Columbia-Themed Date

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Well, here I am catching up on writing about dates that happened several months ago. This post’s date was from back in February when we celebrated the Carnaval de Barranquilla, a Columbian festival. The carnival is a very important festival in Columbia and is one of the biggest in the world. During the days of the celebration, the streets are full of activity, parades, and dancing including the cumbia and the garabato dances. So we rolled all of this up into one fun at-home Columbia-themed date!

Here are some ideas for creating your own at-home Columbia-themed date:

  • Dress in something “Columbian.” We have no idea what that would be, and we know this is totally inaccurate (and probably offensive- sorry!), but we always gravitate toward dressing like gangsters or drug lords. So here we are…

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  • Watch a commentary on the Carnaval de Barranquilla.
  • Learn to dance the cumbia and the garabato.

  • Eat some Columbian dishes such as papas chorreadas, sudado de pollo, bananos calados, or Columbian breaded pork.

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Whole Wheat Pancakes

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These pancakes are whole wheat & easy to throw together for breakfast. They’re fluffy and (after a long string of experimental “health pancakes”), Austin exclaimed, “These are like legit American pancakes!”

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Ingredients: 

2 cups milk

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/4- 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Directions and Notes:

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

2. Cook on a hot, sprayed griddle. Flip the pancakes when they begin to bubble and look cooked around the edges. Cook until golden brown on the other side.

Honey Popcorn Balls

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Our oven has been out of commission for about 2 months, so when we were having a dinner party last week, I decided to make some simple popcorn balls for dessert. They were a big success with our friends (who are so sweetly adaptable and have learned how to dive right in and get their hands dirty with all kinds of messy American finger foods). These are really adaptable and take just a few minutes to put together.

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Ingredients:

5-6 cups microwaved popcorn, make sure to avoid all kernels when measuring out the popped popcorn (I just put 2-3 small handfuls of popcorn kernels into a brown paper bag, fold the top over twice, and microwave for 2-3 minutes until the popping slows. It’s so easy and healthy… until we add the sugar!)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 Tablespoon oil

Optional mix-ins: cinnamon or other spices; peanut butter and chocolate chips for Reeses popcorn balls; raisins, peanuts, M&Ms for trail mix popcorn balls, etc.

Directions and Notes:

1. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, combine the honey, brown sugar, oil, and cinnamon if using. Microwave on high for 5-7 minutes. It’s really important to microwave it until it’s bubbling and appears to have caramelized– this is key to getting your popcorn balls to stick together.

2. Carefully– the bowl will be hot!– pour the honey mixture over the popped popcorn and stir to combine.

3. Wait just a minute or two for the mixture to slightly cool. If you’re adding other mix-ins (peanuts, chocolate chips, etc., now is the time to stir those in.

4. Wearing rubber gloves  to protect your hands from the still very warm mixture, press the popcorn into balls. The number of balls this makes just depends on the size of the balls. You can make mini, medium, or large.

5. Cool these in the refrigerator or freezer to allow them to harden before serving.

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Tip: If you live in a really humid area like we do, make sure to serve these in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Recipe adapted from: Sparkpeople.com

Chicken Salad

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Salads– potato salad, tuna salad, broccoli salad, chicken salad– were certainly never high on my list of favorites growing up. But now we love them. One thing we miss about life in America is the accessibility of foods that can be eaten cold in the spring and summer– cereal, sandwiches, salads. We love Chinese food, but there’s something not quite right about drinking lava-hot soup on 80 degree evenings. For Easter this year, we added this chicken salad to our menu. Some of our guests wrapped it in tortillas, and others ate it by the spoonful. Guests were pleased and even asked to take some home to share with friends.

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Ingredients:

6 chicken breasts, diced, or about 5 1/2 cups diced chicken, lightly cooked until just done but still very moist, cooled

2/3- 1 cup diced onion, to taste

2 cups finely diced celery

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

2 cups diced apples or halved seedless grapes (another friend told me that mangoes also worked well)

1 cup mayonnaise or other similar product– I used the white stuff at the local Chinese supermarkets called “salad dressing” and it worked fine.

salt and pepper to taste

Directions and Notes:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until evenly distributed. Chill until serving.

