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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Orzo Salad

Summer is very hot in Georgia.  Not many cool days.  I certainly don't want to heat up the house cooking all day.  I eat many different kinds of salad during the summer.   I wanted something refreshing for dinner tonight.  After checking the pantry to get a start, I found the can of artichoke hearts.  I absolutely love them in salads, with hot pasta, in dips, and other recipes too.  So, I had a start.... artichokes.  A box of orzo caught my eye, then I started thinking.  Staples in my house may be a bit unusual for some, but I always have a few cans of artichoke hearts, lemons, parsley.  A Greek without fresh lemons in the house is practically unheard of....in my family any way. It's a family joke-Dad had an uncle who put lemon on scrambled eggs.

Light, refreshing and healthy, here is my recipe for Orzo Salad.  This would be great served with grilled fish or chicken (cooked Greek style of course) for those that like a more substantial meal.  A large loaf of French bread and a side of feta cheese is all needed to finish this meal.

ORZO SALAD
  • 1/2 16 oz box orzo cooked "al dente"
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 1 small cucumber (pickling kind), diced
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 can small artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained and cut in half
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup tiny frozen peas, thawed but not cooked
  • 1 cup parsley leaves (yes, I pick off each leaf), slightly cut (not fine pieces)
For the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil (I just use regular, not extra virgin for this)
juice of two lemons (you can try one first...and if you want more add a second)
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon Greek Oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 small cloves garlic, minced

Cook pasta as directed for al dente and place in large container.  Add chopped vegetables and other salad ingredients. Toss gently.  Prepare dressing, pour over pasta and chill.

I'm always "winging it" in the kitchen.  A little of this, a bit of that, and voila a new recipe. Some have miserably failed, but I still give it the good old fashioned try!

During the winter, I make a hot pasta dish with Orzo. Prepare as above, using only peas, parsley, and artichokes with the orzo.  For the dressing (sauce in this instance) use 1/2 cup melted butter instead of the olive oil with the lemon, garlic, lemon pepper and zest (omit oregano).  Do not pour all of the buttery sauce on the pasta, but just to coat individual servings. Sprinkle with fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese!  Nice, hot filling dish!


Friday, May 29, 2009

Grilled Cheese ( & croque-madame...oh, la la)

There is nothing like a warm  grilled cheese sandwich on a cool day.  I remember when I was a child we had a folding griddle/waffle iron.  That griddle saw many silver dollar pancakes for Sunday breakfast, or the infamous grilled cheese sandwich.  To me it's just not a grilled cheese unless it is golden brown (from the addition of a lot of butter on the bread), various cheeses used, and "smooshed" (for lack of a better word).   Sure I've made many sandwiches with the little square cheese that comes in it's own plastic wrap, or a mixture of Swiss, American, and Mozzarella.  The mozzarella and Swiss bring out the kid in all of us when we cut the sandwich on the diagonal and gently stretch it apart to see how long we can make the strands!! What? You don't do that? If you don't, I'm sure you will give it the good old fashioned try next time.  I have fun with my food.

My sons both ate their share of grilled cheese sandwiches.  It was one of the first things that I taught them to cook.  A man's "gotta" learn how to cook!  I will never forget David cooking his sandwiches with care and pride.  I guess he must have been about 6 or 7 years old, eating a fresh warm sandwich, when the following phrase was spoken: "Mama, how old do you have to be to be a grill cheese cooker at Applebys?".  Ah...... he had his future planned.  Life is good! Food and comfort. Is there anything else that brings back childhood memories more exciting that the food we ate?

Today, I was looking in the refrigerator for lunch items.  I purchased an "ungodly" amount of Swiss cheese at a local warehouse, so I had plenty of that on hand.  A few slices of ham... yes, that's it!  I'll make a "Croque Madame"!!  What in the world is a "croque-madame" you may wonder?  Only the French could make the simple grilled cheese an elegant snack to be eaten with a knife and fork.  

