Category Archives: recipes

MexicAsian Pico de Gallo

I’ve been hit by an attack of laziness since finals ended.  After pulling three all nighters, sifting through thousands of pages of research, writing 40 pages, completing an exam and working at baked through all of it, I kind of feel like I’m allowed to be a couch potato.  I was really looking forward to vegging out at my parents’ house in Connecticut, drinking lots of tea and spending time with the friends I grew up with—people I don’t see all that often but feel like family.  I’d also see my actual family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins.  Then after Christmas, I’d head out for the highlight of my vacation: a return to South Africa, where it’s hot and summery right now, and more friends, family and good food await.

Well, I got to see some of my extended family, and some friends as well.  I had an amazing Christmas Eve dinner at Ferme, a restaurant where my friend Ian is the sous chef.  But when the weather reports confirmed that we were going to get hit hard with the blizzard, I packed up my bags, skipped my big family Christmas and headed down early to NYC to avoid getting snowed in.  And I’ve been here since then, holed up in a hotel room in Brooklyn.  I did venture out into the snow yesterday with Jing, grabbing a quick bite to eat and visiting some of my favorite Brooklyn spots from my old neighborhood (specifically Café Pedlar and Pacific Green Gourmet) and some new spots (Brooklyn Fare, which is not quite what I expected but is a welcome addition to the neighborhood anyway).  We retreated, though, when the wind gusted to 50 mph and it approached full-on whiteout conditions.   I’d never seen snow this bad before, and it didn’t bode well for my flight.  My initial departure was delayed, giving me a two-day holiday in Amsterdam before I’d be able to get on the next flight to Cape Town.  Then that flight was cancelled, and an alternate flight was found that would depart the same night and keep my Amsterdam mini-break intact.  When that was cancelled, the next best option was for me to fly out of Boston on Wednesday, two days after I was supposed to leave and a few hundred miles away from where I’m sitting right now.  Tomorrow I’m packing up again, heading back to Connecticut and then up to Boston.  So much travelling!  In the meantime, though, I’m in my hotel room, everything around me closed, all of my books read, and going slightly crazy from lack of things to do.  Not that I don’t love writing here at POR, but it’s been a bit more brain power than I’ve felt like exerting over the past few days … until now, because I’m out of options to distract myself (and rapidly exhausting even this one. Damn).

I give you, then, tomatillo and fuyu pico de gallo.  Inspired by a craving for pico but a genuine fear of winter tomatoes, I decided to use some other ingredients that aren’t quite as unappealing during the colder months: fuyu, which are actually in season now, and tomatillos … whose growing habits I know absolutely nothing about but always seem to be around the grocery store.  Pictures are scant because I made this at night when the lighting is very bad, but also because I didn’t think I’d post about this until I served it with frijoles negros, brown rice and avo the next day for lunch and was surprised by how nice it looked and tasted.  You could just as easily do this with shredded chicken, pork, shrimp (other meats will be too intense for the delicate flavors of pico and fuyu), or even tortilla chips, but I was in need of an actual meal, feeling lazy (do we sense a pattern here?) and meat averse.  I was so lazy I didn’t even cook my own rice, instead buying the frozen packets from Trader Joe’s, which I have to say are phenomenal.  The warm beans and rice, plus the heat from cayenne pepper, are all welcome in the cold, but the bright notes of citrus and fuyu add a clean, fresh element to the meal that helps to alleviate the short, grey days without making you feel weighed down.

Well, I’ve stretched out this post just as long as it’s going to go before boring all of you to death.  I promise, PROMISE that photographs of food and drink from South Africa are forthcoming—we have a picnic lined up at Boschendal that is definitely worth writing about, and I’m not lugging my camera and laptop halfway around the world and back again for nothing. Until then, wish me safe, on-time, hassle-free travels—and the same to you!

***

Tomatillo-Fuyu Pico de Gallo

4 medium sized ripe fuyu persimmons, diced

4 ripe tomatillo, diced

1 medium shallot, diced

juice of 1-2 limes (fresh)

approx 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (could also use fresh chilies/jalapeños but I didn’t have any)

salt to taste

 

Mix all ingredients together.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.

I served mine over warm brown rice and frijoles negros, with ¼ chopped fresh avo.

 

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Fuyu! (and baked potato crisps)

I’m really, really bad at procrastinating.

