The year 2008 changed everything about who I thought I was before and who I know myself to be now. It changed how I saw the world, and it changed who I want to be, and it changed the things I choose to love. In January of that year, I moved to Nicaragua to serve as a missionary, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Teaching the "good news" to people, giving them hope for something better. 
   Nicaragua is a beautiful land of lakes and volcanoes, beaches and coffee plantations, but littered by two things. The first: garbage of all sorts lines most of the roads. It infuriated me that they disrespected their land in that way. But the second "litter" was a psychological one. The people, marred by a warring resistance three decades ago, are reluctant to forge close relationships with each other. It seemed so sad to me because they love to laugh and enjoy their families. 
   I lived in the coastal fishing village of San Juan del Sur, the popular getaway for most Managuans, and a great jumping-off spot for surfers and real estate investors. 

   One thing about every town I visited: gallo pinto (pronounced gah-yo peen-toh). It's a staple of every meal, consisting of rice and beans, and it is usually accompanied by a little dollop of sour cream and a boiled or fried plantain. I actually became quite accustomed to it, to the point that I made it a go-to meal when in a pinch for something quick. It's not fancy, but it's a hearty dish!


   Regarding the plantain, many folks are a little intimidated when it comes to incorporating it into a meal, so the snack I mention below is easy and will satisfy your "sweet and salty" tooth!
   Get a RIPE plantain (this is important! Find one that is yellow, almost brown. Not green! You want it to be a little soft when squeezed), and buy some Mexican Queso Fresco (Literally "fresh cheese"). The cheese can be found in the Mexican cheese section in your supermarket. Cut the plantain in half. Slice the plantain and cheese lengthwise into thick pieces, about 1/4-1/2" thick. Heat some peanut or coconut oil to frying heat and fry both until browned. I fry the plantain first, and then the cheese. The cheese does not need preparation, but be sure to use a spatula to lift it out of the pan.
   After cooling slightly, salt lightly and eat the two together at once. Sweet and salty!

GALLO PINTO
1 medium onion, diced or sliced thinly
2 cups rice
2 cups red beans
about 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Pour vegetable or olive oil and onion in frying pan and sautee. Set onion aside and then put vegetable oil and rice in a frying pan on high heat. Fold/stir rice occasionally so that it browns fairly evenly. It will start to smell like popcorn. When rice has browned and oil is still hot, start adding water. It will boil and steam. Stir occasionally and keep adding water until fully cooked. Add cooked onion.

In a pot, boil beans until cooked. Remember to add water as you go, because much will be boiled into the beans or evaporate as they cook. (Or stick them in the crock pot for a few hours.) Add salt to taste. 

Now, use equal parts beans and rice and mix together. I like to add a little cumin, Tabasco or other hot sauce, and sour cream.



Salud!
 
 
   It was a crisp autumn day outside, but I was inside, warm and toasty, ten years old and munching on this sweet, gooey, crunchy goodness... I could almost have called her grandma, but she was just a neighbor from down the street. Riding my bike to her house meant that I was in store for a tasty treat!
   Believe it or not, I believe I've perfected the recipe! I've added a twist. Cinnamon!

Popcorn Balls
About two cups popping corn
1/4 cup vegetable oil
   Heat on high in a large stewpot, covered. Shake back and forth every so often until popped.
2 cups of sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
salt to taste
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1-1 1/2 tsp of cinnamon

On medium-high to high heat, boil 1st four ingredients until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla, vinegar, and cinnamon. Allow to cool enough so you can handle it.
Pour over bowl of popcorn, mixing and forming into 3" balls.
Or, do what I did and pour onto a cookie sheet and flatten. (Kind of like rice crispy treats!)
Allow to cool completely.
YUM!!!
 
 
 I'm one of those old-fashioned breakfast types. Eggs and bacon, maybe a biscuit. But a few weeks ago, my husband made Haitian French Toast, and we've decided to make it a special breakfast treat once in a while. Special ingredient? Orange juice.

I'm not saying it's low on calories. Definitely not. (That's why it's a ONCE IN A WHILE treat...)

HAITIAN FRENCH TOAST

1 loaf of French bread
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1 dash ground nutmeg
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp powdered sugar for dusting

Cut loaf ends off and reserve for other use. Cut remaining loaf into 1- 1 1/2" slices. In a baking dish, combine juice, cream, eggs, cinnamon, and sugar. Place dish and turn until mixture is absorbed, about 3-5 minutes.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add bread slices and cook until browned on both sides, about five mins. Dust with powdered sugar.
 
 
This is one is my own Kitchen Psycho recipes. I like the texture of linguine as opposed to spaghetti, but you can use this with any pasta. I love it with lasagna and manicotti, especially. This sauce has amazing flavor and made from scratch, but super easy.

 Too, I am sick and tired of having High Fructose Corn Syrup in everything, including canned sauces. I cannot stress enough how much you should AVOID this ingredient at all costs. Nothing about it is good. Don't let those "corn sugar" commercials fool you.
I always inspect the ingredients of everything I buy. You should, too. Know what you're putting in your body!

Italian Meat Sauce for Pasta

Olive oil
3-4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into strips.
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
half a handful fresh basil
half a handful fresh parsley
half a handful fresh oregano
half a handful fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
2 12-oz cans plain, no salt added tomato sauce
1 lb ground beef (or use half of that and add two or three links of Italian sausage, mild or spicy)
red pepper to taste (careful, this can get really spicy if you don't watch it, but I love it!)

In a semi-deep skillet, (a big frying pan will do) drizzle olive oil and add tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and salt. Cook down on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it makes its own sauce. Add tomato sauce, cook another five mins. Add cooked meat (browned in a separate pan) and red pepper and cook another five to thirty mins on low. Letting it simmer will let the flavors mature, but the fresher, the better.
Add pasta, best with linguine, or with a pasta that has cheese, like manicotti or lasagna!
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This is what it should look like before adding tomato sauce.
 
 
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I feel like doo-doo. Sniffly, sneezy, doo-doo. Wish someone would make me some chicken soup... but I make the best, so I guess I'm gonna pour myself out of this bed and put one together. My husband says I make the best chicken soup he's ever had, but he also says that every female he has ever known who said she could cook, COULDN'T. So I'm not sure I trust his perspective. 
Still, I love this soup! It's great for sick days. Studies have shown there is actually something about having chicken soup to make you feel better when you're sick. But it's good for any other time, too...

Sick Day Chicken Soup

One whole chicken (or a BIG can of chicken stock)
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
one whole jalapeno, seeded and diced
a big handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1-2 cups brown rice (it's better for you than white rice)
3 chopped carrots
3-4 chopped celery stalks, including leaves
1 medium diced onion, (instead, I like to use 5 or 6 green onions, but any will do)
1-2 tablespoons of cumin
4-5 sprigs fresh oregano
salt to taste (you might not need any if you use canned stock)
about a tbsp red pepper (if you want it a little spicy)

Put your whole chicken in a stock pot with enough water to almost cover it (within an inch or two). Boil for 45-60 minutes. About halfway through, flip chicken (I use a big set of tongs) over in pot and continue to boil. You can cut into it to make sure nothing inside is uncooked. Take chicken out and set aside to cool. Now use your "chicken water" for soup stock. Throw in garlic, jalapeno, parsley, and rice. Boil five mins.

TIP: Any soup that has rice in it needs the rice to cook FIRST. THEN add your other ingredients that don't need as much cooking. Otherwise, if you add all ingredients at the same time, the rice will be mushy and gross by the time the soup is ready.
ALSO: Ordinarily, I like to add herbs last. This way their flavor is not overcooked, but bright and fresh. But in this case, for the parsley, it doesn't hurt.

Now add your carrots and celery and allow to cook another five mins. Add onion. A few mins later, add cumin, oregano, salt and red pepper.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE JALAPENO! When you take the seeds out, you're taking out most of the heat. It adds good flavor and is good for metabolism. 

You can eat it with crackers or toast. I like to sprinkle fresh grated parmesan to let it melt on top... Mmmm!
 
 
My husband is one of those Southerners who scoffs at the idea of Vegetarianism. He can't fathom a meal without some kind of meat in it.
The first time I pulled a pork loin out of his freezer when we were 8 days married, I had no idea what to do with it. The extent of my knowledge of pork had not surpassed bacon and the occasional pan seared pork chop.
I searched on the net and found this great, super stinking easy recipe:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
about 3 tbsp steak seasoning

Throw all this in a big Ziplock bag and marinate at least two hours.
Place in a casserole dish (I like to cube potatoes and onions and throw those in there, too. Salt them and drizzle a little olive oil on top) Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour... maybe longer. Check every twenty minutes or so to baste. After an hour, cut deep enough to make sure the center is not pink. It should be nice and juicy.

