Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't Scrap Your Scraps!

I never throw away my crafting paper scraps. Call me a paper hoarder, but there are so many uses for them. Paper is expensive, so why would you throw a completely good strip of it away when it has so much potential as a future card? What kind of card can you make out of a bunch of paper scraps? Observe:



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Now go run to your craft room's trash can and rescue all those pieces of "scrap" paper that might just become your next masterpiece.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Meatlover's Pizza

Armenia as a nation dates back to 2492 BC. That's one long history, especially for me as an American to think about. We are not even 2.5 centuries old. The Armenians are counting the millennia. Along with such a rich national history, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest national church. The legend goes that after curing Abgar V of Leprosy, the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus were invited to spread the gospel through all of Armenia. That was AD 30, but it was not until AD 301 that the Armenians adopted Christianity as their state religion. Today over 93% of Armenians still belong to the Armenian church. Other Christians (like Protestants) make up another 2%. Yazidism, a religion tied to Zoroastrianism, and Islam play a small role in the religious lives of Armenian minority groups, but the country is overall homogenously Christian. Another cool fact about Armenia is that they have their own unique alphabet. Look it up. It is really interesting.



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Armenia is in Eurasia, so, as its name hints, the cuisine is a blend of East and West with a little flare that is solely Armenian. There are a lot of similarities between Turkish and Armenian cuisines like tonight's dish demonstrates. (They serve the same thing in Turkey with a slightly different name.) Wheat, dairy products, and legumes are widespread. The Armenians take pride in their delicious ingredients and seasonings. Even after years of Soviet control, their cuisine has stood the test and still is rich and full of culture.

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Armenians often eat their lahmajoon folded in half and stuffed with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and/or parsley. You have probably heard of it before under the name of Turkish or Armenian pizza. There is a close resemblance between this flavorful flat bread and the beloved Italian pizza. Lahmajoon has its own flare, though, with a super thin and crispy (almost tortilla-like) crust and a supremely meaty topping. I imagine that they would be the perfect appetizer for a party, especially if all the guests ate them  burrito-style as the Armenians do.

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Lahmajoon
makes 10
For the dough:
1 tsp yeast
¾ cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 tsp sugar
2 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp butter

For the topping:
1 pound ground lamb or beef
4 cloves garlic
1 onion
1 green bell pepper, seeded
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 large tomato
1 cup chopped parsley
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
dash of cayenne pepper power
1 tsp salt

Add-ins after baking:
lettuce
lemon juice
parsley
pickles

To make the dough, mix together the yeast, sugar, and ½ cup water. Let this mixture sit in a warm place for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dough ingredients. Stir in the yeast mixture and knead until a soft dough has formed. Roll the dough into a ball, spray it all over with oil, and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit in a warm place for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Using a food processor, finely chop (but NOT puree) the onion, bell pepper, tomato, and garlic. Mix the chopped vegetables, tomato paste, and meat together and then press out any extra moisture through a fine-mesh sieve. Stir the parsley, seasonings, and lemon juice into the mixture. Refrigerate until you are ready to top your lahmajoon.

Once the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and oil 2 large baking sheets. Divide the dough into 10 equal balls. Roll each ball out 1/8” thick, about the size of a tortilla. Brush oil over the top and spread a thin layer of the meat mixture onto each lahmajoon. Working in batches, bake two lahmajoon per baking sheet at a time. Cook one set on the top rack and one on a middle rack for 6 minutes and then rotate. Cook for another 6 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Serve drizzled with more lemon juice and topped with lettuce, parsley, and/or pickles.

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I could live with making Armenian pizza the Friday night standard. It was crispy, meaty, filling, and delicious. Plus, the smaller size of each lahmajoon is perfect for one person, so you can happily devour the whole flatbread all on your own. Score for Armenia! The only downside is that ground beef is ridiculously expensive here. $7.99 for one pound! It's because I refuse to buy ground beef in log form. Ugh. I might be spoiled, but that's just gross... Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the trip to Armenia!
 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Banana Poppy Seed Muffins

What is this yummy looking tower of breakfast goodies? It's the leaning tower of Banana Poppy Seed Muffins! Because banana muffins are delectable and lemon poppy seed muffins are enticing, putting the two together just has to create a divine result. Enjoy!

