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!

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!

Budget Cooking – Homage to Hummus

Traditionally, hummus is a Middle Eastern dip made from mashed chick peas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), olive oil, garlic, honey and lemon. But really hummus is an easy and inexpensive way to show your friends or family that you are a culinary genius.

Almost everyone who has tried it loves hummus. It’s yummy, it’s fun because you eat it with your hands, and although it’s slightly exotic, it is also eminently approachable. It doesn’t taste at all weird. What I love about it is that it’s super easy to make, and you can add any flavors you want. You can even change out some of the key ingredients and it’s still amazing.

Hummus usually is served with flatbread, such as pita, or with fresh vegetables like celery or carrot sticks, or green or red pepper slices. It’s 100 percent natural and is high in iron and Vitamin C. It will stay fresh in your refrigerator for at least a couple of days. If the liquid starts to separate, just  give it a stir.

Bring it to a party and your friends will be amazed. Serve it at your family’s table, perhaps with grilled shish-kabobs and couscous, and they will be impressed how multi-cultural you are.

It’s easiest if you have a food processer, but you can make it in a blender, or people have been mashing it by hand for thousands of years. I prefer the food processer, though.

The main ingredients of hummus are available almost anywhere. Chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be bought fresh, dried, canned or frozen. For me, canned is easiest and cheap. With a little searching, I can usually find them for $.75/can or less.

Tahini, or a beige-colored paste made out of ground sesame seeds, is available in a surprising number of mainstream chain grocery stores. A 12 oz jar – enough for several batches of hummus – is usually about $4.00, and will keep in your refrigerator for months. It tends to settle, however, so be prepared to stir it up if you haven’t used it in awhile.

Garlic, EVOO, honey and lemon, of course, are cheap and available year round anywhere. I’m going to give you the standard recipe, then some amazing variations. For bonus points, serve three or four different kinds of hummus at the same time.

Getting ready to make hummus

Getting ready to make hummus

Basic Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained (save the can)

¼ cup tahini

1-2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

3 TBS EVOO

1 tsp honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne or a couple drops of hot sauce

Complicated? Not. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Use the can from the chickpeas to pour a little tap water into the mixture as it blends (preserving any residual flavor) to thin the hummus out to a smooth consistency, about that of like cream of wheat.

That’s it. Transfer to an airtight container and let rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. The hummus will also thicken a little during this time. Serve the pita whole and let your guests tear it up with their hands, or cut it  into wedges for a nice presentation.

For an extra visual pop, you can serve with a lemon wedge dipped in paprika (Hey, color!). I’ve also seen the hummus piped onto the plate to form a ring, forming a little pool in the middle, which is then filled with EVOO for dipping.

Okay, here are some cool variations:

Charring a red pepper

Charring a red pepper

Roasted Garlic Hummus – For a sweet, succulent hummus, use the same recipe as above, except substitute one head of roasted garlic for the raw garlic. For roasted head of garlic, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with EVOO, place inside foil and roast for about 35 minutes at 350F. Or alternately, peel all the cloves from a head of garlic and cook in a saucepan in a shallow pool of EVOO over a low flame for about 15 minutes or until light brown, stirring once or twice. This will fill your kitchen with sweet, nutty aroma. Also you can save the cooled leftover EVOO and use it as a garlic-infused oil in future recipes. Bonus points for also using it in the hummus.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus – For a brilliant-hued, nuanced variation, add a few slices of roasted red pepper to the recipe above. Jars of roasted red pepper are available in most chain supermarkets, and certainly in ethnic markets or produce stores. They are handy to have around and will keep in your refrigerator for several weeks. Or, if you are really ambitious, roast your own red peppers by placing fresh red bell peppers directly onto the flames of burners of your stove, turning them frequently until all sides are charred black. Then put into a small mixing bowl and cover immediately with plastic wrap. Allow them to cool, about 25 minutes, then use a paring knife to gently scrape off the charred skin, ribs and the seeds under cold running water.

Kalamata Olive Hummus – Add a handful of pitted, marinated kalamata olives to the recipe above for a great tasting variation. You will need to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe since kalamatas already are pretty salty. Don’t forget to take out the pits, very important. I buy marinated kalamatas at a local ethnic deli, and they are pretty inexpensive and delicious in salads or even to eat on their own.

This is one of those dishes where you can really make it pop with the plating. Try making the basic recipe, then divide it into thirds, then make 1/3 of the Roasted Red Pepper, and 1/3 of the Kalamata variations. Serve all three side-by-side in little bowls with any kind of garnish (a couple whole kalamatas work well), surrounded by the pita wedges
pointy-side up. Sprinkle a little paprika and green chopped parsley or cilantro over it and you got yourself a standing ovation at your next get-together.

I’ve also made this with white beans instead of chickpeas, a little French twist, served with toast points. Also very good. Bon appétit (That’s French)!

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus