Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lamp with Orzo in a Clay Pot (Youvetsi)

In Greece lamp with orzo in a clay pot is often served on Sunday, which is the special day of the week among Greek Orthodox Christians. I usually cook this dish on a special occasion too. This month I made this dish twice for serving two of my good friends.

One of them is my new friend, Akiko, who is a professional nutritionist and recently moved to the USA from Japan. She is also an expert on Japanese cooking. Her ideas and tips about cooking are always fun and useful. Also her professional advice regarding diet and many kinds of food products are very valuable.

Since Mediterranean cuisine is totally new to Akiko, I decided to cook this special dish for our lunch. Unlike her tiny figure, she ate up the big portion of a lamb chop, Greek salad that I additionally made, and a big piece of crispy ciabatta bread. She congratulated my cooking and enjoyed my dishes very much.

Therefore, when Peter, who is a good friend of mine from New York City, decided to visit me in Louisiana in the middle of June, I immediately chosen to cook lamb with orzo in a clay pot, too. He is a gourmet, coffee lover and also good cook. Furthermore, his parents and sister are amazing cooks. Their creative table settings and fabulous ways to present food are incredible and astonish me any time I visit them.

Thanks to the tender and juicy lamb chops and ripe tomatoes, I was glad that Peter liked this dish very much.

Two food experts plus my husband, who is a native Mediterranean and foodie, applaud this dish. Thus, I proudly recommend you to try for your special events.

I already decided to cook this dish for my next guest and I started thinking what I am going to cook when Akiko and Peter visit me next time.
4 pieces of lamb chops
1 finely chopped onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 and 1/2 cups of red wine
1 lb orzo
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cloves
1/3-1/2 cup Ground Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Season the lamb chops with salt and black pepper.
2. Heat 3-4 tbsp of olive oil in a large fry pan. Place the finely chopped onion and garlic in the pan and fry them for 3-4 minutes. Add the lamb chops and fry them till the surfaces of the lamb chops become slightly brown and crispy.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Add 1/2 cup of the red wine. Season with salt, black pepper and a pinch of clove. Simmer them for 30 to 40 minutes.
4. Transfer them into a large clay pot.
5. Preheat the oven to 370 F degrees. Bake the clay pot for about 20 minutes.
6. Add the orzo, 1 cup of the red wine and about 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Note that the orzo should be covered with the lamb chops and sauce.
7. Bake in the clay pot for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the ground Parmesan cheese when it is almost done.
8. Bake them for another 5 minutes. Transfer them into serving plates.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cucumber with Spicy Soy Sauce

Cucumber with Spicy Soy SauceWhen I was a child I ate anything except cucumbers. They were the only vegetable item I disliked. According to my imagination of that childhood time, this was because I thought they smelled like snails.

Snails were one of my favorite creatures. I kept them in a small container as pets when I was a kid. My pets were not only snails but also many kinds of insects, such as butterflies, cicadas, beetles, crickets and so on. Most of the insects died before fall naturally. However, snails stayed alive throughout the year. Therefore, snails were always present in my room.

I enjoyed my routine job taking care of them, like cleaning the containers, giving them fresh water and feeding them with fresh vegetables. Especially, I loved observing them eating cucumbers. Their small mouths stuck to cucumbers and crawled slowly on the surface of the cucumbers. After that there would be many small cute dents left on the cucumbers. Whenever I saw cucumbers, I thought of my snails eating them. Eventually, I disliked eating cucumbers.

I do not remember exactly when I released my snails from my small cages. But after I become a high school student, snails had been totally disappeared from my life. Not only snails, but the other insects had also been completely gone. Then, in a little while later, I started disliking insects. I felt disgusted seeing or touching them.

My snails are gone for two decades now. These days I exterminate snails without much thought when I find them in my garden. On the other hand, I enjoy eating escargot, which is a snail in French and also the name of a famous and delicious French dish based on snails. However, at any time I eat cucumbers, I still recall the friendship I had with these cute little creatures. Now I love cucumbers. They smell like summer and remind me of my innocent childhood.

