Saturday, July 31, 2010

house warmed!

Remember the tasty-but-ugly squash pie mess I made the other week? This, my friends, is the real deal:


This is kolokithopita a la Kathy! (Say THAT three times fast!). My aunt Kathy makes the best squash pie everrrrr. And spinach pie. And white bean dip. And so on.

So. Kathy’s son, my cousin Chris is basically a budding real estate tycoon. He’s like 25 or 26 and runs his own business and is super successful and just bought his SECOND house- and is renting out the first. And in addition to being a real estate tycoon is super awesome and funny (and ladies, single!).

So today he had the whole family, along with a bunch of his friends, over for a housewarming party. At his house. And his POOL!

Here’re my sister and my cousin Kayla loungin’ poolside (Kayla, if she has the food gene, is hiding it rather well- that’s her dinner of a slice of chicken and grapes).


I far from captured the plentitude but here are a few highlights.

First, we have my grandmother’s recipe for cheese straws, made by Kathy.


You know how even though Cheez Its are disgusting and unnatural and make your hands gross but it is still really easy to eat an entire bag of them? These cheese straws have REAL CHEESE and no fakeness and are crispy and salty and rich and so intensely addictive. It is easy to eat 50,000 of them in one sitting.

Our contribution was made by my lovely mama: this recipe for Greek quinoa salad, which was totally delicious and I highly recommend (but it makes too much dressing! Don’t use it all!). Featuring tomatoes ‘n parsley from the farmer’s market. YUM!


I was bummed that I was working all day and missed both the farmer’s market trip and the cooking :( But I did get to leave early for the party itself!

My aunt Dena’s corn salad:


I love this stuff! Fresh corn, tomato, bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, probably some other stuff, and the piece de resistance, MANGO! It is SO GOOD.

Beautiful tomato salad:


My aunt Kathy, being the mother of the host, did a lot of the hostessing, as you can imagine. And brought scads of food, including this. Those beautiful tomatoes and basil? Homegrown. From my uncle Tom’s garden. Friggin unreal. There was also a green salad with his homegrown cucumbers, and the squash pie had his homegrown squash. THE BEST!



Fab marinated tuna, avec:


Fab marinated chicken.

At parties I always do my fair share of picking, but here is at least somewhat a representation of what I ate:


Starting at your 2:00, that is fruit salad (HOW have I not had any honeydew yet this summer?! Delighted to have remedied that); tomato-basil salad; corn salad; green salad with the homegrown cucumbers as well as hearts of palm (!); bean salad; quinoa salad (gee, my family makes pretty healthy barbecue food, huh? That’s a lotta salad!); and the tuna.


And then I looked down at my plate and went !!!!!!!! I DIDN’T GET ANY SQUASH PIE! So I ran and got a large piece immediately. And then another half piece. And then the equivalent of at least another piece in kind of… picking at it.

Kathy. You win.

However, I knew there was dessert so I was actually saving room. My family takes dessert pretty seriously. Today was no exception.


Just loooooooook at my aunt Nan’s gorgey tart! Wonderful crust, lemon curd, and fresh blueberries. Soooooooo great.



My sister’s godmother Joanne’s homemade key lime pies (at your right) and Nan’s sister Michelle’s strawberry shortcake.

SO GOOD! Had some of each.

Since my family picked me up at work at the bakery on the way there, we grabbed a few cookies for the road.


12 small butter cookies along with a buttery <3 for Kathy, who totally rocked the housewarming party. Thank you for a lovely day!

(Kathy, incidentally, is a total fan of my blog. And called me a week or so ago saying she and my uncle Tom were arguing about techniques over freezing the squash pie and she had to call me in as a “food expert”. Too cute! I said you don’t have to bake it before you freeze it; that’ll just make it soggy. Freeze it unbaked, then thaw and bake it. And it was friggin’ delicious, so I was right, fortunately!)

Friday, July 30, 2010

dreams of delis

Were it not for the bugs, I think I’d move onto my back deck (have people read Running with Scissors? I love when they have a yard sale and then just move into the front yard!)

Got mah grill on!

