Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chicken Souvlaki

It doesn't get much easier than this.

This was another one of our Mediterranean inspired meals. We served tzatziki with this, along with freshly made pitas, kalamata olives, and tomato wedges. Do I need to tell you we all loved this--all five of us? My pita turned out about perfectly this meal as well--nicely puffed--so we could stuff the chicken, tzatziki and the rest of the fixings inside the pita. Wonderful.

This serves 4.

Chicken Souvlaki
adapted from Food and Wine

2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t lemon juice
1 T dried oregano
1 1/3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes'
4 - 8 pita
small onion, cut into thin wedges (optional)
2 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
1/3 c Kalamata (or other black) olives, pitted and halved

In a small non-reactive bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, oregano, 1/4 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper. Toss the chicken cubes in the oil mixture and thread them onto skewers. Grill the chicken over high heat, turning once, until done, about 5 minutes in all.

To serve, put the pitas on plates. Top with onions, tomatoes, and chicken. Serve with tzatziki and olives.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Israeli Couscous and Eggplant

This recipe is wonderful. It's easy and flavorful. The only downside to it is that it is not quite substantial enough for a main course. It's a perfect side though.

Curtis and I loved it. Little I ate the Israeli couscous (which is more like orzo or acini di peppe pasta than traditional couscous) and M even tried it and decided it was pretty good. I substituted parsley for the cilantro. Cilantro would have made it even better, but parsley will do just fine in an herb pinch. For those Texans in big cities, you can find Israeli couscous at Central Market or probably Whole Foods. If you can't find it, substitute the pasta listed above.

These proportions serve just 3 as a side dish.

Israeli Couscous and Eggplant
adapted from Bon Appetit

3/4 lb unpeeled eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c Israeli couscous
1/4 t cumin*
1 T balsamic vinegar (white is preferable, but regular is just fine)
fat 1/4 t cinnamon
2 T red onion, finely chopped
3 T golden raisins
3 T fresh cilantro (or parsley, if need be), chopped

Place eggplant cubes on rimmed baking sheet coated with cooking spray or silpat liner. Drizzle with 1 1/2 T olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast in preheated 450 degree oven until tender, turning occasionally, 30 - 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the couscous in boiling salted water until just tender, about 8 minutes (or according to pkg directions). Drain. Rinse under cold water to cool, drain again, and place in medium bowl. In a small bowl, combine cumin, vinegar, cinnamon, and 1 T olive oil. Whisk to blend and season with salt and pepper. Mix in onion. Add raisins, cilantro, eggplant cubes, and dressing to couscous. Toss to coat.

*If you prefer, you can use 1/2 t whole cumin seeds. To use those, toast them in a small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darkened, about 4 minutes. Grind in spice mill and then proceed with adding vinegar, cinnamon, olive oil according to above directions. I took the fast route and just used ground cumin.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blueberry Crumb Cake

In Virginia, I ate incredible blueberries from both my aunt's blueberry bushes and the farmer's market. It made me sad about the lack of flavorful, fresh blueberries I was finding in my farmer's market in Texas. Low and behold, within a week, I discovered Central Market had Texas grown blueberries. I bought a pint, a little scared to hope for too much. They were incredible!! Two days later, I was back, buying two more pints and Curtis was dreaming of a blueberry crumb cake for breakfast.

I discovered just the recipe to try--Dorie Greenspan came through for me again! The cake was wonderful. Hopefully, the store will have Texas blueberries again so I can make this again this summer. I am also looking forward to making it again in the winter with frozen blueberries when I need a reminder of summer and sunshine. Do I need to say how we all loved it? Well, mostly. M only wanted to eat the streusel off the top, but that suited me fine. The streusel was my least favorite part.

This makes approximately 8 servings, depending on how big the pieces are.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the streusel:
5 T butter, at room temperature
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 c pecans, chopped (optional)

For the cake:
1 pint (2 c) blueberries (fresh or frozen, unthawed)
2 c plus 2 t flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
2/3 c sugar
1/2 lemon, grated zest only
6 T butter, at room temperature
2 lg eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 c buttermilk

For the streusel: Put butter, sugar, light brown sugar, flour, and salt in the food processor. Pulse until mixtures forms clumps and holds together when pressed. Stir in nuts, if using. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the cake: Toss the blueberries with 2 t flour (this prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake). Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 c flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a mixing bowl, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add butter, and beat in an electric mixture at medium speed until mixture is light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Gently stir in berries with a rubber spatula. Put the cake in a buttered 9" diameter springform pan or an 8" square pan. Top with streusel mixture, breaking up mixture into pieces as you scatter the top. Press them down slightly into the batter. Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 45 - 50 minutes for a 9" round pan or 55 - 65 minutes for an 8" square pan, or until top is golden and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool, removing the sides (if using a springform pan).

Friday, July 23, 2010


As you've been able to tell by now, I am on a Mediterranean, Greek, in particular, kick this summer. My discovery of how easy it is to make pita bread and remembering how easy it is to use eggplant that's accumulated by making baba ganoush, has made me search for other Greek recipes. This week's new addition was Tzatziki.

I don't like cucumbers. Not a bit. Maybe if they're pickled just right, but that is the only way. So far this summer, I've been able to use all of our CSA cucumbers by feeding them to M, J, and Curtis. They're slowing down on their cucumber consumption though, so I needed to find another way to use my remaining pound of cucs before I got my new box today.

Thus tzatziki. I whipped up a batch of pita, grilled some chicken souvlaki (recipe coming), and made tzatziki to accompany it (along with diced tomatoes, and roasted mild chile peppers). Tzatziki is basically pretty easy to make, the hardest part is slicing the cucumbers. The rest of the process pretty much involves waiting and not much else.

Unbelievably, I actually liked tzatziki. I put it on my chicken souvlaki pita and enjoyed the tartness of the lemon and yogurt and freshness of the dill. I did my best to totally ignore the cucumbers (although I did like the slight crunch they provided).

Follow this recipe closely, it's not difficult but in order to avoid runny tzatziki you need let the salt pull the water out of the cucumbers and the liquid drain out of the yogurt. Do those steps and you will have wonderful tzatziki.

This recipe makes 2 cups.

adapted slightly from Serious Eats

1 lb cucumbers, ends removed and sliced lengthwise
2 c plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large handful of dill, minced (about 1/4 - 1/3 c)
juice of 1 lemon

Scoop out cucumber seeds with a spoon. Slice each half lengthwise to have 1/2" wide strips (about 4 - 8 long strips per cucumber depending on cucumbers thickness. If they are young, small cucumbers, you probably can skip this step). Thinly slice the cucumber strips, not paper thin, but less than 1/4" thick. Lay out a dish towel or paper towels on the counter. Spread out the cucumbers in an even layer on the towel. Sprinkle generously with salt. If the cucumbers don't look glossy and moist after a few minutes, sprinkle more salt on them. Let them salt for a half hour. Pat the cucumbers dry with a dish towel.

Meanwhile, line a fine sieve with cheesecloth, a paper towel, or a coffee filter. Put the yogurt in the lined sieve and let set for 15 minutes to allow the excess moisture to seep out. Discard excess moisture.

Mix together, yogurt, cucumbers, dill, lemon, and garlic. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a little more salt, if necessary. It is preferable for this to be refrigerated for a few hours before serving to let flavors marry, but it is just fine if eaten immediately.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crockpot Coq au Vin

Bastille Day was on July 14th. I know all you Francophiles were aware of that, but for the rest of you, Bastille Day (France's Independence Day) has come and gone. You missed a perfectly good excuse to make French food.

I didn't miss Bastille Day. It almost snuck up on me, being so close to the return from our 3000 mile road trip, but I managed to celebrate it properly. Life's seemed a little crazy upon our turn thanks, in part to the addition of a puppy to our life, so I looked for a French recipe I could handle. I left Julia Child in the cabinet and turned to the internet instead.

There I found this: Coq au Vin. In a crockpot no less!! I decided that was my recipe for Bastille Day, along with the Fried Chile Peppers (which are supposedly a French recipe).

It turned out quite well and I will make it again. My kids weren't the best eaters that night, so I don't feel like I had a fair representation of their thoughts of it. They ate it but it didn't cause J to tell me "It's delicious!" or M to respond with "This has good flavor, Mommy." I served it over couscous (mostly because I realized very last minute that I had no starch for our meal).

