Wednesday, 3 November 2010

In motion, for real.

I've been travelling lately, some family obligation had us spend 2 weeks away from home which was rather refreshing as well as an opportunity for taking pics. Here's one of my favorites, taken on the way back from brunch with my parents:

Sadly, we had already left the restaurant, else we'd feed him!

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Tag Game

Tinsie recently posted a tagged entry and left it up to the rest to get self-tag, so I might as well go for it, since I haven't posted anything for a while.

So, here we go:

1. Why did you start blogging?
I had started blogging on and off in other media since 2001 but I'd always post one thing and then forget the blog url, my username, and password. This particular blog started because a couple of real-life friend of mine had started blogging too, so, might as well!

2. If you could travel anywhere in the world with no restriction of costs, where would it be and why?
I'd tour Scandinavia. I'm intrigued with a lot of thing about the region - geography, folklore, music, especially of Denmark and Sweden. And then I'd jump over to Finland because people are just weird (the good weird) there.

3. Did you have a teacher in school that had a great influ­ence on your life? If so, what?
Not school exactly, but one of my professors at the Conservatory where I studied music from 1980 till 2000. He showed me that performing music is not the act of sitting down in front of a book and play what it says, and I'm ever appreciating for it.

4. If you could spend the day with a famous person, who would it be, and what would you do?
Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. He appears to be an arrogant SOB but one of the greatest musicians that I'm aware of.

5. Toilet paper — over or under?
Over, all the way. I even switch it when I visit other people's houses.

6. Name one thing in your life that you would do over if possible.
I might have learned the violin instead of piano.

7. Tell about your pets — if any.
I never had a pet. I had a goldfish for about a year. His name was Leonidas, Leo for short. We 'd take him to vacations with us, in a shaker for frappe.

8. Do you live in a small town or a large town?
I live in a suburb, only a train away from the big city. For the most part, best of both worlds!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Americana candy

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, but kept forgetting dumping the pictures from the smartphone to the computer. I finally got to a general digital clean-up, and without further ado I present you a variety of old school American candy as shot at the front room of the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Cracker Barrel is a joint that prides itself in serving Southern food - Fried chicken and stake, okra, biscuits, gravy, corn muffins etc, as well as breakfast items. For a long time, no vegetarians could eat there as everything in the menu contained animal fat.

On the day that I took this picture we went there for breakfast, so I restrained myself and only bought a triple flavor coconut bar. It was rather tasty.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Traditional Easter Lunch

Since I moved to the States some 6 years ago almost (wow, time flies!), I never had the chance to have a traditional Easter meal. Easter is pretty huge in Greece, quite more important than Christmas, as the nice spring weather makes for people to leave the city, visit their villages or summer homes and indulge in gratuitous eating and drinking while becoming one with Nature by the sacrificial offer of a lamb or goat on a spit.

Now, living in a two - bedroom apartment with a tiny balcony mostly cluttered with the satellite dish and a small electric grill, there's no way I'd fit either a spit or a lamb, let alone both. However, we have upgraded from living in a city with a minimal Greek population (Pittsburgh) to an area with a substantial Greek population (Chicagoland) which offered the opportunity to get some traditional fare at a restaurant instead.

I had been to Greektown in downtown Chicago a couple of times and there are a lot of restaurants there, next to each other as a matter of fact. However, one of them had an additional location closer to where we live, so we preferred it. We went to Greek Islands in Lombard. They offered a full Easter special menu.

They started with the traditional bread basket and the obligatory red dyed eggs that looked like they were dyed that morning (tsk tsk tsk, everyone knows they ought to have done so on Good Thursday, but something tells me they ran out of those and had to repeat the procedure:

Then there was Mageiritsa soup (lamb entrails and lettuce with herbs and egg-lemon sauce) which was very nicely done. They also brought a salad that I can't call Greek with good conscience as it lacked cucumber and was loaded with roughly chopped lettuce.

Then came the lamb. I ordered the oven roasted lamb with potatoes which was very nice and tender.

Hubby got a lamb kabob with a side of rice which was also very good.

