BBQ Chicken Bao

This stuff is great. They may not be authentic asian buns, but they are still an amazing concept and never disappoints in the delicious category. Previously we improvised in creating a Guatemalan red bean paste which we stuffed into a white-bread dough. The next experiment was whole-wheat and savory, filled with caramelized onions, fennel and dijon. It was just too delicious to stick around for a picture, so unfortunately was not featured here.

This one we’ll call a meal bao. Inside a — yet again improvised — BBQ chicken mixture,  surrounded by a whole wheat dough for increased nutrition. Great snacks to take to work or school. I love when the mere ten minutes are up, I remove the lid of the steamer and see that, indeed, you can make bread this way!

For issues of time, I baked a few batches as well, and the bottoms came out crunchy, the tops soft and moist. Both methods are delicious in their own way.

Bao Dough Recipe This should be done first as it takes a few hours for the dough to be ready.

BBQ Chicken Filling

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken, cooked and shredded
1 onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup BBQ sauce of your choice
2 teaspoons hot mustard
2 teaspoons chili garlic paste
more hot sauce to taste, optional

Directions:

Saute the onions until soft, translucent and browning. Add the chicken. Once cooked, shred the chicken up into fine pieces*. Add soy sauce and let it simmer a minute. Add additional ingredients and let mix well and heat through. Remove from heat and let cool. Fill dough with about 1 tablespoon of mixture, following directions and bake/steam for 10 minutes according to instructions.

*I actually didn’t have the patience to shred the meat, but I wanted it a fine texture, so I slightly blended it with my hand blender. It was perfect. Shredded would work too.

A Valentines Ode to My Parents

Happy Valentines Day!

I’m not one to go crazy for this holiday. It was a lot of fun for me as a child: exchanging little cards and candies, getting sick from sweets at school. But these days its just another holiday that, for many, requires spending lots of money on silly heart-shaped pillows. But it isn’t a “serious” holiday. No one gets time off work, or flys home for the weekend to have a special meal with their relatives. At most, some people may fly to see their honey on this day…if they are madly in love and have lots of money to burn, or really in trouble and need some impressive way to win them back.

But it is a nice holiday nonetheless. I don’t mind it because I know no one really expects me to buy them a teddy bear or a rolex. For me Valentines Day is a day to bake…if I feel like it. And I usually do. I whipped up some improvised Red Velvet Cupcakes last night, thinking I’ll take them to Hec’s parents house this Sunday. Trying to be cute, I put forth my best effort in calligraphy. I messed up a few swirls here and there, but you can at least read the names.

As I piped out the names of each person who would be in attendance I got a little homesick for my mom and dad. It’s not like missing Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I want to be able to share these little moments with them also. I have really gotten to experiment with lots of cooking and baking this year and, to be honest, I’m quite proud of my growth. I think my parents would enjoy many (probably not all) of the things I’ve been making. I wish I could deliver a batch of these cupcakes to their house on Sunday to eat after a family dinner.
So here’s to you, Mom and Dad. I love you both very very much. Thank you for all the support and understanding you have given me in life, and especially since I moved far away. It’s not the ideal situation, but please know that I love you just as strongly while down here as up there! Although you can’t enjoy the taste of these cupcakes, they were made with a lot of love for the both of you!

What I Do When I Can’t Sleep: Bake (Honey Wheat Scones)

Wedding planning has kept me tossing and turning a few nights this week. I promised myself I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. What is important to us is that our family and friends come together, have a good time, and that my family can experience what has become my second home. But I have broken my promise, and it has become a big deal. There are too many details to think about. Things that I had always considered trivial suddenly take importance. Invitations were originally to be evite only. Who needs flowers? Dress, take it or leave it. The food, however, has remained always important. Suddenly they gain importance.

So at 1am I awoke with the brilliant idea to do it all myself, and in the garden of our apartment. I jumped out of bed and did a quick google search of service providers (tables and cutlery, even decorations). I whipped out a few emailes to get prices and delivery options, and was annoyed at the lack of immediate responses. I hand drew a plan of white gauzy drapes lining our car port, candles, pastoral flower arrangements, a vine-covered terrace arching over the path next to our fountain. It was beautiful! Then the details got to me: will our neighbors allow it? What about waiters? What if it rains? And is our little bathroom big enough? What if we break cups? What if I don’t know how to hang a drape beautifully?? At this point it was 3am, and I was tossing this plan out the window, along with the potluck idea I had a few weeks before. I was irritated, nervous, and not the least bit tired. I was out of energy to plan more, yet I was irritated and wide awake. I couldn’t call anyone to ask specific questions or advice. So I decided to bake scones to take my mind off the whole thing. Baking always relaxes me.