The star was for sure the fish rub:


I had some steelhead, wanted to grill, and didn’t have anything in particular in mind. Fortunately, we have the internet for days like this. I was quite intrigued by this Cooking Light recipe for Grilled Pastrami-Style Salmon.

I have to say, I had not given a great deal of thought to what goes into pastrami. I mean, I love pastrami in the proper context (that is to say, in a New York City deli, on rye, the way God intended. I am uninterested in consuming it in absolutely any other context) but I hadn’t really gone “Oh, this has spices x, y, and z in it, and I should also rub those things on fish! And then grill it!”

But the reviews raved, and then smells started wafting off the grill…


And I’m mighty glad *someone* thought that cause wowsa this rub is GOOD! Brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and allspice, with the wonderful wondrousness from my good friend charcoal, produces a fabulous fish! I used steelhead rather than salmon and it went beautifully with its… wildness. Do other people cook with steelhead? Yknow what I mean?

Seen with grilled corn, vair nice! Grilling corn is so easy and so delicious I kind of no longer have any interest in steaming it (I like it just raw in salad sometimes, too!)


I also grilled up some eggplant, and repeated the technique we used for the Austin dinner party. This comes from Rosemary Barron, author of Flavors of Greece, one of the greatest cookbooks of all time: just cut off the top of the eggplant, cut a few slits in the side, and pop it whole on the grill.

And then, just for kicks, I remembered our scrumpsh shallots and threw a couple of those on too.


And inhaled the ensuing charred goodness, mmmmmmmm.

 edited eggplant

The shallots got all blistery and sweet on the outside, and the eggplant got to the soft n’ velvety consistency of a spread, so we sprinkled on olive oil and lemon shmushed it on pieces of bread.

I was delighted to have leftover fish, because as yummy as round one was, round two might’ve blown my mind even more:


YEAH I put it on a bagel!

Even more New York City reminiscence (we had been sort of half planning a long weekend there this summer and it just seems… unlikely at this point, *boo*). You get the pastrami spice lovin’, you get the smoky fish lovin’, and then you get the bagel and cream cheese lovin’.

Oh. My. Gawwwwwwwwwd (to quote Janice from Friends, a great New Yorker) it was good.


With a salad with various nice fruits and nuts and cheeses throw in it, and I had all my food groups, too!

Finally, HEY GUESS WHAT?! You can still vote for my essay for Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw Challenge!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

salad days

Ahhhh, summer. Everything is just so EASY in the summer. In the winter you have to *cook*. In the summer, you can just… throw things in a bowl, basically.

Yes, you have to chop them… but I chop recreationally.

Today’s fabulous protein-packed post-workout lunch included a fun new salad:


A chopped carrot, a chopped Monterey Jack string cheese, half a chopped apple, and turkey, all dressed in homemade parsley dressing. Scrumpsh!

I really have become *really* conscious of where everything I eat comes from. Which is important to me, but also sort of annoying. It was easier mentally (though certainly not physically) when everyone just grew everything themselves- you knew where it came from! The apple gets four stars (local) the carrots do all right too (organic but not local), and the cheese, though real food in a fairly natural form, is just string cheese from Safeway.

As for the turkey, what are your thoughts? I went to Trader Joe’s seeking out the highest possible standard of deli meat and this is what they had:


With ground beef, it seems pretty clear that 100% grass fed is the way to go, with local being the gold standard. An advantage of that is it can be purchased in bulk at Costco and is less pricey. That being said, I don’t want to (and shouldn’t) eat red meat every day (especially ostensibly in the interests of environmentalism! That’s insane! It has a huge carbon impact!)

I bought a free range local chicken at the farmer’s market the other week (it was so horrifically expensive! Also, I’m afraid to cook it because if I make it poorly it was a huge investment!).

Anyway, I’m less clear on deli turkey. Any ethical meat pros out there? What should I look for?

The rest of lunch:


The remainder of the apple with some PB, and some soup.

The soup is Trader Joe’s roasted corn and poblano flavah, which I bought for the first time.

Trader Joe’s soups are so SPORADIC! I like that you can get them in those cardboard containers so they don’t taste metally, but the quality is so varied! The carrot-ginger, butternut, and roasted red pepper and tomato are amazing, but the black bean is hella boring and this corn one kind of tastes like feet.

