arni yiouvetsi (lamb baked with orzo)

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Sometimes I enjoy exquisite meals in restaurants that I would never try to recreate at home, that I am happy to experience thoroughly in the moment and then leave behind. Other times I try something I love and then become fixated on figuring out how to make it myself. This recipe – lamb braised in a pot with orzo – fits into the second category. I first had this at the same restaurant in Central Jersey, Pithari Taverna, that inspired these lemon potatoes. When I moved to Jersey City, I thought this meal would be like the first kind I described above, something magical that could only be relived in memory, until I discovered recently that it’s actually a fairly common Greek recipe that could easily be found with a quick Google search.

I knew that the tomato sauce at Pithari had a distinctly non-Italian taste to it, but for the longest time I had no idea what special ingredient gave it such a different flavor profile. The answer? Cinnamon. To people only used to adding cinnamon to desserts or sugary breakfast foods, this might sound like a weird spice to put in a savory recipe – but paired with lamb and tomatoes, it contributes a warm, earthy, and peculiarly Greek flavor.
CIMG3044Unfortunately, I somehow managed not to get any good shots of the lamb itself when I was taking photos. It’s there somewhere in that pile of orzo. After two and a half hours of slow braising in the oven, it is meltingly tender and falls apart if you poke it. Though this meal is baked in a clay pot at Pithari, which I am sure adds some extra-special something-or-other to it, don’t let not having one be an excuse not to try this – I used my stainless steel, and was blown away by how exactly like the version from my favorite far away Greek restaurant this tasted.  Read the rest of this entry »


maple granola

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Since I’ve been working a regular job with regular hours, finding breakfast foods that are healthy, filling, and quick to throw together in the morning is something I’ve been working on. I’m pretty much a zombie until I make it to my office, so I need breakfast foods that don’t require a lot of mental energy to transform into something edible. I’ve tried fried eggs on multigrain toast, for example, but frying eggs without breaking or overcooking the yolk is too much to ask of myself when I’ve just rolled out of bed.

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So this granola, from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen cookbook (which has been receiving very deserved praise from various corners of the internet since its publication a few months ago) turned out to fit my breakfast needs in pretty much every way. I can make a batch during the weekend that will get me through about two weeks. It takes no effort at all to pair with some yogurt on my weekday mornings. It has lots of healthy stuff, from oats to coconut flakes to pecans to dried cherries, and very little added sugar (some maple syrup to make it sweet, but really not very much at all). I’ve been eating it for breakfast for months now, and I’m still not sick of it.

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It’s so, so easy to make – you basically throw everything into a bowl, give it a few stirs, spread it on a baking sheet and bake for a little under an hour, and, voilà, you have breakfast ready for two weeks, minus the cost, additives, and excessive sugar of anything you might buy pre-made at the grocery store. Writing this is even making me ready for my alarm clock to start bleeping obnoxiously at 6:30 tomorrow morning (which is definitely weird) just so I can enjoy my granola again.  Read the rest of this entry »


lasagne alla bolognese

“Using clunky, store-bought lasagne may save a little time, but you will be sadly shortchanged by the results.”

Thus saith Marcella Hazan in her lasagne alla bolognese recipe, which I was consequently scared away from making. Having eaten American-style lasagna and real Italian lasagna in Italy, I certainly preferred the Italian variety. It is lighter, without all the gloopy cheese of its American offspring. Because it is not weighted down with cheese, the exquisitely comforting flavor of the meat sauce is allowed to shine. But I had neither a pasta machine nor the budget to go out and get one, so I figured I’d just have to put off creating the best lasagna ever to some unspecified future date.

Recently, I remembered that I live in New York City (close enough anyway, in Jersey City) and that it was probably not impossible to find fresh pasta. A quick Google search, and I discovered that not only were there many places to purchase fresh pasta in the city, but one was quite conveniently located for me. For anyone in the New York area, I highly, highly recommend a trip to Raffetto’s. They have been making fresh pasta since 1906, and will cut the pasta any way you like on a machine that looks like it has been around since 1906. You can get spinach pasta (like I did), saffron pasta, squid ink pasta, and they have all kinds of different filled pastas – ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti – all you have to do is prepare a sauce to go with them, and you have dinner. They also have all kinds of imported Italian goodies and sauces that they make in house, if you are too tired to make your own sauce. I bought a box of pumpkin ravioli and served them with an alfredo sauce.