And as if that wasn't enough, we ordered dessert (half of which was boxed and taken home). I got galactoboureko, which is a baked citrus flavored custard topped with soaked phyllo, and hubby got a slice of chocolate mousse cake. I also had a cup of Greek coffee that I hadn't had for quite a while!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Adventures in chaos.

Or, how to not want to see your kitchen (and your dining table) for the rest of the day.

Make ravioli from scratch. Because hubby brought semolina flour home and asked for them nicely. While I had never made fresh pasta before.

I made the pasta dough following the flour packet instructions. That was pretty foolproof. In the 20 minutes that I was instructed to "let it rest" I proceeded to make stuffing. Hubby wanted pork, I wanted mushrooms, he said "ok, I'll have mushrooms as long as I don't get their texture".

Fine, I said, I'll have to dig up the food processor that barely makes 2 cups of stuff.

I started with the pork. Whoa, it did grind. I had ground pork. Wheee!! Then, I did the mushrooms. They didn't pulverize very much, but I thought that once I'd cook them and get their liquid out they'll shrink, and if they won't shrink enough, I'll pass them through the processor again. Big deal.

So I'm cooking the mushrooms with a bit of canola oil and the pork in its own fat with a bit of garlic and thyme. It was a lovely exercise for my biceps and triceps cause for some reason although the meat was thoroughly ground, it wouldn't separate much into the pan. Frustration, cursing, and employment of two spatulas to beat the pork to submission. Finally, it cooked, but in big chunks.

Then I had the epiphany of passing both the pork and the mushrooms through the processor together. I had to do that in small batches since the thing was so damn small. My counter was covered with crumb like stuff from both ingredients but I ended up with about 2 cups of stuffing, out of 1 pound of baby portobellos and 2 pork chops. Phew!

About 25 mins have passed, and I'm totally angsting that the dough will now resemble brick. I open the ziplock and lo and behold, the dough looks good. I thank an assortment of random deities, then proceed to roll the dough.

I don't have a rolling pin. However, I have lots of bottles of wine. The best for the job is the thin and slim bottle of that Chocolate Amore, remember it? I flour it mercilessly, flour a rather large IKEA plastic tray and start rolling on my dining table because the counter space in my kitchen is covered with all kinds of bowls, spatulas and mushrooms stains.

The dough is too much and I can't roll w'out hitting the bottle against the tray. Bang, bang, curse, curse. I divide my dough and employ a smiple cutting board instead. I roll the first batch of dough about 2 mm thick. It's too thick but I have a cunning plan.

I take my pizza roller and cut my dough in diamonds. Each diamond gets further rolling till almost transparent, then gets half a tablespoon of stuffing and is folded closed. I let a lot of pasta around the filling cause I like it that way and I am hoping it's not too chewy.

The dough I made with 1.5 cup of flour, 2 eggs and some oil and water was enough for about 35 raviolis. By the end of stuffing them all my back was killing me, my triceps were screaming for mercy and I had sniffed more flour than I care to admit. Most ravioli are a bit lopsided but I'm glad I didn't end up with runny dough, or brick dough, or stuffing that wasn't paste-y enough, and so on.

I had some stuffing left, which I added to a small can of seasoned tomato sauce in a pan over medium heat with a sprinkle of sugar.

I boiled the little buggers in batches of 2 or 3 for a couple of minutes each batch. They were pretty tasty. It was like eating mushroom with ground beef texture - interesting to say the least. I might invest in a KitchenAid ravioli attachment in the future cause once you go fresh pasta you never go back, unless it's a matter of speed cooking!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

I've been listening to the Olympiacos game

and I'm not amused while our chance to carry on the UEFA Champion's League is slimming away.

So I might as well blog some dishes I came with this last couple days, while I'm trying hard to sip my granitta-consistency smoothie: 1/2 fat free vanilla yogurt, 1/3 cup (I think) orange juice and 7-8 whole frozen strawberries (thus I need no ice to water it down). If I was in Greece, it'd be alcoholic, but I can't convince myself to drink alone at home at 4 in the afternoon, even to drown my footy sorrows..

