Khaki Wishes and Cookie Dreams

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I was never a Girl Scout. In lieu of those activities, my mom encouraged me take ballet and tap dance classes, piano lessons and vocal coaching. I was a bit of a singer/dancer as a child, taking any chance I could to steal the limelight to sing in front of an audience (large or small). I loved singing and dancing so much that I didn’t miss or even notice the other activities I could’ve been doing with other kids my age. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old when I first saw Troop Beverly Hills, a movie about a group of Wilderness Girls from the 90210, led by the fierce (and amazingly dressed) Shelley Long.

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Troop Beverly Hills is one of my favorite movies, and after re-watching it in my 20s I immediately recognized one of my favorite artists, a young Jenny Lewis. In fact, the movie is flooded with young stars you may recognize.

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Looking back, I kind of wish I would’ve been a Wilderness Girl, just so that I could sing the “Cookie Time” song.

So right now (with all of my social media channels flooded with posts of Girl Scout cookies) I’m craving Thin Mints so very much. But no such luck on finding any Girl Scout cookie sales booths. Being the proactive and slightly impatient person that I am, I decided to create my own. The resulting recipe is vegan-optional (if you choose to use margarine instead of butter) and has a very subtle coconut flavor. ‘Cause mint and coconut go together like khaki and green, right? I’m calling ’em “Thick Mints” for obvious reasons.

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Homemade Thick Mints
Recipe slightly adapted from BakingBites.com
Yields about 2 1/2 dozen

INGREDIENTS
For the cookies:
8 ounces butter (or margarine)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup rice flour (I used Mochiko)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour

For the dipping chocolate:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/8 cup canola oil

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter (or margarine) and sugar till fully incorporated. Stir in the salt, extracts, coconut milk and cocoa powder. Mix until the cocoa powder is integrated and the batter looks like chocolate frosting. Add the flours and mix till just combined, making sure to not over-mix.

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Form the dough into a cylinder-like roll (think rolling pin-sized). Wrap the dough completely in Saran or other plastic wrap tightly. Place the dough into the freezer for at least 3 hours or overnight.

After properly resting, remove dough from the freezer and carefully discard plastic wrap. Using a sharp serrated knife cut dough into 1/2-inch discs, slowly cutting so as to not break the dough.

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Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 11-13 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack, about 5 minutes.

While the cookies bake, make the peppermint coating. Heat a sauce pot of water till boiling. Place the baking chocolate into a heat-resistant bowl over the boiling water, making sure not to get water  into the chocolate.

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(Cook’s Note: I have read recipes online instructing to place chocolate into a microwave. Please, I repeat, please don’t do that. Heating chocolate in the microwave will oftentimes scorch it. Chocolate is a temperamental food that needs to be treated carefully. On that note, please don’t ever heat chocolate over a direct flame. Melting chocolate over a double-boiler creates a more controllable heat source.)

Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the peppermint extract. Then slowly add in the oil to thin it out.

Slowly drop the cookies into the melted chocolate. Turn to coat the cookies entirely, then lift the cookie out of the chocolate with a rubber spatula.

Place the dipped cookies onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place the cookies in the freezer to set for at least an hour, preferably overnight if you’re patient!

Now it’s “cookie time, it’s cookie time, it’s cookie time!”

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Weintraub Entertainment Group)

Starting Over

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“You know what’s funny? This is the first time in my life there’s no one waiting at home for me. I don’t even have a home to come back to.” -Liz Gilbert in Eat Pray Love

After re-watching that scene, I can’t help but feel the jolt of goosebumps travel from my shoulders, down to my toes, and back up again. The feeling is eerily familiar. I had just experienced my own similar Eat Pray Love journey not too long ago. Liz was leaving behind everyone she loved; everything she knew. I, too, left behind everyone I loved and everything I knew.

I had reached a point in my life back in California, where nothing felt right. 

I began to feel the pangs of every decision I had made up to that point. Wasn’t this the life I had procured for myself? I (just like Liz) actively participated in creating this life, so why wasn’t I happy? I began to accept something I knew deep down inside for a very long time–I needed to start over. I wanted to move somewhere where I could become inspired again. I wanted to go to a place where I didn’t know a single person. After telling my story to a well known astrologer/medium in the Bay Area, she agreed and told me (as Ketut Liyer prophesied to Liz in Bali) that I needed to move and start over somewhere new. Together we consulted the spirits, and of all the cities and countries we examined, they (we) chose Portland. That was the moment I decided that I would have to figure out a way to move out of Oakland, and then save up enough money to make my way up North.

