Saturday, April 30, 2011

I've finally added a photo.

I've added a photo to my "basic red sauce" post. I should have a photo for each post, and I'm working on it. Food photography is especially daunting because, if it doesn't look really, really good, it looks terrible. There's no middle ground.

I'm not much of a photographer at all, so, lucky for me I have assistance from the lovely and talented Howard. He took the beautiful shot of ravioli with my basic red sauce. I have a confession to make, though: I wanted to include a fresh basil garnish but I had none. I cut up a piece of romaine lettuce and used that, instead. It needed greenery to look truly great. I consider it a minor and forgivable fraud, one committed for the sake of, if not truth then at least beauty.

More photos to come, possibly some drawings.

A Simple Greek Chicken Dinner

I love how easy and quick this meal is -- an hour from start to finish.

Chicken with lemon and oregano, rice pilaf and Greek salad

1. 1 lb. or so of chicken breast tenders (I usually use already-cut chicken breast tenders, though it's cheaper to buy whole pieces and cut them up, yourself.)
2. juice from 2 lemons
3. generous sprinkling of oregano (dried or chopped fresh)
4. 2-3 cloves garlic
5. 1 small yellow or white onion, diced
6. 1 head romaine lettuce
7. cherry or grape tomatoes (15-20)
8. 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
9. 1/4 cup kalamata olives
10. 1 cup basmati or brown rice
11. 1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil, maybe a little more for salad dressing. Use your judgment.
12. 2-3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
13. a squirt or 2 of mustard 

14. Salt and pepper to taste

Make it:

Rice first: Saute about 1/2 of the onion in a little olive oil in saucepan on med-low heat for 10 minutes. Add rice, 2 to 2 and a quarter cups water, a generous sprinkling of salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring once. Should take about 35 minutes.

Salad second: Rinse lettuce, shake dry, tear and place in salad bowl. Rinse and add tomatoes (I cut them in half so the juice adds to the dressing). Add olives and feta and set aside.

Chicken: Rinse chicken tenders and place in skillet or stove-safe casserole dish. (You'll want a serviceable lid for this.) Add olive oil, juice from 2 lemons, the rest of the diced onion, crushed/diced garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Mix around to coat the chicken. Set on stove top and turn heat to med-high. It should start bubbling after 2-3 minutes. Turn over chicken, cook another minute or 2, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 10-12 minutes, checking/turning once or twice. Remove lid and turn up heat to brown the chicken a little (just 2 minutes or so). Cut into chicken to make sure it's done, then turn off heat. At this point the rice should be about done. Turn off heat and keep covered.

Salad dressing: Mix equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar and a little mustard in a jar, shake and dress salad. Toss and serve.

Serve the chicken over rice, drizzling remaining chicken sauce (juice, really) over both.


You can use whole pieces of chicken, but your cooking time will increase. Also, if you use bone-in chicken with skin, you can cut back on the olive oil, as the chicken will provide a bit of fat. Let me know how it goes!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Junk Food Salad

This is my second post about salad. I couldn't include "junk food salad" in my "green salad" post. That would be misleading. Besides, any self-respecting junk food salad is deserving of its own glory, complete with iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, shredded processed cheese and garlic-powder-laden croutons. It's a whole different animal, and I respect it. As a kid, I would secretly eat this salad, behind my parents' backs, whether during high school lunch or on evenings when I wasn't expected home for dinner. It was sooo good!

You can assemble a junk food salad at any salad bar (including those at the highest end grocery stores), but it gets stupidly expensive, and you're way better off making your own.

Easy Junk Food Salad:
1. Any kind of lettuce
2. Whatever other veggies you want to chop up
3. Lots of cheese, any and all varieties
4. Ranch or blue cheese dressing

Olives, avocado, artichoke hearts, hard-boiled egg, crumbled bacon, chicken breast, garbanzo beans, sprouts, seeds, nuts, croutons, anything you want. It can be as healthy or as junky as you want, but enjoy it!

Green Salad

Hmmmm. Is it worthy of a whole post? Yes, yes it is. It's often the best thing I eat in a day, and along with the obvious health benefits, it lessens macaroni-and-cheese guilt, pizza guilt and even some forms of non-food-related guilt. It's raw, fresh and full of whole ingredients. What's not to like? Well, some people recoil from the preparation, but they need to just get over it. Really. It's plenty easy to rinse and tear some lettuce, chop a few vegetables and mix it around with some oil and vinegar. Five minutes.  

