Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Missing Flavors of Home, Especially During the Holidays #WUHomeCooked #Paid

Food Brings Families Together...

Even If They Can't Be Sitting Around the Table Together

I can't believe that we are almost halfway through January.  Boy, does it seem like the months fly by.  Just last month, I was here, there and everyone, preparing for Christmas and playing host to family and friends for the holidays.  And, then, just like that, the tree and Christmas decorations were taken down and we found ourselves going back to the everyday normalcy's of life.  But, during the holidays, I do have to say that while we always seemed to be on the go, my family found time to get online more, as well as pick up the phone, to stay in touch with family who couldn't be with us for Christmas.  

If you follow my blog, you know that my husband is from El Salvador.  He came to the US when he was 12 years old with his mother, older sister and little brother.  His father and older brother had been in the US for a couple year's before their arrival, in order to work and save money to bring my husband and the rest of the family here.  Then, as my husband's father got older, he wanted to return to his country to live out his remaining years, now that his kids were grown and out on their own.  In addition to my husband's father, a handful of his other relatives, including cousins and aunts and uncles also returned back to El Salvador, as they missed home.

While my husband misses his family, especially his father dearly, he knows that they are happier being back in their country to live.  But, when the holidays roll around, it is tough, as we wish everyone could be together around the table to enjoy great company and wonderful food. And, now that we have children of our own, the distance is tough, when you want to maintain a relationship and keep family involved, and the culture alive, while being separated by millions of miles.

Recently, I watched a video from Western Union, that shared stories from people who left their home country and/or family to come to the US for a better life.  They were asked what they missed most about home.  At the end of the clip, you will be introduced to Antuerpia who is from Brazil.  She shares how 90 yr. old mom is back in Brazil and not doing well.  Not only did Antuerpia get a video from her family and meals that she remembers from home, she was given a ticket to go home and visit with her and her family.  This piece will touch your heart. And, if you aren't crying or tearing up from the previous stories shared in this #WUHomeCooked video from Western Union, Antuerpia's story will have you reaching for tissues.  I, for one, was bawling the end of the video, and finding themself thinking of family who doesn't live close, as well as my husband's family who are back in their country, and who will probably never get to see their grandchildren in person.  While it breaks my heart knowing this, especially around the holidays when you are supposed to be enjoying family, I am fortunate enough to keep cultures and family traditions alive through food and staying connected through online chatting and phone calls.

Here is what Western Union's customers had to say about what they missed most about home...


"The whole #WUHomedCooked project began when the folks at Western Union held a customer-appreciation event at their iconic 1440 Broadway retail location.  They spoke with customers, gave away branded merchandise and invited their customers to share their stories around food, family and culture on camera. The folks at Western Union were struck by the cultural diversity of the participants, their strong sense of family and their love of native foods. It became clear from this event that food is a part of someone's cultural identity and a link to family and good memories.  And, during the customer appreciation event, Western Union captured 24 customer stories, and then decided to surprise 3 video participants with a popup surprise meal from their family."

Western Union created this touching video about food, to connect people globally.  Not only is food a big part of the holidays, but it also brings families and their cultures together.  I enjoyed this video and seeing Western Union surprise their customers with meals and videos of family from back home.  I shared this video with my husband, and he, too, started to tear up, as he shared with me meals he missed from home.  Because of the language barrier, it is hard for me to get recipes from my husband's family, so that I can make some of these comfort foods and foods that my husband remembers of his childhood back in El Salvador.  Food is part of his culture and family I don't want him to forget about or miss out on.  

During a video call with my husband's father, we got to talking about this video and about the need to share foods of my husband's culture with our girls.  I was surprised to hear that my husband's father was missing foods that I would make for him when he lived in the US or would come to visit after returning to El Salvador.  I never thought that food I make for mean so much to my father-in-law -- but, then I remembered how I miss Italian dishes my grandmother used to make and serve at Sunday dinners at her house when I was little.  If only I had these recipes to be able to enjoy foods of my childhood.  After our video chat, I talked to my husband about how we could recreate a similar situation like the Western Union video did.  I created a care package and wrote down a couple of my father-in-law's favorite dishes I have made for him, so that he can re-create and enjoy in his country.  We didn't tell him the package was coming as we wanted it to be a surprise.  And, right before the New Year, he received it, and video called us.  He, too, was moved to tears, as he sat at his dining room table showing us the meals he made from the recipes I sent.  He said this food made him feel like a part of him was home, and he was moved to tears, as was my husband and I.  Goes to show how food is a powerful thing and connective tissue to a person's family and culture.  So, I can see why the topic of food is so popular on Western Union's social channels and they felt the need to share the above heartwarming video.

