Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chocolate Sweet Potato Torte

YES, there’s sweet potato in it and NO, you won’t even know it’s there. The sweet potato adds an incredible texture to this wheat-free dessert. It’s sooooo decadent and fudgy but it’s gluten free and delicious!

1 cup cooked and mashed sweet potato
1¼ cups sugar, divided
1 cup almond flour (you can buy almond meal at Trader Joe’s)
½ cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbs vanilla soy milk

Here’s what you do:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, blend sweet potato, ¾ cups sugar, almond flour, cocoa and salt with electric mixer until smooth. Separate the eggs, placing whites in a separate bowl. Add yolks to sweet potato mixture and mix to combine.

Beat egg whites with electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar, beat 2 minutes more or until stiff, glossy peaks form.

GENTLY fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into sweet potato mixture and then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Over low heat, melt chocolate in double boiler or in heat-proof glass bowl over simmering water in stock pot (don’t let the bowl touch the water). When chocolate has melted, remove from heat and add soymilk until combined. Spread over top of cake and let stand until chocolate sets.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spicy Pasta Bake

Ok, so I’m in a pasta mood. It must be from all the carbs I was eating in Peru. Since I’m trying to steer clear of as much gluten as possible, I’ve found that the brown rice pastas at Trader Joe’s are an excellent alternative to the starchy goodness of semolina or whole wheat noodles. And they bake well, too.

My amazing farmer’s market is an excellent resource for a lot of the ingredients here, so if I can get there, I’m going to use all I can from them. The cheeses, sausage and vegetables (depending on the season) are best when fresh and local.

2 cups rotini pasta (I use the brown rice version available at Trader Joe’s)
3 links Italian turkey sausage cut into small pieces (but if I have fresh sausage from my farmer’s market, you know I’m gonna use it)
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano, divided in half
1 8-oz container ricotta cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese, divided in half
1 15 oz can organic diced tomatoes
½ cup fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded or cut into small pieces
1 tsp chili flakes
2 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper

Here’s what you do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray medium-sized casserole dish with olive oil spray.

Cook pasta according to package. Drain and set aside.

In bowl, blend all cheeses, reserving ¼ cup parmesan cheese for topping. Add pasta and ½ tsp of oregano. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Add pinch of salt to sweat vegetables. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add sausage, remaining oregano and chili flakes. Cook until sausage is 75% cooked, about another 5-8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.

Combine sausage mixture with pasta mixture. Pour into casserole dish and top with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake for 45 minutes. Top should be slightly browned and bubbly.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Volunteering Abroad: My (Mostly) Day-to-Day Adventure in Peru

Peru Day 1: 25 Hours of Travel and Counting
Oy, what a day. And it's only 9:30 in the morning.

I got an hour or two of relatively comfortable but frequently interrupted sleep in the Lima airport and made my way to the bathrooms to wash up, brush my teeth, etc around 4am. I got to the gate around 4:20 and hung out until they started boarding around 5. As soon as I hit my seat, I was out. I woke up to bright sunlight and a pretty bumpy flight. The brightness started to turn to a wall of clouds though and when we were about 10 minutes away from landing, the pilot came on the air and told us that we would be staying in a holding pattern for about 25 minutes due to the bad weather. Back to sleep. Click here for more.

Peru Day 2: Spaghetti Tortillas, Anyone?
Last night's sleep was restful, thanks to my sound machine. My bedroom faces the street and since there are no evident traffic laws here, the car horns play a kind of urban symphony. Unfortunately, Brahams isn't in their repertoire, so the "waterfall" option on my machine serves me well. Now if only I could do something about the draft....Click here for more.

Peru Day 3: Baby Jesus and the Black Eyed Peas
It's Sunday, and this is a very Catholic country. I came downstairs to find this (see below) on the coffee table. There's also a cross over my bed and a few religious "scenes" scattered throughout the house. Ok. I'm cool with that. Click here for more.

Peru Day 4: Who knew falling in love would involve so much drool?
Well, if I thought Saturday's sun was bad I was sorely mistaken. Sunday's sun was worse. And I was unprepared. Mi cara es muy roja. And I've got the picture to prove it. Click here for more.

