Monday, July 28, 2008

Eating As the Mediterraneans Do

It seems like the Mediterranean Diet is popping up everywhere. It is not really a gimmick diet in the way of the low-carb craze or these crazy diets your see mentioned on those Weight Watchers commercials. It's not really even a diet in the way of drastically changing what you eat to lose weight. It IS, however, a diet in the way of "the diet" of a certain people. The folks who live around the Mediterranean Sea have been living and eating the way they do for a long time. The way any certain number of people eat according to their culture and locality is defined as one's diet. That is what the Mediterranean Diet is all about... Look at the way people of the Mediterranean countries eat: I've seen many blogs and even videos on YouTube speaking of the importance of eating the way they do. Lots of pasta, lots of beans, fruits and veggies, and less meat than the average American is used to eating. There are supposedly studies that show that the people who live in Mediterranean countries have better heart health and live the longest.
I was definitely raised the way many were by way of dinner containing a meat, a starch, and a veggie. We always had meat. Always... even on our pasta. We usually had potatoes or bread, and then there were the veggies, which, especially as children, we ate the least of.

Since becoming an adult and more aware of treating my body better, making better food choices, and eating cheaper, I've began the transition to what I've realized is classified as the "Mediterranean Diet." I began eating pasta for lunch because it was cheaper and easier than making myself something else. (Deli-meat is surprisingly expensive unless you get the overly processed chunks of mystery meat.) Top Ramen doesn't count as pasta by the way, as it's loaded with salt and fat and other artificial things I've been trying to stay away from. I mentioned some videos by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman a while back, talking about the importance of eating "true" food (foods on the perimeter of the grocery store), and not eating meat from wasteful (and sometimes cruel) factory farms.
Pasta and beans are some of the cheapest things you can get for your money, make them stretch the farthest, and give you the most nutrition-bang for your buck. I've began eating lentils, chickpeas, and brown rice almost daily. I'm also fond of pasta (I prefer whole-wheat pasta, but budget doesn't always allow), and I try to throw in whatever veggies I have. One thing I've discovered is legumes and pasta together. I've discovered that hummus is a wonderful topping/sauce for pasta. I've experimented with lima beans and pasta, green beans and pasta, and chickpeas and pasta.
My favorite pasta/bean combo so far is this one I make with chickpeas, zucchini, and of course pasta. The silky texture of the zucchini and the firm texture of the chickpeas is just delicious. I'm submitting this to Lore over at Culinarty for her monthly Original Recipes Roundup... check it out.

Mediterranean Pasta Toss
print recipe only here

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch thick half-moons
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can whole tomatoes (about 6-8 tomatoes)
  • 1 cup farfalle pasta, cooked (2 oz uncooked)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • fresh basil, for garnish
Boil water. Cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Saute garlic until fragrant or about a minute. Toss in zucchini, cook until the undersides begin to caramelize, then toss to coat with olive oil/garlic. Add chickpeas and oregano, then reduce heat to medium. With your hand, crush tomatoes into pan. Add cooked pasta and toss for another minute to mix. Sprinkle with torn basil and cracked pepper.
Serve hot as a meal side or cold as a pasta salad.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Christmas in July... Almost Forgot

I've noticed a trend. Well, it's nothing new, so not a trend in all technicality. Christmas in July? Shop now and save later (sanity-wise and financially speaking). Of course, department stores and wally-world knock-offs promote Christmas-in-July sales. Bars are having Christmas-in-July nights, featuring winter drinks and beer. I've even seen some bloggers, food and non-food alike posting about their favorite Christmas memories, recipes, etc. all centered around Christmas-in-July. Well... I want in. July is almost over, and I totally didn't take advantage of the Christmas-in-July antics!
Luckily, I have some awesome Christmas memories and a recipe I'd still love to share, right before the month of July passes away and melts into the thick August heat (which is the month of my birthday! Daniel, you better make it good! ;)
This last Christmas was Daniel and my first Christmas together (well, as a married couple) Everybody say "Aw!" I know. We were so lovey-dovey it was sickening. I wanted everything to be perfect. In my own family, growing up, we made Christmas cookies every year and Mom would make powdered sugar frosting and we'd frost until we were sick (sick of sugary frosting, not decorating) She'd set us up at a card-table with newpaper spread out below and put out all the sprinkles and different colored frostings in bowls. Oh, the things we would do with all those frostings. I was always an artistic little kid, I used to draw eyes and buttons and squiggly sleeves for gingerbread men that would make my family Oo and Ah.
That was just practice! Now I had my own home and my own kitchen and my own family to make cookies with!
I used my mother's old stand-by recipe. She had this old Betty Crocker book called the Cooky Book. I used to ask her to "read" it and I'd ogle at the pictures for at least an hour (which is a long time for a 6 year old!)
She gave me the recipe when I moved out, but I was never much of a cook, and, before I got married, she still held the annual cookie-decorating party with the grandkids (my nieces/nephews) that I would do my best not to miss. But this year was different. Without further ado:

Ethel's Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup shortening (part butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon flavoring or 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/3 cups GOLD MEDAL Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix well shortening, sugar, eggs and flavoring. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Blend flour, baking powder and salt; stir in in portions. Chill at least 1 hour. Heat oven to 400 F. Roll 1/8" thick on floured board. Cut out desired shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen.

