Tag Archives: food

a diner greek salad

This is a bit fancier than your typical Greek salad, but not much. I’m certainly not a stickler for accuracy or authenticity when it comes to this sort of thing, and am pretty much happy to chuck in whatever veggies I have lurking in the crisper drawer when I make it. So, obviously, this is not gospel.

If you don’t like chickpeas, leave them out. Same goes for the green pepper, which is decidedly non-canonical but adds a nice bite. I can’t bear raw onion, so the pepper adds that same crunchy-bright note without the excruciating stomachache afterward. You can add fennel, if aniseseed flavors don’t put you off, or croutons, or even some meaty protein. Grilled chicken would be perfect, but chunks of cold salmon or even shrimp would be quite nice as well.

So enjoy this blueprint, and tweak away.

Erin’s Diner Greek Salad

1 pint cherry or cocktail tomatoes, halved or quartered

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 head of romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, chopped

6 oz. GOOD feta cheese, cut into cubes

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 green onions, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

small handful fresh parsley, chopped

small handful fresh mint, chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

3 Tbsp. olive oil

salt

pepper

Put the tomatoes in a salad spinner or colander, sprinkle with salt. Let stand 10-20 minutes while you do the rest of the prep.

In a large bowl, mix together the vinegar, herbs, green onion, salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in olive oil. Add the drained chickpeas to steep in the dressing.

Spin tomatoes dry, squeeze to remove excess moisture. Taste to make sure they aren’t too salty. Rinse and spin again if that’s the case.

Chuck the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, and lettuce in with the chickpeas. Toss everything together (I use my hands, but tongs are fine. Just be gentle.) Taste for seasoning. Add the feta. Toss again. Put in bowls. Drizzle over some more oil.

Eat. Be happy. Take some for lunch the next day.

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zucchini fritters

If you have a garden, or have a neighbor who’s growing things, the odds are good that you’ve been the recipient of a zucchini windfall at least once. At first it seems rather delightful, but as they start to increase in size, and inversely, decrease in flavor, it’s pretty easy to get sick of ’em pretty quick.

There is only so much zucchini bread you can make with those giant watery guys and they require a lot of prep to make them tolerable for a stir-fry or to grill.* As a culinary confession, I adore zucchini bread, in the same way I have a deep-seated fondness for all of that 1970s cooking that relies heavily on canola oil, yogurt, veggies used wantonly in desserts, and, like, raisins. This is no doubt because it was the kind of food I was raised eating (lots of casseroles, lots of grainy bread, lots of margarine, lots of canned fruit cocktail).

A friend once remarked to me that people tend to imprint the clothing styles of when they were younger (i.e. someone who started their professional life in the 1980s might still favor skinny ties, for example), and I think the same is definitely true for cuisines. We’re all time-stamped with the era when we came into our own as cooks, which may be part of the reason it can be so hard to expand one’s repertoire of staples.

That being said, if you’ve been bequeathed some zucchini, consider making these. They are so scrumptious that it is worth buying zucchini specifically for this purpose, I kid you not. Plus: vegetarian!

Zucchini Fritters

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer, makes about 2 dozen**

4 zucchini (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)

6 scallions, chopped fine

9 oz. feta cheese (get the good stuff, no grainy cow’s milk Athena here!)

small bunch parsley, chopped

small bunch mint, chopped

1 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

3 eggs, beaten

olive oil for frying (not extra virgin)

3-4 limes for serving

Grate the zucchini and then remove excess moisture, either by spreading out in one layer on a clean kitchen towel or in a colander set over the sink, lined with paper towels.

When the zucchini is drained, put it in a bowl. Crumble over the feta, then add all the other ingredients except the eggs and flour. Add the eggs, mixing well to combine, and the fold in the flour, making sure all the dry bits are incorporated.