Actually, that’s not true– I’m really good at it.  I’ll find that right when I’m about to sit down to work on a paper, I’ll have to clean, or catch up on emails I’ve been neglecting, or make a cup of tea, or my ultimate time-killer, putter around in the kitchen.  This “skill” is at its worst when I’m stressed out, like right now.  I have an entire book I’m supposed to read for tomorrow, a 25 page group paper on Sino-African development due in about a week, and a 25 pager on education projects in Tanzania due in two weeks.  So of course, I’m sitting here writing about cooking, cooking that I did when I really should have been papering.  In my defense, though, I did have all of these gorgeous fuyu persimmons and a ton of potatoes that I had to use before I head back up to New England for Thanksgiving.  If I hadn’t made this, they would have gone to waste (did I mention I can also rationalize anything under the sun?)!  You’re getting two super easy recipes today, and lots of pretty pictures because the lighting on Sunday morning was really exceptional.

golden brown and delicious.

Recipe #1:  Baked Potato Crisps

Ingredients:

potatoes

Maldon Sea Salt

olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 325F.  Thinly slice your potatoes– aim for nothing larger than the edge of a dime.  Any kind and size are fine, as long as the size of your slices is relatively even.  Dump slices into a bowl, toss lightly with olive oil and Maldon sea salt.  Lay out individually on a baking sheet (I covered mine with tin foil for easier cleanup).  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Recipe #2: Fuyus with Cinnamon

fuyu

Ingredients:

ripe fuyu persimmons

cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.  Thinly slice your fuyu.

***

My knife was terrible so mine ended up being about two dimes thick, but you can go thinner if you’d like a crispier texture (almost like a fuyu crisp).  Mine were gummy but had a good caramel taste from being in the oven.  Note that you’ll need to keep an eye on them to adjust for cooking time.  Arrange on a baking sheet covered with tinfoil and sprinkle with cinnamon (you could also add some extra brown sugar on the top if you wish).

***

Bake until the edges start to curl up.  Enjoy served warm by themselves or with vanilla ice cream, or slice into a bowl of oats with brown sugar, crushed almonds and a dash of cream.  These would also be fantastic sliced into a spinach salad with walnuts, goat cheese, slivered red onion and a mildly fruity vinaigrette (like raspberry).

***

Rainbow Curry

 

from top center, clockwise: yellow mustard, red pepper, cardamom, brown mustard, turmeric, whole cumin

 

I’ve always liked Indian food but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I got truly addicted.  I spent six weeks in Bangalore, India for school (with a week or so spent on some farms and in Mysore) and ate Indian food for every single meal of the day.  Some people, when they travel, get sick and tired of local food and suddenly crave things like toast or a Big Mac—anything that reminds them of home.  That would not be me (though I will make an exception for coffee anywhere except for India, where I’ll take a hot cup of chai any day).  My host mother in India was a phenomenal cook and introduced me to the delicious flavors of Southern Indian cooking, which is very different from the Northern style that we mostly get in the US.  Southern cooking, to me anyway, is a lot lighter than Northern cooking—it still sticks to your ribs but doesn’t leave you feeling as though you just ate a lot of (very tasty) cement.  There is a lot of coconut used in the South, and it tends to be predominantly vegetarian as the south is majority Hindu.  This recipe is loosely based on curries that Chaya, my host mom, made while in India (note: you could easily swap out the ghee/butter for sunflower or canola oil to make this vegan).  I crave curry as soon as the weather gets colder and make it in huge batches to freeze for quick dinners when I’m tired and/or lazy.  It tastes just as good as the day after I made it—curries are always better once the flavors have a chance to mingle.  See the instructions below for the scoop on “resting” time and freezing.

Note:  The recipe below is pretty spicy, so if you prefer yours less so, cut down on the chilies and pepper flakes. Alternately, serve with fresh plain yogurt or raitha to cut the heat.

 

***

 

Rainbow Curry

Serves 4-5

4 tbsp ghee/butter

1 tbsp mustard seeds (I split this between yellow and brown but either are fine)

1 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to spiciness preference)

½ tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp whole cumin

5 whole dried chilies (again, adjust to spiciness preference)

3 thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger, cut in 3 pieces

5 whole cardamom pods

4 bay leaves (dried)

4 tbsp minced shallots

1 tbsp fresh minced garlic

2 pints tomatoes, halved (canned are also okay – about 16 oz should be fine. I used multi-colored fresh for the “rainbow” effect but you don’t have to)

1-2 fresh peppers, cubed (not green)

2 tsp salt

1 cup canned coconut milk (I used low fat)

3 pounds potatoes, cubed, skin-on (again, used multi colored for the rainbow effect but any kind and color are fine)

2 cups frozen peas

 

red, orange, yellow and green baby heirlooms.