Why scones? I don’t know. I’d never made them before and I have a problem with repeating recipes. Its not that my recipes don’t turn out well the first time — generally when I look back at what I have made, I think “I need to do that again!” But I feel compelled to explore. Try new and challenging things. Now scones aren’t that challenging. But what do you expect from a girl on 2 and a half hours of sleep?

I never got to sleep that night, but my coworkers had scones the next day. Amazingly enough I was never tired, either.

Honey Wheat Scones
adapted from: dishing up delights

Ingredients:
1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter, cubed
1 c milk
1/4 c honey
1/2 c rolled oats

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon. Using a fork, work the butter into the flour until crumbly and well combined. Whisk together the milk and honey. Pour into flour mixture and stir til combined. Mix in the oats. Cut into shape you prefer. I just made a wheel, pictured. It took about 30 minutes to bake, but I didn’t pay close attention. It was about 4am anyway.

Optional Glaze: whisk together 2 T maple syrup, 2 T butter, and a dash of cinnamon if youd like. Spread over scones while they’re hot out of the oven. Sprinkle with sugar.

Whole Wheat Crackers

Its a great feeling making your own crackers. You know exactly what is in them, and you can customize them to your tastes and nutrition requirements. I like to use whole wheat flour in just about anything I use flour in. Sometimes I question what “whole wheat” means when it is advertised on packages, and I dislike not recognizing ingredients on the packages of my food. So I started making my own crackers. Simple, yet more delicious than any cracker I can remember. I believe it was because I made them and I knew they were good for me, and I could season them as I pleased.

I haven’t made these crackers in quite a while. They are a rather simple creation, but unless you have a large oven and lots of counter space it can take a bit of time. It’d compare it to making Christmas cookies. Rolling them out, cutting the shapes, decorating a bit if desired, and rotating trays in the oven every 12 or so minutes. Its simple, but you need to have the time and patience.

Crackers - DoughCrackers - Rolled with Seeds

Although they may take some time, if you have a free Saturday, or evening with your friends or family and feel like getting flour all over the place, I recommend giving it a try. Its not hard. If you’ve got it in you, make a lot and store them in an airtight container for later. They’re great for dipping and spreading all kinds of delicious things like hummus, cheeses, tapenades. These make me feel good about snacking.

Whole Wheat Crackers

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or what you prefer)
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup water
Optional toppings: sea salt, sesame seeds, black pepper, lime zest, rosemary, hot paprika, zaatar, grated cheese

Directions:
Sift together the salt and flour. Whisk in the olive oil until absorbed. Add water and mix until all together. Turn out onto a clean, floured surface and kneed for a minute. Roll into a ball and cover with a clean dish towl and let the dough rest for a half an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Roll out the dough until thin as a Christmas cookie, or thiner if you prefer an extra crispy cracker.

Sprinkle with desired toppings and press them into the dough gently. Cut into desired shapes. Using a fork, dot dough with a few holes (to prevent bubbles from forming, if you mind that), and it also makes it look pretty. Transfer carefully to a baking sheet, and bake about 10-12 minutes until golden.

Orange Ginger Granola

I don’t have much to say about this except that its delicious. I woke up really early Sunday morning with a hankering to make something I’d never made before. After a few searches through the blogosphere, I fell upon Anja’s (Food for Thought) recipe for Orange Coconut Granola (which doesn’t seem to be loading right now). I modified it to what I had around the apartment, and what I like. Do the same and you’ll be pleased.

Orange Ginger Granola

Ingredients:
1 c rolled oats
1/4 c wheat germ
1/4 c wheat bran
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup dried fruit, optional
zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange (about 1/4 cup)
2 T honey
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t cinnamon
a pinch of salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 225ºF.

In a saucepan combine honey, orange juice, orange zest, fresh ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Heat until honey is melted. Set aside.

Combine grains and nuts and berries. Toss together. Pour honey mixture over and toss until well combined. Pour mixture out onto baking sheet and spread out evenly. Heat in oven for about 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally until mixture is dry and crunchy. Allow to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

How I Stay Healthy While Traveling: Homemade Cereal Bars

I travel a lot with my work. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to see different parts of Guatemala, and to help guide foreigners through new encounters in which they can experience the beauty and tragedy of Guatemala. I feel honored to share with fellow gringos this country that I love so much.

