Thursday, April 24, 2008

Growing Up Greek

I had a Greek upbringing. I drool at the thought of skordalia, lucanico and pastitsio. I will drive many hours for good Greek Festivals (in churches, with dancing...not convention centers and long lines and hip hop over the loud speaker).

Wait, you say. You're an Irish/British/Canadian born on Long Island. How could you have been raised Greek? As my husband pointed out, neither the Canadians, nor the Irish and British are known for their love of Greek cooking. Where does the Greek come into play?

My dad was an airline pilot, and when I was five, we went to Greece. We stayed mostly in Athens, though we did take a bus trip that was very long, and very boring, and two Australian kids named Alistair and Fiona and my sister and I all became bus sick and threw up out the window on a herd of very affronted sheep. After that the tour leaders realized us kids needed fresh air, so they took us to Olympia, where we were made to run around a giant dirt track, where the first Olympics were held. I was the youngest, and I came in last.

During the bus tour we dined at simple, open-air restaurants. We seemed to always have lamb stew and watermelon. At five I didn't see the endless fascination with lamb stew, night after night, so I would wander from table to table, collecting the large wedges of watermelon the adults pressed on me. It seemed they were sick of the endless parade of watermelon wedges.

When we arrived back home, my parents made deep fried zucchini and skordalia. We never had anything deep fried, so I did my best, even though I despised zucchini, and still do. I tried getting the thin coating off the zucchini slices and dipping it into the thick, yet airy, garlic-potato dip that was swirled with olive oil. I ended up worrying down more zucchini than I like to remember, just to get to have the skordalia.

Then, my parents discovered Zorba the Greek's restaurant. It was a little hole-in-the wall on the main street of Smithtown. It probably had ten tables. I recall plastic gingham tableclothes and pictures of the Acropolis and the Aegean on the walls. I can still remember the layout of the menu, though we got to know it so well we never had to look at it. We always ordered the same thing: a large Greek salad, a large plate of french fries, three gyros for my family and the lucanico for me. I never liked the lookes of the gyros with the yogurt sauce and all those onions...and now? Now I dream of tzatziki and lovely sauteed onions and pressed Greek meats on a spit.

Just today I bought a jar of dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) at Whole Foods. My local supermarket doesn't carry them, so I stock up when I wander into the WF. I didn't bother buying "Greek yogurt" because I make my own, with a special yogurt strainer my mother gave me for Christmas a few years back.

And when I make items for potlucks, what do I make? Most usually my awesome pastitsio--which is a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagna, Greek-style--with bechamel, ground lamb, and a hint of cinnamon. There's never a smidge left in the pan. I swear, people would lick it if they thought they could get away with it.

My absolute love of Greek food has caused me to wonder hard about living in the Bay Area. There are no good Greek hole-in-the-wall spots. A pizza/gyro place on Polk Street in SF with a fake bird chirping over the doorway, and that's about it. Everything else is Middle Eastern, and/or four star. A great Greek place is going to be listed under the "Cheap Eats" column in the weekly newspaper.

I suppose it was also my love of Greek food that made me make Greek Meatballs for a recent cocktail party. Ground lamb and pork, feta cheese, oregano and dill went into the traditional recipe (with egg and breadcrumbs, etc.), then I baked them in the oven instead of pan frying. Delicious! But I didn't keep track of the proportions, so I don't have a recipe to post, yet.

What's your favorite Greek dish?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bacon Spinach-Artichoke Spread

This is one of the dishes I served at the cocktail party. It started out to be low-fat and vegetarian, and now is neither. It's recipes like this that keep me fat and my guests happy.

Bacon Spinach-Artichoke Spread

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1.5 packages of softened cream cheese or neufchatel...but not that horrid fat-free cream cheese
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
Two cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
One package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan, divided
Six slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled (remove the big chunks of fat that remain after cooking)
Dash of Worcestershire
Dash of lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Blend mayo and cream cheese in a mixing bowl until well blended. In food processor chop artichokes, garlic and onion, mix into cheese. Add in remaining ingrediants; season to taste. Spray a round baking dish with cooking spray and spread the dip. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees; broil 2 minutes until top browns slightly.
Serve with toasted, sliced French bread.

