Did you indulge or party just a tee-tiny bit too much this past weekend? Or maybe you fell for that lie we all tell ourselves when we’ve eaten half the brownies and, thoroughly disgusted with ourselves, take action to rid the temptation by saying, “I want this out of the house. I’ll finish it and then it won’t be around anymore to tease me.” It’s so awful. And hard, too. But I’ve found if I can stick to a healthful meal plan for two or three days eating well almost becomes a habit. All of us have struggled with our weight at one time or another. College weight, baby weight and old lady weight have all been my personal nightmares. Here’s a special memory that ought to make you feel better. When I was pregnant with our son, James, I gained 52 (yes, 52) pounds. I was enormous; I looked like a walrus…except I had braces and a real tragedy of a haircut. After I gave birth I was still fat but I had the greatest treasure in the world. Anyway, one afternoon my father came over…alone. Normally he and Mom came over together or Mom came alone. We didn’t really have what one would call a “visit”, as he strode with his long legs into our house and made the following announcement. “Your mother and I are terribly worried. So I’m only going to say this once. Lose the weight.” With that, he turned around and walked out. Nice, huh? Thanks, Daddy. I can’t say his little pep talk worked, what with a new baby and nursing and all; it took a while after that to “lose the weight”. But these are the types of meals that make dropping a few pounds somewhat easier. We can do this. We’ve all lost weight before and we’ll do it again. With a little planning we can be healthy about it and keep the weight off. Fingers crossed.
I love this dish! It is incredibly satisfying and as filling as a pasta dish but without the sluggish, weighted down feeling one is left with after sitting down to a huge bowl of penne, fettucine or farfalle…not to mention the guilt, smothering like the black cloud we all know it to be. This casserole doubles extremely well, baked in a 9″ x 13″ dish. I typically double the recipe as my entire household enjoys it for lunch the following day, along with a good bit set aside for my brother and father. More fresh basil may be added if you like, as well as more grape tomatoes. The tomatoes bake-off beautifully, warm and savory, they almost melt in your mouth. The recipe doesn’t call for much parmesan cheese but if you want to stay Paleo or keep the calories out just leave it off. Truly, with all the different flavors, this dish doesn’t need it. Enjoy!
I hate saying goodbye to friends. I loathe it. It saddens me beyond measure. But that ‘s what I did this past Tuesday. Over coffee my friend, Craig, and I caught up with each other after not seeing each other for a good three or four years. We kept in touch every now and again through Facebook. Craig is a professional chef on yachts…yachts that cater to A-list movie stars. The opposite of that penny-ante galley position I accepted for one summer in the Abacos. Regardless, I look at his life as one big, fat adventure. We chuckled over adventures gone wrong, shared and rejoiced culinary triumphs and discoveries. Both of us had lost close friends and understood the encompassing heartache and profound loss. He announced he’s trading palms for pines. Turns out Craig is moving to the Pacific Northwest. And although I don’t see him often enough and may not ever see him again, I rejoice in his leap for the good in life, his optimistic outlook towards life situations. We’ll continue laboring to recognize goodwill, tolerance, charity and beauty in the darker corners of our personal worlds no matter the struggle. That said, I will miss him. He left me with happiness, a bag of his homegrown tomatoes and a fabulously simple recipe. I share that with you.
I don’t include specific amounts of ingredients in this salad as it can be made as small or as large as you wish. As with all simple recipes the quality of your ingredients is paramount. If you try to cut corners or even leave out a component, the recipe will be compromised. When the outcome is less than perfect or an utter disappointment you’ll know why. French thyme, whether fresh or dried, will not yield the same results. It must be lemon thyme. If you can’t find it in the produce department at the grocery store most likely you can pick up a pot at your nursery or gardening center. It’s well worth the trip! This salad is best served at room temperature. Any bits left over are fabulous the following day tucked into an omelette. And the dressing is like liquid sunshine drizzled over a mixed green salad, boiled new potatoes, asparagus or roasted chicken. Imagine it on grilled shrimp or mahi. The possibilities are without end. Enjoy!
Here we are in March…in like a lion, out like a lamb. In south Florida we are most definitely enjoying lamb-like weather. Jimmy and I are found in the courtyard often, reading and writing, the dog typically sprawled at our feet. Jimmy will spend his mornings outside working on his laptop, leisurely smoking his pipe which, by the way, smells positively heavenly. We read the New York Times in the morning and take pleasure in a simple happy hour or dinner in the evening. Clearly the mosquitos haven’t found our house yet…but they will. In the meantime, if it’s morning or evening, assume we’re puttering outside. This dish is a spring and summer joy. Simple and healthful, it may be served as a vegetable side dish or as an entree with a piece of grilled tuna or chicken atop. It’s lovely at a picnic or poolside as it travels extremely well. Spaghetti squash is much lighter than pasta and undeniably lower in calories. Those who are allergic to wheat will love this alternative. No more sneezing and itchy eye! Regardless of your reason to try this dish, I think you’ll truly enjoy it and so will your family.
