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!

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Seafood Fridays – Shark Kabobs

One of my most treasured memories is snorkeling inside the cone of an underwater volcano off the coast of Maui on my honeymoon.

The crystal clear water was about 50 feet deep and as I swam around I could look down on a dazzling display of sea life, including thousands of colorful fish and swaying sea plants. Then I saw the sharks.

There were three of them and they were about the same length as me. I watched as they swam along the bottom minding their own business. I wasn’t afraid of being attacked. Instead, I was fascinated by how menacing they looked and how incredible it was to be actually swimming among sharks.

Then it struck me: On some days the shark eats you. On other days, you eat the shark.

I was reminded of that experience when I saw shark meat on sale at the one of the local produce marts I visit regularly. It was extremely affordable — $3.99/lb — so I snapped it up.

I have cooked shark before and I remembered that it was a firm-fleshed fish, sort of like tuna but not as flavorful. When I brought it home, I decided to use it in shark kabobs.

Shark meat should not be eaten too frequently because it can have high levels of mercury. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends not eating shark meat more than twice per month, and pregnant women should avoid it altogether.

The meat is quite tasteless and dry, so you probably will want to marinate shark meat before cooking it. You can use a commercial salad dressing or make your own marinade, but you definitely will want to add flavor and moisture to shark.

Shark Kabobs

1 lb shark meat

1 bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, cut into large peices

4 button mushrooms

Fresh pineapple, cut into large chunks

Red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 tomatoes, cored and halved

1/2 leek, cleaned and cut into large chunks

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

For the marinade

1/2 cup pineapple juice (or orange juice)

2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1. Combine pineapple juice, EVOO and garlic in a glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Don’t use a metal mixing bowl or acid could react with the metal and affect the way the meat tastes. Cut shark into large chunks and mix around in the mariade. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove from marinade.

2. Submerge wooden shish kabob spears in water about 10 minutes prior to assembling your shish kabobs. This will help prevent them from burning up on the grill.

3. Assemble your shark kabobs in any order that you like. I always make sure each kabob is exactly the same because when I worked in restaurants customers would complain if somebody else’s kabob had more of one particular item than their kabob. As you assemble the kabobs, lay them out in a baking pan and brush them with the marinade.

4. Preheat grill. When hot, scrape down the grill with a metal brush to remove any debris, then lubricate the grill using a clean rag dipped in oil. Spray the kabobs with pan spray then season them with salt and pepper. Place the kabobs on the grill for about a minute just to mark them, then careful flip over to mark the other side. Remove kabobs to a cooler part of the grill not directly over the heat, brush them again with marinade and let them cook through, about 7 minutes.

I served my shark kabobs on a bed of brown rice and garnished them with fresh cilantro.

Have you ever tried shark meat? What did you think? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Lemon Chicken with Kalamata Olives

Now that the holidays are over, and all the excess that goes with them, this time of year, around my house we are always looking for meals that are faster and lighter. Because every January we’re busier and heavier.

This recipe for lemon chicken with Kalamata olives really fits the bill. The chicken is napped in a simple, light lemon sauce, then quickly broiled. I served it with Kalamata olives, which are my favorite. Steamed green beans and brown rice balanced out the plate.

Brown rice is one of those foods I know I should eat more often, but have a hard time doing it. Maybe it’s because brown rice and I have never gotten along. I can’t ever seem to cook it right! The rice either is undercooked and crunchy or overcooked and mushy.

I’ve tried everything: Cooking it on the stovetop, baking it in the oven like a pilaf, using my rice steamer, even microwaving it. Nothing works right.

For this meal, I thought I would try the crock pot. A few days earlier I cooked bulgur and lentils in the crock pot and they turned out great. Lentils and bulgur are sort of like rice, right?

Wrong! After two hours on low, the rice was still hard as pebbles. Apparently, the temperature was not hot enough for the stubborn little rice to absorb the liquid. So I transferred the whole thing to a pot, put it on the fire and simmered it for 50 minutes. The rice turned out better than it usually does, but was still not perfect. Man, I hate brown rice!

Lemon Chicken with Olives

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tsp EVOO

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp lemon pepper

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and rough chop (or just sliced black olives)

4 thin slices of lemon

1. Turn oven to broil. Starting at the thickest edge of each chicken breast, cut horizontally almost to the opposite side, then open the cut chicken breast so it is an even thickness. This is a technique called “butterflying” and can be used to cook any meat — chicken, beef steaks, pork chops — faster, especially when broiling.

