Thursday, October 20, 2016

Meat Roll-ups

Tonight I made meat roll-ups.  And I got to use some ingredients that made food prep much easier than normal!  I did make two batches of rolls so that John could have a lactose-free meal.

The first thing to do is to brown some hamburger.  With the main batch I stirred a tin of mushroom soup into the browned meat.  For John's batch, I stirred in flour, some almond milk, and seasonings just enough to moisten it, but not to make it really runny.  In Niger, I would make it the second way since we don't have tinned soup.

Next I made a batch of biscuit dough using Bisquick.  Of course, in Niger, I have to make the biscuit dough from scratch.  I mixed it up with the almond milk.  Once the dough is rolled out in a strip, spread the meat mixture on it.  Roll it up like you would cinnamon rolls and cut into slices.  Lay the slices on a cookie sheet and cook in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes.

While they're baking, I browned fresh mushrooms in butter (in Niger I would use tinned mushrooms).  Then I stirred in flour, and added half vegetable broth and half milk (real milk in one batch and almond milk in John's batch).  You serve the meat pies with the sauce poured over.  We ate it with green beans.  I forgot to take a picture of the final product.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Salmon, Sweet Potatoes, and Asparagus (Post for Oct 18)

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't been keeping up as well on the blog as I'd like.  That's because:  1.) We left Niger on Friday night, Oct. 14 and arrived in the USA on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 15 AND 2.) Sometime while we were on our flight from Niger to Paris, our grandson, Hezekiah James Hines entered the world!  Between Friday night and Monday afternoon we were in three different countries and in four different states in the USA.  We are now in OH enjoying time with Suzanne and Theo, Tera and Kiah.  Daniel will come down this evening and Kelly will come for the weekend.

Last night I cooked supper.  Suzanne thought of the idea and I made it happen.  As usual, it was fairly simple, but wow, was it delicious.  The three parts of the meal were salmon, sweet potatoes, and asparagus, none of which we can get in Niger.  Well, we can get a variety of sweet potatoes, but they are usually white.

I cut the sweet potatoes in strips and then put them in a bowl in which I had mixed oil and seasonings.  I used garlic powder, salt, paprika, and cumin.  Some red pepper is good, too, but I think I am the only spice lover, so I skipped the pepper.  I then baked the sweet potatoes in the oven for a good 45 minutes.  

For the salmon, I mixed 2 cloves garlic, chopped, 6 T olive oil (I used half butter), 1 teaspoon basil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper (I think I forgot the pepper now that I think about it), 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon parsley, and 1 teaspoon dill.  The recipe said to marinate the salmon, but we were out of time, so I just dipped the salmon in the oil mixture, then wrapped each piece in foil.  We baked that in the oven for about 30 minutes.  To tell if fish is done, pull away a piece with a fork.  If it is flaky, it's done.

And I steamed frozen asparagus.

Best of all, I had the cutest helper ever.  She put the sweet potatoes in the bowl and helped stir them and she sat the table.  

This meal is really nutritious.  It's one that I've cooked often on the grill, but doing it in the oven works well, too.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Freezing for the Lean Months

From about November through March we have beautiful fruits and vegetables, most of the grown locally.  Then the rest of the year, it's hard to find good fresh produce.  Local produce especially is hard to find because it's just too hot to grow.  

So, in the months between November and March, I work hard to fill up my freezer with fresh veggies.  We do broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, and guava sauce.  And, why yes, those would be printer ink cartridges in my freezer. :)

Broccoli.  I cut it up, put it in a pot of boiling water for about three minutes, immediately plunge it into ice water, then drain it, and put it in zip-lock bags.

Green beans.  Same process as broccoli.  Boil, plunge in ice water, freeze.

Tomatoes are super easy.  I wash them well, cut them up a bit, throw them in the food processor and whirl them just enough that they are broken into pieces.  If I have fresh cilantro or basil, I'll throw that in, too.  I immediately put the tomatoes into plastic bags in batches of 2 cups each.  Then they're immediately ready for a recipe that calls for a can of tomatoes.

Here I am washing tomatoes and at the same time doing the cold cool-down process on carrots.  Last year I did way too many carrots and not enough green beans.

The guava sauce is a little more complicated.  The guavas have to be cooked down, then strained to get out the seeds and skin, then cooked again with a bit of sugar, and then placed into sterile containers.  The jars with polka-dot lids are guava jam.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Using Cook Books, Even in Ex-Nihilo Cooking

When I was in high school and first learning how to put together a meal on my own, my dad would tell me to just be creative and change recipes by adding ingredients or substituting ingredients.  I was too afraid I'd mess it up, so for a long time I stuck strictly to the recipe.  Now I've been cooking so long that there are many, many meals I make without a recipe.  I'm also no longer afraid to add to or to substitute ingredients in a recipe.  I do stick pretty close to the recipe for things like cake, though.

