Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's Wrong With Food? By an 11-year-old!!!

An 11-year-old talks about what's wrong with our food supply?  YES!  AN ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD!  From TEDxAsheville 2010, here's Birke Baehr with an inspirational and empowering talk.  Yes, it's good for you!

Well, how are you, dear adult reader, going to move forward after this talk?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guacamole Ole!

For a Greek girl, I've been told that I make a pretty good and authentic guacamole.  That comment came from friends who were born in a Spanish speaking country.  That is quite a compliment!  Honored and blushing.

This is what I do for my guacamole.  First, I make sure that I have time to prepare it a few hours ahead.  I usually make it the night before.  This gives the garlic time enough to mellow and have a flavor party with the other ingredients.  Don't expect to get the same flavor intensity if you don't give this recipe time to do its thing.

Despina's Guacamole Ole
2 Haas avocados*, cut in half, pit removed and meat scooped into a bowl
juice of 1/2 a lime
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (no big chunks)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
generous pinch of salt
1/4 cup finely diced fresh tomatoes

Mash the avocados with a fork so that you have some chunks still left. Mix in the lime juice then the remaining ingredients. Stir in the salt and taste. Make sure that there is enough salt or the guacamole will not taste as it should. The salt really does punctuate the other flavors.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator overnight or for several hours. If you miss this step, the garlic will not mellow out and the flavors of all the ingredients will not have time to marry.

I serve with a side of sour cream and one of salsa (your favorite store-bought will do). I do like Tostitos organic yellow corn and blue corn tortilla chips with this. I really think that these chips are exceptional!

How do I pick the perfect avocado?  Well, you can't pick it--it's already picked--but you can identify a ripe one.  Here's how I do it.  Touch the avocado, gently applying pressure with your fingertips.  If it gives a little and doesn't have too many dark marks on the skin, thats the one!  If it gives too easily, it's over the hill.  If there are a lot of dark marks or blemishes, they correspond with fibrous dark places on the fruit (inside) which appear as the avocado ripens.

*if the avocados are smaller than usual, use three

Friday, November 23, 2012

On the Wings of a Chicken

Eat just about any new or unusual meat.  Asked, "What does it taste like," your response is likely going to be...yup, CHICKEN.

What does everyone eat?  CHICKEN.

What makes an easy, delicious and inexpensive meal?  CHICKEN.

What would you say (think about it) is the most used part of the chicken?  CHICKEN BREAST.

With most people's kitchens boasting at least one recipe which calls for "boneless, skinless chicken breasts", it's no mystery then, is it, that one of the most delicious, versatile and inexpensive chicken parts is the chicken wing.  After all, when the processing of all those deboned and skinned breasts occurs, what have we an abundance of?  CHICKEN WINGS!

Songs celebrate flying on the wings of an eagle.  In my kitchen, I soar on the wings of a chicken! This is what I do with chicken wings.  I have a technique for helping them cook evenly and for helping them to come out crisp.

24-36 chicken wings

Cut the skin in the joints to help absorption of seasonings and to speed up cooking in these hard to get through areas.  Do not cut all the way through--just through the skin.  This little step really will aid in even cooking and in insuring that this area is crisp and well seasoned.

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 T. Texas Pete Hot Sauce

  • Toss the wings in this mix and allow to sit (covered) at room temperature for 45-60 minutes.
  • Remove wings and place on a rack in a baking pan.  It is essential to have them on a rack, so that the heat will circulate over all parts of the wings.
  • Bake at 450F for 35-45 minutes. You're looking for the meat around the joints to be fully cooked and the skin to be browned and crispy.
  • From this point, depending on which recipe you are preparing, drop the cooked wings into a big bowl and pour the sauce over the wings. 
  • Toss well, place wings back on racks in baking pan and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes to 15 minutes.  Remove the wings, place back in the mixing bowl and toss again with the same sauce.

Buffalo-Style Hot Wings 
1 cup Texas Pete Buffalo Style Chicken Wing Barbecue Sauce

Serve at once with celery sticks, green onions and your favourite blue cheese salad dressing.  Mmmmmm...hot and good and easy.

Honey-Chipotle Hot Wings
2 T. barbecue sauce (any regular red barbecue sauce that you buy at your favourite grocery store)
4 T. chipotle pepper sauce (I use San Marcos)
8 T. honey
1 T. chopped cilantro to sprinkle on the wings just before serving
Serve with green onions--no blue cheese with these.
UPDATE: I've done a little research.  It seems that the Texas Pete folks no longer make the wing barbeque sauce, instead, they now how offer 3 types of wing sauce.  I am now using their Buffalo Style Chicken Wing Sauce to replace the non-existent Buffalo Style Chicken Wing Barbeque Sauce.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Pastiche--a hodgepodge, a bit of this and a bit of that.

Pastitsio--the Greek version of lasagna made with fat tubular noodles, bechamel and something similar to a robust Bolognese meat sauce.  Pastitio is the Greek word for pulling together a bit of this and a bit of that and spending most of the day in the kitchen making love for the people who are most important to you--close friends and family.  This is one of my favorite recipes, but I didn't realize that it was...until yesterday morning.

I was having breakfast with international speaker & speaker coach, Deb Sofield, and as we were saying our goodbyes, she asked me for my favorite recipe.  Yesterday, I couldn't tell Deb what it was.  Today, after thinking on this all night, I can share the recipe with Deb and with all of you.  My favorite recipe, although I don't cook it often, is Pastitsio.  So, if it's my favorite, why not cook it often?  Read on...

I don't know who invented this Greek word, but I do know that whoever invented this dish should be canonized! This is one of those comfort foods that I grew up with in Greece. Now it reminds me of the Italian Bolognese sauce and I realize that, here, in the U.S. it would be called a casserole...so its not quite the foreign food that I once thought it to be.

Here's my version. Its easy to prepare, once you've made the sauces, so my recommendation is to make twice as much meat sauce, use one batch and freeze the other half. This will make it easier to prepare next time. Sometimes, I just have time to prepare the sauce. I cook up two batches and freeze. When I have time to do the rest, I pull out one batch and get to cooking. Life is much easier this way. Not a bad thing.  
There are three layers of flavor and texture here.
1) Spicy (not hot) meat sauce to chew on. Lots of flavour elements here. The mouth says, ooooooooohh
2) Creamy and cheese-filled white sauce. Makes your mouth say, aaaaaaaaah
3) Al dente pasta, perked up with Parmesan cheese and grated nutmeg--chewy but brilliantly alive! You mouth says, ahaaa!

Meat Sauce:
2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 T. oregano
1 stick cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
salt & pepper
1 T. chopped Italian parsley, fresh
cup red wine
1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes with juice. Crush tomatoes by hand or chop.
2 lbs ground beef
cup olive oil

Heat cup olive oil and saute onion and garlic over low heat. When onion is transparent and soft, remove everything with a slotted spoon. Add rest of oil, turn up heat to med-high and brown the ground beef. When completely browned, add all other seasonings and the onion-garlic mixture. Stir well and enjoy all the aromas. Pour in wine and stir. Add tomatoes and juice, stir well and add enough hot tap water to bring liquid level to 1 over the meat mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with lid. Allow to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat sauce is now a thick but still juicy mix; this may take one hour or maybe a little more. Set aside.

1 lbs ziti or penne pasta, cooked al-dente and drained. Can be hot cold.
2 cups grated parmesan or romano cheese OR mix of both
2 tspns. grated nutmeg

Bechamel Sauce:
6 T. butter (not margarine--butter)
10 T. all purpose flour
8 cups hot milk
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cups grated parmesan, romano or mix of both
salt and pepper

This is actually a simple white sauce and one of the French mother sauces. The Italians have a name for it too--Balsamella.  When you add the nutmeg and cheese, it becomes a dreamy, creamy calorie-laden layer of goodness for our dish.  Actually, once the cheese is added, the name changes and it's called a Mornay sauce, but I supposed that the Greeks and Italians couldn't be bothered changing the name of the sauce after all that cooking, so they still call it Bechamel.

You'll be working with medium heat here, but turn it up or down as needed, making sure never to leave the pot unattended. You are committed to this portion of the recipe, until it is done! You'll need a heavy pot (non-stick, if available), a wooden spoon and a good whisk.

Heat the butter until it begins to foam, add the flour and stir with wooden spoon. Continue to stir until this mixture has a golden color. Slowly pour in about 1/3 of the milk, now using a whisk to combine. Once milk has been incorporated, add the other two thirds, whisking away madly. Allow this to cook and thicken, then mix in the beaten eggs. Move the pot off the heat while you work to incorporate into the flour mixture. Mix in the cheese and nutmeg and place back on low heat, continuing to stir until the sauce is heated through. This will be a thick mixture. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to suit you. Cover and set aside. You may want to wait until the sauce has cooled for about 15 minutes before beginning assembly.

You'll need a very large baking dish or two large casserole dishes. Oil, grease or butter the pans.
Mix the pasta with nutmeg and cheese. Pour in 1/3 of Bechamel sauce and mix to coat. This will keep pasta connected when you slice to serve the pastitsio. Now add 2/3 of the meat sauce and mix roughly. Pour half the pasta mix into the baking dish/es, top with remaining meat sauce and pour the rest of the pasta mix over that. Press down with a spoon and cover completely with remainder of the Bechamel.

