Kenyan Food and How To Help Children in Need

I’m done with school!! Woohoo!! Well, actually, I’m done with summer courses, but I have three full weeks off before my fall courses begin!!

Yesterday, our professor, who is from Kenya, allowed us to hold the final class in a Kenyan restaurant here in Dallas called Afrika Fusion. Now, I’ve tried a lot of different foods and I’m pretty open to anything, but I’ve never had the opportunity to try Kenyan food. I was so excited to try something new! And fortunately there’s another vegetarian in my class, so I wasn’t the only non-meat-eater :)

This was the platter of meat they brought out for the meat-eaters:

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And this was only the beginning! They continued to bring out food throughout the entire meal…

They also brought out tons of different vegetarian dishes and I quickly filled my plate to the brim with delicious veggies and rice:

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Clockwise from the top: steamed veggies with curry spice, sautéed cabbage and carrots, sautéed collard greens and spinach (SO good!), pilau (basmati rice cooked in Zanzibar spices), coconut rice, and mukimo (green beans, white corn and potatoes mashed together).

I can’t stress this enough: the food was AMAZING! I practically licked the plate clean!

As much as I loved the food, the highlight of the meal was learning about my professor’s organization to help poor and orphaned children in Kenya receive an education. The organization is Empowering the Children of the Village, Inc. and you can visit http://www.empowerthechildren.org to view pictures of the children and to read more about the organization. There is also a link if you feel compelled to sponsor a child or make a donation.

It’s wonderful, caring people like Julie, my professor, who make this world a better place. She has such a big heart and her organization has helped more than forty children receive an education! There is also a link on the site to purchase a copy of her book (below), and proceeds from book sales will go toward the charity, too.

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If you’re able, please help in any way you can. You never know, simply spreading the word may help to change the life of a child in need!

Gluten-Free Lemon Almond Muffins

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I made the mistake of watching Top Chef last night. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show, but my food cravings kick into high gear every time I watch, and the cravings are usually not for salad. It also doesn’t matter how much food I’ve eaten before watching the show, I still always feel the urge to hit the pause button, whip up something in the kitchen, and seriously stuff my face while I finish the show.

This time, I decided that I absolutely had to make muffins. Nevermind that it’s nearly one thousand degrees outside; I heated up the oven anyway and set to work!

I don’t bake often, but I always keep a bag of almond flour lying around just in case the mood strikes. Without a doubt, almond flour is my favorite of the gluten-free flours. In terms of flavor and texture, I personally think it’s the best. It’s also the most versatile; I’ve used almond flour in every kind of dish, from sweet to savory, and the dishes always turn out wonderfully. For those who may not have much experience with gluten-free baking, I’ve found that baking with gluten-free flours is entirely different from regular baking. It’s typically much more complicated–like a science–because it often requires a combination of gluten-free flours, rather than just one. Gluten works as a binding agent in foods, so when you exclude it from your recipes, you have to come up with clever ways to ensure that your food won’t crumble or fall flat. How do I know? I’ve experienced many gluten-free baking failures. But then, I was never very good at science :)

This muffin recipe is extremely straight-forward and easy, though (hallelujah!). The muffins don’t require any crazy gums (xanthan or guar) to make them stick or fluff. They turn out somewhat dense, but in an amazingly satisfying and almost desert-like way.

20120726-214800.jpgThese muffins have a delicious, subtle sweetness to them, so you could also whip up a gluten-free, dairy-free icing to go on top and turn them into cupcakes. Last night, that’s exactly what I did! I had a couple of muffins with the icing and a couple without (yes, that’s right, I ate four–and some icing straight from the blender). I can honestly say that these muffins are amazing both ways. Whether you like them plain or you’re in a hurry, or you want to go the extra mile and add the icing, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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You can find the original recipe here (including the recipe for the icing), or you can use my egg-free version below. I kept the honey in the recipe, so it’s not entirely vegan, but you can sub with agave If you prefer to make them completely vegan. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!!