Shrimp salad with mango and avocado.

2 cups shrimp, peeled, deveined and boiled, cooled to room temperature
2 medium sized avocados
1 average sized mango
2 Tbs pine nuts
Dressing (see below)

Peel and dice the mango and avocados, and toss together with the shrimp and pine nuts, which you can cube if it's not small enough

Prepare the dressing by combining the following ingredients:

3 Tbs olive oil
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
3 Tbs orange juice
1 Tbs lemon or lime juice
1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced
1 dash chives
1 dash cilantro
salt to taste

Add the dressing and toss around. Serves two.

Cornbread and veggie-pattie stack, one serving

You'll need 2 slices of the cornbread recipe I posted the other day, one commercial veggie patty or veggie burger, sour cream and some shredded cheese, preferably mexican mix.

Prepare the veggie patty according to the package instructions, and cut it in two halves.
Spread sour cream on the cornbread slices, then layer from bottom to top:

Cornbread, patty, cheese, cornbread, patty, cheese. Admire this tower of awesome while trying to figure out whether you ought to eat it with utensils or with your fingers.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Today's almost baking catastrophy.

Behold. Whole wheat with white cornmeal cornbread.

Last Saturday I was out of the house for the majority of the day. I asked hubby "What will you do to entertain yourself?", to which he replied that he'd buy ingredients to experiment with one of his favourite dishes, Chicken Fried Steak.

For the non-Americans among you, the terms Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak are used for the same dish, based on what gravy is served with them. Bizarre, I know. The actual meat is supposed to be slightly pound with a mallet (do it too much and you'll end up with schnitzel), then breaded with flour and spices and deep fried. Like fried chicken, only beef.

I'm not a particular fan of this dish as it ends up being too oily for me, but hubby decided to pan fry it instead of deep fry it, and he used cornmeal and low fat buttermilk (I know, it sounds like an absolute oxymoron) for the breading, which allows for a crisp outside-tender inside steak.

So, upon my return from my Saturday excursion, I came home to a bunch of steaks, and a lot of leftover buttermilk and white cornmeal. Cornmeal will keep fine in the pantry, but I'd hate to let the buttermilk spoil, so I decided to make cornbread.

I read the recipe on the back of the cornmeal box, and with a couple of substitutions I actually did have the ingredients to pull it off. Which I did, or I almost did and I figured it out just before it was too late - I had forgotten to add the canola oil in the recipe. Oops!

Thankfully the moment I put the thing in the oven I realized my mistake, so I pulled it out, and folded the oil in the batter right in the baking pan. It came out delicious and I had it with the leftover gravy for breakfast today. Yum!

If you're interested in the recipe, here it is:

  • 3/4 cup white cornmeal (Aunt Jemima or Quaker brand - I'm sure that yellow will work just fine)
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (it called for all purpose but I felt adventurous and fiber craving - substitution no1)
  • 1/4 cup Splenda (it called for sugar but I had none - substitution no2)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt (it called for only half, and optionally so, but w' out real sugar I needed to bring some more flavor out)
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup low fat buttermilk (it called for 1 cup of the skim milk instead of what I did, substitution no3)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (which I almost forgot)
  • 1/4 cup egg beaters (it calls for either 2 egg whites or one beaten egg, which I had not handy)

Preheat oven at 400oF, combine dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients, don't forget the oil just cause you used two types of milk thusly thinking you combined all 3 wet ingredients the recipe called for, add wet mix into dry mix and combine thoroughly into batter, spray a loaf pan with baking spray, pour batter in and bake for 20 mins or until toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Cabin fever comfort food

I'm done with the winter, really. There was a glorious sunshine today, but accompanied with harsh winds and chilling cold, it's not helping much. I'm totally ready for spring and that was made evident when I identified my cravings and came up with the following lunch:

Pan grilled cod with orange glaze and cucumber salad with vinaigrette.
(I think the name of the dish says it all)

Take 2 cod fillets and thaw them if they're frozen. While they're thawing, cut the cucumber in small cubes and put them in a small ziplock bag with a vinaigrette of your preference (mine is 1 oz balsamic vinegar, a splash of oil and a teaspoon of sugar per serving) and forget about them till serving time. Put them in the fridge if you feel like it.

