Cooking is a really big part of our lives, isn't it, ladies? Unless you have house-help that can do some of the cooking for you (which I recommend, by the way!) you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And even for those who love to cook, learning to use new ingredients and cook new foods can be a stressful challenge! If you could just play around, it would be fun, but when the well-being of your family depends on it three times a day, it gets tiring, right?

Anyway, I want to start posting one recipe each week from the collection I used regularly when we lived overseas. Not all of them will be reproducible in all parts of the world, but hopefully they will be helpful to some! Today I'll share one of our lunch-time favorites, and my go-to recipe when I had short-notice, unexpected company over mealtime. (Or NOT over mealtime, as the case may be - more than once we had guests arrive at 9pm that hadn't eaten all day!) I call it "fried noodles" because it's essentially the same dish as fried rice, except you use Indomie (Top Ramen) Instant Noodles instead of rice. Here's the process . . .

I start by putting a tea pot of water on to boil, for the noodles. Then I chop a few of whatever veggies I have on hand - usually half an onion, some cabbage, maybe some green pepper or carrots. Throw these into a large (preferably deep) skillet with a generous amount of oil and fry until soft. (I like the onions to be browned, they have a sweeter flavor that way.) As soon as the water is boiling, I open 3-4 packs of noodles (estimate almost one pack per person) and put them in a bowl, then pour boiling water over them. Cover with a plate (or a lid, if you happen to have such luxuries!) and let sit while the veggies are cooking. Soaking rather than cooking keeps the noodles from getting too soggy and falling apart. When the veggies are almost done, add several eggs (I usually use as many eggs as I'm using noodle packets) and stir while cooking. Or you can add canned chicken or fish or sausages - basically any kind of already-cooked meat! Cook just long enough to warm the meat (or scramble the eggs). Then drain the noodles well, and add to your skillet. Also add half of the seasoning packets from the noodles (if you're using four packs of noodles, only use two seasoning packets), and a generous sprinkle of curry powder and black pepper. Mix well but gently to keep the noodles intact. Serve immediately!

I can whip this dish up in twenty minutes, and it's one of my family's favorites! When we lived in West Africa, I bought Indomie noodles by the case, so that if all else failed, we could always have fried noodles for lunch. :-)

Here's the recipe in a more standard format:

Fried Indomie Noodles

4 packs chicken-flavored Indomie, cooked and drained

1/2 onion, chopped

1 cup shredded cabbage

1 carrot, sliced

1 clove garlic, pressed

4 eggs

2 seasoning packets from noodles

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp curry powder

Fry the vegetables in oil until soft. Add eggs and scramble together, cooking until eggs are firm. Stir in noodles and seasonings, and fry just until everything is heated through and well-mixed. Serve immediately! Serves 4-5, unless you have hungry teenage boys, in which case it feeds about 3. :-)

 Need a quick snack? I love to make protein balls - I love the way they taste, and I love that they're kind of good for me! I also love the extra fiber that this recipe has - I think I'll  make some for after Baby is born!

Chocolate Chia Fiber Balls

1/2 c. peanut butter (I like crunchy)

1/2 c. quick-cooking oats

1/4 c. honey

1/4 c. flaked coconut

2 Tbsp cocoa powder

2 Tbsp chia seeds

1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Roll into walnut-size balls, and roll balls in coconut or oats to coat. Refridgerate and enjoy!

Note: I actually never measure (except to check the measurements for this post!), I just pour in a scoop of this and a handful of that until it looks about right! There are all kinds of ways you can change this recipe, depending on what you like and what you have on hand.

A few ideas for endless variations:

Omit cocoa powder, coconut, and/or chia seeds

Add any combination of chocolate chips, raisins, chopped nuts, dried fruit as desired

Use maple syrup, corn syrup, or homemade sugar-syrup if you don't have access to honey

Use any kind of nut-butter instead of peanut butter

The best thing about protein balls is how many variations there are. Whatever you have on hand, just throw it together! A great idea from a friend of mine - if you have a fussy eater or a very young toddler, try rolling tiny pea-size balls. The smaller size goes down easier for little people, and are especially good if you have a child re-gaining weight after losing appetite with an illness.

Do you have a favorite protein ball recipe?

One of the things I missed most when I moved to West Africa was macaroni and cheese. I missed being able to cook it - it's so fast and easy, and it goes over so well with little ones - but I also missed being able to eat it. I love cheese in any form, and pasta of every kind, so the combination of the two is unbeatable. For me, it's the ultimate comfort food. As a child, we were allowed to choose a special meal for mom to fix on our birthday, and I always chose macaroni and cheese! :-)

Over time, I figured out how to do macaroni and cheese in Africa too. When we got a care package or a shipment from home, we always asked for cheese - specifically Velveeta cheese spread and instant cheese powder, since niether of them need refridgerated. Then I came up with a few different ways of making my favorite food. Perhaps this simple dish doesn't have quite the same appeal for everyone as it has for me - but I know when you're living overseas, anything "from home" tastes pretty good!

