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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guest for Dinner

My eldest son called and asked if I could make a Greek dinner. It's always a pleasure to cook, but especially to cook for someone else!  My son's coworker was here from China. She goes by Tiffany, but her Chinese name is lovely as well.  A thousand thoughts rush through my head.  I don't imagine that many of the Greek foods are commonly eaten in China. I would not think that salad is eaten at all as I've never seen it in our Chinese American restaurants. We all know that most of the restaurants are not truly authentic unless one visits certain areas of Atlanta. Brad said he wanted to take her to one of our Chinese restaurants.

He told me what he wanted me to make: spanikopita (spinach filled filo triangles), lamb, green beans and potatoes.  Salad and crusty bread are "givens" in a Greek meal.  Lamb is one of those foods that you either like or don't like.  I didn't want to take any chances so I made chicken in addition to the lamb.  The aromas in the house always bring back a flood of memories of my childhood.  My mother made the best lamb albeit it was well done as customary in those days.  Plus, my mom did not eat lamb, so she could not understand us wanting it more rare. Oh the horror on her face as we would eat a rare steak...That's for another blog post though.  I still giggle at the memory.  We grew up eating lamb well done which was fine by me. My lamb this evening had a hint of pink which made it delicious. I also made chicken and potatoes with lemon, butter, olive oil, garlic and oregano.

For appetizers I decided to have hummus with pita points and stuffed grape leaves.  She was willing to try everything and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her taste and eat everything that I prepared.  Seeing a big platter of lamb and sliced chicken in the center of the table is not something really done in China.  Meat is more of an accent with the vegetables taking over the show.  Although Greeks do eat a lot of vegetables with their foods, the chicken or beef are a large part of the presentation.

While getting everything ready, we were standing in the kitchen talking. I want to learn some Chinese and the lessons begin.  I don't remember how to count to 10, but I do remember that a common French word said twice is NOT very nice in Chinese.  No, I won't forget that! I use word association to remember a few of the words.  We had several good laughs with my attempts at the language and my word association and useage during our conversations of a few words.  She was patient with me though and gave me a compliment on one or two words.  I will admit that I am quite impressed with Brad's language skills. Watching her write was quite fascinating.

She had fun looking at all of my kitchen gadgets that were in my utensil holders. Brad told her of my adventures of eating with chopsticks. I would have to carry a fork with me in China. Seriously, I do try to use chop sticks, but it takes me forever to eat. I showed her my wooden pincer for toast and told her that was my chopstick. She knew it was for toast!  The potato masher is kind of hard to explain when they do not eat mashed potatoes in China.  My egg slicer was in a drawer as was the round metal kabob holder.   Kitchen is definitely the center of my home. We never sat in the den, but stayed in the kitchen.  She was looking at my fruit stand on the counter and picked up the avocado. She had never seen one and thought it might be a pear.  Avocado was then added to the salad.

She apparently is not used to eating all of the sour things that are so common in Greek cooking.  Lemon on the domathes, the vinegary pepperocini, and the vinegar and oil on salad, not to mention on the lamb, potatoes, and chicken!! I opted to leave out the lemon on the salad as it was so prevalent in everything. They were talking about the foods in China and I said that I probably would not eat frog as I've had it before and I was not impressed.  I then said I would eat chicken which received a "NO" as did the shrimp and fish (we are so spoiled by filets without bones).  Apparently Brad received a serving of shrimp that was left with head, legs, tail, etc... No problem, I can just pull off the legs messy sauce and all.  I know that I would enjoy tons of tea in China as I love hot tea. Noodle soup for breakfast also sound delicious.  I also know that in an emergency for something American, I can always get a Coke.  That would be a rare occasion as I believe in the motto: "When in Rome....."   I can't wait to share the coke with my dad.  If there is one person in the world besides me that appreciates coke, it's dad.  I will keep the bottle forever though.

She said that her dad is a chef.  I would like to learn more about that as the life of a chef fascinates me. I don't think I have the stamina to be a chef now though perhaps when I was 20.   We spend a lot of the time talking about foods, vocabulary, and customs in general.  She was a pleasure to have as a guest in our home. Anytime she is working at the Alpharetta based company in the future, she is welcome to share a dinner with us.  Next time, it may be Tex-Mex.  We did not have time for dessert as it was getting late and we were quite full from the meal.  The dessert was key lime pie.  It could have been Lemon Meringue! Next time, I will make Greek yogurt cake or something not so tart.

