Food

Russian Food in Ecuador? Why Not?

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Ok, last food post for awhile…I think. There has still been a little rain, but not nearly as bad as last week. This week we’ve met two couples with young girls, new playmates! I’ve been doing some preparations for Miss P’s birthday. With our new friends we’ve doubled the amount of people coming so I am working on some fun stuff. It’s been difficult without a printer. I’m hand writing plenty of things I’d rather do on the computer. Miss P won’t remember it but we’re gonna have fun anyway. I can’t wait to post photos!

So, back to the subject…Russian food, Borscht to be exact. I brought back two very large beets from my father’s farm. Now, I’ve not had much experience with beets. It’s one of those vegetables that tends to be overlooked and shunned by many. My mother swears she loves them, but I don’t recall her ever eating them. Her mom, however, loves pickled red beat eggs. I’ve seen my grandma eat several at one sitting! But me? I’ve maintained my distance from the root vegetable. So why bring them home with us? I was going to serve them up to the kids, of course.

Well, I thought of just roasting them, but then I had the crazy idea of making them into the one thing I knew had beets in it (other than pickled red beet eggs), Borscht. My only experience with Borscht was in middle school while visiting my Russian friend’s home. Her mother had made Borscht and offered to ladle out a bowl for me. I politely declined and ran far away from the strange magenta soup. But now I’m a bit more adventurous and I figured if we don’t like it, we can walk down the road to a restaurant for pizza. So began my culinary adventure.

I searched on Pinterest for some recipes. There were many different variations so I made my own version with what ingredients I had on hand. One of the most important steps to making a good Borscht is to make a good stock from beef or chicken (unless you’re a vegetarian, then a veggie stock will have to do). The more flavorful, the better. My Lithuanian friend, Kristina, gave me this great advice.

Did we like it? No, not all of us, but we all tried it, including my picky toddler. Miss P liked it the first day, but would not eat it after that. Cory ate a small bowl, but I think the look of it turned him off. I enjoyed it, but can say I didn’t like it enough to be the ONLY one in the house eating it. It was a very flavorful soup, not as sweet as I thought it would be, especially with the good stock I made. If you like beets, get some in a CSA batch and don’t know what to do with them, or are just feeling adventurous, I encourage you to try it out. It really was pretty good. My sister-in-law was inspired to make a batch from my recipe. She said it was delish.

Borscht

2 large beets – peeled and chopped (I think next time I will chop them smaller) then toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper
About 2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 small red onion (or two shallots) chopped
1 carrot cut it into matchsticks or coins
2-3 garlic cloves crushed or diced
5 cups stock (beef, chicken or veg) – the richer the stock, the better
1 tsp thyme
1TBSP tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
I roasted the beets at 400 F for 45 minutes. You could also roast them along with the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic (if you do, I’d leave the garlic whole and toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper too). If not roasting all the veg, sautée the onions and garlic for a few minutes in olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add potatoes and carrots. Stir around for a few minutes. Add the broth, thyme, beets and tomato paste. Bring to a boil then simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender. If you roasted the veggies then that shouldn’t take too long. Salt and pepper to taste. I puréed some and left the rest chunky, but pureeing is not necessary. Some people strain out all the veg and serve the broth only. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, heavy cream or goat cheese. You can also top with chopped chives and/or parsley.

Variations:
Several recipes also used 1/2 a head of shredded cabbage. It was sautéed for about 15 minutes before adding it to the broth mixture.
You can also add coriander and parsley.
Several recipes called for red wine vinegar to be added just before serving.
I was lacking all the variation ingredients and Cory doesn’t like cabbage or vinegar. So I didn’t add them.

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20140117-213511.jpg Baby Borscht face.

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Huevos de Aji

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I was wanting something a little different for breakfast the other day so I looked through my large breakfast Pinterest Board the other morning. I found a spicy Arabic recipe but it used peppers I could never hope to find here, but it was my inspiration for a new creation. I had plenty of tomatoes that needed to be used before they went bad and tons of potatoes and eggs from dad’s farm and a jar of Aji peppers to add that spicy kick. And the bonus ingredient, pesto sauce, I bought at an artisan’s fair. I’m sure you could omit peppers or use ones that aren’t so spicy. Aji peppers are common around here but I can’t say I’ve ever seen them in the states. You could sub jalepeños, bell peppers, banana peppers or pepperoncinis (or any other favorite pepper). The outcome was a delicious, spicy breakfast dish I will keep with me forever. This summer, I recommend trying it with heirloom tomatoes and homemade pesto!

