Weekend Wrap-Up and a Little ‘House-Keeping’

First off, have you noticed I’ve done a little house-keeping on the blog?  I have to admit that I’m obsessed with working on the blog and I’m always looking for new ways to spruce it up.  I recently had coffee with a friend who taught me a lot about blogging—thanks Courtney!  She has an awesome blog about photography so go check it out here.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything she told me, but baby steps, right?

If you scroll down the page a bit you’ll see that I’ve added something called Social Vibe.  Social Vibe is a marketing program that raises money for charities.  I chose to support a charity called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) because in addition to food, I’m also passionate about education—especially education for underprivileged and marginalized populations.

I’m about to finish my master’s degree in Global and International Education and sometime during my studies, I heard about One Laptop Per Child.  This non-profit mission is to “empower the world’s poorest children through education” (see more here)—they accomplish this goal by providing children in developing countries with low-cost and low-power laptops that are heavy duty and can withstand environments that are very hot/cold, dusty, sandy, etc.  Anyway I think it’s an AWESOME program and wanted to support it here on the blog.  By clicking on the link to the right, you can support OLPC for free by completing a few really easy activities.  It took me about two minutes to complete the activities.

Moving on, I wanted to provide you with a little weekend wrap-up in case you missed any of the awesome recipes that we posted this week.  I’ve also included a list of some of the recipes that I bookmarked this week from other blogs.  Enjoy!

Continue reading

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Filed under Weekend Wrap-Up

The Best Things I Ate This Week

I don’t share everything that I eat with you guys because a) I don’t have the time, and b) I think it would get boring really fast because my breakfasts and lunches aren’t usually that exciting.  But during the week there is usually something noteworthy to write about so I thought I would start a weekly series called “The Best Things I Ate This Week”.  I was going to call it, the best thing I ate, but then I quickly realized it would be way too hard to limit it to just one thing :).

I hope you’re all having a fabulous weekend so far.  Tune in tomorrow for a weekend wrap-up and to see what yummy recipes I bookmarked this week!

And if you’d like any of the recipes of the foods you see below, leave a comment or email me and I would be happy to share :). Continue reading

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Filed under Appetizers, Breakfast, Snacks, The Best Things I Ate

Venezuelan Arepas

Did I ever tell you that I was a super picky eater when I was younger?  I pretty much only ate Kraft Mac and Cheese and sugar on top of more sugar (but not necessarily together).  My mom made all of these amazing gourmet meals—that I now want all of the recipes for—and I would turn my nose up at them and tell her I just wanted mac and cheese.  My parents always made me try everything and kept telling me that someday I would like all of these foods, but in the meantime, they let me be picky.

My mom always bought crunchy peanut butter—because that’s what my dad likes—and whole wheat bread, but bratty little me told her I would only eat creamy peanut butter and white bread.  I later admitted to my mom that I really did like all of those things, I just told her I didn’t because at Amanda’s house they ate creamy peanut butter and white bread—and I wanted to do everything Amanda did.  What a little brat I was!

Luckily I grew out of those habits and now love all of those gourmet meals my mom makes—well, most of them.  I still don’t like salmon and I’m sorry to say Mom and Dad, but I don’t know if I’ll ever like salmon.  Thanks for making me try all of those other ‘weird’ things though because I now consider myself to be quite a good eater.

Many of the things that I used to classify as ‘weird’ were foods from other countries.  My dad owned a stained glass studio for 40 years and during that time we had many artists come and stay with us.  During my childhood, there were always people living with us, which meant that we always had people cooking all sorts of foods I had never heard of.  On top of that, both of my parents have done a lot of traveling and both have lived abroad, so we were always trying foods from other countries.

While we were growing up, Amanda’s family had many foreign exchange students.  These students often made us some of their favorite foods from their home countries.  Some of the foods we loved and others we weren’t so crazy about, but Venezuelan arepas (pronounced ah-ray-pas) are one thing that we have really grown to love and continue making to this day.  Amanda and I even made them for Mother’s Day when we each picked something to make to honor our moms J.  Amanda chose arepas because her mom lived in Venezuela when she was in high school.

Making arepas for Mother's Day

Showing off our arepas and strawberry pie (recipe coming soon!!)

Arepas are made out of white corn meal.  We use the brand called P.A.N.  I have found it in the ethnic food aisle at Safeway in both DC and CA.  I’m sure they carry it at Hispanic Food Markets too.  (I’m sorry to say Oki friends, but I’ve never seen this at the commissary.  If you want to try them though, you’re more than welcome to come to my house and I’ll make them for you!)

Arepas can be baked, fried, or grilled.  We usually brown them in a pan on the stove and them bake them the rest of the way.  Amanda said they are excellent when grilled so I’m going to try that next time.  They can be eaten open-face or as a sandwich as you’ll see in the pictures below.  We always top them with ham, cheese, and perico (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions), but the possibilities are endless.  Amanda and I like them with cream cheese and I had some avocado on hand so we used those this time too.  Amanda’s dad loved to eat them with peanut butter (to her mom’s dismay)!

I know they might sound kind of strange, but they are so tasty—crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  The white corn flavor provides such a nice background for the ham, cheese, and perico.  They are also really easy to make so don’t be afraid to go out and try them!