2. In a small bowl, mix oil and lemon juice. Dredge butterflied chicken breast in mixture then lay out on a sheet sprayed wit pan spray. Drizzle remaining mixture over chicken breasts. Sprinkle with 1/2 the lemon pepper and place on top rack of the oven so the chicken is about 4 inches from the broiler flame.

3. Broil for 5 minutes, flip chicken breast over, season the other side with the remaining lemon pepper, and return to the broiler for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken from broiler, arrange lemon slices and olives on top of chicken and return to broiler for another 2 minutes.

Is there a particular food that you have never been able to master? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Meat Free Mondays – Mediterranean Bulgur and Lentils

I have to admit, when I first read this recipe I was a little dubious. It just didn’t sound like there were enough flavorful ingredients to make it a satisfying meatless entree. I mean, bulgur wheat and lentils? Really?

Happily, I was wrong. This was probably the best vegetarian dish I’ve made since I began participating in Meat Free Mondays last summer. Quite simply, it was amazing!

The success of this dish can be attributed to two of its ingredients: Kalamata olives and Feta cheese.

Kalamatas are my favorite olives. I buy them from this little Greek grocery store I like. It’s not close, but I’m willing to make the trip just to buy the olives. They marinate them in a little EVOO and some Greek herbs, so the flavor is just explosive.

Kalamatas usually come with pits in them, so be aware of that when you’re eating them. But, man, are they delicious! They have so much more flavor than your everyday black or green olives, which to me mostly taste like salt.

Feta cheese is a crumbly, white, slightly salty cheese made of goat’s milk, but it tastes nothing like goat cheese. You can buy either domestic or imported, but the imported is about double the price.

I know this is a budget cooking blog, but if you can afford it, the imported is 1000% better than the domestic. The feta cheese I buy is imported from Bulgaria, but you can often find it imported from Greece. While domestic Feta’s flavor is mild, the imported is so flavorful, creamy and delicious that it can be eaten by itself, but it is most commonly found sprinkled on salads.

Mediterranean Bulgur and Lentils

1 cup uncooked bulgur wheat or cracked wheat

1/2 cup dried lentils, sorted and rinsed

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp sea salt

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

2 14-oz cans vegetable broth

1 15.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes with olive oil and herbs

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted, rough chop

1 cup crumbed imported Feta cheese

1 or 2 whole wheat pitas

1. In crock pot, mix all ingredients except tomatoes, olives and cheese.

2. Cover and cook on low 3 to 4 hours or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally because most of the liquid will be absorbed.

3. About 30 minutes before service, turn crock pot to warm setting (or just turn it off if yours doesn’t have a warm setting), and stir in tomatoes and olives. To serve, pile in center of bowl and garnish with Feta. Serve with whole wheat pita on the side.

Have you every been pleasantly surprised by a recipe you weren’t sure about? If so, share your experience in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Baba Ghanoush

It happens every time I see an eggplant.

Whether it’s at the the grocery store or the Farmer’s Market, I’m always seduced by their dark, beautiful purple skin, their plump waistline and that sassy little hat they wear. My first impulse is always the same: “Buy it!”

You sexy thing!

You sexy thing!

Then there’s white eggplants. Even baby eggplants. Aww, so cute!

But when you get them home, then what? A lot of people, most I would argue, believe they don’t like eggplant. But that’s only because they don’t know what to do with one.

You can make ratatouille out of them. But no matter how you make it, French people will always say it’s not authentic. Am I right?!

How about eggplant parmesan? It’s made the same way as chicken parmesan or veal parmesan. That’s delicious, right? Bread just about anything with parmesan cheese, fry it, then cover it in tomato sauce and mozzarella and it’s going to taste great. Baseball cap parmesan would probably sell.

But that doesn’t capture the essence of the eggplant. What should eggplant taste like?

The answer may surprise you: Baba Ghanoush.

Baba Ghanoush (ba-buh guh-NOOSH) is a Middle Eastern appetizer made much the same way as hummus, except with roasted eggplant rather than chickpeas. Usually it is served chilled with pita bread or a Middle Eastern flatbread known as lavash.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush

It’s most often associated with Lebanese cuisine, but variations also can be found in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, even Pakistan. In Israel, it is sometimes made with mayonnaise.

“Baba” means “father” in Arabic. “Ghanoush” probably means eggplant, but I’m not 100 percent sure on that.

Baba Ghanoush, an excellent vegetarian dish, has a slightly sweet, smoky flavor. Eggplant itself has a neutral, mild flavor, so most of the flavorings come from the roasting and the other ingredients.

In my experience, most people are initially intimidated by Baba Ghanoush because it has a funny name and is too “weird”. Middle Eastern food? Eggplants? No, thanks!

