Monday, June 27, 2011

Pita Pizza - Mediteranean Style

A few weeks ago I wrote about a terrific pita pizza that I managed to replicate from Aladdin's Eatery made with a honey mustard sauce and chicken. 

As wonderful as that pitza was, now that I can make it at home I've been able to move on to other menu items when I visit them for lunch.   The next Pitza I tried was their Arayiss Pitza.  It's described as their "famous Hummos served as a base for this unique pitza topped with seasoned ground meat, diced tomato, pine nuts and garnished with chopped parsley" and it is totally delicious.

It took a bit of research and guesswork to find the right combination of spices so that I could try this at home and the end result is pretty close to Aladdin's version.  I didn't have any pine nuts in the house but there was some left over hummos that I'd made last week (see my recipe here) and an extra pita bread in the pantry.  I also swapped out the parsley for some cilantro, which I'm sure is not authentic Lebanese, but since it's my kitchen, it's my prerogative.  Soon my kitchen began to smell a bit like those wonderful aromas at Aladdin's. 

Next time I find myself at Aladdin's for lunch it's time to try yet another delicious item and I cannot hardly wait!  The chicken soup is really good....or the rolled chicken salad pita is tasty...maybe try one of their pita pies that look so intriguing......decisions, decisions.

Lebanese Style Ground Beef Pitza

1 large pita bread
1/4 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons finely minced white onion
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup prepared hummos
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
chopped fresh tomato and cucumber for garnish

Make spice blend with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Split pita in half.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat oil in skillet.  Saute onion till translucent.  Add spices and saute for 45 seconds or so to toast.  Remove mixture from skillet so it doesn't burn.

Add ground beef to the hot pan and brown until cooked through, then add onion mixture back to beef and heat through.

Spread pita with hummos, top with ground beef mixture.  Slide into oven on a pizza stone.  Bake for 5-8 minutes to crisp up pita and heat the hummos, being careful not to burn the edges.

Remove from oven, top with chopped tomato and cucumber and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SUMMER MOJITO

A bundle of inspiration in the form of mint
OK, if I have to admit it, when I saw, no, no, I take that back, when I SMELLED the mint in last weeks City Fresh bundle my first thought was Mojito.  No lamb chops with mint jelly.  No fancy desert with a mint sauce.  Just a mojito.

Then when I found the little bottle of maple syrup mixed among the garlic and onions and greens, my little brain wheels began churning to see if I could use that in my mojito.  I managed to last until tonight to try out my new beverage, and it was really worth the wait.

The Classic Cuban Mojito calls for the mint and some sugar to be muddled together, then the other ingredients are added.  It also classically requires a good Cuban white rum which I seemed to somehow be lacking in my normally well-stocked bar.  So I made a couple of adjustments to accommodate my supplies, put on some Buena Vista Social Club music on the iPod and I'm whisked off to old Havana for the evening!


There are countless recipes for the Mojito (pronounced moh-HEE-toh), but this version I riffed from is for the one Hemingway himself enjoyed at the Mojito's place of birth: La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba.

1 teaspoon maple syrup
Juice from 1 lime (2 ounces)
4 mint leaves
Havana Club white Rum (2 ounces) (I used a good dark rum)
2 ounces club soda
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Place the mint leaves into a long mojito glass (often called a "collins" glass) and squeeze the juice from a cut lime over it. You'll want about two ounces of lime juice, so it may not require all of the juice from a single lime.

Add the maple syrup, then gently smash the mint into the lime juice and syrup with a muddler (a long wooden device pictured above, though you can also use the back of a fork or spoon if one isn't available).

Add ice (preferably crushed) then add the rum and stir, and top off with the club soda (you can also stir the club soda in as per your taste). Garnish with a mint sprig.

Monday, June 20, 2011

OLD AKRON MEMORY TRIP

There are plenty of days when some odd something or another will trigger thoughts of places or foods from my distant past.  The other day during a particularly bad morning, I made an off-the-wall comment about looking forward to a two martini lunch and somehow the conversation took a turn towards the past.  Our conversation turned almost immediately to old Akron restaurants where you were likely to find business men sitting at a bar sipping their lunches.  These places are nearly gone now, but those that came to mind were Nick Anthe's (still an icon on North Main) and Iocomini's on West Market. 

The other name to come to mind was Sanginiti's on East Market Street. In the 1980's working in downtown Akron, Sanginiti's was a rite of passage.  As a young girl never exposed to anyone sitting at a bar at anytime, much less at lunchtime, walking into the place gave me quite a sense of sophistication. 

Well, needless to say, my martini lunch didn't happen last week, but it did inspire me to recreate a favorite menu item from Sanginiti's that I still remember very fondly - Chicken Parmesan. My family never ate anything like this - we were hillbilly pretty much all the way, so the only way we ate chicken was fried and pasta was reserved for spaghetti and meatballs served at our table only once or twice a year.  So aside from the mystique of the bar open at lunch, the food was also a bit exotic to me.

