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.

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Avocados in Paradise

Wherever Paradise is located, I’d love to go there someday. I think I could get used to lying on the beach, traversing mountains whenever I please, and climbing trees to knock down coconuts. I think I could be really happy watching the sun set from a warm pier with a cute little poodle or two at my side and a nice glass of really old Spanish wine in my hand.

I’m not sure if I’d really need a computer. Or a phone. And maybe I could even do without pork if I had endless coconuts, and seafood, and pretty pretty things to look at. Of course, there are tons of versions of Paradise, but that’s the one I have in mind today.

I’d have to make sure I’d have regular access to these two things: avocado and grapefruit. If grapefruits weren’t so dang messy, I’d delve into one at my desk every single day. But since they are, I settle for home-eating of said fruit. I used to eat these things like they were going outta style in the 80’s. My mom would cut them in half, give me and my brother each one half in a bowl, and sprinkle some sugar on top. Many of you might not have a clue about what a “grapefruit spoon” looks like, but we had a handful in my house – they’re like regular spoons, but somewhat pointy and serrated, so you can easily scoop out the fruit – genius! Sure, the juice always dripped into the bowl, but that was the best part – sugary grapefruit juice. Hells yes.

We didn’t consume avocado in my house. I was probably 25+ when I realized the awesomeness of guacamole, and avocado soup, and all sorts of other avocadocontaining lovelies. I don’t think they’d be very good with sugar on top, but otherwise I can imagine I’d eat an avocado most any way – even ice cream. And maybe plain while sitting at my desk.

If I did have both of those things in Paradise, I’m guessing I’d be alright eating this salad pretty much every day for the rest of my life. Okay, not every day, but at least a few times a week. Avocados are always tasty out West, and grapefruits are making their winter debut as we speak type. And when they’re both tossed around in, get this, more grapefruit (juice! vinaigrette!) it is really, really something.

The shrimp certainly don’t hurt the cause, either.

Of course, maybe your Paradise doesn’t have these things. Maybe your Paradise has chocolate and butter and bacon. Or cheeseburgers?! And cell phones and the internets. Yeah, those things are all good, too. For this month at least, this is what I crave. Next month is a whole other story.

Shrimp, Avocado, & Grapefruit Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~45 minutes

ingredients
2 1/2 T olive oil, divided
1 lb peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/2 t salt, divided
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 grapefruit
2 T chopped fresh tarragon
2 t brown sugar
1 t chopped shallots
6 c chopped romaine lettuce
1 peeled avocado, cut into 12 wedges

instructions
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 t salt and 1/8 t pepper. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Remove from pan; keep warm.

Peel and section grapefruit over a bowl, reserving 3 tablespoons juice. Combine grapefruit juice, remaining 2 T oil, remaining 1/4 t salt, remaining 1/8 t pepper, tarragon, brown sugar, and shallots in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add lettuce; toss. Arrange 2 cups lettuce mixture on each of 4 plates. Top each serving with 3 avocado wedges; divide shrimp and grapefruit sections evenly among servings.

Easy Does It

It seems that the month of February has begun to fly by much more quickly than I’d anticipated. Six weeks ago, we were finally talking openly about our big move, and at the time it was a bit surreal; there was certainly more talk than action those days. Shoot, the only action, per se, was putting our condo on the market, and when we did that we thought it may be the last of the pieces to fall into place, if ever – despite it being the first physical sign that we were, in fact, moving.

But miraculously, that so-called mountain of a task has turned out to be more of an ant hill, as the condo has (fingers crossed) been sold, pending some final paperwork and such. With that, an earlier-than-expected close date has ensued, and a couple more temporary moves have been added to the moving equation.

Chris starts his job tomorrow, and as I type he’s packing his suitcases to begin the journey we thought would never get here, but in contrast it snuck up on us and smacked us silly. This first week without him will be easy, because he’ll be back late Thursday night, at which time our condo, our home for a couple more weeks, will be filled with friends and we’ll party throughout the weekend, celebrating all the Chicago days we’ve loved and all the San Francisco days we’ve yet to encounter but will almost certainly love, in time, as well.

Needless to say, the past few weeknights have been spent in bars, in restaurants, at ‘one more’ wine class – a valiant effort to clear our Chicago bucket list, and the attempt was largely successful. But in doing so, the kitchen here has been barren, so much so that yesterday the dishwasher was full of coffee mugs rather than plates, spoons rather than forks and knives, and no tupperware symbolizing a hefty week of leftovers.

I usually relish the idea of a potluck party, an event I take advantage of fully by digging through my recipe clippings/ideas and whipping up something I’ve been eyeing for a while, like the arancini, but couldn’t find a reason to make at home. But on Thursday, I had no clue what I’d bring for the Friday event, and I quickly searched the recipe pages of a few blogs I read, easily tossing out any recipe that would take more than 30 minutes and involve any worrisome ingredients that might require special grocery store trips. I was even starting to wish I’d RSVP’d as maybe, so I’d have the opportunity to back out gracefully.

But I was reminded of our sort-of mottos for the past few weeks of craziness – take things one step at a time, don’t let the large details get to you; easy does it. It seems to work for lots of life’s issues – moving, house-selling, looking for new jobs, and even potlucks.

Citrus Salad w/ Feta and Mint
inspired by Smitten Kitchen; serves a party

time commitment: 30 minutes

this is a perfect winter salad, and it’s gorgeous for a dinner party, which is where mine was utilized. you can use any combo of citrus you want, really whatever looks pretty and isn’t full of seeds. adjust amounts based on number of guests – this will serve a large group or make for great leftovers.

printable version

ingredients
1/2 red onion, chopped into very thin slices
1 pink grapefruit
1 yellow grapefruit
2 blood oranges
2 cara cara oranges
2 T fresh mint, chopped into strips
4 oz goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes/chunks
1 T red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (amount varies – see recipe)
1/8 t dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

instructions
put onion strips in the bottom of a mesh strainer and position strainer over a medium-sized bowl. peel outer rind away from each citrus fruit, using a smallish knife, removing all the white pith from the fruit. cut each piece of fruit into 1/4″ thick wheels and layer citrus over onions in the mesh strainer (juice will slowly collect in the bowl and ‘pickle’ the onions slightly). let sit for a few minutes to drain a bit.

arrange citrus wheels neatly on a large platter, and top with onion slices. top with mint and feta. to the bowl of citrus juice, add red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to double the amount of liquid (probably ~2-3 T). add mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to create a citrus vinaigrette. pour over fruit prior to serving.

Finding My Second Wind

Butternut Squash Salad
I will be talking about that bowl of loveliness in a moment – I promise.

But first, I have to talk about this:

New blog header

Don’t you just adore it?! Don’t you want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George?! I sure do. Luckily, I have a very creative friend who was willing to put some brain power into making me a fancy new header. I’d become a little bored with the “google images” and also felt a little guilty (a little) for stealing images of pretty pictures I didn’t take…

You’ve heard me talk about my buddy Jennifer (aka JSimps, or sometimes just Simps), right? Jennifer recently started her very own design biz using Etsy, and she uses her blog, Second Wind Studios, to talk about her new creations and various other things. I’m sure she’d love to design a new header for you too, if you’re in the market for one! She also designs invitations (yes, for weddings too!), cards, pottery, etc. Head on over and chat with her – she’s very nice!

cubed butternut squash

I finally came out of my sickness slump on Friday, following a trip to my Jewish internist a few floors down. I only see him when I’m desperate, which is due simply to my aversion of taking medicine unless all else fails – it did, once the cookies were gone. Aside from my one annoyance with him, which is his inability to read anything in my chart before walking in (yes, I know…big whoop), he’s a pretty nice guy. I only wanted to punch him once at this visit – right after he made the assumption that I was a nurse because I’d switched specialties (pediatrics to cancer), because surely I wasn’t a doctor.. and what is a genetic counselor, anyway? Meh…
But the meds slowly relieved the ickiness, and by Friday I was feeling more like a 6 than a 3, which was good since the parentals were en route. Yes, my (divorced) parents, for whatever reason decided it’d be a good idea to drive up together from North Carolina for a weekend. Who flies these days, anyway – right?! Well, 17 hours later, they were here (yes, 17…. starting from Wilmington, meeting up in Fayetteville, & making pit stops at various intervals), and both were in need of a stiff drink!
Unlike most divorced parents, they can stand each other for a few days (with a few wise quips at each other thrown in for good measure), and they even choose to without any coercion. So visit they did, and cook I did thanks be to the z-pak, the aforementioned cookies, and a lot of sleep. They are super-easy guests in that right – no touring the city or fancy restaurants required, just visiting and eating whatever I make them!
roasted squash with cranberries and pine nuts
For dinner one night, I insisted on using butternut squash as a side dish, in some way. I’ve seen them in the stores and at the markets, and have literally been fiending for the nutty, creamy vegetables since last year. My friend Jenn from The Whole Kitchen recently blogged about a tasty squash salad, and I found a version that reminded me a little of her Colorado find. It had everything I love – chipotle pepper, homemade ranch dressing, said squash, dried cranberries, and nuts. How could I go wrong?

For most of you – this salad will be nothing short of nirvana. I’m serious. For me, it was too -although my salad nirvana was achieved sans lettuce. Being a supertaster and all, I am highly sensitive to bitterness (hence the need for added flavor in my coffee & pure hatred of brussel sprouts). Though I’d never tasted escarole, I always like to try everything once, so I went with the recommended lettuce for this recipe and gave it a shot. I could have easily been eating aspirin, and attribute it to the escarole bitterness (which in lettuce doesn’t usually bother me – I love arugula, frisee, and endive) coupled with a spicy dressing. Next time I make this salad (and there will be a next time), I’m using romaine, and you should too. I’m saving escarole for other salads with more sweetness to counterbalance that hefty bite. Pops & Chris ate all (or most of) the lettuce, mom left some behind and ate around it like me.

Maybe she’s a supertaster too?

Romaine & Butternut Squash Salad w/ chipotle-ranch dressing
Adapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 8

ingredients
1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled & cubed
2 T evoo
salt & pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 c buttermilk
2 T fresh lime juice
2 t honey
1 1/2 t minced chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce (San Marcos, gluten-free)
8 c romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c toasted pine nuts

instructions
preheat oven to 400 F. cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. toss squash with oil, salt, and pepper. roast on the baking sheet until browned, 25-30 minutes. cool to room temp.


mince garlic with 1/2 t salt to form paste then place in bowl. add mayo, buttermilk, lime juice, honey, and chipotle. mix and blend with immerision blender until smooth (or puree in food processor). season as needed. refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 days.


toss romaine with desired amount of dressing. toss in squash, cranberries, and pine nuts.