Sunday, May 27, 2012


I cooked my final meal at the Lake House this past week.  The guys, in an act of complete humility and selflessness, have decided to leave the Lake House to give Jon and Natalia the space needed to work on their marriage.  As such, the house they'll be moving into is currently lacking a stove.  I'm crafty and creative, but there's not a whole lot I can do without a stove.
Greek food is always something that brings good memories of my time at Pizza Market, a small chain of pizza shops owned by a Greek family up in New Hampshire.  My boss, Sam, was from Greece and brought so much of his family and culture to the little hole-in-the-wall in Manchester, NH.  I can always be wooed by baklava, feta, and spanakopeta.  But dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, were never something I tried.  Recently, my friend David suggested I make them.  He doesn't ask much of me and always, when I ask 'What should I make for dinner tonight?' his response is, 'It'll be good, no matter what it is,' so I decided to take his advice.
It was far more labor intensive than I anticipated, but just getting to the point where I could make them presented a challenge in itself.  Finding un-stuffed grape leaves was its own obstacle.  Then, finding that the rice container at the Lake House was full of bugs, and that all the mint that was previously over-taking the entire landscape at the Lake House miraculously disappeared (you can't get it to go away if you tried), I was beginning to think that the cosmos were trying to tell me something.  I persisted, though, and ended up making 60 or so stuffed grape leaves and tzatziki sauce.
I wasn't a huge fan of the grape leaves, they were too salty for me.  If I could do it over, I would rinse and soak them in not pickly water.  The tzatziki was good and easy enough to make and I'd eat that on absolutely anything I could.

Here's the recipe for the dolmades:
1 lb. of rice
1.5 lbs of ground meat (the suggestion was lamb, I used beef)
1/2 chopped fresh mint
juice of one lemon
1 medium onion
4-5 tbsp of chopped garlic
salt and pepper
1/3 c of pine nuts, chopped
olive oil
beef or chicken broth
Here's what to do:
Remove the grape leaves from the jar, rinse them and let them soak in cool water.  Heat 2tbsp olive oil in a frying pan.  When it's warm, add the garlic and onions.  Cook until soft and brownish.  Then add meat and fry it up until it's cooked.  Add salt and pepper to season the meat.  (I added a sprinkle of Greek Seasoning, something only found down here.)  Let the meat cool for a bit.  When the meat is cooled off, add the uncooked rice, the mint, lemon juice and pine nuts.  Stir together until evenly mixed.  Get your empty grape leaves ready.  Using a spoon, add about a couple table spoons of mix to the grape leave.  You'll have to look up how to fold it into a tightly compacted little nugget, it's hard to explain.  Then pack them tightly into the bottom of a large sauce pan or pot.  Put them as close to each other as possible, this will help keep them together.  Once you've used up either all the stuffing or all the grape leaves, add enough broth (or water) to the pot to cover the dolmades.  This broth will cook the rice.  Put them on the stove and let the water boil.  Let it boil for 5 minutes then turn it down to simmering.  It's going to take quite awhile for the rice to cook inside the little rolls so be patient.  It took me an hour and 15 minutes!  Make sure to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't burn.  If the water steams out before they are done, add more water.  I just taste-tested them to see if they were done.  The rice should be fully cooked.

The tzatziki:
32oz of plain Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, de-seeded
5 tbsp chopped garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
Instructions: Grate the cucumber or chop it into tiny pieces.  Mix all ingredients together.  Let sit so all the flavors can mix together.  Voila!

I slathered the dolmades in the tzatziki to cut the salty-ness.  I also dipped pita bread in them.  I also ate it with a spoon.  Don't judge.  There are no pictures, I was so hungry by the time they were done (almost 3 hours later) that I just devoured them.  I was also watching the season finale of Glee, which may have been a bit of a distraction.
OPA!  (Broken plates and wasted paper napkins omitted)

