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 white kind of sweet potato but it’s not a 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.
Jimmy was 24 years old the first time he went to Greece. It was the 1973. He went with his childhood friend, Peter. Remember? Jimmy’s mama and Mrs. Scarlatos, Peter’s mama, used to pick greens together on the side of the road in Boston? You remember. Anyway, Peter and Jimmy had gone to Greece together and were on the island of Paros. There they were, with a bunch of their friends from Boston AND girls. They were having a blast. They hiked to ruins, then at night, would descend upon tavernas, welcomed and embraced warmly by the locals who treated them as the long, lost greek children they truly were. They hung out on the beaches, talking, laughing, enjoying that ultimate luxury, the casual passing of time during a long, hot summer. And GIRLS. Jimmy tried not to think of the side trip he had to make. While all the other kids were playing and having the times of their lives, HE had to go to Moria, his family’s ancestral village, on the island of Lesvos. Moria. What he knew would be a rinky-dink town, some outpost of nowhere, Mr. Alighieri’s Fifth Hell. Kill me now. He was not happy. Resigned and defeated, Jimmy left the good time on Paros, boarded the over-night ferry and arrived at the port of Mytilini the following morning. He made the hour long trip to Moria on a tired, dilapidated, old bus and arrived mid-morning, hot and sweaty, sporting long hair, an unruly beard and an all-around generic american hippie look. Not pretty. Keep in mind, he’s from Boston. Looks don’t count. He walked through the village, trying to recognize houses and landmarks from the many years of stories told by his mother. Outside an ordinary house, he saw an older woman bent over sweeping her courtyard, clouds of hot dust swirling about her, she oblivious to the heat, wearing the requisite long black dress and head modestly covered with a scarf. He approached her, politely asking, “Signome…,” “Pardon…”, but before he could continue she whirled about with a fiercely protective scowl on her face and replied, “OHI!” “NO!” “Go away, tourist! Go away!” and waved her broom at him, making it perfectly clear, one more step and you’ll be feeling this broom, Yankee fool. She was not to be trifled with. Throwing his arms up to protect his head and face he screamed, “Ohi! Ohi, Thea Vasiliki! Paragalo! Eimai Dimitri, o anipsios apo tyn Ameriki!” “No, no, Aunt Vasiliki! Please! I’m Dimitri, your nephew from America!” WELL. That poor woman threw her broom in the air, ran to Jimmy and flung herself on his hippie self, crying and laughing, all the while frantically making the sign of the cross, over and over. She welcomed him into the house where he sat down. She knelt down before him and began untying his hiking boots. “Thea, what are you doing? Get up. You don’t need to do that.” And she replied with a little more than a bit of defiance in her voice, “I took your brother Peter’s shoes off. I took your brother George’s shoes off. I WILL take your shoes off.” It was a wonderful two days. Jimmy assured her over and over that her sister, so, so far away from her family and homeland, was fine. His cousin, Dimitri, had a motorcycle and showed Jimmy the island, up to the mountains and back down to the beaches. Cousin Dimitri showed Hippie Dimitri the ancient, Roman aqueduct which sat on the outskirts of the family property, and the horio, the village, with all its hiding places and secret spots. Cousin Dimitri threw out the challenge, “I hear all Americans drink ouzo with water.” Jimmy replied, “I don’t.” Cousin Dimitri said, “I hear all Americans drink ouzo with ice.” “I don’t”, again Jimmy answered. Challenge met, they became the best of friends, the best of brothers. Together they tried the different kinds of ouzo, all the while, Thea Vasiliki cooked and baked her heart out. I can’t say this enough, but it’s ALL about family.
This was one of the dishes prepared by Thea Vasiliki, typically Greek, unpretentious and incredibly savory. Yemistes, stuffed vegetables. It is an extremely easy and forgiving dish. You can stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, squash, onions…anything that will hold stuffing. And you can stuff as many or as few as you’d like. The filling is also extremely versatile. Brown or white rice can be used. Ground lamb or ground beef, or no meat. It’s all good. I add shredded zucchini sometimes or use zucchini wedges in between the vegetables to keep them from toppling on their sides. Typically, potato wedges are used to keep the stuffed vegetables upright, but as I’m desperately trying to hang on to the last vestiges of my girlish figure I have to stick a lower carb leveling utensil. The herbs used in the stuffing, again, may be substituted to fit your tastes or mood. Fresh dill, mint and flat-leafed parsley are usually my choice but fresh thyme, rosemary or marjoram are also wonderful. If you find fresh marjoram and have never tried it, pick it up. Try it. It tastes like perfume in an herb. I’m crazy about it. Today I used a small package of ground lamb. Lamb is great, because it’s so flavorful you don’t need much to get that “meat heft” and flavor in your dish. Oh, and a great way to stretch this is to buy large vegetables and cut them in half lengthwise to stuff. The Greeks are crazy about these stainless steel round baking dishes, shown in the photograph above. They come in varying diameters but the height is typically 2 1/2 inches high. They’re used not only for yemiste, stuffed vegetables, but also spinach pie, baklava, and most dishes requiring phyllo dough. Jimmy always gets irritated with me when we go to the Greek market because I always want to buy another one. I have two now. One medium in size and the other monstrous. Great for parties. But I feel you can never have too many. I’ll let you know when he springs for another.
4 cups short grain, brown rice, or rice of your choice, cooked
salt and pepper to taste
4 large peppers or as many as you’d like
8 tomatoes or as many as you’d like
3 or 4 zucchini cut into wedges or 1 or 2 potatoes if you’d rather, none it your vegetables fit snugly into their baking dish
Preheat oven to 375°.
Add onion to same pan as cooked, drained ground lamb, stirring, cook onion until clear.
Add garlic and herbs, stirring all the while.
When herbs have wilted, add rice and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.
Cut tops off of peppers, set aside, and cut ribs and seeds and discard.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set aside. With a thin spoon, I use a soup spoon, scoop out insides of tomatoes being careful not to poke a hole through the flesh. Set the innards aside and if it looks as though you won’t have sufficient filling, chop up the tomato cores and add to stuffing to stretch it out. Just see how it goes.
Spray non-stick spray to baking dish and spoon filling into vegetables, placing upright in baking dish. Now’s the time for the zucchini or potato wedges. Tuck them where needed to keep your fruits of labor from toppling over and spilling their filling.
For tomatoes and peppers, add the tops previously cut off.
Carefully, add water to bottom of baking dish, maybe 1/2 to 1 inch.
Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for a good hour, hour and a half. Drop temperature to 350° if your oven is too hot. Vegetables are done when tender.