 

 

***

 

 

***

 

Melt butter in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat.  Add pepper flakes, garlic and shallots and sautee until aromatic.  Add cumin and mustard seeds and sautee quickly until mustard seeds start to ‘pop’ (about 20 seconds).  Add tomatoes, salt, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cardamom and ginger.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes; for fresh tomatoes, cook until skins start to pucker.  Add coconut milk, peppers and potatoes and cover.  Cook for about 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through/nearly cooked through.  Stir periodically (you can add water if it looks like things are drying out a lot, though the potatoes will release a decent amount of water as they cook).  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary during this time.  Add in peas and cook for about 2 more minutes, until peas are heated through but still retain their bright green color.  Grey peas are gross!  Remove from heat.

Curry always tastes best if it is let to sit for a bit.  Ideally I’ll make my curry in the morning and let it sit out on the stove, covered, until that night.  I’ll quickly reheat and serve over basmati rice (removing cardamom, bay leaves and whole chilies first).  Life being what it is, however, the ideal thing never happens and I usually make it the night before.  It’s fine to sit out overnight and during the day as long as you keep it covered (rules change slightly if it has meat in it).  Reheat in your microwave or on the stove.  To serve, top off with fresh coriander/cilantro.

You can also add in any number of veggies to this dish.  Mushrooms, carrots, eggplant, cauliflower … it can all go in.  If you’re using delicate veg like mushrooms, though, don’t abuse them by adding them at the beginning of the cooking process—toss them in about halfway through the 20-30 minute simmer session.  Carrots, on the other hand, take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to cook so you can add them in with the potatoes.

Peashew Chicken

A long-running joke between some of my closest friends is that I’m secretly Asian.  This could have something to do with the whole dark hair/dark eyes/fair skin combination, or the fact that out of the four people that make this joke, three are Chinese and one is Japanese.  More likely, though, this has to do with my undying obsession with Asian cuisine.  When people ask me what my ultimate comfort food is, my immediate response is ‘miso soup with brown rice.’  I have a mild addiction to shrimp crackers, I brought hondashi, matcha and an economy-sized bottle of Sriracha with me to South Africa because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it in Cape Town, and I would definitely run back into a burning building to rescue my Zojirushi rice cooker.

I’ve already featured some Asian recipes here; krayasaat, the warm soba salad, and sesame matcha macaroons.  This time, though, I’m skipping authentic snacks and all things Asian-inspired in favor of a super easy, super delicious Chinese recipe.  Don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list, since everything will be available at a regular grocery store.  It’s a well-rounded, healthy meal in a bowl with notes of salty, sweet, and umami, and of course, is served over perfectly cooked white rice.  I swear it tastes better when you eat it with chopsticks (if you don’t know how to use them, learn!  Once you can pick up oiled peanuts, you’re an expert.  At least according to my a-yi 阿姨).  This meal is also great reheated, so don’t feel like you have to share.

Oh, and since you’re probably wondering what’s up with the name; either peanuts or cashews work well with this recipe.  I’ve made it both ways and love them equally, and in the interest of avoiding nut discrimination decided to be inclusive when titling the post.

the chicken in its cashew incarnation.

Peashew Chicken
Serves 4, or just you for 4 meals, because this is so good you won’t want to share
based on a recipe from Appetite for China

Ingredients:

1 pound skinless chicken breast or tenders, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup soy sauce (low sodium variety is best, you can also use Tamari to make this gluten-free)
¼ cup water
1 tablesoon white rice wine or mirin
2 teaspoons chili sauce (I used sriracha because I was cooking for others, though la jiao is excellent if you can really handle the heat)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 to 3 scallion stalks, chopped
2 large handfuls mung bean sprouts
1 head bok choy (about 6-7’’ long), chopped, though feel free to add more
1 handful unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed (either roasted or unroasted are fine)
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

A bit on rice:

I like to use Nishiki medium-grain white rice, but any plain white rice will be fine, with the exception of that microwaveable Uncle Ben’s crap.  Buy your rice in a bag and cook it properly, it’s worth it.  Make sure not to use Jasmine or Basmati; even though they’re delicious, they will make this dish less so.  You could also use brown, if you want to be uber-healthy.  I use about two scoops using my rice cooker measuring cup, but if you’re cooking rice in the pot follow the instructions at the bottom of the post.

