Friday, February 27, 2015

International Cooking Challenge: Indonesia - Sayur Bening Bayam

A nice bowl of Indonesian comfort
Last night was supposed to be our Mexican adventure... the kids wanted nothing more than tacos, no matter how much I told them that Americanized tacos are not really Mexican.
Last night's "Mexican"
I guess we'll be putting Mexico on the wheel again another time!

Just a couple of girl scout cookies - hope that our booth goes well!!

Tonight, we had picked Indonesia.  It was quite a day.  I picked up Girl Scout Cookies for The Girl's weekend cookie booth.  My car needed some serious work, which The Hubby got done.. and our water pipes are frozen, waiting for help to fix them.  It's been quite a day.  And then, I heard that Leonard Nimoy died.  I am a dyed in the wool long time Star Trek fan.  I love Spock.  I was so sad when I heard about his death, I literally started crying.

So, instead of learning about Indonesia tonight, we are watching Trouble with the Tribbles together.

On to the Sayur Bening Bayam... it's a lovely Indonesian vegetable soup.  It's very easy and quick to put together.  I had to buy some bottled water to make it, due to our current lack of running water, but other than that, there was nothing difficult about it.  It was the perfect quick meal for a night when I needed to get dinner cooked and be done with it.

The Girl and I loved it.  The Boy ate it, but did not really love it.  The Hubby had one bite and declined to eat more. I think it was the fish sauce that he didn't like.  I didn't think that the fish sauce was very strong in the soup, but it hit his palate the wrong way.  Can't win them all.

Sayur Bening Bayam
(modified from

2 shallots
1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1 1/2 c beef broth
1 1/2 c chicken broth
3 c water
1 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small can diced tomatoes
4 c (1 6-oz bag) baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 tsp fish sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Chop shallots finely.  Heat coconut oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat.  Saute shallots in coconut oil for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Add ginger, broths, and water.  Bring to a boil.  Add vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes, or until carrots are slightly tender.  Add fish sauce and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

International Cooking Challenge: Bosnia - Bosnian Musaka

For our third foray into our International Cooking Challenge, we visited Bosnia at the dinner table.

The Boy happens to have two classmates from Bosnia, so he was particularly excited for this dinner.

He helped to pick out the recipe - a Serbian/Bosnian Musaka.  Unlike the traditional Greek Moussaka. which has layers of eggplant, Bosnian musaka is layers of potatoes with ground beef and onions.

We listened to some traditional Bosnian music (by Nada Mamula) on Spotify while cooking, and the kids enjoyed that. We read some facts about Bosnia on Wikipedia.

The only thing I can say about this recipe is that I made it in a springform pan... don't make it in a springform pan.  It overflowed and I managed to smoke out the kitchen.  Some of the milk leaked out.  This could have been better in a plain casserole.  I just wanted to make pretty layers.  Foolish idea.  It is too cold to open the windows.  We are just suffering through it.

Although from my reading, vegetables aren't huge in Bosnian cuisine, I had to add something bright to this meat and potatoes meal.  I made some sauteed cherry tomatoes.

This was a winning recipe all around.  It will be made again... in a casserole pan.

Bosnian Musaka
(modified from

1 large onion
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
10 Tbsp canola oil (divided)
3 lb yellow potatoes, peeled
1/2 c water
3 eggs
1 1/2 c evaporated milk
1/2 c milk

Preheat oven to 475 F.

Heat 5 Tbsp oil in a saute pan. Add diced onion and saute for about 5 minutes until softened.  Add ground beef and cook until browned.  Season with salt and pepper.

Layered on top of the bottom potatoes

Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the potatoes into uniform 1/6" thick slices.  Layer half of the potatoes on the bottom of a casserole pan - this was about 3 layers of potatoes (note: do not use a springform pan!  I did, and it overflowed in the oven and made a big mess and smoked everything up... oops).  Add the ground beef mixture evenly.

Top layer of potatoes

Top with remaining potatoes, layered as before.  Brush the top the potatoes with remaining oil, then pour the water on top.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until potatoes begin to get tender.

Whisk together the milk and eggs.  Pour on top of the potatoes in the casserole dish and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until the top gets browned.  Slice when slightly cool and enjoy.

(Or, in my case, enjoy when the smoke clears)

Bosnian Musaka, a small apple, and some yogurt stars for my unch
As in previous nights, leftovers make an excellent lunch for me for the next day, packed in my Easylunchbox.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

International Cooking Challenge: Afghanistan - Lawang, Afghani Naan, and Basmati Rice

Tonight was our second journey in our International Cooking Challenge.  Our randomly chosen culinary destination for the evening was Afghanistan.

For dinner, I made Lawang - an Afghan Braised Chicken with Turmeric Yogurt Sauce, along with Afghani Naan (or Noni) bread, and basmati rice.

We did not do as well listening to music and learning lots of facts about Afghanistan as we did with New Zealand last night.  The Hubby had to leave right after dinner, so we looked some things up on Wikipedia, and enjoyed our dinner.

For the dinner, I utilized my lovely time saving kitchen tools, and made the chicken in the crockpot and the dough for the flatbread in the bread machine.

The store was out of cilantro, and The Hubby doesn't much care for it, so I used just a little parsley instead.  It is not the same flavor, I know, but I used what I had.  I left it in the recipe, because I think it would be great to add to the flavor.

This meal got just a passing grade.  The Boy did not care for the yogurt sauce.  I thought that the whole meal was good, but I like more bold flavors.  That is not anything against Afghani cuisine, but perhaps just my chosen recipes.  We all did like the naan, and the addition of black cumin seeds was nice.  I liked the stovetop cooking method, and I'm glad I got some ghee to use.  I'm sure that will find plenty of uses in my kitchen!

The rice was not made according to any real recipe - just followed the instructions on the bag of rice.  We all love basmati.

Now, for the recipes!

Lawang - Afghan Braised Chicken in Turmeric Yogurt Sauce (Crockpot recipe)
(Modified from Afghan Culture Unveiled)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped or pureed in food processor
1 Tbsp crushed garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 c chicken or vegetable broth
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 1/2 c plain Greek yogurt
1 c chopped cilantro (I used just a sprinkle of parsley, because that is what I had, but cilantro would be wonderful.  Use it if you have it)

*This recipe requires some prep time before you can put it in the crockpot and let it go, so plan accordingly*
Pureed onions and garlic, in olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and add the pureed onions and garlic.  Saute until well browned, about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Lovely turmeric color
In the crockpot, ready to cook
Stir in the broth, salt, pepper, turmeric, and ground coriander.  Pour into a crockpot (I used a 3 1/2 quart crockpot) and then add the chicken and stir to coat.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Before serving, take the chicken out of the crockpot and whisk the yogurt into the turmeric sauce.  Stir in the cilantro (if using).  Put the chicken back in the sauce and serve.


Afgani Naan Bread (bread machine)
(Modified from Culinary Adventures with Camilla)

1 1/2 c water
1/4 c olive oil
4 c flour
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp black cumin seeds
2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

Place all ingredients except for ghee (or vegetable oil) into a bread machine.  Set to dough setting and allow to run through second rise.

Remove dough from bread machine and separate into 16 small balls.  Cover with a cloth and allow to rest for 15 minutes.  Roll each ball out onto a floured surface into a thin oblong shape.  Prick each disc of dough a few times with a fork (I have this handy dandy little fork that I use for such things).

Oh, ghee!

Beautiful flatbreads
Melt ghee, 1/2 tsp at a time, in a large heavy skillet (I used a cast iron skillet).  Cook naan, 1-3 at a time (depending on the size of your skillet) over medium high heat, about one minute on the first side, then flip and cook until nicely browned.  Repeat for the remaining naan, adding more ghee each time.

Place in a cloth covered bowl or basket until serving.


Mmmmm... lunch!

As before, I have a nicely packed lunch full of leftovers from this meal.  I love packing a lunch that makes me excited for my lunch break,

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Mom's Lunch: 2.24.15

The kids are on break this week.  It's The Hubby's Day off.  The bonus?  I get all the leftover Kumara from our culinary trip to New Zealand to myself for lunch.

I have leftover Kumara with grapes and cherry tomatoes, packed in my trusty Easylunchbox.  I am so looking forward to lunch!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

International Cooking Challenge: New Zealand - Kumara (Grilled Sweet Potato & Bacon Salad)

Tonight, we embarked on our newest adventure, the International Cooking Challenge.  Our first randomly chosen stop was New Zealand.

I decided to follow in the foot steps of my friend Sasha from Global Table Adventures, and I made my take on Kumara - a Grilled Sweet Potato & Bacon Salad.  It sounded like a good idea.  It's the depth of winter here in Vermont, but it's summer in New Zealand.  I had to fake the grilling with my stovetop grill pan, but I think it did a pretty good job.

While we ate, we listened to traditional Maori music from New Zealand on Spotify.  I visited the wikipedia site for New Zealand and shared some interesting facts with the kids.  They were most interested that people who live in New Zealand are called Kiwis, and that there are more species of penguins in New Zealand than anywhere else.

I made a couple of changes in the recipe that Sasha made.  I doubled the recipe so that I would have leftovers for lunches.  I used a pound of bacon ends and pieces for the salad.  No wonder it was delicious!  The store was also out of green onions today, so I simply used half a yellow onion, and sauteed it up briefly in bacon fat.  Because I had all of that lovely bacon fat, I also used it on the sweet potatoes and omitted the salt.

Overall, I loved this recipe and would make it again in a second.  It would be a whole lot quicker on an outdoor grill.  I had to cook the sweet potatoes in small batches on my grill pan, and that took a while.  This would be a great dish to take to a potluck.  It will be as delicious chilled as it was warm.

The Girl also loved the Kumara, but The Boy didn't care for the sweet potatoes very much.  Of course he loved the bacon, and he still ate the whole thing.  I'd call that a win.

Now, for the recipe!

Kumara: Grilled Sweet Potato & Bacon Salad
(modified from Global Table Adventure)

1 lb bacon (I used ends and pieces, but you could use any bacon)
6 sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 yellow onion

1/4 c whole grain mustard
1/4 c vinegar
1/4 c honey
1/2 c vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Crisp the bacon up in a pan, reserving bacon fat.  Drain bacon well and chop coarsely.

Slice sweet potatoes into 1/2" slices.  Heat a grill pan on medium heat, and brush with some bacon fat.

Put a layer of sweet potatoes on the grill pan, and brush the top with a little more bacon fat.  Grill for ~5 minutes on each side, until sweet potatoes are a little soft and they have nice grill marks.  Remove to a large bowl, and repeat with additional sweet potatoes.

Dice the onion.  Saute the onion in a very small amount of bacon fat until soft and translucent.  Remove from the pan and add to the sweet potatoes. Stir the bacon into the mixture.

Add all ingredients for the dressing to a large ball jar or your blender.  Shake or blend until well combined.  (I ended up using my stick blender - that worked very well).  Add dressing to the sweet potato mixture and stir well to coat.

Serve and enjoy your small culinary trip to New Zealand!

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Recipe: Mushroom Sherry Cream Sauce

I have made this mushroom sherry cream sauce three times now.  The first time was for my birthday, to serve on a nice tri-tip steak.

The second time was for Valentine's Day, also to serve with the tri-tip.  It's a new favorite.

After the second time, The Boy declared that he now LOVES mushrooms, thank-you-very-much.  This is a complete turnaround, and a triumph.  I decided that I needed to make it again, and actually measure amounts, so that I could blog it properly.

This third time, I made it to serve with a breaded pork cutlet and rice.  Lovely.  Simply lovely.

The Hubby and I have also had leftovers in omelets, and that was a fantastic idea.

The recipe uses one of my favorite products, Trader Joe's Mushroom Medley.  I have also made it with sliced portabello mushrooms, and it was just as good.  You just have to saute the mushrooms until they are soft if you are using raw mushrooms.

