Monday, November 24, 2014

missionary cookbook // expat lasagna

Sweet Maggie Stewart, who is currently serving in Ukraine, requested this recipe to be next in this collection. This is for you, Maggie! 

Let me tell you something. There are some amazing ex-pat/missionary/whatever you call them people who can make anything from scratch. I'm talking making your own ricotta cheese kind of people. And yes, I've heard it's not that hard, but living as an expat in a developing country, there are some things I don't mind making from scratch and some things that I just say "forget it". And ricotta cheese is just one of those things. You don't have time to reinvent the wheel on everything you've ever made.

So let me introduce you to my version of "expat lasagna", or maybe better named "you-can-make-this with-the-stuff-you-already-keep-in-your-fridge lasagna", or even "won't-break-the-bank-in-imported-goods-prices-lasagna."

You pick which name you like best.

Though this recipe is for the less-terrified expat home cook, I personally feel like this recipe is one of the best ones I have to share because it marks the time where my overseas cooking really came full circle. I stopped feeling like I couldn't make anything, and started feeling like I could really make things that tasted like home and things that would wow my guests.

And to be honest, I don't even really miss the ricotta cheese! I didn't love it to begin with.

Step 1: Prepare the meat sauce. (Or pull some out of the freezer from a previous batch!) For this recipe, feel free to use your own meat/marinara/bolongese/red sauce recipe our change it to you or your family's liking. But for the purpose of this post, I will include my own. My husband is extremely partial to using meat sauce, but of course it changes a little every time because really what I do is just dump in spices until it looks good. So this recipe is truly just an estimate. Please note that when making sauce with only tomato paste as a base, using butter or margarine is extremely important, as well as a dash of sugar! A lesson I learned from my Honduran friends.

Meat Sauce:

1 lb ground beef, browned
1-2 tbsp oil (olive is best, but whatever you have access to)
4 tbsp margarine
1 medium to large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced small
14 oz diced tomatoes, fresh or stewed
5-6 cloves of garlic (if using powder, 1/4 teaspoon is one clove)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 bay leaf (or 1/2 tsp powder)
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 bags of tomato paste (mine are 4 oz each)
1- 1 1/2 cups water, to desired consistency
2 tbsp Worchestshire sauce (opt)

Brown ground beef ahead of time, set aside. In a large dutch oven, heat margarine and oil together. Saute the diced onion, green pepper, and your choice of garlic until soft and onions are translucent. Add tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining spices and ground beef and stir well. Next, add the tomato paste, stir in well, followed by the water until you reach your desired consistency of the sauce. Optionally, you can also add 2 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce (if you have access to it) to help cut back on the bitterness of the tomato paste. Allow the sauce to simmer for at least 30 minutes, during which you can prepare the other ingredients.

Step 2: Prepare noodles. At some point during your sauce preparation, bring water to a boil in a pot large enough for 8 (or however many depending on the size of your dish) lasagna noodles. Cook based on package directions. Do not overcook, or they will tear easily.

Step 3: Make a béchamel sauce, to replace the American-loved ricotta cheese. Does the name béchamel sound scary to you? Because it's really not. Make a roux first, by melting butter/margarine in a pan and then adding equal parts flour. For this recipe, I used 5 tablespoons of each, because my margarine sticks here are about that size (a bit smaller than the standard 8 tbsp sticks in the States). Whisk to remove a lumps, and then continue cooking and whisking the roux for two minutes, until it begins to look something like melty cookie dough or applesauce. (Hey, that's what it looks like to me!). Then, based on however much butter/flour, stir in 8 times as much milk; so if you used 5 tbsp of butter and flour like me, that's 2.5 cups of milk. Stir the milk in slowly while heating and stirring the mixture together until it thickens.

Step 4: Grate cheese(s) if necessary. For making this dish in Honduras, I am able to affordably purchase grated parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. I sprinkle a layers of parmesan evenly, and I use approximately one cup of shredded mozzarella cheese per layer.

