Cooking in Nicaragua
This year in Nicaragua, I’ve had a lot of extra time. Something that I’ve starting doing more of is cooking and baking. I’ve a lot of fun looking up recipes on Pinterest and trying them out. However, I’ve also faced a lot of challenges. For starters, our oven. First of all, it’s really small, so you can only fit one 9×13 pan in it, and maybe one 8×8 and a small bread pan. So whenever we make cookies, for example, it takes FOREVER because you can only bake one pan at a time. And, we can never tell what temperature the stove is at so we always burn things. Also, the lack of certain ingredients. Some things we just can’t find here, or else we can only get them in Managua, and even then sometimes the stores will randomly not have something. Heavy whipping cream, lemon juice, and cream of tartar, to name a few. We’ve actually had visiting grandparents bring us things like cream of tartar, peppermint extract, and food coloring. I’ve been keeping a “recipe book” of all the recipes I’ve made that I found online. Here’s a list of everything I’ve made:
- Best Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa- We love this recipe; it has become a regular for our family here. The spices on the fish are really good, and when we first got here it was mango season. Then the mangos disappeared so we had to use pineapple, which is also good, but mango salsa is the best. Thankfully now they’re back in season.
- Lime Bars- I really wanted to make lemon bars, but for the longest time we couldn’t find ANYTHING lemon- no lemons, no lemon juice, nothing, and so I made these instead. And we were still getting used to the oven, so I burned them.
- Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies- This is a good example of the tiny-oven-takes-forever-to-bake-cookies challenge.
- Apple Coffee Cake- We got here in August, so pretty soon it was getting to the time of year where in Iowa, the leaves, temperature, and apples were dropping. We were really missing the fall season, so I made as much stuff with apples as I could.
- Egg, Potato, and Cheese Breakfast Casserole- I made this for breakfast one Saturday
- Italian Style Shrimp- My dad bought some shrimp off of a street vendor, so I looked up this recipe. The shrimp turned out to be really tiny and tough, though.
- Italian Style Pasta Sauce- My dad and I made up this recipe to eat with pasta with the shrimp.
- Cheddar Biscuits- This is a red lobster copycat recipe that I made to eat with the shrimp and pasta, and they are oh-so-good.
- Apple Crumble Bars- I kind of went crazy that night, because I made a dessert too. Going along with the fall/apple theme.
- Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls- I actually made these the afternoon that Grandma Johnson got here, so they could rise over night and we could eat them the next morning. They are HUGE and YUMMY.
- Dried Basil Pesto- I’ve had fun finding new lunches here, and I really wanted some pesto but we didn’t have any basil, except for dried.
- Homemade Alfredo Sauce- Made this to go on pasta, for one of the suppers with Grandma J.
- French Silk Pie- Yes, I went there. It’s actually not as hard as it looks, and it’s REALLY good and REALLY rich. I made this for dessert on the Alfredo pasta night, and as I was making it that afternoon, the guys showed up to put the windows in our gaping kitchen wall. So I was beating eggs and melting chocolate while they were hammering and drilling everywhere.
- Breakfast Smoothie- We love making liquados, or smoothies, here, and this is a banana recipe that you can add whatever flavoring you want to. I usually add cocoa powder or cinnamon, but the good thing is that the bananas are so sweet that you don’t need to add any sugar!!
- Pineapple Salsa for Fish Tacos- This is the pineapple recipe I was talking about.
- Flour-less Chocolate Cookie Bars- I made these for Natalie, the Peace Corps Volunteer who can’t eat gluten. I personally didn’t like them very much, but she did, which is what counts.
- Coconut Pineapple Muffins- And so starts my muffin obsession.
- Cinnamon Apple Muffins- The second type of muffins I made that same day.
- Angel Food Cake- This was the most epic of cooking experiences in Nicaragua. My mom requested angel food cake for her birthday, so I set about making one. Except I was faced with a lot of challenges; it calls for cream of tartar, which we didn’t have. You also have to cook angel food cake in an angel food cake pan, which we didn’t have. We ended up actually MAKING a pan out of cardboard, tinfoil, and duct tape. I looked up substitutions for cream of tartar, and learned that if you’re using it during beating egg whites, it helps them fluff up and you can substitute lemon juice. If it’s used as a baking agent such as in cookies, you can substitute baking soda or baking powder. In angel food cake, you whip up twelve egg whites with the cream of tartar, so I thought I could substitute lemon juice (which by then we had found). It worked for that purpose; the eggs beat up and formed stiff peaks. But apparently in angel food cake, cream of tartar serves both functions, because the cake didn’t rise. At all. Also, while we were cooking it, we started getting a weird smell… We thought oh no, the duct tape is melting. But it wasn’t, so we left it in until it was done. It finished cooking and cooling, and was still the same height as when we poured in the batter. So that night we had a very dense angel food cake with chocolate frosting and strawberries. But before we ate it, we had another disaster. My mom was turning 42 years old, so we put 42 freaking candles in the cake. We lit them, she made a wish, and then she blew them out. But she didn’t. Because we realized that they were trick candles, which means when you blow them out they come back. And these trick candles were apparently a lot trickier than American trick candles, because they never went out. They started melting onto the cake, shriveling up the flowers, and we almost started a fire. We had to get a washcloth and squeeze them out with water before they went out. It was a night to remember!