Croque Madame is a variation on the Croque Monsieur sandwich served at many Paris cafes.

Croque Monsieur
Two slices white bread (white is the best in my opinion)
butter....... (yep, real butter)
two thin slices of boiled ham
Swiss cheese slices (really good with Gruyere cheese)

Butter one side of each of the bread slices.
Make a sandwich with only the ham in the middle
toast under the broiler until one side is golden brown, turn and toast the other side
Top the sandwich with a slice or two of Swiss cheese, and toast until hot and bubbly (be sure not to have it too close to the heat or it will burn)

Now, for the "Croque Madame"

Traditionally, one would toast the sandwich without the cheese on top, cut a hole on top piece down to the ham, break an egg in the hole, top with cheese, broil until white of egg is firm. Since I can't tell if the white is firm under the cheese. I make the sandwich of ham and bread and toast it.  I then fry an egg to my desired consistancy (I like mine "sunny side up"), put on top of the sandwich, cover with a slice of Swiss cheese, and place under the broiler until hot and melted.

You have to eat this one with a fork!! :)

This was one of the treats we used to eat for lunch at a cafe near the Sorbonne University on those cold, rainy days studying in Paris.  I remember our waiter, Michel, who looked forward to us coming to the cafe. One time, all of his tables were full, so we had to sit somewhere else.  He was angry with us, but there was nothing that we could do.  We told him "next time, your table" and he was back on friendly terms.   I think he just enjoyed helping us with our French language. I do remember a lot of laughter and "oh, la, la, NON!   

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Strawberries


My first house as a child was on Hyland Drive in Decatur, Georgia, U.S.A.  It was a great neighborhood with a lot of friends.  My grandfather, a Greek immigrant, lived with us for many years.  He had a love for gardening and in our small backyard we had a grapevine, corn, and strawberries.  I don't really remember other fruit or vegetables, but I remember those three.  I also know that it is not wise to play with a slinky toy near a grapevine!  I'm sure it would still be tangled up in the vines.  

Strawberries are my favorite fruit!  I guess because I remember going to the back yard with "Papa" (my grandfather) to pick them ripe off of the vine.  I remember him picking them, dropping them in a pot or bowl, and letting me eat them right after picking.  Now that is a delicious strawberry!!  My grandfather did everything in the world for the grandchildren including letting one in particular eat tons of strawberries!

Although I like strawberry shortcake, cheesecake, strawberry cakes, chocolate strawberries, etc... I must say my favorite way to eat them is for breakfast with Greek yogurt!  Nothing starts the day like having my favorite fruit.  They are good for me too... so that's a plus!  When our sons were little, we stopped at a strawberry farm and picked fresh strawberries.  It takes a lot of time to pick a bucket of strawberries, but we did it.  To this day, I remember being surrounded by the fresh scent of the berries.  Strawberries and french toast for breakfast, sliced strawberries and spinach salad, strawberries for dessert, and a fresh strawberry tart for a midnight snack! shhhhhhhh don't tell! :)

For a quick treat, what could be better than chocolate covered strawberries? Not much!  Semi sweet chocolate and luscious ripe berries is the best "candy" anyone can make.  With balsamic vinegar being so popular today, I have also sprinkled a bit on the strawberries to give a different taste.  During this time of year when they are at their best, I eat them every day for breakfast and a snack!  

To me, the less one does with a strawberry, the better!  Fill pre-baked puff pastry shells with sliced fresh strawberries and top with fresh whipped cream. finish with a drizzle of melted semi sweet chocolate, and a few toasted almonds.  Can't get much easier than that!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner!