Step 5: Arrange all of your ingredients closely together and build your lasagna. I used a square 9x9 baking dish, put you can use whatever size you have. Grease the dish first, then lay down enough noodles to cover the bottom of the pan. I my case, I put 4 noodles. Your layers should be as so: noodles, meat sauce, béchamel sauce, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese. Try your best not to mix the meat sauce and béchamel sauce together, because the béchamel will blend with the cheese(s) to make a wonderfully creamy layer. In my pan, I had two layers that included noodles, then of course you layer again ending with cheese on top. (You may not use all of the béchamel sauce, it's completely up to you.)

Step 6: Bake at 400 degrees F (204 C) for 25 to 45 minutes.

Missionary Tips:

1. I like to use a pre-seasoned tomato paste as one of my tomato pastes that are used in this recipe. (See picture.) That's basically because I tell myself that the flavors have been absorbing into the tomato paste for longer... but I have no idea if that's true.

2. Can't buy lasagna noodles where you are? Use zucchini strips instead! It's healthier too.

3. A tip for the béchamel sauce. You are supposed to slowly stir in the milk, but for some reason, with our ultra-pasteurized milk here in Honduras, I've found that it works better for me if I stir in the milk in thirds, each right after the other, and then stir all of it together well for a minute or two after I've quickly done this. I know, I'm breaking the rules. But it really works better for me! Make your own decisions based on whatever milk you have.

4. Tomatoes: you can diced fresh tomatoes and they will cook down in the sauce. Most people would discard the seeds for a pasta sauce, but I'm a little impatient when it comes to that and the seeds don't really bother me. Or, you could stew your own tomatoes, freeze them in batches and use them in place of canned tomatoes. It's pretty easy and directions are easily found online.

5.That cheese problem again. If you can buy grated parmesan, it's actually possible to make this dish with only that. You can also substitute mozzarella for a local variety of a similar soft cheese, like quesillo here in Latin America. Or you could get fancy and make your own mozzarella from milk!

Please share with us if you make and enjoy this recipe!

Friday, November 21, 2014

right now // november 2014

READJUSTING to elevation changes. Traveling between Colorado Springs (around 6,000) ft) to Houston (about 75 ft) to Honduras (2,600 ft) in the span of one day was enough to make our bodies go crazy! Thankfully we are starting to feel back to normal, but if the elevation change wasn't enough, the weather was quite a shock as well! It was about ONE degree Fahrenheit when we landed to attend the EMI Conference. Very different than what we are used too! But nevertheless, thankful for the time of learning and fellowship.

RESTING from lots of computer screen time. The Total Water website is finally launched and Lesley is enjoying looking at the computer screen LESS this week. Once you stare at the same thing for too long, your mind starts to play tricks on you. Go check out her hard work at and don't forget to share about Total Water for Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2nd)!

CONSIDERING putting the Christmas tree up early... like before Thanksgiving early. Normally, we are very respectful toward the order of the holidays and decorate for Christmas starting the day after Thanksgiving!! But we're considering it because we won't be here to enjoy the tree on Christmas day (which is okay, because we'll be with our families instead this year!) and because we just want to feel like the holidays in always-summer Honduras. Speaking of the holidays, we are...

SEARCHING for easy peasy Thanksgiving recipes. Pray for us as we Lesley will be cooking a Thanksgiving meal by herself with one mini-sized oven, that only has one shelf (gasp!), and that runs on gas (so we'll need to conserve baking times). Last year we played it low key, but this year we have some curious Honduran friends that are being introduced to Thanksgiving food for the first time. We want to do it justice! First item on the list, bake the pumpkin pie the day before.

GETTING creative with crafts that only use paper + glue, because that's what we have the largest quantities of. Most recently, we tried braiding paper at the CDI! Check out these awesome bracelets (or ties, or bookmarks, or belts, or whatever the kids want). These kids are rockstars, and get a kick out of the simplest things!

WONDERING where the time has gone. This month we celebrated ONE YEAR in our host country! Somehow the time seems to go by faster here? Or maybe it's just because we aren't always aware of exactly of what day it is like we were back in the States, and work always spills over to the next day and the next with all that needs to be done, so the day called "Friday" sneaks up on us a bit! Sending a big Thank You to everyone who has supported us and prayed for us this year! Seriously, this ministry wouldn't be possible with each one of you!

