Tag Archives: cooking

Greek Food Festival Season

realgreekHello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize.  I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation.  I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals.  I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.  

The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between.  Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.

I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening.  My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.  

I don’t have much experience making Greek food.  I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.

My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind.  I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more.  We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food.  I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.  

Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:    

ikariaIkaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.  

The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables.  The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.    

The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.  

 

 

By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:

The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book.  One is that it is divided into seasons.  I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes.  One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too).  Other than that, this is a great cookbook.  

Unrelated note:  While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies.  Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!  

Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!

-Scott M.

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Get Into Cooking

bookcover_cookingI love food, especially desserts, but I hate to cook. Yes, I’ve been known to yell at kitchen utensils. Luckily for me, my husband has adopted cooking and baking as a hobby, and made it his mission to bake the perfect pound cake.

It may not be good for my waistline, but the rest of me is thrilled. He even made whipped cream from scratch recently. We had some pound cake and fresh strawberries, so naturally we needed some cream to complete the picture.

If you or someone you know shares his love of cooking, you may find these books instructive. My husband certainly has.

Cooking For Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

bookcover_kingarthur

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-purpose Baking Cookbook

And, of course, where would we be without our old friend Betty Crocker?

The library has many more to help you get inspired. Maybe you’ll be the one to perfect your favorite recipe.

Tell us about your go-to cookbooks in the comments.

-Megan

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Suzy, my friend! Curry chicken?

My favorite take-out place closed on December 31. I am devastated. I never thought I would live in a world without Zaw’s Asian Food (2110 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill.) I was a college freshman, working at the Green Grocer on Hobart Street when Sonny Lee, the manager, convinced me to try something other than white rice (I’m that kid that didn’t let their food touch.). The first thing he introduced me to was their curry chicken. I’ve eaten it at least once a month since 1995. And I’m not the only person, according to this recent Yelp review:

I am so upset about this [closing] I can’t even express it. The curry chicken here was my favorite thing to eat to the point where I would consider it as a last meal. It was a red spicy curry sauce with garlic and ginger and chicken broth. I will miss it so much.

Last meal indeed. It is named Zaw’s Asian Food for a reason. Owners Marvin and Esther Lee are originally from Burma (Myanmar), so the food was never typical take-out; it was a little bit of everything. Through 20 years, 11 apartments, 6 boyfriends, 8 jobs, and 2 degrees, Zaw’s has been there. I live on the South Side. I willingly crossed a bridge for take-out. That’s some serious business. Not only did Sonny know what I wanted to order, he recognized my voice on the phone, he asked about my husband, he noticed weight loss and new haircuts! When I picked up my very last order, Sonny shook my hand and told me it had been a pleasure knowing me all of these years. His voice broke; I left in tears.

I sincerely hope the Lees have a wonderful retirement. And that they pass their recipes on to someone. I have a lead: Ron Lee, the owner of the Spice Island Tea House, is Mr. Lee’s nephew. Anyone have other ideas? I really don’t want to use these cookbooks. Let’s have lunch!

CompleteCurryBookComplete Curry Cookbook, Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie

Authentic curries made easy. Curry is enjoyed throughout the world. This wonderful selection of curry recipes draws its inspiration from India, Thailand, China, England, Indonesia and the Caribbean. These quick, easy and tantalizing recipes feature ingredients found in supermarkets, yet the dishes maintain authentic tastes and flavors.

BurmaFlavors of Burma (Myanmar): Cuisine and Culture From the Land of Golden Pagodas, Susan Chan

Susan Chan depicts the culture and traditions of Burma, providing ample information on the Burmese market, commonly used ingredients, and eating and serving customs, explaining, for example, that Burmese eat with their fingertips. She also familiarizes her readers with the language, festivals, and principal cities of this country. Complete with b/w illustrations and photographs.

BurmaRIversBurma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid

The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.

TheCurryBookThe Curry Book : A Celebration of Memorable Flavors and Irresistible Recipes, Nancie McDermott

Whatever its incarnation — in a lightly seasoned deviled egg, a cold chicken salad, or a spicy Indian- or Thai-style dish — curry is one of the most popular seasonings in the world. Nancie McDermott explores endless variations on the curry theme, from Jakarta to Senegal, Tokyo to Jamaica, and Sri Lanka to South Carolina. The result is an untraditional — and accessible — celebration

BigBookofCurriesThe Big Book of Curries: 365 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World, Sunil Vijayakar

The Big Book of Curries details the intricacies of these delicious dishes, from the numerous herbs and spices that flavor them to essential equipment and accompaniments. The recipes are organized by main ingredient–meat, poultry and eggs, fish, and shellfish–with a special section on vegetarian meals. Techniques for cooking the perfect rice are included, and there is even a selection of starters to prepare the palate. With these 365 recipes to try, an amazing culinary experience is only a few minutes away.

sad & hungry for curry,
suzy

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Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:

-Ginny

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Recent Adventures in Library Cookbooks, Vol. 2

One of the ways I keep my menus fresh and my cooking skills sharp is to check out cookbooks from the library. Here’s a look at some of the recent happenings in my kitchen:

Dark Chocolate Stout Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Ice cream…with beer in it. Does it get any better?