Slow Cooker Coq au Vin
from the Knoxville (TN) Examiner (Newspaper)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

4 T butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 c (or less) water or chicken broth

6 T white wine

1 T flour

salt and pepper to taste

1 c tomatoes, diced

1 T fresh thyme (or 1 t. dried)

1 lb mushrooms, sliced

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and sear on each side until lightly browned, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside. Add garlic and onions to pan and cook until just softened. Add white wine to onions and garlic and stir to release chicken bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. In the slow cooker, whisk together water (or broth), flour, salt, and pepper until well blended. Stir onion and garlic mixture (with all the pan juices). Add tomatoes, thyme, and mushrooms and mix well. Lay the chicken breast (and any accumulated juices in dish) on top of the mixture. Cook on low for 3 -4 hours or high for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until chicken is cooked through. To reduce the sauce before serving, remove the lid 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fried Chili Peppers

Every summer we get loads and loads of peppers from our CSA. The bell peppers are easy to use. The chile peppers I struggle with. They're so beautiful, I lug them all home, sort them by size (and spiciness) and put them in the crisper drawer. They accumulate there until I am forced to through out a bag of rotten chiles. It's rather sad.

This year, I am doing better for a couple of reasons. 1) I am roasting chiles a lot and adding them to hamburgers, pizzas, and anything else I can think of that they might be good one. 2) This recipe.

Granted, it's still a little bit of a game of roulette when I use the chiles. Curtis and I do the "you taste it to see if it's hot before I do" game. Sometimes it works out great for us. Other times we run into some spicy chiles. The ones we used the first time we made this were spicy. However they were so incredibly good we kept eating them even though our mouths were so hot the back of our throats burned. We kept eating them anyway. Chiles this way are just that good. Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette blog fame who also writes for Bon Appetit) suggested using shishito peppers or Padron chiles (or long, skinny, green chiles in general). I just picked a couple skinny chiles from my spicy chile bag and it worked fine.

This makes 4 servings if use 8 oz of chiles. I just used 4 chiles and adjusted the seasonings a little.

Fried Chile Peppers
adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

1/4 c vegetable oil
8 oz chiles (shishito or Padron are recommended, any long, skinny, not terrible spicy chile will do), whole
1/4 t coarse sea salt plus additional for serving
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 t fresh lemon juice

Heat heavy large skillet over high heat. Add vegetable oil and swirl coat. Heat until oil is very hot (but not smoking). Add the whole chiles and 1/4 t salt. Stir constantly until chiles are blistered over half their surface, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring constantly until chiles are completely blistered. Transfer to a paper towel to briefly drain, the place in serving bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and extra sea salt. Toss to coat and serve.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tabbouleh and our Mezze Meal

As mentioned the other day, I made pita for our mezze meal. Mezze is like Spanish Tapas except in Mediterranean places like Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East (so the Eastern Med. instead of Western Med like where Spain, France, and Italy are). In addition to pita, we had hummus, caponata (again, I know, Italy--it didn't quite fit either), cherry tomatoes--a handful of which were off of my tomato plants, cucumber slices, and tabbouleh. I knew my kids wouldn't really go for the caponata or tabbouleh and from the above picture, you can see I am right (pictured above is M's plate).

I made tabbouleh, for the first time in many, many years. I kinda overdosed on tabbouleh several years ago. I also used old bulgur the last time I made it and cucumbers (if you remember, I am NOT a cucumber fan). This time I was sure to chuck my two year old bulgur (if it smells a little rancid or old, don't use it!!) and find a new recipe that omits the cucumbers. As a result, I love tabbouleh again. We've had it for a side for a couple meals since my mezze meal and it's been perfect.

This makes 4 c of tabbouleh.

adapted from The Kitchn

1 c bulgur wheat
1 1/2 c boiling water
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 large bunches (Italian, if possible) parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c mint leaves, finely chopped
1/2 large tomato, minced fine
about 1/2 c lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put bulgur wheat in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, cover, and put in the fridge for an hour to soften.

Add the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, tomato, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to the wheat. Mix well, taste and season accordingly. For best flavor, cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors marry. However, if you make this just an hour or less before you want to eat it like I did, it will taste just fine.