In case you were wondering what recipes I shared with my father-in-law, they were Homemade Vegetable Minestrone Soup with AsparagusWild Mushroom and Sage Stuffing, and for dessert, Baked Peaches With Homemade Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Vinegar Infused Whipped Cream.  And, if you want to try these dishes and serve them to your family, I have included their recipes below. :-)

Homemade Vegetable Minestrone Soup with Asparagus

Serves: 4-6 people
15 minutes prep time; approx. 30 minutes cook time


4 stalks celery
4 large carrots, peeled
1 bunches fresh parsley
2 lemon
2 medium yellow onions
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. dried thyme 
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1 pound of beans -- you can use whatever beans you like, including green beans, fava beans, etc. If you use canned beans, like cannellini beans, make sure you rinse and drain the 15 oz. can first.
2 cup vegetable broth
1 bunch fresh asparagus
12 ounces of ditalini pasta
2 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano
6 1/2 cups of water
4 tsp. olive oil

Optional:  3 medium all purpose white potatoes, peeled and cubed
Optional:  Depending on what you have in your vegetable bin or garden, you can also add zucchini, yellow squash, etc.  Just be sure to cube/dice to cook evenly.  I also love adding 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen spinach (defrosted), to give it a more earthy feel. 


1.  Bring a small pot of water to boil on high heat.  While the water boils, peel and mince the garlic.  Then, small dice the celery, peeled carrots and onion.  Remove the fresh parsley leaves from their stems and rough chop.  Zest the lemon, making sure not to get to the white pith part (which is bitter).  Once you have zested the lemon, cut the lemon into quarters and set aside in a bowl.  Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and toss; then cut the remaining asparagus on a diagonal into 1-inch pieces.  Depending on which beans you end up using, shell the beans.
2.  Heat a medium pot over high heat.  Then, add in 4 tsp. of olive oil and heat until glistening.  Turn heat down to medium and add the garlic, celery, onions and carrots, and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.  
3.  To the medium pot of veggies, add in the vegetable broth, diced tomatoes with juice, lemon zest and 3 1/4 cups of water.  Stir together and bring to boil over high heat.  Once it begins to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced slightly.
4.  Depending on which beans you use, blanch them as needed.  For instance, if you choose to use fava beans, you will want to add the shelled fava beans to the small pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute until bright green in color. Then, remove and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled off, squeeze the fava beans out of the outer skin, discarding the skin. Set the beans aside, as you will add them near the end of the cooking.  If you end up using green beans or other softened beans, no need to blanch.  Simply remove from their shells and set aside until ready to use.  You can also use frozen beans. Just make sure to microwave for 1 minute to defrost prior to adding in the final step of the recipe.
5.  Add the ditalini pasta to the soup, which has been simmering.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.  You will want a little bite to it. Be sure not to overcook, as the pasta will get tough.  
6.  Once pasta is al-dente, add the asparagus, half of the rough chopped parsley and half of the grated cheese (again your preference of either Parmesan or Pecorino Romano).  Season the pot with salt and pepper, adjusting to your taste.  Stir occasionally for about 2 minutes.  You want the asparagus to turn a bright green color and the cheese to become incorporated into the soup broth.     
7.  Remove the soup from the heat and squeeze 2 lemon wedges into it. Add in your beans of choice (green beans, fava beans, etc).  Stir to combine.  Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.  Let the soup sit for a few minutes to let the beans warm up, prior to serving.
8.  Spoon soup into bowls, and then garnish with remaining parsley and grated cheese.  Serve warm, with remaining lemon wedges on side for additional garnishing.

* I find that this soup tastes better the next day as the the flavors are able to combine.  But, usually in our house there is only enough leftovers for 1-2 bowls. :-)


Turn up the flavor on your plain bread stuffing, by adding Wild Sage & Mushroom Olive Oil. During the last few minutes of baking, but the stuffing under the broil to achieve a nice crunchy taste and lightly brown the top of the stuffing. 

ServesCook TimeTotal TimePrep Time
4-640-45 min.About an hour10 min.