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Banana Poppy Seed Muffins
makes 1 ½ dozen
1 cup rolled oatmeal, blended into a flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white cornmeal
1 cup masa harina or more all-purpose flour
¾ cup coconut flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 ½ tbsp. poppy seeds
1 ½ cups yogurt
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil, or more milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and oil a muffin pan. Mix together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, poppy seeds, and sugar in a large bowl. In a blender, blend the remaining ingredients until there are no more chunks of banana. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until there are no lumps. Divide the batter out between the prepared muffin pan’s holes. (About ¼ cup batter per hole.) Bake for 26-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the muffins to sit in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to cooling racks to cool completely.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crises, Culture, and Cuisine

Yemen is currently in the middle of an unfortunate crisis (because what crisis is fortunate?) that started in 2011 with protests against the president, poverty, and other issues. Currently rebels have taken the capital city of Sana'a. Corruption is high and radical Muslim groups are causing a lot of problems. Human rights are near to nothing as children can be forced into marriages as young as the age of nine (shudder), you can be arrested without a conviction or trial, and the government does not promote religious freedom. With all of this depressing and somewhat horrifying information about Yemen, you may think it is just about the worst place on earth. I have not done a good job portraying the rich culture and history of the Yemeni people. The historic kingdom of Sheba (like the Queen of Sheba) encompassed Yemen and stretched all the way to Ethiopia. Yemen is also home to four World Heritage sites, and, according to Wikipedia, "UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of poetic songs in Sana'a, called al-Ghina al-San'ani, a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".

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The cuisine of Yemen is separate from the other cuisines of the Middle East because it contains both Ottoman and Indian influences. Fish, lamb, and chicken are the major meats consumed, and both bread and rice are popular. Zurbian is a biryani-type dish served in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It consists of rice and either lamb or chicken cooked with onions, potatoes, and a ton of seasonings. Commonly served for weddings and other special occasions, this meal is fit for any celebratory Yemeni meal.

Chicken Zurbian
1 pound chicken pieces (I used thighs.)
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp dried cilantro
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp black pepper
salt, to taste
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 ¼ cup basmati rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
large pinch of saffron
almonds, cashews, and raisins, to top

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are golden, about 6 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cilantro, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and salt along with the chicken and potatoes to the pan. Brown each side of the chicken for a minute or so and then pour a 1 ½ cups of chicken broth overtop. Simmer for 30 minutes, adding a little extra water if it all evaporates. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the rice for 10 minutes in the boiling water. Drain the water off the rice and set it aside. Mix the saffron with the remaining chicken broth. Once the chicken is cooked, mix the Greek yogurt into it and remove it from the heat. Put half of the rice into a medium saucepan and then top with the chicken and potato mixture followed by the remaining rice. Pour the saffron-chicken broth evenly over the top. Bring the whole thing to a simmer and cook until the rice is done and all the broth has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Top with the raisins and the nuts and serve.

 

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I think I would have liked this dish a lot better if I were not sick with a sinus infection and I had cooked the rice a little bit longer. Make sure your rice is fully cooked before removing it from the stove. That was my biggest mistake. The meat had a good overall flavor. I really enjoyed making this dish. Boiling the rice for an initial 10 minutes and then cooking it later on with the meat is a cool trick, and layering the rice and filling was fun. I amazed my roommate with information about saffron, the most expensive spice on earth. (At least as far as I know.) Thankfully I stocked up on (relatively) cheap saffron in Spain. I refuse to pay $13 for a few strands of it hear, so my former "saffron" recipes use substitutions. It's nice to actually use the real thing. Perhaps I had too high of an expectation for Yemeni food. Yemen's breakfast of fatut was my favorite after all. (How can you go wrong with fried pita mixed with scrambles eggs?) It was not my favorite meal, but was still enjoyable in between the trips to the bathroom to blow my nose and frequent coughing spurts.... I hate sinus infections.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Summer Farewell

Today is officially the last day of summer. :( Fall is upon us and winter is just around the corner. To mourn the loss of my nice sunny weather days and to celebrate the oncoming apple, pumpkin, and all things warm and cozy craze I decided to share one last ice cream recipe of the season. (However, since it is still hot here in Tennessee, it will definitely not be my last batch of ice cream for the year.)

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What type of chocolaty goodness in a bowl is this? Chocolate pudding ice cream!!! Making a batch of pudding and then pouring it all into your ice cream machine makes a thick and delicious treat. It's a chocolate lover's dream. Enjoy your last bit of summer!


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Chocolate Pudding Ice Cream
1 ¼ cups cocoa powder
¾ cup cornstarch
1 ¾ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
8 cups milk

Mix together the cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Pour in about a cup or two of the milk and whisk until there are no more lumps. Slowly add in the rest of the milk and whisk until everything is smooth. Pour into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 3 minute intervals, whisking between each one, until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to microwave in 1 minute intervals, continuing to stir, until the pudding is thickened. Allow it to cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Using an ice cream maker (mine is from Cuisinart), pour half the pudding into the frozen ice cream maker’s attachment bowl. Let the machine run for 15 minutes. Repeat another time with the remaining pudding. Serve immediately for soft serve, or pour into a sealed container and freeze for 3 hours for normal ice cream. You may need to let it thaw on the counter for 10 minutes before scooping out and serving.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hugs from Afar

You may think it's impossible to hug your family when you live 10 hours away. I'm here to prove you wrong....

