Greek Chicken

In a past life, I must have lived in Greece because I love anything Greek.

Its food, its wine, its culture are all among my favorites. Its economy? Okay, maybe not so much.

I even love that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “If you give me any word, any word at all, I … will show you … how its root … is Greek!” That scene still cracks me up!

In cooking, some of my favorite ingredients that I use the most are from Greece. I’m always willing to pay a little more for authentic Greek extra virgin olive oil, or for the creamy Feta cheese imported from the Thousand Islands. And I’ve already made my feelings clear about imported kalamata olives.

This recipe for Greek chicken pretty much includes them all, as well as fresh lemons and Greek oregano, which continues to grow robustly in my herb garden. This is also a great meal for late Spring, early Summer because it’s light and super easy and fast to throw together.

I served this chicken over some homemade tomato pasta, which I made with my new pasta maker. I just used the standard pasta dough recipe (cup of flour, 1 egg, dash of salt) and added about a tablespoon of tomato paste to it. It turned out terrific.

Greek Chicken

1 Chicken, cut up into eight peices

3 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 TBS Fresh Greek Oregano, chopped fine

1/2 cup Black Olives, sliced

1 tsp Lemon zest

Juice of 1 Lemon

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/2 cup Fresh Imported Feta Cheese

1. Drizzle olive oil onto bottom of baking dish. Add garlic, oregano, lemon zest and olives and use a spatula (or just your hands if no one is looking) to spread it all around. Place the chicken peices skin side down onto the mixture, then turn them over. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top of the chicken the season with salt and pepper. At this point you can either let it marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours, or put it right into the oven.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Bake chicken uncovered for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Feta and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go watch that movie again!

Meat Free Mondays – Kale Smoothies

Welcome to my new food obsession: Kale smoothies

Until recently, I knew of only one way to prepare kale. That was to braise it with some pork fat until it became soft. It’s actually one of my favorite braised greens.

But then I heard people talking about kale smoothies twice in three days, so I tried it and fell in love with it. Now I’m totally obsessed with kale smoothies.

Kale is one of the superfoods. It’s a cruciferous vegetable from the Brassica food family that also includes cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Kale, which is also known as borecole, is so chocked full of vitamins and minerals that it is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.

It has significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol. Plus, everytime I have one of these kale smoothies, I swear I feel a burst of energy.

Oh, did I mention that it is delicious? When used raw – such as in these smoothies or chopped fine for salads – it has a rich, sweet flavor, unlike the slightly bitter taste it takes on when braised.

Finally, it’s extremely affordable. And because it will grow even in cooler temperatures, it’s available year round.

Here’s how healthy kale is for you: One cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 15 percent of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 40 percent of magnesium, 180 percent of vitamin A, 200 percent of vitamin C, and 1,020 percent of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals, including copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients.

It’s also rich in carotenoids and flavonoids – which are anti-cancer antioxidants – as well as lutein and zeaxanthin compounds, which promote good sight. Plus, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Whoa!

Kale is a great addition to any smoothie recipe. This weekend alone I made this watermelon-kale smoothie and strawberry-banana-kale smoothies. It’s also goes well with apples and pineapples, especially super-sweet pineapples on the turn.

Some people like to add a little fresh lemon juice to add some zing. I’m going to try that next time.

These watermelon kale smoothies are fast, simple, affordable and delicious. They instantly made me feel energized and healthier and are perfect for a post-workout pick-me-up!

Watermelon-Kale Smoothie

1 cup Watermelon, seedless or seeds removed

1 cup Green Kale

1 cup Water

1 cup Ice Cubes

1. Pull the tough stalk out of the center of each kale leaf and discard. Combine the kale, watermelon, water and ice cubes in a blender or food processor and pulse until combined, then run the blender on the highest speed until the smoothie is completely blended, about 2 minutes.