Instructions:

Place the chicken pieces in large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, water, mirin, chili sauce, and sesame oil. Reserve half and set aside. Pour the remaining half over the chicken and stir to coat. Let marinate for a minimum of 20 minutes, though 2-3 hours is way better.

Once the chicken has absorbed all of those delicious flavors, heat the peanut oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.  Your ingredients should be aromatic, but not browned.

Add the meat and cook, stirring constantly or about 3 minutes, until meat is lightly browned/not pink on the outside.

Add the rest of the sauce and let it simmer until it thickens.  The first time I made this was on a hardcore Viking range and it took about 4 minutes, but then when I’ve subsequently made it on my lil old electric stove it has taken at least 10 (this could also be because I tweaked the recipe to cut down on the saltiness factor, which I found a little too intense even with low-sodium soy). Add in the bok choy and bean sprouts, stirring to coat.  Throw in the scallions and nuts. Cover and cook on medium low for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve over rice, topping off with fresh cilantro and a few extra nuts if desired.

Rice is nice:

If you’re using a rice cooker, follow the rice cooker instructions.  And make sure you rinse/soak your rice first (for white and brown rice, respectively).  Otherwise, try this foolproof method.

Brown rice should be soaked for at least an hour before cooking.  You don’t need to soak white rice.  No matter the type, rinse in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear.  Drain excess water, and put into a small saucepan and spread it evenly over the bottom.  Now, place your index finger in the center of the pot until the tip of it just touches the rice.  Carefully pour water into the pot, ensuring that you don’t agitate the rice overmuch and ruin your nice level surface.  Keep pouring until the water comes up to the first joint on your finger, the one closest to your fingernail.  Cover and cook on medium until the water is nearly all evaporated.  Remove from heat, stir and let sit covered until you’re ready to eat.

Breaking All the Rules

It’s my birthday (or rather, it was yesterday, now that I’m polishing this up and posting it) and I decided I was going to bake my own birthday cake.  I was working under some constraints; I had some delicious ricotta I needed to use (from Narragansett Creamery, it’s heaven in cheese form), and since I’m cooking on a budget I didn’t want to go out and purchase a lot of ingredients.  I’d been thinking about a plum cake and wanted to see if I could somehow incorporate ricotta into it, but the recipe inspiration I found online seemed to be more cheesecake consistency.  It would have been easy (and delicious) enough to make a plum fruit topping, but to me August heat doesn’t seem conducive to heavy, creamy desserts that don’t live in my freezer.

Instead, I settled on a galette; I’d layer ricotta mixed with cardamom and cinnamon in the base of the pastry and layer sliced plums on top.  I’d add some brown sugar and a bit of butter, pop it in the oven and bake away.

Except … I had all of these gorgeous baby heirloom tomatoes in my fridge.  And no plums.  And frankly, I had no desire to eat plum galette for every meal for four days so it didn’t go to waste.

baby heirlooms.

So, I decided to make a tomato-pesto galette birthday cake.  True, it’s not a cake.  It’s not even really a galette since I used a muffin tin and made little galette cups.  It’s savory, not sweet.  And I baked it myself, instead of having someone bake it for me …  so basically I’ve gone about this whole thing bass-ackwards.  Add to the fact that I’d never made a galette or even pastry dough before and I basically had no idea what I was doing …

When it comes down to it, though, I like to faff around in the kitchen, and to experiment.  My favorite part about cooking is seeing others enjoy what I make, and the semi-miraculous experience of tasting something for the first time and thinking ‘wow, this isn’t the epic disaster that it could have been.’  This particular experiment, cobbled together from various recipes, my personal preferences and sheer guesswork, turned out to be quite tasty if I may say so myself.  But since it WAS my birthday, you’re pretty much obligated to agree with me.  Massive thanks to my roomie Jill for the use of her camera, since mine is still in hiding.

Tomato-Riccotta-Pesto (TRP) Galette Cups
Inspiration courtesy of Smitten Kitchen and Everybody Likes Sandwiches
Makes 12

***

For the dough:

5 tbsp ice water

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled in freezer for at least 30 minutes

3/4 tsp salt (I like Maldon)

9 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes, then chilled again

For the filling:

½ lb or thereabouts baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon plus a splash olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 cup ricotta cheese

grated pecorino or Parmigiano

12 tbsp pesto **

**I make my own but don’t have a set recipe.  I basically combine pecorino, olive oil, cashews, fresh garlic and fresh basil in a food processor until it tastes the way I want it to.  If using a store bought brand, choose one that is thick or strain off the excess oil with a coffee filter before using.

