25 May 2011

Homemade hummus

Are you having a barbecue this weekend? It's a long weekend for the US and UK and a perfect time to get the old grill out. Well, not if the rain gods here have their way, so I'll just pretend and make summer-y foods, like hummus. Yes, enter the return of the food processor.

I think most people know and have eaten hummus before, but perhaps have not tried to make it at home. One of my friends in college made this with me and I was officially hooked. It is certainly a lot easier with the food processor and gives it the consistency of the store-bought type. One of the best things about making hummus at home is that you can flavour it however you want (read = less salty) and whatever consistency you enjoy. A didn't know you could make hummus at home and has raved about it to his family, who were thoroughly impressed. Little does the Greek family know how easy it really is!

Here's what you will need: lemon. tahini (sesame seed paste- optional but gives it a creamy consistency and that classic hummus flavour), salt, garlic, chickpeas and olive oil. Maybe a little cold water depending on the consistency you like.

Into the food processor dump the chickpeas, teaspoon to tablespoon of mashed garlic to suit your tastebuds, 2-3 tablespoons of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, and a tablespoon of salt.

Then add your olive oil. I probably use 1/4 - 1/3 cup.

Time to spin! Grind everything down for a minute or so and the consistency should be somewhat bitty. Make sure to stir everything now so there are no chunks lurking at the bottom. You should probably taste the mixture at this point to see if it needs more salt, lemon or olive oil, and add a tablespoon of cold water if you want the hummus to be more creamy.

Whirl it again until you have the consistency you like and that's it!

I think the whole process takes me 5 minutes or less and one can of chickpeas makes a reasonable bowl full of hummus. You can even be super efficient and put the pita bread on to toast (really must be toasted) before you start, then serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy the long weekend if you have it off and let's all hope for a moment or two of sunshine!

20 May 2011

Hash browns and egg in a basket

It never ceases to amaze me the difference in foods in separate cultures. Even between the US and UK, which had the same food culture up until 350 years ago, there are so many minor changes in dishes that add up to a whole new food repertoire. I found out that hash browns are a distinctly American food, one that A only associates with the fast food preformed version. I don't usually (as in never have before) made hash browns so this piece of comparative food knowledge escaped me up until now. I will say that planning meals are more fun when I try to make new recipes and find out A has no idea what it is!

Such was the case with the hash browns and egg in a basket I made. This is definitely a weekend breakfast, one where you need to have a hearty start to the day which worked well for us as we had the back garden to tackle.

After boiling potatoes (you can do this before if you wish) and dicing them into large chunks, throw them into a hot skillet or wide pan with chopped bacon or pancetta, onions and lots of butter. As in, a third of a cup of butter.

Season the hash browns well with salt and pepper, and perhaps some hot sauce if you like things hot. Ideally you want to have the potatoes get crispy around the edges. Mine only crisped slightly.

While the potatoes are cooking and almost done, I started on the egg in a basket. I had a friend in college that would make this and I was always amazed that she could cook this perfectly every time. Basically, it is fried bread with a fried egg in the middle, but it looks really great and theatrical if done right. To start, butter a pan and keep on a medium heat. Butter both sides of the bread and cut a hole in the middle of the slice.

Carefully crack the egg into the hole in the bread in the pan. Make sure there is some butter underneath or the egg will stick to the pan and you will end up with yolk everywhere- not pretty.

Once one side of the egg has cooked, carefully flip the bread over and cook briefly on the other side. You don't want the egg to cook all the way so when you cut into it, the yolk streams out.

(The syrup pictured is for the hash browns. If you have never tried hash browns with syrup or bacon with syrup for that matter, you have not fully lived.)

I wouldn't recommend this breakfast every weekend though as it is not the healthiest thing for you. Tasty, but best when you know it will sustain you through a day's work. After eating, I feel like I want to go chop wood or build something, but I made do with mowing the lawn. After two weekends and a new mower (gas and self-propelled) look!