Although I don't usually eat a substantial breakfast during the week, I do enjoy the breakfast foods. As a native southerner, I must admit that grits are my least favorite breakfast hot cereal. I'll eat it if it is served at some one's house, but I don't choose it as a menu choice. I remember my dad would make cheese grits with real butter, eggs, and sharp cheese. How he turned the gritty grits into a smooth dish, I will never know. Those I would eat on occasion. Like I said, I can eat them, but would much rather have hot cream of wheat as a hot cereal. I will admit that I probably eat hot cereal once a year as I prefer other breakfast foods. I'm not very hungry in the morning, so fruit and yogurt is fine. If on vacation, fresh fruit and a croissant are my breakfast of choice! I will say that being born in Georgia, the Waffle House is one of the best places to get breakfast 24 hours a day. There is no doubt that the food is hot and fresh as it is always cooked to order. If I want something sweet, it's the choice of a pecan waffle and coffee. If my taste buds want something salty, I go for the egg over easy with hash browns "scattered, smothered, and covered". Yes, you can't beat the diner lingo! Plus, it's the only place I DON'T mind being called "hon"!! (one of my pet peeves).

When I was a child, my mother never made anything with flour, so breakfast was bagels and hard crusty breads (which I love), eggs, bacon, grits (dad's specialty), sliced fresh summer tomatoes, and feta cheese. Yes, we had a hardy breakfast "Greek-American" style! When I was dating my (now ex) husband, we would spend time with his family at their home. His mother made biscuits from scratch. I think the first time I had them, I stopped at 6! How could I not stop... I didn't want to embarrass myself further!! Homemade biscuits with homemade jam from homegrown fruit! Breakfast didn't get any sweeter! Also, family reunions in Tennessee were a lot of fun. One of my ex's uncles, still had an old wood burning stove along side his electric one in his home. You've never had biscuits until they have been cooked in a wood burning stove. I don't think my mother in law measured anything when making the biscuits, but I remember them and her sweet manner! We got along terrifically!!

One of my favorite treats as a child was having breakfast foods for dinner! What fun to have waffles or pancakes for dinner. When my children were little, we would sometimes have breakfast foods for a dinner treat. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, juice, etc.... The meal was always served with a lot of bacon. I think my children could eat an entire package of bacon hot from the frying pan! Bacon, bacon, and more bacon with the dinner!

I don't really measure when making French toast, but I always start with stale French or Italian bread. The hardy kind works the best.

French Toast

5 or 6 1 inch slices of hardy French or Italian bread
2 large eggs beaten with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix eggs, sugar, cinnamon, milk, and vanilla in a shallow bowl
Turn the slices of bread in the mixture to coat. I usually dip them twice on both sides
Melt butter over medium heat in nonstick skillet
Place bread in frying pan and cook slowly until golden brown. (Be sure your pan isn't too hot)

Serve with toasted slivered almonds and pure maple syrup.

When my sons were little, I would sprinkle "snow" (confectioner's sugar) on top of their french toast.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Green Beans


Mediterranean cuisine is my favorite!  I guess it's my Greek heritage and growing up eating Greek food.  I didn't know it was Greek.... It was just what we ate!  Being a southerner, I never had green beans cooked with fatback or bacon.  We always had it with tomato sauce and onions.  I guess I was about 10 or so before I had true green beans cooked by a southerner.  It was different and I liked them.  I still prefer thick cut bacon to fatback.  I can honestly say that I can't stand the smell of fatback cooking  (burn it ONE time and you will know why), but the end results are fine.  If I make them southern style, I fry several pieces of thick cut bacon, saute  onions, and add about a pound of fresh green beans.  I also add several red potatoes to cook with the beans.  TASTY!!  My favorite are the thin haricots verts (that's the french name, I just call them "extra thin green beans" ;)  ) 

So many variations with green beans:
 roasted with butter and lemon juice

roasted with butter and toasted almonds  (see above photo)  Drizzle a table spoon of olive oil over the green beans, roast at 450 for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.  Toss with butter, and toasted, slivered almonds.   

three bean salad

southern style

stir fried

battered and deep fried (a local restaurant appetizer.  Dip in ranch dressing)

steamed with a little olive oil, lemon pepper, and lemon juice

Salade Nicoise: green beans served with red potatoes, tuna, nicoise olives, boiled eggs, tomato quarters, topped with a French vinaigrette (delicious summer dinner as it doesn't heat the kitchen)

and of course, the way I ate them as a child: Greek Style with tomato sauce


Since the Greek style beans are my favorite, I'm including the recipe for them!