Dough:

Combine water and lemon juice and refrigerate until you need it.  Whisk together flour and salt.  Add in butter, and using a spoon (a potato masher or pastry knife are infinitely better choices if you have them—even a slotted metal serving spoon will work) smoosh together the flour and butter until they form small pebbles.  Add in acid/water combo bit by teeny bit until just combined.  You’ll notice the dough starting to pull together in the bowl.  Mold dough into a ball, wrap in saran/foil and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Filling:

While dough is chilling, make the filling (sorry, couldn’t resist)!  Once you’ve sliced your tomatoes, set them face down on a paper towel for about 45 minutes.  You don’t want a soggy galette.  Toss lightly with plain old olive oil when the draining process is finished.

Mix together olive oil and minced garlic in a medium bowl.  Add ricotta and pecorino, stirring until evenly combined.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line muffin tin (a relatively shallow one) with small pieces of parchment paper.  Generously flour your hands and break off golf-ball sized pieces of dough.  Press into muffin tin (they can be irregularly shaped—don’t worry about making sure it comes up evenly or completely on each side.  As long as you have some sort of pastry ‘wall’ going on, you’ll be fine).  Fill each cup with a heaping spoonful of ricotta mixture and place a dollop of pesto on top of each.  Level off the mixture with a spoon so you don’t have any empty space in your cups.  Top with oiled baby tomatoes, face down.  Bake for about 30 minutes; pastry edges will look lightly golden brown and tops of tomatoes will be slightly browned.  Turn off the oven, leave the door open a crack for about 5 minutes and then close again.  Leave cups in oven, resting, for about 40 minutes.  This last step (although weird, akin to a pastry equivalent of letting your meat rest) will help some of the excess tomato liquid evaporate from the top and will ensure that the pastry at the bottom is nice and fully cooked.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

red white green & gold.

As a side note, you could also make this into a straight-up galette.  Follow the assembly instructions found here, though note that you’ll need to make an egg wash glaze too.  Alternately, if tarts or mini-tarts are more your thing, this recipe will work equally well in those types of tins too, sans the aforementioned glaze.  Reference another tart/mini-tart recipe for recommended cooking times.

A Conspiracy of Lemon

Things have been busy around here.  In addition to “Math Camp” starting (my roommate’s nickname for the stats and micro review sessions I signed up for before the official start of school), I got a job at baked & wired, an amazing coffee shop and bakery near my apartment in Georgetown.  It’s really, really fun but means I’m pretty beat by the time I bike home at 10 pm (beat, and stuffed with cupcakes, but more on that later).  I had today off though, so I had planned on finishing up on my lemon teaser post today.

Enter an unfortunate incident with a pair of scissors (um, I snipped my finger. And yes, it was pretty much as bad as it sounds).  So anyway it took awhile for the bleeding to stop, and then at that point I had to pack up my stuff and bike over to school.  With one hand.  Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone that that didn’t lead to further injury.

But I survived, and better late than never, right?  I chose this particular recipe from Nigella Lawson because it’s a) lemony b) delectable and c) I have a serious girl crush on Nigella.  Have you ever watched her show?  Everything sounds slightly wicked and totally delicious—like each ingredient added is a secret to be shared between Nigella and all of us salivating in front of the television.  Because the elegance of this recipe is in its overall simplicity, I didn’t change much; just added in some vanilla I brought back with me from South Africa and  swapped out regular lemons for Meyer.  The result is a silken, lightly tangy, luscious pot of lemon cream.  There’s a substantial (read: 2 day) wait time between the initial prep and actual enjoyment of the dessert, but it’s worth it—and patience makes it all so much sweeter in the end, no?

Lemon Cream Pots
adapted from Nigella Lawson
makes 8 little pots or 6 greedy-sized pots

3 Meyer lemons

275g caster/superfine sugar

6 fresh eggs (off the farm fresh is best)

250g mascarpone

scrapings of one vanilla bean

Zest and juice all three lemons into a bowl.  Add the sugar and eggs and whisk together.  Stir in the mascarpone, stirring until it is combined.  Cover and store in the refrigerator for two days. Not one, but two.