So today I'd like to share my two favorite recipes. The first is a delicious but simple one-dish oven recipe which I often served to American guests when we lived in West Africa. (It's so yummy I still make it here in America too!) The second is my "cheater's version", the closest thing I found to instant mac and cheese. I don't make it when Hubby is home, but when it's just me and the kiddos, it's so fast and easy!!

Baked Cheesy Noodles

3 T. margarine, oil or butter

8 oz egg noodles, or whatever pasta you have available

1/2 lb (or a little less) Velveeta cheese

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

4c. cold milk

Heat oven to 325. Place butter in 9"x11" pan in oven just until melted. Pour noodles in and stir until well coated. Lay sliced cheese over top of the noodles. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then pour milk over the whole thing. Do not stir. Bake uncovered for about 1.5 hours (my oven was hot and usually took just over an hour.). Golden, creamy, and oh! so yummy!

If you want a main dish instead of a side dish, mix a cup of cooked meat (sausage, ham, chicken, or ground beef) and 1/2 cup frozen or canned veggies (corn, peas, green beans) with the noodles before covering with cheese and milk.

Cheater's Mac n' Cheese

The measurements on this recipe are guesses - I never measure!

2 c. water

1 c. macaroni (or any pasta)

1/4 c. milk powder

1/4 c. cheese powder

2 Tbsp flour

salt & pepper to taste

Boil macaroni in water until soft. Do not drain, but you don't want too much water on the noodles, so pour off a little if the water is covering the noodles. While macaroni is cooking, mix remaining ingredients in about 1/2 c. water. It will be thick, but use a whisk to make it smooth. As soon as noodles are almost soft, add "cheese sauce" to pot. Simmer a few more minutes to thicken the sauce. It's now ready to serve!

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So there's my favorites! Do you have one to share? Is macaroni and cheese a "thing" for your family? How do you make it overseas?

Today's post comes in response to a reader's request:

"l would enjoy hearing ideas for simple, quick lunches. We're just settling in to a new home in a new country, and even with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, l find myself struggling to come up with good lunch ideas that don't require an hour or more of cooking time."

Can anyone relate to this problem? I sure can! It seems like cooking is always, always more time-consuming because there are no "instant" options available. Everything has to be made from scratch and it just takes time! So how do you overcome this obstacle in the middle of a busy day? How do you balance lunch preparation with household responsibilities, homeschooling, ministry demands and so on?

I wish I could give you a long list of menu plans that could be set on the table in 20 minutes or less. Unfortunately, I don't have such a list! Instead, I'll give a few suggestions that help me streamline our lunch time.

1) Plan ahead. Don't waste valuable time trying to decide what to make and figuring out if you have all the ingredients you need. Be sure you know what's for lunch at breakfast time, or even better, by supper time the night before. Then you can . . .

2) Prepare ahead. When you're chopping veggies for supper, also chop what you'll need for lunch the next day and then put them in the fridge overnight. You can also cook two-meals-worth of meat in the evening, so that your meat is already cooked at lunch time. Or (what I prefer to do) you can take one afternoon to cook up a BIG pot of meat and divide it into meal-size portions to put in the freezer. Use as needed to throw together a quick casserole or soup, fried rice, etc.

3) Make use of locally-available "fast food." Every location is different, but where we lived in West Africa we could pick up a bowl of ready-to-eat rice & beans or rice & stew for just pennies more than we could make it ourselves. What a great way to save time in the kitchen!

4) Eat leftovers. I often purposely make plenty of extra food at suppertime, to serve the next day or a few days later for lunch. Of course, it took me a bit to learn how to warm up leftovers on the stovetop instead of in a microwave, but it can be done!

5) Eat sandwiches. If you can't buy bread locally, you'll have to make it yourself ahead of time, so this may not be a helpful suggestion. Most likely lunchmeat and sliced cheese are not available (or at least affordable) in your area, but there are lots of other kinds of sandwiches! I like to make egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad. You can use canned "Spam"-type meat to make an imitation ham salad. One of my favorite CHEAP sandwiches is Bean Spread (recipe below). You can also make fried egg sandwiches or tomato/veggie sandwiches with no meat at all!

Bean Sandwich Spread

1c. dried beans, cooked until very soft (you will want to do this ahead of time, maybe when cooking supper the night before)

1/3 c. mayo

1 Tbsp mustard (prefferably brown mustard)

1 tsp ketchup

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Dash black pepper

1/4 c. onion, very finely chopped

1/4 c. green pepper, very finely chopped

Mash beans with a potato masher while still warm. Cool completely. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve on bread or crackers. Best served cold!

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So help us out, ladies! What do you do for fast lunches? We need your ideas!