Monthly Archives: July 2013

Zucchini pasta with chicken

zucchini pasta1It was Italy time last week, so I am now basically trying to recover – while catching up on some work that always piles up, even when you’re unemployed, how about that! I am also trying to recover from a spectacular Atoms For Peace concert we caught in Rome. It is so refreshing to know that good music is still out there, and that people actually still like it and look for it. The concert was amazing, it was a part of the Rock in Roma festival, at Ippodromo Capannelle (that’s near the Ciampino airport, about 20 minutes – and 20 euros – by taxi from the center of the city). The Festival boasts a surprisingly incredible lineup for July. In all honesty, myself and Mr. S were just standing in front of the wall displaying it, our jaws dropped, very close to tears, holding hands, taking photos, feeling small and all that.

ImageThe venue is amazing, this huge space that holds something like a club dance floor, with music and lights (were there lights? I remember lights, but I’m not sure… I think there were lights!), bars, food, a tables-and-chairs area, a small second stage, A LOT of promotional stands and, coming out of this area, on your left, the stage area: a large open area, on the edge of the horserace track where the stage that hosted the concerts was set.

I don’t think I need to say how awesome the concert was. I am a sucker for Thom Yorke (does it sound weird?? Oh well, whatever), but even objectively it was truly uplifting and special. Thom Yorke was somehow happier and, well… lighter than I had ever seen him in the past (I have now seen him live a total of eight times). All in all, it was a gorgeous night.

Refreshing indeed.

As refreshing as the concert was, though, the weather did not follow suit. It is now really hot, both in Greece and in Italy and, even during today’s «cool break» (we had a couple of storms, some thunder, the cat got terrified and kept meowing to be saved all night long), the atmosphere is not getting any lighter. In this environment, I always turn to vegetables for some freshness. Combined with a piece of chicken breast left in our fridge, my brain sang «chicken zucchini pasta» to me. And, as you very well know, you should never ever ever ignore the voices in your head. So I just went along with their plan.

I had always wondered how this «zucchini pasta» thing turns out, so today seemed like the perfect day to try it. I was not disappointed. The «pasta» is cool, refreshing and very Mediterranean, a perfect addition to a very greek-italian 10-days.

You will need:

1 Chicken breast fillet (I used one, the double one, you know, both sides of the breast – well, about 300gr)

2 zucchinis

3 cloves of garlic

4 (lol, no, I’m kidding) – a pinch of basil

Salt, pepper

What you need to do:

First things first: Take your potato peeler (or one of those special adjustable peelers, whatever you have, I wish I had the fancy equipment, but I don’t. Even so, the potato peeler worked just fine!) and slice the zucchinis in a bowl. Season them lightly and let them stand.

Meanwhile, cut up the chicken and cook it to your liking. I usually cook my chicken on the grill skillet (that link is only to show you which one I mean, I am not really familiar with that specific product), and season it with salt, pepper and some curry. This is how Mr S likes it and this is how I almost always make it. I cut mine in 6-7 pieces in total, seasoned it and cooked it on high heat for about 12-14 minutes.

When the chicken is ready, remove it from the fire and put it in the bowl, along with the zucchini. That will help make the zucchini softer. Return the skillet on the fire, slice up the garlic and throw it in there. Let it fry for about a minute and when it is golden, take your bowl and throw everything back in the skillet. Toss it around a little bit, until the zucchinis release some of their juices and you have a nice brownish juice. That shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes.

Add the basil, toss it around a little more and you are done.

Nice, easy and fast, this lunch will – surprisingly – keep you satisfied for quite a while! I am an eater, and almost 3 and a half hours later, I am not even close to craving for anything!

Buon appetito!


The BaconSpinachPasta that saves my life

baconspinachpastaI am a food victim. In my head, that means that, when in need, I cope with food. That alone can explain the endless list of comfort foods I have compiled and hidden in a drawer in my kitchen, where it’s handy.

So, today was not a very good day. This happened, something else followed, another thing hit… The news in Greece is so disappointing, I’m impressed all Greeks are not staying at home in bed all day, refusing to get up, get showered and get out there. New taxes are being imposed to people who really have no more money (or strength), racism is raging, there is a man on a hunger strike requesting a fair trial, what is happening!