Try this sauce!  I could happily eat it every day.  It would be lovely with chicken, or on top of your favorite burger.

This is a definite keeper!

Mushroom Sherry Cream Sauce

1 12-oz (weight) package sliced mushrooms (I used Trader Joe's Mushroom Medley, but sliced portabellos work, too)
2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp cooking sherry
1/4 c cream
salt and pepper, to taste
I got impatient and added the mushrooms before the butter had melted...
Melt butter in a medium sized saute pan (3 qt) on medium high.  Add the mushrooms and cook until softened and butter is absorbed (add some garlic powder or a little fresh garlic if you are not using the Trader Joe's mushroom medley).

Deglaze the pan with 2 Tbsp cooking sherry, stirring well.  Cook until the liquid has cooked off, then add the remaining 2 Tbsp cooking sherry and repeat.  Stir in the cream and cook on medium heat until thickened.  Serve with your favorite meat, or simply eat as is and enjoy. 

Disclaimer: Though I used Trader Joe's products, this blog is not sponsored by Trader Joe's. All opinions are my own (or the kids')

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New Project: International Cooking Challenge

It's mid-winter break, and there are no lunches to make for the kids for the week, so I thought it was a good time to start a new project I've been contemplating for a while.

If you've been reading for a while, you may know that I am a huge fan of my friend Sasha's blog - Global Table Adventure.  She cooked her way around the world in alphabetical order, one week at a time.  It was seriously inspiring.  She has a book coming out soon, Life From Scratch, and I can't wait to read it!

When I was growing up, we never knew what continent we were going to be eating from on any given night.  My father would cook an amazing Indian meal one night, Caribbean the next, then maybe Portuguese, Cajun, and Caribbean.  He was endlessly exploring his culinary boundaries, and ours along with his.

I've done pretty well with my kids, especially with our Wacky Worldly Waffle Wednesdays... I need to get back to doing those.  We all enjoy the inspired waffles.

Recently, though, I feel like I've fallen into a rut.  I haven't been planning meals ahead of time like I really enjoy doing.  I've been kind of shopping for meals one at a time... and that's not ideal.

What better way to get back into the swing of it, and work on our culinary adventures, than a game?

I decided to pose for myself an International Cooking Challenge.  Each week, we pick different countries at random.

The Boy has a giant world map.  It's going to be on his bedroom wall eventually, but for now, he unrolled it to peruse.

I made a spinner wheel using a disused lazy susan.  We cut out wedges from construction paper and made a wheel out of them.  I taped them onto the lazy susan using packing tape, and covered the construction paper entirely with the tape.  This way, we can use a dry erase marker to write our countries of choice on each week.

Once we decided our worldly choices for the week, we spun the wheel.  I have no fancy arrow to decide "winners."  Instead, each of us put a finger above the wheel whilst it spun, and took days.  Where my finger landed would be Monday.  The Boy took Tuesday.  The Girl's would be Wednesday.

We continued in this manner until all days were filled.  We erased the countries that were picked this week, and we will add new choices for next week.
Vintage international cooking book series my brother once gave me - great for inspiration!
After all the days were assigned, we set about picking out recipes.  I looked through some of my many cookbooks, and delved into Pinterest to find inspiration.  I created a new Pinterest board for our ideas.

I will update with recipes and our discoveries along the way.  I would love to have you join us, too!

This week, our culinary adventures will take us to:

We start tomorrow.. tonight's dinner was already planned

Monday - New Zealand
Tuesday - Afghanistan
Wednesday - Bosnia
Thursday - Mexico
Friday - Indonesia
Saturday - Brazil
Sunday - Turkey

I hope this is but the start of a new series of adventures for our family, and I hope that we inspire you to travel the culinary seas.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lunches: 2.18.15

Happy Wednesday!
Sandwich: 40g, tomatoes and ranch: 3g, apples: 4g, grapes: 5g, star cookies: 8g
The Boy has a sandwich on homemade bread with spinach and ham, along with some cherry tomatoes and ranch dressing, grapes, apple slices, and yogurt star cookies.  His snack is some granola (not pictured, 15g).

