Hummus Amungus: A Spicy Taste of the Mediterranean

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It is no secret that I adore hummus. I think if I had to pick a favorite food, hummus would be it. It even won us a bottle of rum in Jamaica! We played a newlywed game when we were on our honeymoon there and they asked Roberto what my favorite food was. When he thought about it, the most logical answer was hummus. When they asked me to guess what he said, I had to think about it for a minute. I mean I love all kinds of foods and have so many memories in my mind of different food experiences, it is hard to imagine choosing just one. But when I thought logically about what Roberto would have answered, I knew it had to be hummus, because it is the most consistent staple of my diet. I eat it almost daily, and it is not only filling and delicious, but it is really healthy and easy to grab when you have the munchies. Not only that, you can be as creative as you want with it. Purists may balk, but I say be adventurous with your hummus! So when I read that Tony Tahhan’s Taste of the Mediterranean event this month was focused on Lebanon (one of my favorite cuisines) and Hummus (my favorite food), I knew I was in!

I adore the original, unadulterated hummus. The one with just a few essential ingredients: chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt, maybe a little water to thin it out. There is nothing better….except for when you add a little somethin’ somethin’. For this event, in honor of hummus and Jamaica, I have decided to add some special Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce we got while there (because I adore it) and adorn it with a few pine nuts for some added texture! bring on the heat!!!
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Recipe: Shrimp Curry Couscous and Are You a Fat Chef or Skinny Gourmet?

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Eating healthy is a way of life, some may argue that it is a boring way of life. They might say, food is about passion, and that you shouldn’t dumb down that passion through making it healthy all the time. I am certainly one to splurge but I really believe that some of the healthiest foods are the tastiest. For me there is no question of what I would prefer given the choice of a nice juicy marbled steak with Bearnaise sauce or a sushi roll. Who can argue that fresh vegetables from the garden are something most of us look forward to every year?

A list of my favorite foods include cheese, beans, hummus, olives, yogurt, papaya, salads of all varieties, avocados, almonds, artisan bread, ice cream and nice fresh sushi. So for me, healthy does not equal tasteless or boring – to me it equals fresh, unrefined, un-tampered with goodness. “Healthy” means something different to different people. For me, it is about moderation and the above qualifications are more important than calories and fat, calories and fat are natural, they are in everything, there is good and bad and they are important for a balanced diet. For me it is more important that my food is free of chemicals, hormones, additives, preservatives and dyes. So when you think about that, a diet of all my favorite foods fit into my category of “healthy”.

Here is another Leftover Queen classic! It was one of those meals which kind of cleaned out the fridge of Farmers Market finds and the pantry of dry goods . I made this when we were spending a weekend at home and had some time to kill. Usually if we are home on the weekend, we spend one day making and prepping food for the following week. We made bread, ice cream, sauces and usually a nice meal – that will produce leftovers!

When we made this we had some for dinner one night and then the next day, ate it like a cold salad at the beach. It is so flavorful, healthy and full of goodness. This made quite a lot so we had lots for lunches the following week.

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This is one of those recipes that you can substitute anything you like. For us, the combination of the shrimp, pine nuts and raisins backed by the curry flavor was amazing! I am submitting this in Ben and Ivy‘s Fat Chefs or Skinny Gourmets event promoting healthy foods. I wanted to show that cooking healthy is a lifestyle and not something that needs a lot of planning to achieve. If you have a well stocked pantry full of whole grains, legumes and whole wheat pastas, as well as a freezer and fridge full of vegetables that have already been washed and are ready to use, cooking healthy is a breeze. You can create awesome stir fries, couscous, hash and healthy pasta and bean dishes in a flash.

Healthy foods are not boring, especially when you are using local, seasonal produce that is at the height of flavor and freshness in tandem with what is already in your pantry.
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Herbal Abundance: What to do with a plethora of herbs…

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Summer is here and with it comes a fresh plethora of herbs! If you are like me, sometimes you get really excited about that and can’t help but scoop up big bunches of fresh herbs when you see them at the Farmers Markets or the grocery store. Then you end up throwing half of them away after they have sat rotting in your fridge for days on end…well that is just no good. Herbs are a wonderful way to get more greens into your diet and many of them also have other health properties – not to mention they improve the smell of ones breath!

So what does one do with an over abundance of herbs? On a recent trip to the Farmers Market I procured rather large bunches of Arugala, Basil, Mint and Dill. I brought them home, filled up some vases with water, stuck the herbs in the vases and put them promptly into the fridge to use whenever the mood took me. Then, said herbs, sat all pretty in my fridge for about 2 weeks. I had barely touched them. They were still looking pretty good, but I noticed some were starting to take a turn for the worse. I knew if I chopped them in salads or put the mint in iced tea, it wasn’t going to cut it and I was going to end up losing much of the rest. So I took drastic measures. I pulled everything out of the fridge and looked at it on the counter until I figured out what to make with them. Here is what I came up with!
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Recipe: Roasted Beet and Beet Green Salad a la, You Guessed it, The Farmer’s Market!!!

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Here we go folks, another Fabulous Farmer’s Market recipe! This is really fun and challenging. Stay with me because I still have two more meals to show you – still from out FIRST Farmer’s Market Adventure! This weekend my Dad and Stepmom are coming to visit and guess where we are going Saturday AM – you guessed it! I will try to get some better pictures of the market itself…this was the best I could find from our maiden voyage.

