Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing

Fragaria × ananassa 'Chandler,' a short-day co...Image via Wikipedia

I am a huge fan of the Kraft 'Light done Right' Raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing. I used to eat a giant salad bowl full of salad with that on it every night before I ate my dinner. It was the best light dressing I've ever tried. Actually, the ONLY light dressing I've ever liked.

Well, of course they don't sell it in Peru. When I make salad here, I usually whip up something with a mix of mayo, milk, lemon juice, garlic, salt and maybe some black pepper. Creamy and good, but not very light. So, I decided I was going to try something different. I had seen a recipe for a raspberry vinaigrette that used raspberry preserves, so I took that idea and I ran with it.

I started with some olive oil and put it in the blender with some red wine vinegar. Basic vinaigrette, right? However, I don't have any raspberry preserves, so instead I used what you'll find PLENTY of in Peru - strawberry marmalade. I pulsed it on low a few times until it was all really well emulsified, and with no big chunks of strawberry left.

Can I just say - it was delicious! I put it on a salad of romaine and baby spinach with some raisins and pecans crumbled up on top. Oh my - so good.

The olive oil flavor was just a smidge too strong for my taste - next time I might use half olive and half soy bean oil.

Portions aren't exact, but 'pert near' as Jed Clampett used to say. If you try it, you might like it a little more vinegar-y, or perhaps you'll want a sweeter taste, so add more marmalade.

Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsps Strawberry marmalade (I probably used closer to three, they were slightly heaping)

Put in a blender and pulse on low until well blended.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Pizza Cutter Freebie!

Do you eat a lot of pizza in your house? We love pizza here. I had one of those wheel type pizza cutters, and it always got a lot of use, but somehow I lost it! I think it got thrown out in a pizza box. When it comes to pizza, regular knives just don't cut it (haha.. cut it - get it?) - that's why I was so excited to see this free offer -

FREE Pizza Knife Sample!

Run and fill out the form and get your free pizza knife. I can't wait to get mine!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Throwing a Birthday Party

It's coming up time for my son David's birthday. He's going to be 13 this year - a teenager at last! Thirteen for me always seemed like a major birthday - you're finally a teenager! But in Spanish, there is no X-teen, so 13 isn't really any different than 12 or 14.

David is a shy kid. He doesn't like having a lot of attention on him, so for the last couple of years, he's insisted on not having a birthday party. Fine with me - parties are a pain in the butt and expensive. He's happy for us to have a pizza and pick out a new DVD to watch, or to go to the movies.

Birthday parties for kids here have certain characteristics. First of all, a lot of the parents stay for the whole party, something you need to keep in mind when you're sending out your invitations. Also, they like to bring their little brother or sister.

I was always of the idea that when you throw a party, you put all the snacks in bowls on a table and have little plates where people serve themselves. No. You pass out little plates with a snack on it. Then people keep their little plate or napkin and you walk around the room over and over with the snacks. When you walk by with the potato chips, they take 2 or 3 chips. I think part of the reason for doing this is because (as I learned the hard way) if you put all the snacks out in bowls, the humidity makes them soggy in no time flat. The drinks are handled the same way. People don't choose their drink - they have a cup, and you walk around with a bottle of soda or pitcher of chicha morada and fill their cups. Generally, people accept whatever it is that you pass out. It's considered somewhat rude to NOT accept whatever is offered. Apart from the cake, there are certain foods that are expected - I was surprised to find that I was expected to make and serve Jello. I decided against it, because we were having a birthday cake made from layered jello called 'torta helada'. When my mother in law found out I wasn't going to serve jello, she made some and brought it. Asi es la vida.

Torta Helada

There's also the matter of entertainment. There is almost always entertainment - a clown, a magician or sometimes a 'party cheerleader' with music or a band. The purpose of the entertainment is to lead the party - they usually have a routine of 1 or 2 hours (you arrange the time in advance and pay accordingly) and lead the kids through games, dancing and jokes. Typically, all the kids will be involved in the games and competitions. Prizes - which you must provide - are handed out to the winners. One of the must-haves is a pinata. Although it's a Mexican custom, Peruvians love the pinata too. All the kids have little bags to fill with the toys and candies that fall from inside.

Even at a child's party, there will be lots of dancing. Usually, the entertainment will encourage kids to get up and dance, and parents will often dance too. That's one thing I do love about Peru, music and dancing is so entwined in everything they do. Birthday parties for the kids are a lot of work - but they're a lot of fun too. It was an especially great way to get to know the parents of Franco's friends when he started at a new school last year. All the same - I'm happy David is content with pizza and a movie for his birthday.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Gardner Came Today!

I have a gardener who comes every 2 weeks and cuts the grass in the front and back yard.  My upstairs neighbor pays for the front yard, and I pay for taking care of the back yard.  He does it all with a weed-eater, and has a large canvas sack tied around his waist like an apron, to protect his legs from flying grass, twigs and stones. Most gardeners I see here are usually in pretty grungy, dirty clothes, but somehow Vicente always manages to look clean and well dressed in khakis and polo shirts. And he never smells bad!  Ok - I know that may sound weird, but I'm really sensitive to how people smell, and for someone who works outside all day, I find it amazing that he never smells dirty or smelly.