Greek Green Beans

1 pound of fresh green beans....the thinner, the better
1 medium vidalia onion (or other sweet onion)
2 small cans (8 oz) tomato sauce  
2 medium size tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
pinch oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Very simple really.....
Dice the onions into fine dice.  Saute in olive oil over low heat until the onions are tender. I don't like to let them get past a light brown.  Salt and pepper to taste as you brown them.  Add 2 small can tomato sauce and enough water to cover the beans.  Dice the tomatoes and add to the beans along with fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of oregano. Cook until the beans are tender.  

During the summer time, I will puree a few fresh tomatoes and add them to the mixture. Such a wonderful fresh taste.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Paris.............I'm longing to return!!


I could start every morning with a fresh French croissant, fresh fruit, and a large cup of coffee.  Of course, the perfect place would be at an outdoor cafe with a newspaper in hand, and camera by my side!  Oh how I long for the streets of Paris.  The aromas of fresh bread wafting from the bakery, the hustle and bustle of people heading to the metro, the parks, the architecture, the arts, and of course the food....glorious foods!  

When I think of Paris, it seems like it was just yesterday that I walked the cobblestone streets and dodged a few yellow flashing lights from cars speeding to work!  A vibrant city, full of life.  A place that never sleeps.  
The joy of going to an outdoor market and smelling the fruit ripe off the vine or trees. The flowers in the market that would overwhelm my senses with their beauty and their scents!  I do like to think that if I lived there again, I would take the time to go to the individual stores and bakeries. Do people still walk home carrying a baguette by their side?  

So many fine eating experiences in Paris.  The wonderful Jewish Deli near the school where I was able to teach conversational English for an hour or two a week.  The magnificent ice creams, fresh crepes baked right in front of my eyes.  Fauchon was the most exclusive place to purchase any food products at the time.  It was the most expensive place to my knowledge.  What a feast for the eyes.  

Le Notre bakery near where I lived in the 16th arrondisement.  Pastry too beautiful to eat, resting on the glass shelves, luring the customers into the shop.  It lured me in so many times, I had to purchase two of his cookbooks!  The art of wrapping pastries in a box, sealed with a sticker of the store name, and tied with a ribbon was still in fashion.  What pride the individual owners have of their stores.  It is truly a place where people enjoy their food!  

Some of my favorite items I ate over and over in Paris:

Pain au Raisin   (delicious pastry with raisins)

Croissant:  wonderful for breakfast with a cafe au lait

Petit Suisse:  a dairy product that is wonderful!!!

French Yogurt: a breakfast staple

Croque Madame near the Sorbonne University...a great sandwich of ham and Gruyere toasted with a fried egg on top!  (Only the French would think of that)

crepes: wonderful, hot from the crepe stand!

The delicious soups served at the bistros with the locals.

Steak frites:  thin steak pan fried with wonderful french fries on the side.

Every once in a while we would go to the American Legion (#1) and meet up with other Americans for a taste of American foods.  McDonalds? Sure I tried it......once!  I just didn't want American food.

Of course, the families that opened their homes to me: 

Mme Faisant was a terrific cook and appreciated my love for eating. She made sure that I had everything that was typically French.  After eating tripe, tongue,  rabbit, and I think even horse meat, I quit asking what things were.  I just ate with gusto....  She made a wonderful strawberry layer cream cake that took ALL day to make! I will never forget the fresh flavors.