So I put on scads of hot sauce.


And then it tasted fine. The smiley helps. I love a smiley face bowl in the summertime!

So for the grilled lamb on Sunday, the recipe instructed you to make a sauce for the lamb by mixing some of the marinade (that did not go on the raw meat!) with chopped diced tomatoes.

No one got it. It didn’t look like sauce. It was confusing. So we had a lot of leftover chopped tomatoes. Fortunately, those tomatoes were in a home where no food goes to waste. Ever. Ever ever. And so they live on in… gorgeously colorful taco salad filling!  


The leftover tomatoes, a can of black beans, half an avocado, an ear of corn, and a sprinkling of taco seasoning. So yummy!

Taco salad is one of those things I love to make at home and never order in restaurants.

Because a “salad” should not have your entire day’s allotment of saturated fat in it, in the form of cheese, sour cream, fried chips, etc. etc. etc. Quite honestly, sour cream has never particularly done it for me, the chips on taco salads are always inordinately greasy, etc. etc. etc.

That is not to say, however, that when making a taco salad I do not like some crunch.

Oh, I like some crunch.


As usual, we are out of tortilla chips. I kind of want to get some Food Should Taste Good chips, just cause everyone raves about them and they’re a whole grain… yet I am too lazy.

Anyway, these utilized some of the 10,000 corn tortillas currently in my fridge.

Just take however many 6 inch corn tortillas you want, cut them into sixths, and put on a cooking spray’d pan. Then give them another spray, and if you so desire season them with salt or taco seasoning, and put them in a toaster oven until just browned on the edges.


They joined other ingredients on an attractive toppings plate:


The chips, pepper jack cheese, and some nice crunchy Romaine.

I obviously topped my finished taco salad with dousings of Franks Red Hot.


Then I invented kind of a bizarre microwaved dessert. I was going for peaches and cream?


I combined half a nectarine, the last 1/4 cup of a container of cottage cheese, 2 T flour (I used white whole wheat), 1/2 tsp of stevia baking mix, and 1/4 tsp of baking powder.

I microwaved all of that on half power in various increments… it probably ended up being about 3 minutes total?

Anyway, it kind of looked and tasted like baby food.


Experiments. What’s to lose?

I mainly want to give Safeway some credit for having a really high quality and affordable organic brand. Tip of the hat to you, Safeway!


I went to the farmer’s market today where I was informed that this was the last week for the incredibly sweet nectarine variety I’ve been eating with such gusto! *Sob*

So I bought nine.

However, though we say goodbye to old friends, there are new arrivals. Including STRIPEY SQUASH!


Longtime readers may remember me falling in love with this last summer. Apparently the variety is actually called Zephyr Squash. It is SUPER sweet and delicious (and come on just so cute!)



Fresh beans that I have on assurance from the farmers taste like black eyed peas (!) and oooooooooookra! So much love. This is far from the only produce for the week: this is the Thursday morning  from Annandale haul.

Then there’s the Thursday night from Ballston (where my mama will likely pick up tomatoes and blueberries, as she is wont to do most Thursdays), the Saturday morning from Falls Church, and the Sunday midday (after church) from Potomac. Hurray for the explosion of farmer’s markets in my area!

Oh, incidentally, yes those veggies are in plastic bags- they are ALL reused.

Monday, July 26, 2010

top 10

Entertaining in the summer is the best. And, quite honestly, especially at my house. Because we have really really great friends, and because it’s always stinkin’ delicious. The top 10 (food related!) contributions to Sunday night’s fabulous dinner party were the following:

1. Fresh produce

edited shallots

With an obvious exception in one dish that you’ll see later on, every fruit and vegetable served was local.

Can we talk about how beautiful those shallots are?! And how they were $3 a pint, and since they are stupidly, ludicrously overpriced at the grocery store we probably SAVED MONEY by going local? Score.

2. Decor that says “Hello, friends!”


It’s fun throwing together a mishmosh of heirlooms and gifts to make your house pretty. You can be dressy and festive without being all matchy matchy and Martha Stewarty (aka scary). That table is dressed with a sari from a friend who lived in India, topped with a sheer tablecloth my mother’s aunt bought in Madeira.