All in all, I found myself lying in my bed, under my sheet, not wanting to lift an arm. At some point, poor Mr. S stuck his head through the door and said “I will be leaving for work soon, would you like to come out here and sit with me for a while?”

He tries, I’ll give him that, and sometimes it’s all it takes to give me a tiny boost. I said “I need some comfort food”.

BaconSpinachPasta is somewhere in the middle of my comfort food list, but it’s easy and quick, so I opted for that, instead of apple bougatsa – also, it’s lunch, and it was lunch time!

I felt a little better after eating it, and I felt a little better about two hours later, when I took the pan and ate what was left of it, watching Arrested Development. Then, two hours later, I felt bad because there wasn’t any left, so I toasted some bread, buttered it, sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on it and ate like there was no tomorrow.

Now I’m trying to hold myself back from making apricot muffins.

I eat when I’m feeling bad, did I mention that?

Anyways, here’s what you’ll need:

(for 2 people)

250gr pasta (I used penne)

1 can, eh… canned tomatoes (the 400gr size)

5-6 rashers of bacon

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, in small pieces

2 balls of frozen spinach

salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg

Boil the pasta. While the pasta is boiling, put a saucepan on high heat, cut the bacon in pieces (not tiny, not huge) and put it in the pan, along with the garlic. When it’s all smelly and gorgeous, add the onions and cook them for about 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and the tomatoes, salt, pepper and the nutmeg and cook for about 10 minutes. If it dries out, add some water from the pasta.

The smell alone will make you cry like a baby. Try it and remember my name, every time this easy little thing makes you feel a little better!


Beef casserole

ImageI don’t love beef. There, I said it. I don’t love it, don’t shoot me, please, it is all a matter of taste.

Having said that, I don’t hate it either. So, whenever Mr. S asks me to cook it for him, I am not doing cartwheels, but I don’t run away screaming either. In fact, I have a safety recipe, which helps me come out of the beef predicament with my head held high and my dignity intact.

Mr. S loves it.

It is no nuclear physics, but I have one tiny little secret that always saves the day.

Before I go into the actual recipe, let me just say one thing: You may have noticed, but I try to keep my (our) oil intake to an absolute minimum. I choose to receive the oil everyone needs (about 2-3 Tb daily) raw, in salads. I do that because a) I don’t like to receive unnecessary calories, and, believe me, your food does not really need oil to be tasty, and b) raw olive oil is much healthier than cooked. Oh, and it’s always olive oil, unless otherwise stated.

Now, what we will need, is:

250gr good quality beef (whatever you like, we will cut it in bite-sized pieces, so take your pick)

Some oil

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

About 1lt vegetable stock

2 Tb Barilla Basil Sauce (yes, secret ingredient!)

100gr mushrooms, chopped

 

Put some oil (how much is your choice, it depends on how you cook) in a large non-stick pan and brown the beef, turning it around for few minutes, over high heat. Season it too, I always forget to mention this, but I think it goes without saying, right? Once it is nice and brown, remove it from the pan, along with any oil or juices.

Return the pan on the heat and in it sauté the onion and carrots until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato, turn it around for, say, a minute or so, add the sauce and the vegetable stock, lower the heat and let it simmer for half an hour.

Add the mushrooms, let it cook for another 10 minutes and you’re done. Serve this on a bed of basmati rice, and I promise, it is always a winner!

 


Pizza Sunday!

pizza1 In Greece, Sunday is, traditionally, “friends’ day”. This means that, usually, someone comes over and we cook and have a good time over a meal. That’s mainly because Sunday is game day – we all gather in houses and watch football (soccer in some parts of the world, you know, the European football, not the American kind!), and then football (this time, I mean the American kind!) and everything else in between.

Most times, these “meals” start at early noon and go on until late at night! We eat, drink beer and yell at the TV a lot. At the end of the day, we return home, happy or sad for our teams, but certainly a lot closer to each other.