Two days on, preheat the oven to 300F/150C.  Put your ramekins into a roasting dish and fill dish with very, VERY hot water until it comes about halfway up the sides of each ramekin.  Divide the lemon mixture evenly between all the pots.

the pots, before baking.

Bake for about 25 minutes.  The cream will look a little runny still, but that’s okay because they’ll set as they cool.  Since you’ve already waited two days, you can wait another 15 minutes before diving in and enjoying.  However if you’d prefer to draw out the wait a bit more, they’ll be fine sitting out for a few hours … or even in the fridge overnight (but let them warm up a bit before indulging so they’re not too chilled).

***

Arcade Fire, Spoon and a Recipe Twofer

It’s official: I’ve moved!  This is my first post from my new home in Washington, DC, writing about food I’ve made in my apartment in Georgetown.  The neighborhood is very pretty, full of quaint old brick houses and an amount of greenery that is mind-boggling to a New Yorker.  Once you step off the main drags of M Street and Wisconsin Ave, it’s like being in the suburbs.  I’m more or less unpacked, and despite a small snafu that has left me sleeping on the floor for a week, I’m all settled in.

So now, for the food.  I went to see one of my favorite bands, Arcade Fire, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion with some of my friends.  And guess what?  Spoon opened for them (no, that’s not a cooking pun)!  Both bands are fantastic, but Arcade Fire performs with so much joy and energy (and an insane number of instruments).  In case you need convincing, check out this clip from their Thursday night show in NYC:

In honor of the concert twofer, I’m giving you a recipe twofer of some nibbles I made for our pre-show picnic.  The heat and humidity here have been so intense that I wanted to make something light and refreshing—in this case, a cool cucumber mint soup, and a chilled orzo salad recipe I got from my mom.  They’re the perfect summertime foods because not only are both served chilled, but they require minimal or no cooking (because who wants to stand in front of a stove when even sitting still causes you to break out into a sweat?).  It’s easy peasy.

Well, it was supposed to be.  Enter what I like to call the Great Feta Quest of 2010.  The orzo pasta salad recipe calls for feta cheese, which I always like to have on hand because I use it so often. I’d purchased some from Trader Joe’s when I was doing the shopping to stock my new kitchen (holy hell, that was an expensive day).  When I opened it for the first time to crumble it into the orzo, I took a little nibble as I am wont to do when cooking … and spat it back out.  I don’t know what was going on in that feta tub, but it was really, REALLY gross.  It went back to TJ’s (they have a great, no-hassle return policy), and in an effort to save myself bus fare I thought I’d grab some feta from the Dean & Deluca down the street from me.  The taste was also less than impressive, but it was palatable.  The price? Not so much.  Anyone who is willing to pay $19 a pound for feta cheese is off their rocker.  I ended up hopping on the bus after all, heading up to Whole Foods to get the 365 brand block feta in brine, which I will now do all of the time.  So two hours and five pounds (lost due to sweating it out in 100+ degree heat) later, I had my feta and my easy peasy (sans the easy) salad.  Fortunately the soup was much simpler to make, since all it requires is tossing some ingredients into a blender.  Just a note that will make sense once you read the recipe: when picking out a Greek yogurt for the soup, choose the super-thick Fage or Trader Joe’s brands since the cucumbers release a ton of water.

Without further ado, the recipes.  Pictures are thanks to my friend Laura and her iPhone, since I’m a moron and forgot my camera in Connecticut.

Orzo Salad with Feta, Spinach and Lemon
via my mom, who taught me how to cook and the importance of good food
makes enough to serve 5-6 hungry adults

Photo credit: Laura M.


1 ½ cups orzo, uncooked (I like Barilla)
3 cups spinach, julienned
good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled (I like the 365 brand from Whole Foods)

Cook the orzo according to the instructions on the box (and salt the water!).  Drain, toss with olive oil to coat and let cool completely.  Add more olive oil if the orzo looks as though it is clumping or has dried out during the cooling process.  When it has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients, tossing until thoroughly mixed.  Serve chilled.  Will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Cool Cucumber and Mint Soup
(adapted from Whole Foods)
Serves 4

Cool cucumber soup. Photo credit: Laura M.


2 cups Greek yogurt (I like Fage or Trader Joe’s 2%)
2 English cucumbers, peeled and de-seeded
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic
¼ white onion, chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste
drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients (except olive oil) in a large bowl or food processor.  Blend, in the food processor or with a stick blender, until smooth.  Serve chilled, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some mint sprigs.  Or if you’re really classy like me, in a red Solo cup.