  • Ingredients 

    • 1 lg. loaf of french bread (day old bread works best)
    • 1/3 C Wild Sage & Mushroom Olive Oil
    • 1 Tbsp. EVOO
    • 1 small yellow onion (diced) -- about 1 cup
    • 1 C chopped celery
    • 1/4 tsp. marjoran leaves
    • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen apple slices
    • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
    • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
    • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
    • 1/4 tsp. pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 3/4 - 1C chicken broth
    • 1 lg. egg, beaten
  • Instructions 

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease or spray a large baking dish. I usually use a 9"x13" pan. And, for this recipe, I rubbed the Wild Mushroom and Sage Devo Oil Olive all along the inside for added flavor.
    2. Combine seasoning and small bowl and set aside.
    3. Cube bread, chop onions and celery. Then, heat 1 tbsp. of EVOO in hot pan. When oil appears shiny, add the celery and onions, and cook until tender - about 3-4 minutes.
    4. To a large bowl, add the softened celery and onions and top with cubed bread. Pour the dry seasoning mix in and stir to combine. Slowly stir chicken broth into bread mixture until moistened. Make sure not to add too much liquid or it will be soggy and not cook up properly. You want the bread to be moist -- not mushy.
    5. Add cranberry and apple to the bread mixture, and stir to combine.
    6. Stir in beaten egg to the stuffing mixture, and toss until well blended.
    7. Pour the stuffing into the prepared pan, cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes.
    8. Remove foil and broil for 3-4 minutes longer, to achieve a lightly browned appearance, and slightly crunchy stuffing top. Mmm. Enjoy!

And, for a tasty dessert, how about baked peaches with homemade lemon balsamic whipped cream -- Yum!

Baked Peaches With Homemade Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Vinegar Infused Whipped Cream

ServesCook TimeTotal TimePrep Time
420-30 min.55 min.10-15 min.

  • Ingredients

    • 4 Ripe Peaches (halved)
    • 1/2 stick of butter (brought to room temperature)
    • 4-5 Tbsp. of sugar
    • For Homemade Lemon Balsamic Whipped Cream
    • 1 C whipping cream, chilled
    • 2 Tbsp. of Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Vinegar
    • 1 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
    • 2 Tbsp. of powdered confectioner's sugar or granulated sugar
  • Instructions

    1. Preheat oven to 450°. Make sure oven rack is in center of the oven.
    2. Place peaches in a lightly greased or sprayed baking dish. I like to use an 9"x13"" non-stick pan.
    3. Halve the peaches, removing the pits. Then, place face side up in baking dish.
    4. Melt butter in microwave for 20-30 seconds, until melted. Then, brush the melted butter with a pastry brush over the tops of the peach halves.
    5. Sprinkle sugar evenly over the peaches.
    6. Roast on middle rack in oven for 20-25 minutes.
    7. Remove from oven and let cool completely slightly.
    8. Add whipped cream to top and enjoy. Brush with butter and sprinkle with salt and 4 Tbsp. sugar. Roast until peaches start to caramelize, 20–25 minutes. Let cool in dish.
    9. Making homemade whipped cream:
    10. In a large bowl, add chilled whipping cream, sugar, vanilla and Sicilian balsamic vinegar. Then, with a hand mixer on medium/high setting, whip mixture until soft peaks start to form. Don't over mix, or whipped cream will not stay fluffy. Chill until ready to use.
My father-in-law is in the process of writing down some of the recipes my husband requested.  It is harder as he doesn't use measurements -- just a little bit of this and little bit of that.  But, soon, we, too, will receive a surprise in the mail, and I will be able to re-create meals to surprise my husband with, that remind him of home. :-) I can't wait to share these meals with my girls too, and have my husband talk more about his family and culture and how food really does bring families together. 

Bella is drinking her apple juice to that! :-)

"Western Union is a lifeline for their customers, connecting them to their families and friends around the world.  They realize that many of their customers are Dual-Belongers -- folks currently living in one place and from another - their heart feels like its in two places. Many are pursuing education, career or simply a style of life for them and their family; but with family members and strong ties to their birth country."

Their heartwarming video (which you can view and share through this link - is just one way that they are connecting people globally and letting them share stories of home, family and food through social media.  Do you have a story worth sharing?  Or, is there a recipe or anecdote about food that you identify with your culture or home?  I would love to hear about them in the comments section below, and would encourage you to also share them using the hashtag #WUHomeCooked over at Twitter (@WesternUnion on Twitter), as well as at Western Union on Facebook.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


  1. That stuffing sounds amazing and a recipe I really want to try now.

  2. The Homemade Vegetable Minestrone Soup with Asparagus is perfect for Michigan cold weather right now, looks pretty incredible.