Spaghetti with Meatless Boca Crumbles~Straight-up Delicious

Dscf0832I've never cooked with meatless ground beef crumbles if you can believe it.  You know, the kind that Boca makes? They are tiny crumbles of ground burger that honest to God taste almost like the real thing.  I really can't tell much difference between them and real ground beef now that I've mastered cooking with them (really, all you do is toss them in some homemade spaghetti sauce and give 'em about two minutes to thaw out and sop up all the juice---and just like that, they're done).  I whipped up this masterful spaghetti feast (made with rice noodles, no less) the other night and I truly outdid myself...even I was impressed.  Lately I've been eating out so much and have almost (but not quite) grown sick of it.  I'm just craving all the goodness of home cooked meals and nothing does it for me like homestyle spaghetti like my mom used to make.  Topped with a little shaved parmesan, watch out!  This is definitely my new obsession.  What else can I make with those no-meat crumbles?  Creamy sausage gravy and buttery, homemade biscuits; Southwestern chili with skillet cornbread; cheesy lasagna and garlic bread; baked burritos el suizo and crunchy tacos---wow!  The list can go on and on...what an exciting discovery.

Feta Cheese Appetizer: So Damn Good (and Pretty)~

Dscf0194For some crazy reason, I always seem to forget about this delicious appetizer.  It's the easiest thing in the world to make and I whipped it up the other night to take to my pal Jamie's party.  This photo is of the uncooked version, but once it comes out of the oven, it is a sight to behold.  Really, all you do is lay out some feta cheese(I like Bulgarian and French the best--Greek is far too tangy for my tastebuds) in a shallow baking dish and douse it with a bit of olive oil.  Then throw on some slivered red onions, chunks of fresh garlic, sliced black olives, diced tomato, dried basil, a hit of dried oregano and some fresh lemon.  Toss it in the oven and bake at 450 for about 40 minutes.  Then, at the very end, pump it up to broil for about 5 minutes and get the top all bubbly and lightly browned. When it's  done, throw on a ton of fresh basil and served with some toasted bread (I love the Pane Tuscan from Trader Joe's).  You will die.  The feta becomes so creamy and smearable and the Bulgaria feta emits the most mouthwatering wine flavor (which of course, is why it is my favorite).  Just the best appetizer ever and everyone always loves it.

The Best Smoothie Ever

Dscf0026_2I've always been a smoothie addict and especially as of late.  Every morning, I whip up the most incredible smoothie; I have literally perfected the damn thing perfected (there's no room to be humble here).  From the banana/peanut butter/honey smoothie that tastes like the most awesome banana milkshake ever, to the mixed berry smoothie that is the best way to healthfully satiate my sweet tooth, I've got the secret to smoothies down pat.  It's all about the frozen fruit.  And, you never should use ice or yogurt or ice cream---none of that jive.  Just fruit, soy milk, mango juice, and flax seed---plus, sometimes I throw in a little silken tofu for good measure (and protein).  Here's a recipe for the best smoothie ever:

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Pole Caught Tuna~$7 Bones

Dscf1510Ever had a $7 dollar can of tuna?  Me neither, til I bought this can at Bouffe, the new gourmet food shop in Lincoln Square.  I must say, it was a real struggle to drop $7 bucks on a friggin' can of tuna, but on my second visit, I just had to do it....what must it taste like?  I whipped up a lunch dish with it and hauled it to the office, much to the delight of my fatcake team.  Mixing in the tuna with boiled baby new potatoes, diced garden tomatoes, sauteed green beans, rips of fresh basil, EV olive oil, lemon, a hit of balsamic vinegar and cracked black was straight delicious.  No trace of fish at all and totally worth the dollars.  Not that I would drop that much again, but if pressed (and rich), I'd probably roll with the american tuna at all times.  In the meantime, I'll continue to track down my $3 cans from Fox & Obel.