2. Pour into chilled glass, garnish with a watermelon slice and serve.

Be sure to blend the smoothie completely. The first time I made these, I didn’t blend it long enough and ended up with little specks of kale in my teeth for awhile.

Chicken Salad

The other day, Sandi and I were eating at our favorite neighborhood diner, Les Brothers, when a waiter walked past with a plate of chicken salad.

It was served old-school style inside a cut-up tomato. I don’t think I’ve seen chicken salad presented like that since the Reagan administration. I instantly knew I had to try it.

Serving compound salads — chicken, tuna, ham, egg, etc. – in hollowed out tomatoes used to be pretty common. But I suppose it had been done to death so people stopped doing it.

Well, I’m bringing it back! It not only is visually appealing, but it fits with my efforts to reduce the amount of white flour and white sugar I eat. Plus, now it’s nostalgiac. Bonus!

I served it with an Israeli cous cous salad. I wanted to make a macaroni salad, but Sandi wrinkled her nose at that, so I made this instead. But the joke’s on her because cous cous is simply a small, granular shaped pasta, so it’s exactly the same thing!

So much for my avoiding white flour, however.

Finally, I added one of my homemade dill pickles and garnished the plate with a few black, seedless grapes. I think it looks pretty elegant and wouldn’t be out of place on a posh lunch menu.

Chicken Salad

1 lb Chicken, cooked (I used half a baked chicken from dinner the night before), diced

1/2 cup Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Fat-Free Sour Cream

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 stalks celery, small dice

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

1/3  cup Dried Cranberries

1/4 cup Walnuts, chopped

1/4 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 Large Tomato

1. Combine chicken, celery, onion, cranberries and walnuts in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic. Mix a little of the dressing at a time to the chicken mixture until you get the proper chicken salad consistency, holds together but not too soggy. Season with seasoned salt. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

2. Use a paring knife to make alternate zig-zag cuts around the perimeter of a tomato. Pull it apart then use the knife to remove some of the core from each half. Lay flat on the plate and use an ice cream scoop to place a large dollop of chicken salad in the center of the tomato half.

To plate the cous cous salad, I simply spooned the salad into a ramekin and patted it down. Then I placed the serving plate on top of the ramekin, turned the whole thing upside down and removed the ramekin. The salad will then hold the shape of the ramekin.

What kind of old school foods would you like to see come back into fashion? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

Barbeque Baked Beans

Memorial Day weekend is coming up and that means three things: The Indianapolis 500, Irish Fest at Gaelic Park, and cookouts.

I’m a big fan of cookout food, especially baked beans. But I’ve never found a storebought baked bean product I’ve really liked, and most homemade versions I’ve tried have lacked oomph.

I think baked beans should stand up and poke you in the eye with their barbeque flavor. With this barbeque baked beans recipe that I modified from this one I found on the excellent How Sweet It Is blog, your baked beans will be noticed at your weekend holiday cookout.

It’s bold. It’s brassy. It’ probably gassy. But it’s super delicious and your guests won’t soon forget it.

Plus, you can make it in the crock pot. Bonus!

Barbeque Baked Beans

1 lb Navy beans, dry

10 slices bacon

1 White Onion, medium dice

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

2 cups Water

3/4 cup Barbeque Sauce (Any kind, I use Sweet Baby Ray’s)

1 cup Brown Sugar

1/4 cup Ketchup

2 TBS Molasses

1/2 cup Kentucky Bourbon (I used fake Jake Daniel’s)

1-1/2 TBS Dry Mustard

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

2 TBS Worcestershire Sauce

1. Place beans in a large pot and cover with water. Soak at least 4 hours up to overnight. Drain, return beans to pot, cover in water again and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour. Remove from heat, drain again, then pour out onto a sheet pan to cool.

2. Cook bacon slices in cast iron skillet. When all the bacon is cooked, chop it into small peices and set aside. Drain all but 1 TBS of the bacon grease from the pan, then return it to the fire and add onions. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes to carmelize, stirring frequently. Add garlic for the last minute, then remove from heat.