Anyway, I digress…

I am a die hard beet fan. I just love them. Maybe it is their beautiful color, maybe it is their sweet taste, maybe it is the fact that they just SCREAM health. Whatever it is, when I see good looking beets, I am all over them, I can’t resist.
My favorite way to prepare them, is to roast them. It just really brings out their sweetness – it is like making vegetable candy. I could eat em by the bowl full. But me, I love the entire beet, I love the sweet purple root and I also adore the bitter greens. Nothing goes to waste – just the root if it is still attached.

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I got gorgeous beets at the Farmer’s Market. In fact this dish is the dish I made the night we went to the Farmer’s Market. I just could not wait to dig in! I paired the roasted beets with goat cheese and pine nuts and served it on a bed of baby greens and wilted beet greens. It doesn’t get fresher than this guys. We just loved this salad. We ate along side crusty country bread also purchased at the Farmer’s Market dipped in reserve Greek olive oil from Kalamata. It was heaven.
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Dolce Italiano Part II: Vanilla Bean and Bay Leaf Custards

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I am so pleased to be able to end this fabulous event we have been doing for the last 2 weeks! Thank you so much to Gina for writing this amazing cookbook, to Shelley for organizing the event and to Sara, Ilva and Michelle for participating and putting your culinary genius to work! This has just been so much fun and I am so happy I was able to participate!

Now on to the final recipe.

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Fresh bay leaf also known as laurel, has a long history in the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean. Crowns of bay leaves were used by the ancient Romans to award heroes in battle and the winners of sporting contests. It is used so much in Mediterranean cuisine and adapted so well to the Mediterranean climate that many think it is native to that land although it originates in Asia.

I am very interested in the history of food and especially how culinary influences from other cultures can change the cuisine of another country through the trade and communication between the two places. Food is an amazing tool that brings people together, teaches about other cultures and places and warms the soul. Bay leaf is just one of those ingredients, you see it in the cooking all over the Mediterranean, from Greece to Italy to North Africa you can taste its influence and see how it traveled as trade increased between those continents and empires.

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I had never thought of using bay leaf in a sweet dish, so when I saw this recipe in Gina’s cookbook: Dolce Italiano, for Vanilla Bean and Bay Leaf Custard, I knew I had to try it. It would be a new flavor combination and something different from what I was used to. These are the kinds of recipes I am always drawn to. Some people are chocoholics, I, on the other hand, am a “vanilla-o-holic”. I love all things custard and cream. So the fact that this was a custard recipe, just put me over the edge! Roberto got his Chocolate Salami, this one was all about me! 🙂

Now if you are new to this Dolce Italiano contest that is going on, here are the quick details. You can win a signed copy of Dolce Italiano, by visiting these blogs below and commenting on the posts about the Dolce Italiano Recipes. Since I am ending this event – what a great honor I might add, I will make it easy for you. Here is where you have to go and comment:

Sara -Ms. Adventures in Italy made:Mosaic Biscotti & Sicilian Pistachio Cookies

Ilva- Lucullian Delights made: Chocolate Kisses & Cassata alla Siciliana

Michelle -Bleeding Espresso made: Ricotta Pound Cake & Sweet Apple Omlette

Shelley -At Home in Rome made: Chestnut Brownies & Chocolate & Tangerine SemiFreddo

Jenn-The Lefotver Queen made: Chocolate Salami & Bay Leaf Vanilla Custards – See it right here!

Please visit these sites and comment on those entries listed above for your chance to win the signed cookbook!

On to the recipe:
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Recipe: Fresh Summer Marinara and a Romantic Dinner For Two At Home!

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Roberto and I had a date at home this past week. We didn’t feel like going out, but it was date night, so we planned a nice dinner at home. You can create a wonderful atmosphere at home, especially during the summer when you can dine al fresco! When dining al fresco you usually want to eat something fresh as well!

I have really been craving summer tomato sauce. Not that wonderful hearty, deep slow-cooked for 3 days and it still takes a few days in the fridge until it is at its peak kind sauce, but a quick, light summer tomato sauce that is fresh rather than complex. This is what we prepared together for our romantic at home date. This is a marinara recipe that you will keep forever as it is simple and so easy to make; you barely even have to be in the kitchen with it until the very end. This is the ultimate Summer Marinara and it is also my entry for Ruth’s
Presto Pasta Nights over at Once Upon a Feast.
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Mediterranean Medley Recipe: Jenn’s Stuffed Grape Leaves with Tahini Sauce

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Okay guys, this is the second to last installment of my recipes for my Mediterranean Medley class, which will be held this Thurday night! What a way to kick off summer, eh? But do not fear, I have been signed on to teach 3 more classes – 2 in July and 1 already in August, with more to come. So I will be posting some of those recipes as I go along.

This is the recipe for my version of stuffed grape leaves. I think this is the 2nd recipe that I ever created myself. Almost every country in the Mediterranean (minus Italy, Spain, France and Portugal – I think, correct me if I am wrong) have their own version of stuffed grape leaves. Some are served hot, some cold. Some are meat, some vegetarian. Some contain sweet elements like raisins or currants, some are mostly savory. So I created my own version based on what I enjoyed about the various kinds I had tried over the years. These grape leaves have had many incarnations, but this has been my tried and true version of them for the past several years. They are fresh and full of crunch! Some of you purists who are used to mushy grape leaves may not approve, but I trust if you try them, you may change your mind! I served them with Fattoush Salad and Baklava Ice Cream Bites recipes for which I will be posting very soon! Enjoy!
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