I hope that on her long flight back to China today, she will have a smile or giggle about our evening.  Brad sent me a text this morning stating that she liked the food, but especially liked the spanikopita.  That made this mama very happy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I am a vegetarian----NOT!!

I've enjoyed cooking since I was a little girl.  When I was in elementary school, I had my very own hibachi grill.  My parents weren't too fond of grilling over charcoal, but I loved it!! Living in an apartment for those formative years until I was a junior in high school, I had the envy of my closest neighbors when I would grill my lonely burger, steak, or fish on the patio.  My love for grilled food has not changed and if I can eat it, I probably have cooked it over charcoal.  Hands down, my favorite foods cooked over charcoal is Greek Lamb and  Greek style kabobs or the burger.  Oh wait, what about seafood?  Oh my,  perhaps that is a favorite too.  So with this being said, I could never possibly say the words, "I am a vegetarian" and truly mean it.  I can't remember the last time I had chicken or pork.  I really don't miss it unless someone is cooking a burger.   I must say that I truly enjoy a nice rare steak although I've not had one in some time. Whenever my sons are at home, I am put in a position of cooking for my carnivores.  Sometimes, I can just eat everything else, but when they suggest cooking on the grill that's another story.

I enjoy shopping and I am always interested in cooking gadgets.  A store was going out of business and I saw a "Make your own stuffed burgers" on a package of three plastic gizmos.  It was less than a cup of coffee at my local coffee haunt, so how could I refuse.  So last night was the night to try out this newest item. David and his friend, Bebe got out the burgers that I purchased in bulk as if I was having a party of 12 and started the mad assembly.  My son knows my tastes and asked: "mom, do you want Swiss?". Absolutely, I want a delicious medium burger cooked with the Swiss cheese pooling in the middle of the burger.  Cooked over charcoal on my grill that must be at least 20 years old gave it that taste that keeps me from ever becoming a true vegetarian.  Sure, I will make veggie burgers and eat them, but a good old juicy hamburger hits the spot.

Weekends are also an excuse to eat fun foods that I've not had in quite some time.  Tater tots!! Yes, we had tater tots with our burgers.  Being that I also try and keep a healthy lifestyle albeit with burgers and tots, I did make one of my favorite Greek bean salads.  It was one of those days where I could not decide to use cannellini or Lima beans.  After much deliberation, I decided to use both!  I prefer the little tiny green Lima beans as opposed to the larger ones.  I rarely use measurements, and apparently one can be a successful food channel chef with just saying "a bit of this" and "oh about a handful of...." when giving a demo.

Here are the ingredients...... just incorporate all of it until it tastes just perfect to you.

I used canned beans just for the quick preparation. Cannellini and Lima beans (drained and rinsed)
One small onion sliced thinly so one can pick them out if they don't want to eat them (I do that sometimes)
juice of one lemon
feta cheese cut into chunks
lemon pepper
red bell pepper
Kalamata olives diced
1 can of hearts of palm (my eldest son doesn't like them anymore as I put them on EVERYTHING!
extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar to taste
fresh lemon thyme and parsley
1 clove crushed garlic

This can be made way in advance to have all of the flavors blend.  You can really go heavy on the dressing then drain the salad before serving it in a bowl of salad greens.  That way, all of the beans have the great Greek dressing infused within. The photo shows the cheese and greens ready to be topped with marinated beans!  The only thing needed is nice crunchy Greek bread.

Luckily, I made enough for an army (Is there any other way to cook?) so I have enough for lunch tomorrow at school.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Let me be the first to say that as a native Atlantan, I can't stand the summer heat. Why or why did my grandparents, 3 from the Mediterranean, not settle near the ocean? Sure it gets hot there, but that salt air, ocean sound, and breeze make up for the heat.  The heat zaps the energy right out of me.  This summer, I'm jumping up and down from all of the rain we have been having.  It will certainly save on my water bill too as I have new sod in part of my yard.

With the plentiful rain, the herbs on my deck are growing like crazy!

I am growing:

Baby Basil
Lemon Thyme

I've had great success with lemon thyme and rosemary over the years. Many plants have lasted a few years at least.  I decided to start anew with new plants this year.  Lemon thyme is great on just about anything.  I put some in my tuna salad yesterday.  I have not made it in a long time, and it was delicious.  I treat tuna like I would a fish fillet.  I have to have tons of lemon on my fish. Lemon juice and lemon thyme are showcased in my tuna salad.  Instead of sweet pickles, I put chopped Kalamata or Spanish olives.  