Since that was fast, and the fish is still thawing, start the glaze. Heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat, and when it heats up add 2 Tbs of orange marmalade and the juice of one lemon. Let it reduce and then add a pinch of salt and a good sprinkle of chives. Turn off the heat but let it stay on the stove to remain some warm.

Ok, the fish is now thawed. Yay! In a pan that you can put a lid on, heat some olive oil over medium heat, then toss the fish in there and close the lid. Let it be till it's cooked and flaky.

If you have any greens, put a bunch in a plate, then add the cucumbers around it. Then add the fish on top of the greens (I love it when they warm up and slightly wilt) and top with the glaze. If you prefer more salt, add it now.

It was delicious. And I even took a pic of it. Not with the good camera though, cause somehow the memory card was missing (read: was forgotten inside hubby's laptop and taken to work with him..)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It snowed again.

Again. I hope we're seeing the last of it, though I highly doubt it. At least, it made for a couple of pictures opportunities:

No idea what those berries are, but they have managed to stay nice and red throughout the season. That's brave!

This bridge connects our apartment parking lot with a park with basketball courts , a bike trail and a playground. I played it safe and decided not to cross it.

And here's a tree with the obligatory shoveled snow around it!

I had planned to go straight to the gym afterward, which is why I'm wearing sneakers with this weather.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

I'm a happy snapper.

I'm trying to figure out some of the features of the new camera, so here are a couple of pictures I took. The salad (spring mix, beets, almonds, chives and blue cheese dressing), I shot with the "Food" scene option, which is pretty awesome for any still life type picture taken inside during day light.

The glasses now, I can't recall what I used. I snapped a bunch with a lot of different options, and just kept the one that was best focused. I thought of processing it to warm the color some, but I like it this way also.

I think I'm very happy with it. Now, to replace the point-and-shoot so that I can have a nice camera that can fit the purse!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Happy belated Valentine's Day!

I was away for the weekend with a bunch of girlfriends, with the plan to return home sometime Sunday afternoon to spend Valentine's day with hubby.

I did manage to get home on time and was delighted to find standard Val Day fare on the dining table: roses, a nice card and Lindt stracciatela truffles. Which I hadn't had for a while and they were soo preferable from normal chocolate truffles!

Unfortunately I returned home with a pretty bad cold, so we spent the night playing video games and checking my temperature. Oh well!

The other major thing that occured this weekend was that we finally purchased a good camera! Hubby found a great deal for a Nikon D5000 and I'm really excited about taking pics with it!

We watched the features DVD last night and I am hoping we can get out and around for some pics when I'm feeling better. I'd use it for this post, but I think hubby took it to work to shoot around his workplace.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

One-pan comfort food

I've been living off soup, crackers and ginger ale these last few days, but today I was able to cook some proper food. Although I really wanted the taste of real warm cooked food, I didn't want the fuss that came with it, so I opted for something that I could do in one pan and would involve minimum effort.

So, I had in hand:

About 1.5 pound pork chops cut in strips
2 jars of mushrooms in liquid
onion powder
garlic powder
dried thyme
1 cup of couscous.
2 oz water (optional)
salt, pepper to taste

Since I still have to be careful of my fat intake, I trimmed all visible fat from the pork, then cut the strips into cubes.
In a large pan over medium high heat, pour the mushrooms with the liquid and bring to a simmer. Add garlic powder, onion powder and dried thyme. Add the meat, toss around, close the lid, lower heat to medium and let it steam thoroughly till the meat is nice and white.

Measure 1 cup of couscous and toss it into the pan. If the pan is too dry (depends on how much liquid your mushrooms jar contained), add a couple of ounces of boiling water. Toss till the couscous drinks the water and cover it for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Next time I'll have to try it with fresh mushrooms as well as red wine instead of extra water.