1 1/2-2 cups fresh basil leaves plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 7-ounce container of store-bought pesto or approximately 1 cup of homemade, I use store-bought, reduced fat
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese. This is completely optional and may be left out for a dairy-free, vegan or paleo dish. It’s still absolutely delicious.
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 400°. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil and cover foil lightly with non-stick baking spray. Set aside.
Cut both squashes in half lengthwise.
Using a large, metal spoon, scoop out all the seeds from the squashes. Discard the seeds.
Place the squashes cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45-60 minutes or until the flesh is fork tender. I check them at 45 minutes and return to the oven checking for doneness every 5 minutes or so.
While the squashes are baking finely mince the garlic and place in a medium size, non-reactive bowl. I use glass.
Cut the tomatoes in half and add them to the garlic.
Using your hands, rip the fresh basil into small, bite size pieces and add them to the garlic-tomato mixture.
Add the pesto and olive oil to the tomato mixture. If using parmesan cheese, add it as well. Mix thoroughly so all ingredients are well combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the squashes have baked.
Remove the squashes from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes or until they’re easy to handle.
With a small paring knife cut the flesh of the squashes lengthwise down to the shell being careful not to cut through to your hand, making 3 or 4 parallel cuts, each cut about 3/4″-1″ apart. This allows bite size pieces and makes it easier to assemble the dish.
With a large, metal spoon scoop the flesh out of the squashes and place into a large bowl.
Pour the tomato-pesto mixture over the squash and gently toss until all the squash is well coated.
Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with any fresh basil leaves and serve.
If serving within a few hours the bowl may be covered with plastic wrap and then transferred to the serving platter right before serving.
Roasted tomatoes seem to always be lurking in my kitchen. I use them in soups, tuck them into panini and top them on bruschetta. They are both sweet and savory and can be used in a myriad of dishes. The beauty of this recipe is your tomatoes don’t have to be ripe to end up with gorgeous roasted ‘maters. My experience with grocery store tomatoes, and sometimes even the ones purchased at farmer’s markets, is a usually a huge disappointment. No flavor and a dry, mealy texture is the norm today. This recipe forgives the gassed tomato and the farmer that dared tout his product as “vine ripe from the farm”. Let me make clear though, nothing, but nothing, will save the rock hard, pale pink fruit if it is carted to market before it’s time.
But your average grocery store tomato will sing when prepared this way. I serve it as a side along side other vegetable dishes and my family is happy, happy. Any leftovers are roughly chopped and made into soup or bruschetta. The flavors ripen with a bit of time so the following day these roasted tomatoes are sublime…warm, hot or cold. They’re great on homemade pizza, in omelets and salads. Juicy and full of flavor, they pair well with grilled beef and fish, as well as grilled zucchini and stuffed into grilled portobello mushrooms. Over pasta? You’ll think you died and went to heaven. I hope you try these. So good and so easy!
Slice tomatoes lengthwise in half, slice out the core if you wish. I leave it as it softens and sweetens as it roasts.
Hold one half over the sink, cut side up and run your index finger through the tomato sections, scooping out and discarding the seeds and finish by placing in a large bowl. Continue until all the tomato halves have been seeded. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil and mix well.
Pour the garlic mixture over the seeded tomatoes and, using your hands, toss well making certain the garlic and herbs cover all surfaces of the seeded tomatoes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and cover with non-stick spray.
Place the tomatoes cut side up on the baking sheet. Pour any garlic-olive oil mixture over the tomato halves and scatter the fresh thyme sprigs randomly over the tomatoes.
Bake 45-55 minutes.
Serve immediately or cool completely, store in an airtight container and refrigerate.