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Even if you can't be the one to deliver the hug, this cute butterfly can.

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It will brighten anyone's day!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

You have to try this ice cream!!!

Be prepared for the best ice cream of your entire life. Seriously. Your taste buds are about to be blown away. What scrumptious concoction have I whipped up now? It is none other than homemade blueberry cheesecake ice cream!

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My roommates were absolutely amazed when they tasted this stuff. They couldn't believe it. Both the texture and taste were to die for. Tori, Abi, and Abi's boyfriend Chad have all had good homemade ice cream before, but apparently mine was on a whole different level of awesomeness. They were even more impressed when I told them I made up the recipe myself. (Which I almost always do anyway.) Well, I am sure you are all sick of hearing me brag about my momentous ice cream success. I'll get on with the recipe now and hopefully learn to be a little more humble about my next great creation...

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Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1- 8oz block cream cheese
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
12 ounces fresh blueberries
9 whole sheets of graham crackers, crumbled

Blend together the heavy whipping cream, salt, cream cheese, and sugar. Add the blueberries and pulse the blender a few times to break them up but not fully blend them. (There should still be blueberry chunks.) Using an ice cream maker (mine is from Cuisinart), pour the cooled cream mixture into the frozen ice cream maker’s attachment bowl. Let the machine run for 20-25 minutes. Once the mixture is creamy, pour it into a large container and mix in the graham cracker crumbs. Freeze for 3 hours before serving.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Peanut Butter Coconut Balls

My life is busy, busy, busy, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I leave my apartment at 7:30am and come back at 9:30pm. I don't have a lunch break or anything, but luckily my teachers let me eat in class. I need quick and filling snacks to get me through the day. These quick coconut Peanut Butter Balls are packed with energy and a delicious flavor. It's like eating a wad of cookie dough. Yum! My Tuesday/Thursday schedule just got better!


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Peanut Butter Coconut Balls
makes 4 dozen
1 ½ cups rolled oats (I used quick oats.)
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup applesauce
2 ripe bananas
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup coconut flakes
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

In a blender, combine the peanut butter, applesauce, and bananas. Blend until creamy. Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl. Roll one tablespoon at a time into little balls and arrange ½” apart on a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Tasty Tico Meal

Costa Rica is a nature lover's dream. From coastline to volcanoes to rainforests, the country is teeming with wildlife and ecological diversity. Over 25% of Costa Rica is dedicated to nature preserves and parks. Over 5% of the world's species can be found in the little country that only takes up .1% of the earth's landmass. That's pretty impressive for a country the size of West Virginia. As the result of a brutal civil war that lasted a little over a month in the spring of 1948, Costa Rica became the first nation to abolish its military. Instead of funding the army, Costa Rica uses this money for education and conservation. Recreational hunting is also banned in Costa Rica. I really think that their nonviolence and conservational policies are amazing. They are consistently ranked as one of the most ecologically friendly countries as well as the Latin American country with the highest standard of living.

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The cuisine of Costa Rica is similar to that of neighboring countries like Nicaragua and Panama. Rice and beans are served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The national dish is called gallo pinto and is made up of none other than rice and beans. I made it for Nicaragua's breakfast (it's their national dish too), so I wanted to try something different for my Costa Rican meal. Indigenous, African, and Spanish cuisines come together to create your typical Tico cuisine. (Tico is another name for the Costa Ricans.) Coconut milk, rice and beans, and tripe soup (mondongo) are typical dishes that descended from Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Corn and tamales were a staple of the indigenous people and are still eaten frequently today. My meal from tonight is a result of Spanish influences. Read on to discover a one-pot delicious meal!

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"Olla de Carne" literally means "pot of meat", but this Tico stew is so much more than that. A billion different native vegetables and fruits are chopped up and thrown into a pot, simmered down with beef, and typically served over rice. It's the perfect weekend meal.


Olla de Carne
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups beef broth
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
½ tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp dried cilantro
2 bay leaves
1 yucca root, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 corn on the cobs, cut into thirds
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sizes pieces
1 chayote, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 green plantains, peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large or 4 small taro roots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

Pour the broth into a large pot and bring it to a simmer with the beef, garlic, onions, oregano, bay leaves, and cilantro. Cook covered for 2 hours. Add in the yucca and corn. Bring the soup to a rapid boil for 5 minutes, reduce back to a simmer, and add the remaining ingredients. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Serve on top of rice.