I have been told I 've not taken pics lately, so this time I remembered!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Some real cooking, finally!

Yesterday I decided that I really had to cook some Real Food (TM) for my poor husband who has been living off falafel from the Middle Eastern joint two blocks away. I asked him what would he want, and his response was "We don't have much of ingredients, so just make some chicken with whatever we have".

I went to the kitchen and the first thing that my eye fell on was the box of fat free saltine crackers on the counter. And the saltine crusted oven fried chicken was born.

4 chicken pieces (we prefer boneless skinless breast)
2 Tsp grapeseed oil
Granulated onion
Granulated garlic
15-20 fat free saltine crackers
Italian herb mix seasoning, or the following dried: rosemary, thyme, oreganon, basil
1/4 cup flour
1 beaten egg
baking spray

Thaw the chicken if using frozen (which is what I do), then toss it in a ziplock bag with the grapeseed oil and a generous dash of onion and garlic powder, plus salt and pepper to taste. Shift everything in the bag so that the marinade goes everywhere, then put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

When you take it out, preheat the oven at 350oF. Pulverize the crackers in a blender, or with your bare hands if you don't have one. Make a drenching line with three bowls: One with the flour seasoned with salt and pepper, one with egg, and one with the saltine crackers and the italian herb mix. You can eyeball the seasoning quanitities or adapt them to taste.

Grease a 13x9 pan with the backing spray (i use olive oil flavor which is better for cooking), then drench each chicken piece in the seasoned flour, then the egg, then the seasoned cracker crumbs, then put them on the pan. Bake for 15 mins, turn them, bake 10 more minutes.

I was afraid that the crust would be too hard since the crackers don't have any moist or fat in them, like regular bread crumbs would have. It definitely had a crunch, which was actually quite pleasant. The flour and egg totally helped the crust stay on and not disintegrate or peel off, which is also a win.

I'll definitely do this dish again, with different seasonings.

Monday, 18 January 2010

..and more sweet adventures..

I swear, having to eat the equivalent of hospital food is not fun at all. Yesterday I almost drank chocolate syrup out of the bottle, but at the very last moment I talked myself out of it and went groceries shopping. While getting canned tuna for my tuna/cucumber/mayo sandwiches, my eye fell on a can of sweet potato puree, which is primarily used for pie filling. I checked the label, and apparently sweet potatoes have either no or minimal fat. I like the taste, so I took a can home to see what I could do with it.

Today, it was experiment time. I poured in a small saucepan over medium heat about 1/4 cup of skim milk and the puree. Then, I checked on the pie filling recipe on the can for recommendations on spices, so I added nutmeg, ginger, vanilla in small dashes (about 1/4 teaspoon each), and about 1/4 cup sucralose (you can of course add white or brown sugar if you have it - i had none). I brought that to a simmer and then lowered the heat and let it uncover to reduce a bit. When it had reduced about 2 cm lower than it was when I poured it, I removed from the fire, poured it in another container and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

When I brought it out, it was still rather runny, so next time I'll just reduce it even more. At any rate, the taste was great, so I folded in about half a container of fat free whipped topping and chilled it some more. Not exactly mousse consistency, but it tasted damn good!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Caring for my sweet tooth

I have been forced into a low fat diet due to some minor health issues. For the most part I've winged it, especially since I like my vegetables and I'm fine with things cooking in their own fat rather than adding some. Desserts are often an issue, and I have to admit I like them a lot. I usually buy fat-free ice cream, but today I was out of it. I looked at the fridge and had a couple of fat free yoghurts, and a bag of half-thawed frozen strawberries. So, a smoothie was born.

1 6oz fat free strawberry yoghurt
1 6 oz fat free vanilla yoghurt
1 pound bag of frozen strawberries, half way thawed (this way you don't need ice for a nice chill smoothie)
1 cup no pulp orange juice

Put everything in blender, blend till smooth. Add more orange juice if you want a thinner consistency.

Makes 2-3 servings, depends on how big glasses you have ;)