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 poronkäristys and lohikeitto. Since the first option is pretty much defined as sautéed 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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A National Stew

Grenada is a Caribbean island nation made up of 6 islands, the largest also named Grenada. The Grenadians speak English as an official language, but both French and English Creole are spoken as a result of Grenada having been both a French and English colony. French Creole is dying out, though, as its speakers age without passing their language on to the next generation. Often called the island of spice, Grenada is famous for its nutmeg and mace as well as many other spices. Grenada produces 20% of the world's nutmeg supply, and nutmeg is even featured on their flag.

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Oil down (pronounced ile dung) is Grenada’s national dish, but it can also be found in other Caribbean countries. It is basically a coconut milk- based stew with a starch, leafy veggies, chilies, onions, and salted meat. The starch is typically breadfruit, but I had no luck finding any at Kroger. The employee looked at me like I had five heads when I asked, so I figured that it was a lost cause. I read that you can sub potatoes, yucca, or other starchy vegetables for the breadfruit. Thankfully Kroger is globalized enough to have potatoes, so I went down that route. I think I deserve bonus points to redeem myself, though, because I was able to allocate callaloo to make the leafy green portion of the stew more authentic. Salt cod is the most common meat addition. I used a lot of it when I cooked my Caribbean breakfasts. Torpedo-shaped dumplings called spinners or sinkers are frequently added to the stew. They are simple to make and fun to roll out.

 
 
Oil Down
3 cups coconut milk
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 habanero chili pepper, chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp turmeric
2 large potatoes or 1 breadfruit, peeled and cut into 6”X 1” sliced
8 ounces salt cod, soaked overnight
1 cup callaloo, chopped
1 cup water

For the dumplings:
1 cup flour
¼ tsp salt
water, as needed

To make the dumplings, mix the flour and salt together. Add enough water to make a soft dough. Divide the dough into thumb sized balls. Roll the balls into thick snakes with tapered ends. Cover and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and habanero pepper. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the onions are golden. In a separate bowl, boil the salt cod. Drain, rinse, and repeat twice more. Add the cod, coconut milk, water, thyme, turmeric, and breadfruit/ potatoes to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the dumplings and callaloo, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the dumplings are done and the breadfruit/ potatoes are tender.

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The oil down was not too bad. It certainly was not my very favorite meal, but I harbor no ill feeling towards it. I really enjoyed the dumplings (aka sinkers or spinners). One day I hope to get my hands on some breadfruit because I would love to try it out. Potatoes just are too plain. Breadfruit just sounds interesting and fun. 54 meals down, a little less than 200 more to go!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Flower Red Thank You Card

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I had fun using every single different shade of red in my cardstock collection to make this flowery thank you card. I like the layered effect that it creates. What do you think?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Feta Pasta Salad

Tonight I have a yummy and simple recipe for pasta salad! I'm generally not the biggest fan of pasta salad, but this one is in a league of its own. Roasted bell peppers, chicken, pasta, and broccoli are tied together with fresh and creamy feta to make an absolutely scrumptious quick and easy meal. Make sure you buy the kind of feta that is almost spreadable for the best results. Pre-crumbled, dry feta would not taste as good, nor would it be as easily incorporated into the pasta, chicken, and veggies. Enjoy!

Pasta Salad with Chicken, Broccoli, and Feta (1)

Pasta Salad with Chicken, Broccoli, and Feta
1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded
½ cup sliced roasted red peppers
3 ounces dry penne pasta
4 cups broccoli florets
4 ounces creamy feta cheese (not the dry, crumbled kind)
Romaine lettuce

Bring a small pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Drain and rinse with cold water. Put some more water in the pot, bring it back to a boil, and cook the broccoli for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the feta cheese, chicken, roasted red peppers, and pasta in a bowl. Stir in the broccoli and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Breakfast Made Inside-Out!

On Saturday I posted about my upside-down Syrian meal, so today I thought that I would continue with the trend and share an inside-out recipe. Although the Syrian food was good, this recipe is drool worthy. It's like everyone's favorite candy turned into a healthy breakfast. How can this be possible? Never underestimate the magical powers of oatmeal, especially baked oatmeal. I now introduce you to inside-out Reese's cup baked oatmeal!


Inside Out Peanut Butter Cup Baked Oatmeal (2)

Just look at the chocolaty goodness exploding from the inside! Not in the mood for the chocolate and peanut butter combo? Check out one of my other baked oatmeal recipes!

Inside Out Peanut Butter Cup Baked Oatmeal (3)
 
Inside Out Peanut Butter Cup Baked Oatmeal
1 cup quick or old fashioned oats
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda         
¼ tsp salt
6 tbsp peanut butter
¾ cup milk
1 banana

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and oil a ramekin. Blend the banana, peanut butter, and milk together in a blender until creamy. Mix together all of the dry ingredients except for the chocolate chips. Combine the wet and dry mixtures, mixing well. Pour half of the batter into your ramekin and pile the chocolate chips in the center. Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 30 minutes. Allow the oatmeal to sit for 5 minutes before removing it from the ramekin.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thanks for Owl You Do

Apparently owls are in style. I see them everywhere from t-shirts at Target to picture frames at Michael's to the accessories my little second graders wear to Sunday school. They even sell owl stamps which gave me the inspiration for this card!

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What better way to thank someone for kind, wise help or guidance than an owl card? I can't think of one, and owls are just too cute not to be on every thank you card. :) And don't you just love that pun?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Upside- Down Meal Made Right


The ancient country of Syria is said to be home to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Damascus, its capital, has evidence of civilization dating back to the 2nd millennium BC and its surrounding basin has been lived in since 9000 BC. That’s a long time! The language of Syria is Arabic, but since it used to be a colony of France, French is also spoken along with English. I had a friend from high school whose grandfather emigrated from Syria after converting to Christianity. His Islamic family forced him to flee, so he came to the US seeking less persecution. Although it is true that Muslims make up about 90% of Syria’s population, Syria is officially a secular state with no national religion. There is a good population of Christians living in Syria, but one’s religion is often more of an inherited thing than a choice. When my friend’s grandfather converted, he went against the norm and deified the social standard. Also, there are very segregated areas where the Christians and Muslims live. For instance, the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs have large Christian communities. I think it is really cool to study about cities today like Damascus that are mentioned in the Bible. It was on the road to Damascus that the apostle Paul was struck blind and came to know Christ. Learning and seeing more about cities like Damascus in modern times really helps to make the Bible seem more real and not so much like a far-off historical account. After seeing pictures of Damascus, I can just imagine Paul walking down that road and receiving a life changing experience.

 



 
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The culinary scene of Syria is a mixture of Mediterranean, Levantine, Turkish, and French cuisines. Like many of the other countries from the area, the meze table is a common prequel to meals. Spices, especially the spice mixture baharat, are highly valued and often used in Syrian cooking. I actually used a combination of spices for my meal tonight that reflects the mixture in baharat. Maklouba (or maqlouba) is a fun to make and yummy to eat Levantine dish made of rice, meat, and fried vegetables such as eggplant and cauliflower. Everything is layered into a large pot, simmered, and then inverted to create a mountainous feast. “Maklouba” literally means upside-down, referring to the action of inverting it onto the plate. It’s eaten along with yogurt or Arabic salad.

 

 

Maklouba

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 bay leaf
2 cups reserved broth from boiling the chicken
4 cups cauliflower florets
1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into ½” rounds
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
oil, for frying
1 cup basmati rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1 ounce pine nuts
1 ounce almonds
thick yogurt, to serve

Cover the chicken thighs with water in a small pot. Stir in the cardamom, cumin, turmeric, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Fry the eggplant and cauliflower until golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Fry the onion and garlic until browned. Drain out any excess oil and set aside. Once the chicken has cooked, remove it from the pot and cut it into cubes. Discard the bay leaf. Arrange the chicken on the bottom of a large pot with a lid. (Mine holds 4 quarts.) Top the chicken with the eggplant and cauliflower followed by the onions. Spread the rice evenly over top and pour on 2 cups of the leftover chicken broth. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Add extra water if needed. While the maklouba is cooking, heat a frying pan over medium heat. Toast the pine nuts and almonds until golden brown. When the maklouba is done, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a plate. Top with the nuts and serve with yogurt.