I also have 4 or 5 strawberry plants that have given me only one or two strawberries.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the birds I hear singing in the morning are singing praises for those berries.  I'm growing a few pepper plants too.  I've never grown peppers, so I had to be sure to get the mild ones (much to the chagrin of my sons I'm sure).  I've not tried the peppers yet, but I'm thrilled that they have produced peppers!  

I'm thinking that next year, I will have an even bigger container garden on my deck.  I can visualize now the abundance of little grape tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies that are suited container gardening. My Papas Jimmy and Bill, brother Johnny, and Myrtle (my former mother in law who was like a mom to me) would be so proud if they could see it!  Now, I'm going to have to dig up (pardon the pun) my container gardening books and see what will be a success on my deck.  

Summer menu is totally based on fresh fruits and veggies from the garden. If there is a vegetable stand at a house, I will stop and purchase whatever vegetables they are selling.

Tomatoes are my absolute favorite to purchase along the roadside.  Time to check online for when people start selling at our local Farmer's Market.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Food Festivals

I search the newspapers looking for food festivals in my area.  It's a great way to try out new restaurants that are popping up all over the county.  I went to one this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised.  So many choices of what to eat.

Being from the south, the bar-b-que booth line was the longest in the tent.  So, that may sound a bit stereotypical, but they brought their smoker, wood, ribs, sausage, and chicken. Foods smoking on the open fire would even make the vegetarians ready to try some southern ribs that day.

Other popular lines were the ice cream line, Hawaiian ice line, and the deep fried brownie line.... whoa!! What? Deep fried brownie? That caught my attention very quickly.  I watched the man cut the huge pan of brownies into perfect 2 x 2 squares (or were they 3 x 3), dip them in a thick batter, drop them in the fryer and wait.  At just the perfect hint of golden deliciousness, he took them out of the fryer and let them drain on a metal rack.  After an eternity of waiting, they were then sprinkled with powdered sugar and then drizzled with caramel or fudge sauce.  Guess what I did?  I refrained from eating one!  Seriously, I knew that something this sinfully delicious was best shared in the company of others.  Since I attended the event alone, I decided to opt for the healthy food... well somewhat healthy food, and save the brownie for another time.
The vendors were having so much fun at the event!

I heard laughter and Spanish being spoken at the booth of a new Mexican restaurant opening up the street from where I live.  There was mama wearing an apron in the "kitchen" cooking, and her relatives frying the strips of beef, taking orders, and chatting with the crowd.  How could I not order something from these people who were having so much fun? I ordered a flauta.  I'm not sure if I had ever had one before, but I certainly know  what they are now.  I satisfied the deep fried (albeit not a brownie) desire of the day.  It was filled with chicken, and covered with a delicious cream salsa with just a hint of heat, fresh cilantro, and crumbly cheese.  It was the best $1.50 lunch I've ever had.  It was so good that I went back to the booth and told them I loved it!  They smiled and said: "Oh, you need to come to the restaurant..they are even better there. More to a serving, plus chips and sides too." I can't wait for the restaurant near my house to open! I will be there....  But in the meantime, my slogan is: "Will drive for food"!
I walked around and spoke to a few vendors, saw a few students that I knew from school, and watched other events.

I stopped to take a look at the puppet show.  It wasn't the typical puppet show of late where they use hand puppets, but the old fashioned stringed puppets.  The puppeteer was amazing.  One little skit was about a clown learning how to dance.  Here I am in my fifties, and I find myself thinking: "come on clown, you can do it"!  I was cheering inside for the little clown.  It was simply amazing.  I will continue to go to food events for the food, but I will also look for the little hidden gems like the puppet shows.  It truly returned me back to my childhood when I received my string puppet as a gift from my parents.  I still have that little string puppet, but have never learned how to bring him to life.
My little friend the clown taking a bow.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Everything for the kitchen

Some people dream of having a huge closet,  wall size big screen television, or a nice swimming pool.  I dream of having a fabulous kitchen! My kitchen is not a tiny kitchen nor a huge one.  If there is a kitchen gadget, I want to own it!  How wonderful would it be to reformat my formal dining room into a huge kitchen/ library (to house my hundreds of cookbooks, chef bios, and food travel stories).  Yes, I can envision it now: wall to wall shelves to hold my books, a built in butler's pantry for all of my cooking paraphernalia  a giant glass case to hold all of my specialty dishes, and a small table with comfy chairs to enjoy a meal with a friend or two. I doubt that there are very many small houses with a giant kitchen taking up half of the space.