Venezuelan Arepas with Perico

*Recipe from the back of the P.A.N. bag

The spread (plus some roasted veggies on the side)

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

2 cups PAN corn meal

1 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the water in a bowl, add the salt and slowly add the corn meal.  Knead the dough a bit until smooth.  Set aside for about 10 minutes.

Form the dough into round patties.  Saute the arepas in pan until golden on both sides.  Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes (**This will vary depending on the size and thickness of your arepas.  When the arepas are done they should sound hollow when you tap them.)

Remove from oven and fill with toppings of your choice.  (They should definitely be served warm, but can be reheated the next day in the microwave or oven.)

Perico (serves 2-4)

1 medium to large tomato, chopped

1/2 medium onions, diced small

4 eggs

Melt butter or oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onions and tomatoes and cook until the onions are soft.  Add eggs and scramble until no longer runny.

**I promise you that these are very easy to make and are a fun alternative to the norm!

Question: What is your favorite food from another country?

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Filed under Vegetarian

I Love Surprises….and Homemade Granola

I was having a rough morning today.  For some reason I couldn’t sleep last night and I only got about five and a half hours of sleep.  I know many of you can survive off of five hours of sleep, but it’s not a pretty picture when I don’t get enough sleep.  I’m grumpy and irritable.  (I know all you new moms out there are thinking….”Just wait until you have a baby, Kristen.”  Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there….and no I’m not pregnant.)  And all I can think about is when I can take a nap because my eyelids feel like they weigh 50 pounds each.

I had to get up early this morning to interview one of the participants in my research project and then I was going to meet a friend and her daughter for coffee.  I was struggling to stay awake after my interview, but was looking forward to my coffee date.  Unfortunately they got stuck at the post office (what a nightmare that always is) and couldn’t make it to coffee.  Boo.  Then I tried to run an errand, but since my brain wasn’t functioning properly I miscalculated the day and the store was closed.  Boo again.

I was feeling discouraged and just wanted to go home, but decided to swing by the post office in hopes that the package from my mom had arrived.  Well to my surprise, not only had the package from my mom arrived, but also something from Vitacost (my new favorite website) and Crate and Barrel—SCORE!!  I was so excited to get home and open my packages that all of a sudden I didn’t feel tired—funny how that happens, huh?

There are many things that I LOVE about living abroad, and I feel so blessed to have already had so many experiences living and traveling abroad.  But as a foodie, living abroad is sometimes hard in the sense that I can’t always get everything I want.  Wherever I’ve lived, my parents always bring a whole suitcase full of food when they come to visit and I always bring a whole suitcase of food back with me after a trip to the States!

One of my friends asked me when I was home in March what I missed most from the States while living abroad.  That was easy—grocery stores!  Well, besides my family and friends of course :).  You see, I LOVE going to the grocery store—especially ones I’ve never been to before—and perusing all of the aisles.  When I was home in March, my Dad and I stopped at a Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Lunardi’s (their local store) on the way home from the airport!  It’s always so exciting for me to see all of the new products that have come out in the 3+ years we have been living in Japan.  It’s even more exciting to see many of the products that my “briends” (blog + friends = briends) write about and/or review on their blogs.

Do you know how many times I have gotten so excited about a recipe only to find out that I don’t have all of the ingredients?  And not only that, neither does the commissary, which means I have to order anything I don’t have.  And by “order” I mean put in an order with my mom who proceeds to check all of her local stores for the ingredients and then sends them to me.  Isn’t she the greatest?  Well, mom, you’re off the hook.  Enter in Vitacost.  They have almost all of the ingredients I often request, or have always wanted to try, at great prices.  Not only that, they ship to APO addresses…AND my stuff got here in less than a week!  (That might not seem like a big deal to you if you don’t live abroad, but trust me, it’s HUGE!!)

So do you want to see everything I got in my surprise packages today?

Look at all of those awesome goodies! I may or may not have proceeded to eat a spoonful of that PB....amazing!

My mom told me she put a “surprise” in the package that would make me laugh.  Did you see it?

New Kids on the Block.....YESSSS!!! (I love that my mom wrote "LOL" too.)

Hahahahaha. I was cracking up at this!  Who didn’t love NKOTB?!?!  I had their lunch box with matching thermos (do you remember those?), nightgown, and possibly NKOTB sheets too (although maybe those were California Raisins or Cabbage Patch Kids—ha).  Anyway, I thought this CD was hilarious and quite a blast from the past!

If you've never tried these sweet and salty almonds from Trader Joe's, you're missing out. Unfortunately I can't enjoy them until August...lucky for Giff!

Chocolate chips made without any processed sugars....only evaporated cane juice!

As if getting all of these goodies in the mail were not exciting enough, I got a surprise phone call from my friend Katie just as I was finishing to unpack everything.  One of the best things about living abroad is the friendships that you make.  Because we are so far away from everyone back home, our friends really become like our families here.  We have been really blessed to meet so many amazing people while living here in Okinawa and we will never forget the friends that we have made here.  Unfortunately, being in the military means that we also have to say goodbye to these friends that become family.  And I’m just going to tell it like it is—it sucks!  Katie (and her husband Marc) left in February and I’m still so sad about it.  I love Katie to death and I was SO SO SO excited to get a surprise phone call from her today.  She made my day and cheered me up so much that I didn’t even need a nap!

