Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pinto and Black Bean Soup with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.

Pinto and Black Bean Soup with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.

I have been completely swamped as of late. My schedule puts me on campus early in the morning and I often do not leave campus until late at night. During these hectic times, making a good meal is fairly difficult. Luckily, with a few canned items, a nice, filling soup can be created in a short amount of time.

1 can Fire-roasted Tomatoes
1 can Pinto Beans, drained
1 can Black Beans, drained
4 cups Vegetable Stock
1 cup Water
1 Tbsp Cumin
3/4 Tbsp Chili Powder
3 Tsp Dried Oregano
2 Tsp Dried Thyme
1/4 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients over medium high heat.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors meld, and serve.

Optional Preparation for when time is less of an issue.
1 Onion, chopped or onion powder, to taste.
2 cloves garlic minced, or garlic powder, to taste.
1 Chili Pepper, chopped.

Heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium-low heat.
When hot, add onion and cook until clear.
Add the garlic, cook until fragrant.
Add the chili pepper, cooking for a minute or so.
Continue by following the quick preparation steps above.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Greek For A Day

Last month, the 83rd annual Greek Festival (formerly Greek Picnic) commenced in the wide-spot-in-the-road known as Bridgeport, Nebraska. The Greek Picnic/Festival is a yearly event in which the Greek Religious Community gathers to honor the name day of their church located in Bayard, Nebraska. The festival also brings the Greek community together with the wider community. Allowing many who do not experience Greek food or culture on a regular basis to become Greek for a day; with a wide variety of food, drink, music, and dancing to immerse themselves in.

The Greek Festival is a two-day event which commences with the Saturday "party" night. The room is lined with booths and many people jockey for position to get some of the best foods before they run out. Each year the room is often packed to the gills and, like this year, the room was packed beyond the seating. Rows of people who could not find seating filled in the outer lanes to eat their food and watch the entertainment of the evening.
I took as many pictures as I could, but the lighting was not the best; so, bear with me.



My dad, looking particularly evil for a man in a Hawaiian shirt.

My Yia Yia and Papou, keeping the tradition alive.

The Booths
Kalamaria (Squid)

Fried to a nice deep brown, and spritzed with a nice helping of lemon juice before you take it to your seat.

Any veteran (and non-vegetarian) of the festival will tell you that this is the first booth that you must visit. If you don't get to the festival early, you're SOL.

Souvlaki (Kabobs)

There were two kinds of souvlaki available, lamb (arni) and pork (xirino').
Personally, I always pick the lamb (pictured above). And most people I know pick the lamb. The pork seems to be a fallback for those people that do not like the taste of lamb. I say let them have the pork, more lamb for me.

Loukanika (Greek Sausage)

This is a spicy Greek sausage. I can tell you that it is made with pork mixed with orange peel and red pepper flakes, and then smoked. However, I cannot tell you what else is in it, because each family makes their own variety and these variations are often well guarded.

This sausage has a nice sweet taste tempered by the red pepper.

Tyropita (Literally Cheese (tiri) Pie, but often made in the form of triangles)

Nice, crispy phyllo dough surrounding a firm, cheesy center that will make your day. This year, they were particularly nice. There is always the possibility of sogginess when making large batches, but whoever was baking this year was on the money.


I know, the picture isn't the best. The gyros were layered with gyro meat, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, tzatziki sauce, and feta cheese, all on a warm buttered pita round.

Greek Salad
The Greek Salad varies form year to year, as the people manning the station often change. The salad this year was quite a mishmash of different items.

The salad consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Traditional Greek Salad doesn't have lettuce, lettuce is often used when tomatoes or cucumbers are in short supply or if you're trying to increase the volume. I can't blame them for extending the batch, you have to make this stuff go as far as possible.
Sometimes, the salad is topped with kalimata olives and crumbled feta cheese.

The dressing is usually a mixture of oil, oregano, a bit of lemon juice, a nice tart vinegar (red wine vinegar works nicely), and salt and pepper to taste.

On top of all this, the salad also included two dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) and a couple Golden Greek Peperoncinis.

The biggest complaint that I heard this year was that the vinegar used was too sweet, which means whoever was in charge of salad this year decided to use Balsalmic Vinegar. I decided to pass on this one.

Greek Sweets

Loukamathes (Greek Donuts with honey and nuts)

Let's see what we have here.
On the top left, we have kourabiedes. Soft butter cookies coated liberally with powdered sugar. When taking a bite, don't breathe. You've been warned.

On the top right, we have melomakarona. A spiced cookie with honey and nuts often served around the holidays.

Next, on the bottom left, we have kataife. A wonderful Greek sweet made with honey and walnuts, spiced with cinnamon and wrapped in crispy wisps of phyllo.

In the center, we have the diples. Diples are fried dough, drizzled with honey and crushed walnuts and spiced with cinnamon. They make a nice crunchy treat without the hassle of juggling a variety of ingredients.

And those diamond shaped blurs on the bottom left are baklava.

If you don't like honey or nuts, then this definitely isn't the place for you. If you hadn't figured that out already.

Death by Sweets is a definite possibility given this assortment of sugary goodness.

Where is a better picture of baklava, you ask.
A Greek Festival surely has baklava available by itself.
Well, I didn't buy any at the festival, because I asked my Yia Yia nicely and she gave me two pans like this:

I had so much that, once I got my fill, I passed it around to other graduate students and professors to enjoy.

Sunday Dinner

The second day is the much more formal Sunday dinner. Being the formal day, I was expected to eat with family and catch up with family and friends. So, unfortunately, I was unable to get pictures of the meal on this day. However, I can describe what was served.

For the sit down meal we had: dinner rolls, Spanikopita (Spinach Pie), Greek Salad, Greek Potatoes, feta cheese, slice roast lamb and/or beef, and a honey-walnut cake for dessert.

The Aftermath

Overall, it was a blast. I enjoy the festival because it allows me to see people I haven't seen in a long time and it give me an excuse to eat food I hardly get to eat anymore.

The Greek Festival is important to me not because of any religious affiliation, but because it is a time when I can see much of my family. Many of them driving long distances to come celebrate the church their family and friends grew up in. One of the joys of this time of year is that there are few other events that conflict with this celebration which would normally prevent the ability to travel. Anyone dealing with two or more families around the holidays understands this problem.

- Depressing reflections below, to stay cheery stop reading here -

While the Greek Festival is a great time to see family and friends and eat wonderful food, it is also has a dark side to it. Each year, the Greeks that lead the festival get older and there are very few younger Greeks that are there to fill the void. I myself am an example of this. To pursue my goals in life, I must leave the community and, as I do so, I lose my connections and some of my heritage in the process. I am afraid that with the lack of jobs for the younger generations that the presence of Greeks in the panhandle will continue to dwindle to the point of nonexistence, taking with them the history and traditions that have been passed down for generations.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chicken Taco Casserole

Well, been busy with being married and hunting for a job but I've had more time in the kitchen. If you try these, I hope they work out for you as well as they did for me.

Chicken Taco Casserole

2 Chicken Breasts
2 Tbls Olive Oil
4 oz Can Chilies
14.7 oz Can Black Beans
14.7 oz Can Regular Corn
Mexican Four Blend Cheese
1 Jar Salsa (pick your heat)
Cumin (taste)
Cayenne (taste)
Chili Powder (taste)
Black Pepper
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Corn Chips
Penne or other tubular pasta enough to cover bottom of casserole dish (about 2-3 servings)

Heat oil in skillet
Preheat oven to 325 (temperature may vary, I’m using gas oven)
Cook chicken on low heat in skillet; season with garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper
In another pot start cooking pasta
When both sides are sufficiently cooked slice into smaller pieces
Layer pasta on bottom of casserole dish
Mix Chilies, Corn, Beans, Cayenne, Cumin, Chili Powder, and Salsa
Spread some of the mixture over the pasta
Layer chicken on top spreading rest of the mixture on top
Layer top with corn chips, spread cheese over the top
Cook at 325 for 45 minutes

For a vegetarian version remove the chicken and add a layer of brown or black beans.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sauteed Peppers in a Spicy Soy-Ginger Sauce

When I was a kid, both of my parents worked long hours and did not have the time to prepare meals at home. This meant that frozen dinners were often found warming in the microwave. One of my favorite types was pepper steak with rice. All I had to do was add a little bit of La Choy soy sauce (I know, I know), and I was in heaven.

My appreciation of food, and soy sauce, has come a long way since then. However, I still have an affinity for the tastes that defined my childhood. I began to play around with a recipe to replicate pepper steak at home. With a little trial and error, I have come across a flavor that is much better than the flavor held in my memory, but still as heartwarming as what I grew up on.

This recipe doesn't have meat in it. If you want to add meat, add it to a pan, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook over medium heat, until brown before you saute the vegetables. Also, add the flour to the meat instead of the veggies.

4 Large Bell Peppers, sliced into strips - Colors of your choice.
2 Serrano Chili Peppers, diced.
1 Large Yellow Onion, sliced into rings and sliced through on one end.
3 Cloves Garlic, minced.
2-3 Tbsp Ginger, minced.
1/2 C Soy Sauce
1 1/2 C Water
~ 2 Tbsp Flour
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste.
Prepared Long Grain Brown Rice

Makes 4 Large Servings.

The colors man....

A little heat goes a long way. Unless you're me, I like a lot of heat.

I promised I wouldn't cry...

Some people say that there is such a thing as too much garlic, they're wrong.

The ginger really makes this dish.

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil.
When the oil is heated through,(throw in an onion slice to check), add the onions.
Cook until clear.
Add the garlic and ginger, saute until fragrant.
Add the Serrano, sauteing for a few minutes.
Add the flour. Make sure all the veggies are coated and beginning to get gummy. If necessary, add more flour.


Add the water and the soy sauce.

Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce thickens.
Serve over rice.