3 cucumbers
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp dry goji berries

Spicy Soy Sauce:
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tsp minced green onion
1 red chili pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ clove of sliced garlic

Crashed Cucumbers
1. Place all of the ingredients of spicy soy sauce in a large bowl. Mix them well.
2. Optional: Place goji berries (they are red and can be found in any major market store that sells vegetables) in a small bowl and add water. Let them soak for about 20 minutes until they become soft. Remove them from the water.
3. Cut off the ends of the cucumbers. Partially peel off the skins of the cucumbers. Cut the cucumbers lengthwise into four pieces each. Then cut them around 2-inches long.
4. Using a roll pin or pestle, crush the pieces of the cucumbers and make crack them.
5. Put the cucumbers in the spicy soy sauce in the large bowl. Add the pine nuts and goji berries. Mix them well.
6. Refrigerate it from 30 minutes to a few hours. Serve as a clod appetizer or salad!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fried Shrimps and Fried Soft Shell Crabs

Fried ShrimpsAbout 4pm in June 4, 2009 at a parking lot in Ishikawa prefecture in Japan, a person encountered a mysterious incident. It was a clear and calm day. But he heard noise sounded like raining behind him. He turned around and found out approximately 100 tadpoles fall from the sky. Some were alive and others were dead. This strange incident happened one after another. Two days later, June 6, 2009 around 7:30 am, 50 miles south from the place of the first incident took place, an old woman witnessed roughly 40 tadpoles fall from the sky.

The local weather station denied the possibility of tornado, which might take away tadpoles and small fishes from rivers and rice pads and release them from the sky. Some people hypothesized birds might be the cause. Birds might drop them from the sky. But is it possible to be approximately 100 tadpoles at once from the sky?

In the book, “Kafuka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami, one of the popular novelists in the recent era, there are a few incidents in which thousands of fishes suddenly fell from the sky. There is no rational explanation about the cause or effect of these events in this story. They just happen and become forgotten, which makes readers anxious and uncertain about the realities and fall into the Murakami’s unrealistic world.

One summer day in 2007, while I was eating fried shrimps and fish with my husband under the big oak tree in our back yard, the same kind of episode occurred on front of us. A small fish suddenly fell from the sky. We knew there was a big bird nest on the oak tree. So we immediately identified the source of this fish. My husband quietly and quickly moved the fish and we in a minute continued eating without any concern. Delicious crispy shrimps, a fish from the clear blue sky and our pleasant lunch surrounded hysteric chicks’ voice. All of them reminded me of the Murakami’s world.

When I read the recent articles about “tadpoles rain from the sky”, I can’t help but cooking fried shrimps, eating them and waiting for something felling from the bright blue sky. I called this picture surrealistic but my husband called it is grotesque.

Fried Soft Shell CrabsIngredients:
4 soft sell crabs
1 lb shrimps with their heads and shells on
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (or Cajun seasonings)
2-3 cloves of garlic

1. Wash the soft shell crabs and shrimps well and cut off shrimps’ whiskers. Season them with salt and black pepper (or Cajun seasonings).
2. Coat the crabs and shrimps with the flour.
3. Chop the cloves of garlic half. Heat the olive oil and the garlic in a fry pan. Fry the crabs and shrimps for a few minutes.
4. Transfer the crabs and shrimps into a serving plate and sprinkle lemon juice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Meatballs in Tomato SauceI hate Stelios, who was one of my husband’s high school classmates in Greece and he is still a good friend of my husband. Stelios is very pleasant to be with and I am always happy to see and talk to him. However, I have a reason to hate him.