Tailgating before a World Cup game 🙂

Are you still here after all of that rambling?  Sorry about that.  Now it’s time for a recipe.  Today is actually a bonus day because you get not one, not two, but three recipes for homemade granola!

I love granola, but the kind that you buy at the store is either laden with fat and/or sugar, or super expensive.  Granola is actually super easy to make and much healthier/cost effective when made at home.

I have really been loving on some granola lately—especially for a late night snack—because it satisfies my sweet tooth.  Here are three granola recipes that I have been enjoying a lot of lately.  If you have any great homemade granola recipes please share :).

Coconut Almond Butter Granola

*Recipe adapted from Peanut Butter Fingers

This is probably my favorite of the three granolas I have been making lately.  I love that it gets crunchy and clumps of it stick together.  It can be made with any kind of nut butter.  I’ve tried sunflower butter and peanut butter too—yum!  WARNING: Highly addictive :). 

This granola was so good that I ate it all before I remembered to take a picture...oopsie! This picture is from the recipe source.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. almond butter
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax seed (ground or whole)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 c. oats

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  • Combine almond butter and honey in a bowl and microwave until almond butter is slightly melted (about 30 seconds).
  • Stir almond butter and honey together.
  • Add cinnamon and vanilla to almond butter mixture.
  • Stir chia seeds, flax seed, coconut, and oats into almond butter mixture, completely coating oats in the mixture.
  • Spread oats onto cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes before tossing oats and baking for another 4 minutes until granola is slightly brown.
  • Let cool until granola is crunchy and enjoy!

Whole Lotta Nuts Granola

*Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse

I love the flavor of this granola–it’s sort of sweet and salty (from the nuts)–though it did not clump like the other one.  The texture of the nuts and seeds is excellent.  However, a word to the wise, I do NOT recommend using pine nuts—I did not like the flavor they gave it and I ended up picking them all out!  I added dried blueberries and golden raisins after it cooled…yummy!

Despite what the bag says....this isn't Almond Butter Granola...that granola is long gone 🙂

Ingredients

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds or pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup crushed pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds (ground or whole)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, or chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or blueberries, or combination

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl stir together oats, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, cinnamon, salt, chia and flax seeds. In a small saucepan, melt butter with honey over low heat, stirring. Add vanilla and pour butter mixture over oat mixture and stir until combined well.

On a large baking sheet, spread the granola evenly in a thin layer. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. (Do not overbake; the granola will crisp more when cooled.) Cool the granola on the pan on top of the stove and stir in dried fruits. Granola may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Serve at room temperature in a bowl with milk or as a snack.

Fruit-Juice Infused Granola

*Recipe from Discovery Health

This used to be my favorite granola until I started trying all of these other ones.  I love the flavor the fruit juices give to the granola, but my husband thinks it is kind of bland.  It also doesn’t get as crunchy as the almond butter granola, but it’s still delicious.

 

Sorry for the dark photo...this is from my old camera!

Ingredients

4 cups whole oats (use old fashioned, not instant)

2 cups puffed or cluster-type cereal (I use Kashi Go Lean)

¼ cup flax seeds

½ cup toasted almond slivers

Handful of unsweetened coconut flakes

½ cup organic pineapple juice

½ cup organic apple juice

½ cup organic prune juice

Juice from ½ orange

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice and cardamom

Zest from one lemon or orange

2 teaspoons coconut oil

¼ cup honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Mister w/ olive oil

Handful each; dried blueberries, cranberries, currants, green raisins

OPTIONAL: add salted peanuts for a salty mix

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325°.

Combine the juices, spices and coconut oil in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half.  This should take about 20 minutes.  While this simmers, combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl.

Remove juice mixture from heat and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes.  Add honey and vanilla. Toss sweetened warm juice mixture with the oats mixture.

Mist 2 cookie sheets with olive oil. Spread mixture onto cookie sheets in a thin, even layer.

For variety, try adding salted peanuts to one pan.

Bake at 325° for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden and crunchy.

Cool slightly, then stir in dried fruit. Store granola in an airtight container like a zip lock bag or large ball jar.

Whew that monster of a post is over!  I hope you made it to the end J.  The granola recipes are awesome so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! 

Thanks to Chelsey, I have started eating granola sometimes as a late-night snack with are with milk, cut up apples, and raisins.

Question: Do you like surprises?  Have you been surprised lately or planned a good surprise for someone?

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Filed under Breakfast, Snacks

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad for My Mom’s Birthday

Happy Birthday Mom!  I want to dedicate this post to my mom for her birthday (which was yesterday, but I didn’t want you to miss Tuesdays with Tommy) because without her, I would not be who I am today.  She has taught me so many wonderful things throughout my life and I only hope to be able to do the same for my kids someday.

My mom and I sporting our awesome hardhats at the site of their new house.

My Dad with his two Peruvian ladies 🙂

Trying to stay warm after the hot springs.

At Yosemite

It is from my mom that I learned to love food—not just eating food, but preparing it too.  From a young age I can remember being in the kitchen with my mom.  Sometimes I would help (or try to help), and other times I would sit in awe as I watched her do her thing.  She glows when she is cooking and baking and I am convinced that the reason her food always tastes so good is because she enjoys making it so much.