Monday, May 21, 2012


I was cultured long before I even knew it!  It wasn't until I went to Guatemala that I realized how my mom exposed us kids, at such a young age, to Latin flare!  It was always such a special treat when my mom made yellow rice and chicken.  It was one of the few acceptable dishes in which it was acceptable for the different components of the meal to mix.  I normally loathe casseroles for this reason; Shepherd's pie is another story.
Now I realize how simple it was and how grateful my mom must have been when I asked for this dish.  It's cheap, it's quick, and it's super easy!  It's also gluten-free!
I recently made this meal for the Lake House and you would've again thought that I made some 5-star meal.  I have adamantly avoided rice since my time in Guatemala 6 years ago because that was my sole sustenance while there.  I exhaust foods pretty quickly, especially if it is all I eat for a month straight.  Anyway, since moving to Tampa, I've had to adjust my taste buds and release some of my stubbornness with my vendetta against rice.  I'm eating more of it now and try to stick with brown or yellow rice, to at least give me the illusion that it's not the same grain I'd eaten daily in Guatemala.
Just following the epic catering event of the century, I was kind of burned out from intricate cooking so I racked my brain to come up with something simple and tasty for the guys.  And, Ole!  Yellow rice and chicken!

Here's the very simple recipe:
3 pkgs of Vigo yellow rice
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can very young, small early peas by Leseur (this is negotiable to others, but I don't like any other peas)
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder
Instructions: Cook the rice as directed on the package.  While the rice is simmering, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the spices to the oil while it heats.  Add the chicken to the hot oil and cook thoroughly.  When the chicken and rice are done, open the can of peas.  Mix them all together and pan-fry it all for just a couple minutes, making sure it's thoroughly and evenly mixed.
Ta da!

I made this again last night and used lentils instead of peas, because that's what I had available.  I expect to be eating it all week and I am so excited about it!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Everything tastes better stuffed with cream cheese.

The guys at the Lake House are each responsible for cooking one night a week and Momma takes a night too.  Most of them double up or get outside assistance.  Last November, I offered to take a night of cooking, which was eagerly accepted.  When my friend Matt came back from the Philippines, he and I decided that we would cook together.  This could either be disastrous or a great exercise in humility for both of us.  Well, in order for it to be either of those, we actually have to cook together.  Most Thursdays Matt is fulfilling a family obligation and I am left cooking on my own.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind cooking alone.  In fact, it's easier.  But it's always nice to have input and help (of course when I ask for it).  This week, Matt told me he was available to cook with me and this is how the conversation went:
Matt: French toast for dinner tonight.  What do you say?  I'll pick the stuff up on my way home from work.
Me: Sounds good, get bacon too!  Do you need a list?
Matt: Isn't it pretty easy?  Eggs and bread?
Me: Yeah, but I want to check some stuff out to make it extra awesome.
(I'm grateful Matt puts up with my neurosis and is far more humble than I when it comes to cooking.  I should learn from him)
And so this is what happened:

Have you ever heard of something so delightful??
It was surprisingly easy and makes me second-guess all those fancy restaurants that serve it where I am in awe.  They are respectable in their own right, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of tastiness considering the amount of work put into it.

Here's the ree-sipe:
2 loaves of fresh Italian bread
2 pkgs cream cheese
frozen strawberries in their own juices (with or without sugar added)
7 eggs
3/4 C half and half
1tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp vanilla

Instructions:  Get the cream cheese to room temperature and defrost the strawberries.  Slice the loaves of bread into 1.5" slices.  Using a small paring knife, make a slit in the slice of bread.  We did it on the bottom for appearance sake.  Mix about 3/4 cup of the strawberry mix in with the cream cheese.  Mix it well, you don't want to be chewing on chunks of straight-up cream cheese.  The sweetness of the strawberries cuts the savory-ness of the cream cheese.  Using a spoon, stuff the heck out of the slices!  You don't want to put so much in that it's spilling out the bottom... it'll compromise the look and integrity of the stuffy-ness.
Once all your slices are stuffed, whisk the eggs, half and half, cinnamon and vanilla together.  Dip each slice, on both sides, in the raw egg mix.  Let them sit for a few minutes.  We had to let them sit for awhile because we took great care in frying them in a smaller pan.  This allows them to soak up the flavor of the mix and makes it more delicious.
Set your pan to medium to medium-high.  You need to be careful to not make your pan too hot because it'll cook the outside of the bread and you'll have to remove it before the egg-soaked insides are finished cooking.  This creates mushiness and grossness.  Put a tablespoon of butter in the pan before each batch to prevent sticking and make it so much healthier.  When it's cooked on one side, flip it over.  Duh.
We served it with bacon and syrup.  It probably didn't need the syrup but, being the sugar-fiend I am, I included it.
For the record, this does NOT feed 7 hungry men and me.  I should've gotten another loaf of bread.  But it was a hit!  It's not for the faint of heart or the dieter, but it sticks to your ribs and makes you smile.  I promise.