I think every cook has a few cookbooks that they go to over and over again.  Here are my favorites.

1.  More with Less.  This is "suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources".  This is my go-to book because the recipes are easy and use a limited number of ingredients.  If I had to cut down to one cookbook, this would be it.

2.  Betty Crocker. 


But the second book I'd want to keep is my Betty Crocker cookbook, especially for cake and cookie recipes.  When it comes to baking, Betty Crocker is my lady.  I was given this book when I first went to Nigeria as a single missionary.  By the way, I have a copy of More with Less and a Betty Crocker cookbook on both sides of the ocean.

3.  I have two old cookbooks that I love because they were written before recipes called for a can of this and a mix of that.  One is an even older version of Betty Crocker than what I have and the other is an old Good Housekeeping cookbook that has especially wonderful cake and cookie recipes.

4.  The Crocodile Cookbook.  This one is so old and my copy is falling apart.  It was put together by a women's club in Nigeria back in the '70's and is full of recipes that work in Africa.  


5.  The Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Book.  I make all of our bread with the exception of the delicious baguettes we get here.  This book has a lot of different kinds of bread.  It was worth every penny I spent buying it used on Amazon (not more than a dollar or two!).

6.  And my own notebook of saved recipes.  Some are ones I've gotten from friends and some I've printed from off the internet.  I need to do some re-organizing of this book.  That will be a home-assignment project.

What's your favorite cookbook?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Oven-baked Chicken

Tonight we once again had quick and easy! :)  Of course.

This recipe is called Oven Baked Chicken and originally came from the More with Less Cookbook.  But I don't even use the recipe anymore, it's that simple.

First, in a plastic bag put about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, then add seasonings you like.  Today I used salt, pepper, paprika, dill, seasoned salt, and "garlic and herbs".  Dip the chicken pieces in milk (I used soy milk), then put the pieces in the bag of breadcrumbs and shake the pieces until they are coated.  Lay the pieces in a slightly oiled pan and bake about 60 minutes.  Or do like I did, and put the pieces in the crock pot.  Mine cooked all afternoon (well, when the power wasn't off) and was delicious.  I served it with buttered rice, but often I'll put potatoes in the crock pot at the same time and bake potatoes.  We had a 
can of beets for our vegetables.  

And the power went off, so we ate by candlelight.  Sorry, the meal doesn't look like much in this lighting!  And yes, that would be me serving dinner by putting the saucepans on the table.  Ain't nobody got time to wash extra serving bowls!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spanish Noodle Skillet

This is another one of our favorite go-to meals for quick and easy.  It is cooked in one pan, is fast, is delicious, and takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

You can use any kind of pasta, but I usually use a small size of macaroni.  Just use what you have in your cupboard.  The point of this meal is to not have to make a grocery store run to get some specialized ingredient.

As the recipe cooks, you can add more water as the liquid cooks down because you need to keep the pasta covered with liquid.  Make sure you stir it often, too.

I used tomatoes that I had frozen back when tomatoes were in season.  I just whirl fresh tomatoes in the food processor and put them in bags to freeze.

Here's the recipe:

Saute in a small amount of oil:
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped (optional)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 lb ground beef (or less; this is a good "essence of meat" meal)

Pour off any excess fat.  (Our beef is so lean this never happens!)
1 t. salt
dash pepper
1/4 t. oregano
a handful of fresh basil leaves
2 c. pureed or stewed tomatoes
2 c. water (the recipe says 3/4 cup, but there's no way that's enough)

Bring to a boil and add:
1 1/2 cups pasta

Reduce heat, cook until the pasta is tender.  Remember to add more liquid as necessary and to stir often.  The recipe says to cover the pan, but I find it works better if you don't cover it.

Sprinkle a small amount of cheese on top.  Cover the pan just until the cheese is melted.

Voila!  Home-made Hamburger Helper!

Tonight, no time to fuss with a vegetable, so we just had olives. :)  They look huge in this picture.  John also had bread.  Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to live in a country that has baguette?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stir Fried Cabbage

Today I've been beyond exhausted.  So I made the quickest easiest meal I could think of.  I'm also trying to use up stuff in my fridge so it's nearly empty when we go on vacation.  And I sat down at the table and took out my camera to take a picture of our dinner and then totally forgot to take any pictures.  So, today, no picture.