3. In a crock pot, combine water, bourbon, brown sugar, barbeque sauce, ketchup, dry mustard, vinegar, molasses and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in beans, onions and bacon. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. When cooking cycle is over, leave crock pot on the warm setting for at least an hour so the beans can thicken up really nicely.

These beans are miraculous. I served mine with jalapeno cornbread and the pairing was so rich it could have been a meal in itself.

This recipe makes a large batch, so there will be plenty to share. They can be reheated the next day and in fact will taste even better. If you have an electrical connection in your backyard, bring the whole crock pot outside and keep your beans warm until you are ready to serve them.

What Memorial Day/beginning of summer food rituals do you look forward to every year? Share your story in the comments section below. And thank you for supporting my blog!

Homemade Dill Pickles

When I got my first job after college as a reporter for a small daily downstate newspaper, my mother took me out grocery shopping to stock the kitchen of my first apartment.

Like any recent college grad who didn’t know anything about cooking, I grabbed for the boxes of macaroni and cheese, canned tuna, and canned peas. Then I reached for a jar of dill pickles.

“No,” my mother said, returning the jar to the shelf. “Pickles are a luxury.”

Today, whenever I go shopping for my family, I always hesitate before reaching for dill pickles because at upwards of $3.50 per jar, they really are a luxury to people like me who are on a budget.

So when my mother-in-law recenty dropped off some fresh homegrown dill weed someone had given her, that got me thinking about making my own homemade dill pickles.

With Farmer’s Markets reopening for the season, the baby cucumbers needed for making homemade pickles are inexpensive and abundant. All the other ingredients are commonly found in most kitchens, with the exception of the dill, which grows wild if you know where to look.

Making pickled vegetables and sweet pickles can be a chore. In some cases, they can take up to weeks to cure and you have to continually monitor them so they don’t grow moldy or go bad. Then there’s the boiling of the jars to create a hermetic seal. It’s a lot of work.

But these homemade dill pickles are simple to make and they take only two or three days. Plus they taste as good as storebought pickles. Better, in fact, because they have that satisfying crunch and deliciously fresh sour/salty flavor that makes dill pickles the perfect accompaniment to a picnic lunch.

Some commercial pickles tend to be limp and turn an unnatural shade of green because they sit too long in their brine. But these pickles taste fresh and crisp for weeks, although they are so delicious it’s doubtful they will last that long.

Even though Mother’s Day was last weekend, a belated “Thank you” to my mom for helping me appreciate something as simple yet luxurious as a dill pickle.

Homemade Dill Pickles

4 cups Water

3 TBS Sea Salt

1/2 cup Distilled White Vinegar

1-1/2 lb Baby Cucumbers

3 Garlic Cloves, cut in half

4 large Dill Sprigs

5-6 Whole Black Peppercorns

1. Combine the water, salt and vinegar in a pan and bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat, cover and let cool completely, at least 90 minutes.

2. Rinse off the cucumbers. Cut off any blossom ends. If your cucumbers are large, cut them into quarters. Put the cucumbers in a large ceramic or non-reactive metal bowl with the garlic, dill and peppercorns, then pour the cooled brine liquid into the bowl.

3. Weigh down the cucumbers with a small plate to keep them completely submerged throughout the brining process. Then put the bowl somewhere where it won’t be distrurbed for 2 or 3 days, such as on top of the refrigerator.

At the end of the second or third day, taste one of the pickles to make sure it is sour enough for your liking. If not, leave the pickles in the brine for another day or two. If they taste good, transfer them to a glass jar — such as a recycled commercial pickle jar –adding the brining solution, but straining out the garlic and dill peices.

You can leave them whole or cut into quarters or slices. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

 

Seafood Fridays – Crawfish Etouffee

Do you believe in love at first bite?