My Everyday Dinner Salad originates from my parents' dinner table:

1. Romaine and/or leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn.
2. Cucumber, sliced.
3. Cherry or grape tomatoes.
4. Diced bell pepper.

Dressing: equal parts red wine or balsamic vinegar and olive oil (maybe slightly less vinegar) and a squirt of whatever mustard you have in the fridge.

Make it interesting:
1. Add feta cheese and kalamata olives.
2. Add parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts.
3. Add gorgonzola (or any kind of blue cheese), pears and walnuts (best with balsamic).

Next post: Junk Food Salad

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scoopa Beans, Scoopa Yogurt, Taco Sauce and a Tortilla

This isn't a health kick thing, it just happens to be healthy. I had in my fridge a half can of refried beans, a little bit of plain yogurt, green taco sauce and one, almost-cardboard flour tortilla. What did I make? Well, a taco, obviously. And it was fantastic!

1. Reconstitute the tortilla in a skillet with a little oil
2. Heat the beans and taco sauce in saucepan (add chopped onions if you like)
3. Scoop onto warm tortilla
4. Add scoop of plain yogurt

See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Hot Here. I'm Making Gingerade.

Here in Austin, summer leap-frogged (leaped frog?) spring. Hopefully, spring will happen here, if only for a few hours one day, with some strange and miraculous rain. In the meantime, summer has arrived, there's a frightening drought, and it's only going to get hotter and drier.

Feeling powerless, I do that thing people do when they don't know what else to do: I boil water. I have to do something. I make gingerade, or ginger tea. Ginger tea is a staple in many countries, and I first had it in a Korean household. Everything about it is comforting: ginger, lemon, honey. What's not to like? I didn't invent this, of course, and there are many takes on it, but my favorite is this:

Boil water, add ginger, lemon and honey, and let it simmer for an hour or three. Let it cool, and transfer it into pitchers/jars and refrigerate. It's a lovely soft drink that can be as sweet or tart as you want, doesn't have any creepy ingredients, and is cheap and easy to make.

1. Peel and slice fresh ginger (about a thumb-sized chunk)
2. Add to 2 qt. boiling water
3. Add juice from 1-2 lemons
4. Add 1/4 cup honey

Boil for 5 minutes or so, then simmer for an hour, stirring 2 or 3 times. You can add a sprinkle of cayenne for extra bite. A little goes a long way, though.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Artichokes Cellini

Artichoke Dip. Everyone has a recipe for it, tons of restaurants (both indie and chain) offer it, and the flavors are, in order of appearance: salt, oil, garlic powder, onion powder, something you can't identify, and then artichoke hearts. Tasty and instantly gratifying, then a little sickening. Often too much mayo, always too much salt and concentrated seasoning, and the artichoke hearts are either pure mush or pure fiber.

I offer a simple solution to this bummer of artichoke heart mistreatment:  
Artichokes Cellini

I got my Artichokes Cellini recipe from Not Just Pasta, a restaurant where I waited tables in the early '90s. Sadly, the restaurant is no longer there, but some of its recipes live on through many who worked there.

Artichokes Cellini
16 oz. cream cheese
1 (14oz) can artichoke hearts -not marinated 
juice from 1 small lemon
4 Tbs butter
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

1. Let cream cheese and butter soften in a mixing bowl at room temperature (1/2 - 1 hour).
2. In the meantime, open and drain can of artichoke hearts, squeezing out the water.
3. Cut off and discard the tough and prickly parts.
4. Add artichoke hearts to cream cheese and butter and mix.
5. Add juice from lemon, and half of the parmesan cheese, continue mixing.
6. Once mixed, transfer to baking dish and top with the rest of the parmesan and green onions.
7. Bake (uncovered) at 350-375F for 20-30 minutes.
8. Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve with french bread, pita chips, or any dip-able, hand-held starch.

You can substitute neufchatel for cream cheese (1/3 less fat) and cut the butter with a healthy spread, but keep some butter, and stay away from fat-free cream cheese. That stuff is just plain wrong.

Where's the garlic? It's not in this recipe, but you can add it. I'd saute just a clove or 2 crushed, in butter, on low heat for a few minutes before adding it to the cream cheese/artichoke mixture. I don't usually add it because the flavors are so nice, already, and I don't want it to step on the dinner that follows. If it's a party food, then go crazy!

Also makes a great quiche.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Onion and Pepper and Garlic

I often start dinner this way:

Saute onion and bell pepper in oil for 10 minutes on low heat, add fresh garlic, either crushed or minced, saute for a few more minutes.