The Micallef family who lived in Sceaux; M and Mme Micallef, Laurence, Anne, Marie-Severine, and Sophie.  Who shared with me terrific meals and conversations.  I will never forget them or the wonderful times at the dinner table.  I still have the cookbook that they gave me for Christmas: La Bonne Cuisine Francaise.  I remember the terrific vegetable cream soups that Mme would make for those cold winter evenings. The sun setting around 4 pm and the long metro ride, and walk home.  Quite brisk and refreshing... Oh, how the aroma of hot vegetable soup would warm me up immediately.

Yes, I'm feeling nostalgic for life in Paris. Would it be the same?  No, because I am no longer the free- spirited university student.  I think I would have a different appreciation for everything there.   My dream is to live right in the city in a town home with a rooftop view of Paris.  I remember walking home late one evening in Paris, someone was on their balcony, playing songs on the accordion that were "oh so French".  The pride and joy from the music lifted my spirits and I thought... "this is where I belong".  I felt "at home" from that moment.... 



Sunday, May 10, 2009


    Avocados are one of my favorite foods to have as a snack. Many afternoons, I come home and make a bowl of guacamole.  My love for avocado started as a child. My father would cut them into cubes and put them in a salad, or we would have them in a bowl with lemon juice, salt and pepper.   I will never forget the time when my brother was visiting his friend in Florida.  Jimmy came home with a sports bag filled with avocados right off of the tree.  Once his friend knew our dad liked avocados, there was no turning back.  I remember our mouths watering just at the site of all the avocados.  We ate them for days, never tiring of their delicious texture and taste.

I know many people that don't eat them because they have a lot of fat.  Well, that may be true, but everything else good about them compensates for the fat in my opinion.  Avocados contain lutein, which may be proven to protect the eyes.  Plus, they contain about 20 vitamins and minerals!  

How do I eat avocado?  I've tried many things.  I will never forget the time my former husband and I had guest for dinner.  What to cook?  I wanted appetizer, soup, salad, main entree and dessert.  Being that it is so hot in Georgia during the summer, I decided to make avocado soup!  It sounded cool and refreshing.  My ex husband and I ate pretty much everything, so he never knew what to expect from my culinary quests for something different.  Proudly, I serve my avocado soup. Our friend had never had the soup before, but had no problem teasing me a little about it.  This was back in the 80's when cold soups were served at places, but their popularity had not reached the scale of today. Anyway, after the jokes about the soup looking like "foamy shaving cream", we enjoyed the soup.    

If I am making a Greek Salad, I always toss in an avocado.  Avocado slices on any sub sandwich are delicious.  I also like avocado and cucumber sandwiches with Greek Tzatziki sauce on crusty French bread.  Since I make guacamole several times a week, here is a simple recipe.

Guacamole
2 Avocados: either California or Florida (I like them both)
1 garlic clove minced
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 roma tomato, diced
1 green onion
1 Tablespoon black olives
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon pepper
optional ingredient: 1 tablespoon sour cream

Dice avocado and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Mash with fork until relatively smooth  (You can leave it in dice if desired). Gently mix in other ingredients. 



Friday, May 8, 2009

My favorite sauce


My favorite sauce has to be the Greek "Tzatziki" sauce. I like it on sandwiches, chicken, lamb, gyros, and as a dip for bell peppers, broccoli, and other fresh vegetables. My personal favorite way to eat it is BY THE SPOONFUL! I actually think it would make a terrific cool summer soup. I could eat this every day in the summer. It is so refreshing and delicious. It's also good for you too. My grandfather lived to be in his 90's by eating a lot of fresh garlic. "It's natural, good for you" were words I heard often in my childhood.

I've made it so many times first thing in the morning. I've even had it at breakfast! Only a "true Mediterranean" can do that...