So many of my best memories from childhood revolve around food.  In elementary school my mom would make sugar cookies for every birthday and holiday party.  They weren’t just any sugar cookies—they were always shapes (turkeys for Thanksgiving, santas for Christmas, hearts for Valentine’s Day….you get the point), decorated with her famous homemade frosting, and personalized so each kid got their own cookie with their name on it.  As you can imagine, I quickly became one of the most popular kids at school and everyone wanted to be in my class year after year :).  In middle school I began playing sports and that’s when my mom became famous for her spaghetti dinners and amazing chocolate chip cookies.  I’m pretty sure my entire ski team survived the winter because of the extra layer of fat we all grew from eating my mom’s chocolate chip cookies :).

Sugar cookies just like my mom taught me to make 🙂

Much bigger than my mom makes them, but you get the point.

With my Gramma 🙂

Then I went off to college and really, really missed my mom’s cooking.  I had never really cooked on my own before and found myself nervous to cook without my mom’s guidance.  My mom assured me that I would be fine because, after all, at two years old I was already making scrambled eggs by myself!  I started with ‘easy’ dishes, but over the years the dishes I made grew more and more complicated.  Even though my mom and I don’t get to cook together very often anymore, I still call her with all of my cooking questions.  Lucky for me, my mom is a night owl so I can call her at 1 am her time to ask how I can tell if my cheesecake is done or not—now that’s love :).

I'm teaching my mom how to pose 🙂

So on my mom’s birthday, I wanted to share with you all a recipe from my mom.  With so many recipes, it was very hard to decide.  Over time I know I’ll share many of them with you, but for now, I decided to share a recipe that she just gave me recently—Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.  The reason I chose this recipe is because it is one that we made together when I was home visiting last fall.  We were all gathered at my aunt’s house to celebrate my and my cousin’s birthday and we made this salad for lunch.  I have fond memories of standing in the kitchen together as my mom, my aunt, my cousin, and I prepared things inside and my dad grilled the food outside.  Every time I eat this salad, I can remember sitting around the table together, laughing, and enjoying this meal that we all helped prepare.

How cute are my parents?!

So to my mom I say, thank you for being you.  Thank you for teaching me how to put love into my cooking and baking.  And thank you for always making me laugh, especially when you say things like, “It warms the cockles of my heart to know that”.  I had never heard that expression until you said that today, and now I will smile every time I think about it because it makes me think of you.  You are the best, Mom!

Always making us laugh! Here is she showing off the 'goods' she won in the White Elephant game.

And to everyone else, I hope you enjoy this salad as much as we do!

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

This is not your typical Caesar salad.  It is not just grilled chicken atop a regular salad—in this recipe EVERYTHING is grilled!  Don’t knock it ‘til you try it—it’s awesome! 

(Recycled photo from Christmas)

 

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic

½ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing

2-4 anchovy fillets, chopped (I use just a little bit of anchovy paste-it definitely enhances the flavor)

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper

1 pound chicken breasts

4 – ½ inch thick slices focaccia or whole-wheat Italian bread

4 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise

¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high.

Make the dressing: Chop 2 garlic cloves and puree with ½ cup olive oil, the anchovies and lemon juice in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Pound the chicken with a mallet or heavy skillet until about ⅛ inch thick.  Season with salt and pepper and toss with 1 tbsp of the Caesar dressing.  Grill the chicken until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Brush the bread with olive oil on both sides and grill, turning until toasted, about 2 minutes. Rub with the remaining garlic clove. Brush the romaine lettuce with 1 to 2 tbsp of the dressing and grill until marked, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Chop the lettuce and transfer to a bowl.

Cut the bread and chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the bowl. Toss with the remaining dressing, the Parmesan, and pepper to taste.

Question: What is the strangest thing you have ever grilled?

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Filed under Salads

Tuesdays with Tommy–Steamed Little Neck Clams with Beer and Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango Sticky Rice

As promised, today’s post features a guest blogger who will be writing for Mind Your Bees and Trees every Tuesday.  I couldn’t be more excited for our new weekly series because it features a good friend of ours, and an amazing cook.  So without further ado, drum roll please……MYBT is proud to introduce Tuesdays with Tommy. 

Before I met Tommy, I heard about him.  My husband came home from work one day and told me someone had made lunch for everyone at work that day and it was amazing.  My husband does not usually get that excited about food so I knew it must have been good—I also knew I had to meet this guy.  I met Tommy a couple of weeks later at a BBQ where I got to taste some of his delicious creations and I too was hooked.   

Tommy is not only a wonderful cook, but a great guy too.  Everything that I have ever had that Tommy made was absolutely phenomenal.  He has that unique ability to make the most amazing thing you’ve ever tasted without using any recipes!  I really admire him not only for his amazing cooking skills, but also for the fact that everything he makes is made from the heart.  I love Tommy’s philosophy on food and cooking, but I’ll let him tell you all about it J.

I am honored that Tommy asked to be a part of this blog.  I hope you enjoy this series as much as I know I will!

And now I’ll turn it over to Tommy.