Here's another completely different one; use about a tsp of fennel. 
Drizzle the bottom of the casserole dish with olive oil. Place the pork loin in the dish. Drizzle it generously with olive oil and sprinkle fennel, salt, garlic, maybe a little ground sage. Or you can use a couple chopped fresh leaves. Bake like the one above. Enjoy!

 
 
 I looked at the acorn squash on the counter starring back forlornly. "I've been sitting here for five days," it seemed to cry out to me. "Please make me delicious and put me in your belly!" So I thought of dessert. Acorn squash for dessert!!! Ever thought of that?? Oohh... It's like cobbler, but ...without the cobbler.
Here you go:

Acorn Squash For Dessert
1 acorn squash
about 1/2 cup blueberries, blackberries, or both
2tbsp honey (I don't really measure it)
about 4 tbsp brown sugar
Cinnamon
2-4 tbsp butter
Vanilla ice cream

Cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Divide the ingredients in half and put fruit in first, Then cinnamon (sprinkle over whole inside of squash). Then honey and brown sugar. Then butter.
Place on cookie sheet and bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Squash should be softened. 
Loosen up the flesh of the squash and fold into mix. Cover with ice cream. YUM!

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This is what it should look like before baking.
 
 
I live in a small town in Northeast Texas. I have friends and family throughout the south, some even in California. Everyone I know in the South here got snow yesterday, so we're all going a bit Oprah-audience-member crazy, seeing as how snow is a rarity here! In fact, some made "snow cream" instead of eating the ice cream in their freezers. But I digress...

Yesterday, in the middle of the flurry of flakes, I decided to make chili, like 90 percent of everybody else does when winter weather hits. Instead of giving you a recipe for chili, because I know you all have one, how about an idea for leftovers?

Take a block of cream cheese, and surround it with chili, making it a dip for tortilla or corn chips, like Fritos? You could also melt some Velveeta into the chili (more Velveeta than chili) and make it a chili cheese dip! Best eaten with a cold beer in hand...

This morning, I woke up in a world covered with white. My husband had bought five chickens about 6 months ago and made a small coop for them. I originally was opposed to the idea, thinking of nothing but the stench, noise, and mess they might create. To my surprise, he takes care of it pretty well, and I get fresh eggs every day!! So I stomped through the back yard, listening to the crunch-thud of the snow beneath my sneakers. Upon returning to the house with two eggs and frozen fingers, I put them in the fridge... What am I going to make today?

My husband loves sugar cookies. That would be a nice treat. I'll make some Mexican hot chocolate, too. ("What if we just have that for dinner?" the child inside me screeches.)
Nah... He'll probably just have leftover chili. And I'll be good and have a salad...

Here's my recipe for Sugar Cookies, Sugar Cookie Glaze, and Royal Icing:

SUGAR COOKIES
1 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt

Beat butter at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla, beating well. Gradually add flour (a cup at a time is fine) and salt, beating until blended. Dough will be crumbly. Press together and divide dough in half and refrigerate 1 hour. Roll each portion to 1/4" thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a cookie cutter (or a glass...) Place on lightly greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool one minute on the cookie sheet then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Yields about two dozen

Sugar Cookie Glaze
1 16-oz pkg of powdered sugar
6 tbsp warm water
food color (optional)

Stir with wire whisk. Divide and tint, if desired. Place in a shallow bowl for ease to dip cookies. Yields 1 1/3 cups

Royal Icing for Sugar Cookies
1 16-oz pkg of powdered sugar
1 tsp corn syrup
3 tbsp Meringue powder (usually found in the baking aisle near the icings)
5-6 tbsp warm water 
food color (optional)

Combine in bowl. Beat at low 5-7 minutes. Divide and tint, if desired. Icing dries quickly - keep covered. Yields 1 2/3 cups
You can pipe this with a decorator's icing bag, I prefer that to using a ziplock bag, because this is a thick icing. The plastic breaks on me...
Or you can try to dilute the icing just a tad.
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