Huevos de Aji
Makes 2 Servings

1 medium potato
1 Tbsp olive oil
1Tbsp pesto
1/2 a small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced (you may omit this if pesto is garlicky enough for you)
1 Aji pepper (fresh or pickled) finely diced (increase or decrease amount of pepper or try different types of peppers to adjust heat to your liking)*
1 large tomato chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 eggs

Scrub the potato, pierce a few times with a fork and then microwave for 2-3 minutes until slightly soft. Alternatively, you could use leftover baked potato. Chop the potato into bite-sized pieces.
Add the oil and pesto to a small nonstick pan (this would be perfect in a cast iron pan) over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper and stir. Cook for about a minute then press the mix down to a flat layer. Crack both eggs atop the mixture, being careful not to break the yolk. Cover the pan and allow the eggs to steam cook. Cook until the eggs are the desired consistency, about 3-5 minutes. Delicious served with pita bread, but really any type of bread would work. Try it with fresh basil or a little more pesto atop it.

*Removing the seeds and pith (soft spongy inner tissue)from the peppers helps to reduce the heat. Also, be careful after chopping peppers to not touch your eyes (or face). You think onions make you cry…

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20140113-203803.jpgSautée the potatoes, onion and garlic in the olive oil and pesto.

20140113-203912.jpgAdd the tomatoes and cook a minute longer.

20140113-203959.jpgCrack 2 eggs on top of the mixture and cover and steam until desired doneness. You can test the consistency by putting gentle pressure on the yolk.

20140113-204206.jpgServe with bread of your choice. I chose whole wheat pita bread.

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Roasted Garlic Hummus

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So I’ve been craving hummus. In the US we always seemed to have some store bought hummus in the refrigerator to snack on. It’s such a healthy snack and really very easy to make. I made a plain hummus for a snack when we went to the waterfalls in Oña and we liked it so much I decided to try another recipe. I chose roasted garlic. I love roasted garlic plain on bread as well as in foods. I got the recipe here. The only things I would say to add to the recipe is:
1. You can make this from dried garbanzo beans, which I did. They are super easy to make. Just clean them, soak them (use plenty of water as they soak up a bunch) overnight or during the day while you’re at work, then rinse, cover with water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until done. Start checking at 30 minutes. These beans don’t take long to cook.
2. This hummus is best eaten the next day. As hard as it may be, stick it in the refrigerator until the next day. It soaks up that delicious garlic flavor and tastes oh so much better the next day.
3. You will smell like garlic if you eat this. It’s the price you pay for eating such a delicious snack!
4. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil atop it before serving. Serve with pita bread, vegetables (celery and carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers…) or crackers (if I could find some of those nutty crackers like Mary’s Gone Crackers I’d totally eat this with those).
Enjoy!
PS My kids love hummus and it’s a great way to get them to eat veggies and to eat healthy!

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Rainy Season

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Oh how I’m going to miss the fresh fruit here!

We’ve been told several different things about the rainy season here. I was told, October, December, February by 3 different people. Well, how about January? It’s rained every day this week, sometimes quite heavily. The Tomebamba river is higher than we’ve seen it since we got here. So what is one to do when it rains so much? Cook! At least that’s what I do. I took some photos of the outcome so I’ll share a few recipes with you since it’s been to rainy to explore and photograph. Here’s what to expect:

20140110-145343.jpgRoasted Garlic Hummus

20140110-145402.jpgBorscht

20140110-145410.jpgHuevos De Aji

I’ll post the recipes as I write them up. You’re welcome!
Hopefully I can make my Blueberry, Coconut, Banana Batido (Smoothie) and some more Homemade Granola to add to the photos and recipes. They are definitely recipes worth repeating too!

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Muffins del Jardín

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Today was our turn to provide the snack at Miss E’s school. I want to be sure that the snacks I send are healthy yet fun. The first month I sent fruit in a pizza pan in a rainbow (arco iris in Spanish) pattern and some yogurt (which is in beverage form here in Ecuador). Last month I made homemade granola and sent it with yogurt again. It was delicious and I followed this Basic Granola Math Recipe to make my own version. I look forward to making different flavors. I even made some coconut vanilla almond granola for Christmas gifts for Miss E’s teachers. I do find it odd that some of the acceptable snacks at the school are cake, hot dogs, and salchipapas (fried hot dogs with French fries) but if you bring juice it must be homemade. I don’t worry too much about it but aim to provide healthy options when it’s my turn.

Today I sent muffins filled with zucchini, apples and carrots. I followed this recipe for Zucchini Muffins except I cut the zucchini by 1/3 and replace 1/3 with shredded apple and 1/3 with shredded carrot. Had I thought about it, I should’ve replaced some or all the flour with whole wheat flour and butter with apple sauce or coconut oil (which is hard to find here) and maybe cut the sugar some. You could also add hemp seed and/or flax to make this even healthier. I doubled the recipe and got nearly 3 dozen muffins. They were moist and delicious with raisins (and a small batch with chocolate chips). I think they’d be great with walnuts or coconut too and I may play with the seasonings as they could’ve had a touch more spice.

