Monday, March 22, 2010

Spoiled by souvlaki

I do not wish to be one of those pregnant ladies who can only talk about how pregnant she is. I do not wish for a screen capture of this site to end up posted to STFU, Parents -- no matter how much I love that blog (oh, and I do). And though pregnancy is exhausting and just a slight bit all-consuming, I wish also to focus on other elements of my life.

As such, today I will not be telling you about how I have been wickedly craving chicken souvlaki since mid-December. I shall not blame it on this tiny person I'm carrying around. Instead, I will tell you all about chicken souvlakis I have loved and -- for various reasons -- cannot get any longer. I shall explain why, after many nights pining away at my souvalki-lessness, I finally broke down and (gasp!) made my own. And it was good. Damn good. So damn good we've eaten it three of the last four nights (it goes really well with both RuPaul's Drag Race *and* Lost).

But first: chicken souvlakis I have known. For many decades there was a family-owned restaurant in my hometown called Mary & Ted's. It had been there forever, changing its decor every so often but always serving up the same comfort food/Greek diner favorites. I can easily picture the restaurant in at least three different interior design iterations and can especially remember the large U-shaped counter flanked by big square plastic drink dispensers full of blue slushy liquid. When I was in elementary school, sometimes Dad would take me there before school and I'd eat silver-dollar pancakes with childish gusto. You could buy Andes mints at the cash register. The same people always seemed to be there.

Mary & Ted's closed a few years back. And while it's always sad when a local institution goes out of business, my sorrow was reserved mostly for the fact that Mary & Ted's chicken souvlaki would no longer be in my life: juicy grilled chicken, served with tangy tzatziki and crisp lettuce and red onions in a warmed, soft, ever-so-slightly olive oily flatbread. Alongside this messy concoction: a mountain of crisp, salty fries. Perfection. But as with many perfect things, it couldn't last forever.

Then there was Uncle George's, a Greek diner in Astoria, NYC, that was around the corner from Husband's old apartment. Sitting, fat and happy, on a busy Queens street corner, Uncle George's was always stuffed full of people, night or day. Loud people eating a lot of Greek food, drinking cold red wine from jewel-toned aluminum cups. Uncle George's had the most amazing lemony and oregano-y potatoes, cut in large hunks and set alongside whatever it was you happened to be eating. In my case, it was the souvlaki, with its soft bread lapping up the lemon runoff from the nearby potatoes. Husband and I were dating at the time, and a weekend trip to New York for me was never complete without a stop at Uncle George's. Husband still beats a path there whenever he's in town, especially if he's in town for a Mets game.

And thus, having been spoiled by restaurant souvlaki for the better part of the past decade, is it any wonder that it never once occurred to me that I could cook it at home? All this whining about how I can never get souvlaki anymore finally came to a head last week when the light bulb went off over Husband's head. "Do you want me to grill some chicken? We could make our own."


So we made our own, and then we made some more. And then, what the hell, we made some more. The weather's been really nice and the charcoal grill was calling and I bought extra bread at the Middle Eastern grocery and I can eat several cups of homemade tzatziki single-handedly. And you know what? Homemade tastes even better than restaurant-made. Even Mary & Ted's and Uncle George's.

Now excuse me while I make some more.



For the tzatziki:
1 c. plain Greek yogurt (I especially like Fage 2%)
1/2 c. seeded, peeled and shredded cucumber, squeezed to remove excess moisture
2 T. fresh mint, chopped
1 T. fresh dill, chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch sea salt, to taste

For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T. olive oil
2 T. dried oregano
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly-cracked black pepper

To assemble the souvlaki:
4 pieces of soft flatbread (or pita)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 c. shredded iceberg lettuce
1/2 c. red onion, thinly sliced
Hot sauce, if desired

First, make the tzatziki. In a medium bowl, combine all tzatziki ingredients and stir to combine. Set aside. Prep the tomatoes, lettuce and red onion. Set aside.

To prepare the chicken, place the meat in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Add the oregano, salt and pepper and stir to coat the chicken breasts. Grill the chicken -- either outdoors on the grill or indoors in the grill pan if the weather is less than cooperative -- until golden brown and delicious and the internal temperature registers at 161 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the heat and let the chicken rest a few minutes before slicing into pieces.

Assemble the souvlaki by lightly grilling a piece of flatbread until warmed. Spread with a few tablespoons of the tzatziki then top with chicken, tomato, red onion and lettuce. If you're in the mood for hot sauce, feel free to add a little (Husband likes his this way).

Makes 4 sandwiches, with a little tzatziki left over. Store the tzatziki in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: Mrs. DiLorenzo's manicotti and an alternate take on my roasted tomato marinara
Two years ago: tsoureki

Saturday, March 13, 2010

At least for the moment

I can already hear you all out there, sighing.

It's been almost two months since you've posted that rich chocolate cake, and now you return with...vegetables? Seriously??

I know, I know. Broccoli pesto might not seem like the most thrilling of dishes...not the sexiest, food porniest thing with which I could return after my lengthy cooking and blogging hiatus. But what can I say? I have broccoli in the fridge and a craving in my mind, and if there's anything I'm learning from being pregnant, it's listen to those cravings.

Yes, you read that right. I am expecting. Hence the whole hiatus -- I haven't had the energy or desire to eat, let alone cook, let alone be creative in the kitchen. But as the constant nagging illness and exhaustion make way for what I pray is an easier few months ahead, I find myself ready to get back to (modest) culinary work. My first task: transforming those green florets in the crisper drawer into a pleasing riff on pesto.

And though he's been an absolute dear over these past four months -- cooking for me when I wanted to eat, running out to the store to buy me grapes, doing the dishes, baking me chocolate chip cookies at the drop of a hat, not complaining when I wanted to go to bed at 8:15 instead of play The Beatles: Rock Band -- I'm hoping Husband will appreciate that I'm cooking dinner for him tonight. Thanks to some recent warmer weather and some rain today, the blanket of snow that's been covering our world since Christmas is finally gone. Clearly, hell has frozen over. And I'm ready to cook again.

At least for the moment. We'll see how tomorrow goes.


Adapted from Kitchenist

It is not at all necessary to serve this simple pesto over pasta. I can think of lots of things to do with it: serve it atop a grilled or pan-fried chicken breast; mix it with cold pasta, kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes and some bright fresh herbs for pasta salad; serve it, room temperature, as a spread for a homemade crusty loaf of bread, warm from the oven.

That said, I do like it quite a lot served over pasta. To do so, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook 1 pound of pasta according to the package directions to al dente. Drain pasta, reserving a few cups of the starchy pasta cooking water. Toss the pasta with about 1 cup of the broccoli pesto, adding a ladle or two of the pasta cooking water to transform the pesto into a creamy sauce.

1 head of broccoli (about 2 1/2 c. florets and tender stems)
1/2 c. walnuts, almonds or pine nuts (or a mix), toasted
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/3 c. grated Pecorino cheese
4 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 c. olive oil
Pinch sea salt

Cook the broccoli florets either by blanching them in a pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes or steaming them in a vegetable steamer for 4-5 minutes. Rinse immediately with cold water to stop the cooking process; drain, and set aside to cool.

Place the cooked, cooled florets in the bowl of a food processor with all the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil and sea salt. Process until the broccoli is chopped into fine pieces, then drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is well combined and smooth. Taste for seasoning, then add sea salt if desired.

Makes about 2 cups of pesto, which will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days and in the freezer for at least a month.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: spinach lasagna
Two years ago: Italian wedding soup