I'm always dreaming about "my kitchen" and I get a lot of ideas from visiting friends, stores, and looking at magazines.  I have discovered many things I would like to add to my kitchen collection.  I met with a group of women to have an art escape day. We had so much fun.  I met up with old friends, and made some new ones too.   I made vegetarian chili for the event for those of us on a "I would never eat an animal" diet, and my friend, Edvique "made" chili using the exact recipe as a local restaurant!  Yes, she knows the owner by name, as they have catered many of her "home cooking" events!  Her hospitality, kindness, and huge heart are what make her great! Her laughing about the fast food chili recipe and the catering are what make her so much fun!  She had handmade bowls from Colombia that are especially made to be placed in hot ovens, etc... They were beautiful!  I must try and find a set here in the U.S.  I made vegetarian chili which was a big hit for the vegetarian crowd.  I don't always measure ingredients when making chili, which doesn't help when writing a food blog, but I can at least tell the ingredients.

The long version would be to soak 5 different kinds of beans overnight, and cook the next day.  The quick version is to use canned beans.  I like black, pink, pinto, great northern and lima (yes, you read correctly)  beans. In a large frying pan, sautee 1 very large sweet onion, 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, and two cloves of garlic. I cut them all in a large dice.  When those are tender, I put them in a crock pot with the beans (rinsed and drained), 2 cups chopped tomatoes, and 2 cups of fresh corn,  approximately 1/4 cup of chili powder, 2 tablespoons of cumin (more or less to your liking), 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste.  Add one large can tomato sauce and water to thin out the mixture.  More water can be added as cooking time progresses.  Everything is already cooked but the onions and peppers.  I just like to let it cook all day so that I can enjoy the delicious aroma!  When serving the chili, I always add chopped fresh cilantro (I love it!), grated cheddar cheese, and a spoonful of sour cream.  I pass the hot sauce and sliced jalapeno peppers for those that like a spicier chili.  The great thing about vegetarian chili is that you can add whatever vegetables you have at hand. My chili is never the same way twice. So, next time I make chili, I hope to have some artistic bowls (it's the artist in me), if not from Colombis, from somewhere else. While thinking about the warmth of chili, it reminded me that I would like a fireplace on one wall of my "dream kitchen"!  Stay warm this winter!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's a New Year!

It's a new year with more fun food adventures for me!  I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but I will try to post more on my blog.

January 1st in the U.S. is a day for eating certain foods and watching football.  Through friends from other countries, and different parts of the U.S., I'm learning many new traditions.  I think my favorite is from my friend from Colombia who will carry a suitcase around the street to signify more travel.  Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but I HAVE to have certain things to eat on January 1st.  It was well after midnight and I was reading a book.  I had the sudden thought about the suitcase! I looked in my closet, picked up my suitcase and put it back... ok, so perhaps I'll just take a few short trips.

In the south it is customary to eat greens (spinach, kale, collard, or turnip) for money in the new year.  Black eyed peas are eaten for luck.  Lucky for me, I really like these foods.  It has been a cold and rainy day, so I thought I would make some soup incorporating the ingredients.  I usually don't measure ingredients for soup, but I can give a rough estimate of everything!  I cheated and used canned black eye peas....

1 can (gasp) 15 oz black eye peas -unseasoned
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp lemon pepper (I put this in just about everything)
1/2 cup carrot slices
3 stalks celery
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 of a large bag of Kale (probably 6 cups of the leaves)
water (or vegetable/chicken broth) to cover
tabasco sauce to taste

Simmer the sweet potatoes until tender (so much easier to peel after they are cooked). You can also microwave, or bake them. Set aside, peel, and add just before adding the kale.

In a large pot (I love my Le Creuset with the heavy lid), sautee the onion, celery, carrots until onions and celery are tender.  Add tomatoes, broth, spices and simmer until the carrots are tender.  Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and add to pot.  Add the kale, reduce heat to low and cook until the kale is just tender.  Add more broth to desired thickness is desired.  I like it more like a stew than soup.  This soup is loaded with vitamins.  Guess what?  I (the person who used to salt pickles) didn't even put salt in the soup!  It really doesn't need any at all!  That is a huge milestone for me!!

What do you eat on January 1st?


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