Now, due to the fact that I have a cooking virus, these little get-togethers usually take place at our home. Lately, they have started involving simpler forms of food, and, at the same time, are becoming more and more often. The financial crisis is to “blame” for both of these. Now, I’m all for meeting with friends, AND I’m all for simple forms of food, so – if I forget for a minute about all the taxes I have to pay as an unemployed person, that far exceed my income – the financial crisis is not so bad, eh?

#not

Anyway, this Sunday was no exception. Even though sports season is long over, we still get together with our friends and enjoy our balcony. This time, we had to talk “business”, so, obviously, there was beer and fingerfood. We laughed and gossiped a lot, and did some serious talking too. That’s the correct way to do business: content, with a smile.

Being Italy people, we opted for pizza. I always make pizza from scratch, because it is not as hard as it sounds and it actually tastes about 1,593 times better than ready-made pizza. It just takes a lot more time. Some of what follows is tips we… kindly extracted from my cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s sister, who was Italian, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember what of all of these is standard recipe and what is Italian pizza-making wisdom. I’ll just tell you how I do it, secrets and no secrets alike!

At this point I should say this: there are many pizza crust thickness standards that confuse the world. There’s very thin and crispy and a tiny-bit thicker and then there’s thick and fluffy (which I think is mainly eaten in Sicily), but the one I like – and make – is thin thin thin/crispy crispy crispy. So bear with me if you’re a thick-crust lover, vabbe’?

For the dough, you will need (for two baking sheets – two pizzas):

500gr flour

1 ½ tsp dried yeast

3 Tb olive oil

1 ½ tsp salt

300ml warm water

pizza2

Start by mixing the yeast with 2 Tb water and leaving it for five minutes. Meanwhile, put the flour and the salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In there, place the yeast/water and 3 Tb oil and start mixing. Slowly start adding the water and keep mixing, until you have a sticky dough. It’ll be very sticky and you will think you’ve done it all wrong, but you haven’t.

Take that sticky dough and any dough-pieces that may still be in the bowl, place it on a floured surface and start kneading. It’ll take you about ten minutes of kneading, until it stops being sticky and turns into an elastic dough. Try to make it into a ball and pressing it down with the inside of your wrist. It is a great meditation too, for real, my mind always relaxes when I do this.

When the dough is no longer sticky and is elastic enough (it’s elastic enough when you pull out a piece of it and it doesn’t immediately break off), oil a large bowl, put it in there, cover it with a damp towel and place it somewhere warm and safe from cats/kids/earthquakes.

foto 2

This is the dough before rising

pizza4

Cover it up and leave it for 1 1/2 hours

In about an hour and a half, it will have doubled in size. When this happens, punch it down (it’ll make a “pfff” like air is coming out – air IS coming out – but don’t expect it to be something loud, you’ll probably just feel it on your hand) and leave it for another couple of minutes.

pizza5

This is it, after 90 minutes. See how big it got?

Your dough is ready to be rolled!

Take the dough in your hands and separate it in two equal pieces. At this stage, the official pizza making rules (you thought there wouldn’t be any? Hahaha!) state that professionals shouldn’t use a rolling pin, but should always roll the pizza dough by hand. Which is why you see all the pizza chefs (pizzaioli in Italian) throw the dough in the air, putting on quite a show. Of course, I don’t do that. I would probably end up with a very surprised dough-covered black cat. I use a rolling pin, instead. But you are more than welcome to try it!

So, start rolling with your rolling pin until very thin. Carefully remove it from your working space and place it on an oiled baking sheet. From here on, you are welcome to improvise. You can have whatever you want on your pizza, there are no rules. I usually make sort of a Margherita for me, which means some tomato passata, mozzarella, basil and garlic (I put two cloves this time). Pizza AND an Italian flag, all at once! Mr. S chose to put passata, mushrooms, bacon, green pepper, black olives and oregano on his.

pizza3

My version of a Pizza Margherita (with garlic)

 

If you have children, make it a game with them, get them involved in the process, have them choose their toppings, have them place the toppings on the pizza, maybe make mozzarella designs on the pan, everything is allowed!

Bake your pizza high in the oven at 240 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Buon appetito!


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