Blackbird's right

Okay. Quick post as I'm supposed to be at work, pushing paper around my desk. As I prepped The Baby's bottle at 2:32am I realized Blackbird is right. I hate my blog. I don't like the design; the dark background; the fact that it looks the same as everyone else who Bloggers. I looked at my photos and realize I'll never win awards, and seriously, I need to stop letting The Bug take the pictures...or at least I need to clean up the plates before the pictures are taken.

And I need to get back on my diet. I don't know when I fell off it, but I've been eating like Paula Deen cooks. I have five kinds of cheese in my fridge, three kinds of butter, and at least four items that have pork in them. I am bursting out of my clothes and will look the same in my bathing suit this summer as I did last...when I was pregnant.

I must stop dreaming of visions of pork fat and think spring: farmers' markets, local produce, and fresh fresh fresh!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Random Photos of Food

So I'm tired and going to bed. But I'll post some photos first. Promise the recipes tomorrow or Wednesday.

Snow-Pea Salad.

Mid-Week Sunday Gravy

Tortilla Eggs

Blackbird's Kvetching

Blackbird is kvetching about boring, confusing blogs that blend too much into everyone else's blogs. She said that some blogs are about what the blogger is making/buying/cooking (or something to that effect) and how it gets boring, because they're *always* making/buying/cooking.

That's me! Is it time to blend all my little blogs into one? I'm too busy to actually make a real go at the other ones. The Customer Service blog is intended to be all about excellent and awful experiences in customer this is a huge peeve for me. No pet about it. And Motherhood and Apple Pie started as a place to put all the stuff that was rolling around my head as I commuted...but I really haven't done anything at all with it lately. An 11-year old, an infant, a lonely full-time-dad husband and a 50-hour a week job just kind of fills my days, you know?

But then I remembered that this is a food blog. It's okay to be narrow-minded. People come here to read about what I'm cooking and the lessons I've learned. So maybe I don't have twenty-thousand regular readers. That's okay. I get a LOT of people who what to know how to cook rice noodles. Or find out if sugar goes bad. And how to make cream cheese wontons.

Next post? How to make a killer Spinach-Artichoke Dip. The secret? BACON!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Oh, I'm so tired. I need a day off tomorrow to recover from the cocktail party. I began cooking at 10am and didn't stop until 5pm. When one of my guests said, "it must have taken you all day" I just said, oh, no, not at all. I'm glad they saw that nothing came from the freezer section at Costco. But would they have cared?

Here's what I ended up making:

Brooklyn Cheese Puffs
Bacon Spinach-Artichoke Spread on toasted French bread
Greek meatballs with a garlic dip
Carrot chips (good with the garlic dip)
Pigs in a blanket--yes, this crew of people love these. Served with a variety of mustards and ketchup.
Pork Shoulder sandwiches with tomato marmalade from the Top Chef cookbook
Three semi/soft cheeses--Port Salut, Herbed Chevre, and a brie with assorted crackers from Trader Joe's
As usual, the pigs in blanket were the biggest winners, but the Brooklyn Cheese Puffs from the America's Test Kitchen "lost recipes" cookbook went surprisingly fast. I found them to be bland and uninspiring. Only with a good scattering of salt did they perk up.

Pictures and recipes to come...have to go clean up now!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cocktails, Anyone?

We're having people in for cocktails tomorrow. Not many. Not including me and Juiceboy there will be seven. Enough to have to think about food. Because these folks expect cocktails and dinner, not just a drink and a handshake and you're on your way....

So I'm working out my menu tonight. Here's what I'm thinking of:

Three semi/soft cheeses--Port Salut, Herbed Chevre, and a brie
Spinach-Artichoke Spread on French bread
Snow-pea wrapped shrimp
Greek meatballs
Crudite and dip (don't know what kind yet...whatever I have left!)
Pigs in a blanket--yes, this crew of people love these. Served with a variety of mustards and ketchup
Pork Shoulder sandwiches with tomato marmalade from the Top Chef cookbook
Will it be enough? Will I have enough time? I'll be cleaning and tending to the giant baby at the same time...ack! Will try to take photos to record the horrible mistakes I made. Did I mention the Pork Shoulder will take 8 hours to braise in the oven?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

On Formula

I realized at 2:30am that I haven't talked about the main food the baby ingests: formula. I stopped breastfeeding about two weeks after I returned to work--I learned that Juiceboy found it much easier to make a bottle of formula than b-milk and was letting it go bad. After all that pumping!