When I was still living in New York City, Stelios visited my husband in Louisiana. During that time, he cooked spaghetti for my husband.
“It was mindboggling, “ my husband said.
“He boiled the spaghetti for nearly 20 minutes and it became just like the one I used to have when I was in Greece. It was so good!” He congratulated Stelios for his spaghetti. Since then he calls overcooked spaghetti, the “Stelios’ spaghetti.” This has impressed my husband very much but has made my life so difficult.

Long time ago, one of my Italian friends taught me how to boil spaghetti. First, boil plenty of water in a big pot. Add a pinch of salt. Then, coil a bunch of spaghetti and release them at once in the pot. In order to boil them the spaghetti evenly, stir them from time to time and cook for about 10 minutes or until it is “al dente” (which is Italian for having it a little bit hard on the inside). I thought this was the Mediterranean standard to boil spaghetti for a long time and more importantly, I like the “al dente” spaghetti very much.

Since Stelios made spaghetti, my spaghetti preparation became very complicated. I have to take out half of the spaghetti what I boil after about 10 minutes, and them continue to cook the rest for my husband for more than 10 minutes.

Meatballs in tomato sauce are excellent with spaghetti. However, since cooking spaghetti for my husband and myself gives me a lot of work, one day I served them with steamed rice. It went very well with meatballs in tomato sauce. Also pilaf (butter fried rice) goes well with them.

Maybe I should appreciate Stelios instead of hating him. He was the one who gave me an incredible opportunity for me to try steamed rice and pilaf with meatballs in tomato sauce, which are excellent combinations after all!

Meatballs in Tomato SauceIngredients:
Olive oil for frying

Meatballs (about 20 to 25 meatballs):
1 lb ground beef
½ cup panko (bread crumbs)
1 finely chopped onion2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ cup finely chopped mint
1 egg
½ cup red wine
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cumin and cinnamon
Lemon juice
½ cup all-purpose flour

Tomato Sauce:
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
1 finely chopped onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Meatballs in Tomato SauceDirections:
1. Place all of the ingredients except all-purpose flour for meatballs in a large bowl. Mix them well. Leave the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes in room temperature.
2. Break off pieces of the mixture and make small meatballs. Coat the meatballs with the all-purpose flour.
3. Heat the olive oil in a fry pan and fry the meatballs until they are well done. Take out the meatballs from the pan.
4. Using the same pan, heat the olive oil and fry the chopped onion and garlic for tomato sauce till the onion becomes translucent.
5. Add the chopped tomato and tomato paste. Season with salt and black pepper. Occasionally stir and cook them for 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Add the meatballs and continuously cook for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Serve over rice/pilaf or pasta!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sweet Bell Pepper Gratin

Sweet Bell Pepper Gratin“Let’s have a potluck party! I will teach you how to make gumbo soup there!” one of my girlfriends proposed after I had asked her for a gumbo soup recipe.
“That’s wonderful! I will bring fruit salad” another girl immediately responded.
Then, the other girls followed her by saying what other favorite dishes they would bring with them. I was the only one who did not come up with anything. I felt shame of myself. I am cooking and writing about food everyday but I cannot propose any dish for such a casual event!

After I came back from the lunch, I asked my husband for advice.
“How about dolmadakia?” Dolmadakia is a famous Greek / Mediterranean appetizer, sometimes called stuffed grape leaves, in which rice is stuffed in grape leaves.
It sounded like a good idea. So I sent an email to my friends that I would bring a Mediterranean appetizer.

One day before the potluck party, I went for grocery shopping for my cooking. Then, I found out some beautiful and huge red bell peppers on sale.

Things happened for a reason. After I bought a bunch of the gorgeous bell peppers, I decided to make this sweet bell pepper gratin, which is very simple yet, tasty and can be an impressive Mediterranean appetizer.

