Two years ago I went on my very first international mission trip. A group of about 20 members from my home church traveled to Ecuador to serve with the missionaries from our church, the Nichols. I was SO excited not only because I would be traveling and serving God in the process but I was also going to experience my first mission trip with my dad by my side.

While in Ecuador, I had my life truly change. I saw poverty like never before but I also saw God’s love like never before.


One of the main projects we worked on while there was a VBS (vacation Bible school) for the children on the United Methodist Church in Santo Domingo. I became close with a few of the girls there and every single day when the kids were eating their snacks they also colored coloring pages we brought that pertained to the Bible story we taught that day. And without fail, every single day these sweet little girls gave me their pages as a gift just because they wanted US to have something from them.

But the thing that really touched me the most was the last day the kids snack was Goldfish; now anyone that knows me knows one of my all-time favorite snack is goldfish; while the girls were eating I told them in the little Spanish I know that Goldfish was my favorite snack and that I loved to eat them back home. Without any hesitation, as soon as I told them this they wanted to give ME their snacks. These children that have nothing and many of them don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, but just out of the goodness of their hearts they wanted to share their food with me. That really moved me because I realized that goodness has absolutely nothing to do with where you live, where you come from, how much money you have, etc. It comes from simply knowing God and wanting to be the light in the world and without even knowing it these sweet girls were being a light for me. Wait! Wasn’t I the one going there to serve!? I had total “volunesia” which is “the moment you forget you’re volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours”.

Going on a mission trip really helped me grow in my faith and I am forever grateful for that. And I am SOOOOO excited to return back to Santo Domingo with my same team today!!


In honor of returning to the place that stole my heart I have prepared a few traditional Ecuadorian foods that I tried on my first visit that were to die for!

First, we will make fried cheese empanadas. YUM!

You will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ½ cups grated cheese (you can use Quesillo, Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, Oaxaca or any other cheese that melts well or a combination of your favorites)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup of water
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (optional)
  • ½ cup sugar for sprinkling
  • Oil for frying

To start, combine the flour, baking soda, and water in a bowl to form a dough. Knead the dough and form into a ball.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface until about a 1/4 inch thickness. Once rolled out use a large circular cookie cutter and cut out the empanada discs.

Next, take one of the discs and roll out again to make it a little bigger. Once rolled out fill the empanada with the cheese and onion (if using).

Then, fold the disc in half over th filling to form the crescent moon shape. Press the edges together then use a fork to seal the empanadas.

Fry the empanadas either in a deep fryer or in a frying pan. I used a deep dutch oven and just made sure to add enough oil to cover at least half of the empanada. Let the oil get very hot and fry each empanada until they are golden on each side, about a minute per side.

Place the empanadas on paper towels to drain any excess oil, sprinkle generously with sugar and serve warm.

The next dish I want to share with you is the traditional recipe for TOSTONES. If you are of Latino(a) or Caribbean decent I’m sure you already know how delicious these babies are but for those that are unfamiliar these are fried green plantains and they’re usually served with a dipping sauce, the sauce I’ll be sharing with you is a green avocado sauce that is super creamy and delicious.

So to start, you will need:

  • 2 green plantains
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • Oil for frying
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • ¼ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ cup sour cream

To make the avocado cream sauce, dice avocados and place them in the food processor with the garlic, lime juice, cilantro, chili powder, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Process on high. The consistency should be creamy. Chill in the refrigerator.

To make the tostones: Slice off about 1″ off each end.

Score down the length of the plantain with a paring knife. Do this in two separate spots.

Cut 1″ pieces and place in hot oil to fry until they begin to turn golden.

Remove and drain on paper towel.

Using the bottom of a glass or a can press down to make them more “smashed” and sprinkle with salt. Fry again until golden brown.

Serve immediately with the avocado cream sauce and try to contain yourself from eating them all in one sitting.

Finally, if you’re looking for an authentic South American dessert to make look no further than a tres leches cake. This cake is so moist and creamy and delicious and was definitely one of my favorite foods we ate in Ecuador.

The ingredients you’ll need are:

  • 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12oz) can evaporated milk
  • 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat Oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with Pam or other cooking spray.

Begin with stirring the flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Next, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and the ½ tsp of vanilla and beat well

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 tablespoons at a time. Mix until well blended. Then spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the middle of the cake comes out clean. When cake is out of the oven pierce all over with a fork and let chill.

Combine whole milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk together and pour all over the top of the cooled cake.

Whip whipping cream, the remaining cup of sugar and remaining vanilla together until thick. Spread on top of cake and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

Be sure to keep refrigerated.— Enjoy and don’t tell your doctor what you are having for dessert.

I hope you enjoy these authentic Ecuadorian dishes.

Let’s dig in!

XOXO, Jess





If you’ve ever thought about serving in another country or you hear God telling you to be a part of something bigger than yourself, I have this to say: GO. You’ll never grow in your faith if you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone. There’s plenty of ways to do it: here are some links to give you more information:



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