So let me preface this post with…here goes nothing.

First of all, the job I work in (we’ll just say US Air Force for now) has given my family and me many chances to make new friends worldwide. While in Okinawa, Japan, I met two guys that I think so highly of I’d like to adopt one of them and make them my little brother.  Chris and Giff.  For this post’s sake, let’s just say that Giff Bloom is the winner (sorry Chris).  So how does this have anything to do with food you ask? Well through my friend I was also able to meet his lovely wife Kristen.  We immediately had one driving interest in common….Our love for food.  So there is the connection I was hoping to make with my lengthy lead in statement.

Now here is a little about myself as it relates to food in hopes to give some sort of credit to myself so that Kristen’s blog indeed gets taken seriously.  I grew up in a family dominated by food.  I would actually go as far as to say that I can easily describe what my family stands for in 3 words…Italian, loud, and food—not necessarily in that order.  We do indeed cook and eat more than any other family I’ve ever met though.

My mother is my true inspiration. In the city of Colorado Springs, CO, she is a well renowned chef.  And although she had no formal training and never held the official title of chef (which I think is a crock by the way, I am more impressed with her being self taught and all) she still found herself working in a catering company that was a feeder for the most luxurious resort in Colorado.   So, since the age of, let’s just call it very young, I was always in the kitchen, by her side learning what I could whether I wanted to or not.  By the time I was in high school, I began cooking for events—even my own homecoming and prom as I remember!  But since then, I have lent my services to friends, family and occasionally the Air Force (even though that gig pays terrible…well actually nothing).

Most importantly though (and if Kristen lets me post again after this rant) I would like to drive home the most important aspect of my cooking and what it stands for.  Even after my mother worked all day in a kitchen, we had dinner together, prepared by her, as a family.  I am not just talking about 2-3 times a week.  I mean Sunday night through Thursday night we had to be at the table at 6:00 for dinner.  I thought it was a drag back then when all my friends were going to McDonalds and we were stuck at home with Mom and Dad.  That quickly changed however when my house became one of the most popular places to hang out because of its food.

So now that I have a family of my own…most beautiful wife Jamie, rambunctious son Sam and full of attitude daughter Jessie, I have kept up that tradition. And this statement is not to brag but it is something I am very proud of—in the 6 years we have been married, I have made dinner every night I was home and able.  I know that someday my kids will also appreciate what I had…or so I only hope.

Ok so a recipe…Finally! Little food gems are tucked away in every community.  In Okinawa, the obvious is seafood.  Although I do love sushi, I tend to enjoy bringing out the more progressive American style with this ingredient.  So today the fam and I went down to Awase fish market and scored some Japanese little neck clams.  With them I prepared steamed little neck clams in beer, ginger, cilantro and lime and for dessert we made a coconut panna cotta with mango sticky rice and papaya coulees.

If anybody does read this novel, I hope you do one thing…Get out, buy some fresh food, make it with your family, sit down together to eat, drink, listen to some Frank Sinatra, and enjoy life together…ok then, until the next post (my wife just informed me I have written too much).

Steamed Little Neck Clams with Beer, Ginger, Cilantro and Lime

*Prep Time 1 hr 30 min

Ingredients

1 pound Little Neck Clams

1 Shallot

3 cloves Garlic

1 piece Ginger

1 Cup Chopped Cilantro

1 cup all purpose flour

Dark Amber Beer

2 Limes

Butter

Red Chili Flakes

Directions

1st scrub and wash clams in fresh water.  Then put clams in a bowl of cold water (completely covered), and mix in 1 cup of flour.  Stir several times then place in fridge for 1 hour.  Remove and rinse before use.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté shallot in medium size pot on med/high heat.  Add ginger (peeled and cut into matchstick size pieces) and garlic that has been minced.  Then add clams, one bottle of beer (dark amber preferred).  Cover and steam until all clams are open (6-10 min).  Remove from heat, squeeze two limes over the clams, add cilantro and red chili flakes to taste.  Stir thoroughly, and seve in a large bowl with French bread.

Best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc (I like Nobilo or Starborough) or Dark Amber Beer. (Side Note from Kristen—I love that Tommy includes suggestions for wine pairings!)

Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango Sticky Rice and Papaya Coulis

Ingredients

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin

1 (15-ounce) can coconut cream (recommended: Coco Loco)

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

2 cups chilled heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Assorted tropical fruits, such as: kiwi, mango, and papaya, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice, for garnish (about 1 1/2 cups total)

Directions

Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over 3 tablespoons of cool water in a small bowl. Set aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut cream and coconut milk over medium heat until the sides begin to bubble. Lower the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin, stirring to make sure it is completely dissolved.

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Strain the coconut mixture into a bowl that will fit easily into the bowl of water. Set into the bowl of water to cool, stirring every few minutes with a rubber spatula until the mixture starts to thicken. If the mixture starts to set, remove it immediately.

Remove the bowl of coconut mixture from the bowl of water. Empty out the water and wipe the bowl dry. In the dry bowl, stir the cream and confectioners’ sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Stir into the coconut mixture. Divide the coconut mixture evenly among 6 (7 to 8-ounce) custard cups or ramekins. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours.

To serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the molds and invert each panna cotta onto a serving plate. Spoon some of the diced fruit over each, allowing the fruit to spill onto the plate.

Mango Sticky Rice and Papaya Coulis

The mango sticky rice is very easy—just make normal sushi style rice, add diced mango (1-2 Mangos) and 3 tablespoons honey.

The papaya coulis is 2 papayas and 1 cup Asti Spumanti champagne blended together.

Enjoy!

Question: Where did you learn how to cook?  Who or what is your cooking inspiration?

8 Comments

Filed under Desserts, Main Courses, Tuesdays with Tommy

Roasted Eggplant and Feta Dip

Before I get started on tonight’s post, I want to let you all know that tomorrow we will be starting a regular series on Mind Your Bees and Trees with an awesome guest blogger so stay tuned.  I promise—you don’t want to miss it!

It’s summertime and summertime means BBQ season.  Who doesn’t love a good BBQ?  My favorite part about BBQs is, of course, all of the great food!  There are always so many great appetizers, side dishes, salads, and desserts, not to mention the meat, but honestly I’m usually much more excited about all of the other goodies.  It is a rare occasion when the meat at a BBQ wins me over.

When we go to BBQs, I almost always make a dessert (or two!).  Dessert is my specialty—a trait I inherited from my mom.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I love to bake and I love to share my baked goods with others.  As my mom always says, “the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach” :).

Since I’m not eating any processed sugar this summer, I can’t turn to my old favorites when I’m looking for something to make for a BBQ.  I told Amanda that I thought going to BBQs and not eating all of the yummy desserts would definitely be the hardest part of this challenge for me.  Well so far we have been to a few BBQs and parties this summer, and although it has been a little hard not to eat any dessert, it has not been as bad as I imagined it would be—especially when there are delicious savory goodies to munch on like the Roasted Eggplant Dip I made for a 4th of July party at our friend’s house.

The cake I made for our 4th of July party last year. It looks like it's waving in the wind because I dropped it on the floor before I frosted it! It landed right-side up, but I lost a big chunk from the middle. Oopsie!

I saw this recipe on Courtney’s blog and immediately knew I had to try it.  Giff and I pretty much love anything with eggplant in it (and I love anything with feta) so I figured it would be pretty awesome.  If you think you don’t like eggplant, then you probably haven’t had it cooked very well because eggplant is excellent when it’s cooked well.  I promise to post some more of our favorite recipes using eggplant in the future, but for now, let’s focus on this dip.

Last summer I made Ina Garten’s eggplant dip for a party and it was a huge hit.  I loved that dip so much that I was slightly worried that this new eggplant dip might not live up to the other one, but it definitely did.  Ina’s dip is pureed and although it has an excellent flavor, you can’t specifically taste the eggplant since everything is mixed together.  The eggplant and feta dip is not pureed so it’s more salsa-like.  I loved the chunky texture of the dip and it was excellent with either fresh veggies or crackers (side note: I was excited to find some crackers at the store that don’t contain sugar!).  Although I pride myself on always bringing awesome desserts to parties, I think I could get used to the savory thing too.  My dip was one of the first savory items to go so I’m going to go ahead and say that it was a hit :).

Roasted Eggplant and Feta Dip

*Recipe adapted from Sweet Tooth Sweet Life

Ingredients

▪       1 medium eggplant, (about 1 pound)

▪       2 tbsp lemon juice

▪       3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

▪       1/2 cup reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled

▪       1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

▪       1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

▪       2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

▪       1/2 tbsp dried parsley

▪       1/4 tsp chili powder

▪       1/4 tsp cumin

▪       1/4 tsp smoked paprika

▪       1/4 tsp garlic powder

▪       1/4 tsp salt

▪       Drizzle of honey (optional)

Directions

  1. Position oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source; preheat broiler.
  2. Line a baking pan with foil. Place eggplant in the pan and poke a few holes all over it to vent steam. Broil the eggplant, turning with tongs every 5 minutes, until the skin is charred and a knife inserted into the dense flesh near the stem goes in easily, 14 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board until cool enough to handle.
  3. Put lemon juice in a medium bowl. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and scrape the flesh into the bowl, tossing with the lemon juice to help prevent discoloring. Add oil and stir with a fork until the oil is absorbed. (It should be a little chunky.) Stir in feta, onion, bell pepper, basil, parsley, spices and salt. Taste and add honey if needed.

Question: What is your favorite thing to bring to a BBQ?  What is your favorite thing to eat at a BBQ?

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Filed under Appetizers, Vegetarian

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

On any given weekday, you can usually bet that I’m either having oatmeal or a smoothie for breakfast.  Once in a while I’ll have cereal or yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.  If fresh fruit were cheaper/fresher/more available here, then I’d be eating it everyday for breakfast—like I did last year when I was home visiting my parents.

Fresh Peaches, Raspberries, and Bananas.....I think I'm in heaven!

But on the weekends, I like to make big breakfasts.  It’s probably because when I was a kid my mom used to make awesome weekend breakfasts.  Her specialties were Kaiserschmarn, Orange Juice French Toast, and pancakes.  Kaiserschmarn is like a big giant pancake that you break into pieces and eat with applesauce.  I will work on making it with natural sweeteners and then I promise to post it because it’s definitely one of our favorite weekend breakfasts.  OJ French toast aka Pain Perdu (which roughly translates as ‘Forgotten Bread’) might sound weird, but trust me when I tell you it’s one of the best French toast recipes I’ve ever tried.  I promise to post that recipe too at some point.