I didn’t have any housing planned, nor job lined up. Just the sheer determination and faith in the process that I would make it work. The only thing that had kept me in Oakland for as long as it did, were the friends I made within the four years I lived there. Saying goodbye to those friends truly was the hardest part; my friends are an extension of my family. After four years, I guess you can say I fell out of love with Oakland, as Liz fell out of love in her marriage. So she ended it. And I did as well.

I admit, it wasn’t an easy process, but thanks to my willingness to never give up, and meeting a group of truly amazing people (the new friends I’ve made here have been such a blessing and have helped me get through the many obstacles I encountered) I managed to set out and do exactly what I intended to do: start a brand-new life. The rush of being inspired again gives me goosebumps. The good kind. So while my journey here is far from over, I believe that I’ve started a new chapter in my own Eat Pray Love story.

Because it’s February (with the Hallmark holiday of Valentine’s Day just a few away) I thought I’d partake in the festivities and create a menu of Eat Pray Love-inspired recipes, featuring cuisines from the countries Liz visited.

I hope my story (or Liz’s) inspires you to partake in your own Eat Pray Love journey.

MENU

ITALY:  Roasted Asparagus with Black Olives, Lemon Vinaigrette, Pecorino Romano and a Soft-Cooked Egg

INDIA: Butter Chicken with Rice and Homemade Naan

INDONESIA: Gemblong Sweet Rice Fritters with Coconut-Caramel Sauce

 

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Columbia Pictures.)

Dolce Far Niente

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When brainstorming recipe ideas for the “EAT” section of this story, I had so many dishes to choose from. I mean, Liz ate such wonderful food in Italy–what to choose? Pizza in Napoli! Spaghetti in Roma! Tacchino in Toscana! But I was so enamored with the whole idea and simplicity of dolce far niente, as described by the character Luca Spaghetti, which means “the sweetness of doing nothing. So I went with it. As Americans, we do tend to live a lifestyle in which we feel that we have to “deserve” a break or a reward. I thought the approachability and charm of Liz’s dish with the hard-cooked egg, olives, cheese and roasted asparagus that she made (while dressed in a beautiful silk négligée at that) in a scene in the movie was perfection. Here’s my interpretation of the dish below.

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Roasted Asparagus with Black Olives, Lemon Vinaigrette, Pecorino Romano and a Soft-Cooked Egg
Serves 1

INGREDIENTS
7 each asparagus spears
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/2 lemon, juiced (peel reserved for grating)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup black olives, drained, pitted and lightly smashed
1/8 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 each egg

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METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350º F degrees. Wash the asparagus and snap the ends to remove the tough edges. Place the asparagus spears onto a baking sheet, giving each spear enough space between each other. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle the salt. Roast the asparagus for 7-10 minutes, till slightly tender.

While the asparagus is roasting, add the dijon, garlic and lemon juice into a small bowl, stirring together to incorporate. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil into the bowl. Set aside.

Fill a small saucepan with water and heat to boil. Slowly add the egg into the boiling water. Set a timer for 6 minutes. Turn the heat down to low. After 6 minutes, turn off the heat and set the timer for an additional minute, then place the egg in an ice bath. Let the egg sit in the ice water for another minute. Remove the egg and lightly crack the top and base, gently removing the shell so as to not break the egg yolk. Set aside.

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ASSEMBLY
Place the asparagus spears onto a plate. Add the black olives. Lightly drizzle the vinaigrette over the asparagus and olives. Using a Microplane, grate the Pecorino Romano and lemon peel over the plate. Gently place the egg over the asparagus and break that yolk upon serving!

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Columbia Pictures.)

Groceries

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The second part of Liz’s spiritual journey of self-discovery continued in an ashram in India, where she meets pivotal characters like Richard from Texas. The meals were simple, but I thought something as comforting as a big bowl of yummy butter chicken and rice with fresh homemade naan would be the perfect meal. (Especially right now, since it’s been cold and raining here in Portland for the past week.)

praybutterchixLEAD

Butter Chicken
Recipe slightly adapted from Foodess
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE MARINADE (do a day ahead)
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon oil

FOR THE SAUCE
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 cup small diced white onions
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 can diced (no salt added) tomatoes
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

GARNISH
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 cups cooked basmati, brown or jasmine rice

SERVE WITH
Homemade Naan (recipe HERE)

METHOD
FOR THE MARINADE
Place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and thoroughly combine with a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

FOR THE SAUCE
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions, cooking till tender. About 20-25 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the spices and salt, tossing to coat the onions. Cook for five minutes. Add the tomatoes, milk and butter. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

(Cook’s Note: I do this step overnight because I feel that the flavors develop even more after a day.)