Ample Hills Creamery:  Secret and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop by Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna
What I made:  Dark Chocolate Stout Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Breakfast Trash ice cream
What I want to make: The Dude (White Russian) Ice Cream, Caught in the Rain (Pina Colada Ice Cream), Nanatella Ice Cream, Cookie Au Lait Ice Cream & the list goes on.
Quick Review: I had never heard of Ample Hills before I picked up this book while browsing the stacks, (My pretentious ice cream of choice to-date had been Jeni’s), but I’m not sure why because these people know what they are doing. The ice cream recipes call for nonfat milk powder, something I’d never seen used in ice cream before, but the authors promised it would make everything creamier and more scoop-able. Guess what? It did!  If you’re an at-home ice cream geek like me, pick this one up.

chiaquionakaleChia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My! Recipes for 40+ delicious Super-Nutritious Superfoods by Cassie Johnston
What I Made: Greek Quinoa Salad, Rosemary Grapefruit Popsicles.
What I want to make: Chocolate Coconut Almond Butter, Coffee-Rubbed Ribeye, Bok Choy and Apple Slaw with Gogi Berries
Quick Review: There are two kinds of people: those who see the title of this book and are interested, and those who see the title of this book and kinda roll their eyes. I tend to be the former, while my husband tends to be the latter, but both of us were able to find something appealing inside. Besides recipes, this book features one-pager profiles of over 40 superfoods, breaking down the nutritional content, health benefits, and seasonal availability.  The recipes are very simple, so this would be a good choice for someone who is new to cooking.

reinventingtheclassicsReinventing the Classics – Simple and creative ways to rethink recipes America love best, with wine to match. Edited by
Dana Cowin

What I made: Roasted Garlic & Lemon Lamb Chops, Broccolini with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Roquefort Soufflé, Green Curry Chicken Wings, Parmesan-Crusted Rigatoni with Cauliflower
What I want to make:  Chili with Hominy, Quinoa salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Butterscotch Sticky Buns
Quick Review: This is another book I picked up on a whim, and I was happy I did, because it contains exactly what the title promises. This book won’t blow your mind with overcomplicated flavor combinations and hard-to-find ingredients, but it will offer you some simple changes and twists on recipes you probably already know pretty well. I recommend this book for intermediate-level cooks who don’t know what they’re having for dinner tonight. Bonus: it includes the best chicken wing recipe I’ve ever made, and trust me, I’ve tried many.

Afro Vegan by Bryant Terry

This spicy sauce has a secret ingredient: a mashed up banana!

Afro-Vegan: farm-fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Re-mixed by Bryant Terry
What I made: Smashed Potatoes with Peas, Corn, and Chile-Garlic Oil; Chipotle-Banana pepper sauce
What I want to make:  Tropical Fruit Salad with Mango Lime Dressing, Fig Preserves with Thyme, Couscous with Butternut Squash, Pecans, and Currants, Grilled Corn on the Cob with Pili Pili Sauce and Spicy Mustard Greens
Quick Review:  If the title alone didn’t grab you, I’m not sure what else I can say except that this book is chock-full of great, well-researched recipes, beautiful photography, and each recipe comes along with a suggested soundtrack and reading material.  Oh, and did I mention the flavors are amazing? Don’t miss this one.

Fiesta at Rick’s – Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless and Deann Baylessfiestaatricks
What I made: Roasted Garlic Guacamole, Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce, Mango Guacamole, Coconut Hortchata, Creamy Chicken and Greens with Roasted Poblano and Caramelized Onion
What I want to make:  Tequila-Infused queso fundido, Frontera Grill’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars, Mexican White Rice with Sweet Plantains, and, well, let’s be honest, most of the cocktails and guacamole variations.
Quick Review:   To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the format of this one, but the deliciousness-factor of the recipes is pretty hard to deny. My friend and I cooked up most of the dishes listed above in one night, and then I went back for this book a second time. If you’re into party planning, this will provide some good hosting tips and preplanned menus. If you’re just into good Mexican food, flip past the table setting and mood lighting sections and dive straight into the high-quality recipes.

So – what have you been cooking lately?

-Ginny


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Angels and Angel Food Cake

Today is National Angel Food Cake day. It’s true. In honor of this day, I decided to dedicate my post to books that have angel food cake in them…or are about them…or are about angels because there are actually not A LOT of books about angel food cake.Nancy Willard Cover

The first book is The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard, because it has angels AND angel food cake. All her mom wants is a cake that her grandmother made for her birthday. The little girl thinks that would be easy enough, but soon discovers that the recipe is more difficult to find and the cake is more complicated to make than she originally thought. Throughout the work, she meets three angels who help her giver her mother exactly what she wants.

hidden

Hidden, by Marianne Curley, is a book about a hidden angel. Ebony knows she has been sheltered for most of her life. She is also aware that she is beginning to change. She is actually beginning to glow. Ebony is about to find out about her past, and why she has been sheltered for so long, because heaven wants its angel back and will fight anyone to get her.

Cooking Light

What kind of post would this be if I didn’t put a cookbook in it? Cooking Light is my secret (well not anymore) favorite cookbook. Mainly because it provides really good recipes that are healthier. I think they have some non-Angelic cakes in the book that are extremely delicious. So pick it up if you like the opportunity to have delicious food with less calories.

I hope you enjoy a piece of cake along with a good book!

-Abbey

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Fire and Rice

I don’t know about you, but I love food.  I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!

Now, I’m not a natural cook.  When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult.  I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes.  When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles.  Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use.  These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:

The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week.  This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too.  Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials:  ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.

How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking.  The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen.  This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.

How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome!  Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to.  This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!

The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg –   This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs.  These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen.  Excellent resources!

Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him!  He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes.  He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!

How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling.  You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!

My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice.  Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it.  That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice.  I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.

rice

Obtained via Google Image search.

Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid.  Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.”  Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.

I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it.  Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice.  This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish.    To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:

The Amazing World of Rice : with 150 recipes for pilafs, paellas, puddings and more – Marie Simmons

The Rice Book – Sri Owen

Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson

Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation.  Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook?  I’d love to hear about them!

–Scott M.

 

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