We started out using Similac, simply because they sent us free cans. That stuff is AWFUL and here's why:

1) It smells putrid.
2) It smells even worse when it's burped up.
3) Many babies are fussy on it, even the Sensitive or Soy formulas (including mine...who managed to eat that crazy lunch and ask for more!)
4) It's SUPER expensive. Try $28 for a regular-sized can at Safeway, or $30+ for the big cans at Costco.

One day I decided that the baby was so fussy, gassy, and spit-uppy that changing to a cheaper, store-brand formula couldn't hurt. And it didn't. The kid is 8.5 months and growing out of his 18-month clothing. He's 29 pounds and long, long, long. He's bright and curious and doing just great. When you do the side-by-side comparisons, you'll see the store brands stack up to the expensive brands, in every area but price. That's because of the FDA standards.

My recommendations on formula:

#1 TARGET--the store brand is about $13 a can.
#2 SAFEWAY--the store brand is off the shelves right now but I've been told by customer service that it returns April 18th with a new name: Mom-to-Mom. It used to be $11-$13.

Here's a Consumer Reports article on formula.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spinach Tacos

Okay, so they aren't really just spinach tacos. But that's the only thing I could think to call it. I had leftover chicken thighs from the White Chicken Chili in the fridge, so Juiceboy cooked four of them up as I braved Bay Area Traffic.

When I arrived home it turned out that neither of us was super hungry and The Bug was happy playing on the computer. The Baby had just spit up all over himself, so I grabbed the opportunity to give him a bath (which is something I rarely do). As I dried him I tried to think of things to go with the chicken, and realized I don't really like thigh meat, unless it's all cut up and part of something else, and I was completely not interested in dinner.

"Hey, how about if I cook up some spinach and we just have a little light meal of tacos? No beans or cheese or anything...."

Sounded good to Juiceboy. I pulled out the sad little bowl of caramelized onions, and we had a great, simple dinner of onions, chicken and spinach tacos. I had corn tortillas and the guys chose flour. I think I made the better choice.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heady Scents

We live in a small '63 ranch house. Pure California. Designed by people who don't cook onions. Or garlic. Or fish, or seared pork, or yummy high-heat shrimp...get the picture? Juiceboy just walked into our bedroom, which he'd closed the door to when I started the onion fry. It was our last bastion of non-smelly house. Or so I thought.

"It smells in there. But a different onion smell. I realized the rest of the house smells better. Guess I didn't close the door fast enough...?"

How do you get food smells out of the house?

Caramelized Onions

The above onions are NOT mine, but Kathy Maisters, at

If I didn't know better, I'd think I was pregnant. I've been craving caramelized onions all week. None of the restaurants I had to go to for work had them. Seriously--I ate out four times in five'd think one place would have a sandwich with caramelized onions!

Of course, I wanted real caramelized onions. Not ones sprinkled with brown sugar to speed the process, or fat slices of sort-of brown onions...that make you think they possibly just sauted them in a brown liquid.

So tonight I pulled up the old Joy of Cooking, sliced up two organic "Mother Love" onions and got cooking. The Bug was curious...could he have caramelized onions as a snack in his lunch? Would they be thick, like jam? (Mmmm...caramelized onion jam....).

They softened for 80 minutes. Then I put the baby down to sleep and turned the heat up to medium. Ack! In 15 minutes they were caramelized and slightly burnt. Somehow the heat was too high. They're edible, but I've got to figure out my burner and pan.

In the middle of the caramelization process Juiceboy opened all the windows and doors. I was SERIOUSLY stinking up the house. The house is still redolent with the odor of slightly burnt caramelized onions.