The Girl has a sandwich on homemade bread with spinach and ham, along with carrots and ranch dressing, grapes, apple slices, and yogurt star cookies.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Girl Cooks: Hearty Beef Stew and Biscuits

The Girl has been wanting to cook a whole lot more recently - and I am not going to complain about that!

Last week, she made a few "no recipe" dinners - Monday, she made a "throw it together" chili, which I basically gave her ingredients and told her to put them together.

On Tuesday, she made chili cheese dogs using the leftovers.  Delicious.

On Wednesday, she made chorizo quesadillas.  No real recipe, more technique.

Last night, she said that she wanted to make beef stew.  It's been bitterly cold.  Stew sounded perfect.

I've been making beef stew since I was about her age.  I was always an avid reader, and when I was about her age, I was obsessed with Anne McCaffrey's Pern series.  I joined a Science Fiction book club as soon as I started babysitting and earning money.  I bought The Dragonrider's Guide to Pern.  Included in sidebars of the book are a few recipes - Klah, Bubbly Pies, and Hearty Herdbeast Stew.  It is this stew that I use as a jumping off point, but I have modified it mightily through the years.

I taught The Girl to make my variation on this stew last night.  Now, I just have to get her into the Pern novels...

Hearty Beef Stew
Modified from Hearty Herdbeast Stew from Anne McCaffrey's The Dragonrider's Guide to Pern

1 1/2 lb lean beef stew meat
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Montreal steak seasoning
1/2 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 large onion, diced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes in juice
2 c water
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1" cubes
2 ribs celery, diced
2 bay leaves
1 c corn
1 Tbsp steak sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together flour, garlic powder, steak seasoning, and pepper in a large freezer bag or large bowl.  Add the meat to the flour mixture, close bag or cover bowl with plastic wrap, and shake to coat well.

Melt butter in a large heavy pot, then add dredged meat to the pot.  Brown on all sides.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and water, then the potatoes, bay leaves, carrots, and celery.  Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer.  Continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the corn, salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil again, cover again, and reduce to a simmer again for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the potatoes are tender, uncover and simmer for another 15 minutes or so, to thicken slightly.


Along with the stew, The Girl decided that she wanted to make biscuits.  I pulled out my trusty Fannie Farmer Cookbook and let her look up a recipe.  She decided to make the Baking Powder Biscuit II recipe, because it was what we had all the ingredients for.

From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

I did have to look up what temperature a "hot oven" would be (answer = 400 F).

Sometimes, the best tools are your hands
If you don't have the Fannie Farmer cookbook, I can totally recommend it.  Even if just for a history lesson, it is worth having.  Some of my favorite recipes started from the Fannie Farmer cookbook.

Baked with love
The Girl decided to cut the biscuits into heart shapes, and they turned out wonderfully.

We are all looking forward to teaching the kids to cook more and more, with increasing independence.  We can't wait to see what she decides to learn next!

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Lunches: 2.17.15

It is so cold out this morning (-15 F without windchill), I cannot believe they are not at least giving the kids a 2 hour delay... I'm actually kind of astounded that the buses started.  In any case, the kids have school on this frigid day, so they have lunches.

Biscuit sandwich: 20g, grapes: 5g, carrots & tomatoes with ranch: 5g, apple slices: 4g, gummy roses: 14g
The Boy has a leftover biscuit (made by The Girl - more on that later) with ham, along with grapes, carrots and tomatoes (which he has recently decided he likes!  Score!) with ranch, apple slices, and some gummy roses.  His lunch is packed in a new Easylunchbox Urban - they are lovely.  He has a yogurt for snack (not pictured, 28g).

The Girl made a lovely beef stew last night, along with homemade biscuits, and I will blog the dinner later.  She's really been taking a lot of interest in cooking lately, as you would see if you've been following my Facebook page, and I want to encourage that as much as I can!  For her lunch, she has leftover beef stew, a biscuit, and grapes.  Her lunch is also in the new Easylunchbox Urban.

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