New Favorite · Skinny · Vegan · Vegetarian

Strawberry Spinach Salad…rite of spring

What says Spring more than fresh spinach and strawberries?  I have a lonely bunch of spinach that popped up volunteer in my garden in late March.  The strawberries at the market are beautiful, so time to celebrate spring with this luscious salad.  I opted to top the salad with red onion and walnuts today but top with other items to make your salad unique!

Strawberry Spinach Salad

STRAWBERRY SPINACH SALAD

12 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced
Optional Toppings: sliced red onion, walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, chopped fresh broccoli, blanched sugar snap peas,

SESAME-POPPY SEED DRESSING:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

  • SALAD:  Combine baby spinach and strawberries in a large bowl; toss with 1/2 cup Sesame-Poppy Seed Dressing just before serving. Service with remaining dressing and toppings.
  • DRESSING: Pulse first 5 ingredients in a blender 2 or 3 times or until smooth. With blender running, add oil in a slow, steady stream; process until smooth. Stir in poppy seeds; chill 24 hours.
Nicaragua · Vegan · Vegetarian

Nicaragua … lunch and tortilla making!

As we hiked back up the hill to the dining lodge, I was anxious for fresh fruit juice and a delightful lunch. Today, we enjoyed fresh juice and salad, and chicken/vegetable curry over rice.  Notice the gorgeous fresh flowers that graced our tables.

Fresh salad for lunch

Chicken curry over rice

Our afternoon activity was right up my alley. We were making corn tortillas with the staff over a wood stove as well as roasting and grinding coffee beans from the farm (coffee grinding to be covered in a future post of my full coffee experience).  I will never take corn tortilla making for granted!

Step one for authentic corn tortillas involves Masa, Spanish for dough. Masa is made from field corn which is dried and treated with a lime water solution.

Dried Corn prepared for Masa

Next, we ground the corn by hand with a grinder.  If we Americans did this every day, there would no more flabby upper arms…this is hard work!

Grinding the corn for Masa

After the corn was ground it was time to make the tortillas.  Our teacher was a pro but this virgin tortilla maker failed miserably.  I’ll spare you a photo of my alien-shaped wonder.

Cooking the tortilla over a wood stove

The final step was the taste test. The packaged corn tortillas from the grocery store don’t stand a chance compared to the real thing.

The women of Nicaragua are amazing.  Many do not enjoy the modern conveniences that we take for granted, yet are full of joy working hard to serve their families and guests wonderful food and hospitality.  I feel so blessed to experience this with our wonderful teacher.  I yearn for more!

Next week…more from Nicaragua!

Family Favorites

Pound Cake…with strawberries for me!

Pound cake is one of the recipes I make ‘once in a blue moon’ but enjoy it as long as it is dense and moist. No dry pound cake will match up!

As you probably can see, cakes are often the base pedestal for the fruit I really want. Once again, strawberries and whipped cream top this cake. I truly didn’t realize until I started this food blog, that almost every cake I make MUST have syrup or fruit on top. Hmmm…this blog may turn into a self-realization confessional.

Pound cake with strawberries

POUND CAKE

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 grated lemon peel
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

  • Cream butter & peel; gradually add sugar, creaming till light, about 6 minutes at medium speed on electric mixer.
  • Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  • Sift dry ingredients together; stir together with egg mixture.
  • Grease bottom only of 9x5x8 inch pan; turn in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or till done. Cool in pan. Optional:  Sift confectioner’s sugar lightly on top.
  • Mandatory for me:  Fruit on top!
Nicaragua

Nicaragua … Tropical Food, Foliage and Fun!

My first full day in Nicaragua and I was almost bright-eyed and bushy-tailed…but could I use a cup of coffee! Not only was I going to have coffee but I was having organic coffee raised and roasted at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), made with certified mountain spring water. You haven’t had coffee like this at your local coffee shop! My coffee adventure was only beginning.

Path to Tucan Lodge
Tucan Lodge

As I walked down the path from our lodge, which I shared with five other wonderful women, I marveled at the views and the foliage, pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The covered, open-air, dining room at FEV overlooks a beautiful tropical forest allowing the diners to take in the view yet enjoy the fresh air.  Our tables were set, as they were the night before, with our name on a clothes pin attached to the napkin. The staff moved our napkin and clothes pin at each meal, giving us a chance to get to sit with everyone in the group. Genius!

We were served fresh, local fruit from the farm including watermelon, pineapple, papaya in addition to fresh local maracuya (passion fruit) juice.

Passion Fruit
Fresh Fruit, Coffee and Juice at FEV

Next we were served Gallo Pinto, fresh tortillas made by the staff over a wood stove, and scrambled eggs topped with crumbled cuajada cheese and pico de gallo. The farm-fresh eggs are from the FEV chickens! (Reminded me of home and the fresh eggs on our Iowa farm.)

Breakfast at FEV Day One

What a wonderful experience to eat local, eat fresh in the splendor of the tropics.