TZATZIKI

16 oz plain non-fat yogurt (I use the delicious GREEK yogurt)
2 large cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon FRESH Lemon juice
(Don't bother making anything Greek if you plan on using lemon from a plastic shaped lemon bottle....)
salt to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley minced
2 Tablespoons fresh dill

Line a colander with cheesecloth and put yogurt in to drain overnight. You won't have much liquid with the Greek Yogurt.

Put cucumbers in a bit of cheesecloth to press out any excess moisture. Add to yogurt.

Add other ingredients.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 or two hours.

Can be garnished with fresh chives or spring onions.

If mixture is too thick, add more olive oil to achieve desired constancy.





Sunday, May 3, 2009

Summer Foods


When the temperatures get HOT I eat cool foods.  I won't cook lasagna, hearty stews or soups until the first frost. It gives me something to look forward to eating in the cool months.   During the summer, I eat a lot of main dish salads of all kinds.; grilled tuna on a bed of lettuce greens, tabbouleh (or "tabbouleh-sa" ),  Salade Nicoise, or many others.  A platter of cheese, olives, tomatoes, and bread are sufficient some evenings.  Here are a few summer salads:




Tabbouleh-sa (Lisa)
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 fine
bulgur
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1 cup diced tomato
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil 
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste (I add more :D)
1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
Pepper to taste
chopped green and
Kalamata olives to taste
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts (not marinated)
Pour boiling water over the
bulgar, cover, and let stand about 30 minutes until tender and water is absorbed.
Add the chopped vegetables and toss to mix.
Combine oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Add to
Bulgar mixture and mix well.
 Chill. Serve and enjoy. (4 servings)


Cannellini bean salad.

1 can (16 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 green onions, sliced
1 Roma tomato, diced
2 ribs celery, diced

Dressing Ingredients

2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 Teaspoon lemon pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 Teaspoon cayenne pepper (I don't think the Greeks use much of cayenne pepper, but I like it)

Combine beans, celery, onion, tomato, and celery in glass bowl 
Put dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. 
Pour over salad, toss gently, and refrigerate for a few hours.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Burger..... not just for "ham" any more!


Hamburgers, Lamb burgers, Veggie burgers, shrimp burgers, and turkey burgers are just a few of my favorite ways to have a burger.  I've made them all with success.  My favorite way to cook them is on the charcoal grill.  Of course, pan fry will do in a hurry.  I enjoy eating a good hamburger.  When I go to a new restaurant, I always order a hamburger if on the menu.  If they can't make a decent hamburger, I'm sure the other things are not up to par either.  I like the with various toppings from guacamole to a lot of cheese.  

In 1980, I lived in Paris for almost a year with a French woman.  She was an excellent cook and appreciated my love for eating!  From simple meals of sandwiches on a fresh baguette, to fancy roasts, rabbit, and duck,  I ate and ate and ate!!  A simple hamburger took on a new taste at her home.  It quickly became my favorite way to have a burger.

Hamburger Mme. Faisant

1/4 pound ground sirloin for each burger
Gruyere slices  (Or you can use a nice aged Swiss)
creme fraiche (can be purchased at most specialty markets)
Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Mme. would pan fry the burgers in vegetable oil until done to taste.  I like mine medium. 

Top the burger with Dijon mustard, a hearty spoonful of creme fraiche, and top with Gruyere cheese.   Put the burger under the broiler until the cheese is nicely melted and slightly browned. Top with a generous amount of fresh ground pepper, sea salt, and fresh chopped parsley.  Serve with vine ripe tomatoes on the side.  A simple delicious meal.

Labels

Ingredients I must have in my kitchen (It's a long list, but I try and have these items on hand)

  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cheese
  • Cumin
  • Curry
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh Bread
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Greek Oregano
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Lemon ( At least 3 or 4 ALWAYS)
  • Peppers (Wax, Jalapeno, banana)
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Regular Olive Oil
  • Rice
  • Salad Ingredients
  • Sea Salt
  • Spanish Olives
  • White Balsamic Vinegar
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