Alternate method: use a food processor to finely chop first onion and garlic. Remove onion and garlic and then process parsley and mint. Add to wheat along with other ingredients.

If you like cucumbers more than I do, you can add 1 cucumber that has been peeled, seeded, and minced. I don't know why you would want to do that, but I'm just letting you know that some people may think it's good.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pita Bread

The pita when it comes out of the oven.

Part of the reason I love summer produce is that it reminds me of Mediterranean eating. Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern food all use similar vegetables. We are overwhelmed with said vegetables now. Eggplants in particular delight me. Creamy baba ganoush, decadent moussake, ratatouille (I know.. that's French...), eggplant parmesan. Yep, eggplants delight me. I've got a pretty sweet deal going right now as well--I trade my dreaded okra from my neighbor's eggplant (which she dreads). We both end up happy.

I decided the other day that I should make my own pita to go with my Greek/Middle Eastern food (we had a mezze supper the other night---perfect dinner for the summer---cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, hummus, tabbouleh, caponata--which didn't quite fit, and homemade pita). I will definitely be making pita again. I learned a few things--like let the pita circles do their final rise on a kitchen towel, like the recipe suggests. Otherwise, they are very difficult to get off the counter. Don't over flour the counter when rolling out the rounds--put a little flour on top of the dough, but let the dough stick a little to the counter to make it easier to roll out.

Pita is a little like pizza dough--you want to time it to be ready to eat right at supper time. I gave myself 2 hours before to make this. It took a little longer than that, but I suspect making this a second time will go much quicker.

This makes 10 6-inch pitas.

from Williams-Sonoma Baking Book

1 T active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 1/2 c warm water
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t salt
3 1/2 - 4 c flour

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over 1/2 c of water. Stir gently to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Combine the remaining water, olive oil, salt, and 1 c flour in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in yeast. Beat in remaining flour, 1/2 c at a time until dough pulls away from bowl sides. Switch to dough hook. Knead on low speed until dough is stiff and sticky, about 3 minutes. Add a little flour at a time if the dough sticks. Transfer to dough to an oiled deep bowl and turn to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours (and which point, the kids and I headed to the swimming pool!).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Set one half aside and cover with plastic wrap. Divide the remaining half into 5 equal pieces and form into a ball. Repeat with other half of dough. Let rest 10 minutes.

Roll out the balls into rounds about 6" in diameter and 1/4" thick. Drape each round over floured rolling pin and transfer to a floured kitchen towel. Cover with another towel and let rest until puffy, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of oven (if your stone has sides, put the stone upside down so it is totally flat). Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Preheat a baking sheet (not a baking stone, but a cookie sheet type pan) in the hot oven for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and quickly brush sheet with oil. Transfer 3 or 4 rounds onto cookie sheet and place it on the baking stone. Leave the oven door closed and bake until puffed and light brown, 6 - 7 minutes. Stack the pitas on a plate and cover with a kitchen towel. Bake remaining pitas and serve warm.

Finished Pita

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Sound of Silence

Not so much silence in my world, just silence in my blog. We've had a whirlwind month of travel---Over 3000 miles driven to the East Coast (and more!) and back. I've done a little cooking, almost all of it off this blog and have made absolutely no new recipes. I traveled back in time to when pea season (M thought freshly picked peas--that she picked no less--made the perfect breakfast) existed. We visited a farmer's market, repeatedly, and found wonderful blueberries, cling peaches, fresh sweet corn, cucumbers, green beans, and pastries. M picked peas and helped dig potatoes. J helped plant sweet corn, dig potatoes, and pick off potato beetles. Little I just ate. For the drive home, we carefully packed a cooler full of ice packs, frozen sour cherries my parents picked, and peas I helped shell. Sour cherry pie is in our future!!

I returned to a CSA box of wonderful, height-of-summer veggies. I traded my patty pan squash for my eggplant and scavenged my eggplants to plan this week's menu. I've been able to pick some sungold and yellow grape tomatoes off my own plants and am still hoping my heirloom tomatoes just might produce.

Here's the menu for the week. Hopefully, soon, I'll have all sorts of new recipes to share.

Tuscan Panzanella
Baba Ganoush
Sicilan Beef Roast (new recipe!! using a crock pot!!)
Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches