Tag Archives: Side Dishes

{ Jicama, Cilantro, and Pineapple Salad }

Jicama Salad

I always get a little nervous when I work with an ingredient for the first time, but this weekend, I decided to take on the challenge of jicama to serve at my South American dinner party. I’ve enjoyed jicama at several Mexican restaurants before, but I have never cooked with it myself….until now! To be honest, I didn’t even really know what jicama was until it I was getting ready to cut into and realized I should probably Google this information before hacking into it.

Could I eat the skin? Would there be a pit or seed in the center? Heck, was this thing in my hand a fruit or a veggie for goodness sake?!?!

Turns out, jicama is a kind of Mexican root vegetable that grows on vines and is part of the legume family. It is very low in calories and has several health benefits: it is high in fiber, anti-oxidants, inulin, potassium, and other vitamins.

I decided to prepare a simple Jicama, Cilantro, and Pineapple Salad with Fresh Lime Juice and Serrano Chilis. This salad is spicy, tangy, and sweet all at the same time, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of my favorite dishes at my dinner party. I even ate it for breakfast with my omelet the following morning!

IMG_2057edited

Ohhh…..there is no pit/seed and you want to peel that skin off (thank you Google!).

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 jicama, peeled and chopped into match sticks
  • 1 1/2 cups of pineapple, cut into chunks (I used fresh)
  • 1 serrano chili, minced (remove the seeds first to make less spicy)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

{ To Make the Salad }

Combine the jicama, pineapple, and serrano chili in a mixing bowl. Add the lime juice and cilantro and toss to mix well. Add the kosher salt to taste. Allow to sit for 15 minutes for the flavors to develop and then serve!

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{ Herbed Israeli Coucous with Apples, Cranberries, & Almonds }

A day characterized by complete gluttony, laziness, and endless vino, it is no wonder that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays! Unfortunately though, the dinner, which normally packs about 3,000 – 4,000 calories (not including the next-day turkey sandwiches), leaves most American’s feeling stuffed for days/weeks/months. So why not lighten the meal up a bit?!?

The easiest way to cut back the number of calories in your Thanksgiving feast, it to serve lighter and healthier side dishes. Get rid of that artery-clogging green bean casserole, which costs you about 276 calories, and end the tradition of sweet potato and marshmallow casseroles, which add an additional 476 calories to your plate! Instead, opt for for sautéed and steamed fresh veggies that are prepared without incorporating a stick of butter and heavy cream.

This recipe for herbed Isreali couscous, encompasses all the flavors of fall and would make a delicious (and healthy) addition to any Thanksgiving buffet table! The herbs serve as a refreshing palate cleanser and the light vinaigrette is an interesting contrast to the richer gravies and sauces on the table. Furthermore, the cubed green apples and slivered almonds work together to deliver just the right amount of crunch to the dish.

On the other 364 days of the year, this couscous makes a fabulous side dish for lamb and roasted chicken. It is also great to bring to picnics and parties!

{ Ingredients }

For the Couscous:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (or barley or orzo)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 medium green apple, diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted in oven*

*Note: To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before using.

For the Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

{ To Make the Couscous }

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes. You really want to open up the nutty flavors of the couscous so it is important that you let it brown properly!. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool.

Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.

{ To Make the Vinaigrette }

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.

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{ Curry Roasted Calabaza with Apples & Honey }

If you think that grocery shopping in the Unites States is annoying and tedious, then you would not believe what it takes in Argentina. It is an all day, sometimes doble day process, that requires one to visit multiple verdulerias (veggie markets), canicerias (meat markets), fruterias (fruit markets), and superchinos (the adopted name for small Korean-owned markets, which clutter the city). There is no such thing as one-stop shopping in Buenos Aires, and finding even the most basic ingredients (i.e. black beans, peanut butter, jalapeños, ect…) can often be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. As a result, my culinary skills were contsantly put to the challenge as I was continuously forced to rethink many of my weeknight dinners and side dishes. Given that there is absolutely NO shortage of calabaza  in the city of Buenos Aires (calabaza = Spanish pumpkin), I decided to start incorporating it into my meals to simplify my shopping experience. It very quickly became a grocery staple, right up there along with bread, butter, and eggs.

One of my favorite ways to prepare calabaza is to simply roast it with a seasoning of olive oil, salt, pepper but then one night I decided to add a sprinkling of Indian curry into the mix and it turned out amazing. The next time I prepared the dish, it evolved even further when I added chopped granny smith apples to the roasting pan halfway through baking. The apple cubes compliment the spice of the curry and add the skins provide a little texture to contrast the smooth butteriness of the pumpkin. Drizzle a little honey on top after everything has roasted and viola….deliciousness!

This has undoubtably become one of my favorite side dishes (served either hot or cold), and I even like to eat it as a main dish over white rice.

{ Ingredients }

  • 3 cups calabaza, chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry, depending on your taste
  • 1 cup green apple, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • Honey, optional for finishing

 { To Prepare } Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare you calabaza, cutting it into 1″ cubes. You can either clean down your own calabaza, or use pre-packaged ones cleaned by the store (as I have shown below).

Place into a large mixing bowl and add olive oil, curry, salt, and pepper, tossing with your hands to coat. Arrange the calabaza on a baking sheet in a single layer and put in oven. NOTE: Make sure to turn over calabaza with a spatula every 3-4 minutes, to ensure even cooking!

While the calabza is cooking, prepare your 1/2″ apple cubes. Add the apples to the baking sheet 10 minutes into the baking process, and return to oven.

Continue to bake for additional 5-10 minutes until the pumpkin is tender and the apple is golden.

Remove from oven, drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons of honey, adjust seasonings, and serve!

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{ Parmesan Roasted Asparagus }

What is a meal without the supporting cast?! Every good entree deserves a delicious side dish, and these parmesan roasted asparagus are one of my all-time favorites! They compliment any protein and taste delicious over rice and risotto. Recently, I have been cooking them in the oven using the broiler setting, but when the weather is nice I prefer to cook them out on the grill. Either way, they taste great!

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

{ To Make the Asparagus } Turn the broiler setting of your oven on high.

Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and toss to coat. Place the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and put in oven. Cook for 8 minutes, turning the asparagus halfway through cooking process. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately!

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{ Lemon Caper Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes }

One of the most difficult aspects of planning a meal, aside from getting all the groceries together, is deciding what the heck your actually going to make! As is true of most hardcore foodies, I’m no basic meat and potatoes girl. I love elaborate side dishes and I practically live for condiments–the more, the merrier! So after I choose a protein to cook, I usually find myself flipping through the section labeled “side dishes” in my recipe binder (aka my bible), searching for the perfect partner(s) for my main dish. The standard garlic mashed potatoes and roasted veggies just haven’t been tickling my fancy as of lately, and tonight I wanted something different. So I turned to the end all be all recipe collection, the direct source itself, the food network.

After a great deal of searching, I resolved to try making this lemon, garlic, caper pasta created by Giada de Laurentis. My main dish was a simple herb grilled chicken breast (although my mom also paired it with a nice filet of salmon), and it complimented both dishes beautifully. There are very few ingredients used in making the pasta, so the tremendous flavor comes as quite a surprise, but it was more than welcomed by my plate tonight.

{ Ingredients }

  • 1/2 pound spaghetti
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
{ To Make the PastaBring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl.
Add the garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.
Just before serving, add the basil, capers, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the spaghetti mixture and toss to combine.

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{ Cheddar & Chive Buttermilk Biscuits }

It’s a rainy day here in Philadelphia, which means that a pot of soup is on the stove in the Bajek household–Tyler Florence’s roasted tomato soup, to be specific! And I highly recommend that recipe if your looking to use up the last of your garden tomatoes! But as much as I love a great bowl of soup, I am a big eater and broth alone just doesn’t cut it for me. I always find myself hungry an hour of so later. To help eliminate this problem, I like to pair my soup with a nice chunk of crusty bread or even grilled cheese sandwich, when I am feeling piggish (which, lets be real, is most of the time!). In fact, I almost never eat grilled cheese with out tomato soup and visa versa. They are a perfect food marriage, intended to be consumed together. However, in an attempt to be healthy today, I have decided to look for grilled cheese alternatives–something I can eat with my tomato soup that won’t pack an extra 500 calories. My solution: these cheddar and chive buttermilk biscuits.

A little surprised that biscuits would be considered a healthy alternative? I was too, considering I associate them with good ole “biscuits and gravy” from the South. But these biscuits are just 92 calories per serving and they are delicious!!

{ Ingredients for Biscuits }

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
  • 1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs (I use Panko)
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

{ To Make the Biscuits } Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter, and use two knives to cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles a course meal.

In a measuring cup, combine the egg and egg yolk, whisking until blended. Add the buttermilk. Whisk in the chopped chives. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, using a fork to mix until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Fold in the shredded cheddar cheese.

Put the dough onto a well-floured surface and kneed gently until the dough is no longer sticky. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough until is about 1/2 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to create the shape of the biscuit and then place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Allow the biscuits to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are a nice golden brown. Transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

{ To Serve } Top the biscuits with butter or serve alongside a sour cream-chive mixture as I did (see photo below). To make the sour cream, combine 1/2 cup sour cream with 3-4 stems of chopped chives. Stir well to mix.


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{ Lentil Salad with Herbs, Tomatoes, and Spinach }

Herbed Lentil Salad with Tomatoes and Baby Spinach

Today I feel like shit…like I’m getting the flu, a migraine headache, and possibly dying. I can’t get out of bed and I could hardly make it past one mile on my run. This is the most exhausted that I have ever felt and I’m not really sure if it’s due to the change in diet or what. Maybe I am going through carb withdrawl, or frozen yogurt deprivation, or maybe I’m just really getting sick. Whatever it is, I feel like a slice of toast and peanut butter with a cold glass of milk might just cure me and I can’t do it. But what I wouldn’t give to have some crunchy chunky peanut butter right now. Yummm. But instead, I’m making Herb Lentil Salad with Tomatoes and Baby Spinach, and no, I am not happy about it! I’ve been eating some combination of 3 egg omelets, spinach salads, and meat for the past four days and I am sick of it. Maybe I feel lethargic because I am in a depression, considering that food is my greatest joy in life and my eating habits are now so repetitive and boring. But hey, diets aren’t supposed to be fun and I only have committed myself to this for 30 days….4 down, and 26 to go!

In an effort to boost my energy, I have decided to make this Lentil Salad recipe by Food Network star, Ellie Krieger. She comes out with a lot of really health conscious recipes, and they are usually pretty tasty, but not generally my first choice, unless I am dieting.

The recipe instructs you to cook out the lentil in a stock pock over the stove, but I suggest just covering them with boiling water in a large bowl and letting them steep for 20 min or so. I find that they tend to overcook when but on the stove and then loose their shape and become mushy, which is gross. Just drain the lentils after they soak and try one to make sure it is soft. If it isn’t, then just repeat the process once more.

Other than that, I followed this recipe verbatim and it turned out pretty good. Of course, it wasn’t toast and peanut butter, but it still left me feeling satisfied. This makes for a great side accompaniment to proteins or serves as a great protein itself, considering the nutritional value of lentils.

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 cup French green lentils
  • Boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, diced
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

{ To Make the SaladPlace the lentils in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover with towel or lid and allow to soak for 20-25 minutes, or until softened.

Over medium-high flame, heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the shallots and cook until they are softened and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lentil, basil, parsley, and mint to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in the lemon juice, salt, and pepper and serve!

I enjoy this salad cold as well!

Nutritional Information:

The total number of calories in this dish are 1269. I got about 5 servings from the recipe, which leads to an average of 253 calories per serving. The nutritional break down is as follows: 44 g of fat, 183 g of carbohydrates, 43 g of fiber, and 55 g of protein. Of course, these figures are for the overall dish, so to find the number per serving, divide each by 5.

Cost of Ingredients:

Total cost of this meal is $15.69, based on the assumption that you have olive oil. Since I already had the cherry tomatoes and baby spinach from previous recipes, this dish only cost me $9 to make. If you get 5 servings out of the recipe (I did), then the average cost per serving is $3.13. My average cost per serving was then $1.80. The lentil salad from Greenstreet Café is $7.50, so again, this is quite a savings on each serving.

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{ Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken and Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette }

Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken, Corn, Avocado, and Chickpeas tossed in a Dijon Balsamic VInaigrette

Tonight for dinner, I kept it simple with a Spinach salad. The author of the 4 Hour Body, Tim Ferris, lists spinach as one of the most important foods to eat while on the slow-carb diet. It is super high in anto-oxidants and provides a rich source of Vitamin A, C, E, K, iron, protein, folic acid, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, and folate. Spinach is super filling because it expands in your belly, and it has substantially more nutrients than regular lettuce so it makes for a better salad base than Romaine (which makes you retain water by the way!!). The darker your greens and the more raw they are, the better!

I added half a cup of chickpeas, some canned corn, half of an avocado cut into pieces, and some grilled chicken. Since I don’t have a grill in my apartment, I buy chicken cutlets and pound them out real thin so that I can just cook them on the George Forman. I marinade the chicken for a few hours in a mojo sauce (pre-made compliments of Goya!) and then I just cook it out when I am ready to eat. It is super simple as long as you remember to marinade your chicken for at least a few hours, or it won’t properly absorb the flavors. You can choose any marinade that you want, I just like the citrus and garlic flavors of the mojo sauce, personally.

Ohhh, and when using a mojo marinade, which is very acidic, do not be alarmed if the chicken turns white! This is just the acid poaching the chicken….it has not gone bad!

Once the chicken is cooked through, chop into pieces and toss into salad with some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper. Pre-made dressings tend to pack a lot of hidden calories, so I prefer to make my own. Here is a quick and delicious recipe for easy balsamic vinaigrette:

{ Ingredients }

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar (I like pomegranate balsamic)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon resh oregano leaves, chopped (or a light sprinkling of dried oregano leaves)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

{ To Make the Dressing }Whisk together all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Toss with salad or store in airtight container and refrigerate.

Nutritional Information

This salad, which I made with 3 cups of baby spinach, 4 oz. of chicken, ½ cup chickpeas, ½ avocado, and ¼ cup corn kernels, came out to a total of 455 calories. The nutritional break down was: 27g of fat, 36g of protein, 17g of fiber, 38g carbohydrates.

Cost of Ingredients

The total cost of making this salad was $9.89, but keep in mind that the ingredients will last for a few more days because I bought the spinach in bulk and did not go through all the canned ingredients.

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{ Fusilli with Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce }

Fusilli with Pancetta and Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce

I am always talking about food. When I go out and get drunk, I make friends by talking to strangers about food. When I meet someone of a different ethnic background, I establish common ground by talking to them about their culture’s food. When I get together with my closest friends and family, we bond over meals discussing our most recent culinary endeavors. I really do live my life all things food, and I believe it is one thing that connects us all—I mean everyone needs to eat, right?

By having a basic fundamental understanding of several different types of cuisine, I find that I can relate to almost any person and/or culture. And when someone starts talking to me about food, forget it! I get all sorts of worked up into a passionate discussion, obnoxiously waving my hands around as I go off on a million words per minute tangent. I think my boss genuinely fears when customers at our restaurant ask me for recommendations because he knows that I won’t be working during the half hour that I spend detailing every dish on the menu. Of course, you can probably also imagine how excited I get when people ask me for recipes! I love sharing great food with people, and was beyond excited when I received request for an Italian recipe this past week. It felt great knowing that someone actually wanted to hear what I had to say, and wasn’t just directed to my blog via facebook out of boredom. So I went through my recipe binder and pulled out a favorite pasta dish of mine—Fusilli with Pancetta and Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce. This recipe makes for an awesome main dish or even side dish for meats. It is super easy to make and requires very little ingredients, so you won’t be spending a fortune at the grocery store!

I got this recipe out of an Eating Well Magazine a few years back and it caught my eye because it was a creamy pasta dish that was relatively light on calories. I love a good cream sauce, but try to stay away from them because I know just how many pounds a plate of alfredo sauce can set you back in your diet. This pasta dish is satisfying like a regular cream sauce but is much lighter and therefore in my opinion much more enjoyable. It almost like a macaroni and cheese crossed with an alfredo…its divine. The mushrooms add a great earthy flavor to and the spice of the cracked black pepper is a must!! Of course, you can always substitute the frozen peas for fresh English shelled peas, but I keep it simple and just cook the frozen ones out with the pasta.

Just be very careful not to burn the garlic when cooking this dish, so constantly be stirring the ingredients (especially after you add the mushrooms) and make sure the heat isn’t too high. Also, remember when cleaning mushrooms not to run them directly under water. To properly clean a mushroom, dampen a paper towel and gently wipe off the mushrooms. If you run a mushroom under water, it will absorb too much water and not cook properly.

This recipe will make enough for about 4-5 people, based on a 2 cup serving size. Enjoy!

{ Ingredients }

  • 8 ounces pasta (I use Fusilli)
  • 3 cups frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups quartered crimini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

{ To Make Pasta }Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and peas and cook until tender. Strain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook prosciutto until it begins to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant (careful not to burn!), about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their juices and most of their liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat. Add wine and let simmer for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, return to simmer and cook, stirring until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream and pepper.

Add the peas and pasta to the pan and stir to coat.

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Greek Orzo Pasta Salad *****

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, and Kalamata Olives

January 2nd of 2010 is a day that I remember vividly. I was on a train hysterically bawling my eyes out, hard-core fighting with my ex-boyfriend via text messaging (the most popular way for young couples to fight these days!). The whole train was starring at me and I couldn’t pull myself together to quit sobbing, so they endured the sound track of my agonizing heartache for the entire ride from New York to Philly (I personally apologize to every passenger). It was a pretty rough start to what turned out to be a rather rough year, but this year started out completely different and so I’m feeling great about 2011!! I rang in this New Year eating and drinking with the most hospitable and hilarious Greek family that I have ever met…we could title the evening as: “my big fat Greek dinner!”

You see, I’ve been third wheeling it with Ariana and her boyfriend, Harry, the past couple of days, and so when they headed up to Boca Raton for Harry’s family dinner, naturally, I followed! He had given us the disclaimer on each family member before we went and tried to prepare us for what to expect that evening, but I had no idea just how much of a treat I was in for! The three of us show up around 4 O’Clock and it’s just us and his immediate family and grandmother, Yaya (pronounced, Yah-Yah). I recalled from his pep talk earlier that Yaya doesn’t speak English…or so he thought. Turns out that you can learn a lot about your family by watching them interact with non-family members (such as their ability to speak another language…fluently!). Yaya follows Ariana and I outside and strikes up a conversation speaking perfect English to everyone’s amazement. I guess Yaya has selective English, and only “no speak English good” when she wants to. Hey, with age comes wisdom.

Very quickly though people start trickling through the door, and I found myself standing up to greet someone new on 5 minute intervals. This continued for about an hour until the entire family and their plus one date (because everyone brought a friend) was gathered around the table outside. It got so crowded that Harry suggested making a “kid’s table” for anyone under the age of 25. This quickly turned into the drunken table enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke—bringing new meaning to the definition of “kids table.” We snacked on fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, salami, cheese, and salmon bites while throwing back beers and red wine over great conversation.

Finally, around 8 O’Clock dinner was served, and what a glorious spread of food it was! There was filet mignon, skirt steak, moussaka, mixed green salad, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, twice-baked potatoes, sautéed veggies, and last but not least, my orzo pasta salad! My mother always taught me that you never show up to a dinner party empty handed and so I thought I would contribute a side dish. Given the Greek crowd, I assumed my orzo salad with feta, tomato, and kalamata olives would be a hit….and it was! Even Yaya loved it—she couldn’t believe that a non-Greek made it! (that obviously made my night!) Although I was proud of my pasta salad and everyone seemed to enjoy it, it was clearly outshined by the rest of the food, and rightfully so! I felt so spoiled to have a delicious home cooked Greek dinner. The moussaka was hands down my favorite part of the meal. Greek moussaka is minced meat layered with eggplant and then baked with a cream sauce on top, and this was the best that I have ever tasted. I couldn’t get enough of it! I never in a million years imagined that there could be leftovers at a dinner party with about 20 guests, but we found ourselves having fourth meal around 2 O’Clock in the morning after a night at the Hard Rock and that moussaka was even better the second time around! The cream sauce was light and fluffy and tasted almost like whipped potato on top. Every forkful was divine. I also loved the stuffed grape leaves, which were served hot with gravy. I had never had warmed stuffed grape leaves before, but I loved it and don’t think I’ll enjoy them cold ever again!

The best part of the evening was dessert though, and for reasons that I shall now explain. You see, it is Greek tradition to bake a new year’s cake with a coin inside. The person that then receives the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have very good luck for the entire year! (I’m sure you already see where I’m going with this, but don’t beat me to the good part yet!). So as they are slicing the cake, they are announcing who each piece is for and all of the dinner guest’s names have been called expect for mine, when Harry’s mom says “and this one is for Ariana’s friend….what is her name again?!” Sure enough, I got the coin! I felt kind of bad taking the good luck from a family who didn’t even know my name, but I sure as hell could use some luck so I wasn’t about to give it up! And that is why I am so pumped for 2011, because I found a foil-wrapped dime in my cake! You better believe that anything good that happens this year will be attributed to that coin.

Here is the recipe for my Greek orzo pasta salad, which is adapted from one that I found in a Bon Appetite magazine a few years back (instead of using marjoram, I use a variety of different herbs). This pasta salad is great for dinner parties, tailgates, and picnics because it makes a lot and everyone only takes a little bit!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of orzo
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonated basil leaves
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ cups crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 24 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
  • (optional) 1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves, chiffonated

Directions:

Cook out the orzo in boiling and salted water. Drain. Rinse with cold water and then set aside in mixing bowl.

Whisk together the Dijon mustard, olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Toss the halved tomatoes with about 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and coat the orzo with the remainder. Allow the tomatoes to soak in the vinaigrette for at least an hour so that the flavors develop and then add to the pasta. Add the olives, feta, green onions, basil and mint. Toss to coat and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve or refrigerate.

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