Lemon Almond Muffins
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10 muffins/cupcakes
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. Celtic sea salt
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil
  • 3-4 Tbs. filtered water
  • 1 Tbs. orange blossom water (optional, but adds a really nice, unique flavor)*
  • zest from one lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients (the first five) in a large bowl.
  3. Combine the wet ingredients (the last five) in a separate bowl. Mix well and pour into the dry ingredients.
  4. Combine everything together using a whisk or a spatula until fully incorporated.
  5. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners and pour the batter into the cups, filling approximately ⅔ full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow muffins to cool to room temperature.
Notes
*You can usually find the orange blossom water in the drink mixer aisle of the grocery store

Delicious & Refreshing Flavored Water

It doesn’t matter how much water I drink in the Summer, it’s never enough to quench my thirst. I made the mistake of going for a jog the other morning (big mistake), and by the time I got home, I had basically turned into a puddle. I guzzled nearly a gallon of water and, more than thirty minutes later, my face was still beet-red. By now, it’s your typical 100-degree piping-hot Summer in Dallas; as much as I love to jog outdoors, now is not the time or the place.

I’ve noticed ,though, that even when I’m sitting on my lazy tushy inside a nice, air-conditioned room, I still drink quite a bit more water in the Summer. I figure that’s probably true for most people. Our bodies just know that serious hydration is necessary to get through the scorching Summer months.

The truth is, sometimes drinking plain ‘ole water just doesn’t hit the spot. Sometimes I want something with flavor or sweetness, too. BUT, I don’t want to down soft drinks and sugar-laden sweet drinks like bottled lemonade either. According to WebMD, sodas and other sugary drinks are, in part, responsible for the prevalence of obesity in the U.S.. Many people–children included–take in between 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day from soft drinks alone. Moreover, studies have shown a link between sodas/sugary drinks and diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay, too. Source. Not to mention, have you ever watched a penny dissolve inside a glass of coke? We did that experiment when I was in elementary school and it just terrifies me to think about what those drinks are doing to our insides if they can completely dissolve a penny.

So, to satisfy my urge to drink something other than water that won’t have damaging effects on my health, I turn to yummy, homemade flavored water. Honestly, it’s so easy to come up with delicious drinks that will satisfy us that we have no excuse.  Below I’ve listed a couple of easy recipes that I think everyone will enjoy!

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Cantaloupe water 
Serves 2

  • 2 cups of cantaloupe (berries and other melons will work, too)
  • 4-5 cups of filtered water
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. powdered stevia

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and mix until fully combined. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*This is so sweet and delicious that you won’t miss your sugary-sweet drinks at all! With no added sugar (just the natural sugars from the fruit), this drink is also amazingly healthy so you can drink it guilt-free!

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Cucumber Water

  • filtered water
  • 1/2 cucumber, cleaned and sliced thin
  • 1/2 large lemon, cleaned and sliced thin
  • 10-20 fresh mint leaves
  • stevia, to taste (optional, and I don’t think it’s necessary)

Slice the cucumber and lemon and place them, along with the mint leaves, inside a large pitcher. Fill the pitcher with filtered water and allow the water to sit for at least a couple of hours in the fridge. Serve and enjoy!

*Oftentimes, spas will serve water with cucumber slices. That’s because cucumber has strong beautifying properties: it’s high in vitamins A, C, and B6.  If you can, it’s best to buy organic cucumber and lemon since you will be placing them, skin-and-all, in the water.

Wild Rice Almond Raisin Salad

Believe it or not, the idea for this rice salad was inspired by a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. Yes, it’s July and I’m looking at and thinking about Thanksgiving recipes. I’m such a weirdo. I simply love the holidays, particularly the food :)

This salad, though, is very different from your typical holiday stuffing: it’s a light, cool dish with a citrus-sweet flavor, making it the perfect Summer dish to serve alongside your favorite fish or as a light vegetarian meal.

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One thing that I love about this dish is that, although the rice takes a while to cook, you can set a timer and not worry about it for nearly an hour. Once you remove the rice from the heat and begin to let it cool, the preparation of the the remaining ingredients takes no time at all. Before you know it, the dish is done! I just love yummy meals that are healthy and easy to prepare! Not to mention, good food that doesn’t require me to slave over a hot stove during the Summer is always a winner in my book!

I also love anything that I can eat with chop-sticks :) There’s just something about chop-sticks that makes everything better!

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Wild Rice Almond Raisin Salad
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown rice wild rice blend (I got mine from the bulk food section)
  • 2¼ cups filtered water
  • juice from one orange
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅓ cup Thompson raisins
  • ⅓ cup chopped almonds
  • ⅓ cup thinly sliced and roughly chopped celery
  • ¼ cup sliced green onions
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice (or half a lemon)
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • ⅛ tsp. powdered stevia (or ½ Tbs. honey)
  • zest from one orange (or lemon)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Soak the rice overnight in the fridge (or for at least 8 hours).
  2. Rinse and drain the rice and set aside. Bring the water and juice from one orange to a boil. Add the rice blend and salt to the water and reduce the heat to low. Cover and allow rice to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Once the rice has reached the desired consistence, remove from heat, drain the excess water (if needed), re-cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes. Uncover the rice, fluff with a fork, and allow the rice to cool to room temperature.
  3. While the rice is cooling, slice the almonds, celery, and green onion and toss the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the raisins and rice (when cooled) and mix all ingredients together.
  4. In a separate small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, stevia (or honey), and orange (or lemon) zest.
  5. Pour the dressing over the rice mixture and stir well.
  6. Serve cold or at room temperature and enjoy!

My Pinterest Addiction and Baked Okra Inspiration

I have a confession to make; a not-so-secret secret to reveal (because I already gave it away in the title)…

I AM ADDICTED TO PINTEREST!

It’s true! Phew! I feel so much better getting that out in the open!

The cravings will strike at the most inconvenient times…no, I’m not talking about food cravings for once. I’ll be sitting on the couch and attempting to study when I catch myself looking at my phone (because I have the app, of course) and thinking, “I’ll just get on for a minute.”

We all know the truth, though: it’s not possible to get on Pinterest for “just a minute.” Before I’ve even realized it, an hour has passed and I’ve completely redecorated my dream home and visited myriad exotic locations. The best part is that I’ve done so without having to leave my couch or pay a penny! The worst part is that I’ve wasted an entire hour when I should have been doing my homework.

Every once in a while, though, I’m inspired by the things that I see on Pinterest that are more realistic (because let’s face it, having an amazing tree-house in my backyard will never be a reality). For example, I LOVE looking at recipes and gathering ideas. Just the other day I saw an exciting recipe for okra and had to try it!

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I’ve only cooked okra a handful of times before, and then it was always included in a soup. But this recipe was something new and different, which piqued my interest. Not to mention, I lucked out when I went to Whole Foods and they were in the process of putting out containers of fresh, beautiful okra.

I think I was also inspired by the name: “Oven-Fried Okra in a Bag.” So much fun!

So, I made the recipe (which you can get here) just as it was listed. I was a little disappointed because mine looked nothing like their photograph, but I was not at all disappointed with the taste! I will suggest, though, that you use finely ground cornmeal if you choose to make this (and you should). I only had coarsely ground cornmeal on hand and I used my food processor to grind it up, but it was still more coarse than I would have liked. I think this may account for the difference in the “breading” and appearance. I will also suggest making a lot, because this stuff is not going to last long!

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So, if you haven’t joined the Pinterest-obsessed, DON’T!! You’ll never have a life if you do!

Just let me do the looking for you :) More Pinterest-inspired recipes to come….