Horiatiki.

Did you miss me?

Well, I hope so. As for myself? Let’s just say that I am totally, absolutely in love with Greece. Not that I don’t fall in love with any and all vacations, but still.

The pictures will follow, at some point, as will the total recap that I like to do after a trip, but for now, I have to tell you about my new favorite dish in the whole wide world: the Greek Salad.

Fortunately, I have grown to love and utterly adore raw tomatoes. Okay, so I still won’t toss some salt and pepper on a slice and eat it all by its lonesome, but you get the point.

So on our first night, after a reallllllly looooonnnngggg trip to Athens and then another long trip to the island of Naxos, and yet another hour or so of wandering to find our hotel, we finally settled in to have dinner around 10 PM. Yes, one day in, and we already totally grasped the Euro-style-eat-late-mantra. At least in that regard, we fit right in. Which is to say that otherwise, we were absolute tourists. Well, I suppose not, since our luggage was nowhere to be found (stay tuned) and since I never did buy that fanny pack…

Anyway, I ordered a Greek salad to start things off (and duh, we’d already taken care of getting a bottle of wine – don’t be silly). Minutes went by, a couple of glasses of wine were tossed back, and then – then! – said salad came to our table. I realized, oh, about two bites in, that I could literally eat one of these salads every. single. day. And for the rest. of. my. life.

And that’d be alright by me.

I quickly realized that these salads were probably never going to taste as good as they did those first couple of nights. For one, I’m on vacation, which means everything just automatically tastes better because, well, you’re on vacation. And two, the produce was ultra fresh and ultra local – especially on Naxos. Feta cheese has never tasted so dang good. Oregano has never tasted so like, um, oregano. And the tomatoes? Holy moly on a Sunday – perfection. And I was right – but I promise you – even though the first few salads I had were the best, I never had nary a one that I didn’t eat every little morsel of – and wish there were more.

So without further adieu, I had a little backyard potluck party to attend this past weekend, and you best believe I decided to make one of these babies. Now, most Greek salads (called Horiatiki in Greece) have a certain set of ingredients. Most of them. Americans like to crumble the feta, they like to make a special dressing, and even some of the Greeks like to throw in some capers and different colored peppers every now and then, but I promise you one thing – there is only one true legit Greek salad. And I hope I did my best here to show you that.

If you want to hear it from a Greek herself (and not just a poser like me), check out this link. It’s sorta funny, how hardcore the true Greeks are about their salads. Sorta like the Chicagoans and their Chicago-style wieners. Regardless, I hope you like it, because I most certainly do.

Greek (Horiatiki) Salad

the quantities are totally serving-dependent, but the measurements below are for the size salad you see directly above, which probably serves 6-8 people as a salad/side dish, 4 as a main course with a hefty chunk of bread alongside. or, if you’re like me, maybe it’s just for one…

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
2 English cucumbers, cut into chunks
6 vine-ripe tomatoes, each sliced into 8 wedges
~1 c Kalamata olives
2-3 large slices of feta cheese (NOT crumbled)
~1-2 T red wine vinegar (depending on how much acid:oil you prefer, most Greek salads have much more oil than vinegar)
~6-7 T GOOD olive oil (duh, Greek if you have it)
1 t Greek oregano
salt and pepper

instructions
place onion through olives in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. top with feta cheese, then pour vinegar and olive oil atop the salad and finish with oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.

a san francisco treat

A long long time ago, like practically right around the time I started writing this little blog, I posted a recipe about meatballs and a story about music, and how those things tie Chris and I together pretty succinctly. Coincidentally enough, I wrote that post right before we were about to head to California to do a little wine tasting, which is pretty much where we meet in the middle.

He usually picks the music, I pick the food, and we both pick the wine. Love it like that.

But a weekend or so ago, all we had to do was worry about the wine, which was easy because, well, we have a lot of it.

It’s one of those ideas that felt like it should have been something we thought of on our own, but we just aren’t the entrepreneurial type, as it turns out. We are certainly glad someone did. A San Francisco-based couple has a blog they call “Turntable Kitchen” where they pair food with music, and eventually they decided to take it another step and sell a monthly subscription to a dinner with music pairings. They send a record with a couple of songs, a link to a mixed CD they’ve made, and three recipes with a featured ingredient as well.

It’s genius. And again, why didn’t we think of the damn thing?!

For our first month’s dinner, we picked our ingredients on the way home from a hike around Mt Tam. It had been a nice, sunny day and we were ready for taking it easy. We grabbed our goods, grabbed showers, grabbed a bottle of wine from the cooler, and got our music listening/cook on.