When we cleared the weeds and grass, we found there are baby foxes in the garden. Very cute and great for breakfast entertainment whilst having cereal.

12 May 2011


For A's birthday this year I wanted make something special. Something I had never tried before. Something to mark the occasion that he turned another year older and is finally the same age as me. (Yes, I married a younger man. Those thirteen days make all the difference.) I tackled a classic Greek dish: kleftiko.

More than that, I cooked lamb for the first time! We never ate lamb at home and North Carolina is not the hub of international restaurants to give me the opportunity to try other cuisines that feature lamb prominently. Plus, I don't eat lamb as a personal choice. I keep trying it and I keep not liking the taste, no matter how it is prepared. I know this is limiting my restaurant choices and maybe I will try it again, but I realized when trying to cook this dish that my non-lamb eating habits are also getting in the way of my cooking knowledge. I have no idea how to cook lamb! After spending- I am not joking here- ten minutes looking over the five options of lamb in the tiny express supermarket on my lunch hour, I decided upon lamb cutlets and neck, hoping that would be appropriate for kleftiko.

Kleftiko is a type of dish that you cook on a low heat over a long period of time. There are stories about the origins of the dish coming from soldiers who would bury their food in a packet or clay dish with coals and it would slowly cook without giving away the location from the fire. Going into this, I only knew that I didn't have a huge amount of time in which to cook the kleftiko, which you traditionally need, so the meat had to be small, and I didn't have a clay pot, which you also traditionally need. Obviously, I had this well thought out.

Forging ahead, I read that you can use baking paper to make a packet that will keep a lot of the meat's juices in, much like a clay pot. I diced the lamb into large chunks and added the neck (which A loves by the way). I quartered an onion and not really knowing what spices to add, I stuck with the traditional Greek spices of oregano, bay leaf and cinnamon.

Some people will add tomatoes or chopped tomatoes at this point but since I was working with baking paper, I thought not. I baked my packet in an oven for 1.5 hours on a medium-low heat, 160C.

Ta-da! A said it was really juicy and tasty, possibly because the neck is such a fatty part of the lamb.

Not bad for my first time cooking lamb and kleftiko. I may need to invest in the official Greek cooking clay pots to do this properly in the future.

5 May 2011

Pasta with artichokes, mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes

We're back after a great trip to the US to celebrate the wedding again. It was wonderful to see friends and family and eat some food I don't usually get the chance to. Even A looks forward to some things, like really cheap Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Chick-fil-a.

The week before Easter, A tries to fast, which is something many Greek Orthodox do during Lent for various time periods. Fasting means having a vegan diet, which is cutting out most of the things A enjoys about a meal (aka meat). This is also a real trial on my dinner planning ideas. No cheese? No milk? No bacon (which may be one of the top inventions/discoveries in relation to food. On a side note, I once had a class in high school that asked us to list the top ten best developments/things that were created in the 20th century. Incredibly interesting discussion topic that's great for dinner parties. Any thoughts? I thought birth control and contacts were amazing, but I believe my 17-year-old perspective may have slanted my views at the time.) Back to the food, I wanted to try a non-traditional fasting meal for A this year and threw this together from things I had in the cupboard. Or larder, as it's called in the UK.

I sauteed garlic, mushrooms, onions and thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes in olive oil for 5-7 minutes. After quartering the canned artichoke hearts, I added those at the last minute to the sauteeing so they didn't break down too much.

I then doused everything with one cup or so of white wine. Simmer this until it boils down to about half.

I poured all of the mixture over very thin fettuccine and tossed with a drizzle more olive oil. If fasting, resist the urge to grate parmesan over this.

I will say that this dish has a tangy and slightly sharp taste but the combination of the artichoke hearts and white wine work well together and give it layers of flavour.

Yes, a light dusting of cheese may have cut through the sharpness and I recommend it if you do not want a dish that is too sharp. I really enjoyed this dinner and may be rethinking my proclamation about bacon. Although speaking of bacon, maybe a strip of pancetta in this dish would be good...