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National Liberian Dish

The past few months I have been less inclined to try new recipes or even venture away from a select few tried and true meals I can make with very little effort.  I think it most likely had to do with pregnancy fatigue.  I was just not feeling very creative in the kitchen.  I did still love to enjoy good food though so today I am sharing an old family recipe my mom prepared for us one evening when she was in town before the baby arrived.  It is a beautiful meal that I highly recommend you try.  It is quite easy to make and I love serving it to friends because it turns a normal meal into something unique.

My parent’s tried to expose us to a wide variety of foods when we were growing up.  We certainly ate a lot of American staples and Southern foods, but we were also frequently presented with things that were a bit more exotic and out of the box.  My mother hails from South Florida and so we often ate foods she enjoyed as a child.  This included a wide variety of tropical fruits and vegetables like mangoes, guava, fresh coconut, heart of palm, and an assortment of  greens.  It also meant that we enjoyed an array of ethnic foods at a myriad of international restaurants.  We of course ate Italian, Mexican, and Chinese but we also frequented the local Cuban, Greek, Japanese, Indian, and Thai restaurants that were available.  Most of the time the international recipes we sampled were found at restaurants.  However there was one meal my mother made at home that was distinctly foreign.

We always called this the National Liberian Dish.  The recipe for this meal was passed on to us by my Aunt Dana and Uncle Jim.  I believe it was given to them by a dear friend who served in the Peace Core in Liberia.  I highly doubt that this is the national dish of Liberia, but I think it contains some key ingredients that are well-loved in that country.

This dish is very tasty and it is great to prepare when entertaining because it can be tailored to suit each particular guest.  It was always a favorite for me as a kid because it involved a large number of condiments which I could add to the main course.  The most unusual of these is the pickled watermelon rind.  This can be difficult to find in some parts of the country, but if you keep an eye out you will eventually run into it.  It is commonly found with pickles, relishes, and olives in the grocery store.  It is not a necessity, but it is a fun accompaniment to the meal if you can find it and have an adventurous palate.  I have even seen this at Big Lots and TJ Maxx on occasion in their foods aisles.

National Liberian Dish

1 whole chicken or several chicken breasts
2 onions
1 clove of garlic
1 bell pepper
3 tsp olive oil
2 cans whole tomatoes
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp red pepper
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup peanuts (I have also used sunflower seeds and these work great too)
1 can of grated coconut
2 hard-boiled eggs
pickled watermelon rind
apple chutney (see recipe below)

Cook the chicken in salted water over a low heat until tender. Cool and bone into bite sized pieces. Saute onions, garlic, and peppers in olive oil. Add tomatoes and cook an additional five minutes. Add curry powder, thyme, salt, sugar, and red pepper. Cook for another 10 minutes before adding the stew and chicken to a baking dish. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Apple Chutney

1 cup water
5 tsp sugar
3 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard powder
6 apples cut up in thin wedges
1/2 cup raisins

Combine all ingredients and simmer on the top of the stove for 45 minutes.

A New Addition

I have been absent from my blog for far too long, but I have a good excuse.  The best excuse in fact!  On May 23rd, we welcomed a son into our family. He weighed 9 pounds and 3 ounces and was 21 3/4 inches long. He was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and we are completely smitten. Life has certainly been different since his arrival, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  We are so thankful for this precious blessing.

A Wonderful Blessing

I don’t write a lot about my personal life on this blog.  I prefer to keep it food focused for the most part.  I felt it appropriate though to post on a particular part of my personal journey because I feel strongly about chronicling the goodness of the Lord.  He is deserving of all glory and I believe He writes each of our stories so that we can magnify Him.  So here goes:

At the end of February 2009, my husband and I packed up our cars and a large UHaul and moved from Louisville, KY to his hometown in Texas.  It was a hard time for me.  I was leaving friends who had become family over the past 6 years.  We were also walking into the great unknown.  Neither of us had jobs and we were armed with only visions of what the Lord might have in store for us.

I knew we were making the move because the Lord had laid church planting on our hearts and I felt confident that this was the place He wanted us to be.  I also hoped that while we were watching Him grow a church we would get to watch Him grow our family as well.  He did choose to bless us with an amazing body of believers and we have been awed as we have watched Him create a vibrant church.  He didn’t see fit to grow our family though.  Month after month I was disappointed to find that I was not pregnant.  After a year of trying, I went to visit a doctor.  He ran us through a series of preliminary tests.  Everything came back normal so he laid out our options.  It was daunting to say the least.  We took a step back to think about which step to take next.

Eventually we decided that I would proceed forward with a diagnostic surgery.  Though painful, the surgery revealed that I suffered from a severe case of endometriosis.  I went on 6 months of injections which kicked my body into menopause in the hopes of starving out the endometriosis so that we might possibly be able to conceive in the future.  We knew that the injections wouldn’t cure my condition for good, but studies showed that it would most likely buy us some time.

Once everything returned to normal, we set out to try again.  I didn’t have high hopes.  I had been through years of disappointments in this area so I was a bit reserved.  After three months of trying, I resolved to make a doctor’s appointment to discuss our options once again.  I knew we only had a small window and I didn’t want to waste precious time.  The day before making the call, I realized that things were a bit off.  I decided to take a pregnancy test to set my mind at ease.  You can imagine how shocked I was to find that it was positive.  I was shaking when I showed it to my husband and requested he drive me to the drug store so we could try a different test.  There was just no way it could be accurate.  I was still reeling when I took my third test the next morning and got another positive result.

Morning/all-day sickness set in shortly thereafter though and confirmed that God had chosen to answer our prayers for a family in this way.  We could not be more thankful for His gracious and undeserved gift.  Today I am 15 weeks pregnant and we expect to welcome a little one in May.  Please pray for us that this precious life would grow and flourish over the next months and that we would welcome a healthy baby in 2012.

Vegetable Lasagna

I saw a recipe for vegetable lasagna in the most recent edition of Cooks Illustrated and I knew I had to make it.  It just looked amazing and the ingredient list seemed perfect.  It takes some time to prepare everything and assemble the recipe, but I can assure you that this lasagna is well worth the effort.  I was able to put it all together in about an hour.

This lasagna was the best I have ever tasted.  I don’t like leftovers, but I enjoyed this meal for several days and I savored every bite.  I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I did use a little less garlic than recommended and I also omitted the 1/2 cup of kalamata olives the recipe called for originally.  I adore olives, but my husband does not so I decided to forgo them.   

Please be warned that this recipe makes a full 9×13 pan of lasagna.  You will definitely want to share this with others.  It is a great dish to make when entertaining or to share with your extended family.  I think even those who tend to be a little leery of eggplant and squash will be pleasantly surprised. 

Ingredients

No-Cook Tomato Sauce

No-Cook Cream Sauce

  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese , grated (2 cups)
  • 1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling

  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound zucchini , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 1 pound yellow squash , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese , shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Instructions

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

I am not an ice cream lover.  I will occasionally indulge at Cold Stone Creamery, but normally I don’t go for frozen treats.  As a result, I rarely make my way down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store.  This year though, I ran across a sale paper with a listing for Blue Bell frozen lime fruit bars for a price I just couldn’t pass up.  It was a particularly hot summer day and I thought it might be a good idea to indulge.  I took one lick and I have been hooked.  These bars are so refreshing.  My husband is a fan too and it is amazing how fast we can go through a box of these fabulous little frozen treats.  They are definitely my favorite snack of the summer.  At only 80 calories per bar you really can’t go wrong.  What has been your favorite treat this summer?

Blackberry Cobbler

There is only one thing I like more than picking blueberries and that is picking blackberries!  I hadn’t ever picked blackberries before this year, but I really enjoyed it.  Blackberries are definitely one of my favorite fruits and picking them was like going on a treasure hunt.  The patch where we picked was having a rough year due to the extreme heat that we have been experiencing, so picking was probably a bit more difficult than it would have normally been.  I didn’t mind though – it was fun to pour over the bushes in search of a ripe berry.  In the end we came away with 2 lbs which was just perfect for the cobbler I wanted to try.  I actually had enough to make this cobbler two times which was great because my husband and I fell in love with this new recipe and finished it off in less than 24 hours.

I have been experimenting over the years with blackberry cobblers and haven’t ever found anything that really set my heart on fire.  I think I have finally found the one though.  The technique is unique, but the results are fabulous.  You should definitely give it a try.  It also only calls for 2 cups of blackberries which I think is quite reasonable, especially compared to a lot of recipes out there.  Many of the other recipes I looked at called for much larger quantities.  I only tweaked this recipe slightly.  I have also used this recipe with peaches too.  My husband is a peach fanatic and we both agreed this was a great way to enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, divided
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour*
  • 1/3 cup milk, room temperature
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoons sugar

Directions

  1. In a 10-in. round or oval baking dish, melt 1/2 cup butter; set aside. In a saucepan, heat sugar and water until sugar melts; set aside. Place flour in a mixing bowl; cut in remaining butter until fine crumbs form. Add milk, stirring with a fork until dough leaves sides of bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface; knead three or four times. Roll out to an 11-in. x 9-in. rectangle 1/2 in. thick. Spread berries over dough; sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up, jelly-roll style. Cut into 1/4-in. thick slices. Carefully lay slices in baking dish over butter. Pour sugar syrup around slices (syrup will be absorbed). Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Sprinkle sugar over top and bake 15 minutes more. Serve warm or cold. (*If self-rising flour is not available, use 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder.)

Blueberry Lattice Bars

One of my favorite summer activities is berry picking.  When I was growing up my grandparents had the most wonderful little blueberry patch in their backyard in Florida.  I loved to pick berries with them, but I am willing to bet that the majority of the fruit I harvested ended up in my mouth and not in my bucket.  It wasn’t until I moved to Kentucky that I started this tradition up again.  I continued it when we moved to Texas and we have gone every year since we moved here.  The first year we took my parents and in recent years we have gone with my in-laws and met up with friends.  Last year we went two times and I still have blueberries in the freezer that we haven’t eaten yet.  It didn’t stop us from going again this year though.  We walked away with over 15 pounds.  I put up three and a half gallon-sized bags into the freezer and saved several cups to use in baking projects.  I had quite a few blueberry recipes I wanted to tackle this summer.

One of the recipes at the top of my list was for Blueberry Lattice Bars.  My mother-in-law had whipped up these bars from Taste of Home and they left a great impression.  My husband has requested them several times so I knew it was time to start baking.  They were easy to make and the results were incredible.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • FILLING:
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions

  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the blueberries, sugar and cornstarch to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
  • Roll two-thirds of the dough into a 14-in. x 10-in. rectangle. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Top with filling. Roll out remaining dough to 1/4-in. thickness. Cut into 1/2-in.-wide strips; make a lattice crust over filling.
  • Bake at 375° for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Yield: 2 dozen.
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