Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chive Butter: A Pictorial

Welcome to spring! The herbs are starting to sprout. Chives to me are the first sign of all the yummy things to come. However, I never seem to make a good dent in the supply before they go to seed (the flowers bloom and then dry out and the whole thing goes into hibernation until next year) so I've made chive butter. Serious yum factor. The nice thing about this butter is that you can freeze it so it's a great way to keep chives around long after they are gone from the garden.

First, set your butter out and let it come up to room temperature.
Next chop your chives up.

Mix them with the butter. Using a back of a big spoon makes it easier.
Plop the butter on some plastic wrap.

Roll the butter into a log.

Twist the ends to get a nice tight log

Pop in the fridge or freezer. This will keep for a couple of months in the freezer.

Serve this with potatoes, pasta, on fish or meat.
Have butter issues? I'll try not to rant about the evils of the over processed product known as margarine. I prefer butter because it's the least processed. And the French eat lots of it and they have a far lower rate of heart disease than we do here in North America! Margarine was originally commissioned by Napoleon as a butter substitute for his troops and the poor. While we can safely say that margarine today is not the exact same formulation as back then, we have discovered in recent years that the hydrogenated oil in it was bad. So why eat something that has been manipulated from it's original form? We are discovering how dangerous that really is. That being said, I do have margarine in the house for convenience sake. However I reach for the butter first. I'll get off my soap box now. You can try this with margarine but I've never seen it done. Please let me know how it works out for you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Greek Souvlaki and Feta Tzatziki

This is a great grill time recipe but if the weather changes during the day (which is a good possibility around these parts) you can always broil or bake it.

I love Greek food! And it’s so healthy! The great thing about this dish is that you can do it all ahead and then at mealtime you just grill or bake. Easy! Start with a Mediterranean dip like hummus or baba ganoush and finish off the some baklava and you have a wonderful themed meal, suitable for guests. I like the leftover souvlaki in a pita with the tzatziki on top – what a great lunch!

Greek Souvlaki and Feta Tzatziki - Serves 6 -8. 7 Points

½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

24 cherry tomatoes
24 mushrooms
1 large green and red pepper
2 red onions
1 lb pork, chicken or beef

1 ½ cup plain yogurt, preferably the Greek or Balkan style
½ cup grated English cucumber, water squeezed out
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup feta cheese

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a shallow, non-metal pan.
Cut peppers, onion and meat in 1 inch cubes
Toss souvlaki ingredients in the marinade and let sit for a minimum of 3 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
Mix tzatziki ingredients and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Before cooking, arrange souvlaki ingredients on skewers.
Grill over high heat or bake at 425 for about 15 minutes. Serve with rice and tzatziki. Opa!

Nutrition Information based on 8 servings (without rice):Calories 306, Calories from Fat 176; Total Fat 20g, Saturated Fat 5g, Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 46 mg; Sodium 181 mg; Carbohydrates 15g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 10g; Protein 18g

Fresh squeezed lemon juice is best. One good size lemon should give you enough for both the marinade and the tzatziki. The superior taste over bottled lemon juice is well worth it in this recipe.

Use a decent quality olive oil. There is currently no regulation requiring that olive oil be labeled by origin of the olives. An olive oil that states it was bottled in Italy doesn’t mean all the olives come from Italy. Those olives could have travelled quite a ways to be part of the mix that ends up in that bottle. Buy your olive oil from a trusted importer. I buy mine from the Italian market and it comes from a cooperative of Greek olive growers. Taste great! And I didn`t pay a fortune for it either.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time for the BBQ! A tip for Cast Iron Grills

It's here, it's really here! Spring has sprung, the birds are singing, I've discovered a pussy willow bush (impersonating a tree) in my back yard, and barbecue season is official started! I have bunches of pussy willows with their beautiful grey/brown fuzzy buds in my vases. And I stocked up on barbecueable meals. I'm ready!

Last year I got a new barbecue. If you have bought a new barbecue in the last 2 years you may notice that more and more of them are coming with cast iron grates. It's a little different to deal with cast iron grates. At first I thought "what a pain" but I do know that once you get the cast iron just right it's worth the effort. Now I have 2 cast iron pans that I have never gotten "just right". So I wasn't optimistic. I read the instructions for seasoning the grates and did as I was told. Basically you have to wash them in warm soapy water, oil them and bake them at a low temperature. This is typical of all cast iron. I've done this for my cast iron pans and I still have rust issues and well, I still haven't really seen the greatness of the cast iron.

I have been following the instructions for caring for the cast iron grates between uses. We usually care for stainless steel or porcelain covered grates by burning off the food bits and scraping the grates clean after using them. With cast iron you have to think differently. The goal is to protect the grates between use. So I've been oiling the grates a bit after they've cooled, before I put the cover back on the grill. I also don't scrap off the food bits until BEFORE I go to fire up the grill the next time. This not only protects the grill but also adds to the seasoning process.

Last Friday night I threw on some steaks, totally forgetting to re-oil the grates before putting the food on. I thought "oh shit, this is not going to be pretty" and I gave the steak a little jiggle. Now really the steaks had just gone on and should have been sticking to the grates until they were seared and ready for flipping. But guess what?! They weren't stuck! My cast iron grates are seasoned properly! Amazing! I can't believe I finally have some cast iron that works the way it's suppose to... And I had the most perfect sear marks on those steaks. I love how cast iron holds the heat.

Now I'm inspired to work a bit more with my cast iron pans. I think it's easier to get your barbecue grates seasoned properly because you don't have to store them. When I oil up my pans, I then have to put them in the cupboard somehow keeping them dry and not effecting my other pots and pans. With the barbecue the grates have lots of air circulation and I can oil them liberally without any worries. Remember I live 1.5 blocks from the ocean so the air is damp, protecting my grates is imperative! And so far, no signs of rust. And now they work like they are suppose to. So don't despair if you have cast iron grates on your new barbecue. Once you get them seasoned, they are the best at searing food, making your barbecue the culinary wonder it was meant to be!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's been a slice!

First, see above for a chance to win a $1000 Cookware set. Enter now! This is only open to US residents.. Sorry but even I can`t enter.

Second, it's about time I shared with you the details of my weekend in NYC. It was awesome! The theme of the weekend quickly became "It's been a slice!" cause we ate a quite a bit of good real NY style pizza. The stuff I grew up on. Sigh.... good stuff. I may be ruined for life. But I'll get to that.

We had our first slice at Villa Pizza in the Bergen Town Center. Villa Pizza has restaurants in Italy! Holy crap, how good of a pizza joint do you have to be to have restaurants in Italy. (They have franchise opportunities...maybe that should be my next career... oo, they have a South Philly Steak and Fries brand... that would suit me! I digress) Granny Tan and I were a little overwhelmed at the selection. We both ended up with plain pepperoni. Nothing like sticking with a classic. We also split a tomato, mozza and basil salad that was huge and tasty!

Saturday night we went for Turkish food at Lisa's Turkish Kitchen. I didn't get a pic of my meal. It was huge, it was tasty, it was a good time. Ridgewood, NJ is a lovely spot to hit for dinner. It's BYOB which has it's charm... it's make for a cheaper meal overall but you do have to keep this in mind when heading out. Granny Tan and I after our meal (and a day of shopping... see our smiles?! and you can't even see my new shoes!)
Sunday morning we headed into the city for a food tour of the West Village. It was raining but we were prepared and eager to eat! (just a side note, I've been back for less than 2 weeks and I've had to do 3 loads of dog towels from wiping puppy paws.... i love spring....)

We started the tour with the most perfect slice of pizza. You have got to hit Joe's Pizza on Carmine St.
Perfection. I may be ruined for all pizzas in the future. And I've had some pretty damn good pizza in my life (best pizza overall.... in Sweden! yup, I swear but since the odds of most of you getting to Stockholm are probably slimmer than getting to NYC....) Seriously, I may not ever be satisfied in a pizza kind of way again. This tour rocks!

Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin. Talk amongst yourselves. I need a moment.
Okay, next we hit Bleecker Street and O&Co, an olive oil, vinegar and spreads shop. Note this link is Canadian! Yup, you can get this stuff delivered in Canada. But if you go to the .com site you see that there are locations in several different countries for you international readers. Ooooo, sweat nectar from the gods!
Olive oil is like wine. The quality varies. I have one less expensive olive oil for cooking with and a high quality French (that I picked up at O&Co) for salads and such. I also picked up a basil infused olive oil that is deadly tossed on tomatoes!
Next stop was Faiccos where the firemen were getting their lunch. We likey firemen!
We also ate a fried rice cheese ball. Yum! I wonder if I can make these at home without a deep fryer? These would be awesome appies for a cocktail party.
Our next stop was a 40 year old herb and spice shop called Aphrodisia, still on Bleecker Street.
We had a herbal tea tasting while there and sniffed some of the spices. Granny Tan went back for some paprika, I got some ground porcini mushroom powder! Cool.
Time to get off Bleecher street for a while. We headed over to 7th Avenue to Centro Vinoteca where the Head Chef Leah was on the show Top Chef!
It's a bit expensive but would make for a nice evening out. They have an extensive wine list.

We had a farro mushroom risotto. Alana and I aren't big mushroom fans but this was good. I gave my biggest mushroom pieces to Granny Tan but overall, yummy!

We also had the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine. They sell wine by the quarter bottle which is a great way to sample wine with a friend! Our hosts with the mosts enjoying a glass! No really, Adam was enjoying the tour, I swear. And Alana is only blurry when she drinks wine.

We then roamed around the village and had a tour of some of the landmark areas. Beautiful. Then it was time for some cookies. I ate mine too fast to get a pic.

Then is was back to Bleecher Street. We started our tour at Murray`s Cheese Shop and then hit it again later for a cheese tasting.

We had a smoked goats milk cheese, a dutch cheese and a Parmesan. The meat was actually from Faicco`s. I could have spent the afternoon in this store. And I could have bought half the contents however, trying to cross the border with cheese is not recommended (I`ve tried and had my precious cheese taken from me... I`m still traumatized by the whole thing).

We ended the tour the way any good visit to NYC should end - with a cannoli. An awesome cannoli from Rocco`s Pastry shop.

After the tour we went back to a O&Co to buy some olive oil and to Aphrodisia to buy some spices. We had beers at the Blind Tiger then headed over for a great deal on oysters at Fish still on Bleecker. 6 oysters and a glass of wine for $8. Alana wasn`t sure about raw oysters so we recommended she get the clams, same deal. Never did we imagine that the clams would be raw! I must say, I`ll stick with the oysters!

We decided to hit NYC`s second oldest pizzaria for dinner, John`s Pizza. They`ve been around since 1929 and still use their original coal oven. And it`s cheap! But get there earlier or you`ll be lined up outside for a while.

We got a pitcher of beer for less than $20. (I had a glass of white wine, served in a juice glass!)
Note the decor on the table. This place had character! We got a salad to share. It was enough for 4 people who had spent the day eating...

And then we split a pie. Sigh... it was good.

I must say, one could spend a day just on Bleecher street. Check out this or some of the other tours they offer. Money well spent.

We also got a tour guide of the recommended restaurants in the area. The tour was $46 and worth every penny. I`ll be keeping my tour guide for my next visit (and for anyone heading down that way, just email me, I`ll share info!)

Now, I must go figure out what to eat for dinner! Hmmm could I make thin crust....