Sunday, October 16, 2011


Jordan and I have this really weird love. It's for Duke's Mayonnaise. It's made in our hometown, it's "the secret of great southern cooks," and we think it's just delicious. Especially my lovely husband. So knowing of this love, my mom decided to send us some mayo to cheer us up (haha) in Australia. This was probably back in February. Well, our mayo was quarantined by the Australian government because apparently our eggs might contaminate the whole country and therefore we were to never enjoy our favorite sandwich condiment. 

However, my mom's lovely best friend found out about this, and similarly to us, was outraged! You see, her father was a chicken farmer and therefore made his living off of eggs and other chicken products. When she heard that Australia didn't appreciate our eggs, she and her father set out to hatch a plan (ha) to get us some of this tasty spread. After some time of scheming, they determined they would wrap the mayo as Easter presents, packaged inside an larger Easter box, in an Easter tin (I know, I should have posted this months ago). But they got extra sneaky (and to prevent them from having to lie when stating what was in the package - smart and honest people that they are!) and included a decoy in the box too. An unwrapped, unashamed mayo that would inevitably be a sacrifice for the other mayos to make it to us unquarantined. 

Well, for some reason I guess the box inspectors were feeling lazy that day and all three containers (the decoy and the two Easter presents) made it to us! We were so shocked and excited because they hadn't revealed their plan to us before sending the package! I wanted to properly recognize their heroic acts to get my desperate husband his Duke's. This week we have finished the last container and I think we both died inside a bit when we bought a new jar of sub-par Australian mayonnaise that most certainly is not the secret of great Southern cooks. And for the record, our eggs have definitely not contaminated this country.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Green Apple and Bleu Grilled Cheese

I made this sandwich the other night for us when I had a bit of bleu cheese leftover. They were really tasty and though this isn't as much of a recipe as it is a suggestion of a flavor combination, I thought they were good enough to share! The side salad is simply the same ingredients from the sandwiches, just made into a salad with some chopped pecans and a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Hope you enjoy these if you try them - and are inspired to be creative with ingredients you have on hand!


Slices of sourdough or other artisan bread
Thin apple slices
Shredded Mozzarella cheese
Crumbled Bleu Cheese
Mayo, if desired
Salt and Pepper
Butter (I would use spray butter if I was at home since it has zero calories but grills well)

Build sandwiches by spreading bread with a thin layer of mayo and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Add desired amount of mozzarella cheese, bleu cheese, and top with apple slices and arugula. Spread (or spray!) butter on the outside and grill. :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sky Deck + George

Like I said before, Jordan's friend George has been visiting. He's now in Sydney and will be traveling more before he comes back to Melbourne in a couple weeks, but here's a few pictures from last Sunday! We went to the Queen Vic Market and the Sky Deck. It was a really nice day and it was fun to do something we hadn't done before. That seems to happen more when people come visit us!

Obviously disgusted at the pig parts at the market

I love me a good ox tongue - and at such an affordable price! YUCK!

Love this of them on the tram

Beautiful St. Pauls. The centre of the city.

So glad for George to visit!

Get excited about the Sky Deck!

Loved the side of this building!

Never knew the bay was so close! Can't usually see it. 

From the 88th floor. Last picture before my camera died. :(

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sugar Cookie Bar Variations: Strawberry Kiwi Sugar Cookie Cupcakes

As promised, here's the other variation on the sugar cookie bars that I've made. I'm sure you could come up with many other awesome desserts using this dough, too! I love a great, versatile recipe I can get creative with while being sure I'll come out with a great product.

This "recipe" is one I'm writing right now. When I made this, I used some extra dough from the big batch of pink sugar cookie bars I made and ended up with 6 "cupcakes". But I didn't take notes as I made these, so it's really more of a guess as to how many of these babies you'll actually end up with. If you make this, let me know how many this recipe made and I'll update this post! Side note: I took this dessert over to my neighbor's house for dinner since she's Muslim and needed to eat something halal. Though most desserts you probably make are halal since it mainly refers to how meat products (gelatin is included in this) are dealt with, it's good to know if you're ever in the same situation as me!