Recipe adapted from: Food.com

Stove Top Baked Beans

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Yesterday was Easter, which makes me want to cook springtime, picnic-y foods and serve them to everyone I know. So I did. We had an Easter party at our house and invited some friends over to share in the celebration. I’ve tried making baked beans the past few years with less than fully satisfying results, but this year, I finally got it right. There was deep satisfaction around the table and this recipe was labeled a “keeper.” I was able to make it using 100% local ingredients, which is always something that makes us extra happy because that means we can make them again and again without having to ask for or order hard-to-find ingredients.

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Ingredients:

1 pound of white beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained (I actually used black eyed peas with great results.)

1- 1 1/2 strips la rou (腊肉), the smoked meat that almost looks like a really thick strip of bacon, available in local Chinese markets, sliced thin*

2 cups diced onions

1 Tablespoon minced or grated garlic

6 cups chicken or ham stock

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar.)

1 cup ketchup

3 Tablespoons mustard

1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional but recommended)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions and Notes:

1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the sliced meat over medium-high heat until the meat is crispy and some of the fat has melted off, about 5-7 minutes. It should smell a lot like bacon.

2. Add the diced onions and cook a few more minutes until the onions are softened, stirring frequently.

3. Add the garlic and the beans. Cook one minute.

4. Add the stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil.

5. After the mixture has boiled, reduce the heat and simmer the bean mixture for about 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. Stir about every 15 minutes as it cooks.

6. After the beans are tender, add the brown sugar, ketchup, mustard, and liquid smoke. Stir to combine and cook another 25-30 minutes or until the flavors are melded and the sauce is thickened.

7. Add salt and pepper to taste if desired.

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*Most of the time the vendors at the market are willing to slice the la rou (腊肉) for you, which is really handy, because it can be somewhat tough to cut yourself.

Recipe adapted from: Foodnetwork.com

Easy Granola Bars

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Here’s a versatile recipe for some granola bars that are easy to make and don’t require baking (just a little toasting of ingredients beforehand). Just mix, press, and cut!

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Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups total of oats, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, or other grain flakes*

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 Tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2- 1 cup dried fruit (optional but recommended)

Directions and Notes:

1. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

2. Toast the 4 1/2 cups of oats, nuts, etc. on a baking sheet for 10-15 minutes until toasted.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, oil, vanilla, and salt. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.

4. When the oat mixture is toasted, stir together the oat mixture, the honey mixture, and the dried fruit. Make sure to mix it well since the honey mixture is the glue that will hold it all together.

5. Pour the mixture into the 9 x 13 pan and place another piece of parchment paper on top. Press, press, press until you can press no more. I usually lay a piece of parchment paper on top and then place another 9 x 13-ish pan down on top, then put it on the floor and stand on the whole thing for a few minutes while I do some more kitchen work.

6. Wait 2-3 hours or overnight before slicing. When you slice, just press down with the knife– don’t saw or they’ll fall apart. Wrap individually if desired and store in an airtight container.

*Note: I usually use mostly old-fashioned oats from the “scoopable” section of the open market with some chopped almonds, etc. I’ve also made this just using 4 1/2 cups of fruit and nut Muesli that we decided we’d rather eat as granola bars than Muesli. Different varieties of chopped nuts, seeds, or grain flakes from the market work as well.

Another note: If you live in a really humid area and are making these during wet season, be extra sure to keep them in an airtight container. If they do get ruined by humidity, however (not that I know from experience or anything…), you can throw what remains into the oven and bake it at a low temperature for 35-45 minutes to dry it out (lay a piece of foil over top to prevent burning). Then you can break the hardened product into granola once it cools.

Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night

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We love pizza. And movies. A few weeks ago, we invited some students over for a pizza and movie night. It was a bit of a slow process, feeding 15 people pizza out of our glorified toaster oven, but we just took it slow and got to eat for the entire duration of the movie. Our friends were so excited to try real pizza.

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I prepared a big batch of pizza dough in advance. It was really good pizza dough. You can check that recipe out in the previous post. I rolled the dough out into roughly 12-inch crusts, each on a sheet of baking paper for easy transferring. The girls worked in groups of twos to top their pizzas.

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Here are some topping ideas:

  • Green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Pepperonis (if available)
  • Sausage
  • Chashao pork
  • Spinach

I made a sign with English and Chinese instructions as well as some labels to help identify the ingredients. Here’s a preview of the sign:

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To download that sign, click here: Pizza Night

And here’s a preview of some of the labels:

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To download the labels, click here: Pizza Labels