Nevertheless, traveling is exhausting. I miss my bed, my shower, my kitchen. I just cannot rest the same as in my own home. And while I enjoy eating out every once in a while, the healthy options are far and few between when I travel with groups in Guatemala. Traditional Guatemalan cooking uses lots of lard, including in their tamales and beans. Vegetables are uncommon or unsafe to eat. Breakfast is usually eggs and beans with tortillas and coffee. Very little fresh fruit. Lunch (on the worksite) is pb&j sandwiches, a hardboiled egg, and an apple or squished banana if we’re lucky. Dinner can vary, but its generally grilled chicken or meat, rice or potatoes, and sometimes an iceberg salad smothered in thousand island dressing (not my preferred vegetable). It’s not my idea of a balanced died, which is something I consider important in my daily life. There is too much protein, too much animal fat, and too few fruits and vegetables. If I’m with groups for longer than a few days I begin to feel sluggish, cranky, and to be honest my digestive system is not too happy with how its been treated.

To help counter this, I began taking my own granola bars so I could take back a sense of control over my diet while I travel. I normally forego the eggs and beans in the morning, or the sandwich at lunch, and stick with something I know is balanced and healthy. At least I can start my day in a way that I feel good about…even if I have little control over the rest of it.

Maybe some of you are in a similar situation. But even if not, this is a healthy, balanced bar that is easy to take anywhere: work, school, road trips, or to just have as a snack on hand. You can use whatever type of cereal you want as a base. I use All-bran because its what I would normally eat at home, and that is essentially my goal: maintain the level of nutrition I am able to enjoy at home.

Cereal Bars

Ingredients:
4 cups cereal of choice (if oats, toast first in the oven until golden)*
1/2 cup wheat bran, toasted
3/4 cup mixed nuts and seeds of choice (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, peanuts, flax), toasted
3/4 cup dried, unsweeted fruit (cranberries, raisins, minced dates or figs, coconut, ginger)
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t anise extract (or almond, or vanilla)
pinch of salt
1 egg (or 2 whites)
1/4 cup honey** (or brown sugar)
2 T brown sugar
1/4 cup natural peanut butter

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
2. Beat egg white until light and fluffy. Add sugar, honey, peanut butter, spices, salt, and extract. Beat until smooth. Stir in nuts and dried fruits until covered. Stir in cereal, and finally wheat bran.
3. Spread mixture evenly in parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1/2 – 3/4″ deep. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until firm and set. Allow to cool completely. Using serrated knife, cut into bars. Store in fridge.

*if you wish, substitute some of the cereal for additional seeds, fruits, and nuts. this is just the balance I prefer for my traveling days. The types of dry ingredients can be played around with quite a bit to achieve the bar you need.
**sugar will make a crunchier bar while honey will made a chewier bar

Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Pie

Happy National Pie Day everyone! This morning while reading through his morning news, Hec informed me it was National Pie Day. I told him, “No, that is March 14th”. But he meant pie and not pi. So he asked me to make a pie.

I’m sure he meant a sweet pie, but we had lots of tomatoes, so I decided it would be a savory pie with tomatoes. Caramelized onions never did anyone wrong either. And we happened to have some swiss chard we bought a week ago (so it is not actually spinach, as I put in the title), so that was going in as well.

I don’t like to make pies often. I have a great respect for a high quality pie crust, but I don’t like to use lots of butter and I never use shortening. Never. So I googled some recipes and settled on an olive oil whole wheat crust. I used all whole wheat flour instead of half and half. I wish we had white whole wheat flour in Guate. I’ve yet to see it though.

It actually took quite a while to make this, but it was really easy. The time input didn’t bother me though. All week I was excited for Saturday so that I could stay at home, rest, and finally do some experimenting in the kitchen. The pie was delicious. We actually only have one tiny piece left.

Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Pie
makes 1 8×8″ pie

Ingredients:
1/2 pie crust recipe of choice
2 t olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 t salt
pinch of sugar
1 t olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard, kale, or spinach, chopped
pinch of salt
6 roma tomatoes, seeded, salted, and squeezed of juices
1 egg plus 1 eggwhite
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated hard cheese, such as parmesean. I used queso seco, but thats hard to find out of Guatemala
1/4 cup fresh basil, or 1 t dried

Directions:
1. Caramelize onions. Heat pan on medium heat and add onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Stir occasionally and continue cooking until deep brown, about 30 minutes.
2. Seed and dice tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and place in collender. Allow juices to drain, about 10 minutes. Squeeze with a dishtowel or cheese cloth. If not, the pie may be soggy.
3. Once the onions are caramelized to your liking, remove from pan and add 1 teaspoon of oil, greens, and a dash of salt. Cook until wilted. If any juices form, squeeze them out.
4. Put pie crust in oven for 10 minutes at 400ºF.
5. Beat the egg. Mix in the cheese and garlic.
6. Assemble pie. Fill the crust with onions first, following the greens, then tomatoes. Sprinkle with basil. Spread egg-cheese mixture over top.
7. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake about 40 minutes until cheese has melted and egg has set.