Again, you could top these with any fruit you wanted, but I like the contrast of the red and green together. I guess you could even deem these appropriate for a Christmas event? Maybe they're too summery. Christmas in the summer here confuses my normal thinking about it. I've been anticipating it because of the cold for months now.

Makes approximately 6 cupcakes, easily doubled for more


For the cookie base:
1/4 cup butter (or 1/2 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder

For topping:
About 4 oz. or 1/2 block of cream cheese, softened
1 to 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 kiwi
3 - 4 large strawberries


Grease the muffin cups with butter. For the cookie base, cream sugar and butter together in large bowl on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Mix in egg, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in vanilla. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda. *Note: I like to do this step in a wire mesh strainer hooked to the top of my mixing bowl so that it sifts the flour at the same time, but you could also do it in separate bowl.* Add flour mixture to wet ingredients on low speed until just incorporated.

Press dough into muffin cups, about half of the way full. Bake them at 350 F for about 10 minutes. You will need to keep an eye on these because I don't remember how long I actually cooked them. Just make sure the edges are a bit browned and center is mostly set. If it's a little soft still that's probably good if you're like me and enjoy soft chewy cookies. Let fully cool before frosting.

For the topping, blend together the softened cream cheese, vanilla extract, and 1 cup confectioners sugar. Add more sugar as needed to reach desired consistency and taste. Frost cupcakes with the sweetened cream cheese. Dice up a kiwi and a few strawberries and use them for topping. Eat the leftovers, they're good for you. :)

PS: this post is my first one that I've "scheduled"! I feel like a real live blogger!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sugar Cookie Bar Variations: Strawberry Lime Sugar Cookie Pizza

Hope you guys are having a nice day. I have had a great day. After prayer, Jordan took me by the new Nike store so I could get a new workout shirt and pants! Very fun. I have been trying to be really good about exercise this year, especially in the winter because I was feeling pretty stir crazy and lethargic. Exercise always helps this, and I find I'm much happier when I get in several workouts in a week. Bonus: it's actually been really fun to have somewhere already paid for to go [we got Scoopons for a local gym for $30 for 3 months!] since things can get a bit pricey here in Melbourne.

Now, to the food. Sorry about the incredibly long title! After I posted the sugar cookie bar recipe, I wanted to follow it up with a couple of variations I've made this year. I probably liked them better than the original recipe, and they are definitely more fancy! I made this a long time ago now and took it to a STINT dinner we were having, and everyone loved it! It's spring and strawberry season here, so I should really make it again since they are so cheap!

To make this variation on the traditional bars, mold the dough into a deep dish pizza pan. Alternately, you could use a jelly roll pan or any other pan with sides. This would just make the dough different heights. I decreased the amount of dough for these, but it still leaves a pretty thick cookie base for this fruit pizza with sweetened cream cheese as your "sauce." Since I love lime and strawberry flavors together, this was a fun combination for me to try. However, you could put any type of fruit you had onto this base and it would be awesome. Also, I think the more lime the better. I didn't put in as much as I could have in this - so feel free to add more. It would probably be delicious and more of a key lime cheesecake flavor. YUM.

Here's the recipe:



For the dough:
170 grams butter (or 1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest from one lime (or two or three!)
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 + 1/8 tsp baking soda

For the topping:
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature, or softened in the microwave
56 g or 1/4 cup butter at room temperature, or softened in the microwave
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
4-5 tsp lime juice (or more)
Zest from one lime
Pint of strawberries


Grease pan lightly with butter. To make the cookie dough, cream sugar and butter together in large bowl on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in vanilla and zest. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda. *Note: I like to do this step in a wire mesh strainer hooked to the top of my mixing bowl so that it sifts the flour at the same time, but you could also do it in separate bowl.* Add flour mixture to wet ingredients on low speed until just incorporated.

