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Friday, March 26, 2010

Eating in Guatemala

So I just returned last night from a short trip to Guatemala with International Justice Mission. And what an amazing trip it was!
I've been blogging and talking all about my experiences there, but one question that keeps coming up is "what kind of food did you eat?" I figure that deserves it's own post here on my little food blog. After all, so much of the experience of traveling is about the food. I've heard of some who dread getting out of their comfort zone, being forced to stretch their culinary palate. Poor souls. Live a little! Embrace where you're at! Get yourself out of your box!

So, here's what I had a lot of...

Pretty much everywhere you go, the coffee is good. Really good. I even had the opportunity to zip line over a coffee plantation. Seeing all the work that goes into it gave me even more of an appreciation for the people who harvest, wash, and roast it.

Another interesting drink that is quite popular in the restaurants is called "Fresco de Jamaica" (hibiscus flower drink). It's a refreshing, sweet, floral tasting drink that's really good. I wish I could find it here.

Probably the most popular fast food restaurant, Pollo Campero, just opened up a location here in my home city just outside of Atlanta.
These places are everywhere in Guatemala. Although we did not eat there on this trip, back in 1995 I ate there several times. One of the newest staff members of IJM is a native Georgian. He and his family just moved to Guatemala City and he said that Pollo Campero has the best fried chicken he's had at any restaurant. I plan to take the boys there sometime in the near future for the cultural experience!

A typical breakfast for me was "mosh". Mosh is similar to oatmeal, but more runny. I topped it with granola, papaya, strawberries and honey. It was really delicious and filling. I'd also have fried plantains, refried black beans (yep!), and papaya juice. On one of our visits to an IJM's client's house, she had worked hard all morning preparing her mosh for us. Her's was cooked with cinnamon and sugar and the sweet lady had been stirring it for SO long. She then served us the mosh in cups and we drank it as we left.

My last morning there I had this:

On the menu, it was called "Mexican Eggs." I SO want to recreate this. It was basically two fried eggs atop a corn tortilla, topped with salsa, avacado, crumbled queso blanco with a side of fried plantains and black beans. Simple enough, but I doubt I'll be able to make it just right because the salsa was very unique.

Beans for breakfast? I can tell you that that every time I had refried black beans they were always wonderful. They were very salty but in a good way. They were usually topped with sour cream or cheese. I've never had them like that in the states. I've heard that the way to prepare them is to cook them, run them through a food processor until they're very smooth, then fry them in a skillet to dry them out a little. I have no idea if this is truly the way it's done, and I don't know what seasonings are added but I figure it's worth a shot.

Other things on my menu: ceviche (first time having it...definitely won't be the last!), pumpkin ravioli in a Guatemalan herb sauce, shrimp in a curry coconut milk sauce with raisins and bananas, and chili rellenos. There was also an interesting marinated vegetable salad offered at the hotel with every meal that included cauliflower, carrots and peppers marinated in a vinegar sauce. Again, very tasty.

Dessert was a bit of a disappointment. I was never that impressed. They usually seemed so promising, but just didn't quite deliver.

If you're interested, here's a link I found on typical Guatemalan food.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everything but the kitchen sink pasta primavera

I wish I had a picture to post tonight, but we didn't waste any time before eating, it was that good. If I rated my recipes here, I'd definitely give this one 5 stars! Filling, healthy, colorful and delicious. All the things a good meal needs.

This recipe was born out of a necessity to use up some produce and chicken and because I needed something quick that I could throw together. Plus, I love making pasta. I've listed the veggies I used, but what I love about pasta primavera is that you use whatever you have on hand or like.

So, instead of laying this out in a recipe format, I'll just let you know what I did as I went along, because that's pretty much how I made this baby up.

What I used:
1 lb. penne (Barilla, yellow box; healthier version)
1 chicken breast
olive oil
2 slices thick cut bacon, diced up
white wine
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

A handful of the following (don't need too much of any):
onion (sliced)
orange bell pepper (sliced)
carrots (sliced)
zucchini (sliced)
broccoli florets
sundried tomatoes
2 roma tomatoes (diced and seeds removed)
fresh torn basil

parmesan cheese, grated
pana granada cheese (trader joe's)

Get the pasta cooking, according to package directions. I cooked the whole box, eventhough I didn't use all of the pasta in this dish.