The day of the potluck party, I brought this dish with one Italian baguette. It is needless to say but the people loved this gratin. I was very happy that I received a lot of compliments about my cooking skills.
If you plan to have a potluck party and do not know what you would cook, this may be an excellent choice. I bet your people would love it and you would be proud of yourself.
Sweet Bell Pepper Gratin
4 red bell peppers
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup panko (bread crumbs)
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp capers in wine vinegar
5 black olives
1 tbsp dried or fresh oregano

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Place the red bell peppers on the oven pan and bake them for 40 to 50 minutes until the peppers become soft and the skins turn blackened.
Or place them on the barbecue grill for 15 to 20 minutes until the peppers become soft and their skins become blackened.
2. Remove the peppers from the oven or grill and transfer to a glass bowl. Cover it with a plastic wrap and let them cool for 20 to 30 minutes (or leave the bowl cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes or overnight.).
3. Transfer the peppers into a baking pan. Peel the skins and remove the seeds on the pan so that the delicious juice would not be wasted. Cut them into stripes. Place them on the baking pan.
4. Place the ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, panko (bread crumbs), the chopped garlic, the capers, chopped olives, oregano, chopped flat-leaf parsley and a pinch of salt in a bowl Stir them well.
5. Spread out the panko mixture over the bell peppers.
6. Bake it for about 20 minutes until the panko mixture become brown.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rice with Shrimp Scampi

Rice with Shripm ScampiWhenever I go to a seafood restaurant or Italian restaurant, I look for shrimp scampi in the menu. Most of the time, I am disappointed to see “Linguine with Shrimp Scampi” or some kinds of pasta with shrimp scampi. Shrimp scampi must come with rice.

In the early 1990’s, my younger sister, Risa, moved to Long Island in New York to study for a few years in college. During that time, I visited her and she took me to her favorite seafood restaurant in Port Jefferson on Long Island. It was a cozy local seafood restaurant facing the port and surrounded by small cute souvenir shops.

Risa suggested to me to have her favorite dish; rice with shrimp scampi. I followed her advice. The moment the waitress brought the dish, I knew it was an excellent choice. The aroma of the shrimp and garlic made me crazy. The flavor of butter, garlic and rice brought out the delicate taste of the shrimps. That was a perfect combination for a shrimp dish.

After Risa came back from New York, I moved to New York to pursue my study in collage. Then Risa visited me and we decided to go to the restaurant in Port Jefferson, hoping to get the delicious dish, rice with shrimp scampi. However, the restaurant seemed totally different. The prices, inner and outer interiors were scaled up. Sadly rice with shrimp scampi was replace by spaghetti with shrimp scampi in the new menu. Furthermore, the taste of shrimp scampi was downgraded.

Since Louisiana shrimps are famous for their big size and fine flavor, I decided to try my dream dish, rice with shrimp scampi. I prefer to use shrimps with their heads and shells on, which gives me incredible flavor and a beautiful saffron-like color. However, if getting your fingers dirty while you are eating is not very appealing to you, use peeled and deveined shrimps. Nevertheless, they are still superb. I usually hesitate to use butter in cooking. However, butter is essential for this dish.
Rice with Shripm Scampi
Rice with Shrimp Scampi Recipe
Ingredients (4 servings):

Shrimp Scampi
2 lb shrimps with their heads and shells on
1 cup finely chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped dill
3-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 cup white wine
3 tbsp butter
2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pilaf (Butter Fired Rice)
2 cups rice
3 tbsp butter
2-3 cups water

1. Wash the shrimps well and cut off their whiskers. Salt them.
2. Heat the 3tbsp of butter and the garlic in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shrimps and chopped green onions and fry them evenly for 2-3 minutes until the shrimps become pinkish. Add the white wine and lemon juice. Season them with salt and black pepper and simmer them for 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer the shrimps into a plate and keep them aside.
4. Wash the rice well.
5. Using the same pan, heat the 3tbsp of butter and place the rice. Fry them for about 3 minutes. Add the water and a pinch of salt. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat and continue to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the water is absorbed.
6. Add the shrimp scampi into the pilaf (butter fried rice) and stir them well.
7. Turn off the heat and sprinkle the chopped dill.

Shrimp Scampi on Foodista