This is another one of those meals that I don't have a recipe for and I don't think there's any really right or wrong way to make it.  I fried up some hamburger with onions and garlic.  You can never have too much garlic!  Sometimes I'll add in fresh grated ginger and sesame seeds.  Then I stirred in thin-sliced strips of cabbage, added salt, pepper, and paprika and sprinkled on some soy sauce.  Meanwhile rice was cooking and voila! in 15 minutes we were ready to eat.  I do the same with zucchini or green beans.  It's a quick, nutritious meal and you could also experiment with different kinds of meat or with no meat at all.  I usually add hot pepper sauce to mine, but John doesn't like his food to spicy, so I don't put the hot pepper in while cooking.  But you could if the whole family likes spicy.


Last night a friend invited us over for the evening meal.  She had hardly slept a wink the night before because the power had been off all night (thankfully, while it had gone off and on in the night, it wasn't off all night at our house).  Then she worked all day and came home around 4:30 p.m. to fix dinner for us.  Around 6:30 the power went off again and stayed off throughout the evening.  It was probably 95 degrees in her apartment and we were all sweating profusely.  A friend who is doing a one month refresher course at a nearby school dropped in and she joined us for dinner.  I thought I'd take a picture of us sharing a meal, but it was too dark!  The power did finally come on right before we left (but they said it went off again in the night and they had a second sleepless night).

This is a perfect example of true hospitality.  Our friend went on with the meal in spite of cooking in less than ideal conditions.  She laughed and joked about eating by flashlight.  And in the midst of the darkness and sweat she invited in an unexpected guest.

Hospitality comes more naturally to some than to others.  I wouldn't say it's natural to me, but I've learned to do it with a minimum amount of stress and to enjoy having extra people around the table.  It's a good thing, too, because in my job new people are constantly arriving, so we have guests often.  

I think hospitality is something we don't do as much of as people used to.  When I was growing up and our family was on furlough, we always stayed in somebody's home when my dad preached and we always had a home-cooked meal with the pastor or a church member.  Now, and this isn't a criticism, as often as not, we get put up in a hotel room and somebody takes us out to dinner.  

I just want to encourage you to not use excuses such as "I'm too tired", "My house is a mess", "I work all day", "It costs too much to have guests", "I will have to create yet another meal ex-nihilo", or "I don't know what I'd say" to stop you from having guests.  I've thought all of those things and could use all of them as an excuse.  Believe me, after working an 8-hour day (or longer) when it's 100 degrees out and the power is off, it would be easy enough to say I can't do it.  But there's something about sitting around a table and sharing a meal together that unites you as friends and draws you closer together.  The best conversations take place around the table.

Our African brothers and sisters have so much to teach us about hospitality.  They just always cook extra food assuming somebody will stop by at meal time.  It's not unusual to find out-of-town guests staying with them, sometimes for weeks at a time.  Even the very poor will at least bring you a glass of water or a bowl of porridge when you visit.

I Peter 4:9 -- Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
Hebrews 13:2 -- Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

International Food

Even though it's Monday, this is Sunday's post.  I never had time on Sunday to do any posting.  But it's still Sunday somewhere ... California, maybe.

We go to an international church.  In fact the name, translated in English, is "International Evangelical Church".  I think the pastor said we have 24 nationalities.  Yesterday in the service when new people stood up to introduce themselves, I remember hearing Chad, Cameroun, and Cote d'Ivoire.

Yesterday at church the ladies did an international food day. 

 You had to pay for your food as it was a fund-raiser.  It was a bit confusing how to pay (at least for us low-context people!), but we finally figured out that you could pay a small amount and get a cup of porridge, you could pay more and get meal that didn't have meat in it, you could pay another price and get a meal with some meat in it, or you could pay even more and get a meal that was mostly meat.  

The meal I got was from Cameroun and was very yummy!  It was a piece of boiled yam with a thick sauce made from some kind of bitter leaves with pieces of meat.  There was something else in it that I couldn't identify and a bit of peppery seasoning.  I was very pleased with my choice.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Baking Day

For as long as I can remember, I've done all of my baking for the week on Saturday.  I probably started doing that when we first got married and I was teaching all week.  Or maybe I started when we lived in the village and I was home-schooling.  At any rate, if you work outside the home or are home-schooling, baking on Saturdays may work well for you.  Even if you are a stay-at-home mom, it might be easiest to find one day to do the baking, but I'm guessing you need to bake as it fits around the needs of the kids.