I can recall the exact moment when I fell in love with this dish. That’s because it was the same moment that I fell in love with the city and culture of New Orleans.

It was June, 1987. My girlfriend at the time and I had just made the long drive from Chicago to New Orleans for a week-long vacation. After getting settled in our hotel, we wandered the French Quarter for the first time.

I had never been to Europe (still haven’t, in fact), so the narrow, European-style streets filled with colorfully painted buildings with elaborate wrought-iron balconies billowing with the summer’s first flowers was like something out of a dream.

Hungry from our trip, we ended up at the Cafe Royale, where we were seated on the second-floor balcony overlooking the carnival-like atmosphere on Royale Street below us.

Even though I had never eaten crawfish before, I ordered the crawfish etouffee because it was the house specialty and because it just felt right. I was rewarded for my adventurousness with a bowl of one of the most amazing things I had ever eaten. Dark brown, slightly nutty and creamy, sweet deliciousness.

I distinctly remember taking my first bite of that wonderful stew, looking out over the Vieux Carre and thinking, “I love this. All of it.” It was one of those moments of perfect happiness that the late Spalding Gray used to talk about in his monologues.

This particular recipe doesn’t come close to approximating that first intoxicating bowl of crawfish etouffee. In fact, I substituted shrimp because the only crawfish I could find were whole, pre-cooked ones and that wouldn’t work. Chopped small, the shrimp were a good substitute and the flavor of this etouffee was close enough to transport me back to that moment in time.

This recipe also features another New Orleans tradition, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, also known as simply “Tony’s”. In fact, I adapted this recipe from one on their website. I’ve mentioned Tony’s in the past because it is a good, versatile seasoning for everything from soups to meats to seafood or even barbeque.

Crawfish Etouffee

4 TBS Unsalted butter

1 lb Raw crawfish tails (or shrimp)

3 TBS Tony’s

1 White onion, medium dice

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

1 tsp Corn starch

1 cup Water

1 Green Onion, sliced

Brown rice, cooked

1. Melt butter in sauce pan. Meanwhile, toss the crawfish with the Tony’s then saute in the butter for 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. In the same pot, add the onions, peppers and garlic and saute 10 minutes. Return the crawfish to the pot.

3. Dissolve the corn starch into the water then pour into the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmmer, then cook gently for 20 minutes. Season with black pepper — you won’t need any more salt due to Tony’s being pretty salty — and serve over brown rice, garnished with scallions.

I served my etouffee with jalapeno cornbread, changing the recipe slightly by substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. It had very little impact on the flavor but added more nutritional value.

Has a dish you’ve eaten ever made you fall in love with a particular city? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Country Style Pork Ribs

Barbeque season is here so it is a good time to review some BBQ basics.

When you cook barbeque, you have three major choices to make:

1. What to barbeque

2. Cooking method

3. Type of BBQ

There are almost an unlimited combination of these three choices. For example, you can barbeque any kind of meat or poultry, even fish or vegetables if you want, although that’s a little more exotic. And within each meat category, there’s different cuts to consider: ribs, briskets, shoulders.

Within the rib category, there are still more decisions to be made: baby back ribs, spare  ribs, country style ribs, rib tips. Baby backs are narrower and have curved bones, for example, while spare ribs — sometimes called St. Louis Ribs or Kansas City ribs, depending on how they are butchered — are longer and flatter. All are delicious and perfect for BBQ.

For this dish, I selected country style ribs. They are cut from the blade end of the pork shoulder and are meatier than other types of ribs. They usually contain just one long flat bone at the bottom, making them slightly less messy to eat.

Cooking methods include grilling, smoking, boiling, braising, baking or any combination of any of these methods. Because it was raining, I opted to go with braising.

Finally, there is the type of barbeque to consider. There are two primary types: Dry rub and wet.

Wet entails generously basting what you are cooking with a liquid barbeque sauce during all or part of the cooking process. The result is a sweet, smokey and tacky sauce that perfectly complements sweeter meat such as pork and chicken.