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Cream of Roasted Asparagus Soup

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*Photo from Petit Foodie. Check out this recipe for Balsamic Asparagus. It sounds simple yet amazing!I have no photos so you’ll have to take my word for it, but I just made the most amazing soup tonight! I had planned on making cream of asparagus soup tonight and had the recipe picked out on Pinterest, but our internet was down all day here so I had to improvise. So here is the recipe and when I make it again, which will be soon, I will add photos.

Cream of Roasted Asparagus Soup

2 lb Asparagus, ends trimmed
1 onion (I used red because that’s what is available in the garden), quartered (or smaller)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 c white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange onion and asparagus spears (after making this a second time I think adding a couple cloves of garlic would also be a delicious addition) in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Coat them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast them for about 10 minutes or until tender.

Remove them from the oven and when cool enough chop the tips off of the asparagus. Reserve about a quarter of the tips. Add the remaining tips and asparagus ends to a pot. Add in the chicken broth, wine and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer until the asparagus and onion is soft. Using a blender or immersion blender purée the soup. Return the soup to the pot. Add in the heavy cream and adjust seasoning to taste. Warm the soup through and serve with the asparagus spears on top.

Makes 4-6 servings.

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El Día de Gracías

We headed back to the farm for a good old American Thanksgiving. Our friends, Rich and Jenn, with their daughter, Miss C, joined us as well. We met them at the school when we picked up Miss E on Wednesday so we could load up their luggage since they were taking the bus to Oña. We had a great time showing them around when we arrived at the farm.

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On Wednesday night poor Miss P seemed feverish and by Thursday morning she was tugging at her left ear. It looked like Thanksgiving dinner would be postponed. We met Tulio and Luzbia in Saraguro and they took us to the pediatrician. Dr. Julio was a very nice indigenous man and he diagnosed Miss P with an ear infection and el gripe (the flu) for a mere $6! And all 4 medications from the pharmacy cost me $20. We returned home and after her medicines she passed out and I commenced to cooking dinner. Rich and Jenn are vegetarians so we opted for a chicken rather than a larger turkey. Cory caught some trout for them. Besides chicken and trout, we had macaroni and cheese, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yeast rolls and green beans almandine. We enjoyed pecan pie for dessert. All was delicious but it was difficult getting everything done at the same time with the small oven and stove.

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Exploring the City

20131110-214050.jpgSo I know I’ve been lax on posting since moving to Cuenca. Truthfully, we don’t do a ton during the week other than cleaning and laundry. Plus, we now have Netflix so I’ve found something to suck all my free time. I promise to post at least once a week though!

So last Saturday was Cuenca’s Independence Day and Dia de Difuntos/Muertos/Santos. While Americans were celebrating Halloween thousands of Cuencanos were visiting the graves of their relatives. We did not visit any cemeteries as we were busy playing at a park and checking out an art festival but we did eat guagua de pan. I totally forgot to get som colada morada to drink with it. These are both traditionally consumed on the Day of the Dead here in Ecuador. Guagua is a Quechua word for baby and pan means bread. They were made to represent the children that have died. Colada morada is a sweet, dark purple drink made from fruits and spices. It reminds me of sangria without the wine. Our guagua de pan was a mildly sweet yeast bread with a delicious chocolate filling. It came with icing packets so we could decorate it ourselves. Please don’t judge my decorating abilities. The icing was thick and difficult to work with and Miss E was more interested in sucking it directly from the packet. That was fine with me since it distracted her while I found the yummy chocolate-filled spots.

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This week we took a couple walks, exploring the city a bit more. We walked to the store and on the way back took some lovely photos of a church, the city, a small park nearby, and our snack, salchipapas. Salchipapas are a popular, cheap food here. They are fried hotdogs (salchichas) and French fries (papas fritas). A lady that lives across the street from our apartment sets up a little sidewalk cafe every weekday afternoon and sells salchipapas. That container cost us $1.25! We need to try her weekend lunches of roasted chicken and pan de yuca. I’ll be sure to let you know how they are.