This was the place I had my first Waldorf Salad and I still love to make these from time to time.  But today was reserved for the Chicken Parm.  This meal is easy to assemble with things most of us have on hand: shredded mozzarella in a sack and a wedge of Parmesan from the fridge; a small jar of marinara sauce and some penne pasta or spaghetti in the pantry; and a chicken cutlet from the freezer.  20 minutes later my dinner was ready with a glass of nice red wine alongside.

No doubt this wasn't up to the Sanginiti's standards, but it satisfied an itch of mine and allowed me to relive an old memory through food.  I've made better versions of this in the past given more time and fresher ingredients, such as tomatoes out of the garden, fresh basil for my own marina and some fresh mozzarella from DiVitis.  I did not bread the chicken either which is my way of cutting down on calories, and I'm sure Sanginiti's made their version without todays fat concienceness in mind.  For today however, this was just the thing to satisfy an urge.

CHICKEN PARMESAN

1 4-ounce chicken cutlet
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkle of California seasoning (mixture of garlic powder and dried parsley)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup penne pasta
1/2 cup good jarred or fresh marinara sauce
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3-4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Put a small pot of water on to boil, season with salt and add pasta to cook to al dente.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (as usual I use my toaster oven for this as it's small and convenient without heating up a large oven).  Season the chicken cutlet with salt, pepper and California seasoning.  Pre-heat a heavy skillet on medium high heat.  Add olive oil and the chicken cutlet.  Brown on first side 2-3 minutes.  Turn and let cook in skillet for a minute or so. 

Place the shredded mozzarella on top of the cutlet and place in the preheated oven.

Meanwhile, once the pasta tests done, drain the water and return the pasta to the hot pan.  Add the marinara sauce and heat through.  There should be a little extra sauce - that's fine, it's for the chicken.

Check the chicken in the oven after about 5 minutes.  The chicken should be cooked through but if the cheese hasn't browned to your satisfaction, turn on the broiler for a moment or two. 

Remove the chicken from the oven and place on a warm plate.  Add a little of the extra sauce from the pasta over the cutlet, and plate the pasta alongside.  Top both with the Parmesan cheese and serve. 

Today I added a nice Merlot from Wellington Vineyards.  Smooth and full-bodied, it stood up well to the strong flavors of the pasta sauce and cheese.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spicy Cool Chicken Dinner

The weather turned late-summer hot suddenly here in Northeast Ohio and the heat makes cooking dinner a little more of a challenge than normal.  Not wanting to turn on the oven or boil pots of water on the stove for pastas, I tend to turn to cooler, no cook, or nearly no cook, meals when the kitchen is just too stifling to spend much time there.

Generally when it's this warm outside we have garden bounty to turn to for dinners - simple tomato salads, fresh corn easily cooked in the microwave - but in early June none of that is available yet.  So trying to keep kitchen time to a minimum, this simple spicy, pan fried chicken cutlet topped with a cool cucumber salad combined for a perfect combination of flavors for a hot evening. 

If you have a gas grill or small charcoal grill and feel like doing this outside, it would be a fine alternative to pan frying the chicken.  But preparing this inside in a pan made the total preparation time right around 10 minutes and I cannot think of anything that would get us out of the kitchen faster than that.  Better yet, this meal clocks in at less than 350 calories (by my non-scientific reckoning) and so is also very healthy - even using the full fat sour cream.  This could easily be the ideal go-to meal for all summer.

SIMPLE CHICKEN CUTLET WITH COOL CUCUMBER SALAD

Chicken
   1 4-ounce chicken cutlet
   salt and pepper to taste
   1/4 teaspoon southwest seasoning mix
   drizzle of lemon juice
   1 teaspoon canola oil

Salad
   4-inch piece of English cucumber, diced
   2 tablespoons sour cream (I used full fat but feel free to try low-fat)
   salt and pepper to taste
   1/2 teaspoon dill (fresh would be great, but dried is fine)

Begin by combining the sour cream, salt, pepper and dill together in a small bowl.  Add the diced cucumber and combine.  Let set while preparing the chicken.

Heat a heavy small saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add canola oil and heat.  Season the chicken cutlet with salt, pepper and spice blend on both sides.  Add to the pan, cook 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through and browned on both sides.  Drizzle with lemon juice when turning the chicken in the pan.

Remove from the pan, let set for 2-3 minutes then slice and plate.  Top with some of the cucumber salad and serve the remainder of the salad on the side. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

REWARD FOR A TOUGH DAY

There are days when nothing short of a decent adult beverage will help take the edge off of a particularly rough day.  Today was one of those days.