For this dish, I selected dry rub, which is when you rub the meat with a barbeque seasoning made up of a combination of many different herbs and spices before cooking it. You can buy a pre-made rub or you can make one yourself.

Most of the time, I use both methods, starting with a dry rub then brushing barbeque sauce onto the meat during the last portion of the cooking time. Abundanza!

Barbeque has become a rich summertime tradition. Many people ritualize the experience, and there are numerous BBQ competitions and festivals where people share their techniques and serve their secret recipes.

This recipe is no secret, but it is a quick and convenient barbeque dinner you can make to kick off the BBQ season. I served my ribs with a traditional homemade potato salad and some steamed, buttered green beans. If you like, you can serve barbeque sauce on the side, but these ribs were so succulent and flavorful that I didn’t find it necessary.

Country Style Pork Ribs

2 to 3 lb Country style pork ribs

1/2 cup Barbeque rub

1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Generously rub the pork ribs on all sides with the barbeque rub. Place in a 9″x13″x2″ baking pan and pour the water into the bottom of the pan, being careful not to wash off the rub from the ribs.

2. Use aluminum foil to seal the pan and cook for 90 minutes.

Super easy, right?! Here’s the potato salad recipe:

Traditional Potato Salad

6 to 8 Medium red potatoes

2 eggs, hard boiled

2 stalks celery, diced

1/2 white onion

1/3 cup Pickle relish

1 cup Reduced-fat mayonnaise

2 TBS Dijon mustard

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

Paprika for garnish

1. Boil whole potatoes for about 25 minutes or until cooked through. You can test doneness by sticking a fork into the potato. If it easily slips off the fork, it is ready. Remove from water and set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut potatoes into large dice peices and place in a mixing bowl with the celery. Grate the onion and egg into the bowl. In a separate bowl, make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish, tasting it to make sure you have the proper balance. Then dress the salad and mix with a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This salad tastes better if you let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving it so the flavors meld together. Garnish with the paprika.

Do you have any barbeque traditions that you would be willing to share? Tell us all about them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

 

Wine on Wednesdays – Zinfandel

I love wine stories, especially about how wines have migrated to various parts of the world.

One of my favorite varietals of wine, as any regular reader of Wine on Wednesdays will attest, is zinfandel, especially those from California.

California zinfandels have a distinctive flavor: Very vegetable in nature, with strong influences of green bell pepper. They tend to be heartier wines and, in my opinion at least, are more dependably good as you move from brand to brand. In other words, I have yet to find a zinfandel that I didn’t like.

With the exception of white zinfandel, of course. White zinfandel is a blush wine that is made from the same grape as zinfandel wines, except the skins are removed a very short time after fermentation begins. This causes white zinfandel’s definitive pink color and sweet taste.

In many restaurants that I ran, white zinfandel was the most popular wine, primarily because it was the least expensive, but also because its crisp texture and sweet flavor is refreshing when dining al fresco. Despite that, it’s not for me.

Many people who are not familiar with wines — especially restaurant servers — often have trouble distinguishing between zinfandel and white zinfandel and there have been countless times when I have ordered for former and received the latter.

But back to our story. Zinfandel is one of the oldest wine-making grapes known to man. In fact, it dates back to our own beginnings as cavemen in the caves of Caucasus. Archeologists have found evidence in that area of zinfandel plants dating back to at least 6,000 B.C.

The grape first became popular in Croatia, and then in Italy, where it is called “primativo”, but its fame soon spread throughout Europe. It came to the US in the late 18th or early 19th Century as part of an exhibition of Croatian plant life, and then migrated to California during the Gold Rush of 1849.

In a very short time, it became one of the most widely planted grapes in California. Today, it accounts for about 10 percent of all vineyard plantings there.