The verdict? The Bug said they're the best onions he's ever had. I will try again, this time, with the heat lower.

I was going to blog the whole recipe, but Kathy at StartCooking.Com has a great play-by-play, straight out of the old Joy. The image above is hers...honestly, her onions are much prettier than mine.

If you haven't visited her site yet, do. The video on how to make grilled cheese just cracks me up!

White Chicken Chili

America's Test Chicken recently aired a show on White Chicken Chili. As you can tell from previous posts, my family loves a good chile verde. And this looked like a recipe that would be quick and easy--and easy on my wallet, too. It took longer than I had planned--directions such as "while the chicken browns, seed and slice the peppers" were deceptive. The chicken browned for a total of 8 minutes, while it would have taken much longer to seed and slice 8 or 9 peppers. We ended up having dinner at 8:30pm (Juiceboy HATES my 9:00 dinners), but everyone agreed that the chili and cornbread was really, very good. Below is my version of the recipe.

White Chicken Chili
Adjusted from America's Test Kitchen

Serves 6 to 8
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium jalapeño chiles
3 poblano chiles (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
3 Anaheim chile peppers (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
2 medium onions , cut into large pieces (2 cups)
6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 (14.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans , drained
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

2-3 chipotles in adobo, minced

1. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until skin is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and lightly brown on other side, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; remove and discard skin.

2. While chicken is browning, remove and discard ribs and seeds from 2 jalapeños; mince flesh. In food processor, process half of poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions until consistency of chunky salsa, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides of workbowl halfway through. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions; combine with first batch (do not wash food processor blade or workbowl).

3. Pour off all but 1.5 tablespoons fat from Dutch oven (adding additional vegetable oil if necessary) and reduce heat to medium. Add minced jalapeños, chile-onion mixture, garlic, cumin, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

4. Transfer 1 cup cooked vegetable mixture to now-empty food processor workbowl. Add 1 cup beans and 1 cup broth and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add vegetable-bean mixture, remaining 2 cups broth, and chicken breasts to Dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken registers 175 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 40 minutes.

5. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate. Stir in remaining beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and chili has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

6. Mince remaining jalapeño, reserving and mincing ribs and seeds (see note above), and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones. Stir shredded chicken, lime juice, cilantro, scallions, chipotle and remaining minced jalapeño (with seeds if desired) into chili and return to simmer. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lunch with Orangette

The baby and I are having a lovely lunch. Juiceboy is having a lazy morning watching The Thin Man and the Bug is out playing with friends across the street. So it's just the little Flea and me, tasting bits of this and that while I chat up on Orangette's travels in the Bay Area.

First, we started with some Ginger Carrot soup. It's Saturday, so it's time to clean out the fridge and cook soup with anything that might go dark and icky this week out of the veg bins. And for some reason, last week I bought an enormous bag of organic carrots, which have a "best by" date of April 6, tomorrow.

So, in with some olive oil went half a red onion, some cloves of garlic, a bit of sliced ginger, the rest of a celery stalk, half a bag of broccoli slaw, one yukon gold potato, and the giant bag of carrots. I'd browned the aromatics first, of course. Then I tipped in a big can of Swanson's chicken broth. I simmered it all for about 45-60 minutes, then pureed it all up with my wonderful immersion blender.

I added some curry powder to my bowl, but now that I've tasted how strong the ginger is, I don't know if it really needs any in the big batch.

Anyway, the baby enjoyed it greatly. When I realized how much ginger was in it, I decided he'd had enough (don't want to hurt his little tummy). But he wanted more--of anything. So next he had a little strawberry yogurt. But that wasn't enough. So I brought out cold, leftover tortellini in a spinach and tomato sauce. The baby had the soft, cheesy bits in the center of the pasta, and a few soft bites of pasta itself. And he wanted MORE. Aha, I thought. Cold spinach will end his curiosity of my lunch.

Nothing doing. More, more! He kept his baby-bird mouth open for me to cram food into it, until finally I put it all away, and gave him a simple cup of water.

Looking back I wonder, will my shirt be adorned with his lunch later this afternoon?