I’m not being paid by them to sing their praises. As someone who grew up in a place where Olive Garden and Carrabba’s were considered great Italian restaurants, I simply didn’t know that places like this existed. I was helped by some very kind ladies, who explained just how to cook the pasta and wanted to know the size of the pan I was using so that they could cut my pasta to the right size. It was a delightful experience from beginning to end.

I ended up going to six different shops to source all the ingredients for this lasagne – this isn’t necessary, but I wanted to get the best quality ingredients, since it is a pretty epic meal to make. So I went to Raffetto’s, a butcher (Ottomanelli, where they grind the beef fresh – so good), a cheesemonger (Murray’s), the Van Vorst farmer’s market back in Jersey City, Jersey Wine Merchants, and a small local grocer for the few ingredients that couldn’t be found anywhere else. This is how people used to shop for food, before the days of giant supermarkets with their meats in styrofoam packaging and aisles upon aisles of processed food products. I realize not everyone has access to these kinds of small, local shops, but since I do, I feel that I should support them. Collecting my ingredients was a perfect way to spend a cool, cloudy Saturday morning.

Read the rest of this entry »


panko-crusted salmon

I am back with another salmon recipe. My apologies for the lack of protein diversity, but we’ve been trying to eat more fish around here lately, and salmon is so versatile.

I don’t have any nostalgic stories associated with this recipe, and eating it for the first time wasn’t a life-altering experience, so I won’t extemporize on it at length. Panko tossed with lemon zest and parsley gives a nice crunch, and Dijon mustard adds some zing to keep things interesting. This salmon is tasty, simple, and perfect for a night when you are tired and need to get something fresh and healthy on the table in a hurry. Try it, and I bet it will go right into your weeknight rotation (it’s in mine!).

I do want to ramble a bit about search terms people use to find blogs. Search engines often do a good job helping people to find the information they’re looking for – lots of people have stumbled upon my blog by searching for sweet potato casserole, for example. Other times, people enter rather amusing/bizarre terms and somehow end up here. I’m not sure how much I help them. But below are some of my favorite examples.

1. “Can you use the same sauce on green beans that you would use on asparagus”. Probably? It depends on the sauce? But really, the green beans aren’t going to protest that no, you see, this sauce really only goes with asparagus and they’d prefer that you sauce them with something more appropriate. If it sounds good, try it – if it’s not so good, try something else next time.

2. “Has anyone eaten moldy hummus?” “What happens if you eat moldy hummus”. Please, no. Throw that moldy hummus away. I don’t even know if it will harm you, but it just sounds gross. I wonder if the second person typed this into a search bar after having consumed the moldy hummus, and then wanted to confirm that they weren’t going to be hospitalized. And did the first person hope to find someone else out there who had eaten moldy hummus and then proudly shared their tale with the internets? Just in case some other poor soul finds herself here searching for the same answer, I will state my opinion on this matter: just don’t do it.

3. “Crepes sweetened cocoa frugal student”. Was this person searching for a frugal student who had posted a recipe for crepes with cocoa? If so, they found what they were looking for, since I was indeed a frugal student when I posted chocolate crepe recipes. But what an oddly specific thing to look for! On the other hand, maybe this person was a frugal student looking for a chocolate crepe recipe that would fit their budget. And since I set my frugality aside to buy fancy cocoa, I probably wasn’t much help here.

4. “Exquisite dinner”. Hey Google, tell me what is the most exquisite dinner of all! I don’t know if my recipes satisfied this person’s demands, but I guess I’m amused/tickled that some search engine decided that my blog was an ideal provider of exquisite dinners.

That’s all for this installment of Curious Search Terms People Use to Find My Blog. On to the recipe!  Read the rest of this entry »


rigatoni bolognese

This bolognese sauce is real comfort food. It cooks down all day (3+ hours) while filling your home with exquisite smells, and is the kind of dinner I want to come home to after trudging through snow in the dead of winter. No, it’s not exactly winter yet, but we’ve been having autumnal weather up here in the Northeast the last few days, and now I am craving fall/apples/apple cider/apple cider donuts (are we sensing a theme here?).