The next day: Drain the excess oil from marinade and set aside. Return the sauce to the stove and reheat till boiling. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and add the chicken, slowly stirring to cook. Add the cilantro. Cook for about 10 minutes (or until done). Turn off the heat and serve.

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Columbia Pictures.)

BReaking BRead

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This delicious bread is best served with THIS recipe for Indian Butter Chicken.

Homemade Naan
Recipe slightly adapted from Baking Steel
Yields 4 pieces

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 425º F degrees. In a medium bowl sprinkle yeast over the lukewarm water, then sprinkle sugar on top. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes or until foamy.

Whisk in the olive oil and yogurt. Add the flour and salt, mixing till combined.

(Cook’s note: Dough will be rather wet and sticky. That’s OK.)

Cover the bowl with a damp side towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot in your kitchen. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is. About 30 minutes before baking, place a baking steel (if you have one) or cast-iron skillet into the oven to heat the pan.

Put some flour on your hands and turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface, sprinkling the dough with the flour as you work with it. Divide the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. The dough will be rather sticky, so attempt to work the dough as minimally as possible, using as much flour as needed to keep it from sticking to your hands. Shape each section into a ball and let rest for about 20 minutes before shaping. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel.

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To shape the dough, use your hands to gently stretch the dough, lightly pulling the edges to stretch evenly, using all of your fingers to elongate it. Wet your fingers and lightly rub the surface of the dough with a bit of water. Using an oven mitt, remove your cast-iron skillet from the oven and then gently place the dough (water rubbed side down) onto it. Bake for 3-4 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, check to see if the side has gotten golden brown, if so, flip it over and bake for another 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and repeat the process with remaining pieces of dough.

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Return to the full story HERE

Let’s Cross Over

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For the last leg of Liz’s journey, she finds “LOVE” in Bali. Meeting her future husband, Felipe (real name: Jose Nunes), helped change her way of thinking. She discovered that she can find balance with love and spirituality. She not only found love in the form of her soulmate, but she also found love in the friends she met (not just in Indonesia, but throughout her journey) like Ketut Liyer, Wayan Nuriasih and Tutti.

I felt that a sweet dish would be the best representation of Liz’s time in Bali. I could just imagine young Tutti making these fun and easy-to-make sweet treats with her mom.

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Gemblong (Indonesian Sweet Rice and Coconut Fritters)
Yields about 14 fritters

INGREDIENTS
2 cups sweet rice flour (I used Koda Farms Blue Star® Mochiko)
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup coconut milk, heated
1/4 cup water
2-3 cups oil, for frying
1 pint coconut-caramel sauce (recipe HERE)

METHOD
In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk and water till almost boiling. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching. Set aside.

Place the oil in a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat till oil is shimmering (not exactly boiling but very hot!).

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Mix together the rice flour, coconut flakes and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
Slowly add in the heated liquids, using a rubber spatula to mix it all together. Once all of the liquid has been added use your hands to finish incorporating the dough. The dough should be slightly damp, like cookie dough.

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Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or scoop, portion out 12-14 balls of dough. Form the dough balls into about 1/2-inch thick, cylindrical patties.

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Place one of the patties into the frying oil to check for proper temperature. The patty should start frying immediately but not so much that the fritter begins to burn quickly. Adjust temperature of oil as needed. Fry the dough for about 2-3 minutes then flip, cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the oil using a pair of tongs and place onto a paper towel-lined platter to cool down.

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Once cooled down (about 10 minutes), dip into the caramel sauce (recipe HERE) and shake off the excess sauce, and place onto a Silpat- or parchment paper-lined sheet tray to dry.

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Columbia Pictures.)

Smooth Operator

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This vegan caramel sauce–I dare say–tastes even better than its dairy counterpart. Perfect for topping an ice cream sundae or to add some flavor to your cuppa Joe, this caramel sauce goes with just about any sweet recipe, just like these Indonesian Sweet Rice Fritters pictured above. Did I mention that it’s vegan?

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Vegan Caramel Sauce
Recipe adapted from Eff Yeah It’s Vegan!
Yields about 1 pint

INGREDIENTS
1 can coconut cream, separated from water
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons kosher salt

METHOD
Place the thickened part of the coconut cream into a sauce pan on medium-low heat, whisking in the dark brown sugar. Continue to cook the mixture for 20-25 minutes, stirring constantly, and lifting the pan off the heat if it begins to bubble to the point that it might overflow. Reduce the heat if it starts to bubble rapidly. The appropriate cooking temperature should be at a full, rolling boil but not boiling over.

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and salt. Pour it into a glass bowl or pan to cool. This creates a very thick but pourable caramel sauce.

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Return to the accompanying recipe HERE

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