From there, baby, you can go anyplace. I often go to a pasta place. In fact, you could boil some water, cook some pasta, add salt, pepper, and parmesan to taste, and have a simple meal in 15-20 minutes.

The secret to making a dish like this successful is having enough liquid. In this case, the liquid is oil, and you don't need a ton, but enough to coat the pasta and keep it from drying out. A way to cut back on the oil is to add a splash of white wine or lemon juice. You could also use chicken or veggie broth.

Make it more interesting: Add fresh spinach (frozen works, too) and/or diced tomatoes, to the peppers and onions, just before adding the garlic. If you have a lemon--and it's always a good idea to have a lemon--grate a little lemon zest into the sauce to brighten it up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Word or Two about Herbs and Spices

Fresh Herbs
I don't have a green thumb. My mom gave me a beautiful, thriving rosemary plant, and I managed to kill it in a week and a half. And I love rosemary. I hear that basil is easy to grow, but I haven't tried, yet. I've resided in urban spaces for a lot of years, now, and though it isn't a good excuse, it's mine. If you aren't growing your own herbs, then you can buy them at a grocery store or farmer's market. They are lovely and subtle, and they can be the most important ingredient in many a beautiful dish. When you have them, use them! All other times, dried herbs are great.

Dried Herbs and Spices
I stock a few dried herbs and spices, and since most of my cooking tends toward Mediterranean food, you'll see a theme: bay leaves, basil, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, dill, tarragon. I've recently added anise, cinnamon and cloves (needed to make pho). I find that I can achieve a lot with these. You can usually find cheap herbs and spices in the bulk section of your grocery store. With the above, you can season various pasta sauces, rice and bean dishes, soups, and meat, fish and poultry. In other words, just about anything you may want for dinner. Many recipes will call for others, but I wanted to begin by sharing my basic seasoning inventory. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Basic Red Sauce

Here's a recipe for a basic red sauce, or marinara. I use canned tomatoes here, because good, fresh ones aren't always available.

2 cloves garlic, crushed or diced
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 cup olive (or cooking) oil - It will still be really good, even if you don't have olive oil.
2 tsp dried basil
1+ Tbs oregano
black pepper to taste
1 14-15oz can diced tomatoes (plain)
1 14-15oz can tomato sauce (plain)

Make it:
Saute onion, bell pepper, carrot, in oil, low-medium heat, for 10 minutes.
Turn heat low and add crushed garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.
Add canned tomatoes, oregano, basil, black pepper.
Stir, cover and let simmer for at least a half hour. An hour or two is even better.

Things I add when I have them are: a splash of red wine, and a shake or two of crushed red pepper for a little extra heat.

You can easily sauce one pound of pasta with this. I toss the cooked pasta with some of the sauce, and then add extra on top to serve. Add a little parmesan, and it's a great bowl of pasta.

For a Meat Sauce
If you want a meat sauce, add ground beef to saute pan and brown before adding garlic. Ground pork, turkey, work fine, too. I stay away from soy-based meat substitutes for this, because the earthy soy flavor seems to step on everything. I generally reserve meat substitutes for burgers. If you want extra texture in your sauce without meat, I'd add olives, artichoke hearts, eggplant, or more bell pepper.


Welcome to my recipe/cooking/food blog. I'm new to this, so I'm just going to start up.

Cooking has long been a love of mine, and though I'm no master chef, I know my way around a kitchen. I'm especially inspired by how the best flavors can come from the simplest ingredients. I grew up in a household that was light on the processed food. This is mainly due to my mom's food knowledge and thoughtfulness and partly due to the fact that both of my parents are really good cooks.  I'm no food saint, though, by any means, and this blog is not a pulpit. 

 My favorite cooking genre is Mediterranean food. My other food passions include: cheap, nutritious, simple and accessible. I'm going to share recipes here that cover those bases and more, and I hope to start up discussions about anything involving food. I think most people have strong opinions about food, reaching far beyond likes and dislikes, and since it's something we can't live without, it's worth discussing (and enjoying!). I welcome your comments and questions.

Here are some basics I keep on-hand: garlic cloves, onions (white or yellow), carrots, celery, olive oil, (cheaper) cooking oil, rice, pasta, beans (legumes), dried herbs and spices, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar. With these ingredients, alone, you have a great dish. Add one or two other things - tomatoes, bell peppers, greens, meat or fish, and you have an amazing meal.

Next post, a basic red sauce.