Don’t be scared away by the 3+ hour cooking time – during most of that time, the sauce is slowly simmering with very little attention needed from you. And depending on how many people you are cooking for, this recipe makes a lot of leftovers, so it’s an ideal Sunday afternoon project that will leave you with leftovers to be excited about for the next few days. Next time I make it, I think I’ll do a double batch and freeze half. This is a recipe that I will make again and again, and want my grandchildren to remember me by (er, though I’ll need to get around to producing some children first).  Read the rest of this entry »


salmon en papillote

Ok, let me acknowledge right away that this is perhaps not the greatest looking photo I’ve ever posted on this site. Maybe my photography skills are to blame, or maybe we can peg this one on the salmon – I’ve posted two other salmon recipes, and I wasn’t super happy with either of those photos either, however much I liked the food itself. So salmon may not be the most photogenic fish in the sea/on your plate – that doesn’t mean you should pass it up for more attractive-looking proteins!

Enough about the photo, let’s talk about the fancy title for this recipe. “En papillote” may sound snooty and French, but it really just means that you cook the fish in a parchment paper packet. You can add all kinds of flavorings – here we will use lemon, garlic, and oregano – and any kind of fish. The fish steams in its packet, absorbing the flavors from whatever seasonings you’ve used. Back in the day, I baked salmon inside a tin foil packet, and while that was kind of easier, going the en papillote route sounds way more sophisticated and gives you that snooty French cred. Two things worth considering.

If you’re worried about calories, this is a much lighter way to cook fish than sauteing or frying, and more exciting than poaching (which always kind of grosses me out, though probably just because I haven’t done it properly yet). And if getting your fish into a fancy parchment package sounds tricky and stressful, not to worry, I have step-by-step photos to accompany this recipe!  Read the rest of this entry »


greek-style lemon potatoes (patates sto fourno)

So it has yet again been awhile since I posted here. I’m not neglecting the blog out of boredom – I’ve just had a lot of things going on this year. As I mentioned a few posts back, I was on a posting hiatus for awhile because I was preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams. After passing them, and spending a lot of time reflecting, I finally decided that I don’t want to be a professor as much as I thought I did, and so I’ve decided it’s time for a career change. I’m not sure what that will be just yet – editing/publishing? Non-profit? Or will I switch tracks entirely and become a savvy business woman in a pencil skirt and power pumps? It remains to be seen. In the meantime I’ve been working odd temp jobs to pay the bills, researching different career options, and polishing the old resume.

I’ve also been cooking a lot. Because most of what I was doing in grad school was very sedentary and cerebral, I always found it relaxing and therapeutic to stand up and do something with my hands that produced nourishing, satisfying results on a much faster timeline than any results ever get produced in academic research. Some kinds of cooking projects – quiche, bread, for example, which I’ve been making a good bit of recently – are still totally magical to me. The finished product is something so completely different than the original pile of ingredients that I’m always surprised it is something I have made. I’ve tried lots of new recipes that I’ve loved in the past few months – bolognese sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, a lovely Spanish method for cooking green beans, an intense chocolate sorbet – all of which I plan to come back to at some point so that I can share them.

But the first thing on my list to share was these potatoes. When I lived in Central Jersey, the wonderful Pithari Taverna introduced me to great Greek food – if you are ever in the area, you should seriously go there. They serve these classic Greek lemon potatoes with many of their main courses, and I finally got around to looking up recipes so I could make them myself now that I don’t live there anymore. The recipe I found is a bit different from their potatoes, but it is so wonderful that I plan to make it every time I want roasted potatoes, whether or not the main course is Greek. These potatoes are everything I look for in a roasted potato – soft and fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside. I’ve made so many roasted potatoes with hard, chunky insides (blech), but once I made these I realized that of course roasting them with some liquid in the pan, as you do here, would lead to internal fluffiness, because the potatoes soak up the liquids (along with their flavors) as they are cooking. Genius.

They are also very simple to make – one of my silly pet peeves is having to parboil vegetables before roasting or sautéing them. I know this feeling is unreasonable, but I just hate doing it! So for me these potatoes are pretty much perfect in every way, since no parboiling is required – you just chop them, toss them in their seasonings, and leave them to roast for about an hour while you deal with other things. And they are better than any of the much fussier roast potatoes I’ve made in the past. Basically, these potatoes and I were made for each other, and we’re going to go get a room now before everyone gets nauseated by my infatuation with them. Make them yourself and you’ll understand.  Read the rest of this entry »


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