GALLO PINTO

3 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of cooked black beans
1 onion, finely chopped
1 chopped red pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons Salsa Lizano  (or Worcestershire Sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Fry onion, red pepper, and garlic in the vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
  •  Pour in the beans and sauce, black pepper and seasoning. Let it cook for a few minutes, but keep it moist.
  • Pour in the cooked rice and mix with the beans.  Sprinkle with crumbled cuajada cheese.  Optional:  sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro.

After breakfast, we were scheduled for a nature hike to begin to explore the gorgeous plants and flowers of the tropical forest and our first introduction to how coffee is grown.  Our guide took care to highlight local birds and foliage.

Coming from the high desert of Colorado, I was amazed at the plant life.  How can so many plants live on one tree?  This is the trunk of the Ceiba tree, which was a mystical tree in pre-Columbian cultures.  This photo captures the mystical experience of the tropical forest hike.

FEV Blue Trail photo

After a wonderful morning out, it was time to return to the lodge and lunch…what wonderful treat would be awaiting us?

New Favorite · Skinny · Vegan · Vegetarian

Mexican Pizza…Friday night Vegetarian delight

Pal Maribeth first introduced me to this wonderful pizza. I love the combination of flavors and how easy (and relatively healthy) it is! The recipe can be modified to be vegan or gluten-free.

I baked the pizza on my pizza stone and found the baking time doubled. Bake until the bottom of the crust is light brown before removing from the oven to add the toppings and bake again.

Slice of Mexican Pizza

MEXICAN PIZZA

1 can spicy fat-free, vegetarian refried beans
1 cup salsa
18 inch pizza crust
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
4 medium thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup ranch salad dressing
1 cup crushed tortilla chips (add more as desired)
1 cup shredded pepper jack or Monterey Jack cheese (or more if desired)

  • Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix beans and 1/2 cup salsa in a medium bowl. Place crust on cookie sheet, then spread the bean mixture over crust. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes.
Pizza Crust with refried beans and salsa ready for the oven
  • Remove from oven, top with lettuce and green onions. Dollop with remaining salsa. Drizzle ranch dressing over. Top with chips and cheese. Bake approximately 2 minutes longer until cheese melts.
Pizza ready for the oven for two additional minutes
  • Cool slightly. I added fresh chopped avocado to the top with bowls of sour cream and salsa to add as the guests desire.  Slice and serve.
Mexican Pizza ready to serve
Nicaragua

Nicaragua…one crazy, divine adventure!

It all started with an email from my sister-in-law, Betty, asking me if I wanted to go to Nicaragua.  With a flip ‘sure, when and how much’, she replied with pricing and the news that I would need to be on a red-eye flight THAT NIGHT in order to meet the eco tour group in Managua.  Are you kidding me?  I’m ‘Ms. Gotta Have a Plan’ and yet I’m considering this?  The more I talked to Betty and then to my daughters, it WAS going to happen.

Since the tour was a hands-on experience at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) for 4 days and another 3 days in San Ramon with a local family, the attire was very casual so a current passport, T-shirts, jeans, hiking boots, socks, rain gear, and bare personal essentials in a borrowed carry-on from my new son-in-law and I was ready to roll.  A quick call to my trusty PA and the Doxycycline was called into the pharmacy.   I was on a flight that evening at 11:55 p.m., arriving in Miami at 5:30 a.m. with a connecting flight at 10:29 a.m. and final arrival in Managua at 11:55 a.m.  WHEW!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

The flights were uneventful, the layover long but the views flying into Nicaragua were stunning!  My seat mate thought me crazy for taking pictures from the plane, but wouldn’t you take a picture of this,  Lake Managua with volcanoes Momotombo and Momotombito.

Flying into NIcaragua
Flying into Nicaragua

Keep in mind, the only people I would know on this tour were my sister-in-law Betty, and her husband George.  Their flight arrived 2 hours after mine.  I was to look for a sign at the door for Finca Esperanza Verde, which I did not see.  Am I CRAZY?  I’m in a strange country, trying to meet strangers to go a destination I know little about. Somehow, there was no fear (mind you, there was also NO sleep) but rather a sense of great adventure.

After wandering around the exit for about 30 minutes, walking up to strangers asking if they were part of a group going to FEV, I learned there were a lot of groups coming to volunteer, to vacation and to get the heck away from me!  Finally, I saw a group of women that were congregating at a bus stop and kindly asked if they were with a group going to FEV.  I was so relieved when I found my group and delighted by their immediate acceptance of this one, bedraggled traveler.

It was time for lunch so we followed our fearless FEV guides, Gustavo and Everisto, inside to the food court.  Now this was not your normal airport food court.  We were set to try the local cuisine.  I so wish I could tell you what I ate that day, but that brain cell floated away before the last bite was swallowed.  It was wonderful…trust me on that.

After the final ecotour travelers arrived we were on our way toward San Ramon, in our mini bus, approximately 99 miles (160 Km) from the Managua airport.  As I recall, the bus trip took about 4 hours and was a wonderful introduction to the landscape, the people, the culture.

About halfway through the bus trip, we stopped for a quick break and were delighted to see a local food stand.  I snapped a few photos of the wonderful, local produce:

Fresh Peppers on roadside stand in Nicaragua
Roadside stand in Nicaragua

Fresh Carrots in NicaraguaWhen we were within about a half mile from FEV, the sun was setting and we were to transfer from the mini bus to a smaller vehicle.  It was a beautiful night and many of us decided to stretch our legs and walk to the lodge.  The sky was beautiful and the tropical forest serene!