INDULGING in anything chai flavored. Chai Tea of course, but we've also gotten into putting chai spices in other things, like cookies. Can you make chai cinnamon rolls? We don't know, but we might figure it out soon!

PRAYING for the two local civil engineers that Jamey is currently discipling. Praying that he is an example to them, and they that would begin to take interest in being open to the Gospel. Praying that they will continue to strive towards integrity-driven professional work, and that they would want to learn more about what has changed our hearts towards wanting to do good for all people.

PLAYING just a little bit more as we are wrapping up the Honduran public school year. The kids studied hard for their exams (well, and crammed a bit too) and they will be receiving their final grades in about a week. Then the government gave them surprise extra school days after their exams were over, with just a days notice, because that's just the kind of thing that happens here and no one really understands! Now they are receiving some well deserved extra play time at the CDI, which many of them don't get very often... time to play with other kids their age, in a safe area, without worrying about anything else. We have plans for a very creative cardboard Christmas tree before we break for the holidays!

Friday, November 7, 2014

friday photo dump // november 7

Welcome to the Friday Photo Dump! 

As an October baby, all Lesley wanted for her birthday was pumpkin! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin candle, pumpkin anything. We searched and searched here, with no luck. But thanks to Lesley's dad and stepmom, she ended up getting all three! Now we're trying to convince our Honduran friends that it's a great idea to eat big orange gourds that they've seen sit on your front porch. 

We have been busy bees at the children's development center figuring out creative ways to bring construction paper and glue to life for our students. Recently, as you may have seen on the CDI's Facebook page that we and the students created a table-sized board game to review all of the English they've learned all year. The craziest part is, most of them have never played a board game before and some of our kids are 11 years old or older.

In addition to other things our students have never played before, we are reviewing English numbers with our homemade Bingo cards! 
While traveling to Northern Honduras, we had two Honduran friends with us that once again taught us the art of car travel here... you stop at the shakiest looking little fruit stand and buy a huge bag of your favorite fruit, especially if it's known for growing better in the part of the country you're in. Though Jamey still has a hard time opening them, we enjoyed eat licha! 
(Also known in other parts of the world as rambutan.)

The reason for our travel was to go to the October GCLA Leadership Conference in La Ceiba, Honduras. Though we didn't spend as much time outside as we would have liked, it was beautiful to get to see green mountains and the Atlantic Ocean right beside each other. 
Honduras, you're pretty. 

During the conference, we had the pleasure of getting to attend a special session where we heard one pastor's story of living and ministering in Eastern Europe and Western Asia, where it is incredibly dangerous to even identify yourself as a Christian. It was so amazing to hear his stories and wisdom, and once again praise God for all of the countries who have religious freedom, while so many are still fighting for it.  

One of the biggest parts of Lesley joining the trip to the conference was having the chance to visit another CDI in the GCLA network at the Iglesia Gran Comision church in La Ceiba. They currently have over 100+ children in their program, which was great to see and learn from. It definitely helped us gain more vision for the direction our CDI in Danli could go as we continue to grow. 
We would love to visit more CDIs if God permits!

As many of you probably already know, we have other missionary friends from the States that live in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. They were kind enough to make the trip out to see us and us their tools/talents to help us get some projects done around our home, which was an amazing help to us. 
In this picture: we were cutting back our "weeds".

Just to realize the size of our crazy weeds trees, use Jamey as a reference!  

We were out in Urrutia, the community where we are doing our pilot water project, recently conducting bacteriological tests to see if there is contamination in the well due to lack of sanitation. You can also see that most of the people out there don't understand proper water storage because their collector bin is sitting outside uncovered where rain, animals, trash, mosquitoes, and more can get into it. 
Speaking of the water project, our website for the Total Water ministry is in the works right now and will be making it's debut VERY SOON! Be excited. Seriously, excited. If you haven't yet go like our Total Water Facebook Page to get more updates on our ministry here.

We had a good response to our first installment of our "missionary cookbook" series of recipes, which began with Honduran empanadas. Comment to let us know which recipe you'd like to see next in the series: perfect banana muffins, lasagna made abroad (without ricotta cheese!), or one of our favorite meatless Monday meals, pasta primavera.