On Saturday I almost always make bread.  In the village I made two to three loaves at a time and did it by hand.  Then my house-helper wanted to learn how to make bread, so I taught her and soon turned that task over to her.  As often happens, the student became the better bread maker than the teacher. :)  Now i have a bread machine and I always make my bread in that.  Since it's just me and John now, and since I really don't each much bread, one loaf will easily last us a week and sometimes more.  Especially if we supplement it with baguette (one of the great perks of living in a former French colony!) or muffins.  I make cookies about every other Saturday.  I try to not eat cookies, so I usually freeze half the batch then on the next week, John can have a previous batch of frozen cookies.

My metabolism basically doesn't even work, but John burns calories almost instantly, so I need to try to think of extra things to give him more calories.  That means most Saturdays will find me making muffins or banana or pumpkin (squash) bread or something else to give him something extra to eat.

I also use Saturday to cut and slice carrot sticks for the week, to cut up pineapple, to make yogurt, or to do other food preparation tasks I can do ahead of time.  One of my friends here cooks as much of her meat on Saturday as she can so that during the week she can just dump it into the sauce or whatever she's making and meal prep goes a lot faster then.  She also has a much bigger family than I currently do!

This does mean that Saturdays are a pretty heavy work day for me as all this food prep also means dishes.  I also change my sheets on Saturdays and do two or three loads of wash.  But in the end it pays off that I don't have to do time-consuming cooking tasks in the evening when I'm tired.

Here's my pumpkin bread recipe that I got from Cooking Light magazine a few years ago.  Of course, what they don't tell you is that, first you have to buy the pumpkin, cook it, and mash it before you can even start the recipe. :)  I will buy a big squash at the market, 

cut it in half,


and bake it in the oven. 

 Once it's soft and cooled down a bit, I'll put pieces of it in my food processor and whirl it until they are mush.  I'll do this process once or twice a year and have the squash puree ready to go in the freezer. 

Now I'm ready to make the recipe!

Healthy Make-over Pumpkin Bread
In large bowl, whisk:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large egg whites (I just use whole eggs)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup low-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir together in separate bowl:
1 cup white flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup wheat germ (optional...the original recipe doesn't call for this)
1/8 cup flax seed (ground or whole -- optional...the original recipe doesn't call for this)

Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Pour batter into loaf pan coated with cooking spray or oil.  Bake 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes.  Invert pumpkin bread onto wire rack; cool completely

Tortillas and Tacos

Making tacos or tortillas sounds like a quick and easy meal, right?  Just grab some tortillas at the store, cut up some veggies, put out already grated cheese, fry your meat and add a package of seasoning, right?  Uh, no, not right.  First, make your tortillas, grate your cheese, make your own seasoning.....  It's funny how your idea of "easy" changes, though, because even with the make-your-own steps, this is one of my go-to easy meals.  We make it often on Friday nights.

A lot of people make tortillas with a dough that is about like pie crust and roll out their tortillas and then fry them.  But I have a runnier dough that I pour on the griddle like crepes or pancakes. 


They are super yummy, too!

Stir together:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small egg
1 1/2 cups cold water

Heat your griddle blazing hot.  Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter on the griddle and quickly smooth it out with the back of a soup spoon.  (I decided it was impossible to pour, spread and take a picture all at the same time!)

When the tortillas curl up, turn them over and brown on the other side.  You may have to keep adjusting your heat, but the hotter the griddle, the better. 


The recipe says to cook over a low heat, but I find the hotter it is the better it works for me. 

After they're cooked I put them on a plate, covered with a lid, while I finish the others.  This helps keep them not only warm, but soft as well.

And here's the recipe for taco seasoning:

Taco Seasoning
3 Tablespoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder (I don't have any so, no onion powder in mine)
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you could decrease or increase this depending on how spicy you want it to be)
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
4 1/2 teaspoons cumin
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons pepper

Use 1-3 tablespoons of seasoning with your meat, depending on how much meat you have.  Add water and cook until the liquid is gone.

Serve with whatever toppings you like!  You can also stir black beans, kidney beans, or whatever kind of beans you have into the meat to make it go farther.  Some people make refried beans, which I've never done, so I can't give you any pointers on that!

The power went out while I was cooking, so we served up in the dark.  But it came on just in time for us to have a "TV dinner" and watch a movie.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Eating Out

Everybody needs a break from the kitchen every now and then.  We eat out about once a month, usually at a place that's moderately priced.  This week we've had Council meetings for three days running.  On the last night we always go out for dinner and if we have spouses who are not on Council, they are invited to come along.  

The restaurant we chose last night is The Pilier, one of our favorite restaurants.  It's not cheap, though, so it's a nice treat to go there every now and then.  I ALWAYS have the ricotta-epinard ravioli (ricotta and spinach ravioli.  The picture is funny because of the lights in the restaurant, but it sure is yummy!

I never posted this yesterday because it was late when we got home and right when we walked in the door the power went out.