We arrived at FEV in time for dinner in the open-air dining area.  It was dark when we arrived, but the wood stove was burning, the beer was cold, and the food was scrumptious.  We were greeted by the gracious staff and our hosts (and FEV co-founders), Lonna and Richard Hardraker.  I wish I could tell you what I ate that evening, but I cannot.  The best I can do is share a picture of Toña, my first Nicaraguan beer.  Quite tasty and refreshing!

Cold bottle of Toña Nicaraguan beer

With a full tummy and an almost non-functional brain, I hiked the short distance to Tucan Lodge to rest my weary Colorado head down for a peaceful slumber in the tropical forest at Finca Esperanza Verde, not knowing what adventures were awaiting me in the morning.

For more information on Finca Esperanza Verde, check out their website:

http://www.fincaesperanzaverde.org/

Update: 1/2021 new website is fincaesperanzaverde.com

NOTE:  I will be posting about my Nicaraguan adventures on Tuesdays for the next several weeks.  Join me as I relive this crazy, wonderful trip.  Did you say there was a flight to Nicaragua leaving tonight????

Family Favorites · My Roots

Scotcheroos…Easter tradition

I will eat a Scotcheroos any time of year, but for some reason I associate these addictive treats with Easter.  A pan of Scotcheroos regularly graced our family Easter dinner celebration along with the traditional baked hams, potatoes, etc.

Luscious layers of Scotcheroos

They are an absolute favorite of mine and I’ve been known to eat them for breakfast, if left to my own devices.  After all, they do have cereal and peanut butter in them!  I find them so addictive, that I cannot make them often.

This year, Scotcheroos will again grace our Easter celebration, sprinkled with Easter colored sugars.  Let’s hope the guests will eat several so I won’t have to! Scotcheroos…it’s tradition.

SCOTCHEROOS

1 small package chocolate chips
1 small package butterscotch chips
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter (crunchy is great)
6 cups Rice Krispies®

  • Melt chips in microwave.
  • In separate pan mix Karo and sugar. Stir in pan until slightly boiling. Remove from heat. Add peanut butter and beat until smooth.
  • Pour syrup over Rice Krispies in large bowl.
Pouring syrup over cereal
  • Put Rice Krispies mixture in buttered 9×13″ pan. Cover with melted chips. Let cool and set until firm. Cut into squares to serve.
Pan of Scotcheroos…Easter tradition!

Adapted from the original Rice Krispies recipe:

http://www.ricekrispies.com/en_US/recipes/chocolate-scotcheroos.html#/en_US/recipes/chocolate-scotcheroos

New Favorite · Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Perrerreque (Corn Cake)

During my trip to Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to stay with a host family in San Ramon. My roommate, Sally, and I had the great pleasure of staying with Neyda and her family. We enjoyed many wonderful meals at Neyda’s home. One evening our ecotour group were treated to an evening of native Nicaraguan food and music. It was wonderful and highlighted by a light shower and a gorgeous rainbow.

Rainbow over San Ramon Nicaragua

The food served that evening included an unusual, sweet yet savory corn cake, baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. The cake was baking when we arrived and like hungry baby birds, we all flocked to see what was in the oven. Our hostesses were kind enough to share the cake while it was still warm.  Heavenly! The three photos below were taken the night of our dinner in San Ramon.

Once returning home, the hunt was on for corn cake.  My sister-in-law, Betty, discovered a similar recipe and shared it with our ecotour group.  I baked the corn cake to share with my gal pals.  By chance, I also brought a bowl of fresh pineapple and found it to be a wonderful side dish to serve with the bread.  This recipe is slightly sweeter than the cake in Nicaragua, but delicious.  A winner!  However, I will continue my search to match the exact experience of our memorable Nicaraguan dinner.

NOTE: During our special evening in San Ramon we were also served the traditional Nicaraguan Nacatamal, a steamed corn cake filled with meat and vegetables, steamed in banana leaves. They, too, were fabulous and will be covered in a separate post at a later date.  Stay tuned!

Cathy’s Nicaraguan Corn Cake

PERERREQUE (CORN CAKE)

1 pound fine white corn meal  (I used regular white corn meal and ground again with the food processor)
1 pound crumbly cheese, grated finely (try Monterey Jack or Wensleydale)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons margarine
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups milk

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the corn meal with the cheese and sugar. Cut/crumble in the margarine.   Mix the baking soda into a little of the milk and pour into the dry ingredients.   Add the remaining milk until the mixture is well blended.
Corn Cake: Adding milk to cheese and dry ingredients
  • Place the cake mixture into a greased baking pan. The mixture should be about 1 inch thick.
Corn Cake batter ready for the oven
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the cake is golden brown. After this time, remove it from the oven, allow to cool and then cut into small pieces or squares before serving. I found the bread to be at it’s best when served warm, about an hour after baking.
Baked Corn Cake

Adapted from The New Internationalist Food Book