Press into deep dish pizza pan, or other pan with sides. *Note: you may need to adjust baking time if in a different pan.* Bake at 350 F (or 180 C) for about 10-15 minutes, until edges begin to brown and center is set. Let it cool completely before frosting.

To make the topping, cream together cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add sifted confectioners sugar and lime juice alternately. Stir in zest. If you choose to add more lime juice than the recipe calls for, you may need to add more sugar to reach the desired consistency. Spread evenly over the cookie base, leaving a bit of a border. Slice strawberries and arrange on top for a pretty presentation!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

culture through new eyes

We have one of Jordan's friends, George, here visiting us. He arrived this morning at 5:30am and poor guy is having the most full day! After the 12 hour flight and the time change, you are so thrown off and dizzy and just TIRED. But he has been a great sport and went to prayer with us right away (after some cinnamon bun pancakes!) and then we got to take him to the CBD (central business district, aka downtown to us Americans) to show him around. Now he and Jordan are at a support raising seminar for students going on summer projects in December (how weird is it that SUMMER project is in December, right?). But the goal for anyone coming to Australia is that they would stay awake all day the first day they arrive to get their bodies accustomed to the time change as quickly as possible. It really does make such a difference if you can just persevere through that first miserable, sleepless day.

We were talking about some of the differences in culture and ways of doing things this morning, and I realized there are just so many things that I've grown completely comfortable with and now view as the norm. It was the weirdest day when I watched an American movie (after being here several months and driving on the left side of the road) and saw someone driving on the "wrong" side of the road. It used to be the "right" side…now who knows what my body thinks is right and wrong!

I have always heard that reverse culture shock can be worse than the regular kind you experience when visiting a new place. My theory on this recently has been that I won't experience it as much because I'm not in a country that loves America. You see, I've actually grown more patriotic this year, which may seem weird. All the other times I've gone to another country, I harbor some resentment to my home country because I see how very much all the people around me adore America and I see that we don't think two seconds about them. It kind of makes you just love them more and think your own country is so clueless. But in Australia, I've felt so disliked for being an American. I've never had people look down on me for being an American (yeah some countries will look down on America because of our government, but not you because you live there). Anyway, it's increased my patriotism and my desire to hold on to my American-ness (at times) because blatant verbal attacks on my country are just mean! And I actually thought that I hadn't really changed that much. (But let me clarify that this is not ALL Aussies. Some of them love America and Americans and most of our friends are super awesome and welcoming.) So in summary, my theory has been that I'll actually really appreciate the things I've been missing and just being in America. Hope you followed all that.

However, my theory kinda changed today talking to George because I realized just how assimilated I really am. I talk like an Aussie (not the accent but the word choice and sentence structure is often very Australian). I use public transport like an Aussie. I am quiet in public. I drive on the left side of the road without fear or apprehension. I watch footy and I "go" for a team instead of "root" for them. I shop at markets and fruit stands. I'm becoming a bread snob. I am seriously obsessed with these people's yogurt. Bottom line, I guess there will be a lot to get re-used to when we get back. And a lot to miss. Eek!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sugar Cookie Bars

I have been really happy to have this recipe this year. It is a really easy, delicious dough that is quick and inexpensive to throw together with all staple ingredients. And, the full recipe feeds a LOT. The frosting is really light and buttery and a nice complement to the sugar cookies, and would be easy to tint different colors based on whatever event you are bringing them to. I think they would be just perfect with maroon icing and some orange sprinkles! I have also used the dough recipe for a few other desserts this year too, which I will share in a few days. If you make these, be prepared to have a lot of these little bars on your hands, since you make these in a large jelly roll pan. Or perhaps half the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan so you won't have so many!

Sugar Cookie Bars 
Makes about 48 bars
For the cookie bars:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest from 1 lemon
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
For the frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
5 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (optional, but pretty!)

     To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 13"x18" rimmed baking sheet. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla and lemon zest. In a medium bowl (or a wire mesh colander fitted to the top of your bowl), combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on low speed just until incorporated. 
     Transfer the cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet and press into an even layer. Bake 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The edges should be just starting to lightly brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
     To make the frosting, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium-high speed until smooth. Blend in the vanilla, salt, and confectioners' sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the milk. Tint as desired with food coloring. Spread over the cookie in the pan, cut into bars and serve. *Note: Since this frosting is mostly butter, it will melt quickly on the bars if they are not cooled completely. (I learned this the hard way the first time when I tried to rush it!)
Source: Annie's Eats, who got it from The Repressed Pastry Chef

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grilled Tuna* with White Bean and Charred Onion Salad

*Any fish could probably be substituted for the tuna. I have only made this with basa, which I think is the Aussie name for tilapia.

I fixed this for dinner this week and was really AMAZED by how delicious it was! I kept saying it because I really didn't expect it to be THAT good. It's a really simple recipe with a great citrus marinade and an easy bean and vegetable salad. I think serving it over a bed of baby arugula puts this meal over the top, since the peppery, wonderful taste of it is so flavorful itself. I can not endorse this meal enough, so hope you try it because it's super healthy and protein-packed.

Grilled Tuna with White Bean and Charred Onion Salad
Yield: 4 servings

For the Tuna or other fish:
1  tablespoon grated lemon rind
2  tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2  teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2  teaspoon olive oil
1/4  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks
Cooking spray or olive oil
For the Salad:
1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons  red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon  olive oil
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/4 teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon  Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup  chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1/4 cup  chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon capers
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups mixed salad greens (arugula is my personal favorite for this)

To prepare tuna, combine the first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add tuna to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes, turning once. 

Prepare grill or heat a pan with a little olive oil or cooking spray over medium-high heat.

To prepare salad, place onion slices on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until tender. Alternately, coarsely chop onion and cook in your preheated pan until a bit charred. Cool and/or chop.

Combine vinegar and next 5 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add onion, cucumber, parsley, capers, and beans to vinegar mixture; toss to coat.

Remove tuna from bag; discard marinade. Place tuna on grill rack coated with cooking spray or in pan; grill 2 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. If cooking in skillet, I look for the edges to become cooked and a bit crispy before flipping it, but it doesn't take long!

While the fish is cooking, arrange 1 1/2 cups salad greens on each of 4 plates. Top each serving with about 1/2 cup onion mixture and 1 tuna steak. Enjoy!

Source: Cooking Light. 
Calories: 383

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

These muffins were ones I first made for a retreat I went on about a year ago, and have been meaning to make them again! They are moist and peanut-buttery without being overwhelmingly sweet for breakfast.  I also like that they keep fresh for several days after without drying out at all. I will come back to this recipe again and again though because I nearly always have all the ingredients on hand and because most everyone in my life loves the peanut-butter and chocolate combo, including me!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chips Muffins
What you need:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tbsp. butter melted and cooled (the cooling is an important step in the process, I learned!)
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 lg. eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a muffin pan with liners and spray with cooking spray if desired. In a large bowl, beat together melted and cooled butter, peanut butter, eggs, and milk until smooth. In a fine mesh strainer fitted over the bowl (or a separate bowl), mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar and sift into wet ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide into the 12 muffin liners, filling each to the top. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely, or just eat them warm!

Source: Annie's Eats via Baking Bites

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A bit about today and the last installment of Mid-Year Recipes!

Today I am going to RMIT Brunswick, a small campus mainly for design majors, that's close to home and relaxed. Nicole and I are hosting an afternoon tea, in hopes to generate some more interest at this school. Although we are leading Christianity Explained with two girls who don't know Jesus yet, it's been pretty slow otherwise and we're eager for more students to be involved. Plus, it's mainly all-female campus so it's fun for Nicole and I to go together. It's been so nice having her here this year. Pray that more than a few girls come to our tea! 