To frost, combine 1 cup powdered sugar with milk. In a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time to sugar and stir constantly. Color as needed when desired consistency is reached. (Be careful here because you don't want soupy frosting, a little milk goes a LONG way) I also wanted brown frosting (for my reindeer) and a non-ugly brown is hard to get with the red/yellow/blue colors, so I used some cocoa... who doesn't like chocolate?

Now, being newlyweds, we often run into the "we don't have that" problem... Can you guess what we didn't have? Cookie cutters! The stars are a bit lopsided but I used a small paring knife for details and they worked out just fine! They had a VERY home-made look :) (who said that is a bad thing?) Another thing we don't have is piping bags... so I cut a hole in a zip-top bag and used it to draw the reins on the deer and the snowflakes on the round cookies.
Daniel's son was with us for the holidays this year (He's the one who dubbed me Mimi-see stocking cookie above) We were so excited to have our first family Christmas we went all out with presents for the little one... We spread them out under our inherited fake trees (thanks Mom and Dad!) We didn't even have ornaments! Daniel and I agreed to only do stockings for each other (hence ours are still up on the tree) We didn't have a lot but it was probably the best Christmas of my life so far.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Farmer's Market Veggies - Pasta Medley

Well, I promised you some dishes using those fresh veggies I got from the Farmers' Markets... and I've been procrastinating! As always...
It's not that I didn't want to post about it, but, I didn't feel I had a dish that was worthy of it own weekly entry... so, here is a medley... they are all very simple and I got to practice my food-photography with them (something we really need a better camera and lighting for!) I also got to practice some improvisation which is always fun... some dishes turned out great, like the ones below. Some dishes turned out... well.. not so great... Remember those baby Yukon Golds I bought? I tried throwing those in with some bacon, some fresh parm, and some pasta, and I think some oregano maybe? Just a little dash of herbs... Well, it just didn't make the cut.
Hopefully, as simple and easy as these dishes are, they will add up to the worthiness of one entry... they are all basically assemble, heat and eat. All serve two, which is perfect for just me (at lunchtime), or Daniel and me as there are only two of us to feed anyways!

The first one reminds me a bit of a veggie pizza without the greasy cheese...
Mushroom, Pepper and Asparagus Pasta is, as always with my "pasta tosses," great for lunch. If you use whole-wheat pasta (or even the kind you can get from Trader Joes and the like with flaxseed), the nutty-chewiness would be wonderful with the veggies.

Farmers Market Pasta Toss
print recipe only

  • 2 oz rotini pasta (about 3 or 4 handfuls)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded/de-ribbed, and julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • pinch sea salt
  • ground black pepper
Boil the water for pasta. Place pasta in boiling water and cook until just before al dente. (firmer is better - it will finish in the sauté pan later). In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, sauté for about a minute. Add bell pepper, sauté for another minute. Add mushrooms and sauté until they begin to expel their liquid. Add asparagus. Sprinkle in red pepper flakes and sauté veggies, stirring/tossing until mushrooms are golden brown.
Use a spider (a strainer with a handle) to retrieve pasta. Add pasta to sauté pan and toss. Sprinkle with sea salt. Add black as well if desired.

The second one, Lemon Pepper Asparagus with Pasta is simply pasta with some sauteed asparagus and some lemon pepper seasoning. Lemon-Pepper seasoning is one of the rare pre-mixed seasonings we will actually pay money for... Why? Because as long as you can find one with no salt in it (try Lowry's), it is a great seasoning to add to chicken, fresh zuchinni and summer squash, and all sorts of other things. I have a hard time using up whole lemons (its odd I know) so I like to keep lemon pepper on hand for the zing I may need when cooking. The lemon pepper I use also has some dried garlic in it, but I added a minced clove to this dish for an extra punch of garlic taste. I also used a mixture of butter and olive oil for this dish for added richness, but you can leave the butter out of course. I'm submitting this one to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights this week.

Lemon-Pepper Asparagus with Pasta
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  • 2-3 oz rotini pasta
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic

  • 1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning (without salt)

  • 1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed and cut into one-inch pieces
  • pinch sea salt
Boil water for pasta, cook until al dente. Meanwhile, saute garlic in olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant (about 1 minute or so). Toss in the butter and add asparagus when the butter has melted. Saute for about 1 minute, then add lemon-pepper seasoning. Saute until asparagus is coated with seasoning, then add drained pasta.
Toss with a pinch of salt until thoroughly mixed. Can be served with fresh shaved Parmesan or added black pepper.

