Greek Salad

The week before last I shared my new favorite salad dressing recipe, so I thought it was only prudent to share my favorite salad that goes with it. Greek salads are so basic, but definitely more special than your run-of-the-mill tossed green salad. There’s something about the zesty flavors of the kalamata olives and feta cheese that have always made this salad a superstar in my book.

I’ve mentioned before that one thing we have around here in our rural area is plenty of good Greek food, as several Greek families, whom are all related – relocated to our area ages ago and opened up restaurants. They take pride in always having the best ingredients when it comes to olives, olive oils, and cheeses. So, my first taste of a Greek salad was at a small place called Ocean Deli – and it’s pretty tough to beat.

Andy puts roasted green peppers on his Greek salads, and I think it really sets it apart from all the others I’ve tried over the years. So, I always add that to the ones I make here at home. I always try to stock up on good feta cheese while I’m in the big city too. You know, the variety that’s packed in brine and usually made with sheep’s milk…or at least a combination of cow and sheep’s milk. I find it’s always creamier than the other stuff. But, in a pinch – a standard supermarket feta suffices just fine.

I have been packing this salad for Jon to take to lunch at least 2 days a week for 2 years now, and he’s never gotten tired of it. I often make it for side salads as well, or even topped with some grilled chicken – it makes a delicious light meal in the warmer months. I’m pretty sure if you make it once, you’ll find yourself making it often too! A kitchen standard for sure!

Mushroom Risotto

Last week I’d made a delicious roasted chicken for dinner, and being the frugal girl that I am – couldn’t let that chicken carcass go in the trash can without making a batch of chicken stock with it first. When menu planning for that week I took stock of what I had in the pantry before heading to the store to do my weekly grocery stock-up. I had a full package of arborio rice, and a bunch of samples of different varieties of dried mushrooms that the good folks at Marx Gourmet Foods had sent me – so I put mushroom risotto on the lineup.

I ended up making it on a cold, rainy evening…and this filling meal couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve gone on before about how wonderful dried mushrooms are to keep around. They add so much flavor to whatever dish you use them for, and they never go bad in the pantry. While I’d say porcini is my hands down favorite, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the matsutake. They were lighter in flavor, almost floral. I’d imagine they would be absolutely perfect in a big batch of homemade ramen noodles! But, if you can’t find them – don’t sweat it. The dried porcinis alone, combined with the earthy flavors of the sauteed fresh mushrooms will give more than enough flavor to this dish!

The stirring necessary is a little bit time consuming, but take if you take the time to enjoy a glass of wine (that you’ve been forced to open for the dish!)…it makes it a little more fun, and the time pass quicker. And the result you’ll get in the end is so worth it! A thick, rich, and creamy dish – that is just bursting with flavor. Great for my gluten-free friends, and could easily be made into a vegetarian dish by using vegetable broth instead of chicken stock. I’ve only made one other risotto in the past, but I’m looking forward to trying some different recipes in the future!

Creamy Feta Vinaigrette

How was everyone’s New Years? Ours was wonderful. We had a delicious prime rib dinner at home, let the boys stay up until midnight with us, and celebrated the ball dropping in Times Square with “party makers” as Andrew calls them. No wild parties and Jell-O shooters anymore, but that’s just not the folks that we are these days!

One of my resolutions is continue to make things from scratch, and to do-it-myself as much as possible. I’ve long been making my salad dressings at home, but one I hadn’t mastered yet was a creamy Greek-style dressing. I always served my Greek salads with a balsamic vinaigrette, but since becoming mildly addicted to Panera’s turkey sandwich and Greek salad this pregnancy – I knew I had to come up with a recipe for that style of dressing on my own.

I played around with it a bit, and this variation is what I settled on. It couldn’t be easier – a base of buttermilk, feta, and Greek yogurt. Threw in some red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice for a little acidity, some fresh garlic and dried herbs to punch up the flavor, then added some olive oil and a bit of water to thin it out a bit and round out the flavors. It turned out wonderful, right on the money as to what I was aiming for.

I make a batch up, stick it in the fridge, and use it for our salads all week long. With a little additional olive oil, I think it would also make a wonderful marinade for chicken as well, to top the salad with if you wanted a more substantial meal. This one is definitely a keeper, and one that I’ll be making over and over again. Definitely a great recipe to start off the new year on the right foot!

Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes

Have you guys started giving any thought to Thanksgiving yet? If not you need to get on it, it’s right around the corner! We usually keep things pretty traditional around here – roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce…you know the routine. But I like to make all those traditional things just a little bit more special on Turkey Day, if I can.

I found myself with some dwindling chives outside and an-almost-gone-container of buttermilk last week when I made my favorite all-beef meatloaf, so I thought I’d mix them into mashed potatoes to make them a little more fancy. The slight tang from the buttermilk and the mild onion flavor from the chives were just perfect in the creamy mashed potatoes – making them delicious enough to eat plain, but not too overpowering that a spot of gravy on them wouldn’t be a welcome addition as well.

I’m hoping to get another couple of Thanksgiving day favorites up before the big day, so keep checking back for more yummy ideas for your Holiday table.