My go-to zinfandel is Dancing Bull, a label owned by the gigantic Gallo company. I first discovered it more than a decade ago (at Cost Plus World Market, as I recall) when it was called Rancho Zabaco. That brand eventually split, with Rancho Zabaco become its higher end wines and Dancing Bull becoming its more affordable line. You know which direction I went!

Despite its affordability — about $7.99/bottle, my ceiling for inexpensive wines — Dancing Bull zinfandel has all the typical flavors of a California zinfandel. It is consistently drinkable year after year and is probably the wine I drink most often at home.

———————————————————

In perhaps an inapprorpriate transition, I would just like to thank Mrs. Lack’s 4th grade class at Northwest Elementary School, in Evergreen Park, Illinois, for allowing me to speak to them on my career as a chef during their Career Day on Tuesday (hence my absence for those who may have noticed).

We had a very lively conversation about chefs, television cooking shows and, strangely, quite a bit about the ability of onions to make you cry. Then they enjoyed my guacamole recipe, which I made for them during a demo.

They seemed genuinely interested in professional cooking and asked a lot of great questions. I think we both had a lot of fun!

 

Meat Free Mondays — Acorn Squash Ravioli

Father’s Day arrived early for me this year. Check out my new toy:

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I used to own a pasta maker, but through neglect I let it rust out. That inspired me to get a new one, as well as this ravioli maker:

We’re calling it my Father’s Day gift for this year. Much better than a tie!

I couldn’t wait to start playing with it. For my first pasta, I decided to make acorn squash ravioli.

Making fresh pasta is not only fun and economical, but it tastes far better than commercially produced pasta, even those that are sold as “fresh”.

The difference between homemade pasta and storebought is like the difference between the birthday cake your mom made for you as a child and a Hostess cupcake. In other words, there is no comparison.

Pasta is very simple to make and you don’t necessarily need a pasta machine, although it’s way easier if you do. There are all kinds of pasta recipes, but the most basic one is simply eggs and flour formed into a dough and then rolled out thin, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta machine.

For this recipe, I added a little salt for flavor and a few tablespoons of water to get the consistency of the dough right.

You can even make different color pasta by using all-natural coloring agents such as spinach, tomato puree or even squid ink. You can even make striped ravioli if you like.

Ravioli can be filled with anything you like, including ground meat, cheese, finely chopped vegetables, potatoes, you name it. Best of all, you can make up a big batch of ravioli, enjoy half of it for dinner right away, and save the other half for another time in the freezer. They cost literally just pennies to make and they taste amazing.

Acorn Squash Ravioli

For the Filling

1 cup Acorn squash, cooked

1/2 cup Cream Cheese (or Ricotta)

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea Salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Combine acorn squash, cheese and garlic in a mixing bowl and mix together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Ravioli

2 cups Unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp Sea salt

2-3 TBS Water

1. Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then use your fingers to make a hole in the middle. Crack eggs into the hole, then use a fork to mix together, slowly incorporating the flour a little at a time until a dough is formed, adding a little of the water if necessary. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead until dough is smooth, about five minutes. Cover with clean kitchen towel and set aside.

2. Assemble pasta machine or flour a work surface. Separate the dough into four peices. If using the pasta machine, set the rollers to their widest setting, then flatten one of the dough balls with your hands and feed it into the roller using the crank handle. Fold the sheet in half and feed it through the rollers again. Adjust the rollers to the next narrowest setting and repeat the process. Then adjust the rollers again and continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin. Lay the pasta sheet flat on a floured work surface, sprinkle with flour and cover with clean kitchen towel. Repeat the process for the three remaining dough balls.

3. To assemble ravioli, lay one pasta sheet over the metal ravioli frame, then use the plastic insert to create dimples in the pasta. Carefully use a spoon to fill each dimple with about one teaspoon of the filling, then lay a second pasta sheet over the top. Use a rolling pin to press the two sheets together firmly, then pull away the excess pasta on the sides and discard. Use your fingers to carefully pick up each ravioli and set on a floured baking sheet to dry for 30 minutes, then turn each ravioli over and let dry another 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining two pasta sheets. At this point the ravioli can be frozen for later use, if you would like.