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I’m two for two this week with a Middle Eastern and African meal. I just love the spice blends from these two very distinct and incredibly yummy parts of the world. Nothing tastes simple or bland. Every bite is full of intense flavor and spice. Maklouba was a dish as enjoyable to make as it was to eat. I was a little scared that my weak arms wouldn’t be able to flip the large, heavy pot over, but I thankfully got the job done and everything turned out great! Whatever country I cook next is going to have a lot to live up to after this week!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Lazy Morning Scones

Tomorrow is Saturday. A day that most people who don't have to get up to go to work at the crack of dawn like me get to sleep in and relax. Saturdays are for taking it easy, enjoying yourself, and recharging. Filling up with a good breakfast is the best way to start an easy-going day. Since you have a little extra time on your hands, this scone recipe is the perfect idea for starting out your morning. It's perfect for when you want to take some alone time, get in the kitchen, and enjoy the anti-social benefits of a Saturday morning. Studded with pepitas and made crumbly with butter and cream, this single serving pepita scone will be right up your alley. Cooking for a crowd? Try out one of my other scone recipes to suit you and your breakfast guests' needs.

Single Serving Pepita Scone (2)
 

Single Serving Pepita Scone
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
dash of salt
2 tbsp toasted pepitas
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp heavy whipping cream

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Cut the butter into cubes, and mix it into the dry ingredients with a fork. Once the dough is crumbly, add in the cream mixture along with the pepitas. Mix until just combined. Roll the dough out 1” thick on a lightly floured surface, and put it on a small baking stone. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom is slightly browned. Allow the scone to rest for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm Ghana Go Back for Seconds!!

Last night I ventured back to Africa (because I just can't seem to get away!) to experience the wonderfully delicious tastes of Ghana. I had a last minute guest join me last night who turned out to be a great addition to my Ghanaian meal. Kara Beth and I took karate together last spring, and she remembered that I mentioned cooking around the countries. On Tuesday night she messaged me and asked what I had planned for Wednesday. Little did she know that I was cooking Ghana, and little did I know that she actually grew up in Ghana. How ironic! Thankfully she loved the food, and I loved having help with all the dishes.

Ghana is a West African country with beautiful savannas, caves, mountains, coastline and castles. The name "Ghana" means warrior king". This suits Ghana well as it used to be a land of powerful tribes and kingdoms prior to British colonization. Ghana continued to show its power when it became the first African nation to declare independence from its imperial nation. Today Ghana has a good deal of power in Western Africa and has a booming petroleum and natural gas industry. There are a lot of different ethnic groups that make up Ghana, most of which are Christian. Even though English is the official language, 11 tribal languages have governmental status. Most Ghanaian meals are based on a soup/ stew containing meat or seafood and a staple. I chose to go with tuo zaafi and palaver sauce. This was one of my easiest countries to cook yet. I had dinner on the table in under an hour, and it was amazing!

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There are many different staples in Ghana, whether it be sweet rice, fried plantains, kenkey,  banku, foutou, to, or one of the other many variations. Maize, cassava, plantains, millet, and rice are the ingredients that make up these everyday carbs that a Ghanaian could not imagine having a meal without. "Tuo" means stirring and "zaafi" means hot which explains perfectly the cooking process for this dish. Be careful, it splatters out of the pot like grits!

Tuo Zaafi
½ cup millet flour
½ cup boiling water
1/3 cup water                                                       

Mix together 1/3 cup water and all but 2 tablespoons of the millet flour. Bring the remaining ½ cup water to a boil in a small pot. Slowly mix the millet paste into the boiling water. Continue stirring for about a minute. Add in the remaining millet flour, whisking so there are absolutely no lumps. Cook for another 2 minutes before removing from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before forming into balls and serving as an accompaniment to your stew.