But once they taste it, they will fall in love with the subtle, smooth flavor of Baba Ghanoush.

It’s also a very economical dish because eggplants — which are also known as aubergines and are native to India — are available and inexpensive almost year round. You get a lot for your money because they are nearly 100 percent edible and have a large amount of “meat”. You usually only need one, regardless of what you are making with it.

So bring something exotic to your next gathering. All we are saying is give Baba Ghanoush a chance!

Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant

TBS EVOO

1 clove garlic

2 TBS Tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Rub eggplant with EVOO, place on sheet pan, prick with fork a couple of times and roast until fully softened, about 25 minutes.

When cool, cut in half, scoop pulp into food processer and add tahini, lemon, garlic, parsley, and remaining EVOO. Pulse untl smooth. Season with S&P to taste.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes so flavors can meld. Mound into bowl, drizzle with a little additional EVO and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve with pita bread cut into triangles or squares of lavash.

Do you have a recipe that initially intimidates people, but eventually wins them over? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Greek Turkey Burgers with Smashed Potatoes

At the end of the street where I grew up, there’s a Greek Orthodox church. Every Father’s Day weekend, they host a big carnival with rides, games and, best of all, lots and lots of Greek food.

Ever since attending that carnival as a young boy, Greek food has been one of my favorite cuisines. Anytime my wife asks where I would like to go out to dinner, I always suggest Greektown in Chicago first.

Greek food just makes me feel at home, and I’m not even Greek. I love lamb, for one thing. My wife, Sandi, will not eat lamb so the only time I get to have it is in Greektown.

But I also love saganaki, the flaming cheese where the waiter shouts, “Opah!”

And stuffed grape leaves. And baby octopus salad. I love those inexpensive semi-sweet chilled Roditys and Retsina wines. What about the baklava, with the the nuts and honey wrapped in Phyllo dough? OMG good! I even love the bouzouki music they play.

Great, now I totally have to go to Greektown.

Greek Turkey Burgers on Whole Wheat Buns

Greek Turkey Burgers on Whole Wheat Buns

Anyway, although I love Greek cooking, I very rarely get to cook Greek. So when I came across this recipe for Greek Turkey Burgers, I knew I had to give it a try.

I’m glad I did because the results were excellent. They have huge flavors and are much more juicy than regular turkey burgers. That’s because ground turkey usually is about 99% protein and only 1% fat, compared to ground beef which averages 75/25 or 80/20 protein-to-fat ratio. So while turkey burgers may have a lower fat content, you pay for it in the mouthfeel.

Unless you add more fat! In this case, feta cheese, the white, crumbly cheese most often seen on Greek salads.

Smashed Potatoes

Smashed Potatoes

I paired it with a smashed potatoes recipe I found on the2Beths blog, who raved about it after seeing it on the Pioneer Woman’s blog. She calls them Crash Hot Potatoes, although I don’t really understand why. But since she just got her own TV show on the Food Network, I knew they had to be fantastic. They were.

So here are the recipes. I hope your enjoy them. Opah!

Greek Turkey Burgers

1 lb ground turkey

1 TBS dry oregano

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 TBS onion powder

1 TBS granulated garlic

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese

1. Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl and mix well using a wooden spoon or, better yet, your hands. Form into three or four hockey puck sized patties. I usually throw them on a sheet pan and put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm them up and make them easier to work with come grill time. These can be made hours or even a day before you are ready to serve.

2. Turn your grill as high as it will go, getting it really hot. Meanwhile, use pan spray to oil both sides of the burgers and season with S&P. Use a rag to put a little oil on the grill itself (okay, I use the pan spray, even though you totally shouldn’t), then place your burgers on the hottest part of the grill to mark both sides of your burgers, about a minute per side. Then turn the grill to its lowest temperature setting, move the burgers away from the direct heat, such as to an upper shelf, close the lid and let them finish for about 15-20 minutes.

Extra credit: Just before service, toast the buns on the grill. Serve with shredded red leaf lettuce, red onion slices and sliced tomato.

Smashed Potatoes

6 red potatoes

3 TBS EVOO

Sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste

1 sprig fresh rosemary, removed from stalk and chopped fine

2 TBS grated parmesan

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from water and drain.

2. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and place potatoes on sheet pan, with plenty of room in between. Using a potato masher, gently crush the potato until it slightly mashes, then rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Drizzle or brush the tops of the potatoes with the EVOO, season with S&P and sprinkle on the rosemary. Cook in 425F oven for about 20 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle with the parmesan, and return to oven for about 10 more minutes. Yum.

Good job, Pioneer Woman. And good luck witht the show! I’ll be watching.