I have been lagging on my attempts to post all the recipes I have stored away, ready to post. I really like cooking, and it's been my only real hobby besides going to the gym this year. I get into the kitchen to cook when I'm stressed and need to relax, when I'm bored, when I want to bless someone with yummy things, or when I'm feeling homesick I make things to remind me of home. It's been a great thing for me to do just enjoy life more. The past few weekends I've cooked either Saturday or Sunday all day. Just trying new things and talking with Jordan or listening to a radio station from home on ITunes - K95 has been getting the most time!

So here is the rest of the Mid-Year retreat menu/recipes. Hope you enjoy having them - if anyone from our team is reading this!

Wednesday Lunch
Jane's Salad with Teriyaki Chicken and Snow Peas
      Jane's Salad is what we call a beloved staple for our team: a cabbage, almond, chow mein noodle, 
      scallions, yummy Asian dressing salad. To this I added teriyaki marinated chicken and snow peas.
Watermelon and Strawberries
Tim Tams

Wednesday Dinner
Fish Tacos with Fruit Salsa
       I loosely made this based on several recipes I had. I used pineapple, red onion, red pepper, lime 
       juice and cilantro for the salsa. Added red cabbage. Made Avocado Crema by blending together
      avocado, a bit of sour cream, S&P and lime juice. Made a dry rub for the fish which was grilled 
      with garlic, olive oil, cilantro, cumin, and chili powder. These were great and were a favorite.
Nachos with Refried Beans, Guacamole, Salsa, and Cheese
Mexican Rice

Wednesday Dessert

image from tasty kitchen

Sopapillas and Honey
Vanilla Ice Cream

Thursday Breakfast
image from the pioneer woman
Cinnamon Baked French Toast
Juice, Milk, Coffee, Tea

Thursday Lunch
Baked Potatoes and Toppings: Cheese, Broccoli, Corn, Bacon Bits, Sour Cream, Scallions, Pineapple
Salad with Cucumbers, Carrots, Tomato, Feta, Scallions, Boiled Egg, Broccoli
Tim Tams

Thursday Dinner: Out to Eat!

Thursday Supper
Brownie Sundaes with Hot Fudge

Friday Breakfast
English Muffins, Crumpets, and Toast
Jam, Butter, Honey, Peanut Butter
Yogurt and Muesli
Boiled Eggs
Milk, Juice, Coffee, Tea

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day of Rest!

...Well, sort of. :) I got the privilege of cooking dinner for some women who were on women's retreat this Saturday. They were a bunch of girls I know, but aren't any that I work with specifically (I only work with international students) so since space was limited at the house they were staying, I stayed back, but volunteered to make dinner (partly to be helpful, and partly because I LOVE the place they were staying). The place is called Matilda, and it's in Sunbury, about 45 minutes away from where we live. It's a sheep farm! Since I love a nice drive on a warm day, cooking, loving on sweet women, and the country - it seemed like a perfect and relaxing way to spend a Saturday!

I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a few pictures. I took so many - it was hard to choose the best ones! When you arrive at Matilda, you have to go about a kilometer drive down a dirt road to the house. Along the road there are dozens and dozens of sheep everywhere! It's spring here, so all the baby lambs have just been born and are so dang cute! Most of them ran as fast as they could away from me, but I decided to stop the car for a few minutes and a few got bold enough to get close! It took me 30 minutes to get down the driveway because I just kept stopping and loving life in the country. Ahhh, fresh air and beauty!

Precious Lambs!

obviously edited, but how cool are those clouds!?

every time I would drive, they would run, but when I stopped the car, they would all turn back and just stare at me!

aw. one fell trying to get away.

and it got back up again!
but notice the lamb trying to feed as the mom's trying to run in the back!

"bouncing lambs" as they're called by the farmer

they were SO not happy that I was there, and continued to BAAAAA at me.

i love these two cuties…i think they are friends

And then one whispers to the other….
(RRRUUUNNN! a scary woman in a car is going to get us!!)

italian dinner i cooked (with lots of help)!

seriously good cupcakes. will post recipes later!

and the lovely ladies, who made the day even more special!

THANKS for letting me come join your sheepy party, girls!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mid-Year Retreat Menu Part 2

Tuesday Breakfast
Breakfast Burritos with Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, Cheese, Scallions, and Tomatoes (the link is not to the recipe I used, but sounds like a great one; also picture is not of recipe I used - I just compiled these ingredients for people to roll up in tortillas)
Juice, Milk, Coffee, Tea
Tuesday Lunch
Tuna Melts on English Muffins (I actually didn't like these, so wouldn't make them again, but others seemed to; it seems I prefer basic tuna mixed with mayo and some relish)
image via the pioneer woman
Zucchini, Tomato, and Feta Pasta Salad (this made a ton and I served it with several consecutive meals - I really like it)
image via the pioneer woman
image via all recipes

Tuesday Dinner (This meal was the one that went the most wrong! I forgot to buy skewers and when your whole menu is kabobs, that affects things, so we grilled them sans skewers and it was just fine - the pasta was forgotten as well and so we had the pasta salad from lunch and some leftover roasted potato salad from the previous night - turned out great, thankfully!)
Meat Kabobs (Steak, Pork, and Chicken)
Grilled Veggie Kabobs (Red Pepper, Onion, and Zucchini)
Grilled Fruit Kabobs (Pineapple, Mango, and Peach - turned this into a fruit salad)
Pasta with Butter, Lemon, and Garlic (and Sour Cream)
Bread and Butter

Tuesday Supper
Chocolate Chip Cookies (our team is crazy for them with a bit of sea salt on top! also, this recipe is for brownie stuffed cookies, which are awesome, but I just use the cookie dough recipe, so everything minus the brownie mix)
Milk and/or Ice Cream

Wednesday Breakfast
Eggs in a Basket with Cheese
Bacon (forgot to cook this that morning so we had tons on Friday!)
Apples, Grapes, and Yogurt
Juice, Milk, Coffee, Tea

Mid-Year Retreat Menu

Sunday Dinner
Barbecued Chicken (I used the chicken pieces that were cheapest at the counter)
Creamed Corn (canned with butter)
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans (canned with garlic and a bouillon cube)
Rolls and Butter
Sweet Tea (crowd pleaser on my team!)
image via martha stewart

Sunday Supper (what Aussies call dessert)
Dump Cake with Ice Cream (I used only 1 stick of butter, put cinnamon on top, and used canned apple pie filling, but a drained can peaches and crushed pineapple are great too!)
image via the pioneer woman

Monday Breakfast (we all left for snorkeling early so it needed to be quick)
English Muffins, Croissants, or Toast
Jam, Butter, Peanut Butter, Honey
Yogurt and Muesli
Milk, Juice, Tea, Coffee

Monday Lunch (packed lunch for only 9 while snorkeling)
Sandwiches: Bread, Turkey, Ham, Cheese, Peanut Butter, Jelly
Mayo and Dijon Mustard
Cookies (non-melty since we'd be outside!)

Monday Dinner
Burgers (patties made in the morning by people who left in the second shift): Worcestershire sauce, Scallions, Garlic, and S&P mixed in) with Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Ketchup, and Mayo
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime Butter (just mix lime juice into softened butter, then chill)
Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade (nixed this because of the budget, but groceries are WAY cheaper in the states!)
image via how sweet eats

Monday Supper
Maria's Birthday Cake! Chocolate Raspberry Cake (not the exact recipe, but we made one like it; however I would have made this one if I had more time!)
Chocolate Ice Cream
image via cakes you can bake

Cooking for Groups

One of my favorite things I get to do on staff, besides be with students, is cook for my team! Usually a few times each year there are different opportunities for this: a staff retreat, student leader retreat, wives conference, etc. Each event has different needs for food, different numbers of people, budget, and feel of the event. And since they are usually at least 3 days long, they require lots of planning!

I think I love it so much because it is a project I can work on that is short-lived (I only work on it for a few weeks) and allows me to experiment with different recipes to come up with a great product that people usually get really excited about! It is so fun also to pull people into the kitchen with you to chop things, chat, whatever. I love it. This year I have gotten to plan two staff retreats' food for our team. The first one was at a house with minimal electricity (and no oven) for 2 1/2 days (which posed many new challenges) with Aussies and Americans (also affects my food choices for the group). The second was at the beach for our mid-year retreat, was all Americans, and lasted for 5 days.

I wanted to post on here all the recipes I used for the mid-year retreat, mostly because I know my team wanted them, but I figured it may be fun to document it for myself too and offer some of my go-to recipes and advice for groups for anyone else who is interested. :)

I started the planning by looking at our budget ($700 for 17 meals and 14 people). I divided up the money into amounts I thought I could make work for each meal, and to give me an idea of how elaborate or simple I needed to make each meal. This really helps me start to plan. Otherwise I will just come up with ridiculously expensive ideas for everything, and ones that take me the whole day to cook. Not really ideal for a "retreat" where I'm supposed to be relaxing too! I can't remember exactly the amounts, but I think it was $30 for each breakfast, $40 for each lunch, $70 for each dinner, and $15 for each supper (dessert). I didn't provide any snacks except for leftover fruit and veggies from the meals prior since we always end up eating too much at these things.

I also made a list of everything people didn't like to eat, or allergies and things like that could be taken into account here. I have several picky teammates, even ones that don't like chicken and cheese…so that made things a bit more challenging since I had to make sure each meal could be cheese-less on a portion. However, the girl that doesn't like chicken is awesome and loves veggies and sides so a couple nights she tried the chicken and then just ate lots of sides. :) I also had a vegetarian (who also eats fish) to consider. She needed to have protein options. This was probably the most difficult retreat to plan for me so far because it was the longest with the most picky eaters. (I also planned it for a tighter budget of $600 which got increased at the last minute by our team leaders since they had extra from something else!).

To make the actual menu, I thought through things our team always likes to have at team things (i.e. a specific salad, dessert). I made a list of all the possible things to include and asked a few teammates to give me feedback. Then I drew out a calendar and wrote down all the meal ideas, then moved them all around so there was a variety of meats each day and different fruits and veggies, too. Then I tried to look at it overall to see if anything was missing or if I had a bit of money left to throw in something really special. I also LOVE theme nights for meals, so I included a couple of those, which also helped me to fill in the sides and dessert to match the theme.

It is also very important to know what equipment you will have access to while there. We were staying in a nice vacation home, so I went to their website and they had everything detailed out there. That was really helpful, but not always available. Sometimes I will call the camp or wherever we are staying to ask questions. But sometimes you get to a place (like I did with our other minimal-electricity-no-oven-house staff retreat) and just have to adjust after you figure it out.

The final thing I looked at was the prep time involved for each day. If I had a more involved lunch, then I wanted dinner to be pretty quick so I didn't have to pull people inside to help twice in one day. But our team was great and was always willing to help so I didn't really have any problems with this. I wrote down a menu for anyone in the house to see and also a prep schedule, especially for those days when I had a meeting and wasn't going to be able to be around the whole time. I tried to think through what we would be doing each day…for example, on the day we arrived, I knew I wanted to make something easy because we were going to be grocery shopping until about 5pm and would need to get home and get people fed quickly. These things really helped to shape the menu and make it conducive to a retreat where we had other responsibilities and wanted to relax.

After I had made the whole menu, I printed out a stack of every recipe I needed to bring, including the ones that are just in my head, then went through and made a huge master list of all the ingredients I needed to buy. It is really important to me to be very detailed in this part of the process because it makes shopping much easier, especially if others are helping you, and it helps you to stay on budget and not end up with a lot of unused food. Since I had a really strict budget, I actually made a spreadsheet with each ingredient and amount written out and went to the grocery store the week before the retreat and wrote down each price. Then I got home and did the math. I realized then that I was $20 over budget so I took a few things out and adjusted in small ways to make sure I was under. You wouldn't have to do this, but I recommend it if you have a budget. It is just too easy to end up spending way too much. It took me about 3-4 hours including going to the store and adjusting the menu but it was worth it! Especially when Jordan and Chris were the two who volunteered to go to the store with me…they had the exact price written down next to the ingredient so they easily chose the right brand/type. However, we inevitably forgot a couple of things and so I just changed the menu based on what we had. (We didn't have a car after the first night we took a taxi, so I couldn't really get back to the store, but if you could, this may not be as big of a deal).

My other overall advice is just to have fun! I love to cook, so I really enjoy when people hang around the kitchen to help, when they really enjoy a meal, and when clean up isn't too bad because you're all doing it together. We had a great time at the retreat so hopefully this will help you if you ever need to do something similar. :) I will post recipes over the next few days since I don't want this post to be longer than it already is…yikes!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Herbed Risotto with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

I haven't updated this blog in forever, but I figure the easiest way to start that process again is to post about something I really like talking about! Recipes! However, we have had a million things going on and hopefully I'll post about them someday.

Risotto is something I never considered trying until I moved to Australia, where it is extremely common and it's on every menu, everywhere. It's also made frequently by most home cooks. I think the only place I'd ever heard it talked about was in Gilmore Girls, by Sookie, who raved about how great her's was. I just assumed it was too complicated. However, after I tasted the creamy goodness of risotto for the first time, I was hooked! I found this recipe and immediately wanted to try it. It is a very fool-proof method and really doesn't even require that much time [another risotto myth]. Jordan loves this recipe, too! Enjoy!

Herbed Risotto with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

Yield: about 6 servings

1½ tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of sugar
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
¾ tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups Arborio (medium grain) rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp. minced fresh chives [I just used chives]
Ground black pepper


Add 1½ teaspoons of the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sugar, stirring to coat. Allow the onion to cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown and caramelized. Remove the onions to a plate and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the chicken broth and water and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet used to cook the onions set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to the heated skillet and cook, turning once, until each side is a light golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the chicken pieces to the saucepan with the simmering broth mixture. Let cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165˚ F or until cooked through (no longer pink). Remove the chicken from the broth and transfer to the plate with the onions.

Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a Dutch oven set over medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice to the pan, stirring to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, about 2-3 minutes. Stir 5 cups of hot broth mixture into the rice. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just al dente, 16-19 minutes, stirring twice during cooking.

Add ¾ cup of the hot broth mixture to the risotto and stir gently and constantly until the risotto becomes creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir the shredded chicken and caramelized onions into the risotto with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, lemon juice, parsley and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add up to ½ cup of the remaining broth mixture to add moisture and loosen the texture. Serve immediately.

Source: Annie's Eats, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2010

Monday, June 13, 2011


Here are a couple of pictures from our amazing, refreshing, relaxing, memorable holiday/mid-year retreat in Cairns! I am truly in awe of God's goodness to us and His amazing creativity (we got to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef!!!!!)! We are now back in wintery Melbourne, but with a tan! Now only a few more hours to wait before my parents arrive, which makes me even more excited!! They were delayed in getting here by the volcanic ash cloud coming across the Pacific from Chile. We are hoping to make lots of memories in the now 2 days they are here before heading up to Sydney/Port Macquarie and meeting Jordan's family for a nice reunion! Pray for travel safety for us as we fly again Thursday, for Lori's parents and Jordan's family who are both flying to Australia later this week (we are really hoping the cloud will have dissipated by then!), and for a great time spent together catching up on the past 5 months!