Anyway, back to the pancakes.  When I was younger, my mom wouldn’t just make me ordinary pancakes, she would make pancakes in all sorts of shapes.  She would pour the batter into a pitcher and then use the spout to make Mickey Mouse, hearts, a school bus (on the first day of school of course), spell out my name, etc.  I loved this—and so did all of my friends.  She would make anything we requested.  Her pancakes were always the best and slightly underdone—just how we always requested :).

I still love pancakes, but I never make them.  I’m not sure why—maybe it’s because they aren’t the same when they aren’t made by my mom.  In my family we have another favorite pancake recipe though and this one comes from my Aunt Gwen.  It’s for cottage cheese pancakes.  Have you ever tried them?  We frequently request them—even for dinner—when we go to her house because they are sooooo good!  I hadn’t had them in a long time so I recently asked her to send me the recipes.  They were just as delicious as I remembered and I thought you might like them too.

Aunt Gwen’s Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

A note from Aunt Gwen: The cottage cheese pancakes are SO easy…and so economical.    And they’re very forgiving…..eggs or eggbeaters…..whole milk, 2% or skim milk….. 4%, 2% or 0% cottage cheese.   Of course, real eggs, whole milk and 4% cottage cheese are best, but anything works.  Also, I make a couple of receipes and keep the left-over batter in the fridge [covered] for up to a week IF YOU’VE CHECKED THE ‘USE BY’ DATE on the ingredients.  Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert…..with sweet stuff or creamed chicken or, or, or!

Basic recipe:

1 cup cottage cheese

3 eggs

2 tbsp flour    (I used coconut flour—YUM!)

2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp milk

Blend in blender!

Use 1/4 cup batter for large pancakes.  [Larger pancakes than this will break in two because they’re so thin and tender.]  Use 1 Tbsp. batter for dollar size pancakes.

**The pancakes turn out more like crepes than regular pancakes because they are so thin and tender.  I love to top mine with yogurt, fresh fruit, and a little real maple syrup….YUM!

Question: Do you like to have big breakfasts on the weekends?  What are some of your favorite breakfast recipes?

 

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Filed under Breakfast

Chicken and Scallion Quesadillas

I used to think I wasn’t a huge fan of Chinese food.  If it was the only thing available, I would eat it, but I never craved it or suggested going out for Chinese.  Then one of my friends told me about this Chinese restaurant here in Okinawa that I had to try.  She told me I would love it—even if I don’t love Chinese food—because if for nothing else, it’s worth a trip to the restaurant just to meet the owner.

Not long after she suggested this place, my husband and I went to check it out with three other friends.  The owner—who calls himself “Dragon”—definitely lived up to the hype.  He is very outgoing and so funny.  Although we could only understand about 40 percent of what he said to us, we found out he is from Shanghai, goes to Tokyo once a month to buy fresh ingredients and “do other things” (whatever that means), and gets super excited to talk about Chinese food.  He was talking so fast about the food that we could hardly understand what was going on.

We had spent a few minutes perusing the menu before he came over to talk to us, but that didn’t matter because after he was done telling us his story he said, “Ok so you’ll have two orders of this, one order of that, two of this, oh and you have to try at least one order of that…”.  We weren’t really sure what had happened, but we went with it.  We also all ordered the “Biiiuuutty Biiiuuutty” (aka Beauty Beauty) cocktail because as my husband thought he said, “I command you to get this”.  He really said I recommend you to get this, but hey—a command is a command.

Amanda and Me with our Byuty Byuty cocktails

Dragon (Source: Okinawa Hai)

The food—and Dragon—did not disappoint.  We all agreed that it was excellent and some of the best Chinese food any of us had ever had.  And that is saying a lot coming from five people who don’t particularly like Chinese food.

After that experience (and one subsequent visit) at Dragon’s, I was much more excited about the food in China.  It tasted nothing like the Chinese food you get at most places in the States (go figure) and I loved it.  We ate many delicious stir-fried dishes, noodles, dumplings, etc. but by the end of the two weeks, we were pretty sick of eating Chinese food and had pizza for our last meal :).

Buying bread from a local baker in the Hutong

Some delicious dumpling soup

Not quite sure what this is....

Can you guess if I ate any of this stuff??

At the Night Market

Not everything at the Night Market looked completely unappetizing....unfortunately the smell was so overpowering that I couldn't have eaten anything!

Seahorses anyone?

How about starfish or scorpions?

We did eat delicious dumplings and dim sum in China.....but not from the Night Market

Although I think we’re both Chinese food converts—as long as it’s real Chinese food—we are both not ready to eat it again for a while.  So for dinner, I’ve been making anything that does not resemble Chinese food—Italian and then Mexican.  These quesadillas were fabulous—I hope you enjoy them too!