Peru Day 5: The taxi driver thinks I'm muy bonita
This morning I got eggs for breakfast! I was grateful to have them, and I'm ashamed to say I sheepishly asked for ketchup. I know, I know. It's one of my few vices: ketchup on my eggs, excessive amounts of chocolate, and regular massages (ok, the last one really isn't a vice). Laura didn't mind -- especially since I gave her quite the questioning look when she put mayonnaise on her pasta last night. Click here for more.

Peru Day 6: New friends, new foods
It's a beautiful day here, and I'm sorry to be rubbing it in to all of my snowbound amigos en Estados Unidos. It's about 70 degrees, the sun is out, and my SPF 90 sunblock is on. Simple breakfast of bread and a sinful caramel de leche spread that I can't get enough of (and Laura knows this so she puts it out at every breakfast.) Click here for more.

Peru Day 7: Lessons learned
When I woke up this morning I found electrical tape wrapped around the shower faucet and my curtains hemmed so that the burn marks weren't visible. This was a little bothersome, as the only place I mentioned these things were in the blog. They were not complaints, merely observations. But to know that my words are being read by someone and then action is taken regarding what I've said is disconcerting. Laura doesn't speak or read English fluently so I decided to talk to her about it as best I could. She was told to make those changes, and I was afraid it might make our living situation awkward. It didn't though and we hugged it out. Laura is awesome. Click here for more.

Peru Day 8: Massage is coming into play
When I originally looked for a volunteer abroad opportunity, I wanted to incorporate massage into it as much as possible. I knew this would not be easy because so many people really do not know how important massge is as THERAPY. 

For example, if you walk anywhere around the main square, you'll be offered massages at every corner. These seem legit enough and when I spoke to one of the girls who approached me she told me she went to school for MT (massage therapy) for 2 years. I plan to get one before I leave to report about it.

Unfortunately, because they're "peddling" this service on the street, it cheapens their work. And it cheapens my work. Click here for more.

Peru Day 9: The Sacred Valley (but breakfast first)
Before heading to the Sacred Valley I had breakfast at my house. A typical Peruvian breakfast is much lighter than an American one -- pan (bread) something to spread on it and coffee or tea. Peru supposedly makes some of the best coffee in the Western Hemisphere, but I have yet to find anyone who sells it other than at mercado San Pedro, but even there it's only sold by the bagful, not the cup. Click here for more.

Peru Day 10: Carnivale in Cusco
Sunday was Carnivale, otherwise known in Peru as Soak-Everyone-You-See-With-As-Much-Water-As-Possible Day. The main square is a soakfest. Teenagers hanging out of the back of trucks, cars, vans, llamas (just kidding about the last one) drive around the plaza lobbing water balloons and buckets of water at passersby. Tourists are not as amused by this as the locals are. I have to agree with my compadres on this one, having suffered at the hand of supersoaker. Click here for more.

Peru Day 11: La Energia
Just when I thought the water fights of yesterday were in the past, the nurses thought it would be a good idea to let the kids take part in Carnivale, too, so the water balloons were out in full force today. Fortunately, the kids don't have very good aim, so no one was getting very wet. Whew. Click here for more.

Peru Day 12: More Molino (this time to buy), more food, more massage
My energy was vastly different today. I had shaken whatever was hanging over me yesterday and redirected my focus and purpose towards my intention for being here (which, frustratingly, keeps changing). I already know I'm a different person than when I arrived less than two weeks ago, but my foundation -- whatever it is I've been building on my entire life -- is still solid. Click here for more.

Peru Day 13: Llamas at the clinic and the misleading lure of live music
We usually take the kids for walks around the clinic grounds, but I have to admit that I don't take them as far as they usually want to go. There are a lot of kids who want walks but I can only take one or two of them at a time. Today there were more volunteers than usual, so the walks were longer. I followed another volunteer with some kids along a path around the back of one of buildings and, low and behold, there were THREE LLAMAS back there! I was as excited as the kids. The llamas were tied up but were able to get pretty close to us. And naturally, these kids have no fear. Hands out, ready to pet those stinky sniffing noses, I pulled my kids away before the animals took a finger with the grass they were being offered. Still pretty cool -- and completely unexpected. Click here for more. 

Peru Day 14: Hookah bars and becoming the kitchen help
Wednesday was a little stressful in the kitchen at the clinic, as the cook's 2 helpers weren't there. So a few of us stepped away from the kids a little early and jumped in to help en la cocina. Now you know I loved this. Cooking on a massive scale is not something I'm used to, so this was a totally new experience for me. We peeled, chopped, stirred and poured. The fruits and vegetables are all local (possibly some are grown on the premises?) and every last unrotten bit is used. Click here for more.

Peru Day 15: Machu Picchu is out, Choquekiro is in
I received an email from my trekking company explaining that Machu Picchu is now closed for the next 6 weeks and there is no possibility of getting up there until the end of March. This sucks for Cusco, as their economy is primarily based on tourism. I took it as a sign that I will just have to return to Cusco sooner rather than later. No problem there. Click here for more.

Peru Day 16: Una Masaje
OK, I finally got a massage here. But it was later in the day, so you'll just have to wait to read about (or I guess you could just scroll down).

Today was one of those do-whatever-you-want kind of days. I spent a ridiculous amount of time at an Internet cafe, shopped for gifts and enjoyed a late lunch at Mercado San Pedro. I ordered the lomo saltado at one of the food stands, a dish with beef, papas fritas (french fries), rice, tomatoes and an egg on top. It's served in a bowl and is YUMMY. I just wish I could finish it! Click here for more

Peru Day 17: Cramming Cusco into one day and yet another TUNA
Mike arrived early this morning and after we both slept for a few more hours, I got him out of bed and tried to show him Cusco in about 6 hours (the amount of time I figured we had before he'd fall flat on his face back into bed). Click here for more.

Peru Day 18: The trek begins...
I should've known better than to stay out late the night before, but the festivities were too much fun to leave. We had to be ready for pick up at 5 am, which meant we were up at 4:30 to shower, get dressed and finish packing. Ugh. I've always thought of myself as a morning person but not this morning. Click here for more.

Peru Day 19: Everything hurts and Lucilla to the rescue
OK, today was no joke. We awoke to cold misty rain and warm water to wash. Breakfast was delicious -- porridge, pancakes with (yay!) Manjar, coffee and Milo. And then we set out.

After the first hour downhill to the bridge over a raging river, the rest of the day WAS ENTIRELY UPHILL. And I'm not talking about the highest grade on the treadmill. I'm talking about twice that steep at least half the time. Ugh. My body is not cut out for that. Click here for more.

Peru Day 20: Choquequirao and a blown-out knee
We awoke to an amazing view from our tent (they're all pretty amazing) and a filling breakfast of eggs, fried bananas and hot chocolate and then set out to visit Choquequirao. The climb up to the site was (like all trekking here) a bit steep and for some reason I had difficulty breathing. This hasn't been a problem yet, but it was just the beginning of what was going to be an arduous day. Click here for more.

Peru Day 21: My Andes for a horse!
Oh thank God. While we were eating breakfast (and I was internally freaking out about the morning climb), one of our porters came bouncing down (another very steep) hill with a little boy and a horse! I had a horse! Click here for more.

Peru Day 22: More goodbyes and church choirs filling the air
I got up early -- around 6:30 -- to find a phone and call home. My mother emailed me while I was out in the Andes and told me that my father had a stroke and was now in the hospital. I didn't get this news until yesterday and needed a little time to process it. Click here for more.

Pasta Bake with Spinach and Mushrooms

It’s healthy and it’s got green stuff in it. Kids might have to be tricked into eating it, but I never said these recipes were for kids. Feel free to change out the cheeses to suit your taste.

And since we’re all adults here, we need to learn how to make a béchamel sauce. It’s soooo easy, yet I’ve messed it up countless times. The key is PATIENCE. It doesn’t take long to make, but you can’t rush the thickening of the milk (it takes about 5 minutes). Just wait. It will thicken. I promise.

2 cups whole wheat or brown rice (gluten free) rotini pasta
¾ lb chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
¼ whole wheat flour
2 cups skim milk (or 1%)
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan
(You can substitute or add additional cheese here. I also like a mild goat cheese or sharp cheddar in this recipe)
2 cloves crushed garlic
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp white truffle oil (optional, but it’s sooooo good)
salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a medium-sized baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add flour and stir with a whisk constantly. Gradually whisk in milk (preferably warm or room temperature) and continue stirring until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add truffle oil, nutmeg, garlic, salt and pepper. Add ½ cup of cheese to incorporate and then add pasta, mushrooms and spinach.

Pour into baking and sprinkle remaining 2 Tablespoons of cheese on top. Bake for 45 minutes until the top is browned.