4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook eight minutes. Drain and serve.

I served mine with my simple, all-purpose tomato sauce and some freshly shaved parmesan. I served it with this simple herbed bread recipe I’ve been making a lot lately, as well as sauteed zucchini, having been inspired by this post by The Ranting Chef.

Can I just say: Best. Father’s. Day. Ever!

Seafood Friday – Shrimp

You are more likely to find shrimp on any restaurant’s menu than any other kind of seafood.

That’s probably because shrimp is relatively inexpensive, can be found just about anywhere there is salt water, and has a delicious, sweet flavor that can be paired with just about anything.

Five things you might not know about shrimp:

1. Shrimp and prawns are the same thing. In India, the world’s largest shrimp-farming nation, all shrimplike animals are called prawns. However, in the US and UK, the term “prawn” generally is reserved for large shrimps.

2. Above a certain size, you need to remove the shrimp’s digestive tract prior to cooking it. This is known as deveining the shrimp. After peeling away the shrimp’s shell, simply make a shallow incision down the shrimp’s back and use the blade of the knife to remove the vein. In some cases the vein is easy to see because it is full of partially digested shrimp food, in others it’s nearly transparent. Then rinse the shrimp under cold water for a moment. Or you can buy deveined shrimp for a few cents more per pound.

3. Some shrimp have hard shells like lobsters. Rock shrimp, which are found off the Atlantic coast from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Bahamas, used to be discarded by fishermen because its shell was too hard to remove. But around 1970 a machine was invented that easily shells rock shrimp and since then its lobster-like meat has become a popular part of many menus.

4. Unless you live right on the water, most shrimp you buy will be frozen or has been frozen at some point during its journey to market. That’s because shrimp is highly perishable. Many commercial shrimpers process and freeze the shrimp right there on the boat to immediately halt decay in quality.

5. Sea monkeys, the popular “family of pets” that were promoted in advertisements in the back of comic books in the 1970s actually were freeze-dried brine shrimp. When you placed them in water, they ended their suspended animation and came to life. They didn’t really look like people, though.

This reduced-fat recipe for white shrimp with oricchiette pasta with a tomato cream sauce is fast, easy and delicious. Oricchiette is Italian for “little pigs’ ears” and refers to the shape of the pasta. If you can’t find it at your market, you can substitute any pasta you prefer.

White Shrimp with Oricchiette Pasta in a Tomato Cream Sauce

1/2 lb White shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

3 TBS Extra virgin olive oil, separated, with a little more for the pasta

1/2 White onion, small dice

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

6 oz Can of tomato sauce

1 tsp Dried basil (or fresh)

1 tsp Dried oregano (or fresh)

1/3 cup Fat-free half and half

1/4 cup Grated parmesan cheese, plus a little more for garnish

1 lb Oricchiette pasta

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup Parsley, chopped fine

1. Combine shrimp, garlic and TBS of EVOO in a small bowl, coating all shrimp in oil and evenly distributing garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions, usually about 9-10 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse. Return to pot. Drizzle in a little EVOO, add a little salt and pepper and toss. Set aside

3. Put a sauce pot over a medium heat. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onion translucent, about five minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, basil and oregano. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about five minutes so the flavors can meld together. Then whisk in the fat-free half and half and season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the parmesan cheese.

4. Put a non-stick sautee pan over a medium heat. When hot, add just a drop of EVOO. When smoking add shrimp and all of the marinade. Saute until shrimp are cooked through, about three to four minutes.

5. To assemble, pile pasta in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a kitchen spoon or a tablespoon to ladle a little sauce over the top, then use a tongs to carefully arrange shrimp evenly around the sides of the pasta, leaving spaces between each shrimp. Garnish with parsley and additional parmesan.