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I think the vast number and variety of produce that makes up Costa Rican Olla de Carne represents the diversity of the nation. I had a lot of fun cooking with vegetables and fruits that I have not had a lot of experience with before. Yucca, taro root, chayote, plantains.... These more foreign ingredients blended well with the familiar corn, potatoes, and carrots to make a delicious stew.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Note about Sad Cards

I hate making sad cards, but sometimes it has to be done. Losing a loved one is always a depressing thing no matter if you knew it was their time to go or not. At least as a Christian I have hope and do not have to see death as scary or the end to everything, but losing someone I care about is still sad in a selfish way. Life is just not the same after a death. It's like a little hole that they left in your heart. All you have let to hold on to is memories of fun times spent together. Here is a card I made for a friend that lost her grandmother. She may never be able to spend time with her grandmother again, but at least she has all the memories of past times they shared together.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mini Frittatas

Sorry for the extended absence. Some friends of mine and I took a trip to Dauphin Island over Labor Day Weekend. It was a lot of fun. We all got along great and there was no problem with the ten of us sharing the small beach house. The weather was perfect, the locals were friendly, and we practically had the beach to ourselves. To prepare ourselves for long days soaking up sun rays and catching some waves, we split up who prepared breakfasts for the whole group. For my morning, I decided to make mini frittatas with veggies and four cheeses. Enjoy!

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Mini Four Cheese Veggie Frittatas
makes 24
18 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups chopped veggies (I used a mixture of corn, red bell pepper, onion, broccoli, and cauliflower)
4 ounces grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces shredded romano cheese
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
4 ounces shredded provolone cheese
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray two brownie or muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, and cheeses together. Stir in the veggies. Divide the eggs between the 12 holes of the pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the egg is set and a fork comes out clean.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Totally into Taro

Located in Oceania and surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean, Vanuatu is the ultimate paradise for scuba divers (apparently they have some of the best coral reefs in the region along with an awesome shipwrecked boat you can explore) or anyone else seeking a relaxing vacation by the beach on one of the 65 inhabited islands that make up this archipelago. The fact that it is a tax haven further increases the draw of tourism which has seen a large spike over the past decade. I think it is fascinating that there are still many active volcanoes that continue to erupt underwater as well as on the islands. The latest one erupted in 2008, but thankfully there were no casualties. Vanuatu also has an interesting history. The first people arrived about 4,000 years ago. They lived isolated from the western world until 1606 when a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain landed on the largest of the islands, Espiritu Santo. (That means Holy Spirit. Ironically most of the inhabitants of Espiritu Santo are professing Christians.) Later Britain and France set up a unique blend of governments called the British-French Condominium. Under this, France and Britain co-ruled the nation under a single court. In 1980 Vanuatu gained independence as the official Republic of Vanuatu.

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The Ni-Vanuatu (or people of Vanuatu) generally grow most of their own food. Little gardens are common as is fishing. Being surrounded by water, the Ni-Vanuatu eat a lot of fish as well as delicious produce such as yams, papayas, mangoes, pineapples, plantains, and taro.

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Lap lap is the national dish of Vanuatu. It made up of grated taro root mixed with coconut milk and topped with vegetables and meat. This is then wrapped in banana leaves to make little packets that are cooked in an underground oven. The meats used in lap lap are beef, pork, chicken, and flying fox. I chose to go with chicken because eating a flying fox (or bat) just seems too exotic. (And dangerous after the Ebola scare last year.)

Chicken Lap-Lap
1 chicken thigh
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup finely grated taro root
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ a tomato, sliced
1 cup fresh spinach
kitchen twine
blanched banana leaf (I had to sub collard leaves)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the spinach for a minute. Drain and set it aside. Toss the chicken thigh with the lemon juice and then evenly coat with the curry powder, turmeric, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the taro with 1 tablespoon of the coconut milk. Place the taro mixture in the middle of the banana leaf. Top with the spinach in the center and the tomato slices around the edges, skin-side up. Place the chicken over everything, pour on the remaining coconut milk, and tightly wrap it in the banana leaf, tying it together with twine. Bake for 40 minutes and then unwrap the banana leaf so that the chicken is exposed. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and golden.

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When I spotted taro root at Kroger I just about passed out from excitement. I had wanted to make lap-lap for months, but thought I would have to cook another recipe for Vanuatu because taro root and banana leaves were out of the picture. I couldn't find the banana leaves, but I scored on the taro. It kind of reminded me of mashed potatoes in texture, but the flavor was milder and a little bland. I liked it fine. The curry spices on the chicken and the coconut milk balanced everything out nicely. This meal also was easily made for just one, but generally the Ni-Vanuatu cook it for a big crowd in an underground oven.