- Peppermint Bark- And then the Christmas Season came. And we baked. A lot. This peppermint bark is amazing.
- Sugar Cookies- A classic sugar cookie recipe that we used for cut outs, when my dad literally MADE us cookie cutters with scrap metal he found around town.
- Fluffy Eggnog- I was really missing eggnog, although my mom and Leila don’t like it, so I looked up a homemade recipe. I call it “fluffy” because it’s not smooth and creamy like the kind you buy at the store (I like the store-bought kind better, but the rest of my family does not) because you have to beat it for a long time. I like it better the second day, when it’s flattened a little bit.
- Candy Cane Pinwheels- Yummy peppermint shortbread cookies made by rolling up white dough and pink dough, and then cutting slices.
- Fresh Fruit Tart with Pastry Cream- Grandma Young gave me a fancy tart pan and a book of pies and tarts for Christmas, so I really wanted to make something with them. This is a tart with an almond crust and a French pastry cream that I topped with strawberries. I made it for New Year’s Eve.
- French Breakfast Puffs- These were supposed to be mini doughnuts but we don’t have a doughnut pan here so I cooked them in a muffin tin (which we didn’t find for a long time either!!)
- Chocolate Cupcakes-After Grandma Young gave me adorable cupcake wrappers for Christmas, I kind of got into the whole cupcake thing.
- Vanilla Cupcakes- As I was saying…
- Vanilla Buttercream Frosting- To go on the cupcakes.
- Chocolate Frosting- Also for the cupcakes, and also the frosting my mom has used for just about every freaking four-layer cake she’s made for every birthday ever here. And then the cake either breaks, the layers slide apart, or both. It’s foolproof.
- Chicken Salad- For lunch.
- Granola Bars- I really wanted to try making homemade granola bars, and I added chocolate chips, almonds, and craisins. But for some reason they turned out really weird.
- Orange Chicken- I used extra orange zest and it turned out a little too orangey.
- Cream Cheese Frosting- To go on more cupcakes.
- Perfectly Chocolate Cupcakes- I didn’t like the first chocolate cupcake recipe very much so I found a better one.
- Divine and Healthy Pumpkin Muffins- Grandma J brought us pumpkin puree in October, but it turned out to be pumpkin pie mix, not pure puree. It was fine because we could still make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, the most important thing, but then we had the other Grandparents bring us pumpkin puree at Christmas so we could make pumpkin bread and muffins.
- Divine Banana Muffins- I’ve made these banana muffins like five times at least. I made them for our family, and then when the eye brigade came I made like a triple batch for them. Then I made them again for our family and again when Grandma and Grandpa J came to visit.
- Healthy Apple, Yogurt, and Oat Breakfast Muffins- I got really into making muffins with yogurt.
- Healthy Chocolate Muffins- These also use yogurt.
- Mini Chocolate Strawberry Tarts- I made these for Valentine’s Day. The chocolate filling was supposed to be a pudding consistency, but I used chocolate melts instead of chocolate chips, so it got kind of hard. It was still really good though!! And we ate them with strawberries, a real treat.
- Healthy Banana Muffins- More yogurt muffins. As I said, I have a muffin obsession.
- Lemon Bars- My favorite deserts are lemony things and chocolaty things, so I was really sad when we came here and lemons were non-existent. We even found a box mix in Managua- for lime bars. But we miraculously found lemons at Rachel’s finca, so I made lemon bars.
- Chocolate Marble Cheesecake Tart- This is another tart from the pie book my Grandma gave me. It’s a chocolate marble cheesecake with orange zest; my dad requested it for his birthday.
- Lemon Meringue Pie- This is one of my all-time favorite deserts ever. So I made it.
- Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Muffins- These are jumbo, muffin-top, chocolate chip, bakery-style muffins. And I love them.
- Gluten-Free Almond Cheesecake Crust- I used this to make a cheesecake for Natalie’s birthday and it’s actually really, really good.
- Easy Fudgy Brownies- I used these for the next recipe.
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownie Bombs- On my parent’s anniversary, they abandoned us and went on a hike up Mombachito all day and left us at home. Sooo we decided to make these gifts from God. They’re basically uncooked cookie dough (don’t worry it doesn’t have eggs) wrapped in brownie and then dipped in chocolate. And then with chocolate chips sprinkled on top. They are SO rich and SO good.
- Popcorn Balls- Just an easy marshmallow popcorn ball recipe that we made for the Les Miserable movie night with Natalie. We added chocolate chips and craisins to half of them, which is really yummy.
- Banana Cream Pie- When Grandma and Grandpa J came to visit, I wanted to bake something but I didn’t know what, so I asked them what they wanted. Grandpa immediately said a banana cream pie, so a banana cream pie it was! I was really mad because we didn’t have heavy whipping cream, so I couldn’t make the whipped cream to go on top, but it was still yummy.
Other things I’ve made that aren’t in my “recipe book” because they didn’t come from online include Thanksgiving food (read: pumpkin and cherry pie!!),
a ton more Christmas cookies from our traditional recipes,
prune cake, cinnamon rolls, scones,
and others. It has been really fun trying new recipes and baking, and also has been a huge challenge. It’ll be really different when we get home and we can actually set the temperature on the stove, or can go get just about any ingredient in town or better yet, actually pick it on our own farm!