The teapot-used-as-vase I’m not entirely sure but it’s… old. Anyway, zinnias are among nature’s most cheerful flowers. They always make my heart smile. They’re local too!

3. Yummy veg-centered nibbleys!

Obviously. That’s a given if I am (co) hosting an event.

My favorite of the evening was a newbie:


You’re going to have to bear with me on the dramatic back and forth between natural and artificial light- we had bizarre weather today- these shots were taken in the torrential downpour, which was followed by beautiful summer breezy weather. Go figure.

Anyway, this is muhammara, which I dog-eared in the latest issue of Cooking Light. Dip of roasted red pepper, roasted walnuts, spice, honey… yeah all those things are good but all combined together this incredible synergy happens and this is definitely one of my favorite dips now. Ever. I knew I was onto a good thing when I was whirring it up in the food processor and couldn’t stop sniffing it. TMI?


There was definitely something in both smell and taste that reminded me of mole. Which kind of makes sense. In Turkey, they roasted up red peppers and walnuts. In South America, they roasted up poblano peppers and pumpkin seeds. Beautiful things happen when you roast!

My friend Virginia was one of our guests and she’s a vegetarian, so though there were plenty of other veggie friendly dishes, I wanted to make something proteinaceous, so I did yet another twist on bean salad: this had chickpeas, red onion and some of those gorgeous shallots, cilantro, olive oil and vinegar, and because that somehow seemed boring, cumin (whenever anything seems boring, I add cumin)


I’m obsessed with this bowl. My mother got it in Italy, which I thought was perfect giving the Mediterranean thing we kind of had going.


Another new recipe.

I saw a recipe in The Philosopher’s Kitchen which featured cucumber and golden raisin. I was like “Well, yeah!”


But for the dressing it called for heavy cream and that’s something I never have and also didn’t want to be worried about on a hot summer day. So I decided to strike that and use Greek yogurt instead (Greek! Duh!).

But then there was no feta, which it also called for, at the farmer’s market… and so on and so on. So my recipe didn’t bear that much resemblence to the original but WAS delicious, due to this:

4. Local mind bogglingly great Greek yogurt


Ohhhhhh my God this dressing.

The yogurt, fresh cilantro, dried coriander, honey, lemon juice, olive oil, and vinegar.

I know it sounds not dissimilar to a raita or tzaziki (and went on cucumber no less) but the flavor profile of this dish was totally unique. The cilantro-honey mix was rockin’ my world (I know cilantro is not for everyone but I love it!)


This salad got put out a bit early with the appetizers cause I was running in and out to the deck grilling things and I think people found it… confusing. An A for taste, a D for presentation. Maybe using thinner yogurt would be better for next time… but it was just so goooooooood as is. I’m musing on it.

And the final item in the vegetarian department: the return of the squash pancakes I made awhile back. I didn’t have fresh mint; so I used yet more of our insanely huge deck crop of oregano.


Smashing. These, despite being vegetarian, were actually the big hit of the evening amongst the omnivores- there were NO leftovers.

5. My mama’s Greek potato salad


Pretty self explanatory. How sad that other people don’t get this element included in their dinner parties. They must be less good, hahahaha.

But seriously, I never make it as deliciously as my mom does (probably because of her very very free hand with the olive oil, which is where all the flavor comes from.) There’s also green onion and shallot and lots of fresh herbs (oregano and rosemary).


I had all the other things planned and I’m reading off my list and my mom’s like “Uh huh, uh huh, sounds good, we need more food. A starch. There are men coming.”

And she was right. And the potato salad was great.

6. Grace under pressure.

With all of our get togethers lately, it feels like the guest list always ends up sneaking up on us. As, indeed, it did tonight… earlier we were speculating at 8, and then there were 12. Funny.

Since I have an anxiety disorder particular to the children of Greek women that there will not be enough food in the house despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself we’d need more food, perhaps an appetizer. So, um, I slightly cheated.


Yep. I went all Cake Doctor on it and added fresh tomatoes and basil, but Trader Joe hooked me up.


