Ginger-Orange Borscht

Beets might be my favorite vegetable. They are a relatively new discovery for me as we never ate them growing up. I had never considered them, and in the back of my mind the florescent purple flesh most likely made me a little nervous. But after a first taste the fear disappeared, and I have been experimenting with more ways to incorporate it into our diet: steamed, baked, braised, shredded and raw in salads, pureed into a spread. This is the first time I’ve tired a soup. Not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, but just like carrot or squash soup, pureed into a broth and lightly seasoned, its delicious. With a touch of citrus and ginger, it is fresh and delightful!


Ginger Orange Borsche

Ingredients:
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large carrots, roughtly chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, grated
1 clove garlic
4 large beets, roughtly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
salt to taste
1/2 cup orange juice
zest of 1 orange, reserve a little for garnish
fresh mint and yogurt for toping (optional)

Directions:
Simple simple simple. Sautee onion until translucent, add carrots, ginger and garlic and cook on medium heat until carrots are soft and ginger and garlic frangrant. Add beets, stock, water, juice, and zest. Cover and simmer on medium high for an hour, or until the veggies are tender. Puree, season with salt and pepper to tast. Garnish with additional zest, crushed fresh mint leaves, and yogurt.

Honey Garlic Lentils

I read this item on a menu once and though I never tasted them, the idea has been dancing around my head ever since. I searched for recipes online.I found some with a similar title, but the ingredient list never fulfilled the image and expectations my mind had created. I was expecting a strong but creamy roasted garlic with a surprising, but not overwhelming, sweetness. The other recipes included too many other overwhelming flavors such as soy or dijon. After too much searching, and plenty of thinking, I devised this simple recipe.

I love roasted garlic, and I find that its far too easy to consume too much. Some nights we each finish an entire head, wanting more, although we know it was plenty to begin. This recipe was begging for it. I roasted three heads, but think perhaps a few more could be added for stronger results. A few tablespoons of honey and barely a dash of balsamic. All whisked together, simmered for a minute, and folded in with barely-done lentils — al dente, if it can be applied here. You want them to keep their shape. Some red onions, gently sauteed, and pistachio nuts (although I would have used walnuts or pine nuts if I had had them around). Its better if allowed to sit overnight in the honey garlic mixture, and the onions and nuts added the next day right before the meal.

Honey Garlic Lentils

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked lentils
3 heads garlic, roasted
3 T honey
2 t balsamic vinegar
olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
salt
a pinch of red pepper flakes
pistachios, walnuts, or others– preferably toasted and well salted.

Directions:
Cook lentils and roast garlic ahead of time.

Squeeze roasted garlic from bulbs, and whisk with honey and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Let simmer just a minute. Remove from heat. Pour over lentils. If you have time, let mixture sit overnight.

Heat olive oil on medium in a pan, and gently cook onions until just tender. Add a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes. Stir in lentils with honey sauce until just heated through. Toss in toasted nuts.

Roasted Caramelized Beets

Sometimes I really miss the television. Usually I’m too busy for it, or it would just keep me up insanely late.

Thankfully we go to the gym, and there I can get my T.V. fix. We go to the gym at 5am most weekdays, which means my early morning programing consists of Married with Children followed by The Nanny (luckily the volume is muted and we are provided with subtitles so that instead of listening to her screeching voice we can listen to the techno-pop music they have in the background. Actually, I’m not sure which I prefer.)

When I’m lucky, however, I get one of the treadmills or ellipticals with a T.V. attached to it, and I can select my own show. Those occasions are few because, despite how early it is, the gym is packed at this hour. When I can choose my show, it is always the food channel. In Spanish of course. Which is usually a strange experience because they are often shows originally in English but dubbed in Spanish. I can read their lips sometimes in English. weird. I prefer subtitles to dubbing, but I take what I can get.

This morning, Sunday, there was hardly anyone at the gym. Still, 3 out of the 4 machines with their own screen were taken. I ran for it. It was mine. Immediately I scrolled to the cooking channel and I encountered this recipe. One root veggie roasted to perfection with the most simple seasoning. It was a good thing we had beets at home. This is my new favorite way of preparing them. Crispy and salted around the edges; the stems are particularly delicious. It’s almost chip-like. Sweet and caramelized, even more dramatic than your average beet.

Roasted Caramelized Beets
adapted from food network canada

Ingredients:
4 beets, thoroughly scrubbed and sliced into wedges. Leave stems in tact.
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:
Heat oven to 425ºF. Roast for about an hour.

A Sunny Sunday Breakfast on a Cloudy Day: Fried eggs over a bed of onions

Overcast and a bit chilly on the last day of January. Unusual but welcome conditions. A lazy Sunday morning after the gym. Exhausted, the grogginess returns to us as strong as if we never left the bed. Hungry. The normal cereal just won’t do today. “Wanna make some eggs? I’m gonna lay back down.” What an incredible man. And look what he brings: three eggs, sunny-side-up, on top of a bed of sauteed onions. Yolks cooked to the preferred consistency. We have tried endless times to get a soft boiled egg to look exactly like these. At the first glimpse, runny. But with the edge of a fork it holds together, the white mostly untouched by the golden glow. Still the yolks spread easily, smoothly, like cream, over a piece of toast.

The onions — slightly sweet, soft, but still crisp — providing the bed which allowed for this state of perfection to develop. Absorbing the harshness of the direct heat, but benefiting themselves from the fire.

We eat from one plate because there are no secrets.

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

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic (In the Slow Cooker)

As I mentioned in a previous post, we had a lot of tomatoes around the house recently. We shop at Pricesmart (Guatemalan CostCo) for some things, like coffee, milk (it comes in a box here in Guate), beer, canned items, soap. Items we consume a lot of that has a long shelf life. Usually we also buy pears and apples, onions, and occasionally cheese if its a good deal. But sometimes we make stupid purchases. Like 10-or-so pounds of tomatoes. It didn’t really look like that much. But then we get home, make our first batch of tomato soup, and realize we have almost the same amount of tomatoes as we started with.

What do people do with so many tomatoes? Tomato soup, check. Pan tumaca, check. Tomato pie, check. Still, we had lots and lots of very ripe tomatoes. Now the question was more along the lines of how to preserve them because I’m getting a little tired of tomatoes. So this morning I sliced them in half, placed them on the toaster oven baking sheet, drizzled them with a little olive oil, salt, dried herbs, and some un-pealed cloves of garlic for good measure. In the oven at 225ºF and set the timer for 3 hours.

But…just two hours later our lovely little toaster oven let out it’s lovely alarm and then turned itself off. I forgot that it has a “safety” timer, and if you leave it on too long it shuts itself off. Thank you very much, Black and Decker…but I know what I’m doing here and no you haven’t finished your job. (No, we don’t have an oven. Don’t feel abd for me, I love our little kitchen).

But thankfully Héc is inventive, and suggested the crockpot. I know that many of you are thinking to remind me that the crockpot generally uses “wet heat” to cook, rather than the dry heat of the oven. However, if you place a dish cloth under the lid and leave the lid ajar a bit, the cloth will absorb much of the moisture, and trapping much of the heat inside, creating a similar environment as the oven.

I transplanted the tomatoes to the crockpot, drizzled a bit more oil on top, and set it on high for two more hours. They look gorgeous, and I don’t have to eat them for a few days if I don’t feel like it. Although, suddenly, I feel like spreading a juicy slice of roasted tomato over a piece of toasted homemade bread.

Olive Tapenade with Sun Dried Tomatoes

My favorite foods tend to be something you can spread on bread. This is definitely one of them, next to hummus, slabs of good cheese, olive oil, tomato jam, ect. Its really simple to make, much less expensive than the jarred stuff. Try it!

Olive Tapenade

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
12 kalamata olives in brine, drained
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 springs rosemary
salt to taste
olive oil to taste

Directions:
Peel garlic and add to bowl. Toss in a pinch of salt and, using a pestle (or back of a spoon), grind the garlic into a paste. Pit and mince finely the olives. Mince the tomatoes into a paste. Toss together in the bowl. Mince the rosemary and add to the bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to taste (I used just a little, about 1 tablespoon). Salt to taste.

Tip: let it sit for a day or two so the flavors can blend well. Although it is still delicious immediately (I usually don’t wait).  Serve over toasted bread.