The third recipe, more of a dinner dish in my mind, is Pasta Primavera. Pasta Primavera is a simple Italian dish made with whatever veggies are in season (Primavera means Spring), some fresh basil, herbs, and Parmesan cheese. It is a great dish that is light enough for a warm spring or summer day. It's funny too, this one, with the most ingredients, is by far the easiest to assemble.

Pasta Primavera for Two
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  • 2-3 oz angel hair pasta, cooked

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

  • 2-3 leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix

  • 1 carrot, sliced thin or julienned
  • 1/2 bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 1 tomato, cut into eighths
  • 1 handful baby spinach

  • freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • kosher salt
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, saute until fragrant. Add carrot, bell pepper, and onion. Saute one minute. Add tomato, spinach, basil, and dried herbs. Toss to coat. Add pasta, sprinkle with cheese and salt, toss to coat, then serve.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my take on a few different pasta/veggie combos... or at least liked the pictures... Until next time...Stumble Upon Toolbar
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chicken Provolone Flatbread (Sort-Of)

It's been busy with us. Over the fourth of July holiday, we decided to take a road trip to the beach. With gas prices, I was eager to find ways to save money, so I packed our lunch for the trip out and the first day. Simple sandwiches and fresh fruit, we saved money on two meals and a few snacks. After the trip, we had some leftover sliced provolone but no meat... Daniel isn't fond of cheese sandwiches so I had to figure out a way to use it up. I remembered once that he had made Chicken Provolone with slices of provolone cheese and dried Italian herbs. I already had some thawed chicken thighs on hand!

After some research I decided to try a Chicken Provolone Flatbread. Whole wheat flour (plus a little bit of white flour) and cornmeal make up the majority of the crust. Yeast is beyond me (I'm a lost-cause when it comes to yeast-breads) so I used baking powder. Provolone is slightly nutty, creamy when warm, and the wheat crust was chewy. I needed something sweet to balance the other flavors so I carmelized some onions and put a pepper under the broiler to char while I made the crust. The final product was, well, absolutely delicious in flavor, but the crust left a little be desired, it was just too thick to be considered flatbread, and because of how thick it was, the part with toppings was fine, but once you got to the edge, it was just too dry to eat. I beleive I will try cutting the recipe in half next time, or cutting the dough in half and setting it aside for another night. The recipe below is a halved recipe for the crust.

See what you think for yourself:

Chicken Provolone Flatbread with Carmelized Onions and Roasted Peppers
  • 1 1/4 cup wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup white flour
  • 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock (or water)
  • 2 boneless/skinless thighs, cooked (or 1 boneless/skinless breast, cooked)
  • 1/4 lb provolone cheese, sliced or shredded
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted (you can use jarred roasted peppers too - enough to top pizza in desired amount)
  • 1/2 onion, sliced and caramelized over low heat
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • Olive Oil
  • Black pepper
First, preheat oven to 400F. If roasting your own pepper, drizzle with olive oil and set under broiler or as close to heat source as possible. In small saute pan, place sliced onions and a few teaspoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Toss to coat with oil and stir regularly to keep from burning - the trick is to keep the heat low enough to sweat the onions and turn them a golden color. Lower the heat and add more oil to keep them moist if necessary.
Meanwhile, make your crust. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients thoroughly. Slowly add broth (or water) and mix with hands. The dough is ready when it comes away from the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle a non-stick pan with some cornmeal. Press/form dough to desired shape and thickness. Bake for 10-15 minutes.
(By now, your onions should be ready and your pepper should be soft enough to be peeled and sliced. Chop your cooked chicken into 1-inch pieces)
Remove crust from oven and drizzle with olive oil. Spread chicken pieces evenly over crust. Now, lay the cheese evenly over pizza. Sprinkle oregano over cheese. Add the final layer of caramelized onions and sliced roasted peppers. Place back into oven for another 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. For a crispier crust, slide whole flatbread off of pan (the cornmeal should help with this) and straight onto the rack of the oven.
Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and slice into eighths to serve.

Pizza we don't have to feel (too) guilty about! Yay!

Back to our vacation, we had a wonderful surprise when we got back... Ivy of Kopiaste (also a friend from GCC and Foodbuzz) awarded us with a You Make My Day Award:

Thanks Ivy! You make MY day with your delicious recipes from Cyprus and Greece!

In turn I'm awarding it to 5 other bloggers - (no rules, this is without pressure, but the guidelines state that I should send it to 5-10 bloggers that inspire me and make me happy):

Mimi of Delectable Tidbits , an old favorite and one of the bloggers that inspired me to start our own blog :)
Dork Chow shows the other sides of food, such as humor and politics.
Haley of Appogiatura , a Georgia girl who knows good food!
Sandra of Hey I Can Eat That has wonderful ideas and recipes for those with dietary restrictions and food allergies.
Kevin of Closet Cooking - he's got a tiny kitchen, just like us! I love reading his blog and drooling over his food-pics, he never runs out of ideas for good food.

Thanks to all of you for being an inspiration and fun/interesting read! You Make My Day!Stumble Upon Toolbar
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