He does a great job on our garden - it's amazing how quickly it puts it into shape. After he leaves, it's as well manicured as anything you'll see at Disney World.

Anyway - we're going to be doing a lot of work in the garden when my mom arrives, probably at the beginning of February.  We're going to be putting in roses in the backyard, and my mom would like more flowers in general.  I'm more fond of tropical plants, like dracaenas and crotons - but there's plenty of garden for both of us to have what we want. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'll make sure to put up lots of before and after pictures.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Turkey and Spinach Quinoa

the most expensive cookware i own -- 6.75 quar...
Quinoa is a grain-like food that's native to Peru.  The Incas are said to have thrived on it, and called it 'the mother of all grains'. It's a very popular dish here. I say it's 'grain-like' because although it's cooked and served like a grain, it's actually a seed, and not grown from a grass plant, like the true grains are. The quinoa plant itself is actually more closely related to the beet and spinach plant than it is to rice or wheat. When I first came to Peru, I had no idea how to cook it.  Here's a recipe I learned.

What You Need:

1 1/2 C of quinoa
2 C of chicken broth
1 t ground cumin
1 1/2 lb. turkey tenderloin
1/4 t of salt
2 small onions, sliced (or scallions if you can get them!)
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 C of fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
1 C of salsa

How to Make It:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Spray a cast iron Dutch oven with cooking spray.
Pour the quinoa into the prepared pan.
Add the chicken broth and cumin and stir it all up.
Place the turkey into the pan.
Sprinkle in the salt.
Add the onions
Layer the zucchini into the pan.
Spread the spinach leaves over the zucchini
Scatter the bell pepper slices over the spinach.
Spread the salsa out evenly over the top.
Cover and bake 30 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.

This is a great all-in-one meal.  I love it when I don't have to cook more than one cooking dish, don't you?  That's a Le Creuset French Oven in the picture up above, you can learn more about cooking with one if you click on the pic. 

I would imagine that this can also be done in a slow-cooker, but unfortunately, I haven't been able to get one here to Lima yet.  I'll keep it on the wish list. ;)

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 13: A man with...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
I've spent most of the morning listening to news about Haiti today - my heart just breaks for those poor people.  The poverty there is simply incredible - there are people there so poverty stricken that they actually bake crackers made of dirt.  And now, what little they had is gone. 

What I do notice (and I try very hard not to bring politics into this, but I have to say this) is the difference in the response from the US, in comparison to the earthquake here in Ica, and in comparison to the December 26 tsunami a few years ago.  I'm glad to see the US step up and do the right thing.

I saw an interesting suggestion from a woman on CNN message board:  If the US is going to be giving a lot of money in aid and reconstruction to Haiti, why not get skilled construction workers from the US - where so many are out of work right now - and send them over there, house them in cruise ships and pay them to do the re-building?  This way we create a few thousand jobs for Americans plus help a country that truly needs help.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating Raw Foods

Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain.Image via Wikipedia
So, it's like this.

I've been having some health issues - my hip is messing up on me, and worse, my heart is acting wonky.  Nothing too serious, but on top of all that, I'm feeling tired and having a general lack of energy.  So, I've decided that (along with seeing my doctor) I'm going to try to make some changes with my diet.  I don't really eat the healthiest of foods, most of the time.  I don't eat 'fast food' as a general rule, but we do have a Tuesday night pizza night, and I do love fried foods and lots of sauces.

I'd been doing a lot of research on gluten free and raw food diets recently.  While I don't think that gluten is an issue for me, I do like a lot of the more natural foods that are promoted on a gluten free diet.  And while I'm not sure that I can switch to a completely raw food diet, I do LOVE fruits and vegetables, and don't eat nearly enough of them. 

So, I'm switching to a 'mostly' raw food diet.  That means eating food that's as close as possible to its natural state.  So I'll be eating lots of fruits and vegetables in their uncooked states. And the foods that aren't raw, I'll be making a big effort to eat in more organic forms - things like switching to brown rice, whole grain bread and the like.  And I'll still be eating beans/lentils.  No white sugar - or as little as possible, anyway.  And I'll throw in some fish and chicken - but not fried, and no sauces or gravies.

I really don't expect switching to be a problem - I was 'mostly' vegetarian for about 3 years, and that was easy for me.  I ate the occasional turkey and fish. I think the most difficult thing for me is going to be going without my Sunday morning 'chicharron' (fried pork sandwiches) - but I think I can just switch it up for ceviche, and I'll be fine.

Today I had a delicious smoothie for breakfast.  Yesterday, I bought a bunch of fruits and veggies, and spent the afternoon cleaning and cutting up the fruit.  I put it in the freezer in containers, so in the mornings, all I have to do is pull out the fruit I want and pop some in the blender.  Today, I went with strawberry/mango/ cantaloupe/watermelon/spinach.  Yes, you heard me - spinach!  It made the smoothie a funny brown color, but the taste was delicious - like a light sorbet.  I added enough apple juice (100%, not from concentrate!) to make it 'blendable'.  And ate it together with a small handful of pecans and walnuts for fat/protein.