For those of you who didn’t know, cioppino is a fish stew that originated in San Francisco. It has a subtle fennel flavor, and is loaded with tomatoes and practically overflowing with any kind of seafood you can imagine and truthfully, you can put whatever you damn well please into it.

It’s the perfect dish for taking it easy – you dump all of the sauce ingredients into the pot and let it simmer, you add your seafood, and you slurp it up over a nice glass or two of white wine. Meanwhile you can have some melt-in-your-mouth burrata on crostini and prepare the components for your dessert. Cioppino night is a laid-back, California type of night.

And the best part? you do it all while hanging out with the one you love – a day spent in the sun and amidst nature, and a night spent together in the kitchen, checking out some California tunes, which if I remember correctly, was a band called “NO”. But again, the music’s his deal, remember?

Cioppino
Adapted from Turntable Kitchen & Bon Appetit, December 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 30 minutes (45 active)

printable version

ingredients
3 T olive oil
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 1/2 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can of fish stock
1 c white wine (we adore Vermentino)
2 bay leaves
1 T fresh oregano
1 T fresh thyme
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (start with 1/2 t each and adjust as you see fit)
12 littleneck clams
12 mussels, cleaned and debearded
1/2 lb halibut, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 lb bay scallops
1 lb large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
sourdough bread, for serving

instructions
Heat oil in a large heavy pot (Dutch oven, if you have it) over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, garlic, and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and juice, fish stock, wine, and spices (through salt). Mix together, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
After the stew has simmered for about 45 minutes, add in the scallops, halibut, and shrimp. Once these start to turn opaque (3 minutes or so), stir in the clams and cover. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the mussels. Cook for 3-4 more minutes. Remove and discard of any clams/mussels that haven’t opened up at that point. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle into 4 bowls and serve with nice crusty sourdough bread to carry that San Francisco treat all the way home.

A Good Start

Chris and I made a resolution of sorts waaaaay back in January. We resolved to get our asses (and the rest of our bodies) out of the house more often, to experience as much of our amazing surroundings as possible, and along the way, to Get Fit. I’m a little on the cheesy side, so I aptly named this “Get Out and Get Fit 20-12”. Yup – lame as can be is me!

But whatevs. My point today is to tell you how awesome that plan’s been going so far.

Living in Northern California is nothing short of amazing – I know I’ve said that a time or two. Having the ability to hike and camp in February isn’t something I’d really considered before – but it’s more than possible here. Of course, if you’re a person of “seasons”, which I thought I was until last year, you’d surely miss the below-freezing temperatures and snows that happen elsewhere in the early parts of the year. If we ever start to miss that, we’ve realized that Tahoe is a weekend away, and loaded with snow and cold-ness right about now. But I haven’t missed it yet, and currently we are more than content with the mild winter, our down coats packed far away in the back of our closet.

So we’ve been going on these hikes around the Bay Area every chance we’ve gotten on the weekends. We hop up early one weekend morning, smoothies in hand, and head in whatever direction sounds good for the day. Chris gets to do his regular research about the area, and I get to figure out how to feed us, which is usually lots of fruit and granola, and a pre-made sandwich from Faletti’s to share. We’ve checked out the redwoods and beaches near Mt. Tam(alpais), we’ve gone down to Half Moon Bay and seen the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’ve been to Mt. Diablo – twice.

This past weekend, get this, we went camping. Yeah! In February! Sure, it got down to the 30’s overnight, but despite the fact that we were sleeping outside, our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. There were coyote conversing nearby, owls hooting throughout the night, and weird-sounding birds making strange puffing noises at 6 am. There were gigantic raccoons teaming up to pull open a trashbag left out by nearby campers, and shortly after we got there and started unloading the car, the fog rolled in like nobody’s business, making things look all sorts of horror movie-creepy.

With a little bit of planning, there was good food and plenty of good times. Yes, camping in May or August is sure to be warmer, but the fact that we could camp in February meant we had to camp in February. So we did.

After a night of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, fire-toasted legit s’mores, a little beer and wine (ssshhhhh…. the park said it was against the rules..), and some tunes, we called it a night and hopped up the next morning to make breakfast, finish off some leftover bloody marys (brought over for Super Bowl fun), and hike on another gorgeous Sunday.

2012 is definitely off to a good start.