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As I was researching Ghana, I found a lot of recipes for tilapia. Apparently it is a common fish there. The Ghanaians eat it grilled, fried, or inside of stews. I just so happened to have some leftover tilapia in my freezer that I have been meaning to eat up. Palaver sauce (aka Kontonmire, Kentumere, Nkontommire and pla'sas) is common all over Western Africa. The name means trouble, but the dish was surprisingly simple to put together. The stew contains cocoyam (taro leaves), chilies, red palm oil, pepitas, tomatoes, meat, and onions. I chose to go with a tilapia and smoked salmon version which proved to be divine. This was my first venture using red palm oil. It looked a bit weird, but smelt and tasted great. It's what contributes to the yellowy look of the stew. Since cocoyam is not readily available in TN, spinach is a good substitute.

 
Palaver Sauce
8 ounces tilapia, cubed
4 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp red palm oil
1 tomato, chopped
2 red chili peppers, chopped
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed
1 ounce pepitas, blended into a powder and mixed with 2 tbsp water

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Mix in the tomato, chilies, and tilapia. Cook until the tilapia is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with the tuo zaafi or other West African staple of your choosing.

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I don't know if I will ever find an African dish that I don't like. I'm "Ghana" have to cook Ghana again! I don't even like fish, and I absolutely LOVED the stew. It was both beautiful and tasty. I was not so sure of feeding such an exotic dish to a guest with foreign ingredients like palm oil and millet to a guest, but thankfully Kara Beth loved it. Like me, she is a fan of all things spicy. She also grew up in Africa, so she is familiar with this type of flavor. It was fun to share my meal with someone other than my picky family who would turn there nose up at anything that didn't resemble biscuits or roast. (Even though I love cooking for them, it's a struggle to find recipes that my dad will even allow near his plate.) Thanks for joining me Kara Beth! I hope I represented Ghana well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Happy (Belated) Birthday Harper!

Little Miss Harper just had her 8th birthday last week. I was so busy celebrating with her that I completely forgot to post about it. We went to the American Girl Place to eat lunch and shop. She got a huge cake, doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, and a ton of arts and crafts stuff. (She is my little crafter.) I got her a Shrinky Dink set, and we had fun making a Shrinky Dink charm bracelet together the day after her birthday.

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Here's us at the American Girl Place. And yes, that's Sydney photo bombing in the background. :)


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This is the special birthday card I made for my special little girl. I cannot believe that Harper is already 8! Time has gone by way too fast. My little baby has turned in to a smart, funny, and creative young lady. I cannot wait to see all the plans God has for her. She is such a joy, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend her birthday with her.

Monday, April 6, 2015

To make up for my long absence.....

I know I have not posted in forever. Do not worry. I haven't died or been extremely ill or moved to Sri Lanka (although that would be cool).  It was spring break, and I was busy working on my 8 papers and 5 projects along with attempting to find time to spend with my family. I have a yummy recipe to make up for my absence. It's finally strawberry season, and my mom bought me a pack of strawberries to go in my fridge. (They were 4 for $5. What a deal!) Here's a yummy waffle recipe showcasing the delicious fruit of the season! I hope you all had a Happy Easter!!

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Banana Waffles (6)
Strawberry Chocolate Chip Banana Waffles
Serves 3-4
½ cup oatmeal
¼ cup almond flour
¼ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
2 ripe bananas
½ cup dried strawberries
½ cup chocolate chips
 
Preheat your waffle iron. Using a high speed blender, blend the oats into a flour. Combine all the dry ingredients (the first 7) together, stirring until everything is fully incorporated. Blend the bananas until creamy. Whisk the bananas, milk, and eggs together. Finally, mix everything in a large bowl including the chocolate chips and strawberries. Cook in the waffle iron until done.