Monday, May 7, 2012


I've cooked multiple times since my last post and have been so negligent in my postings.  Life has gotten in the way, and as much as I love writing, I'd much rather be living my life than writing about it.
Anyway, last week I made a very simple dinner of steak with rice salad.
Of course no one knew what rice salad was and everyone was reluctant to try it but, again, I rode on the reputation of producing good food and shared this French dish I first tasted while visiting a friend in France 8 years ago.  I had yet to make it nearly as delicious as the first time I had it until last week.  I called in some recruits (in the way of websites) to find some decent recipes that I could meld to form something that would appease both my appetite and the ravenous appetites of the guys.
First things first, you can never go wrong with feta cheese.  My cheese repertoire is pretty limited so I rarely use it in cooking.  The cheeses I like are feta, goat, fresh, raw mozzarella, and American, occasionally.  If you catch me on a good day, cheddar cheese or pepper jack with crackers are also an option.  But feta is a good stand-in and so pungent and flavorful that it quickly makes even the most bland things (such as rice) quite flavorful.
It's blurry and doesn't look appetizing, but it's good!
Then, you add vinegar, oil, tomatoes, and some other seasonings and you have yourself a cool, tasty side dish for anything on the grill.
Here's the recipe:  (which, in my head, I read 'ree-sipe)
3 C brown rice
1/3 C olive oil
3-4 T lemon juice
3-4 T apple cider vinegar
garlic powder
6 tomatoes the size of my fist, diced (if you don't know how big my fist it, try tomatoes the size of a tennis ball)
6oz feta cheese crumbled
How to make it:  Make the rice how you normally would.  Then soak it in cold water to cool down the internal temperature.  Separately, mix all the wet ingredients and the seasonings.  Put that aside until the rice is cooled down to either fridge-temperature or room temperature.  When the rice is finally cooled, mix your liquid-y mixture and the feta and tomatoes.  Put the rice salad into the fridge while you grill, or even for longer, so that all the flavors can mix.  Voila!

For those of you who don't know, in 2010 I was diagnosed with insulin resistance.  It causes some other issues in my body that make me need to eat and live a healthier lifestyle.  I often falter because I love carbs and I love sweets.  Every now and then, though, I become inspired again and try valiantly, for about a week, to eliminate all these things that are essentially toxic to my poor little body.  You see, I should be eating a diet reminiscent of a diabetic to maintain steady glycemic levels, so this is really the elimination of carbs altogether and multiple small meals each day.  But recently I've been feeling really under the weather and was advised, yet again, by my mom to try eliminating the toxins from my body. I did some research and found that of the people that are insulin resistant, with the other manifestations of the poorly functioning pancreas, 85% are gluten intolerant.  WHAT?!!
Thankfully, I am not like other gluten-intolerant folks or Celiac peeps who are immediately affected by the intake of gluten.  But I have learned that consistant consumption of glutenous things have a serious affect on my intestines.  I will spare you the details.  But it is advisable to significantly reduce the amount of gluten I ingest to spare my body the toils of processing the high levels of carbohydrates.
I spent a week experimenting with my food and felt pretty steady throughout the week.  No intestinal distress and no calling out sick (except because I had bronchitis).  I was pretty pleased with the results but am actually horrified at the thought of giving up sweets, pasta, bread, and other tasty gluten-filled delights.  It's going to be slow-going and I am extremely reluctant to abstain altogether, but this information and my gluten fast have given me insight into foods that can and do trigger upset in my innards.
Anyway, all this is to say that I probably will continue to cook gluten-laden foods because they're delicious and filling and cheap.  And one can only eat so much rice and legumes before other gastrointestinal issues start to pollute the earth.  I'm gross, I know.  I'm sure I make my parents very proud.  :)  But the more I learn about the impact of diet on my body, the more compelled I feel to share it with ya'll.