Luckily I have a fully stocked bar and a large list of drink recipes from which to experiment.  I also have a decent selection of wines tucked away but frankly when I have the urge for a fun drink, half the satisfaction comes from the process of actually creating the beverage.  Gathering the ingredients, dropping a couple of ice cubes in a shaker, measuring those ingredients and shaking the heck out of them is a bit of therapy even before the liquid cascades into my glass.  By far, my favorite mixed beverages are sweet martinis.  For these I keep things on hand such as Bailey's Irish Cream, all flavors of Godiva Liqueurs, vanilla vodka, caramel flavored liquors, etc. 

Pretty glasses take a simple beverage to a
higher level.
I also am a collector of fancy barware.  I few years ago I began throwing martini parties for my friends and began collecting unique martini glasses for that purpose.  Then I became enamored of hand cut short bar glasses that are perfect for a decent shot of good bourbon or a gin and tonic.  Later, I began scouring the antique shops for pretty little sherry glasses and eventually ran across a lovely set of gold embossed highball glasses....and well, you can see how things got a little out of hand from there.

These glasses tend to inspire me when it comes time to have a mixed drink.  The pretty brown ones put me in the mood for a chocolate martini.  The fruity colored ones put me on the lookout for a good cosmo recipe.  Catching sight of the pretty hand cut sherry glasses has me looking around for my bottle of sherry or port.  These all lend a little bit of class to a generally messy and laid back life. 

Tonight I took a short look through my bar recipe book and the following caught my eye.  A few minutes later and I was shaking up my martini du jour, then settling into my comfy chair, glass in hand and an old Star Trek program whisking me away to relaxation.  Sophisticated, huh?

MILKY WAY MARTINI
It's been a while since I actually ate a Milky Way candy bar, but this little beverage hits very close to what I recall. 

1 oz. vanilla vodka
1 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream (I used a caramel flavor)
1 oz. Godiva Chocolate liqueur

Settle into a comfy chair with one of these.
Add two ice cubes to a shaker.   Pour in all liqueurs and shake very well. 

Strain the liquid into a fun martini glass and serve.

FISHING FOR ONE

One of the key techniques to making meals for one person regularly is the ability to have individual portions of meat available in the freezer at all times for days when you come home hungry and have forgotten to plan dinner ahead of time.  Like most of us, my meals tend to revolve around a basic protein - chicken, pork, seafood - so having individual-sized portions waiting in my freezer is a quick way to begin a full meal.  

Tonight I stopped at my favorite shopping place - the freezer in my garage - and pulled out one of the great things to have on hand for quick meals - an IQF Talapia fillet. IQF is fancy talk for Individually Quick Frozen. Since the seafood industry has figured out how to process and flash freeze fish while still out at sea, this means that the seafood we're getting in the freezer section is fresh and tasty. With a package of Talapia fillet's waiting in the freezer, it is easy to pull out one piece of fish for myself, or several pieces if someone is joining me for dinner.

Individual servings of brown rice ready for the
freezer.  Perfect to have on hand for a quick meal.
It's simple to create your own IQF packets of many items if you make larger batches of food and then store them in small plastic bags in the freezer.  Rice works well this way, especially if you prefer the brown rice that takes a while to cook.  Once it's prepared, pack in individual servings in the snack-sized resealable bags and store in the freezer.  When you want rice for dinner, pop it in the microwave and you have rice in about 2 minutes. 

This meal is usually prompted when I have either purchased a fresh salsa or have ingredients on hand to make my own.  As it's not tomato season yet, I purchased a nice salsa at the grocers this week.  Here's how dinner came together:

1-Pull the frozen fish, rice, and corn from the freezer and thaw
2-Open a can of black beans and make the cheater salsa
3-Prep and cook the fish
4-Heat rice in the microwave - stir in a bit of salsa to give extra flavor
5-Plate up!

SOUTHWEST STYLE TALAPIA

1 talapia fillet
southwest seasoning blend - purchased or see my blog entry on how to make your own
canola or vegetable oil
black bean and corn salsa - cheater recipe follows
precooked rice
lime wedge

If the talapia is frozen, place it in a pan or bowl (still in it's plastic covering) and cover with cold water. Let sit for 15 minutes and it will be thawed and ready to use.

Remove the fish from plastic, pat dry and sprinkle with seasoning blend to your taste.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed, non-stick skillet, add the fish and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until cooked through.


Serve along side rice and and some of the salsa on top. Drizzle lime over all and garnish with lime wedge.
CHEATER BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALSA

1/2 cup store bought fresh (not jarred) salsa
1/4 cup frozen corn - rinsed in warm water to thaw
1/4 cup canned black beans

Mix all ingredients together and let sit at room temperature while preparing the remainder of the meal.

Dinner is served. It all came together - including thaw time for the frozen fish and corn - in about 25 minutes.