A nice loafa Italian bread, all toasted up, with that mixture on top, tasted right nice, I have to say. Bruschetta in the summer is great.


7. Lamb to do my ancestors proud.

We had to contend with an eater who eats no chicken, beef, pork, or mushrooms (?!). And, yknow, we’re Greek. So lamb was a pretty obvious choice.

We mixed it up with a new marinade.

Back story- I was at my dad’s ravenously hungry and waiting for him to order Chinese because he can’t just order Chinese, he has to go to Menupages and determine which Chinese restaurant in the area has the best reviews (I mean, I have these tendencies but not at 9 at night). So, instead of chewing my arm off, I started reading cookbooks. Including the Sunset Best of Grilling. And in it I found a recipe for African Spiced Lamb kebabs. Perfection! So I copied it out and brought it to my mom’s :D

Start by tossing the lamb with a bunch of awesome


Lemon juice, olive oil, tomato paste, spices, and SCADS of ginger. You cut them into 1 1/2 inch chunks, then marinated them, then skewered them…


Aren’t our skewers cool? They’re a souvenir from Greece (when my parents went in the 90s, I think). There’s one for each sign of the Zodiac!


Onto ze grill they went, and then off they came. Tell me I could not open a kebab restaurant. Isn’t that GORGE?!


And to accompany, when you make the marinade, you reserve 1/3 of it (not putting it on the lamb) and mix it with diced tomato for a sauce.


Honestly, this seemed to confuse the guests, since I didn’t label it or anything. It was like a confusing-looking tomato salad to them. C’est la vie. Every party has its lesson.

But wait, don’t cover up that grill yet!

Pfft you thought I was done at the lamb? When I fire up the grill, it’s gettin used! I got some of the free nectarines and peaches from my beloved, plus some that we actually paid for, hah.


As usual, I didnt bother with any marinade or basting or anything: I just cut ‘em in half and plonked them on the grill and got some UNFRIGGINBELIEVABLE grill marks! These are my best looking yet.


For the record, these were made first, so they didn’t get any lamb juice on them for the vegetarian (though quite honestly I bet it’d be totally yummy!)

You’ll see what I did with them in a bit :D

8. Dining al fresco

In the summer, whenever we can, especially when we’re entertaining, we eat outside. It makes for such a nice relaxed ambiance, and it takes me back to last summer eating out at the tavernas in Greece.

And dim lighting means you can get away with a pretty ghetto setup. Observe:


The usual deck table expanded with card tables, and easy folding chairs.

If you put on real tablecloths, it looks nice, and Citronella candles repel (ish, for awhile) bugs and give a nice ambiance:


For cute lighting, Target sells these little lantern strands (though do yourself a favor and, unlike me, buy more than one, or it looks stupid!)


And there are never too many flowers, especially sweet n summery black eyed susans!


9. Table on the verge of collapse


As usual, my panic over not having enough food was not actually necessary.

We always do buffets. Helping yourself is the best thing for relaxed entertaining.

And, finally…

10. Dessert. Obviously.


Grilllllllllllled peeeeeeeeeeeeeeaches.

But wait… another beautiful two word phrase…

Iiiiiiiiiiiice creammmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!


From our local farmer’s market ice cream guys! The vanilla was the richest I’ve ever tasted and that sorbet could get you (stupidly, happily!) drunk.


Breaaaaaaaaaaaaaad puuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuddding!!!!!!!


The best bread pudding ever, instructions for which can be found in Favorite Recipes. With the aforementioned peaches n creme. I think we have discovered the greatest summer dessert of all time.

And, of course, there was the company. All of whom wanted copies of my business card. Hi friends! Thank you for joining us!

We had a vair fun mix of people: two of my mom’s friends from when she was my age working at her first job who she still keeps in touch with (how cool!) with some of their kids, who are fun. As well as a friend of mine who I’ve known since we were twelve and whose whole family has now become friends with my whole family. So great!

Definitely the most hilarious moment of the evening was when my sister informed my friend’s brother that he reminded her of Clint Eastwood. Is there any greater compliment that could be paid to a man?!