church and have a personal relationship with God is that the phrase "forever and always" really applies. Marriage is not a trial run or like a lease on a new car. You can fall in and out of love, but marriage is deeper than just feelings. It is a lifelong commitment. I am proud and happy for my friends who are ready to take part in the beautiful and binding covenant that God has given man and woman to have with each other.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Banana Chocolate Chip Blondies with a Secret Ingredient

Blondies made out of chickpeas? What has the world come to? Don't worry, although this recipe may be radical, it yields a delicious batch of chocolate chip blondies that taste better than any grocery store kind. They're also pretty healthy since the ingredients include chickpeas, bananas, and dates.  You can call them black bean brownies' lighter cousin. Love the idea? Check out my Elvis chickpea blondies, German chocolate chickpea brownies, peanut butter chickpea blondies!


Banana Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies (2)
 
 
Banana Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies
4 cups cooked chickpeas
4 ripe bananas
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups pitted dates
2 cups rolled oats
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and oil a 13.25”X9.25” baking dish. Pour boiling water over the dates and allow them to soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the oats into a flour in a high speed blender or food processer. Stir the oat flour, baking powder, salt, and flaxseed together. Add the chickpeas, dates, vanilla, and bananas to the blender. Blend until there are no more lumps and it is creamy Whisk in the eggs. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, adding ½ cup of chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining chocolate chips and bake for 25 minutes. Allow the blondies to cool before cutting and serving.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Flemish Favorites

I’m really pumping out the “B” countries. I’ve done Belize, Belarus, Botswana, Burundi, Bolivia, Bahrain, and now Belgium. I have not done one “D”, “O”, “R”, “Q”, “Y”, or “Z” country yet. (Although, there is only one “O”, “Q”, and “Y” country on my list, so I have a bit of an excuse.) I don't mean to say this to diminish the uniqueness and awesomeness of Belgium in any way, though. It is not only just another "B" country. It is an amazing 11,787 square miles of culture and technology. I just want to focus on all the languages of Belgium for a bit because, as a linguist, that's what fascinates me. Belgium is located between Germanic and Latin Europe, and both their language and cuisine reflects this. They have the best of both worlds and a multilingual population. To reflect this diversity, I tried to include the titles of my recipes in the multiple languages that they are cooked and spoken in. The Flemish population of Flanders in the north makes up about half of the 11.2 million people who call Belgium home. French speaking Wallonia makes up 41% and is located in the south. The eastern part of Wallonia has a German speaking minority. The Belgian dialects of French and Dutch are different from what you would find in France or the Netherlands. I think it is so cool that you can find such diversity in such a small country!


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When you think of Belgian cuisine, fries and waffles generally come to mind. I already have plenty of waffle recipes here on my blog, and deep frying anything in my small dorm room kitchen is a no-go. Anyway, I'm sure that your typical Belgian doesn't just gorge on pommes frites and waffles every night for dinner. I decided to ignore the stereotype and search for some more authentic and creative dishes to represent Belgium. It is said that Belgian food is served in the same quantity as German food with the same quality as French food. I certainly thought tonight's food had top notch quality while not skimping out on the meat and potato front.

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Waterzooi is a soup served as a main dish that originated in the Flemish town of Ghent. In the past Viszooitje was made with a fresh fish called burbot. When the burbot fish all but disappeared, chicken became the meat of choice. Nowadays you can find either version, but I went down the chicken route. I really enjoyed making the waterzooi because it was not too complicated of a process, and it literally can be on the table in less than an hour. Full of potatoes, chicken, carrots, and leeks with an addition of cream mixed with egg yolks to thicken it up, waterzooi is a satisfying and delightful winter meal.

 
Kippenwaterzooi/ Waterzooi de Poulet
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 russet potato, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
½ a large yellow onion, chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter or more oil
4 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
¾ cup cream, milk, or half and half
1 egg yolk

Cut the chicken into large chunks. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chicken and brown. Remove the chicken from the pan, add the butter, and allow it to melt. Throw the onion, leeks, and carrot into the pot. Sauté for about 8 minutes so that the veggies are soft but not browned. Cut the potato into disks and then cut the disks in halves to form crescents. Add them to the pot along with the chicken, broth, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, and seasonings to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes. Whisk together the cream and egg yolk. Slowly stir in this mixture into the pot. Constantly stir while the soup lightly simmers for 3-4 minutes until it thickens.

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Originally I wanted to make my vegetable dish out of Belgian endive or white asparagus. Unfortunately, the grocery store did not stock white asparagus this week, and I am not sure if they ever have endive. Thankfully I could find some brussels sprouts which are actually from the Belgian capital of Brussels.  Although Brussels is located within the Flemish area of Belgium, the city itself is primarily francophone. Maybe that's why I could only find this recipe's name in French.
 
Choux De Bruxelles A La Flamande
1- 12 ounce package frozen Brussel sprouts
2 tbsp butter or oil
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring ¾ cup of water to a boil in a small pot. Add the Brussel sprouts and boil for 8 minutes. Drain off the water and place the Brussel sprouts in a bowl to cool. Heat the butter over medium high heat in the dried out pot. Add the Brussels and sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until slightly charred. Sprinkle on a little nutmeg and season to taste.



 
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Dinner in Belgium is the main meal of the day, and it almost always consists of a main, vegetable, and some sort of potato dish. You will find even when al else fails, potatoes are still a staple on every Belgian supper table.

Stoemp Met Prei/ Stoemp Aux Poireaux
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 leeks, washed and dark green parts removed
2 tbsp butter
½ cup chicken broth
2/3 cup half & half, whipping cream, or milk
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the potatoes, and cook for 20 minutes until they are tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them up. Meanwhile, cut the white and light green parts of the leeks into ¼” thick rings. Heat the butter over medium heat in a small pot. Add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cream, broth, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the leeks from the broth mixture and mash them into the potatoes. Continue to simmer the broth mixture uncovered. Stir constantly until it is thickened. Stir the broth into the potato-leek mash. Place this in a small baking dish, reduce the heat in the oven to 150 degrees, and bake for 2 hours.

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My Belgian meal was very yummy and filling. (Potatoes tend to do that for you, and many parts of  Europe are known for its hearty potato fare.) I had actually never had the opportunity to try leeks before, and I found that I hate cleaning them but love eating them. I also loved the simplicity of throwing the waterzooi together as well as the tender chunks of chicken and flavorful veggies. I was originally disappointed when I could not find endive or white asparagus at the store, but the brussel sprouts turned out to be delicious. The potatoes were probably my least favorite part of the meal. They were a bit dry after spending so much time in the oven. It was like eating one of the potatoes at work that has been rotating around the hot box all day. Overall, Belgium was a success! Score for Europe!