This is my new go-to, middle of the week, what the heck am I gonna feed ’em dinner. I love to cook, yes, but often I feel irritated and uninspired and just plain resentful that, once again, I’M in charge of dinner. Want to blow those dark feelings away? Well, here’s my solution. Mediterranean Chicken. My boys love, love, love it. We’ve had it maybe four times in the past week and a half and they are thrilled every single time. They hang over the pan, big, sad eyes wanting a taste. Every time I hear another story, “I just need a little taste to tide me over.” Or “Mama! Please! I never had lunch!”. I love it. And Lawdy, it is one easy recipe; most ingredients are probably lounging in your pantry waiting to be used. Redolent with the flavors of the Mediterranean, this dish is ready from start to finish in about one hour. Other ingredients may be added such as olives and capers but I tend to stay away from adding more ingredients with strong flavors as they take over and obliterate the more subtle notes of artichoke and lemon.
Mediterranean Chicken is heavenly served over noodles, mashed potatoes or rice and, my favorites, roasted spaghetti squash or mashed boniato, a kind of white sweet potato loved by Hispanics. This dish is perfect for all you gravy lovers and delicious the following day. Another quick dinner is to serve it with a few bags of fresh spinach sautéed with garlic, seared asparagus and hot, crunchy bread. Enjoy!
1/2 packed cup sun-dried tomatoes, dried not in oil, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
grated zest of one lemon
1 8.5 ounce can artichoke heart, drained, moisture squeezed out and roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups white wine, chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste
Pour olive oil into a large, high sided frying pan and heat over medium to medium high heat.
Salt and pepper chicken thighs and place all of them “skin” side down. Do not spread open the chicken. They’re best bunched up as they are packaged.
When chicken has browned turn all the pieces over to the other side, the side where the bone was.
When the bone side of the chicken has browned remove to a bowl and set aside.
To the pan juices add the onion, garlic and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and stir until well combined.
When the onion is clear add the grated lemon and artichoke hearts and stir well. Pour in the wine, broth or water. I’ve even done combinations of the three when I didn’t have much on hand. It all comes out great.
Return thighs to the pan, moving the onion artichoke mixture around and spooning it over all the chicken.
Cover and lower to a simmer. Cook the chicken over low heat for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
After a weekend of pizza, steaks, casseroles heavy with cheese and dinners out, Meatless Monday sure does creep up fast. The entire family, that would be the three of us!, worked at the Greek festival all weekend so when the week started, needless to say, the cupboards were bare. And after grabbing a bite here and there of pita and hummus, flaming Greek cheese and sausage, baklava, feta fries and tender bits of lamb, a clean but healthful dinner was desperately needed. When I say “clean” I mean little or no dairy, no heavy sauces and no frying. Clean eating doesn’t sentence one to a lifetime of salads. On the contrary, the Greek diet is mostly plant-based but the beauty is the brilliant twist the Greeks give their vegetables. A stick of cinnamon thrown in here, a squeeze of fresh lemon there, elevate the humble dishes to celebrity status. Smoky, roasted eggplant can be fused with walnuts, garlic and lemon juice yielding a creamy dip that will knock your socks off. What I love about this dish of stewed, roasted vegetable is you don’t need to really follow the recipe. There is a long, and I mean loooong, list of ingredients that work together magnificently and still offer a rib-sticking meal. Most of the vegetables are interchangeable so feel free to throw in a bag of green beans if you’re out of zucchini. Canned whole tomatoes are fine if you have no fresh ones. When I prepared this dish this week I had forgotten fresh mint, dill and flat leaf parsley at the grocery store. We’re in high season here in South Florida. Every tourist and his brother is out joy ridin’ and if you think I was going out in that snarl of 5:00 traffic you’ve got another thing coming. And I LOVE fresh mint in my Tourlou. I had on hand, though, dried dill and a big ol’ bush of oregano. This is also the ideal dish for out of season vegetables such as tomatoes. Roasting them brings out flavors the tomatoes didn’t even know they had.
If you want to be creative this is the recipe for you. My recipe is just a guideline and what works for me. Mushrooms, peas…I guess the point I’m trying to make is roast whichever vegetables you enjoy. My vegetable stew came out positively gorgeous, I mean, just look at the photos! It was warm and satisfying, so good in fact, I didn’t even want the usual topping of crumbled Greek feta cheese. I served the dish with a chunk of crusty French bread, absolutely necessary to sop up the exquisite bend of juices from the onions, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil. And although it may be juvenile and straight out of the nursery, I’m 100% guilty of using my fork to crush a few random pieces of potato to then mix in the fragrant olive oil and juices. Oh, yes! Heaven on a plate.
3/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 large head garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large bell pepper, halved and cut into strips
1 large eggplant, cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2″ rounds
4 carrots, cut into 1/4″ rounds
3 pounds tomatoes, each tomato cut into eighths
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup fresh mint, leaves chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped or 1 heaping tablespoon dried
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper
Greek feta cheese, crumbled, optional
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Cover an extra-large roasting pan or casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray making certain to cover all of the bottom and sides of the pan.
If your roasting vessel is glass or not stove-top safe, use a pan for this next step. If your roasting pan is metal and stove top safe the entire dish maybe prepared in the roasting pan. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the roasting pan or skillet.
Add the onion slices cook until soft, stirring often.
Add the garlic and continue stirring. Take care that the garlic doesn’t burn. If using a pan transfer this mixture to the sprayed roasting dish. If onion mixture cooked in the roasting pan, turn off heat but leave stove top.
Add all remaining ingredients except feta cheese, stirring between additions. Make certain all ingredients are evenly coated with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and any pan juices.
Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for one hour.
Carefully remove tin foil, stir vegetables and continue to bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes.
If using feta cheese scatter one or two tablespoons over each plate.
The person who thought to slice up a rock hard green tomato, dust it with a seasoned coat of cornmeal and deep fry it in fat is nothing short of genius. You don’t often see green tomatoes at the grocery store. You have to go to a specialty or outdoor market. But they’re out there. And I found some a few weekends ago on a typical Saturday morning on one of my outings with Dad. A beautiful pale jade color, these tomatoes sang out to me. They were big. And plentiful. I must have grabbed at least eight or nine. They were perfect! Not even the faintest blush of pink on this fruit and all were solid as boulders. Yes, I had some fryin’ on my mind. With James home it’s easier to justify food that’s not, well…all that good for you. Poor Jimmy. When James was at school it was fish and salad just about every night. But with James home? Mama gets to rattlin’ around in the kitchen and all MANNER of dishes come out! That last post I wrote on homemade dulce de leche was transformed into a tall, gorgeous Banoffee pie that was completely eaten before I could take the first photograph of it. Gone. Just like that. The only reason I had a photo of the Key Lime Pie from an earlier post is because I hid a huge slice in the refrigerator. Girl’s gotta do… anyway, treasure trove in hand I had plans for these ‘maters. For those of you who’ve never had a fried, green tomato you’re in for an addictive treat. FGT’s are salty and crunchy on the outside, tart and barely firm on the inside. I peel the skin off the bottom of the tomato so the cornmeal will adhere to the flesh. Too much skin and the cornmeal floats off into the oil. The tomatoes have to be completely green as even a half-ripe tomato will dissolve into a watery, sputtering mess in your frying pan. You really want to serve these warm so if you’re planning on these being part of your meal make sure the rest of your dishes are pretty much finished. Also, as with anything fried, you want your flour, egg and cornmeal all well seasoned. I served this batch of Fried Green Tomatoes with a buttermilk dipping sauce that can easily be changed up to the flavor of your choice. So feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of Sriracha, (SO good!), two tablespoons of plain, bottled BBQ sauce or a packet of Ranch dressing. I’ve not tried the Ranch, I’m just not a Ranch-style girl, but I’ve been told it’s pretty good. Go ahead and experiment. And let me know how yours come out!
8-9 green tomatoes, cut in half inch slices and seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper
3 tablespoons garlic powder, divided
3 tablespoons seasonings, I use Tony Chacere’s, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, well beaten
2 cups cornmeal, preferably white, and more on reserve
Buttermilk Dipping Sauce
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons Sriracha, BBQ sauce or Ranch dressing, all are optional
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 bunch of chives, chopped
Fried Green Tomatoes
Place flour, eggs and cornmeal in a line in SEPARATE, shallow bowls on your counter.
Season the flour with one tablespoon of garlic powder and one tablespoon your fave seasoning mix or Tony Chacere’s and mix until well combined.
Season the eggs and the cornmeal each the same way making sure the eggs and seasonings are well combined as is the cornmeal and seasonings.
Dredge each tomato slice in the flour, then in the eggs and then through the cornmeal. I use my left hand to dredge through the flour, right hand for the eggs and back to left for the cornmeal. This avoids “fat hand” syndrome.
Lay each slice over cooling racks, the ones you use for cookies or muffins, to air dry until you finish the dredging process. This keeps the bottom from becoming soggy.
Heat oil to medium high, about 350°.
Gently slip tomatoes into the oil being careful not to burn yourself or crowd the pan.
After 2-3 minutes turn each slice over for even cooking.
When light golden brown remove from pan with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on paper towels.
Serve with Buttermilk Dipping Sauce.
Buttermilk Dipping Sauce
In a medium bowl combine buttermilk and mayonnaise and whisk until smooth.
Add remaining ingredients, mix well, cover and chill until ready to serve.