Other Bay-Area hikes (Flickr pool):
Mt Diablo – Eagles’ Peak
Mt Tamalpais to Stinson Beach
Purisima Creek & Harkins Ridge
Mt Diablo Summit Loop + Camping

 

Achiote-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Adapted from Rouxbe, serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes active time (prep & grilling), at least 1 hour marinating

printable version

ingredients
2 oz achiote paste*
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t g cumin
juice of 2 limes
2 T brown rice vinegar
2 T grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles in adobo)
1 chipotle chile (from can), minced
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

*achiote paste is essentially ground-up annatto seeds with a few other ingredients. I usually find this on the Mexican food aisle with the Mexican spices. it’s a dark burgundy color, usually sold in small “blocks”.

instructions
mash up achiote paste in a small bowl and add the oregano and cumin. Add the lime juice through the minced chipotle chile and mash/mix until as smooth as possible. season to taste with salt and pepper (1/2 – 1 t of each).

slice three small slits into the top of each chicken breast. place chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and add half of the marinade to the bag. close bag, shake to mix marinade into chicken. refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight (more marinating = more flavor). save the remaining half of the marinade for basting.

heat grill to medium-high. grill chicken over indirect heat for ~5-6 minutes per side, until cooked throughout, flipping once. brush reserved marinade atop while cooking. top with cilantro and serve.

Redemption Song

{If you’re hoping for a recipe for the 4th, this probably isn’t it. But check here for a bunch of past summer recipe suggestions – there are plenty of things to be grilled, especially my favorite burgers!}

I’m not about to delve into my years as a young, semi-hell-raising teenager; on occasion, my mom reads this blog. But I’ll share a few tidbits.

In my family, I was the smart, oddly-dressed, middle child who, according to my sister, was never grounded and always got her way. Rightfully so, my senoir superlatives were as contrasting as apples and oranges: “most likely to be a millionaire” and “most retro”. Clearly, I failed to live up to the former, and in terms of the latter, I only occasionally wear polyester pants & platform shoes; in fact, the most retro I get these days is wearing a sleepytime t-shirt from the 90’s. And truthfully, I wasn’t grounded often. The key to avoiding such punishment is simple – don’t get your ass caught, sista.

I went through what you might call a hippie phase, and then a grunge phase, and then I couldn’t decide so I just went with both. Amidst the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin there was Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I rocked the “60’s retro-wear” on some days and my dad’s flannels and corduroy pants for the days I jammed to Jeremy and Porch. For a few months I shaved the back of my head and I still can’t figure out the point in that. Somewhere, Bob Marley fit into these crazy years too, but fortunately for me (and others) I never had the desire to abandon hygiene and “grow” dreadlocks. There’s still time for that…

I like to think that my musical choices haven’t changed, but have instead broadened. I still break out the grunge rock somewhat regularly, but less often do I find myself singing Sugar Magnolia or breezing through Songs of Freedom. I’m not sure I’d use the term evolve here, in fact I know I wouldn’t, because that implies a sense of improvement and lemme tell ya, you can’t improve upon that stuff. In fact right now I just changed my Pandora station to reggae. What the hell.

Now for the transition you’ve all been waiting for: in contrast to music, food choices do evolve, or mature. Remember the tomato story? Exactly. And sometimes you really get smacked in the face, front-on, by something you thought you hated, despised even, but then months later you realize how nutty you were, how naive, or maybe quite simply how horribly this certain ingredient was prepared.

This dish here is a perfect represention of food evolution, or redemption. The first time I made quinoa, I almost spit it out because it “felt weird”. Then I learned how to cook it. And remember my diatribe about escarole? Well, ignore it. When I pulled it out of the CSA box last week, I stared at it, wondering how many sleepless hours I’d endure if I just casually tossed it in the garbage. The answer? too many, because food costs good money and wasting it is lame. So I sucked it up and found a good hot preparation for some of it that was reasonably yummy (and not overly bitter), and then used the rest of it in the recipe below instead of the suggested spinach. Maybe I got a bad batch before, or maybe this batch from a local, organic farm was just better. Either way, both quinoa and escarole have redeemed themselves.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to eat and jammin’ to do.

Quinoa, Bean, & Escarole Salad w/ Smoked Paprika Dressing
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010; serves 6-8

ingredients
1 1/2 c red quinoa (regular works too), rinsed & drained
4 c chopped escarole or other bitter green
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T fresh oregano, chopped
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 c crumbled feta cheese (~5 oz)
1/4 c Sherry wine vinegar
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

instructions
place quinoa in large saucepan and add water until quinoa is covered by 1 inch. bring to boil and reduce heat; simmer on med-low for 15 minutes. drain, if needed and let cool completely (toss out on sheetpan and refrigerate if needed).

combine lettuce, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and feta in an extra-large bowl. add cooled quinoa and toss gently.

in a small bowl, whisk vinegar and paprika together. slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. pour over salad and mix. add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.