Now, as if there were not enough calories jam-packed into this dish already, lets find half a stick of butter and just cut off bits to dot the surface of the Bechamel with. The butter will melt and give the top of the dish a lovely golden-brown color.

Place the whole thing into a 375F pre-heated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven. You want to see a golden-brown color on top this will be your sign that the dish is ready.
Remove from oven and set aside for 20 minutes. The dish has to cool long enough for the sauces to set a little, before serving. Plus, this gives you just enough time to prepare a lovely vinegary salad to balance out the creamy rich Pastitsio. Yin and Yang at work!

This is a great dish to serve hot, cold, room temperature, freeze or to take to a picnic. How versatile, and oh, so tasty!

CAUTION:  Preparation and consumption of this dish may cause widening of the hips.  Consume at your own risk.

Hey, wait a minute:  I didn't tell you that Deb is also a great cook.  She has a food blog called Country Cookin' Makes You Good Lookin' and this is one of my favorite recipes of Deb's for Bread Pudding.  I recommend you share it only with your favorite people.

This is Deb with one of her favorite people, her mom.

If you'd like to stay in touch with Deb, or to learn more about her speaking and coaching work, you can connect with her on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/DebSofieldSpeechCoach?fref=ts

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Salad Rules!

No, I'm not going to give you the top ten list of salad-making.  I'm here to share with you why a salad rules--why it should be at the top of your cullinary creations toolkit.  It's great for vegans, vegeterians and meat-eaters, it works with low-carb and high-carb diets, it's easy, it's portable, it's diverse and it can be a nutritional powerhouse.  For me, these reasons and many others mean that the SALAD RULES!

Adding Protein:  You already do this in a restaurant (Caesar salad with salmon or shrimp), so why not do it at home?  Prepare your salad, toss it and set it aside.  For each person, use one salmon steak or 8-10 large shrimp.  Heat a heavy pan, pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sprinkle your salmon or shrimp with a little salt and pepper and place into the pan, skin side down for the salmon.  Now, wait, wait...wait.  Depending on how hot your pan is, you'll wait about 3-5 minutes before turning.  Wait another 3-5 minutes, remove from the pan and place in a platter.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice over everything and sprinkle with parsley, if you have it.  Serve beside the salad and allow everyone to serve themselves.  Instead of croutons, serve toasted and buttered baguette slices on the side.

I'm a Vegetarian:  Okay, no problem.  Boil one beautiful and perfect egg, allow it to cool, peel and cut into quarters.  Voila!  If that's too much trouble, go with a cup-full of black beans or chick peas.  Rinse, drain and add to your salad bowl.  Toasted almonds and cashews add protein too, so don't forget about them.  If you're feeling like something meatier (yes, the pun is intentional), how about a few thick slices of eggplant dipped in egg wahs and coated with crushed almonds?  Fry them in a little bit of oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and serve immediately on top of any luscious bed of salad greens. I know, your heart is racing now.  Very sexy salad work going on here!

Go, ahead, use your hands to eat a salad:  For those who are in a bit of hurry, why not consider turning your salad into a sandwich.  Magic?  No, just a little planning and you've got yourself a goodness-filled salad in a wrap.  Just save the dressing and use it as a dip.  You can use your favorite salad or slice up lettuce and cucumbers, mix in a few diced tomatoes, chopped green onions, chopped boiled eggs, grated carrots, shaved parmesan cheese or blue cheese crumbles, avocado and radish slices and grated zucchini and, golly-gee, that's an amazing meal on the run!!!  Remember to pack your dressing and that's one sandwich that your lunch buddies will be lusting after for a long time.

I've always enjoyed toasting a couple of French bread slices and using them to sandwich a good Greek salad.  Same ingredients--different way of serving and eating.

Variety IS the spice of life:  Some of my favorites are lentil salad with capers and feta cheese, potato and green bean salad, shrimp and lima bean salad...etc., etc., etc.

Toldjaso, the SALAD RULES!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let Sleeping Girls Lie

It's right around the corner--Summer. It's that time of the year when there are children around--grandchildren, your own kids or the neighbors'. Always something to be happy about, always a little splashing and running and screaming.

Our granddaughters, Corley (9) and Olivia (5), visit about once a week. Typically drawing and swimming and searching for hidden treasures in the yard is involved.

It's not easy to get them to eat breakfast. Often, we have bananas and strawberries followed by grits and scrambled eggs. It's not typical, but nice. The only way these girls will ususally eat in the morning is if I offer them fruit, but even then there's always a bit left over. What I've been doing lately is combining small diced pieces of strawberries and bananas.

2 ripe banannas (peeled and diced)
6-8 large strawberries (tops cut off and berries diced)

Toss in a pretty bowl and place on the table.  Offer a serving spoon and smaller bowls.  Kids love to help themselves. That's it! Delicious, healthy and a breeze to prepare.