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Backyard Vineyards in Chicago

Dscf0615I spent last night in the lovely backyard of a Greek friend of mine.  Tiny as it was, his family had utilized every single inch of space there was and they'd planted fig trees, pear trees, peach trees, basil, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, and most astonishingly, a full-on vineyard.  It was totally insane.  They were just chillin', listening to old-school Greek music, polishing off a feast (and of course, slinging back some rose) and cutting all the grape bunches to make homemade wine.  Who even knew Mediterranean life existed in Chicago.  I guess all ya need is a patch of dirt to make something grow.

Kalamata Olives: Straight from the Farm in Greece

Dscf0248_3So, lucky me.  Last night a friend of mine brought me over a Greek feast and he just happened to bring a big bowl of Kalamata olives from his friend who has a family farm in Greece.  They were totally delightful...deep, golden brown, just soaking in a bunch of oil and split down the middle so all of the juices can seep into the middle of them.  Getting food straight from the source is becoming more of a way of life for me and I want to try and make it happen more often than not.  Just straight good stuff~

Saveur #1~Fasoladha {Bean & Vegetable Soup)

Dscn0992In my first peel through the pages of the November '04 Saveur magazine, the recipe for Fasoladha caught my eye immediately and I happened to have all ingredients on hand.  Super easy to make and delicious to boot, this ancient Greek soup was even better the next day, heated up, with a poached egg, cracked black pepper and fresh dill sprinkled on top.  Oddly, I did have to cook the beans an hour longer than the recipe called for, though; they were still slightly crunchy after the called for two.
I also added in fresh dill and skipped the feta cheese.  Dill just has a delicious way with beans.

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Cooking My Way Through Saveur Magazine

Dscn0915_1Winter is definitely here and the only reprieve that I can consolidate my blues with is a fanatical cooking spree.  I've gathered up all my past 3-4 years of Saveur magazine (the best food  magazine out there, bar none) and I'm gonna pluck them from the stack one at a time, and just cook myself silly.  I'm longing for comfort food and this is the solution, for now.  The first magazine I've pulled is November 2004.  The recipes I've chosen to rock out are:

+Fasoladha (A Greek Bean and Vegetable soup)
+Fava (Puree of Yellow Split Peas)
+Llapingachos (Equadorian Potato Cakes)
+German Potato Salad
+Pizza di Patate (Potato Pizza)

Documentation is forthcoming; I can't wait~

Mate Tea~Coffee Never Looked Like This

Dscn0883I read a very informative article in the March 05 edition of Organic Style magazine touting the differences between the types of coffee that we drink.  I knew all about the differences in fair trade, shade grown, and organic coffee BUT what I didn't know was how bad conventional commercial coffee really is.  They say it's "one of the most chemically doused crops in the world" and the workers are paid pennies per pound for their work.  Good god.  Of course, I flew into an internal rage and starting researching alternatives to coffee all together.  I like the caffeine high that coffee gives me and  just the thought, the smell, the flavor, and the idea of it makes me happy in the morning.  But, come on--I can't be tossing all that crazy stuff into my system every day.  So, I discovered the black tea called Yerba Mate Tea.  I just ran on over to Whole Foods, bought a pound of it and have been drinking it like crazy ever since.  It has this slightly sweet, cocoa flavor and has all the punch of coffee without the crazy jitters and upset tummy that coffee can give you.  The Argentinians (the jungles of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay where the tree is harvested) treat this tea just like coffee and rarely add any sweetener to it, but of course, I add in a heaping spoonful of honey.  Most importantly, it has tons of health benefits and makes me happy in the a.m.  Coffee is out and mate is in, done and done.  Plus, look how beautiful it never looked this good!

Pile of Eggs or Work of Art?

Dscn0261I guess the bottom line is that when you travel, especially to a culinary haven like Spain, everything looks, smells, tastes, feels, and maybe even is better.  Just a stack of loosely piled eggs is like a work of art, practically screaming of freshness and simplicity~the two most important words in the food world.  Fantastic, vivid images were every which way I turned in Barcelona~around every corner, in each charming shop, down winding no-cars-allowed streets and in every neighborhood market.   You could never even attempt to do it all, see it all, or touch it all~ahhh, but you could try.