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Another day we decided to walk a few blocks and try out a place called Chatos. The serve chocolate dipped fruit. Miss E had marshmallows and strawberries while Cory tried the bananas. It was quite good! Miss E even had a chocolate facial. 😉

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This weekend we walked over to the old town (El Centro) to see The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. I have admired the blue-tiled domes from afar and was excited to see the rest of the church. To be honest, I appreciate it’s beauty from afar much more than up close, but it is still a lovely cathedral. Building of the cathedral began in 1885 and took nearly a century to complete. The domes are adorned with tiles of blue and white from Czechoslovakia. We stopped and had brunch across the street from the cathedral and strolled through the nearby Parque Calderon. On the way home we stopped to sample (and buy) some local cheese. They just happened to be set up near an heladeria (ice cream shop) so we, of course, had to have some too. Miss P thought she might like some but big sis was not interested in sharing! My final photo is proof that Miss E does eat other things than chocolate. It amazes me that she will not touch any other green vegetable but broccoli! She is not, however, as enthusiastic about it as she is about chocolate.
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Christmas in October

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We’ve spent the week preparing for my father’s arrival. He comes to Ecuador about every two to three months to take a little break on his farm. We asked him to bring several things we decided we needed or wanted from the states. I was so excited to get my goodies! It was like Christmas morning when I opened the suitcase! He brought Miss E some birthday gifts from her grandmas, more books (because you can only read Curious George so many times before you want to go crazy), and some clothes; for Cory, some gum, ear plugs and slippers; for the growing Miss P some 12 month clothes; and for me some chili powder, a dust buster, some pants that fit since my waist has shrunk (yay), some new slippers and a few other clothing items. I’m getting excited all over again thinking about all my new (and old) stuff.

On Friday we ran some errands while Miss P was in school. We got some groceries, nearly filled the truck bed with trout food (which smells awful) and stopped at one of the markets for some delicious fruit and veggies. We picked up E and loaded the truck to head to the farm for the weekend. We took a different route to the farm, heading up Turi mountain, stopping to eat at a Brazilian restaurant with a beautiful view of the city. We stopped again atop the mountain and enjoyed the vista.

We were happy to be back at our rural home. Of course we had to visit the rabbits and we collected some fresh eggs from the chickens. Miss E went with her Papa to check out the cows. There was one that was quite tame that she seemed to enjoy.

On Saturday I spent a great deal of my time in the kitchen. I find the garden inspires me culinarily. I love dreaming up recipes while strolling through the verdant patch. For breakfast we had a Spanish tortilla using the eggs we’d collected when we arrived and some of the potatoes from the recent harvest, some onions and my favorite, Swiss Chard (red and white varieties). It was delicious with some fresh sliced tomatoes! For lunch we had angel hair pasta with vegetables primavera (more Swiss Chard, carrots, zucchini, squash, red onion and garlic). I served a simple Red Russian kale and lettuce salad with carrots and red onion alongside the pasta. For dinner we had roast chicken, colcannon (Irish mashed potatoes with kale), and fresh green beans. I even whipped up some applesauce for Miss P, her first taste of apple. It was a hit with her and her daddy! So basically I lived in the kitchen on Saturday, but I do love it there. Plus, we have plenty of leftovers so I won’t need to cook again for awhile.

We took advantage of the beautiful scenery to take Miss P’s nine month (the 24th) photos. My father’s Dahlias were blooming and they made a lovely background and prop for the photos. I put her in the same antique dresses Miss E wore for our family portraits when she was nine months old. Aren’t the Dahlias stunning?

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Categories: Ecuador, family, Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unplugged

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Today was another quiet day. I needed to head to the bank in the small town of Oña to make a withdrawal in case I need to make a deposit on an apartment in Cuenca. We went into town and to the little old bank. I found the withdrawal slip and filled it out as best I could. It’s been a long time since I’ve withdrawn money by actually going up to the teller rather than using an ATM machine. I found it quite strange that while I was at the counter an older local gentleman came and stood right next to me as I waited for my money. It was unnerving but I think he really just wanted some help filling out his form. He had to head back over to the deposit/withdrawal slips several times while we were in there.

After I got my money we decided to let E play in the town plaza. One of the things I adore about the towns in Ecuador are the town square plazas. They are kept immaculately neat, many people gather there, especially on the weekends, and they are abloom with beautiful flowers. At ten am on a Thursday it was rather quiet. E loved the fountain and running around it. I enjoyed people watching. I think I’m as fascinated by the locals (their dress, their dark skin and Incan features, and their sweet, welcoming demeanor) as they are by us (our blue eyes, fair skin, and light hair).

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The rest of the day was a repeat of many previous days but enjoyable nonetheless. We visited the bunnies. They love E for bringing treats all the time and are rather tame now, running up to her when we enter their pen. I gathered veggies from the garden to make soup. I love that it is perfect weather for soup year round here. I made a delicious soup completely from the veggies in the garden (and tomatoes from the market). In addition to the tomatoes, the soup had Swiss chard, cabbage, potatoes, zucchini, onion, green beans, and carrots and I served it over noodles. Miss P LOVED the veggie-filled soup. I tried making radish chips to go with the meal but they taste like dirt to me no matter how you spice them up. Blech!
I put an overnight French toast in the fridge tonight using up our blackberries and strawberries. Yummy! I can’t wait until the rooster wakes me up!
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Helping Mommy in the not-so-easy to baby-proof kitchen.

Categories: Ecuador, family, Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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