Heat a large skillet and add oil to a depth of about 1/4-1/3 inch. Fry tablespoons-sized spoonfuls of the mixture in the hot oil, pressing down a little so they cook evenly. They’ll need about 2 minutes a side, but you want them golden, so use your judgment.

Drain on paper towels. Serve with lime wedges. Pretend you’re on a terrace in Corsica, with the scent of salt water and the maquis in the air. Vacation for underachievers, right there.

*True confession: I kind of categorically refuse to salt things to get the extra water out. I know this probably means I am using about 18 metric tons of olive oil when I fry eggplant, but I just can’t ever get the salinity out without repeated rinsing, which means I’m pretty much putting back the water I just spent an hour of prep time waiting to get removed and, just, no.

**I halved this with no discernible loss in quality, just used 2 small eggs instead of 3.

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kitteh, part the whatever

I’m wondering how long I can keep spinning out this series, given that my experience of public figures is more or less limited to people on public television and comedians from the UK. In the meantime, let’s cross the Atlantic one additional time to take a look at yet another PBS series.

Tina Nordstrom is undoubtedly the cutest in a wave of Scandinavian chefs and cultural phenomena (Marcus Samuelsson, Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Henning Mankell, and so on). The show she’s on is called New Scandinavian Cooking, which combines travelogue with cookery in a pleasant, inoffensive, wholly free from Rachel Ray shenanigans and useless goddamn catchphrases, so that’s a relief.

It’s also substantially better than that other travel cooking show, Spain: On the Road Again, which failed pretty spectacularly, I think, because it really smacked of being a vanity project (for at least Batali and Paltrow, who, I kid you not, travels with her own soy milk. And yet eats cheese. Phhhht.) and was just screaming out for someone to show a modicum of editorial ruthlessness. It was just bloated. And tiresome, despite being pretty to look at.

New Scandinavian Cooking benefits from the half-hour format, which is ample time for establishing shots, some local color, a few demos, and a staged meal at the end. It’s underwritten by corporate sponsors, like most PBS shows, Volvo being the major one, along with the Norwegian Tourist Board, the Danish Agricultural Council, and some dairy producers I’ve never ever ever heard of. The following are fun to peruse, and even more fun to sound out, out loud. Preferably when your co-workers are in earshot.

Nordstrom herself is precious, wonderfully enthusiastic, with a funny little intonation pattern that is part Swedish chef, part stroke victim, part public school posho. I could cry listening to her, especially when she gets all gushy over things like an egg-and-potato “compote” (Salad? Yes. Can we call all salads compotes from now on, just to fuck with people?).

And, yes, the inevitable. Bouncy, fluffy, wee. Kitteh.

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frozen realness

So. It’s hot. Been established that I have yet to fork over the fifty bucks for the ice cream maker.* Love making frozen treats of the popsicle/paleta type.  Drink a lot of iced coffee, Vietnamese for preference. Last trip to Target I bought them out of condensed milk and instant espresso (don’t knock it, bitches).

I am missing one of the inserts for my popsicle mold-the orange one  seems to have gone missing. Seeing as how for the last three weeks I have been finding these in various locales–like the evil witch trying to entice Hansel and Gretel with a trail of crumbs, or a line of clothing dropped on the floor [shoe, shoe…sock, belt…sock…button down]…indicating that someone is home–I have been finding these throughout the house (bedside table, in between the sofa cushions, at least once on the mattress).

I’ve also been freezing things randomly in the hopes that a wonderful new popsicle will present itself to me as the byproduct of laziness and ingenuity. While that may be the case occasionally, Orangina does not a good popsicle make. It doesn’t taste like much of anything, just watery and icy. All the lovely bite and fizz gets turned into gritty crystalline holes that scrape your tongue. They were so lousy, truth be told, that I actually rethawed them to drink as legitimate Orangina (Oh, shut up. That shit is expensive.)

Ahem. But, to the matter at hand. Vietnamese iced coffee popsicles– great idea, or GREATEST IDEA?

These are mine. They aren’t much to look at, but they taste divine.

1 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee (I use instant espresso and cold water. Really, as long as it has some kick to it, you can use any method of prep that suits.)

3-6 Tbsps. condensed milk (depending on how sweet you want these)

Mix. Pour into popsicle mold. Freeze 4+ hours. Don’t eat in the evening unless you used decaf or really want to be up all night.

These absolutely breathtaking striated ones are from here. No experience with whether or not they taste better, but they are beautiful.

*But when I do, I am so making my own Pinkberry-type fro-yo. Gah. Nom.

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vietnamese chicken salad

True confession: I don’t really love rau ram — also known as Vietnamese coriander. When I go out for pho, I tend to favor the basil, cilantro, mint, limes, and bean sprouts and leave the rau rau more or less untouched. I tried growing some once, in a lovely little corner planter with a mix of yellow and orange Asian lilies. It looked beautiful, and has a gorgeous trailing growth pattern.

But, the taste. There’s a relatively hardcore contingent of folks who can’t stomach cilantro, which I’ve never quite understood. However, I once tried that selfsame Vietnamese coriander plant that I had grown, and, wow. WOW. It tasted almost exactly like gnawing on the end of a freshly unwrapped bar of Ivory soap, and it sucked every last molecule of moisture out of my mouth. So, if that’s what the people who hate cilantro taste when they even get a whiff of the stuff, I can get the avoidance factor.

But a delightful rau ram-free chicken salad hits all the right notes. Plus, it’s basically temple-food, given that it contains no added fat or oil. And it was a damn good use for the leftover grilled chicken that the pimento cheese derailed us from eating the night it was made.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World and Jefferey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.


1 Tbsp. nam pla (fish sauce)

1 tsp. coarse black pepper

1 tsp. agave or sugar

1 small minced chile OR 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tsp minced lemongrass

2 shallots, sliced (I didn’t have these, but it’s better with them)

1 cup rinsed bean sprouts (same deal, also good with snap peas)

1/2 cup chopped rau ram OR equal parts mint, cilantro, and basil (to taste)

2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken

Mix together the first nine ingredients, then toss with the chicken, sprouts, and herbs. Eat like this, in lettuce leaves, or wrapped up in rice paper skins.

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pimento cheese, please

Oh, sweet baby Jesus. A combined longing for Kentucky summer and Facebook request for a recipe has made me crave pimento cheese something fierce. So much so that I scrapped plans for the rosemary-lemon grilled chicken that we had already started to cook and sent my better half to to the store for some extra-sharp cheddar, celery, and a loaf of white sandwich bread (Though I will countenance a Saltine here. A Triscuit would be acceptable, as long as it is not reduced fat. Same dealio for a Ritz.) It’s pimiento cheese, ladies and gentlemen. It has the caloric density of Devon cream, and it is goooooood.

Miss Verba’s Pimiento Cheese

Recipe adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

1/4 lb. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon white pepper (I use black pepper with no problems, here)

1/2 c. mayonnaise

1 teaspoon sugar

Few splashes hot sauce (I like Crystal, rather than Tabasco)

dash cayenne pepper (optional)

1 lb. sharp cheddar, grated

3 large seeded, roasted, peeled, and chopped red peppers (I used a jar of roasted red peppers from Trader Joe’s)

Blend together first 6 ingredients (I used a hand mixer, but a spoon would work) until thoroughly combined. Fold in cheese and red peppers.

Chill.

Eat with lightly toasted white bread, celery sticks, and a glass of sweet tea on the porch while watching fireflies.

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devolution, culinary and otherwise

Being able to cook well comes with its own attendant host of problems. Forgive the egoism, but I am pretty adept in the kitchen. It’s part of my extremely limited skill set, so I’m okay with a little bragging. Skills I am reasonably sure I do not possess include the following: having face control when someone is acting like an absolute twat; the wherewithal to actually MOVE FURNITURE when I’m sweeping or mopping or somesuch bullshit; managing to shave without leaving lonesome clumps of leg hair remaining unscathed on my ankles; the self-control to keep peanut butter in the house; actually coming to a complete stop at most intersections, etc. etc.

Oh, hello, mister jar of hydrogenated goodness.

Here’s pretty much how I feel about you.

That having been said, it means that I don’t get to eat out a lot. Most restaurants strike me as unnecessary and overpriced. Paying twenty bucks for a plate of pasta makes my inner tightwad pissed off to the point where I genuinely can’t enjoy, you know, getting to go out and have someone else clean up the mess. Exceptions to this include high-end experimental restaurants — not that my experience of this is extensive, since I am decidedly lacking in an unlimited expense account or black AmEx– and anything ethnic. Certain idioms and genres of cooking make their way into my repertoire more frequently than others (i.e. New Southern, Greekish and/or Mediterranean, a vague California-Continental hybrid).

So, pho or tacos el pastor aren’t really staples in our house. Going out of course, that’s another story. I’m generally quite happy to order five different kinds of elaborately prepared bread at an Indian restaurant, or some Vietnamese salad that requires shredding no less than half a dozen vegetables.

What it takes to make pho. Plus about ten hours.

Family members, in particular, tend to regard me as somewhat eccentric. When I stay with my mom over the holidays, even when it’s just me eating, I consider it no great hassle to make a plate of spaghetti carbonara, or some cold soba noodles with salmon, or a curry, or a tuna and white bean salad, and so on. My pantry is pretty bereft of prepared and snack foods, for which see above re: complete and utter lack of self control. So, usually, when I want something to eat, I cook it.  Or I have a salad. Or some yogurt. Or vegetables and hummus. *

Which is probably why, when left to my own devices for any extended period of time, I start out with the best of ambitions, but then my fundamental cheapness and laziness takes over. Mike went fishing last weekend, and we didn’t have a lot in the bank. I could have cooked the vegetables from our CSA, but all that was left were mustard greens (no bacon); baby bok choy (juicy and easy to make, but ultimately, profoundly unsatisfying) and some beets (too Lady Macbeth. I’d prefer not to be stained magenta for the remainder of the weekend, thanks all the same).

I should also add that since summer began in earnest, I seem to have devolved into a fourteen-year-old boy. I shower far far less frequently than I should. I’m keeping third-shift hours, somehow, and I wear Mike’s boxer shorts pretty much everywhere. **

Maybe if he hadn’t taken the car I would have made a trip to the store. Maybe I would have eaten something vaguely healthy. Because no matter how much I natter on about how processed foods are the devil, or extol the virtues of cooking a complete dinner for one, I am a sloth at heart. *** I was planning on eating some cheese and crackers, but we had only Pecorino (not a natural partner for Triscuits, I reckon) and shredded Mexican 4-cheese blend.

What I came up with could easily be featured on This is why you’re fat: a plate of Triscuits covered in shredded cheese, nuked in the microwave and then doused with Crystal hot sauce. Followed by dessert, which consisted me gnawing, rat-like, on a chunk of Mexican hot chocolate. Never let it be said that I am anything but eminently classy, yo.


*People quite honestly find this very strange. I had some people visiting and they were like, “Do you have snacks?” and I said, “I could make a salad, probably.” I got a very strange look in return. Salad? Totally normal foodstuff? Surely you’ve heard of it? The one I’m totally jamming on these days consists of baby spinach, avocado, feta cheese, and sunflower seeds, dressed with pumpkin seed oil and lemon juice. It is pretty much perfect.

** When your partner is begging you to put on real pants for a trip to the grocery store, you may have a problem.

***So lazy that when I’m alone, I’m perfectly content to eat cereal for three days straight. When Mike met me in Cambridge after I had been living there for a week on my own, he was appalled to learn that my food supplies consisted of a jar of Skippy and one of marshmallow Fluff and  a loaf of plastic white bread.