Chicken and Scallion Quesadillas

*Recipe adapted from Food Network Kitchens

Chicken and Scallion Quesadillas with a side of Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli

Ingredients

Beans:

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp Adobo seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 pickled jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water or chicken broth

Toppings:

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 scallions (white and green), trimmed
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken, about 8 ounces
  • 2 teaspoons minced chipotle peppers en adobo
  • 1/4 cup prepared salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Pepper Jack or Monterrey Jack are good choices)
  • 4 (10-inch) flour or corn tortillas
  • Optional garnishes: sour cream, cilantro, salsa, avocado

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

To make the beans: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beans, jalapeno, and broth and bring to a simmer.  Using a potato masher or a large fork, smash the beans into a rough paste. Season with salt (if needed) and transfer to a bowl.

Heat EVOO in a pan over medium-high heat and sauté the scallions until slightly charred.  Coarsely chop and transfer to a small bowl.  Combine chicken and the chipotle with the scallions.

Toast the tortillas directly over a medium gas burner, turning occasionally until slightly blistered on each side. (If you have an electric burner, do this in a dry cast iron skillet.)  *You can also heat the tortillas in the oven for 5-10 minutes as I did.

Place the tortillas on the prepared baking sheet. Depending on the size of your tortillas, spread the beans on half (for larger tortillas) or the whole tortilla (for smaller ones).  Top with the chicken, salsa, and cheese. For larger tortillas, fold the other half of the tortilla over the filling, to make a half moon shape.  For smaller tortillas, cover the filling with another tortilla.

Lay another sheet of foil over the top of the quesadillas.  Bake until the cheese melts and the filling hot, about 12 minutes.  Serve with optional garnishes.

**These quesadillas were delicioso.  I used chipotle-flavored tortillas, which gave our quesadillas a little extra kick.  The only thing that would have made these better is fresh slices of avocado for garnish.

Question: What is your favorite kind of ethnic cuisine?  Have you ever become a convert like we have with Chinese food?

3 Comments

Filed under Main Courses, Mexican, Travels

Giada’s Checca Sauce

I like to do this thing where I pretend that chefs on TV and fellow bloggers are my friends :).  My husband knows that I love looking for new recipes and every time we eat something new he asks whom I got the recipe from.  I simply respond, “Giada” (or “Rachael”, “HEAB”, “Mama Pea”, “Mel’s Kitchen Café”…you get the point) as if they are my friends.  Although I have never actually met any of these people in real life, I still consider them my ‘friends’ because I consider anyone who shares a great recipe with me my friend.

I love me some Food Network and could sit and watch it all day long.  Whenever I’m home, my mom and I frequently have it on in the background and we love to send each other recipes of delicious recipes we saw being made by our ‘friends’ (Paula, Giada, Ina, Rachael, Aarti, Bobby, etc.) on TV.

Living abroad for the past five years has meant that I rarely get to watch the Food Network anymore (unless I want to get up at 6 am to watch the one or two shows the air per day).  I did spend four months living in Oklahoma between living in Peru and moving to Japan and I’m pretty sure I DVR’d about 10 episodes of Food Network shows per day (in addition to the ones I watched live)!  I couldn’t get enough of it.  Each time I go home, Food Network is the first thing I turn to and usually the only thing I watch.  Needless to say, I love it.

When I moved to Japan, I was really missing the Food Network, but quickly discovered the world of food blogs.  Judging by the fact that I decided to start my own, you can probably guess that food bloggers have gained a special place in my heart—right next to my friends from the Food Network.  I religiously read a handful of food blog everyday and can easily get lost in the world of food blogs.

My friends over at the Food Network have not been replaced though.  Luckily I have a few of their cookbooks amongst my large cookbook collection and I find myself turning to them again and again.  Although I don’t get to see these recipes being made on TV, they rarely disappoint.

The recipe I’m featuring today is from Giada’s cookbook called Everyday Italian.  Amanda got this cookbook for me for my birthday a few years at a Food and Wine Festival.  Do you want to know the best part?  It’s signed by Giada!  “To Kristen—XO Giada”.  See, we’re practically best friends ;).

I’m sharing this recipe with you because it’s a fabulous way to make a light and refreshing meal using freshly grown tomatoes.  I made this the other night and my husband and I both loved it.  I didn’t tweak a thing because it’s a-maz-ing as is!!

And to preface this recipe in the words of Giada, “There’s just no point in making Checca Sauce at all if the tomatoes aren’t at their peak of ripeness”.  Enjoy!

Please excuse that it looks messy...I was too excited to eat it to transfer it to a serving platter.

Checca Sauce

*Recipe from Everyday Italian by Giada DeLaurentiis

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces spaghettini or angel hair pasta
  • 4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed*
  • 1 (12-ounce container) cherry tomatoes, halved**
  • 1 (1-ounce) piece Parmesan, coarsely chopped
  • 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the next 7 ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (do not puree).

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl. Add some of the reserved pasta water (about 1/4 cup) if the sauce looks dry (I didn’t need to do this). Serve immediately.

*The garlic pieces stay pretty big—they are easy to pull out this way if you don’t like eating big chunks of garlic.  I might try mincing the garlic next time.

**I used two large ripe tomatoes from the farmer’s market that I cut into big chunks before putting into the food processor.

Question: Do you use recipes or do you make up your recipes in your head?  Where do you like to find your recipes?

4 Comments

Filed under Main Courses, Pasta