I marinated my chicken breast for all of 10 minutes in some Greek salad dressing. Had to use it up. After that, I grilled it. While it was grilling, in the largest Le Cruset skillet I have (this baby's big!) I heated about a tbsp olive oil and fried the diced bacon until slightly crispy. I transferred the bacon to a paper towel lined plate, dumped the bacon grease, and used about 1/2 to 1 cup of white wine to deglaze the pan. Let that simmer a bit to reduce, then add about 2 tbsp of butter. Once melted, I tossed in the onion, garlic and carrots. I let those cook for a couple of minutes, then added the bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes and basil. I also added a little more olive oil to keep things moist. While the veggies cooked, I added several different seasonings I had on hand ( Italian among others). About this time the chicken was done so I removed it from the grill, let it sit a few minutes, then sliced it up and tossed it together with the veggies. Add in the bacon at this point as well. Season with sea salt, pepper and anything else you feel like. Toss in the cooked penne, top with the cheeses and dive in! Goes great with a good glass of red.
And don't skip out on the bacon...I think it makes this dish!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pie crust

I'm dreaming of the chicken pot pie from my last post. It was even better the next day as leftovers. This will definitely be put into rotation more.
I saw Rachel Ray making beef pot pie wedges where she rolled out two pie crusts (storebought), cut each in half making semi-circles, filled a little filling on each and folded over and pressed with a fork to make little pockets. She brushed and egg wash on top and baked until golden. I think this would be great with the chicken filling.

Per Sara's request, here's my pie crust recipe. Of course, store bought is easier, but I like to make mine because I've been using a blend of 1/2 whole wheat flour 1/2 regular flour to make it a little healthier. I like the flavor whole wheat adds as well.

Pie Crust:
In a small bowl, combine
1 1/3 C plain flour (I use the 1/2 and 1/2 blend)
1/2 tsp. salt

In a glass measuring cup, measure
1/3 C. vegetable oil
Add enough milk until it reaches the 1/2 C line
Mix well and add to the flour mixture, mixing well.
If mixture is too dry, add a little more oil or milk

Roll out for use in a pie. I usually roll mine out between two sheets of waxed paper.
Bake at 450 degrees until browned.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

Great. Snow...again. And it's the messy, wet kind of snow that gets brought in on little boy's shoes and the dog's paws. I'm not enjoying this latest bout from mother nature, but at least a day like today can be savored around the dinner table. Today's weather demands pie...chicken pot pie and blueberry pie for dessert.

Although I don't make chicken pot pie often, I enjoy making it for several reasons. One, it can be made ahead. I love meals that I can cook after lunch and assemble just before baking. Two, I love to chop up a bunch of stuff and saute it in a pot.That's why I love making soup and pasta sauces. I love the smell from onions and garlic sauteing in butter and white wine. I love to stand by the stove and stir and smell and taste. It's comforting, especially when it's cold and wet outside.

Today I adapted Pioneer Woman's recipe to my own liking. Not that her's wasn't good enough, I just needed to use what I had on hand and what I like. Here's what I came up with. It met the whole family's approval.

Chicken Pot Pie

1 yellow onion, diced
2 cups mixed vegetables (whatever you have on hand. I used carrots, peas, cut green beans, corn and 1 small potato). Can be fresh, frozen or canned. Make sure to dice up carrots, potatoes, green beans.
2 cloves pressed garlic
2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
3 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
3/4 c. all purpose flour
up to 2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp ground rosemary
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1 pie crust (I make mine from scratch using a little whole wheat flour)

Preheat oven to 400

Heat the butter (or oil) on medium to low heat in a heavy dutch oven. Saute the onion for a few minutes, until clear. Toss in the other vegetables and garlic and continue sautéing for several minutes. You want the carrots and potatoes to be tender, but not mushy.

Add the chicken and stir to combine. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables and chicken and stir to combine. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring gently.

Pour in the chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Make sure there's not too much liquid. You may not need to use all the broth. Stir in the wine. Pour in the cream and stir. If mixture is dry, add the rest of the broth. Allow mixture to cook over low heat, thickening gradually, about 4 minutes. If the mixture is watery, you may need to add a little more flour. Season with thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and taste, adjusting the seasonings if needed.

Pour into a deep dish pie pan or a small casserole dish. If making ahead, refrigerate until ready to use.

Roll out the crust so it's 1 inch larger than the pan. Place the crust on top and press the crust into the sides of the dish to seal. Cut small slits in the top to vent.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.