I'll keep y'all posted on how it goes, and how I feel.  But don't worry - I'm still going to be posting regular recipes - Peruvian, and otherwise!
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Another Accident :S

This time, in our car... Oh no! 

As Johnny was turning into the driveway last evening, a car behind him apparently didn't notice him with his turn signal on, and plowed into him.  Fortunately the damage is slight, and the other driver forked over the money to pay for repairs.  And Johnny wasn't hurt, that's the most important thing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Beautiful Day in Lima

Saffron FinchImage via Wikipedia
Today has been an absolutely gorgeous day here in Lima.  The sun has been out almost all day, making it warm and lovely, but not too hot - I think it might have hit 80.  The birds have been nutso in the back yard.  I've had doves coming INTO the house to drink water from the dog bowl!  The whole back wall of our house is windows, which of course are open now - not to mention the big double doors - and the birds just come and go as they please.

Apart from the birds, the garden is really looking beautiful.  The bougainvillea has filled back in very nicely, and I've got hibiscus and roses blooming.  The peace lilies have dozens of flowers - the air just seems fresher in the backyard. Is it any wonder I never like to leave the house?

The bird in the picture is a Saffron Finch - and there's been a pair of them back there today scavenging for nesting material.  Looks like their building in the bougainvillea.  Let's wish them luck!
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Spur of the Moment Meals

Raw Ground beefImage via Wikipedia

Since the boys are out of school now, they aren't spending a lot of time here at the house - they're visiting with their mother and grandmother now that they're free from homework and school. For me, that means I don't cook - I'm happy with cereal, oatmeal, tuna fish and sandwiches. Johnny eats out on the road during the day while he's working, and he's content to have something light in the evenings, too.

But today it happened that we were both hungry. That's why I always keep a few staples around for throwing together a quick meal. I usually have a few 1/2 kilos of ground beef in the freezer, various noodles, beans, tomato paste and sauces... like I said, basics. So here's what I did when we decided we wanted something to eat.

Beefy Ramen - serves 4

1/2 K (1lb) ground beef
2 packets of Ramen noodle Oriental flavor
2 Italian tomatoes, de-seeded and cut up into small pieces
1/2 a large onion, cut lengthwise in strips
1 pack of Maggi Sofrito, or your favorite stir fry or teriyaki sauce.

First, I put the Sofrito in my frying pan and start warming it up.
Add the sliced onions and the ground beef, stir it all up and cook it until the beef is browned through.
Add about 3-4 cups of water, bring it to a boil. The water doesn't need to be deep, just enough to get all of your noodles into.
Add in your Ramen noodles, the seasoning packs and the tomato.
As the noodles start to cook, break them apart so they can cook evenly.
Cover and let cook 3-5 minutes.

You can serve as is, I did and it was fine.
If you'd prefer a thicker sauce, you can thicken it with a little cornstarch or flour.

Johnny LOVED this - I was kind of surprised, it was so different from anything he usually eats.

If you're in the US and would like to try some Sofrito, it's available here - If you're in Peru, it's available at Wong, Plaza Vea, etc in the seasoning aisle. It's really great for doing a quick stir-fry.
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

We had SUCH a great time New Year's Eve. Not as many people showed up as we were hoping for, but the people who did come were SO much fun! Doing everything BYOB worked out great - there was lots of 'here, try this!' going on. We had a fun mix of expats and Peruvians, dancing and singing, and just general merry making until the sun came up. I really want to say 'Thanks!!' to all the folks who came by, and we are absolutely doing this again next year.

It was full daylight by the time the last guest left and the music was turned off. I hit the pillow around 7am, and we slept until about 2pm. We woke up ravenous, and decided that it was a great day for ceviche. So Johnny and I went out - just the two of us! Hooray! We went out to El Fayke Piurano, which is one of our favorite ceviche restaurants. It was so nice, having our own car to drive, too. We had a plate of ceviche mixta (fish, shrimp, calamari, octopus, mussels) and jalea mixta (same mixture - but jalea is battered and fried) , and a nice tall glass of 'leche de tigre' - tiger's milk. That's the 'juice' from the ceviche - spicy and lemony, supposed to be great for a hangover. Neither one of us had a hangover, but it just seemed like a great combination for the day. I love the leche de tigre with my chifles - fried plantain chips - and cancha. The salt, citrus and spice is such a great taste combination. It really hit the spot!

The plan was then to go home, and chill out and watch a movie - we've got about a dozen DVD's that we haven't watched yet. Well - poor old Johnny never made it past the couch! He walked in, sat down... laid down... and that was it. He was out for the night. He did manage to crawl into bed around 11pm, and snuggled in while I watched reruns of CSI and Law and Order (my favorite late night activities ;))

All in all, I don't think I could have asked for a better New Years.
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